Title: Crafting A Life
Author: Sandy E.
Classification: MSR
Spoilers: Post-Existence, Season 9 Possibilities
Rating: PG-13

Summary: A non-mytharc story; a bottle episode

Since I may--or may not--watch Season 9 of The X- Files, otherwise known as the "no Mulder year," I have decided to let my imagination attempt a plausible, enjoyable explanation for how our characters--all of them--continue on for the next 8 months, my envisioned timeline for Season 9. I am writing this story, then, as the space between Mulder's resignation at the FBI and Scully's subsequent departure. At the end of Season 8, Mulder is revealed to (possibly, hopefully) be the father of Scully's baby. Here's the sandy-version of a not-so- happy, not-so-easy ever-after.

Disclaimer: They aren't mine, of course, but here's my take.

Synopsis: The X-Files division of the FBI has just received a tip on their latest case, a haunted mansion that involves the disappearance (or murder) of several tourists. Through the ensuing investigation, each member learns a unique life lesson.


Teaser

Saturday afternoon, 1:25 p.m.
Northampton Falls Mansfield, Virginia

"Ouch! Damn it!" Emma hopped up and down on her left foot while massaging her bruised toe. She squinted at the crouched figure in front of her who, oblivious to her pain, kept moving toward the other end of the darkened room. What kind of people spent their honeymoon creeping around an abandoned house? Glancing down at her white flip-flops--shoes that she had purchased for her *fun* trip to the beach--she assured herself that her swollen, bruised toe wasn't broken. It just felt like it.

A thin ray of afternoon light streamed in through the part in the window draperies, the only illumination in the dark, silent house. Emma edged toward it cautiously, hoping to avoid other painful collisions with angry furniture. This narrow strip of sunlight was just enough for her to check the status of her toe: a bit of a welt (or so she would argue), but fortunately, no blood.

Returning her foot to the floor, she pressed a few wayward strands of blond hair back into her ponytail. The heat was stifling, probably due to the fact that this house hadn't been lived in-or aired out-in years. She sneezed loudly, stirring up a small cloud of dust. This was some vacation.

"Jimmy, if we get arrested for this, I'm going to kill you." She swatted the humid, dusty air and walked back into the shadows that had swallowed her new husband. She picked up her pace and retraced her steps, limping past the wooden coffee table that she had stubbed her toe on.

Hoping to catch up with him long enough to talk him out of this so-called adventure, she felt her way to the left wall--and the door. Funny, she hadn't heard Jimmy open or close a door.

"Jimmy?" Her voice was laced with a little worry as she realized he'd yet to check on her-or even respond to her sarcastic comments.

"Uh, Jimmy?" she repeated his name with a little more force.

The heat and the silence surrounded her.

Breathing deeply, she tried the doorknob without success.

"Jimmy, this isn't funny. Where are you?" She tried to mask the fear with a layer of anger.

Emma pounded on the door. "Jimmy, open this door. Now!" She felt a chill from behind and knew, suddenly, she wasn't alone in the room anymore.

And that it wasn't Jimmy.

She turned slowly, her eyes now adjusted to the dim light. Her terrified scream echoed through the house.


Part I Daily Challenges

Monday morning, 4:46 a.m.
Scully's apartment Georgetown, MD

The alarm, otherwise known as Will, would be going off soon. She knew it was close to being morning because the bed beside her was cold and empty. Dana Scully rolled over on her back, smoothing her tangled red hair back from her face. Of course he's gone. Why should today be different from any other? She sighed loudly and looked over at the baby crib. Chubby pink toes were kicking at the air in a rhythm of his own making. She rolled out of bed, pulling her pajama bottoms on while she walked to the crib.

Of course she knew she had a silly grin on her face. Each time she looked at Will, she couldn't help but be awed by the miracle. A baby. Her baby. She reached the crib and smiled down, murmuring all those nonsensical things that mommies say. Right away she saw he wore a blue baseball shirt and a diaper, which was not what she had put him to bed in.

"Did Mulder change you? Did you make such a mess last night that you needed a new outfit?" The words came out as a high-octave purr, a murmur that was sweet and syrupy. Of course, coming from her, this language was far from the technical medical jargon she usually spit out, but a month of maternity leave followed by the demands of motherhood had changed her, perhaps more than she had ever thought possible.

Her heart constricted a little, thinking that Mulder had managed to sneak out of bed (again), feed the baby a bottle, and change him without her knowing. When did it happen that she became a deep sleeper? Maybe when you suddenly have only four hours between feedings.

Scully continued on into the kitchen to find a Mulder trail. A baby blanket to the left, a coffee mug to the right, his reading glasses on the counter each served as markers. She moved Will to her left hip while she picked up the glasses to skim the pages that lay beneath. Slate pencil marks adorned the margins of his draft, and thumbing through the pile, Scully saw there were quite a few pages. He apparently hadn't slept at all last night. But what was new there? Mulder, unlike her, required very little sleep to function. She assumed that, with his doctorate in psychology, he could diagnose the insomnia as a relic from his traumatic adolescence and the abduction of Samantha.

Lately, though, she felt that maybe Mulder was being traumatized by more than just that. Maybe he was unhappy. With his work, with his life. The X-Files had been his singular passion, his obsession, for so long that they had altered his personality. He didn't care if he ticked off superiors or squandered away friendships. Hell, Scully thought sadly, Mulder didn't really have any remaining friendships with anyone outside of their tight circle.

The thought that had been nagging her for months formed again in her mind, leaving a bitter taste in her mouth. Maybe he was unhappy with her.

Will had been a godsend. He has shown her sides to the man she loved that she hadn't known existed. The look on his face when he held him, when he played with him in the tub, when he read him a story (about aliens of course) was filed away in her heart for safekeeping. She had never, *ever* seen Mulder look as happy or content. He was turning out to be a good father. But not a very good mate.

She refused to consider right now why she woke up alone every morning, why she didn't talk about work at home anymore, or why he hadn't touched her since last May in an Oregon motel room. Sure, he kissed her cheek, he touched her hair, he held her every night...but he never touched her. That was a page she wouldn't flip to. Not right now. She had made this bed; she was going to sleep in it.

Turning, she grabbed her favorite yellow coffee mug and filled it with dark coffee that Mulder had left for her. That was the routine. She could do this in her sleep.

"Are you ready for breakfast, little man?" She shuffled over to the rocker in the corner of the kitchen, patting Will absently with one hand, carrying her coffee with the other. Slowly lowering to the chair, she settled her coffee on the telephone stand that Mulder had brought home one day, declaring she needed somewhere to put her stuff while she nursed. She smiled, focusing on the good.

She moved Will to her breast and began rocking, concentrating on the contented, rhythmic sounds he made while breathing and sucking. Every time she nursed, she felt connected to him in such a wondrous way. It was amazing what those sounds triggered in her. Scully focused on these sounds so that she wouldn't feel her heart slowly breaking.


9:02 a.m.
Exterior Steps J. Edgar Hoover
FBI Bldg Washington, D.C.

Breathing in heavily, Monica Reyes took another long drag from her forbidden cigarette. She had tried to quit--many times over--but the calm that came with a cigarette...well, there was nothing like it. She stepped on the remains, pulled out her mints, and waved at the small figure approaching her. Dana Scully was scurrying up the steps as quickly as her short legs would carry her. Her frame was soft and round, perhaps a bit more so than before because of the baby. Monica smiled thinking of cutie Will.

"Hello, Dana. Do I ever have news for you." Monica leaned toward her conspiratorially. "We'll have to convince John, but if anyone can, you can." She smiled as Scully stopped right in front of her. How did she do it? She was never messy, always coordinated.

Monica looked at her with a touch of envy. Not only did she have Fox Mulder to warm her bed, she looked bright and chipper at 9:00 in the morning. She, on the other hand, was a night person, always had been. She was the opposite of Dana, in more ways than one.

Scully's staccato answers were laced with humor. "News? That I have convince John of. That I don't even know yet." She laughed, something she had been doing more of since the baby. "Do I want to know?" she asked.

Grinning, Monica opened the glass door and started her story. "I got an email last night from a former New Orleans Bureau colleague. She and I worked together for quite a while before I transferred to D.C. She recently moved to a branch in Southern Virginia, so we have the opportunity to share cases more often."

She paused while they both walked single-file through the metal detector. "She wanted to pass along a case to me with some..." She paused, motioning with her hand while she searched for the right phrase that wouldn't turn Dana, the scientist, off. "...interesting facets." (Good job, Monica. Vague and ambiguous.)

She pushed a chunk of dark brown hair behind her ear and gathered courage. "There are several missing people in northern Virginia, people presumed dead. Murdered." She paused for a bit of dramatic effect.

"What do we know? Have local law enforcement done a preliminary profile?" Scully's mind was already racing with the possibilities. Reviewing the options.

"Well, what Jeanine told me was that there were no traces of the victims. They just simply disappeared--and have been missing now for several days. No one suspected anything because they were tourists, local sightseers interested in the area."

"They were only passing through, so the locals hadn't given them much thought. It wasn't until they didn't return to the motel that they were missed. So, I thought we would investigate iit, you know, as a professional courtesy." Monica tried to make it sound logical, seem light.

Of course, Scully wasn't biting. "Okay." She stopped walking, which left her a few feet behind Monica. "What aren't you telling me? Why is it an X-File?"

Monica held the elevator door, pushing "B" for basement when Scully was safely inside. Timing the door and her statement carefully, she slyly added, "Oh, because they were last seen near a haunted mansion."

The doors closed as Scully rolled her eyes, trapped in an elevator with Monica and her story.


10:00 a.m.
Mulder's Apartment

Boy, the kid could eat. Fox Mulder jiggled the baby in his arms, moving him toward the shoulder that wasn't already covered in baby spit-up. In between baby cereal and a bottle of milk that Scully had left, he'd managed to get little done other than talking to the baby and feeding him. (Well, at least he talks back to me. He doesn't glower all morning while getting ready for work.)

Not that Scully was angry or even cranky. The truth was, actually, she hadn't been ill-tempered since Will's arrival. She was just...not there. Of course, getting only a few hours of sleep each night followed by a round of investigations with Agent Doggett--Mulder almost choked on the name--well, of course she was tired. But it wasn't the exhaustion that worried him. It was her. Or maybe them.

Adjusting the baby to the crook of his left arm, Mulder looked down at the miniature version of Scully. His heart skipped a beat as he prayed that he was doing it right. Not just holding him or feeding him...just everything. He wanted to be a good father, a good provider. Not that Scully left much of that to him. He often felt like an interloper, living in her apartment, sleeping in her bed, caring for her baby. There was no "our" in the equation. It used to be that it was timed perfectly. They would work together 18 hours a day, searching for truths, fighting against the odds. He looked back at their years together with a lump in his throat. Those were great times.

Why? Because she had been all yours, he silently answered, severely unhappy with his selfiish assessment. Scully didn't have a disloyal bone in her body; when others had criticized him, calling him crazy--even psychotic--she had defended him. When push had come to shove, she had pushed for him, not against. She was his soul, his conscience, having seen humanity in him than he himself had never strived for. She had fought for him to release the past and forgive himself for Samantha.

I have almost let go of it, Scully.

Having Will had been the greatest pleasure in life-- aside from hearing Scully breathing in the middle of the night. He didn't know what he'd done right to deserve her. Of course, with the way things looked right now, maybe he didn't.

At first, making love to Scully had been a project, something he could research and profile--just like what he was good at. He had gathered every book possible on in vitro fertilization, then on becoming pregnant the good old-fashioned way. It was just a case to solve, an outline to follow. He had turned off that little part of his brain that said her request, or even her passion, had been for more than that. Of course, it might have been. It could have been. If he hadn't screwed up royally again, this time being forced out of the Bureau for all his efforts. He hadn't wanted to become too hopeful. When she had cried, inconsolable over her failed IVF attempts, kissing her, touching her had been logical.

They never talked about it, this miraculous, heaven- sent transition; they never sat down and discussed The Plan. It had just happened that he could help her, give her something she so desperately wanted. But he hadn't wanted to become used to her needing him. It wasn't him that she wanted, he told himself; it was a desire to have a baby. Then, of course, there had been The Interruption. He had lost six months of his life in the blink of an eye--gone, just like that. He was surrounded by shades of guilt, longing, and resignation. He had missed so, so much--and he couldn't ever make that right, no matter how many times he said a pathetic apology. He could be convinced, he could be won over, but that would be another miracle, perhaps one more than he deserved.

The doubts remain, haunting him everyday.

I'm almost there, Scully, I just need a little more time.

He placed Will in the playpen, perhaps the only real item in his apartment that reflected the huge change that had taken place in his life. It was removable so when Scully didn't need him, his apartment wouldn't remind him too much of her. His heart broke a little at the thought.

The trill of his cell phone intruded, and he eagerly searched for it. Once, he had never been separated from it. Now, he rarely needed it. Maybe it was Scully. Maybe she wanted to have lunch in the park.

He answered it on the third ring, having found it under the couch.

"Mulder."

"Mulder, it's me." Scully's voice warmed him over the phone line. He grinned like a kid in a candy store. Maybe he'd ssurprise her with...

Her voice interrupted his list of fun (or sexy) lunch ideas. "Mulder, there's something I need you to do for me..."

He quickly shifted gears. "Did you want a list of all the abductees from the 1950's who went on to become famous Hollywood stars? I could dig that up real quick." His best attempt at Mulder-humor fell short as he heard not laughter, but static on the line.

"Mulder, I am going to be going home to pack an overnight bag. I wanted to see Will before I left and sort out plans with you..."

Her voice continued on, mumbling something about Virginia, but Mulder suddenly couldn't hear over the blood pounding in his ears.

It's beginning, he thought. Oh, Scully, I'd almost believed.


Part II The Gauntlet

11:14 a.m.
Scully's Apartment Georgetown, MD

She didn't remember how to pack her suitcase.

She almost laughed at the absurdity of it.

Together, she and Mulder had traveled quite a bit; they had always been chasing some ghost, some gossamer truth right beyond their grasp.

Maybe that's why you can't pack a bag, her conscience whispered. The crew, the goal...it didn't include Mulder or his infamous leaps. She realized then just how much she missed that...connection. This was her first trip since having the baby, and frankly, she was nervous. Scully had left the traveling to Agents Doggett and Reyes, for they had no ties or obligations that would interfere with the job.

Not that she really believed that Will was an obligation. Her heart balked at the thought. He was the light of her life; he was what kept her breathing. Leaving him--even just overnight--was going to be the hardest thing she'd ever done. She could hardly swallow past the lump in her throat. Belatedly, she realized that Mulder had just said something to her.

She glanced at him, standing in the bedroom doorway, staring at her, rocking Will unconsciously. Both halves of her heart were standing in the doorway she had to exit.

"What?"

She tried to focus.

No crying allowed.

She was a professional.

And Lord only knew--she had cried buckets during this past year for the safe return of Mulder and the birth of a healthy baby. She'd reached her quota for tears.

"I said...is Agent Reyes going with you?" He hoped that his voice didn't sound as raw to her as it did to him. That question was supposed to come off sounding casual. He hoped his interest in the group members wouldn't seem terribly obvious.

"Yes, of course." She threw two t-shirts in over her breast pump. (She needed to make sure that she kept the milk flowing...or else she'd end up either sore beyond belief or no longer a nursing mother.)

Mulder hoped his relief wasn't that obvious.

"She flew down on a 10:30 flight from Dulles. Agent Doggett and I are driving down in an hour to meet her." She threw in her makeup bag and zipped the suitcase closed.

"And you're just going to leave Will here? What if something happens? What if he won't take the bottle? You know how fussy he can be." Mulder knew his words were laced with green jealousy. He had never thought of himself as territorial before. Not before this moment. He was willing to share his X-Files--not late night investigating with Scully.

I don't know if I can do this. I don't know if I want to share. A haze of green blurred in with all the other gray and black guilt that surrounded him.

All the years of being alone, surrounding himself with the X-Files, was nothing compared to the isolation he felt right now.

Scully turned around to face him, smiling slightly. "Well, I can't keep feeling guilty about others doing all my work for me, can I? I've put off trips for the last six months, telling myself that I had a new baby." Hot tears threatened to come to the surface as she said something she hadn't fully realized until now.

"You get to spend more time with him, anyway. He would miss you, probably, more than me." She crossed the room and put her hand on Will's soft, fuzzy head. "Just don't let me miss him growing hair."

Mulder moved closer, pinning the wiggling baby between them. He reached out and stroked her hair with his free hand. "I won't let you miss him doing anything. I promise."

She kissed the baby loudly, laying her face on the top of his head, breathing in his wonderful clean- baby smell. Mulder kissed her hair, and she raised wet eyes to his. He cupped her head and drew her lips toward his own. Between kisses, he murmured, "We'll get through this. It's just a day. We'll be fine."

Silently, he willed himself to feel that optimistic.


2:45 p.m.
Northampton Falls Mansfield, Virginia

"You really don't believe all this mumbo-jumbo, do you, Agent Scully?"

Scully glanced over at Agent Doggett through the filter of her sunglasses. He still called her--a year and a half after an auspicious start, a missing Mulder, a difficult pregnancy, and alien bounty hunters-Agent Scully. He was always proper, always respectful. Although she would be eternally grateful for his role in helping her find Mulder, there was still a gap in their relationship, a thin filter that separated them, visible through his persistent use of "Agent Scully."

"Well," she began, trying her best to play devil's advocate, otherwise known as Mulder's role in this conversation. "I think that the facts that Agent Reyes presented to us are missing some key pieces. Explainable pieces. People like-" Scully reached down to the file folder on her lap for the specifics. "-like James and Emma Lawrence do not just disappear. They might have encountered someone or something on the grounds that have temporarily waylaid them. But, I think that the fact that others have seen...ghosts...and strange phenomena here should not be completely discounted." Scully almost choked on the last sentence.

Doggett pulled the keys out of the ignition and opened the car door before answering. "That almost sounded like something Mulder would say."

Scully sighed at the mention of Mulder. Was it too soon to call? It had, really, only been a few hours.

Trying to sound interested in the prospect of a real haunted house, Scully--folder in tow--replied, "Well, that's what we're here to find out, isn't it?" She wasn't sure if she was talking to John or to herself.

Monica and two local police officers were standing at the right side of the house, just beyond the gate. Scully could tell she was taking notes. From what she had read in the report, local VA police had questioned the house's owner--Amaline Bittinger--by phone. She was 74 and living in Georgia with her daughter. Strange noises and missing items had prompted her to move out a few years past. The daughter, of course, had chalked it up to forgetfulness and loneliness.

Police had been contacted by the town's only motel's owner when the two tourists--the Lawrences--did not return from their afternoon sightseeing, which had included,if one believed gossip,these grounds. No other local people seemed willing to venture in for a closer examination.

Monica caught a glimpse of her two co-workers when she paused in her writing. Smiling broadly, she excused herself from her present company and met the two agents halfway to the house. "Did you have trouble finding the house?"

"No, the cafe you pointed out served as a good landmark." John shielded his eyes from the glare of the early afternoon sun and cut to the chase. "So, fill us in. What have you learned?"

"Actually, Dwane has been very helpful." She smiled and motioned to the blond deputy opening the passenger door. "He told me stories about the house...and the former owner."

Agent Doggett sounded annoyed. "That's just what they are: stories."

She didn't seem fazed at all by the remark and kept talking. "The house was built in 1839 by Mitchell and Amaline Deter." She anticipated the next question. "Amaline Bittinger, the current owner, is the great- granddaughter. The Deters were young when they built the house and prospered due to farming and business connections. There's an orchard still here and quite a few cottages along the edge of the lake. Amaline-- the current Amaline-and her husband updated the facilities down there and ran this place as a B and B for a while before things really started getting strange." She paused and waited for some audience reaction.

"Define strange, Monica." Agent Doggett still sounded annoyed...but a bit intrigued as well.

"They say that the house started, um, resenting...visitors. The heaters would kick in during the summer, the pipes froze during the winter, and when two people froze to death in the orchard, the townspeople declared this property haunted."

It was Scully's voice that seemed a bit annoyed now. "A house doesn't feel. It can't resent anything or anyone. With how far outside of town this property is, I'm sure the addition of high-rise hotels and larger cities closer to the interstate contributed quite a bit to the decline in popularity. Everything begins and ends."

"And," she continued, "the deaths could have been accidental. Or exaggerated-rumors in a small town grow with every version that's told."

Agent Doggett nodded in agreement. "It's just a house. A house that fell on hard times."

At the mention of the property, Scully and the others turned around to get their first real look at the house. The main structure had three levels that were visible from the outside. Gothic, or perhaps a bit Victorian in nature, the house seemed dreary despite the weather. Built of grey stone and accented with large doorways and windows, the curtains from the outside appeared to match the same dull hue of the stone. It was quite lovely in its antiquity, but it was in desperate need of repair. The roof, once perhaps white shingle, was now dark from weather and wear.

The grounds didn't fare better, sorely needing some tender touches. The grass was quite tall, the flower beds were overcome with weeds and vines, and the trees, perhaps once a nice lining up the cobblestone walk leading to the rear of the house, were so thick with unrestricted growth that they created a dark canopy through which little light filtered down.

Monica caught Scully looking at the trees. "That path leads to the orchard and then the cottages by the lake. I'm sure that in days past they once served as servants' quarters."

Agent Doggett pressed his fingers to his brow, as if trying to ward off a migraine. "Don't tell me. You want to search the cottages."

Monica grinned. "Even better. I couldn't book us at the motel, so we're going to stay the night here."


5:58 p.m.
Downstairs library Northampton Falls

Scully sneezed yet again. The dust was quite thick after years of neglect. She had opted to take the house, while Agents Doggett and Reyes searched the cottages. The sun had become lazy and now waited to set. She would be lucky to find something.

Anything.

She had no bodies, no evidence that a crime had been committed. The local police had pointed out that the electricity and water were on temporarily for the investigation; then they, too, had vanished, leaving her alone with dust, the distant ticking of a grandfather clock, and her thoughts.

Already she had searched the first two floors, which seemed--other than old--to reveal little about the missing tourists. She had found a broken window latch outside the kitchen, easily accessible from ground level. Someone a little taller than her could have propped the window open and entered the house easily.

She had found seven bedrooms, three modern bathrooms, a kitchen, parlor, living room, dining room, and now, a library. Scully crossed the room, looking up at the rows of books that Amaline Bittinger had not taken with her. Sadly, they weren't the only items that were still in the house. Most of the furniture, draped with sheets, was still here.

The remains of a life, she thought. Analyzing the conditions of the house was much like the autopsy she usually performed. Nicks in the walls held stories just as wounds in the body did. Wooden furniture that had once been polished until gleaming now had layers of grime. Spaces in the rafters that had once echoed children's laughter now held only cobwebs and musty secrets.

The library, of course, drew her in more than the other rooms, mainly because of the vast quantity of books. Built-in bookcases, four rows high, lined all four walls, broken only by a window seat on the far right wall and a framed family portrait directly opposite. The last flickering rays of light touched the picture, illuminating what she supposed were Amaline, her husband, and her new baby.

Walking over to the picture, Scully stared, unwanted tears in her eyes as she looked at the perfect family. The father beamed, his left arm gently resting on his wife's shoulders. She was sitting primly on a ledge, the baby--perhaps the same age as Will--in her lap. Upon closer inspection, she realized that the setting was the library.

Where does the time go?

This house was once filled with love and laughter.

The grandfather clock's steady beat ticked off the seconds, which flowed into minutes. At that moment, Scully understood the bittersweet brevity of life more powerfully than she had since her battle with cancer. And she wondered why she was wasting it here.


8:01 p.m.
Scully's Apartment Georgetown, MD

The day seemed endless. By now, she was usually home, propping her feet up and cooing to the baby. Mulder would have ordered pizza or perhaps warmed up some soup. Funny, he realized, how even the smallest routine now seemed important to existence.

Just then, Will woke up from a short nap and started crying loudly.

"We can't get anything by you, can we? You miss mommy, too."

Mulder slid off his glasses and pitched the draft he'd been working on to the floor. In the last hour, he'd read little more ten lines. He picked Will up and headed to the kitchen.

Balancing the baby on one hip, he opened the refrigerator door. "Are you in the mood for milk..." He made a show of examining the brightly illuminated contents. "Or milk?" Fat tears trickled down Will's face, and he screamed harder. "Okay, so milk it is."

He grabbed a bag of sunflower seeds from the cupboard and threw them on the table next to the bottle. They would suffice for him. He touched the cold bottle again, pausing in his routine as memories flooded him. Just the sight of it reminded him of Scully. When Will had first come home from the hospital, he had eaten every couple of hours. Mulder had been transfixed by the image of mother and child together; a bottle just didn't do the act justice. He swallowed hard as other, less innocent images replaced those of Will and Scully.

His mouth went dry as he fantasized.

Wetting his lips unconsciously, he knew he would never have the nerve to whisper his wicked fantasy to Scully; the damned sunflower seeds would just have to curb his oral fixation. Mentally, he reminded himself to pick up a few more packs at the store.

Or better yet, a whole box.

He put the bottle in the warmer and glanced at Will, who was starting to hiccup between cries. "Yeah, you and me both."

By four in the morning, Mulder realized she wasn't going to call. Of course, she had mentioned that the investigation might take her out of cellular range. Still, he had held out she would call.

By 8:00 a.m., he was in an insomnia-induced working frenzy as he navigated the web for research (always harder on her iMac than his PC), made hastily scrawled notes on his draft, and rocked the cradle of a finally-sleeping Will with his left foot. Completely absorbed in his multi-tasking, he didn't hear the phone until the second ring. He picked up the receiver with his left hand, still rocking the baby gently.

"Mul-" It was Scully's apartment. "Dana Scully's residence."

A pause on the other end forced Mulder to repeat himself. Just when he was going to hang up, a familiar voice came on the line. "Mulder, it's Skinner. We've got a problem."

"Problem?" Mulder's voice rose, all attempts at keeping the baby asleep forgotten.

"I don't want you to worry. It's all being taken care of. I debated about calling, actually, so soon. Agent Doggett-"

Assistant Director Walter Skinner's voice was low, soothing.

Mulder stood up quickly, knocking the chair back from the desk. He didn't want to hear anything about Agent Doggett. He interrupted impatiently with, "What's the matter? What's the matter with Scully?"

"Agent Doggett...I...we...wanted to let you know that he can't locate Scully. She appears to be missing."


10:45 a.m. Exterior
Northampton Falls Mansfield, Virginia

Will was having the time of his life. He seemed to know that they were getting closer to his mother, if that was possible. He giggled again, spit bubbles oozing slowly from his tiny mouth. Mulder reached over to the baby and gently wiped the drool away with his finger. Will didn't seem grateful, as he was absorbed with looking at the person holding him: Frohike.

At the moment, he was talking softly to the baby in a muted whisper, oblivious to a catatonic Mulder on his right and the remaining Lone Gunmen snipping at each other in the front.

Currently--and for the past half-hour--Byers and Langly had been arguing over the directions. Langly hadn't followed Byers' shortcut, and a heated debate resulted as Byers threw in another crack about the amount of time it took for them to get from D.C. to this remote part of Virginia.

As for Mulder, the last three hours had been a blur. He would probably process most of it with regret later, but right now it was just a means to end, to locating Scully. To finding--and kicking the ass of--her partner who was supposed to be protecting her. He had reacted instinctively, going where he knew he could get the quickest answers: Skinner.

Of course, that also meant that he'd returned to the FBI Building, passing through the halls in a purposeful walk that wasn't that unfamiliar. He had been aware that people--men and women who had once been colleagues--had openly stared at the sight of Mulder returning to the place he had walked out of nine months earlier. He knew they held him in contempt, for he'd often been the center of water cooler gossip--especially after Scully suddenly became pregnant. This time, they would have his bright red "Visitor" pass, once-forbidden blue jeans, and a shirt with baby-spit up on the sleeve to talk about.

But he didn't care.

He and Will had much more important things to do than worry about them.

They needed to find Scully.

Skinner had provided Mulder with a copy of the current case file plus directions to the estate, Northampton Falls. The contents of that file now lay scattered on the floor of the van, thanks to Mulder's rapid examination. He'd read them once quite quickly, then three more times slowly, as if willing the pages to someone shapeshift into a map of Scully's location.

The rusty van hobbled along, creaking and groaning as it inched its way toward the front door. Impatiently, Mulder pulled the sliding side door open of the still-moving van and stepped out into the morning sun. Agent Doggett emerged from the house, expecting him.

"Mulder, we have the local PD searching the grounds and the state has been notified of-"

Whatever the state had been notified of was muffled by the sound of Mulder's fist connecting with John Doggett's jaw. "Where the hell were you?" John staggered with the punch and would have been subjected to more if Monica hadn't stepped between the two men.

"Mulder, you can't go to pieces. We're going to find her. It's not John's fault." She reached out tentatively and touched his arm, waiting for him to acknowledge her. Slowly the fire in his eyes dimmed, and he focused instead on her.

Monica smiled. "I told John earlier that you'd be here before long. I just had a feeling."

Mulder said simply, "Skinner called," and walked past both a relieved Monica and an angry Doggett.

Monica turned around, running her hand over her eyes and attempting a smile. She knew what he was about to say. "We needed some help, John. Don't send him away. Who knows how long it will take for the back- ups to arrive?"

"It looks like the reinforcements are already here." He motioned to the motley crew of Byers, Langly, and Frohike exiting the van carrying several laptops, a slew of assorted gadgets, and a cooing baby.


3:21 p.m.
Second Floor Northampton Falls

Mulder had started at the top, searching for hidden stairways and trap doors. The attic and the next two floors had been relatively untouched, with only a few blurs from what he surmised were Scully's footprints. He was about to open the fourth bedroom when he felt someone behind him.

"Agent Reyes, you shouldn't sneak up on people. Especially not in a house that's rumored to be haunted."

He turned to look at her. She seemed surprised. "How did you know it was me?"

"I just had a feeling." He tossed her line right back at her.

She smiled. "I have been having other *feelings*." She grabbed his wrist and tugged his arm. "I have been having very strong feelings about the library downstairs."

Mulder followed her down the stairs, noting that these weren't the same stairs that Scully had used.
(Her footprints had veered left, not right.) At the bottom were the double-doors to what he assumed was the library. He moved past her and opened the door with a loud creak.

It wasn't empty.

Byers and Frohike were in middle of the room, surrounded by computer equipment. Langly was visible through the large window; he was outside positioning an antenna. *To what?* Mulder watched, shaking his head, while Byers and Frohike made "stop," "go," "left," and "up" hand signals for Langly to follow.

That's when he noticed that Will was nowhere to be found.

"Where's the baby?" Mulder's voice shook the rafters.

Frohike looked up guiltily. "I sat him down in the living room."

At Mulder's look of disbelief, he added defensively, "Agent Doggett was in there. It's not like I left him alone or anything."

Before he said anything he'd regret, Mulder clenched his jaw. Leaning out the door, he looked to the living room, which was in his line of vision. Monica had entered the room and was leaning over the baby carrier. Agent Doggett was on the phone.

Assuring himself that Will was fine for the moment, he turned his attention to the library, easily the second largest room on the floor. He started walking around, gazing at the patterns in the woodwork, mentally measuring the walls and searching for hidden panels. Standing in the middle, he scanned the room, taking in the window seat, the walls of books, and the large oil-based family portrait.

He turned and gazed at the colors that blended to create more than a picture; it was a colorful snapshot of the past. He placed his left hand on the wall, images of his own family flooding his senses.

He could see Scully standing at the sink, washing baby bottles while she yawned. He could see Will sucking his thumb in his sleep. He could see the three of them, lying in bed on a rainy Sunday morning.

Scully, please come back to me. I need you. I can't do this alone.

Byers, satisfied that his stolen--er, borrowed-- military tracking equipment was now fully functional, turned around, beaming like a proud papa. "What do you think, Mulder?" He couldn't believe his eyes.

"Mulder?" At the repeat, Frohike turned around, too. "Where did he go?" They looked at each other, then at the eerily empty library.


Part III Reckoning with Ghosts

3:33 p.m.
Northampton Falls

Mulder didn't feel that anything had changed, really. He had simply closed his eyes for a moment, concentrating on an image of Scully when he had felt something--a breeze, a light draft. When he opened his eyes, the object of his search was in front of him, pounding her bruised fist feverishly, fruitlessly against a wall.

"Scully?" He wasn't sure if he was hallucinating--or worse. Maybe he'd finally lost all ties to sanity?

She swung around to face Mulder, panic and frustration lining her face. He walked over to her, cupping her face in his hands in disbelief. "It's you. Are you okay?" He didn't care how or why. He touched her face, arms, back with his fingertips, worried.

"Are you alright?" he repeated quietly when she folded herself into his arms.

Scully sighed, relief slowing her heartbeat. "I'm fine, Mulder." When he tightened his arms around her, she repeated her answer gently. "I'm just fine."

Looking around, she surveyed their surroundings. "I've been driving myself crazy, though. How long have I been down here?"

"Almost a day." He kissed her hair once more and released her, contenting himself with touching the small of her back while he looked around. "Agent Doggett reported you missing shortly after 9:00 p.m."

"But that doesn't explain how or why I'm here. I didn't fall, I didn't slip through a hidden door, and I didn't pass out." She paused then looked at him pointedly. "It also doesn't explain how you got here, either."

Mulder tilted his head and took in the room. "What do you remember?"

"I was standing in the library, examining the books-- and a family portrait on the inner wall."

Mulder nodded. "Me, too."

"Then, all I remember is standing here, in the middle of this...this...room."

Words didn't quite explain where they were.

A daybed with a worn patch quilt, a bookshelf, oil lamp, a wooden table with two chairs, and a tarnished mirror were the only items in the room. Scully had moved a chair to the left corner of the room, most likely to reach the air vent. It was only the size of a book, which meant that Scully couldn't crawl through it.

The walls were paneled with dark wood in an intricate box design from ceiling to floor; there were no windows, no steps, and no door. The room was damp and dark; the only light radiating from the small oil lamp that now appeared half-full. The ceiling was embossed with the same entwined squares as the pattern on the walls. Three small, round holes caught Mulder's attention.

"You tried to shoot your way out?"

Scully looked a bit embarrassed. "I was getting quite desperate."

"I never would have thought you'd be claustrophobic, Scully," Mulder joked.

"Well, you haven't been between these four walls with no light, no noise, and no food for almost a day."

Mulder looked up from the corner he was inspecting. "Yet."


5:45 p.m.
Kitchen Northampton Falls

Monica looked at the stove with desperation. She had never been much of a cook per say, and this antique stove was giving her fits. There was a modern oven and a refrigerator--temporarily working thanks to the local police--but the stove was an antique.

Perhaps it has sentimental value.

She raised her lighter once again to the burners with optimism. This stove wasn't going to get the best of her! She was deep in thought when she heard the baby crying, presumably for his dinner. Hurry up, Monica, he seemed to be saying, quite clearly.

She bit her lip and kept working as Will started crying with feeling.

"Do you need some help?" John's voice from next to her ear startled her, causing her to jump. "No, I'm fine." She didn't take her eyes off the stove.

"You sound like someone else I know." His voice emphasized his doubt in her.

Monica doubled her efforts and flipped another switch from the side. "Why don't you go see to Will?" She looked up at John Doggett and caught the quick flash of horror etched on his face.

"Why don't I see to the stove while you see to the baby?" He countered.

"John..."

"I'll do this." He said forcefully, prying the lighter from her fingers. "Okay?"

Monica was ready to curse the damn stove anyway, so she grudgingly admitted defeat...this round. She turned and headed toward the baby's wails.

Will wasn't in the living room, as she had remembered. His cries seemed to be coming from upstairs. Perhaps John had moved the baby to one of the bedrooms. The Gunmen, along with the two officers, were still traipsing around the downstairs looking for signs of the rapidly increasing number of missing people. She placed her hand on the wooden banister and quickly ascended the staircase in search of a crying, hungry baby.

Meanwhile, John leaned over the stove. He felt warmth radiating from the right front burner and realized, belatedly, that Monica had already managed to get it working. He put water in a pan and pulled one of the two remaining baby bottles from the fridge. He was pleased to have one problem solved when he realized that the first problem-the baby-was still not resolved. Will's cries were growing in volume. Monica had left a few minutes ago, easily enough time to make it from the kitchen to the adjoining room. Placing his hand on the swinging door, he moved to the living room to see if she needed help with diapers, powder, or perhaps a rattle.

His heart clenched as he thought of Luke; when he had been a baby, he had dealt with a bad case of colic. There was nothing worse than feeling helpless when your child needs you. He refused to think about the truth in that statement.

Looking around the deserted living room, he was startled to see Will, nose red and eyes puffy, still crying, still sitting in the carrier on the couch.

"Monica?"

John's voice would have echoed had Will paused for air.

Oh no, don't make me do this.

He stepped toward the baby, hoping Monica would show up. "Hey now," he began in a soft voice. "She'll be right back. I'm sure she didn't mean to leave you here crying."

The words had little effect on Will, whose cries were starting to hurt his ears. Where was everyone? He didn't want to touch the baby; he didn't want to feel his soft hair or touch his soft skin. He had been respectful of Agent Scully's time off and had asked the polite questions such as, "How's the baby today?" and "How did the check-up go?" But he hadn't wanted to get attached; it would just bring back too many painful memories.

Realizing that he was alone with the baby--whether he liked it or not--forced him to kneel down next to Will, whose arms were flailing in a desperate plea for attention. Realizing that he'd lost the battle, John reached over and picked up the baby. He moved Will to his shoulder and began rubbing his back. Feeling the baby's tense little body soften, he began rubbing circles on his back and sat down, wondering when his legs had become wobbly.

From the shadows of the servants' staircase, Monica heard Will's cries turn to coos. It was when the deeper voice began talking to the baby that she stopped, straining her ears to hear the words. She had walked from the front end of the second floor, opening each bedroom door, all the way to the rear of the house, finally following Will's cries to the rear staircase that was next to the kitchen.

Suddenly, she understood.

Monica felt the warmth wrap around her, and she closed her eyes in a silent prayer before taking the steps two at a time. At the bottom, she etched the image of John holding baby Will into her mind.

His demeanor had changed, and his eyes were tender as they scanned the now contented baby's face. Will was chewing on his fist while he waited for the imminent bottle. She stayed there in the shadows, holding her breath as she looked at the miracle before her. The walls around John Doggett's heart had crumbled, if just a bit, to allow William Mulder to enter.

She smiled and offered her gratitude silently. Thank you, Amaline.


10:13 p.m. Northampton Falls

Scully couldn't believe the silence. She had always been good with occupying her own time, rummaging through her own thoughts. But the air was thick enough to slice a knife through. A knife. Ahhh, a knife. A knife slicing through cake. Her stomach growled again. Loudly.

Mulder was still searching the room. She didn't have the energy to help. Suddenly she understood the expression of feeling trapped by four walls.

This room was an anomaly: how could someone get the furniture in, how could it be constructed? Why couldn't the sound travel to others in the house? She started doing mental calculations, creating a list in her mind of all the possibilities. That would keep her mind off of a nice cozy, warm kitchen, alive with the smell of cooking, not to mention another room she would like to find. With a sigh, she sat down on the bed and ran her tongue over her teeth. Right now, she'd give anything for a toothbrush.

Mulder got up and moved over to the bed. Scully had to smile; she would know that look anywhere. "Mulder, do you have a theory? Right now, I'm open to possibilities."

He sat down, a lopsided grin on his face. "You
*really* must be hungry, Scully."

Silence enveloped them again; neither said anything. It had been this way for weeks, really. However, both had other diversions: Mulder had his research on global conspiracies; she had real-world work. Now, though, there was no other room to move to, no baby to pacify or feed, no outside obligation to rush off to. It was just them. And a deafening silence.

Mulder broke off their stare first, opting for the safe outlet: his theory. "Well, what do you know about Amaline and Mitchell Deter?"

"I read the case file, Mulder."

He ignored her rebuke, continuing his story. "They built this estate in the 1800's. They were quite a happy couple working together to build their farm and apple orchard. They had a daughter, and life was complete. It's the American Dream, Scully."

"A house, 2.5 kids..."

"Well, two kids, anyway."

Something clicked. "The portrait in the hall, Mulder. There was only Amaline, her husband and one baby."

"Right. The Gunmen-"

Scully interrupted him. "The Gunmen are here?"

Mulder smiled. "Who do you think has the baby?"

"Great. I'm sure he's comfortable wedged between computer equipment." One afternoon, Mulder had arranged for the two of them to go out to dinner. It had been a nice plan, but Maggie had come down with a bad case of the flu the night before. Instead of canceling, Mulder had called on the Gunmen, each of whom had been honored by the babysitting request. And completely, adorably lost.

"Hey, Will really enjoys all of them fussing over him." Mulder laughed at the memory.

"Anyway," he continued. "The Gunmen did some quick research before we left. Amaline had a little boy shortly after the daughter. He died less than a year later. Mitchell's crops started failing, and perhaps there was tension between them because of the baby. He left a few years later, never to set foot in Northampton Falls again."

"That's a sad story, Mulder. But it doesn't explain this."

"Actually, I think it does. I think that something was left unsaid between them. Their perfect life was destroyed by a tragedy; they didn't put the pieces back together again."

Scully raised one eyebrow and looked at him. "Mulder, let me get this straight. You're trying to say that the ghosts of Amaline and Mitchell Deter are haunting this house because of a tragedy that happened almost two hundred years ago?"

"No, Scully." Mulder shook his head. "Not to change the past. To *learn from* the past."

Scully looked at him.

"They want us to learn from their mistakes."

"Mulder..." Scully started.

The words that had been pent up for so long came to the surface. If he didn't say them now, he never would. He worked up every ounce of courage he had. He had been talking to himself, making excuses, and finding ways out for the past several months. He wasn't going to get an opportunity any better than this. He had been searching for just the right moment, the perfect time to talk to her.

That time is now.

"Scully, after the baby..." He looked down at the span of quilt between them. The patches were old yet colorful; they were stitched together by hand, with love. The simplicity of the love-ladened quilt urged him to continue. "After the baby, I wasn't sure what was going to happen between us."

He heard her intake of breath. He knew she would start talking, and his courage would falter. He gently placed his fingers on her lips when she tried to interject. "No, let me finish."

"I know we were both worried about the baby. We were relieved just to have him with us, safe and sound. But then, when the immediate danger passed...that left me feeling alone. What are we doing? We play house like everything's just fine. But it isn't. It hasn't been right for months. We try to act like nothing has changed between us, but it has-- everything has."

"I know." Scully looked down at her hands.

"And I'm just not good at this. At being normal. After Samantha, I don't think that I ever believed I would have--"

Scully looked up at him. "Have what?"

"Everything. A life. I never knew I even wanted this. Even when you wanted to have a baby...I didn't think about what it would change. About how creating a baby would change me. Would change us."

"Is change always bad?" Scully's voice was barely a whisper.

"No. It made me realize that I can't live without you. That I might have *existed* in the basement at the FBI, but I never *lived* without you. I didn't have a life until you. And Will."

He choked on the last line.

Scully was speechless. She reached out to him, touching the side of his face, drawing his eyes to hers. "Mulder, I don't have a life without you either. I've been going on at the FBI as if I'm trying to prove I can do this job, that I can do it without you. But who really cares? In two hundred years, will people tell a story about us? What would that story be? That we let pride and insecurities get in the way of happiness? I've been afraid for so long...afraid of making a change. Of leaving the security of a job I do well, with only the vast unknown ahead of me."

He wiped her tears away as she talked. "I realized on my way here that I was miserable. My body was here, but my heart was with you and Will. The change that I feared has already happened. I was just too scared to admit it. My life isn't the same. And I have to make adjustments. I have to let something go."

She leaned toward him. "And I refuse to let that be you. I don't want to spend the rest of my life wishing for the path not taken."

Mulder leaned in and kissed her passionately. His lips were hot and firm, demanding everything, giving her all in return. His hands moved from her cheeks to the back of her neck. Gently caressing the nape of her neck, he moved her in closer, increasing the pressure.

Scully sighed into him, wrapping her arms around him, loving the feel of him beneath her fingertips. She could feel the warmth of his body through his t- shirt. It had been so long since she'd touched him without reservations. She closed her eyes and savored the moment, knowing that if there really was a heaven, it must feel exactly like this.

Mulder broke the kiss, trailing his lips down her throat while his hands moved warmly down her neck, over her rib cage, and up her stomach, resting for a minute beneath her arms. Moving slowly, tantalizingly, he inched his hands toward their goal. When he contacted her left breast, he stilled at her sharp, painful gasp.

"I'm sorry," he mumbled next to her ear, worried.

Embarrassed, she fit her flushed face into the hollow of his neck, thinking about how to relate her problem tactfully. She tilted her face up toward his ear, resting against him, cheek-to-cheek, and whispered, "I haven't been able to...nurse Will since yesterday."

His day-old stubble was rough against her. She nuzzled him, hoping he wouldn't make her explain further.

The tension ebbed from him, and he garnered a bit of confidence.

"I think I can do something about that," he added wickedly. She stiffened in his arms, and he hoped he hadn't offended her. He could almost hear the wheels processing the implications of his words. He would have laughed, were it any other situation. All he could hear were the heavy breaths coming from both of them.

"Scully?" Now he was worried. He could kick himself.

"Oh." It was such a small word, but he heard it nonetheless. He grinned and relaxed completely, kissing that cute little hollow between her neck and her shoulder. Just when he was about to demonstrate, he stopped, not believing what he heard.

Moving away from her, he made her meet his eyes. "How could you ever, *ever* that I didn't want you? I thought you were...I thought that you-"

Scully treated him to a rare smile, a complete beam that made his heart stop. Her eyes welled up with tears as she moved to the next emotion quickly. "So much wasted time, Mulder. So much wasted time."

He nudged her back on to the bed, his hands and his mouth showing her that he wasn't going to waste any more. She moaned his name fervently; he whispered hers reverently.

It wasn't until later--much later--that he lay there, replete, with a sleeping Scully curled around and over him that he could run the words she whispered over and over in his head, like the best video of his life: "I love you, Mulder."

He was overcome with joy, surrounded by a peace that he had never known existed. He was so happy that, when he noticed the suspiciously open panel in the wall, he almost groaned aloud.


1:00 a.m.
Living Room
Northampton Falls

The sight before them was almost as miraculous as the events from a few hours before. The Lone Gunmen were all three asleep on the two couches against the far wall, laptops still at work, gurgling and processing rapidly. Frohike's light snores weren't keeping anyone in the room awake, including a bundled Will. Mulder didn't know what to make of the sight of his child. Looking over at Scully, he saw a myriad of expressions crossing her face as her eyes found, with relief, the object of her worry.

Will was contentedly sleeping on his stomach by the fireplace. Agent Doggett's large hand pinned the baby to the soft mound of blankets, resting gently on Will's diapered bottom. His other arm was wrapped around Monica as she slept curled next to him on the loveseat, her face resting on his right thigh, a baby rattle still clutched in her hand. Papers, manila folders, and a crudely sketched floor plan were scattered on the floor in front of the duo as if paused in mid-use, waiting for them to notice that they'd fallen asleep.

Mulder, zeroing in on their intimate embrace, raised his eyebrow comically. "I wonder what's been going on between them that we don't know about?"

Scully hit him, but he could tell that she wasn't really mad. She still had a bit of a silly grin on her face, and her hair was slightly curly and messy from his hands, a telling piece of evidence from their isolated adventure. He knew his own happy expression mirrored hers.

Her hand curved around his arm, drawing his attention to her face. She was gazing at the other part of the living room that was wrapped in shadows.

He looked toward the wall adjacent to Scully, where two young people slept, happily entwined, under a blanket. "May I introduce Mr. and Mrs. Lawrence?" He shrugged, for once not truly curious about the X- File and started towaard the only remaining chair. Secretly, he was happy that it would only fit one. He pulled Scully's hand but saw her glance back at the now closed panel.

She reached out and touched the wall. It didn't budge. It was as if the doorway didn't exist.

"Mulder..."

He brought her up next to him and nudged her over to the cushy chair that looked like it had ten years of dust and secrets in it's crevices. He pulled her on to his lap and curled her short legs up around the side. Before she could say something--or sneeze--he murmured next to her ear. "Does everything have to have a scientific answer? Let's just take this one on faith, Scully."

She sighed into him, mumbling about professionalism or maybe Will's early morning feeding; soon, he would wake up and there would be questions, food, and conversations. Mulder stole one last glance at his sleeping boy. Doggett's hand was protective and gentle.

Mulder closed his eyes, knowing that he would have to say something to him in the morning. Something
*nice.* His lips curved into a small smile. That wouldn't be that hard, would it?

Right now, though, he joined the other exhausted sleepers in dreams--of the future, of light, of possibilities.


Epilogue one week later
5:01 a.m. Mulder's Apartment

Mulder carried a glass of iced tea and a cup of coffee into his bedroom. Rain rhythmically pounded on the window, creating a nice, peaceful harmony. Scully was curled up under three blankets--mismatched, unlike the collor-coordinated perfection of her apartment--nursing the baby. She methodically stroked his head, murmuring nothings--and everythings--to a very lucky baby Will.

He was struck with a strange sense of deja vu; this was the moment that he saw when standing in the library at Northampton Falls.

His family. He just wanted to soak it all in and store it in his mind.

I won't ever take these moments for granted, he promised himself solemnly.

He had just set the iced tea down when a strange noise--something akin to a thump--caught his attention. He turned toward the sound, sipping his coffee as he padded, shirtless and barefoot, to the front door.

Mulder opened the door, hoping it was the morning paper. He looked down at the item with what could be described as nothing sort of child-like glee. He snatched it up, scanned the contents, and headed back to the bedroom.

"Scully, guess what?"

She looked up from the playpen she'd just placed the baby in. He was already half asleep. "What? The paper boy is actually early?"

"Better. *Much* better. I just received this." He handed the heavy envelope and attached note to her.

Scully settled back under the covers while Mulder climbed in beside her. She examined the item sticking out of the top of the manila envelope. It was a xeroxed copy of a newspaper article. "Mulder, it's a newspaper article."

"Check out the date, Scully." He pointed to the top right corner. "It's today's. Someone gave us this on purpose. Read the headline," he prompted.

Scully pulled it out so she could read the entire line. "Massive Train Collision Creates Chaos in Northern Gem County." She looked up at Mulder blankly. "And...?"

"Northern Gem County, Iowa. Land of corn." She still looked puzzled, so he pointed to the picture at the bottom of the page. "Those are tanker trucks, Scully."

"Mulder..." Scully's voice sounded cautious.

"Scully, I believe this train carried tanker trucks, trucks that were hauling oil." He was just getting warmed up. "This collision may be an accident, but someone deliberately wanted us to look into it. This is the next piece of the puzzle. You yourself said that we should start working together again."

Scully shook her head slowly. "I was talking about work, Mulder. Not chasing phantom tanker trucks filled with...with...what you *think* might be an extraterrestrial virus."

Mulder nuzzled her neck, softening her. "C'mon, Scully. It'll be a nice trip to the midwest. We could sightsee, take a vacation, and, while we're there, check out this collision." He tried to make it sound casual.

"Mulder..."

He kissed her passionately, knowing that they would be in a rented car surrounded by corn stalks and conspiracies by nightfall.

Until then, he was going to simply enjoy the sound of the rain on the window, the sight of his baby in the playpen, and the feel of Scully in his arms, currently too preoccupied to argue with him.

--end--


Author's note: Despite my voracious appetite for fanfic, this is my first! Although I am a writer by trade (I teach reading, literature, and writing), this is my first full-length X-File, a guilty pleasure I treated myself to for finishing the last page of my dissertation draft. :)

I tried to work in what I thought (and hope are to you) emotions and situations that are true to the characters. I also sprinkled in new workings of my favorite moments that you might recognize...Ghost in the Machine, Fight the Future, Darkness Falls, Ice, and Requiem...among others. Thanks for reading! I would *love* feedback!

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