Title: The Wrong Kind of Paradise
Author: Martha
Disclaimer - all recognizable XF characters contained in this story are the creative property of 1013 Productions and Fox Broadcasting.
Classification: S
Rating: PG
Spoiler: Requiem (US7) Summary: In the days after Mulder's apparent abduction, Scully, Skinner, and the Lone Gunmen learn of a new threat and rediscover some old acquaintances.

Author's notes follow story.


Scully's hospital room
2:33pm

He had not planned on telling Scully about Mulder's apparent abduction, but he should have never mentioned that Skinner was en route to the hospital. It inevitably led to her wanting to know where her partner was and, as her insistence grew, his resolve broke.

Frohike could only watch as Scully struggled emotionally and verbally at the news - at first dismissing his edited account of Skinner's phone calls to the Gunmen over the past few hours until he reminded her that she could verify it with Skinner if she didn't believe him.

'Smooth move, Frohike,' he thought, shaking his head. He located the Kleenexes on the lower shelf of the bedside table and placed the box on the bed next to her clenching fist.

Desperate to find something to allow him to leave her alone for a few minutes, opportunity presented itself when he came across her water glass and mumbled some words about getting her a refill.

He lingered at the water fountain, slowly filling her glass and taking a few gulps for himself as he replayed his inept telling of the previous night's events. He knew that she wanted the straight facts - waiting for Skinner to show up should have been the call, though; there were better odds for the two of them to match up against one distraught Dana Scully.

He had listened at the door before knocking, catching her while she was blowing her nose and hopefully before she could start on another crying jag - happy to give her those few seconds to compose herself before entering. He pulled the lone visitor's chair up next to her bed. They sat together in silence for a short time - every couple of minutes when Scully's breathing became labored and audible, he would reach out and touch her hand. She would glance over at him and nod - perhaps she was making a mental note to add just that much more crying time to some point in the future. Frohike had thought about leaving the room again but wanted to watch over her in case she decided not to wait for Skinner and try to leave. Which brought him to why she was still in the hospital in the first place.

Well, no time like the present. How much more upset with him could she be? "Did he know?"

"Did who know?"

"You know who. Before he left for Oregon."

"I don't know what you're talking about."

In the past few years, when the guys were working as much with her as they were with Mulder, Frohike had begun to develop a sense of when she was being less than forthright with information. "Scully, there are very few circumstances that would make a reasonably healthy woman faint, especially one still in her childbearing years."

"What makes you think..."

Frohike continued as if he were practicing his summation in a bathroom mirror. "Although in your case, that's not something that I would have thought possible, but I've read your chart."

"There's nothing on my chart."

"Nothing is spelled out specifically. You have to interpret some lab results and read what is not there. Couple that with your not being scheduled for a CAT scan - which, by the way, would have been the first test *I'd* run since you can't have an MRI with that chip still in your neck." Frohike had a few more checkmates up his sleeve but decided to wage his final challenge. "Well?"

"I have to find Mulder."

There was a slight quiver in Scully's voice when she spoke her partner's name out loud that made Frohike soften his stance on his curiosity about her present condition. He was thankful to have been given the opportunity to change the subject. "We're working on a few leads."

"Tell me."

"When you're discharged."

At this point, the exasperation module in Scully's spectrum of moods kicked in. "Stop treating me as if I'm some sort of invalid, Frohike. I'm being released in the morning."

"Sorry. That was not my intention. I'm just not comfortable discussing them in our present setting, you understand." He gestured to the door and then quickly glanced up at the ceiling; there would have been plenty of time for anyone to bug the room in his opinion, and he hoped that she would play along with his idiosyncrasy. "Anyway, I need to get going."

He did not repeat that Skinner was already on his way and didn't see the need to remind her of the details that Skinner was bringing. "One of us will be back later. With Mulder gone - well, not that any of us are up to filling his shoes, but he would want us to keep an eye out for you under the circumstances."

For the first time during his visit, Frohike saw Scully smile.

"My mother has beaten you to that. Oh," she called out as his hand rested on the door handle, "and I would appreciate it if you would not share your unsubstantiated theory with anyone else."

Frohike turned back towards her and saw the blue eyes across the room glaze over just a bit and then blink free of their excess moisture. He had earlier decided to keep her pregnancy a secret for the time being and nodded his acceptance. Scully would already be the object of everyone's concern in dealing with Mulder's disappearance; she did not need the additional burden of pity from the outside world. There would be plenty of time for that later.


Scully's hospital room
4:20am

The door to the room opened and shut quickly, letting in the minimum amount of harsh hospital lighting possible but enough to awaken a light sleeper. The intruding figure approached the bed while the occupant was struggling to sit up. "Agent Scully?"

"Ms. Covarrubias? What time is it?"

"Early morning." Marita had noticed Scully's eyes peering around her frame to the door. "Your watchdog is in the men's room."

Scully had noted her visitor's white coat, mentally theorizing an attempt to not be noticed in the hallways. "Making rounds now?"

The visitor was having none of this. "Agent Scully, I'll get right to the point."

"Please do."

Marita's coolness continued in light of Scully's annoyance at being woken up so early. "You've been told that you are in the early stages of a pregnancy. Is this correct?"

"Why should that be any concern of yours?"

Marita repeated her question with some urgency. "Is this correct, Agent Scully?" When the patient continued to stare at the door and refused to answer, she continued, "I'll take that as confirmation. Are you comfortable with the diagnosis? What I mean to ask is, do you trust your physicians here? What are your instincts telling you about this pregnancy?"

Scully glared back at her in disbelief. How dare she bring up 'trust' when she herself is in alignment with Krycek, of all people? "Why don't you leave now so that I can get some sleep?"

"And the father is Agent Mulder, is it not?"

Had she been fully awake and oriented, Scully would have thrown back the bed covers and forcibly removed Marita from the room.

As it was, she punched the rough hospital pillows to give them some thickness and turned over on her side, feigning sleep in the hope that the other woman would take the hint and leave.

Marita tried for a softer approach and sat down on the corner near the foot of the bed. "Dana, do you plan to go back to work? Continue with your regular routine?"

"Why?" Scully spoke into her pillows, suddenly questioning why Marita would show any concern for someone other than herself.

"Do you think that someone wants to hurt me? Hurt the baby?"

"No, Dana; harming the child is the *last* thing that these men want."

Scully turned over to face her again. "I'm tired of people speaking in circles and not answering my questions. Why don't you just tell me what you know?"

"If I may make a suggestion - don't go back to an empty Apartment. Not just yet." Marita rose from her perch on the bed and turned towards the door. "Do you have a place to go to, someone to stay with for a few days?"

"Yes." Scully would not elaborate further, that her mother was expecting her to stay at her home through the coming weekend.

Two could play this game.

"Do that, and I will be in contact with Mr. Skinner. I should be able to present enough evidence to convince you of what the future holds for you." And for your baby, Marita would add as an afterthought as she closed the door behind her.


Lone Gunmen Headquarters
the following Monday
2:18pm "OK, so tell me why I'm developing film instead of looking at the originals." Frohike confronted Skinner upon returning from his darkroom. "I can just see you doing undercover work," he added in a mocking tone. "There's got to be a story there."

"The film is courtesy of Krycek. The originals are in a briefcase." Skinner sighed and completed the explanation, not wanting to undergo anymore interrogation after spending the past several days repeating to the Gunmen and to his superiors what had transpired in Oregon with Mulder. "The briefcase is still in someone else's possession."

"Why not steal the briefcase?"

"The briefcase is attached to this other person."

Langly's ears perked up. "Handcuffed?"

Byers interrupted from the other side of the room. "Secret Service or military?"

"Military." Skinner sensed that, with a few more keywords, these guys would be able to piece it together without ever leaving the room.

"And how did Krycek get pictures of the contents without that person knowing?" Frohike demanded.

"The individual in question is in the hospital. Concussion."

"He knocked the guy out and broke into his briefcase to take pictures of the paperwork inside of it? Don't we have enough problems right now?"

Skinner jokingly threw up his hands in surrender. "Considering it's Krycek, I'm glad he didn't kill the guy."

Frohike returned to his darkroom to continue the development process and returned to the main office a short time later. He handed off the CD with the photos to Langly, who promptly loaded it into the nearest PC.

Langly took a moment to clear some shadows and enlarge the frames. "OK, so what are we looking at here?"

"What are all these sets of numbers?" Flanked by the other two Gunmen, Skinner looked over Langly's shoulder at the screen, unable to comprehend the data on the photo.

Another long minute passed while the Gunmen mumbled various combinations of possibilities under their breaths. Frohike spoke up first. "The first two kind of look like latitude and longitude, but those others don't jibe."

"Altitude. Wind velocity." Byers half-whispered after a few seconds and then started to point at the pairings on the screen. "This is a printout from an old SDI program."

Skinner was still running his rusty map-reading skills through a drill. "What, that Star Wars stuff from the eighties?"

"The Air Force was developing some special projects about weather in high altitudes back then - if you're tracking anything incoming or outgoing, you'd want to know what the weather was like over the target area so that you could compensate speed and trajectory and still hit your mark."

Langly was slightly bewildered. "Why would Krycek want us to have these papers?"

"We should locate these areas first," Byers suggested. "That might give us our answer."

Further investigation on the pairings of numbers led them to Marietta, Georgia. Reynoldsburg, Ohio. Ada, Oklahoma. Sidney, Montana.

And Bellefleur, Oregon.

Skinner nearly went ballistic with this latest discovery.

"Wait a minute. Does this mean that the Air Force knows about what happened to Mulder?"

"Possibly," Byers cautioned, "or they were just documenting the activity. Some of these date stamps are consistent with the times that Mulder was in Oregon with Scully and with you."

"Do we stand a chance on getting someone in the Air Force to confirm this data?"

Langly and Frohike immediately turned towards their partner, as if to silently hand off that assignment to him.

Byers nodded his acceptance. "I may have a contact that I can try."


Lone Gunmen Headquarters
4:14pm

"I came straight from my mother's," Scully began after all the initial pleasantries concerning her health were exchanged.

"Have you found anything new about Mulder?"

Byers quickly spoke up. "I've got a meeting in a couple of hours with someone who might be able to answer some questions.

If he confirms some of our suspicions, then we'll have a route of action to start planning."

Scully acknowledged his answer by absentmindedly drumming her fingers on one of the lab tables. She looked around at the room's occupants, waiting for the expected elaboration, and for the first time noticed that someone was missing. "I was told that Marita would be here with some information for me."

Skinner cleared some stray diskettes from a nearby chair and motioned for her to rest a while. "She's already contacted us.

She's on her way."

"She's here." Langly pointed at the monitors. He started to get up to let her in and was surprised when he noted that Scully was already at the front door.

Upon entering, Marita turned away from the others and halfwhispered to Scully, "Do they know?"

She did not need further explanation. "I've told Skinner."

Which is true, she reasoned; Frohike may have guessed as to her condition, but she never actually *told* him.

Marita was again as insistent as she had been during the visit in the hospital. "If we are to be of any assistance to you over the next year, they will *all* have to know."

Scully honestly did not want to have to reveal her secret to too many people. There were many questions that she either couldn't or wouldn't answer concerning the circumstances of her unexpected condition, and she had just spent the last two days hiding in her bedroom to avoid her mother's demanding stares.

She reluctantly agreed with Marita - they all would need the best current information in order to get through the upcoming months. Scully glanced over at Skinner before pausing to make her announcement to the Gunmen. "I'm pregnant."

Langly muttered "Yeah, right," and then began looking to the others being suckered in with her joke. But the other faces appeared to be taking her seriously, so he began to defend his argument. "Scully, that's not possible. We have your files from that Allentown clinic; you can't *get* pregnant."

Byers appeared stunned by Scully's revelation but reasoned, "Research and modern technology have made great strides in the last decade."

Frohike and Skinner wisely kept quiet.

"The fact still remains that I am pregnant." Not wanting to deal with the so-far unasked obvious questions, she turned her attention back towards Marita. "Now what is this information that you have for me? Why is my condition so important to anyone else?"

"Because I've already been through a similar situation." If Scully's announcement had been a stunner, this latest bit of news was a knock-out punch to them all. "I was held at Fort Marlene. I had been infected with the black alien virus, and they experimented on me with vaccines that they had hoped would make them immune. The last round of dosages seemed to work.

And then as you know," she looked directly at Scully, "all hell broke loose.

"Jeffrey Spender had tried to help but Alex Krycek finally got me out of there, and we started running. But they found us, confined us, and eventually we began to work for them again. Running their little errands. Only the errand that they sent Alex to do landed him in a Tunisian prison. And I was in a hospital with what was diagnosed as a high-risk pregnancy.

"The baby was Alex's. I had been told at the time that he had been ordered to conceive a child with me. We both had been exposed to the substance." Marita approached Scully, reaching out to lay a hand on her forearm. "It does have the ability to alter and disguise cells in certain areas of the brain. The changes are not that noticeable in adults, and we've seen that it can not be transplanted from one person to another."

Scully began the next sentence, "But in an infant..."

"Yes. If both parents had been exposed to any of the variables and the mutations allowed to flourish, then a child from their union may inherit those mutations which would be allowed to develop right from the fetal stage."

"What happened to your baby?" Langly called out.

For the first time since arriving, Marita appeared visibly shaken. "I don't know. She was taken from me at birth. I was told that she had some genetic problems and that she died several hours later. I was never allowed to see her so I can't swear to this with any certainty, and of course, there are no records of my confinement."

"How convenient."

"Mr. Langly, if we are to work together, then there must be room for a small amount of trust in certain matters between us all."

There was a short pause while the group absorbed the ramifications of Marita's statements before Skinner spoke up.

"So what do we do - send Agent Scully into hiding until the baby is born?"

"That might not be such a bad idea," Marita answered. "I believe that, sooner or later, they will come to take Dana and her unborn child."

"The same 'they' that took Mulder?"

"Honestly, I can't be sure that the two incidents would even be related, but Alex believes that Agent Mulder was taken to use to trade for the baby at a later time."

The three Gunmen, as was their habit, turned to each other to work on an approach to the problem. "How can we be sure that Scully's child will even be affected by any of this?" Langly began.

Byers continued in the same line of thinking. "Isn't there a statistical possibility that there will be no anomalies with this child even if both parents carry the mutation?"

"Yes, that is possible." Frohike pushed himself up off of the couch and started to cross the room towards the computers. "So we would need to be able to locate any other women who may have been exposed to the black virus and monitor any subsequent pregnancies, although coming by that information may be damn near impossible to get."

"Gentlemen." Marita commanded their attention. "You don't have to look too far for your first control subject." And their attention is what she got. "I am also pregnant."


Lone Gunmen Headquarters
later that evening

"Shouldn't we tell her about the coordinates we found?"

Langly was still looking over the printouts from the most recent satellite transmissions, looking for the same set of values that they had come across when looking for the alien spaceship. Skinner was briefing Scully on his latest round of information gathering at the FBI. Marita had left a few moments earlier, presumably to meet up Krycek.

Byers looked over at the agents to make sure that they were otherwise occupied before answering. "Let me get confirmation back from my contact first. I'd rather not get her hopes up with uncollaborated information."

Frohike immediately read behind his partner's weak explanation.

"If the docs think that she would be in any danger of not carrying to term, they'd have confined her already."

"That's another thing." Langly leaned in to bring their circle a bit closer. "You know, I didn't want to say this earlier but aren't we making an assumption that the baby is Mulder's?"

Frohike whispered through clenched teeth, "Who else's would it be?"

"I don't know, but just because they're partners and all..."

Byers interrupted before Frohike could further lose his temper.

"I think that the concerns that Ms. Covarrubias has raised about the baby's possible inherited genetics and Scully's acceptance of that theory would lead to only one probable father of that baby."

Langly was not prepared to let the subject drop. "You mean it's Krycek's?"

"Oh, you are asking for it now." Frohike slipped off of his stool and began backing Langly against the wall.

"Hey, I'm kidding here. Jeez, lighten up."

"We're talking about Scully here. This is *not* something that you should be joking about."

"Of course it's Mulder's." Byers again checked for their guests who were still deep in discussion. "We've been busy and probably haven't been paying too much attention to the two of them lately for either one to say anything. *But* until we hear it straight from either Scully *or Mulder*, none of us brings the subject up in front of her. There's no need to embarrass her any more than she already is. Understood?"

Even while the other two were making their agreement to the deal, Byers was silently hoping that Mulder was indeed the father of Scully's child. Though not practical, he was not as convinced of it as he should be, given Scully's past medical record. And that thought worried him.


Hoover Building
X Files Office
Friday, 11:32am

Scully was catching up on her reading of interoffice memos when Skinner appeared in the doorway. She was about to address him when he put his fingers to his lips, motioning for her to keep silent and then gestured for her to follow him out into the hallway. He put his hand on her shoulder and guided her ahead into a nearby supply closet, shutting the door behind them.

Her curiosity was piqued, hoping that there was news about her partner. "What's all this about, sir?"

"We..." Skinner began, "you don't have much time. Are you still planning to go out to lunch at your usual place?"

"Yes, but I don't understand."

"Just let me get all of this out first. A short time ago, someone tried to make a grab for Marita. As luck would have it, Krycek was there and *took care* of the situation. She's fine but the general consensus now seems to be that you'll be next."

Scully was shocked at the news of this latest event - she thought that she would have more time before Marita's prediction of having to run away came true. "They'd come after me here?"

"We think that they will probably wait until you get home this evening. They wouldn't know about the earlier failure just yet. I want you to go back to your office and gather anything that you think that you will need later, but don't make a big show of it. Don't get on the phone and don't tell anyone what I'm about to tell you. You are to pretend that you're just leaving the building to go to lunch. Understand?"

"Yes."

"Head for that sandwich shop. Don't stop anywhere along the way. When you turn the corner onto 9th Street, Langly should be there with the van. Just get in and go."

Scully put her hand on the doorjamb and paused. "Should I call you on your private line later?"

"No. I don't want to hear from you." Skinner shook his head before apologizing. "I didn't mean it like that - I just don't want to be put in the position of having to lie about you.

'The less I know' and all that. As far as I can tell anyone, you left for lunch and you never got back to your office. If we're lucky, no one will know that you've gone until Monday morning."

"Sir, about Mulder?"

"The Gunmen will be contacting you with updates. I didn't want them to tell me what they'd arranged. Krycek is taking care of Marita - he says that we're on our own with you." Skinner almost added a cynical postscript to that but he was thankful that Krycek had notified him as soon as it happened. "It'll be a good thing that you're both not in the same place. I will also see to it that your mother is not unnecessarily worried about your disappearance. I won't be able to tell her much but at least I can assure her that you are still alive."


Washington DC
Friday, 12:02pm

Scully walked briskly down E Street focusing on the corner of the building ahead of her knowing that, when she turned the corner, her life would abruptly change. She had quickly gathered her billfold and keys and weapon that were in her top drawer, but there was little else that she wanted to take. She had looked around, wanting to find something of Mulder's to take with her. She regretted not taking more time to look and nearly stopped to go back to the office when she noted that she was already at the corner.

The van door was slightly open. Frohike peeked out and pushed it wider. "Get in."

Scully settled into the bench seat while Langly pulled out into traffic. "Where is Byers?" She did not see him occupying his usual passenger-side seat.

"We're meeting him." Frohike motioned to her with his hands, "Give me your cellphone."

She watched as he removed and examined the battery, putting both it and the phone into a plastic bag on the floor, before it registered that he was not going to give it back to her.

"No. What if..."

"We'll monitor your phone calls. Problem is, someone else may also be tracking it so you can't take it with you. Understand, Scully, that we may have to dump it later to throw people off your track."

She reluctantly agreed to his wishes. She realized that she was also giving up the last avenue of contact that Mulder had with her.

Frohike was not yet finished with taking inventory. "What else do you have on you? Come on, Scully, everything. We have to be sure that they haven't already planted something on you."

She turned over what was left in her pockets. She saw her keys disappear into the same bag as her phone. Her billfold was opened, and the money transferred into a similar wallet.

"I'm sorry, Scully, but you can't take any ID or charge cards.

Is there anything in here, pictures or stuff, that you'd want to keep?"

She shook her head. She was now thankful that her one picture of Emily was in her nightstand at home; if the guys had to trash her personal items, at least that small memento would not be lost. "I'm keeping my weapon."

"I hope you won't need it, but you should hang onto it." Frohike looked it over before handing it back to her along with the wallet. "Your new ID is in here. Don't open it yet, not until you're on your way. You'll also have a account for any funds that you need. I would like to take this moment, however, to remind you that we did not have a whole lot of lead time on this. The picture on the license is about a year old."

"Can you at least tell me where I'm going?" By now, they were traveling on Interstate 95.

"That's Byers' job. We should be seeing him shortly."

A few more minutes passed before she spoke again. "Do you know anything about Marita?"

"Last we heard, Krycek was spiriting her away to her own hiding place. I'm sure that this is nothing new for the two of them.

They've been on the run before." Frohike paused to check the mile marker signs on the interstate. "We have an agreement that we don't tell the other about where you ladies will be living. Just safer that way."

Langly pulled off of the interstate into a designated rest area and parked at the far side of the lot near the picnic area.

Within minutes, a white late-model Toyota Camry pulled up beside them. Byers, dressed in tan dockers, dark green pullover shirt, and sunglasses emerged with two small bags.

Langly was impressed with his partner's new dressing habits.

"Damn, you do clean up good."

"One of the perks of doing this kind of work. How are you, Scully?" Byers had carried two bags into the van and handed one off to Langly. "OK, guys, here's your snacks as promised."

Langly took the bag and prepared to leave the van. "We've got to say 'good-bye' now, Scully. Take care of yourself. Drop us a postcard or two. Just kidding about that last part."

"Good-bye, Scully." Frohike began to mumble something else and then leaned over to kiss her on the cheek. He left the van just as quickly, never turning to look back for fear of becoming too emotional over their forced separation.

Byers walked to the back of the van and pulled down the blackout shades. "Here's the thing, Scully. You're going to have to change. We may have to use your clothes later as a decoy."

He handed her the second bag. "I'm pretty sure about the sizes though I do admit my taste may not be on par with yours. And no, I didn't even try to get underwear. You'll have to buy more clothes once you get to where you're going." Byers climbed out and added before closing the door, "Just make sure that you put on the hat and the sunglasses before you come out and get into the car."

Scully examined the contents of the bag for her new outfit - a pair of pull-on khaki pants, a dark blue tank top with matching lightweight sweater, and deck shoes. A cloth pouch purse, sunglasses, and a small straw hat with dark blue trim accompanied them. He didn't do too badly, she thought.

She dressed quickly, leaving her clothes behind in the bag and placing her new wallet and weapon inside the purse. Her getting out of the van was their signal to continue again. As the four settled into the vehicles, they were all individually hoping that they had gotten out of DC in time to make all this work.

They pulled out of the rest stop, Byers and Scully in the lead with the van following them. After about thirty minutes of verification that they were not being tailed, Langly exited the interstate according to the agreed plan. Frohike moved to the rear of the van, keeping the Camry in sight for as long as possible.

"We're going to see her again, Frohike." Langly watched in the rear view mirror and tried to reassure him. "She's going to be safe. We'll make sure of that."

Frohike swore at that moment that he was never going to rest until that day came.


Interstate 95
2:01pm

Byers pulled into another rest stop and parked, once again at the opposite side away from most of the traffic.

Scully spoke first. "Please don't tell me that I have to change again."

"No. But this is where we part company." Byers leaned back in his seat and began the speech that he had spent the past hour practicing. "What I need for you to do is to go to the ladies room. Take your time; try not to be conspicuous. Wait at least seven minutes and then come back out." He paused to make sure that he had her full attention. "There will be another white Camry waiting right here. Don't hesitate - just get into the passenger side and go. I promise you, Scully, it will be all right."

She was stunned. She had assumed that Byers was to accompany her to her new life. "When will I hear from you guys?"

"We'll be notified once you get to your destination, and we'll be in weekly contact after that unless an emergency comes up. It will all be explained to you shortly. Trust me on this, Scully. Mulder will never speak to me or the guys again if we screw this up."

The invocation of Mulder's name for the first time during their drive unnerved them both, but Byers recovered quickly. "You have a long drive ahead of you. You should take advantage of the facilities."

Scully placed her hand on Byers', which was still gripping the steering wheel. "Good-bye. And thanks."

Byers watched Scully enter the ladies room, then alternated his attention between that door and his rear view mirror. Within two minutes, an identical automobile slowly made its way towards where he was parked and pulled up beside him.

He removed his sunglasses and looked at the driver. She was so beautiful, he thought. Though he had not actually seen Susanne since that last night in Las Vegas outside the Monte Carlo, he carried the memory of that parting moment, knowing that they *would* see each other again - someday, she had said. To only have that final visual that may have to last them a lifetime he had hoped that Scully had picked out a good one of her and Mulder to carry with her in the coming months.

The urge to get out of the car washed over him. He wanted to go over to her and hold her and kiss her and drive away with her. But he also knew that he would endanger Susanne's wellprotected new life, just as he might now hinder getting Scully safely hidden. The guys... Skinner... Mulder were now dependent upon him to carry out his end of the plan. To leave Scully behind. And Susanne.

Byers fumbled for the keys and started the car. He made one last turn towards Susanne and mouthed 'I love you', barely able to get out those words before the sting of tears began to overwhelm him. He put his sunglasses back on and slowly, deliberately, pulled his car out of the parking space and back onto the road toward home.

Susanne had returned the endearment, though she could not be sure that he noticed it before he drove away. She was still drying her eyes when the passenger door opened and a nowcurious Scully slid into the seat.

Scully dug into her new purse and pulled out a travel-size tissue that had been thoughtfully packed for her. "Are you OK?"

"Yes, thank you. I will be." Susanne checked herself in the side mirror before turning back to her traveling companion.

"Are you ready to go?"

Scully was now the one struck with tears. She nodded her response and turned to look out the window as Susanne headed for the interstate and her new beginning.


Oh, if she could've only seen
But Fate's got cards that it don't want to show **

Interstate 95 South
somewhere near the VA/NC border
3:01pm "So."

They had driven in silence for the last forty miles, each a bit wary to tread on the private musings of the other.

Not that they were particularly great friends, especially when you considered that their only other meeting was in Las Vegas just before Susanne had gone underground and when neither were really at their best.

"So," Scully echoed and paused before continuing. "I imagine that the guys have given you an earful of about what's happened."

Susanne shook her head. "John didn't give me a lot of details. Just to drive to the rest area at Exit 133 on the southbound side of the interstate and pick you up and be prepared to have you stay with me for a while."

Good, Scully thought. One less pair of prying eyes to watch her every move and rain down kindness and pity. Her mother's admonitions to get enough sleep and eat the right kinds of foods and Skinner dropping by her office on a regular basis - she did not know how she would hold up under another seven to eight months of their attentions. If she stayed with Susanne for any great length of time, she would have to be told, but for now she was at ease with not having to put on a brave face.

It struck her as to how quietly she had gone along with the events of the day so far. Four days ago, she had been told that there was a possibility that she might have to go into hiding to protect herself and the baby, and now she was riding down Interstate 95 with someone she barely knew, with no possessions and without a word to her mother.

Perhaps she was just tired of considering the inevitable.

She and Byers and Langly had argued at length as to why exactly she would have to go if that time came and how could she conduct a search for Mulder if she was in some godforsaken town with little communication and no resources. They countered with the stance that Mulder's return would mean nothing if she was also missing. They would continue to confer with her on new leads and act on her suggestions, but she was urged to protect herself.

And her baby. If she had not been pregnant, she would be camped out in the Gunmen's quarters for the duration and taken the primary role in the search for her partner. As it was, her priorities had been rearranged for her.

Mulder would have insisted upon it.

Mulder. She imagined him at a roadside phone booth in the middle of the night, frantically punching her cellphone number, swearing and pounding on the glass windows for her to pick up and didn't she know that he would contact her as soon as he was able to free himself. But he would then call the Gunmen, whose phone lines were open twenty-four hours a day, and they would tell him where she was and she would only be in the next town and he would refuse their suggestions to wait for them and slam down the receiver and hitch a ride and bang on her front door and...

And she was turning this into some melodrama. He would probably turn up in the same woods where he disappeared; the guys or Skinner would go and pick him up and then bring him to her. Or she would come to him if he needed hospitalization. For each reunion scenario that she played out, Mulder was always alive. She would not allow herself to imagine the worst.

She also realized that she had been ignoring her traveling companion. "How have you been since Vegas?"

"Well, as you know, they got me out of there with a new identity and a one-way ticket to Seattle. I got a job as a hospital lab technician for a while. Not very exciting but at least I felt like I was making a positive contribution to society for a change. Then John told me about an opportunity with a start-up company in North Carolina and so..."

Scully glanced over at her when her words drifted away and noticed that Susanne was playing with a ring on her left hand - a wedding ring. Susanne caught her eying her and explained, "Part of the new identity. By the way, I'm known as Susan Miller now."

"And I'm Donna Shelley." Scully remembered pulling out her new ID while waiting in the ladies room at the rest area. She had not given it much thought at the time but, just now when she said the name out loud, she started giggling. "They're not terribly original, are they?"

"No, but I do give them points for the quick turnaround time."


Lone Gunmen Headquarters
5:12pm

For some reason that Frohike could not figure out, the crackling of tension in their offices was set so high that he was afraid that the sprinklers would suddenly go off.

He was tired of tiptoeing around without knowing a good goddamn as to what was wrong.

Byers had returned within two hours after the other two had gotten back, and he had not uttered one coherent sentence since sitting down in front of his PC, waiting for Susanne to check in. Never mind that they would probably not reach their destination for another couple of hours - he was going to wait them out and drive crazy anyone within earshot in the meantime.

In an attempt to diffuse Byers' blood pressure from reaching critical levels and calm the atmospheric waters, Frohike patted him on the shoulders. "You did good work this morning, getting everything pulled together within a couple of hours."

Byers was in no mood to be placated. "Let's not confuse the issues here. This is a temporary solution - Scully may not be able to stay with Susanne for very long."

"Why not? Susanne's been protected. She's been doing well with her cover."

"And I don't want to see it compromised with this latest development."

"Wait a minute." Frohike backed away from his partner and circled the table to face him. "Since when did Scully become a 'development'? If Mulder heard you say that..."

"But he's not here. And it's the best that we could have done in the short term." Byers' tone softened but not his delivery. "They're both wanted by people working for the shadows in the government. If they find one, they find them both."

He had contemplated his situation during the long drive home and reached the conclusion that he'd been patient far too long. He wanted to be selfish. He saw no good reason for Susanne and he to be apart the way they were - with limited contact and having little time for even the most private of conversations. Mulder and Scully obviously got to be a bit selfish somewhere along the way - why couldn't he have a little happiness for himself?

Frohike gave up when Byers refused to carry on with the argument. He left the main office area and nearly ran over Langly. "What's with him?"

Langly hunched his shoulders up with his patented 'how the hell should I know' pose but Frohike was already down the hallway and not looking back. He knew exactly what was bugging Byers - he was also sure that Frohike would have immediately seen the signs if his own concern for Dana Scully had not been overriding his emotions.

Langly decided that an unbiased approach was needed in this case. "Why don't you take a break for a bit?"

Byers never took his eyes off of the screen. "No."

"Byers, it's going to be - minimum - another hour before they check in. Go out and take a walk. Go upstairs and take a bubble bath." Langly smiled. He knew that would get his attention. "Just get out and do something before this place blows apart. I swear, between your scowling and Skinner calling every ten minutes for an update, *I* should be drawing a bath right now." He stood right beside Byers and began to shoo him away from his post.

"I'll be right here waiting. If a message comes in before you get back, I'll find you. Girl Scout honor."

Somehow, the thought of Langly in a short green dress uniform with that green beret sitting atop his long blonde hair began to eat away at Byers' bad mood. "OK, OK."


Carpenter, NC
6:16pm

Susanne walked her through a tour of the house. "It's convenient to both the interstates and the airport, in case I need to leave in a hurry. Like this morning." She continued on into the kitchen while Scully remained behind in the dining room. "I'll give you the codes for the house. They are changed about every ten days - I hope that you're good at memorizing numbers. Would you like some tea?"

She filled the tea kettle and set it on the stove.

"Motion detectors with lights are at the exterior doors and the four corners of the house. I don't get many false alarms but, during the early spring and fall, I do get a number of deer." She came back into the dining room and sized up her new housemate. "You know, Dana, you're not looking well. Do you want to lie down for a bit?"

"I think that I just need to freshen up. The tea sounds wonderful, and I am getting a bit hungry."

"I can have dinner ready shortly. After that ride, you probably don't want something terribly heavy. How does a salad and steamed zucchini and squash sound? That's the advantage of being out here in the country - you get all these roadside places to pick up fresh items." Susanne pointed out the bathroom to her. "There are more towels in the closet if you need them. I'm just going to drop a line to John to let him know that we've made it home."

"I'd like to talk to them also, if I could."

"All I'm doing right now is leaving them a message on a Usenet newsgroup under one of my many aliases. It's not the most efficient medium, but it is convenient and quick." She noted the dejected look on Scully's face.

"Don't worry. We have a scheduled call with them at eleven o'clock tonight."


Rutland, VT
9:23pm

"Be it ever so humble."

Marita glanced around the antiseptic Apartment. "It will do." It always did, she thought; Alex could come up with the perfect hiding place for a time or two before they had to move on, but she missed her old Apartment in New York.

The permanence of it, of knowing where things were and where she stood. She missed having her possessions about her and men waiting for her on the other end of the phone.

Too many of those men are now dead - burned beyond recognition - or have gone missing in the months since that purge, since Alex had gotten her out of that clinic and they'd first started to run. She caught a glimpse of herself in the bathroom mirror as she followed Alex into the bedroom and a shiver ran down her spine as she remembered how she first looked before her recovery.

"Someone knows."

Alex crossed the room to put a suitcase into the closet.

"Obviously."

She set one of the bags on the bed and began to unpack.

"Who was that person from this morning? I didn't recognize him."

"Don't know. He's not someone from the old glory days."

"You probably shouldn't have killed him. We could have gotten some information out of him."

"No. Guys like that, that do those kinds of jobs, don't have the kind of information that we need." He settled into the lone chair in the room. "He might have been able to tell us who paid him to try to kidnap you, but he wouldn't have known who initially gave that order."

"How can you be so sure?"

"Because I used to be just like him."

He had been watching her from the far side of the room as she removed her clothing from the bag and sorted them into the dresser drawers. He had seen her do this so many times that he was able to pick up on her routine - her underwear and nightwear always went to the top drawers, sweaters in the lower left-hand one, and knits in the lower right. The bathrobe would be the last item pulled out and was usually draped on any chair in the room. "Are you ever going to tell me about her?"

She glanced at him, knowing exactly what he was

questioning and wondering where he wanted this

conversation to go. "There isn't much to tell."

"It's not true what they told you. That first time." He was still having trouble believing it himself. Before he found himself in that Tunisian prison, he had never considered that Marita would get pregnant. She had always made it quite clear that she intended to be in the game, not watching it from the sidelines saddled with a child. "It's not true."

She was becoming bored with the subject matter. "So you keep saying."

"Look, I wouldn't have just abandoned you."

Marita let out a small laugh. "We both know that given the circumstances, you probably wouldn't have been there for me. I don't hold that against you in any way. Truly.

I understand that what interests you above it all is its worth - its bargaining power. I have growing in me what the old man could not obtain for himself." She had stopped unpacking and placed a hand on her belly. "Don't look so dejected, Alex. You keep your part of the bargain and I'll keep mine. This is *our* future. I'm not going anywhere."

"Did she have a name?"

"I never got around to giving her one."

Now it was Alex's turn to sneer. "Liar. You would have had one picked out - one for a boy and one for a girl, unless you knew the sex prior to the birth. So what was the name?"

"Afterwards."

"After what?"

"After this."

Marita draped the bathrobe along the back of the chair behind Alex and then bent down to kiss him, hard and with urgency. She then stepped back, pulling him with her towards the bed - towards a few minutes of not having to think about the child that had been lost and not having to plan for the new one.

Afterwards, they had both drowsed for a time. Marita got up from the bed and reached for the robe on the chair.

He heard her mumble something when her back was turned to him. "What?"

She turned to face him, tying the sash. "Elaine. I would have named her Elaine."


Rutland, VT
5:02am

Marita silently padded into the kitchen and headed for the refrigerator. Alex knew her habits and what to stock for her when he made the arrangements for the Apartment. She removed the small container of milk and set the carton on the countertop while she hunted for a saucepan.

Warm milk had been a favorite of hers since childhood. It reminded her of the cold evenings when she and her sisters would be wrapped in blankets in front of the fireplace and sip on the warm milk or sometimes, for a treat, cocoa before they dropped off to sleep. Life had been simpler then, and sometimes she needed the reminder of a more innocent time while the world was swirling madly about her. There were a few mugs in an overhead cabinet and, next to them, a small container of nutmeg. He had remembered her fondness for the spice.

Pouring the hot milk into the mug and then adding a few shakes from the spice box, she sat down at the dinette table to wait for Alex to finish showering. He would be leaving in a few hours and not be back for several weeks, he had said. He had to go and 'be seen' in some other places to throw those who were interested in them off the track. But he would be back. And in the meantime, she had some plans of her own to make.

Alex seemed genuinely concerned for her health and for their baby. Yes, their baby, she reminded herself; Alex must always believe that this baby is his.

She did not question it when the old man first made the suggestion - obviously the mutations that her eggs carried did not evolve well with Alex's 'contribution'. Perhaps he did not carry any of the variables from his episode with the black substance. Perhaps this was why her first attempt had come out so horribly, horribly wrong. Another substitute had to be found if she were to give birth to 'the first chapter in the renewal of humankind', as the old man put it.

No, she did not question it, but she knew. The old man's obsession with Fox Mulder was apparent even through his weak dismissals of his impatience with him. He spoke of Mulder with more fondness than he ever gave for his own son.

In these last months, as his health began to deteriorate at an alarming rate, he would ramble on before sleeping - about the operation that was to have given him the capabilities of the gods. About the previous experimentation with the black substance on Mulder and his connection to the recent operation. About the matter and the blood and the other substances that Mulder had contributed to their inventory for further examination and exploration.

The old man had offered her another chance to influence the future and she took it without hesitation. To have that power, to know that her child might secure the protection that her future needed, was singularly enticing. And when she was sure that the procedure had taken hold, she manipulated the weak man into telling her where Alex had been held and planted the seed that he would be most beneficial to protect her gestating project.

Whether he realized that he was being used or not or even cared, the old man had acted upon her suggestions to bring Alex back into her life.

It was only a matter of time before she could manipulate Alex into getting rid of the old man before he had a chance to develop a guilty conscience and confess her secrets. But the incident this morning meant that someone else knew or at least suspected her motivations. Greta was the most likely choice. The nurse may have listened in on some of those conversations and divulged that information to protect herself from the old man's supporters. Perhaps Alex might like toying with her for an evening or two before gutting a confession out of her.

Marita continued to sip her hot milk while watching him through the open bedroom door. They had been able to pass the word on to Skinner to get Dana Scully to a safe place.

No harm must come to that woman if she indeed was carrying Mulder's child. The old man had kept his surveillance of those two a priority over the years but more so in the last couple of months. He had been babbling those last few days about a renewed spirit in their midst. Could he have known about the pregnancy or even had a hand in it as he did with hers?

Scully had not appeared overly distraught about her condition but was apprehensive about acknowledging it.

Marita was curious as to why but could wait for her answer. Wait until after the baby was born. If Scully indeed was able to produce a specimen for the cause, she might prove useful in future developments. And if not, then she could still be used to secure Mulder's release.

Beyond that, she held little value in Marita's eyes.


Lone Gunmen Headquarters
Saturday
10:59am

Byers paced behind the man seated among the bank of PCs.

"Come on, DJ. Give it to me."

The dark-haired man continued with his keying. "Settle down, Curly. This will take a moment or two to set up."

"Curly?" Frohike and Langly had now entered the room and caught the tail end of their conversation.

"Don't tell me that these guys have never seen you with your hair down?" Seeing Byers' embarrassment, DJ continued. "Back in college, we'd started out in ROTC together, short hair and all. But in between semesters, we'd let our hair grow. Beards and mustaches too. Problem was, when his hair started to get a bit long, it would curl at the ends. So he got nicknamed Curly."

It was at times like these that Byers wished he didn't blush so easily. "It was the lesser of the evils. Some of those other names wouldn't have been allowed in polite society."

Langly was now intrigued. "Such as?"

"Are you kidding?" DJ was enjoying watching his buddy relive the old college trauma. "He was named after a president who specialized in womanizing and had his head almost blown off. Hell, we had our pick."

"But the rules were that you had to be able to choose one that you could scream out in public without inviting arrest." Byers visibly cringed at remembering some of the more colorful alternatives.

"I notice that you kept the beard. Trying to compensate for taking a government desk job instead of getting your commission?"

"I wasn't cut out for the military life."

"Your dad was none too pleased, though."

Byers paused to consider his father's reaction to the decision to drop out of the ROTC program. "I like to think that he understood."

"But if he could see what you do now." A series of screen flashes caught DJ's eye, and he turned his attention back to running program. "OK. Here it comes."

The Gunmen gathered around the main monitor while DJ continued, "It looks like they've thrown in a couple of extra variables, but everything else looks about the same."

Langly sat down at the next station and prepared to work.

"So what do we do with all of this?"

"You'll want to establish a pattern of hits either in date order or the frequency of visitations at each crosspoint.

You say that you've got resolutions from the satellites for a specific period at a specific place? You might be able to match them with these other unknowns to determine where it was just before or after that location."

Activity on the overhead monitors announced Skinner's arrival to the headquarters. Introductions were made, and DJ was urged to continue with running explanation.

"Curly here has been avoiding alluding any of this to extraterrestrial activity. But I got to wonder - most people would use this program for tracking incoming and outgoing, not something moving from place to place.

Weapons don't usually skip around."

Skinner provided their defense. "We need to determine if there are more than one of these things out there and, if so, do they travel together."

"The dates then come into play. Are they leaving and returning on any kind of a regular basis? If they're returning, we have a set of signatures to look for with the satellites."

"And if they're not?"

Frohike interrupted them. "We'll establish parameters based upon what we do have and pray that we get some hits."

DJ overlooked Langly's progress. "There have been significant modifications to the programming since I last worked on the projects. Without knowing what the military designated for these other variables, I might be leading you into a missile silo for all I know."

Skinner asked Byers about getting an update on Scully's latest check-in, and they crossed the room to allow the others to work in peace.

"Who is that guy?" Skinner asked.

"Let's just say that he may have had a hand in the original concept."

"He's *military*?"

"Not anymore. He's a games developer for... well, you'd know the names; I'd just rather not say too much. We've been trading favors for a while."

Several hours would pass with Langly punctuating the air with cursing after every realignment of the variables led to gibberish on his screen. The last thirty minutes, however, both DJ and Langly sounded positively orgasmic with enthusiasm as they keyed closer to an end result.

"OK," DJ announced. "We've got a place that's getting more than its statistical fair share."

"Define 'fair share'," Frohike called out from across the room.

"If I said that, in proportion, it gets more hits than Cindy Margolis' site, would that mean anything to you?"

Frohike let out a low wolf whistle, and the rest joined him in laughter as soon as they made the connection.

DJ began pulling the papers out of the laser printer.

"Since this printout data is fairly recent, there's a good chance that you could still find something there."

"Where?"

"Would you believe Devils Lake, North Dakota?"

"We need to call in the Marines." Frohike looked over his shoulder to see Skinner coming back into the room. "Or one in particular."

DJ teased the Assistant Director, "You mean 'ex-Marine', don't you?"

"There's no such thing as an ex-Marine." Skinner's tone of voice left no doubt that this was not a laughing matter to him.

Frohike stepped between the two before additional words could be exchanged. "You could use some backup out there.

What do you say, guys? Road trip?"

Byers looked up from the new printouts. "Take Langly with you. I'll stay here and monitor communications."

Frohike turned around and read what Byers' expression was telegraphing - that he did not want to be out of regular contact with Susanne - and sympathized. "Yeah, and if Scully needs anything, someone should be close by. And we still haven't heard from Krycek either."

"Somehow, I get the impression that he just might be there waiting for us," Skinner added. "So, who's going to play travel agent and make the arrangements?"


Carpenter, NC
Saturday
3:16pm

Scully sipped the lemonade slowly in the simmering heat of the not-yet-summer afternoon. Lounging with her feet up on the ottoman with the ceiling fan twirling slowly just above her, she kept a watch on the county road from the house's screened-in porch. Mercifully, the porch faced east, and she was spared the full force of the afternoon sun.

Earlier that morning, Susanne had taken her to a local flea market to pick up some clothes. She had initially hesitated at the idea of doing so, but Susanne had assured her that there would be a quality of selection to choose from - albeit of a casual variety - and she would need some items to tide her over until the Gunmen's promise of funding came through. She had found one of those long tannish gauzy skirts with a pullover top to her liking along with a chambray skirt and blouse. A faded pair of jeans and a man's Hawaiian-print shirt rounded out her purchases. She had made Susanne wait in the parking lot while she went back inside the building to hunt down a pair of sandals at the last moment.

Susanne had given her one of her cotton nightgowns to sleep in, the kind that had the little blue flowers printed on it and ribbons threaded throughout the bodice area. She had changed back into it to take a nap when they got home, and she wore it still. Her mother had warned her that she would have moments of fatigue and to take the time to lie down for twenty minutes or so to rest up, but Scully thought that she was talking about later on when she had an additional twenty or thirty pounds to lug around. The morning sickness that had dogged her sister-in-law Tara was, thankfully, a no-show so far. Even her mother's warning about the smell of coffee becoming an adversary was not panning out as Susanne only kept tea in the house. And the orange Pekoe of ordinary Lipton soothed what morning stomach jitters she had.

Susanne had warned her that she would probably go out while she was sleeping to buy more food and reminded her of the alarm situation. There was the code for the two entrances, the front door and the door leading to the porch. The windows were never to be opened and were on a separate alarm keypad. A second generator ran the household lighting and computer equipment in the event that any wires were cut. The house was at the end of the county road so there should not be any traffic coming towards the house; the person delivering the mail used the driveway to turn around but would never pass the perimeter fence.

Scully set down the empty glass on a side table amid a cellphone and her weapon - another one of Susanne's suggestions, to keep both within line of sight at all times.

As of eleven o'clock last night when the Gunmen had called, there was still no word from Marita and no further information or leads on Mulder. Susanne had let her speak with Frohike first, where she promptly started to scold him for the new name she had been saddled with. He apologized profusely, blaming the last-minute heads up that they had received and offered to change it. Scully turned him down, knowing that they had probably already gone to great lengths to set up a suitable new background for her based upon that name. Frohike had said that a package would be arriving Tuesday via the usual channels and that Susanne would know what that meant.

Byers had then gotten on the line and given her a message from Skinner that he would be seeing her mother in the morning to let her know what had happened and that Scully was safe. After thanking them, she handed the phone back to Susanne and watched her as she slipped to the other side of the room to continue the conversation in hushed tones.

Scully had felt like a voyeur, eavesdropping on moments that were meant to be private, so she quietly walked back into the extra bedroom and settled in for the evening.

The unfamiliar sound of an automobile coming up the unpaved driveway interrupted her recollections. Scully reached for her weapon and tried to focus on the driver - there were simply too many white Camrys on the road these days to be able to quickly distinguish as to whether it was Susanne returning from the market or someone who was going to become very unwelcome. She had quickly settled down and released her hold on the weapon as Susanne waved out the open driver's side window, as if to reassure her that a friendly presence was approaching.


Minneapolis - St. Paul International Airport
Saturday
8:10pm Skinner fastened his seatbelt buckle as the Northwest flight crew underwent its pre-flight announcements.

He had decided to call the civilian travel office that the FBI contracted with to book his flight out of National. It was work related after all, he thought, and it gave him a good basis for an alibi when he did not return to DC before Monday morning, when people might start asking about Dana Scully's whereabouts. Frohike and Langly were planning on leaving from Dulles in the morning, to give them more time to sort through their equipment and decide what they could carry on without setting off any of the airport alarms.

After receiving confirmation on his itinerary, he called the office and left a voicemail for his assistant, letting her know that he would not be in the office until almost noon on Monday. He then called Scully's extension and left a similar message there - knowing that Scully would never get that message but that anyone who might be listening in would and think that they were conducting business as usual.

Before going to the Gunmen's headquarters earlier in the day, he had kept his promise to Scully by visiting her mother to explain the circumstances of her disappearance and to warn her that people may come to interview her once that disappearance became common knowledge.

Margaret Scully had not been shocked that her daughter was being pursued, though Skinner thought that she may have been hiding it well; she appeared to be more concerned with her daughter's health. Though neither specifically used the word 'pregnancy' during that short visit, they silently acknowledged that both knew of Scully's condition and reassured the other that she was aware enough to seek the appropriate medical attention that she needed.

As he was leaving, Skinner warned her that she may be watched and that any incoming phone calls might be compromised. If other family members were to call to inquire about her daughter at a later date, Mrs. Scully confidently replied, she would be able to carry off the conversation without giving away the game. She reminded Skinner that as a Navy wife, she would spend many months with little contact from her husband and many times did not know where on any of the seven seas he might have been.

She did insist, however, that some plan be worked out for a regular update on Scully's welfare and, if possible, to actually be able to speak with her if circumstances allowed. Skinner promised her that the Gunmen would make every effort to keep her in regular contact with her daughter.

Skinner had given a cursory look around the Scully house as he drove away. If anyone had noticed that he had been there, he had his explanation at hand - he was simply looking for Scully to inform her of the latest developments in the search for Mulder and, when he could not contact her at her own place, he went to her mother's. Nothing unusual in that, he convinced himself.

The flight into Grand Forks, North Dakota, passed by uneventfully, and Skinner picked up his rental car and started driving west across Highway 2 towards Devils Lake.

That late at night, under the clear sky that the forecasters had predicted, Skinner had thought that there would be dozens of stars to keep him company. But the sky was pitch dark and seemed a bit eerie, and he cracked a window to let the cool air keep him awake until he reached his Red Roof Inn an hour and a half later.


Devils Lake, North Dakota
Sunday
8:45am

A quick meal of ham and eggs and coffee at the local Breakfast House started off his day. Skinner debated with himself as to how best approach the local law enforcement with his inquiries. He decided to not identify Mulder as a fellow FBI agent but rather as someone who was a possible witness to an event. After assuring the lone person manning the police station that morning that Mulder was not a criminal nor suspected of any wrongdoing, Skinner was told that there had been no John Does recorded in over a month at either the jail or the hospital. As he turned to leave, the clerk began to tell him that there was a group of odd people over at the campgrounds off of Route 57. The buzzer that accompanied the opening door drowned out the clerk's last comment, and Skinner asked him to repeat it.

"They think they're looking for aliens. Can you beat that?"

Skinner remembered seeing the exit for the campgrounds earlier that morning and, within thirty minutes, found himself driving along the road encircling the lake, trying to figure out how to distinguish alien seekers from your ordinary everyday campers. He figured that he had found the right crowd when he came across several silver trailers with small satellite dishes attached to the roofs along with other antennae equipment.

He approached three men who where gathered at one of the picnic tables drinking coffee and pulled out his ID. "I'm Assistant Director Walter Skinner with the FBI. Can I speak to the person in charge of your group?"

A tall thin man in a plaid shirt and jeans stood. "That would be me. Jim McCaskill. Don't tell me those local police boys went and called the FBI on us."

"Actually, I'm here on a somewhat unofficial capacity. I'm conducting a search for a missing person, and it's possible that you might have crossed paths with him within the last two weeks." He pulled out an old black-and-white file photo and passed it on to the men. "He's about six foot one, brown hair, hazel eyes. Name's Mulder."

Six pairs of eyes stared back at him. "Mulder?" McCaskill repeated. "Fox Mulder?"

Skinner forced his chest to squeeze out the air that had become trapped in his lungs. Could it be this easy, he thought. "Yes, Fox Mulder. Have you seen him?"

McCaskill pointed back at him. "Wait right here." He took the photo and ran over to the second trailer, knocking first, and then entering it. A moment later, he emerged and was followed by a blonde woman in jeans and a red sweater.

She had the photo in her hand as she walked up to Skinner.

"Do you know this man? You're FBI, right? Do you work with him?"

Skinner realized that the woman did not know him, but he recognized her from the case file photos. She was Sharon Graffia, who had somehow gotten Mulder and Scully involved on a case with a passenger jet and an alien craft that may or may not have been shot down by the military. The same case that they were investigating when Pendrell had been killed. The last he knew of Sharon was that she had checked herself into a hospital for psychiatric evaluation.

"Yes, I'm AD Skinner, Mulder's supervisor. Have you spoken with him lately?"

"No," Sharon replied. "We're looking for him, actually."

"How did you know that he was missing?" Skinner looked around at the gathering crowd. "And why here?"

"We had some help." Sharon turned and motioned one of the group forward.

Skinner crouched down as the boy approached. He had thought that boys of that age grew in spurts, but Gibson Praise hardly seemed to have aged in the two years that had passed since he and his agents had seen him last. In fact, the only difference appeared to be that his hair was now a dark brown as opposed to the sandy color on the videotape of that deadly chess match in Canada.

Gibson spoke first. "She's OK, isn't she?"

Skinner began to smile. "Dana Scully, you mean?"

"Yes. You've been worried about her. And her partner."

"Fox Mulder."

"He's not here right now. He was, but he went with the rest of them."

Skinner looked up at McCaskill and Sharon. "The rest of them?"

"You'll see," Gibson reassured him. "We'll find them."

McCaskill tapped the boy on the shoulder, and they returned to the main picnic table to fix themselves a bowl of cereal.

Skinner was still trying to believe his luck in coming in contact with the child after all this time. "How long has he been here?"

"We found him just outside Denver about four months ago."

Sharon and Skinner began to walk a bit away from the crowd.

"Or maybe he found us. He just seemed to know the kind of work that we were doing and started giving us information about some of the places where we should be doing our research."

"Did you ask him how he knew these things?" Skinner noticed that she was hesitating about saying anything further. "You know that he has gifts in certain areas."

"That he does. At first, he kept telling us that we didn't need to believe him but that it wouldn't hurt to go and see for ourselves. He's a very special boy."

"More than you know." They had stopped walking and turned back to watch Gibson eating his breakfast. "I don't understand how he's managed to survive. We thought we lost him a couple of years ago."

"He says that he would approach only those that he knew wouldn't hurt or betray him. He was with some farm or some reservation families before he found us." Sharon paused to remember a face from a few years back. "There's just this quality about him that reminds me of someone."

"What did he mean by 'he went with the rest of them'?"

"Gibson doesn't elaborate much, just tells enough to keep us in the right direction and stopping us from going about things in the wrong way. I think that he's still afraid to trust. I mean, he can clearly see who each of us are down to our last thoughts. He'll even let me mother him a little but..." She looked up at Skinner, slightly embarrassed. "That's not answering your question. This gets a bit weird."

Tell me about it, he thought. "Weird is why I'm here."

"About ten days ago, we were in Rapid City, and Gibson was looking at our maps when all of a sudden he tells me that we've got to go to North Dakota. Pointed out this specific location and everything. Says that they're all here. When I asked him what he meant by 'they', he tells me that it's all the people in the spaceships and that they're leaving soon. Well, when he said spaceships, the first thing that flashed through my mind was my friend Max, and then Gibson says that no, Max wasn't there but that Fox Mulder was."

"He said that Mulder was here?" Skinner shook his head.

"Gibson only reads minds - how could he have known that?"

"He must have been in contact before with someone who knew.

Every time he says we need to be somewhere, we find things.

So we tell him that we'll be driving this way shortly, and Gibson's like, no, you have to leave now. So he and Darryl and I get on a plane, and we're here a couple of hours later."

"And you saw something."

"Yes." Sharon looked away for a moment before continuing.

"Well, no, I didn't see anything. We'd gotten a car at the airport, and we were driving around. Gibson tells us to pull over, and he gets out and starts running in this open field. Darryl must have gotten out and ran after him, but I couldn't move. I just had this strange feeling - like I knew what was out there. I could sense..." Her words drifted but she quickly recovered. "I just couldn't move.

And then it happened. There was this bright beam from the sky, very quick, and then it went out. It got so quiet, no insects, no wind - nothing - and then I started calling for the others. Gibson came back to the car alone."

"What happened to Darryl?"

"According to Gibson, he was taken. I told him that this was not a joking matter - I know what it's like to be taken, if only for a short time, but he insisted." The two began walking back up the road. "Everyone else got here the following evening. At first, we were only staying to see if Darryl would show up. Personal experience tells me that if he was abducted by whatever was out there, then more than likely he'll be returned somewhere close."

"Has he been found?"

"Not yet."

Skinner stopped walking when he noticed that Gibson had left the picnic area and was slowly making his way towards them. "And yet you've stayed?"

"We've come across some places that appear to be some sort of gathering or staging area. The ground impressions are enormous, and no one local seems to be able to account for them. We're finishing up the soil analysis now." Sharon was startled when Gibson tugged on her sweater. "Gibson, are you all right?"

Gibson turned his attention towards Skinner. "Mister? Her name is Scully, isn't it?"

He nodded. "The lady who helped you a couple of years ago?

Dana Scully?"

"There's someone close by calling out her name."

Sharon played with the boy's hair. "Are you sure it's not just Mr. Skinner thinking about her?"

"No. There is someone out there, heading this way."

Gibson walked slowly out to the middle of the road and pointed to a figure staggering alongside a fence in the distance.

Skinner felt a chill run down his spine. "Mulder."

Gibson shook his head. "It's not Mulder."

Sharon began walking towards the other side of the road to get a closer look. "Oh my god, it's Darryl."

Several of the campsite group, including Skinner, ran down the road to help their returning member. They tried to carry him back to the camping area, but Darryl remained rigid, as if frozen, with his hands clenched in fists and knees unbending. He was muttering something incoherent, but it sounded like he was repeating a chant over and over again.

They got him to finally sit down on a bench, and Sharon brought a cup of water to his visibly parched lips. Darryl swallowed some but most of it ended up on his mud-stained jeans. As Sharon reached for a refill, he started his chanting again but was quieted when feed more water.

Darryl was silent for a moment, as if not noticing that he was back among his friends, until Gibson approached him.

They locked eyes, and Darryl began his chant again, only this time his voice was louder and clearer.

It was still indecipherable to Skinner until Gibson momentarily turned his way and started chanting with the returnee: Dana Scully, Dana Scully.

Skinner quickly moved to Darryl's side and knelt beside him opposite Gibson. He observed the eye contact between the two, sensing that one was reaching into the terrified mind of the other and soothing it as the man's chanting became clearer and softer. Skinner felt himself beginning to hyperventilate when he realized that the man was indeed calling out the name of one of his agents - a name that he should not have known. "How do you know Dana Scully?"

Darryl turned to him and then looked down at his own clenched fists. He held out his right arm and then slowly uncurled his fingers. The tips of his nails were caked in red from blood, and Skinner could see that the man's hand must have been in that position for some time, desperately digging into his own skin. It took a few seconds for it to register that the man was harboring something precious within that grasp.

A small gold cross necklace.

And the chanting continued. ". . . for Dana Scully. Dana Scully."


Alone in the silence
She wakes up too soon and reaches for his arm
But she'll just keep reaching on **

Devils Lake, North Dakota

Route 57 Campgrounds
Sunday
10:19am Skinner gently picked up the delicate cross necklace from Darryl's palm and held it before him. It had to be hers, he thought. There was no other explanation for it. He pulled out a handkerchief, dropped the necklace into the middle, and carefully refolded it before placing it in his jacket.

He turned his attention back to the returnee. "He needs to see a doctor. He's in shock."

Someone from the group shouted to another, "Kenny, bring the van around."

Skinner helped carry Darryl from the picnic bench to the spot that had cleared when the vehicle backed up to the main area. Two others pulled Darryl through the open door and settled him onto one of the seats.

"Are you coming with us?" one of them asked Skinner.

"I'll catch up in a few minutes." He watched with the remainder of the group as the van pulled away and noticed that Gibson and Sharon were standing together but apart from the rest of the crowd. He approached them. "Gibson, do your parents know that you're alive?"

Gibson looked up at Sharon and then back at Skinner. "No."

"Should I call them?"

Gibson continued to stare back at the man, as if to challenge his suggestion. "They stopped looking for me a long time ago."

"I still think that they would like to hear that you are all right."

"They think I'm dead. I know it's cruel to let them think that, but they'll just be worried all the time if they find out."

Skinner decided not to push the issue for the time being.

"Will you be staying in the area for a while now?"

Sharon nodded and replied, "We'll wait until Darryl is out of the hospital, of course, but I think that we're pretty much finished here."

"Here's my card," Skinner reached into his jacket, "and this is the direct line to my office. I have to leave first thing in the morning, and I want to make sure that you have this. I want you to call me and let me know where you go.

And if you run into any trouble, I want to know about it.

I'll be there with any help that I can give."

Gibson spoke up again. "That lady - Dana. Are you going to give back her necklace?"

"Yes."

"She'll be sad, won't she? She wanted him to keep it; that's why she gave it to him. Now she'll think that he didn't want it."

"I'm sure that's not the reason, Gibson." Sharon put a hand on his shoulder to try to get him to look at her. "Maybe he gave it to Darryl because he knew that he was coming back first, to let her know that he was all right."

The boy continued to stare at Skinner. "But he'll be back soon anyways. He could have waited until then."

Sharon knelt down beside the boy. "Gibson, how do you know that Agent Mulder is coming back?"

"I don't know. I just do."

"Can you tell us when?"

Gibson began looking around, as if there was something else vying for his attention. "Soon. But not here."

"Can you tell us where?" Skinner asked, but Gibson had already begun to wander away from them back towards the trailers. He watched with Sharon as the boy entered the nearest one. "Listen, I have some colleagues who'll be in town later on this afternoon. I'm going to send them out this way. They're not law enforcement, but I think that they can be a lot of help to your research. And they know Mulder and Scully quite well."

"Gibson seems quite taken with Dana." Sharon pulled at the sleeves of her sweater as the morning chill began to wear off. "We didn't meet under the best of circumstances, but she did visit me in the hospital a couple of times after that. Maybe if we get to DC soon, we can come visit."

"I think that Scully would like meet Gibson again."

Especially now, he thought to himself.


Devils Lake General Hospital
12:22pm

The ringing surprised him as he had momentarily forgotten that he had a cellphone in his pocket. "Skinner."

The voice was Frohike's. "We're about to hit the town limits. Where are you?"

"At the hospital."

"Care to elaborate?"

Skinner walked further down the hospital hallway away from the floor nurses' station. "There's someone here who may have seen Mulder within the last ten days. I'm waiting for the doctor to get through with him so that we can talk."

"He's *seen* Mulder?"

"This conversation will make more sense once you get here.

Take the first exit on the bypass around Devils Lake and follow the signs." He quickly hung up when he noticed that the doctor had exited the examining room and was talking to the group that had accompanied Darryl to the hospital. He walked back to the main area and waited for the doctor to finish his brief summary of 'let's wait and see' before approaching him. "Doctor, I need to be able to question this man."

"I can't let you do that just now."

Skinner pulled out his FBI credentials and continued with his assertion. "I'm pursuing a missing witness, someone that your patient has had contact with recently. Now, they were both reported missing at about the same time, and you can see the condition of one of them. Another man's life may be at stake here."

The doctor refolded the patient file and tucked it under his arm. "He's not going to be able to tell you much. If you'd wait until the fluids kick in and he gets some rest, he might actually start making some sense."

"What has he been saying?"

"He keeps asking for someone named... Kelly, I think, and mumbling something about telling her he's coming home soon."

The doctor shook his head and headed for the nurses' desk.

"Sorry, that's about all."

Skinner checked with the other men in the group. After receiving assurances that they would remain to keep an eye on Darryl until he got back, Skinner thanked them and headed for the main exit where the two Gunmen were waiting for him.

Frohike hopped down off of the stone fence that surrounded the building. "What's up, G-man?"

Langly was still stretched out on its ledge. "Yeah, where's this witness?"

"He's going to be out of it for a while." Skinner paused at the bottom of the stairs and waited for them to join him.

"I'll come back and question him later."

"So, how do you know he's seen Mulder?"

Skinner reached into his jacket and pulled out the handkerchief, opening the folds but not touching the necklace otherwise.

Frohike genuinely seemed to be shocked. "Is this what I think it is?"

"Is that - blood?" Langly looked as if he faint on the spot.

"It's quite possible, but it probably belongs to the guy inside." Skinner refolded the handkerchief and put it back in his jacket pocket. "I'm going to hand this over to the labs when I get back and see if there is anything out of the ordinary here."

"So where to now?" Frohike asked.

"How do you guys feel about doing some camping?"


Devils Lake
Route 57 Campgrounds
2:01pm

Skinner had introduced the two Gunmen to Sharon Graffia and Jim McCaskill and was outlining their mutual interests.

"There is someone else here you may have heard Mulder and Scully talk about before. Gibson Praise."

"Whoa. Really?" Langly was pumped.

"The kid had the most amazing brain scans." Frohike paused to consider the implications of someone with those abilities residing with a group that appeared to offer little in the way of protection and turned serious. "Are other people aware that he's with you?"

"No." Sharon looked to McCaskill. "Well, not that we know of. Is Gibson in any kind of danger?"

Skinner gave a quick look around to see if Gibson was in the area before continuing. "How much of his past has he told you?"

McCaskill shook his head. "At first we were sidetracked because he startled us with his being able to know exactly what we were looking for. Once we got him to tell us his name, a quick search told us about his chess playing and what happened during that one match. But the last we could find was that he was taken into protective custody. After that, there was nothing."

"Gibson was kidnapped just after that incident." Skinner lowered his voice and added, "And we're quite certain that he was subjected to some unusual medical testing."

"That would make sense," Sharon whispered. "I found some old scars. Gibson would never tell me about them. Was this because of his special gifts?"

"Yes. Do others ask you about him? I mean, when you're out traveling. I don't see other children here."

"We say he's mine," McCaskill replied. "My wife and I lost our son some years back. SIDS, they said. Lost the wife right after that. I still have the birth certificate for my child - figured that if we ever had to, we'd use it for Gibson."

The two Gunmen looked at each other in silent confirmation before Frohike made his offer. "We have some experience in that area - Social Security Number, school records, immunization cards, that sort of thing. If you're interested in going ahead and getting it done now."


Skinner's Apartment
Crystal City, VA
Monday
6:11pm Rain delays in Minneapolis on the return flight put Skinner behind schedule in getting back to DC. He had first stopped by the lab and given them the necklace, with explicit instructions to run every test known to man and science, stopping short of harming the evidence. He would expect their report the following afternoon, he told them.

Afterwards, he went upstairs to his office and found, to his relief, that there were no urgent messages or voicemails about or from Scully. He decided it would be easier to get an early start on the paperwork in the morning.

Skinner had already unlocked the door to his apartment before he noticed the lurker in the shadows. "You're taking a chance showing up here."

"Your office hours suck." Krycek did not wait for a verbal invitation, following Skinner inside and shutting the door behind him.

"How is Marita? Have you gotten her settled?"

Krycek nodded and looked around the Apartment, noting that not much had changed since the last time he was there. "And Scully?"

"She's safe," Skinner replied and then added, "for the moment."

You're not going to tell me where she is, are you, Krycek thought. He had other ways to mess with his mind. "Were you able to get any leads on Mulder in North Dakota?"

Skinner dropped the mail he was sorting through onto the dinette table. "Who says I was in North Dakota?"

"You should really learn to pay your way in cash or at least with fake credit cards if you don't want people to know where you've been."

Skinner remained calm but wasted no time in getting to his phone and punched in a number. "Frohike, are you still with the group?"

"Yes, but not for long. A couple of hours ago, one trailer pulled out of here for..."

"Don't tell me where," Skinner interrupted. "I'm not sure my line is secure. Will the rest follow shortly?"

"Yeah, they went to pick up the package in town, and then they're gone."

Skinner turned to face Krycek. "Make sure that they get out OK."

"Will do. I'm out."

"I'm heartbroken that you still don't trust me." Krycek may have been playing the innocent, but he never expected to have the other man charge and pin him against the wall.

"Hey, watch it."

Skinner applied more pressure to the fake arm to keep in place, reasoning that it might do more damage than a bare fist if there was any resistance. "Who else knows?"

"Anyone who can get to your travel request and receipts."

A quick and reasonable answer, Skinner thought. He released Krycek and backed away. "I wasn't expecting to find anything."

"So you *have* come across something."

"People have a habit of dying when you're around."

"Only when they deserve it." Krycek finished readjusting his jacket after their tussle. "Hey, I didn't have to tell you about Marita nearly getting grabbed or getting those reports for you. So did you find a lead or what?"

Skinner thought it over for a moment. "What do you know about North Dakota?"

"There's a missile silo there that I'm not anxious to see the insides of ever again."

"Apparently, there's an area around Devils Lake that started acting like a UFO Union Station some weeks ago. A group that tracks that kind of activity went to check it out at about the same time Mulder and I went to Oregon, and one of their guys also ended up missing. Only this guy shows back up with a message from Mulder for Scully."

"And that message is?"

"That he'll be home soon."


Lone Gunmen Headquarters
Thursday
9:59pm

Skinner entered the main work area to find Langly and Frohike examining archived satellite traffic. "Good to know that you've gotten back in one piece. Did Gibson and Sharon and the others get on the road OK?"

Frohike spoke first. "They're heading for their base home in Indianapolis. I take it that there's a lot of data that they want to sort through. I was planning on contacting them next week about any findings."

"So what's been going on at the J. Edgar?" Langly began scooping together the scattered disks. "Has anyone noticed that Scully's gone missing?"

"That's why I've stayed away until now." Skinner circled behind Langly to peek at the data scrolling on the monitors.

"Someone in the mailroom apparently made a big stink about not being able to deliver folders and went to Personnel to see if she was on vacation. They called me Tuesday morning.

I went through the routine with Mrs. Scully. We went to her Apartment, found nothing out of place, spoke with the landlord. We made all the right noises in front of witnesses. She filed the missing person's report this morning - she didn't want my name on it for when Scully turns back up."

"They've called twice - Susanne and Scully," Byers added.

"They want to know what we've found."

"About all we've told them is that we made a trip to North Dakota where there was evidence of activity but no verification. She's going to call back again soon."

Frohike sighed and shook his head. "She's getting restless and making noises about getting back into the search herself."

"She can't do that," Skinner sharply replied.

Frohike snorted, "You tell her."

"Well, I've got to talk to her sometime." Skinner reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out a small plastic evidence pouch that contained the cross necklace. "I had the lab do every kind of test it could think of doing, and I've got nothing that connects to Mulder."

Langly quietly asked, "What about the blood?"

"Not his. Must be Darryl's. All the other residues can be attributable to human sources - sweat, most likely. Too small for fingerprints." Skinner ran his thumb lightly over the chain. "I'm just not sure that I want to tell her that I have this."

"We could wait and let Mulder give it back to her."

"No, I should give it to her now. At least then she'll know that there's been some attempt at contact on his part." The necklace suddenly felt heavy in his palm. "Mulder meant for Scully to get this. When's the next phone call?"

Byers answered, "Tonight at eleven."

Skinner nodded, paused as if making a quick decision, and turned to Byers. "Can you arrange it so that I can meet with her this weekend?"

"I thought that you didn't want to know where she was."

Frohike offered a compromise. "We could have it couriered with our other information. She'd have it by Monday."

"No." Skinner placed the necklace back in his pocket and looked at his watch. "I think that I need to explain this one in person."


near Carpenter, NC
Route 50
Saturday
1:02pm

Skinner felt oddly out of place in the passenger seat of the rented Camry. When he had asked Byers to arrange to let him meet with Scully, he did not expect the Gunman to invite himself along, much less do the driving. But with what he had been able to decipher, he suspected that Byers had his own motives for making this trip.

He had reminded Byers that the parking deck in his apartment complex had a video system and had arranged to be picked up several blocks away. He packed a change of clothes and a few personal items inside his laptop bag to lessen suspicion should anyone be watching and note that he might be away for more than a few hours.

They had listened to National Public Radio (NPR) stations and their 'lighter' Saturday line-up fare to pass the time before Byers pointed out to Skinner to note certain street names for future reference. The last few miles were taken slowly as the car maneuvered around deep puddles down the unpaved road and then the graveled driveway. A white clapboard farmhouse awaited them at the end.

Susanne met them on the porch. "Dana's in the kitchen, just off to the right," she motioned to Skinner after their brief introduction. She felt awkward in that she seemed to be trying to get rid of him quickly so that she could be with Byers, but she released that guilt once the two were alone.

"Hello."

"Hello there, yourself." Byers was so sure that, once the two had some time to themselves without conspiracies or imminent death hanging over them, he would be able to find the words that he had only rehearsed in his mind when he was finally alone with Susanne after all this time. Seeing her, however, crumpled all those speeches faster than a well-planned building implosion. He finally recovered enough of his senses to reach out to her and draw her into an embrace.

They stood there for a moment, hearing nothing but their own breathing, until Susanne broke the silence. "How long can you stay?"

"I have to get Skinner back to DC sometime tomorrow. Can you put up with us for that long?"

Susanne gave him a squeeze before letting Byers go. "I think that I can manage that. Come on inside."

"I need to contact the guys, let them know we got here safely."

Susanne took Byers' hand and led him into the house. They had to pass the kitchen on the way to the computer room and saw that Scully was pouring a couple of glasses of tea.

Skinner took one of them and sat down at the small wooden dinette set in the corner of the kitchen. "Thank you, Scully. You're looking well."

"I've been doing little except for sleeping and reading online articles." She closed the refrigerator door and joined him at the table. "How is my mother?"

"Holding up. I talked with her yesterday. She filed a missing person's report so you're going to want to be careful with your picture being out there. She knows you are safe, but of course she can't share that with the rest of your family."

She let out a tentative laugh that quickly turned into a sigh. "I can just hear Bill now."

"I've had the opportunity to get an earful from him already.

Mulder should probably not show up at any of your family gatherings any time soon."

Scully was now all seriousness at the mention of her partner and leaned forward across the table. "I'm glad to hear that you're still in an active search for him. The guys won't tell me much, and I know that you had to have found something up there."

"I'm not sure where to begin." It was difficult to look her in the eye and say that, but he had no other opening line planned.

"You have to tell me everything," Scully urged. "I need to know - good or bad."

"I came across a group of UFO researchers that had some people that you might remember. Sharon Graffia, for one."

Skinner paused as he noted the surprised look on her face and wondered what the reaction would be when he completed his sentence. "And Gibson Praise."

The sight of the sickly boy that she had once cradled in her arms flooded her thoughts. "Gibson? He's alive?"

"Yes, and still with whatever powers he possessed back then and maybe more to a higher degree now. Gibson is the one who guided that group to North Dakota."

Scully reached out for Skinner's forearm. "There's more, isn't there?"

"Gibson told them that that area was a major jump-off point for the kinds of crafts that I saw in Oregon. He mentioned Mulder *by name* prior to their leaving for that place." He placed his hand over hers. "He also says that Mulder will be back."

"How? How could he know?" Scully pulled away and leaned back in the chair. "Did he say when?"

"He just said that it would be soon. I don't know if he really *does* know, but I think that he is telling the truth." Here goes nothing, he thought. "When they first got to the place that Gibson pointed out, one of their group disappeared. Only Gibson and Sharon witnessed it, and it fits with what I saw when Mulder vanished. Right after I found the group, the missing man turned up. He was calling your name, and he had this with him." Skinner reached into his shirt pocket and then held out his hand to her.

For a moment, it seemed to Scully as if the world had been plunged into a solar eclipse - everything had been blotted out and turned to black except for the illumination from the cross that lay before her in Skinner's palm. She reached out and he turned his hand over to gently drop the necklace across her fingers. She brought it closer to her face to examine it, but she already knew. She knew that it was hers, the same one that she had fastened around Mulder's neck before he had left. He was giving it back to her again.

Scully swallowed hard and tried to find her voice. "This man, the one who came back."

"I was able to question him before I left, but there wasn't that much that he could remember. I showed him Mulder's picture, but he couldn't ID it. He recognizes your name; he just doesn't know why he knows it. He might remember more with time, but there's no guarantee."

"Why?"

"I don't know, Scully. Maybe this is just Mulder's way of letting you know that he's coming back."

Her voice was suddenly flat, as if to mask her fear of what was now running through her mind. "Or that it was his last chance to return this." She looked up at Skinner, blinking her eyes in an unsuccessful effort to keep the tears from spilling over. She stood with a hurried, "Excuse me," and left the kitchen.

Skinner listened to her footsteps trailing down the hallway and heard a door close a few seconds later. This is going to be a long afternoon, he thought as he too left the kitchen and wandered out onto the screened-in porch.


For the cold hard truth revealed
What it had known **

Carpenter, NC
Saturday
7:03pm

"Where is Gibson now?"

Skinner had not heard her approach the screen door, absorbed as he was with listening to the early evening song of the locusts. The door creaked open, and he watched as she walked barefoot across the floorboards to the screen framing of the porch before turning to face him. He noticed that she was again wearing the familiar cross necklace.

Scully spoke again. "I need to speak with him."

"I don't think that's wise at this time."

She seemed puzzled at his response. "How do we know that he is really safe? If you were able to find him, how much longer do you think it will be before others find out, the kind of people who would hurt him again?"

Skinner had to admit that sending someone out there to watch over him was not an option that he had considered, especially since it meant explaining *why* someone had to watch him. "It was a fluke that I even found him in the first place."

"If he knows where Mulder is, that he might be back soon, I need to talk with him. We have to find out what he knows."

"But that's just it, Scully. He doesn't *know*. He may not know anything for sure until it happens."

"All the more reason for me to be with him." Her voice had started out as a whisper but then grew more forceful with her increasing frustration. "I can't just sit here until the phone rings. I need to be there. I *have* to be there when it happens. I don't understand how you could have left him alone. Unprotected."

"Putting the two of you in the same place may not be the prudent thing to do. If someone does locate either of you..." Skinner quickly changed the subject. "He has apparently been very selective about who he approaches, and it has kept him safe. He's a very cautious little boy."

"Gibson should be fourteen or so by now. He shouldn't be so little anymore."

"Honestly, it doesn't look like he's aged any since we first saw him."

"That's odd. Puberty should be doing a number on him by now." She walked back towards the door but paused beside his chair to issue her ultimatum. "You'll contact the people with him. Get me to where Gibson is, or I'll ask Frohike to come and get me and take me there personally."

As the door slammed behind her, Skinner knew that she would follow through on that threat and that Frohike would be only too glad to help her. He followed her back inside the house to start making the phone calls.


Carpenter, NC
Saturday
9:16pm

Byers and Susanne were on the couch in the living room, listening to the local oldies station. They were lounging in each other arms, as they had most of the afternoon, catching up on all the small talk that they had missed out on in the months since their 'reunion' in Vegas. They had talked of the things that they would do without regard to when they would be done - it was understood that these events would take place without question. It hurt too much to focus on a timetable to their future, knowing that it could be interrupted in an instant.

"Dana told me about the baby." Susanne shifted to catch his reaction. "You couldn't say anything?"

"It wasn't my place to tell. If she was going to be here for any length of time, I know that she would have said something to you."

She smiled, wondering if that was the real reason he had never brought the subject up. "Why do I get the feeling that this wasn't something that you were expecting, so to speak?"

"We didn't know that Mulder and Scully... well, they'd never said anything to the three of us." He had been told that he had a tendency to blush easily; he could feel his ears reddening as he stammered out his answer.

"But you've been friends for a long time."

"I sense that this part of their relationship is still somewhat new to the both of them. I doubt even Skinner knew."

Susanne paused and wondered if she wanted to take this conversation in another direction. She decided to take that chance. "John, why did you come here today with Skinner?"

His embarrassment was now complete. "I wanted to see you."

"You've known where I've been since Vegas. You could have visited any time you'd like."

"I couldn't take the chance of compromising your location no matter how many precautions I took, I'd always be worried about those people finding you."

"And now? Do you think I'm in any less danger now?"

His guilty conscience swerved into the fast lane - Just admit it, Byers; you've been too much of a chicken to approach her before now. You've been wanting to take her up on that 'someday' offer for months but you always stopped in your tracks because you couldn't take the chance that she might reject you. Here's the perfect opportunity to tell her the damn truth. "It's this thing with Mulder being missing. He and Scully - they've known each other for years, and we could sometimes see that there was more than just a partnership at times. I didn't want another day to go by without being able to talk to you, actually seeing you."

The spark of sadness in his eyes caught her off guard. "What if something like this happens to us? What if..."

He cut off her morbid speculation with a kiss. They parted a moment later, and Byers shifted to allow her to rest her head on his shoulder. "We've already lived it. Or at least, I have. I'd lost you for almost ten years. I didn't even know if you were alive. And then after Vegas, I was always afraid to contact you in case someone was tracing the lines."

"Langly would never hear of that. Most likely, no one's even been trying to find Susanne Modeski. Poor Dana," she sighed. "Mulder goes missing, and then she finds out that she's pregnant."

"Sounds like a soap opera."

"I don't want a soap opera, John. I just want 'us'. Can we at least have that?"

They continued to make plans for their future - on that couch and in her bedroom - into the early morning hours.


Rutland, VT
Tuesday
9:22am

Marita had electronically combed the records of the state nursing agencies for Virginia and Maryland. If Greta *had* applied for a new position, she had done it with a facility that did not bother to check her accreditations with the state boards.

It may have been possible that Greta was being taken care of by friends of the old man so that she would not have to work. Alex was looking into that scenario and had visited several locations in New York and western Virginia that had served as safehouses in the past but had had no luck so far.

There was another possibility that lingered in the recesses of her mind - that the old man was not dead and that Greta was still taking care of him. That would explain why her recommendations files remained undisturbed but opened up the larger questions as to where they were now located and their current capability to interfere with her plans.

And if she was able to find them both, she would need a secure place to house them.

Or dispose of them after she had gotten the information that she needed. She had not yet decided on their fate.


Indianapolis, IN
Wednesday
4:42pm

The cab had made two wrong turns off of the interstate.

Scully carried the small piece of paper where Skinner had scribbled down the address and had repeated the street name several times. She was on the verge of making the driver pull over to ask for directions but was equally concerned about not making a scene - she did not want this driver remembering that she was in his cab.

The wig of light brown curls should have been enough camouflage to disguise her identity in case her photo was on the circulating missing persons' bulletins. Hiding her red hair was the main objective but, looking in the harsh lighting of the women's room in the airport, she thought she looked more like a recovering chemo patient rather than someone trying to mask her looks.

The driver finally found the house. She quickly handed him a twenty and a five for the $22.45 meter and got out of the cab, toting the small carry-on bag that Susanne had given her. Scully had not bought that many new clothes, waiting instead to expand her wardrobe in step with her waistline.

She was greeted by several household members, including Sharon Graffia, who had shown her to the converted study that would be her room for the next few weeks. Scully quickly sought out the bathroom to wash her face and shed the wig. As she returned to the living room, she found Gibson Praise waiting for her.

That he appeared exactly as when they first met, with the exception of his hair color, shocked her a bit. She rushed over and knelt in front of him, taking his two hands in hers. "Gibson? Are you all right? How..."

"You ask too many questions."

No, nothing about him had changed, she thought. She *had* asked all of her questions in the space of the seconds it took to reach him. But would he answer them?

Gibson settled her fears. "He is alive. And we will find him. It's not much longer now."

"But Gibson..."

"He's thinking of you, too. It will be OK, Scully."

She got back up on her feet and guided him towards the couch to sit down. "Gibson, I want to know. I need to know everything. How did you get out of that reactor? What happened to that creature? Who took care of you?"

"I know that I was in there for a long time. I was really tired a lot. I fell asleep." He inched himself backwards to rest against the pillows. "One time, I woke up and I was outside, in the desert. I could hear people talking the regular way, and I knew that these people just wanted to help me get better. So I stayed with them for a while. But I was scared that those men would come back and find me so I left."

"How did you survive?"

Gibson sunk deeper into the pillows. "I did some bad things."

"What kind of bad things?"

Gibson hesitated and then lowered his voice, as if he did not want the others in the house to hear him. "I took food from a couple of stores. I stole some money once."

"You should have tried to find me." She put an arm around his shoulder. "I would have helped you."

"You would have only put me in another hospital."

"Honey, you were hurt and needed help back then." Scully remembered his accusations of being her lab rat shortly before he disappeared the last time. "I should have never let you out of my sight."

"I did dream of Mulder once; he was in a hospital too. I tried to talk to him, but I don't think he heard me then."

"Can he hear you now, Gibson?" Scully was still curious as to how his powers may have expanded per Skinner's previous remarks.

Gibson replied by shrugging his shoulders. "Only sometimes.

I don't think that he wants to hear me. I think that he'd rather hear from you."

"I can't do what you do."

"Yes, you can."

She stared back at him and relaxed her hold of his shoulder.

The boy stared back at her, not believing that she did not know how simple it could have been. Gibson pointed to her necklace, and Scully picked up the cross with two fingers.

She decided to give it a try - she'd done her fair share of odd things.

'Mulder, when are you coming home?'

The air around her changed, like she was in a plane that had lost cabin pressure in mid-flight. Nothing moved - no shadows, nothing in the background shifted and all the noise from the other rooms faded with the exception of a buzzing in her ears. Scully watched as Gibson looked back at her with knowing eyes and nodded. In that moment, she received her answer in a voice that she had not heard in several weeks.

'Soon, Scully. Soon.'


Skinner's Apartment
Crystal City, VA
Saturday
7:31am The telephone call had caught him in the middle of getting dressed. "Where?" Skinner asked again.

"Paragould, Arkansas," Frohike repeated. "In the northeast section of the state."

Byers' voice came over the line. "Little time to explain.

Scully is with Gibson and the group. They're driving."

The Gunmen were working in tandem, and Frohike took over again. "They were already on the road when we got the call.

Gibson says they'll make it there in time, but they've got a few hours on us."

Skinner was trying to figure out the fastest way there.

"Where's the nearest airport?"

"Memphis. You're already booked. Northwest 857 leaving at 9:20. You'll need to make your own arrangements for a vehicle, though."

"And the three of you?"

"We're on US Airways 896 right behind you. If we time this right, we'll be coming in from the south as they head in from the north."

Skinner jotted down the information on a small notepad next to the phone. "And Gibson is sure about this? Mulder's coming home?"

"Scully believes him. That's all I need to know."

Byers again interrupted. "Hang up, Skinner. We can contact them once we start getting close."


Somewhere in Missouri
Interstate 55
12:48pm

Scully turned around to find Gibson huddled in the back seat of the van. "Gibson, is something wrong?"

He kept staring out of the window and croaked out an answer. "No."

She got up from her seat and sat down next to him. "Gibson?

Something *is* wrong. Tell me."

He first looked at the other people in the van and then turned towards Scully. He continued to speak in a whisper. "I know you're gonna have a baby. And I know that there are people out there who want to take your baby. Cause they think it will be like me. After we find Agent Mulder, you'll still have to hide from them and take Mulder with you. Cause they want him, too."

This alarmed Scully. He did not seem to be scared, but he shivered like someone with the knowledge that they were facing a non-too-pleasant future. "Who, Gibson? Who are these people?"

"The same ones who took me before. That man who's always smoking. He's still trying to find me."

She put her arm around his shoulders to comfort him. "When we get there, you stay with me. Nothing is going to happen to us, understand?"


Paragould, Arkansas
Route 135
8:16pm

After pulling over to the side of the road and parking among the other vehicles, the Gunmen spotted Skinner and Scully walking along the perimeter of what appeared to be an abandoned construction site. They exchanged details of their decidedly uneventful flights before asking about the evening's agenda.

"We're waiting for sundown," Skinner explained. "Should be anytime now."

Langly, ever curious, checked out the membership of the other groups gathered nearby. "Where's the Wonder Kid?"

"Gibson?" Scully looked around the immediate area.

"Gibson?" she called out again with no response. She walked over to Sharon and Jim McCaskill, thinking that they might have been talking with him. "Has anyone seen Gibson? He was right beside me. I don't know where he went."

"He was just there, over by that rock, a few minutes ago."

Scully walked over to the spot that Jim had pointed out and circled around the small boulder, thinking that perhaps Gibson was hiding on the other side. Finding no sign of him, she turned around and looked across the terrain, paying particular attention to the growing shadows and potential hiding places for young boys. Before she could take a step away from the rock, Scully began to feel the change in air pressure around her, much like she had experienced before, and instinctively froze.

The wind picked up, and she noticed some of the other group members starting to move within her range of sight in the growing darkness. A light, she thought; there should be a light from the sky, they had said before. Several moments then passed, and there was no change in her view. She called out for Gibson again but only heard the movement of the others behind her and a faint echo in the distance.

Scully began to panic - she had lost sight of Gibson who was her only established link to Mulder these last couple of days. She reached for the cross on her necklace, the one object that comforted her, the one object that had been given back to her from someplace beyond. And she thought of them both - Gibson, whom she hoped was still somewhere near her and Mulder, whom she was promised would be coming back to her that night.

A small group that included Frohike and Skinner headed in her direction with flashlights. One of them handed her a spare, and they began to spread out forward in their silent search. Scully continued with the hunt, her hand at her throat, fingering the cross. Concentrating and hoping that both Mulder and Gibson could hear her pleas.

Another few moments passed. Scully had to stop her forward motion when the pressure began to feel like her head was in a vise. Her eyes began watering from the pain, and she let go of her necklace to wipe away the stray tears. The pounding in her head seemed to subside, and she shone the flashlight ahead of her to maneuver the descending slope.

A movement caught her attention, but she thought that it was another searcher who had passed her when she had stopped.

It then dawned on her that the figure was moving towards her, and at first she thought that it was Gibson coming back from his hiding place, to come back to her side as she had made him promise. But the figure was growing larger, larger than the small boy should be, as it approached.

Scully's single scream echoed across the terrain and brought the other members of the search party to her location. They found her on the ground, silently weeping and cradling an unconscious Fox Mulder.


Western Tennessee
Tuesday
2:13am

Mulder was waking up again. The Gunmen and Scully had gathered around the bed, waiting to see if he would be able to push through the barrier of consciousness this time and become alert enough to carry on a sustained conversation.

Earlier attempts had Mulder falling back asleep in midsentence, when he spoke at all.

"What happened?" Mulder made an attempt to sit up but was only able to shift his shoulders. "Where are the others?"

Byers spoke up first. "What others?"

"Theresa. Billy Miles."

"There was no one else, Mulder. Only you."

"But they were right there with me."

Scully had been so relieved at hearing him speak that she had not wanted to interrupt but now found her voice. "You were the only one there."

"We have to go back." Mulder made another attempt at trying to get out of the bed. "Where am I?"

Scully put a hand on his shoulder to get him to stop squirming and to listen to what she had to say. "Too much time has passed, and we've been traveling for a couple of days."

Frohike looked at the puzzled expression on Mulder's face and stepped in. "You don't remember what's happened, do you?"

The Gunmen and Scully exchanged several stares and mouthed phrases before Scully proceeded with the explanation.

"Marita Covarrubias had warned me - right after you disappeared - that someone may be after me. Gibson Praise told me the same thing just before you reappeared. I'm taking them seriously."

Langly finally got his chance to contribute to the situation. "You're in a safe house in Humboldt, Tennessee.

You both should be able to stay for a bit longer, hopefully until you're able to get some rest. But after that..."

"We got Scully underground," Frohike added. "We can do the same for Mulder."

"Together." Scully placed her hand on top of Mulder's. "We stay together."

Frohike reached out to put a hand on Scully's shoulder.

"Under the circumstances, we wouldn't consider any other option."

"Where's Gibson now?" Mulder was now more aware than he had been and was able to push himself up against the headboard while Scully rearranged the pillows. "I thought that I saw him... I don't remember where. I could have sworn that he was the one leading us out."

"We lost track of him in all the excitement," Langly explained, "and no one's seen him since."

Byers helped out with straightening the blankets. "We have come to one conclusion - that he might have been taken in exchange for you."

"In fact, since he's the one that guided us to that spot, it could very well be that he orchestrated the entire event."

Scully met the confusion on Mulder's face with an explanation. "He may really be more like they are instead of like us."

Mulder, probably still not convinced that he understood everything that had been said so far, moved on to more pressing matters. "So what happens now?"

"Skinner went back to DC a couple of days ago, to file the reports that nothing happened out there, that there were no further developments in your missing person's case. No one knows you're back, Mulder - only those of us in this room along with Skinner and the people in Sharon's group, and we're going to keep it that way. CGB Spender or someone working for him may still be interested in finding me."

"What now? You have something that they want?"

Another round of tense stares passed between Scully and the Gunmen. Without further hesitations, the three made their excuses and turned to exit the room, leaving the FBI agents to their privacy.


Rutland, VT
Tuesday
9:03am

He was barely awake, and it hurt to walk. He was dizzy and wanted to throw up. There was a sharp pain in his arm where the other person had grabbed him and was now dragging him down a hallway. Gibson guessed by the harsh fluorescent lighting streaming down from above and the passing doors with small windows and deadbolts that he was in a dormitory or a clinic of some kind. He had a working history with such places.

He could barely lift his head to see who it was that was forcing him to make this long walk. He tried to listen for that person's thoughts, but the drugs that he had been given earlier were making a maze out of his own thought processes.

They rounded a corner and came to a door at the dead end.

Gibson could hear that another person was now with them, the two of them whispering, and then a rattling of keys. He still could not see the two of them clearly, but their talking helped him to focus. The dark-haired man he had met before - he was one of those who had driven him to that place where they had operated on him. The blonde-haired woman was someone new but - somehow - she seemed familiar.

The door opened and Gibson was pushed inside. It had been a while since he had stood on his own. He was still weak and sank to the floor. He did not have the strength to twist himself around to face them as the man told him that this was his new home, and the woman told him to get some rest before the door behind him was slammed shut and bolted.

Gibson tried to focus on his immediate surroundings - there was a table with a few chairs next to him and a sink and a toilet in the corner. He forced his head to turn, and he spotted a bed a few feet away. He did not have the strength to drag himself to the comfort of a mattress and blankets and, instead, stretched out on the cold linoleum floor. As he surrendered to the drugs and the exhaustion, he thought of another dark-haired man and a red-headed woman and hoped that he had given them enough of a headstart to find some happiness in the present.

Because their time in paradise would not last.

The End


All sections written & posted May - August 2000.

I have written what I would have liked to have seen as the opening episode for Season Eight - I just like the idea of the secondary characters being more involved with the action than we have seen in past years.

The title and quoted lyrics are taken from 'Walkaway Joe', recorded by Trisha Yearwood and written by Vince Melamed and Greg Barnhill, and are used without permission.

I would like to thank the members of the Lone Gunmen Mailing List for their support and encouragement, especially when I was posting sections that had little Gunmen content.

Comments and questions are always welcome.

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