|Headers and Prologue||Chapter One - The Strange Death of Mister North||Chapter Two - Extreme Incredulity||Chapter Three - On The Flip Side||Chapter Four - King of a Small Kingdom|
|Chapter Five - Sober Morning After||Chapter Six - Waiting and Hoping||Chapter Seven - Fading Fast||Chapter Eight - Untrue Confessions||Chapter Nine - Evacuation Plans||Chapter Ten - Lights Out|
Title: This Fragile Universe
Keywords: MSR; Alternate Universe(both literally and figuratively).
Spoilers: Season seven and parts of season eight.
Timeline: Begins very late season seven just after Je Souhaite, which I contend takes place late summer of 2000. Requiem doesn't happen. Some of season eight remains intact, nonetheless.
Summary: in 1972 frightened boy splits reality, creating a world with an alternate destiny. Twenty-eight years later, there's trouble in paradise. Special Agent Fox Mulder may be their only hope...but who will save him?
Author's notes: I promise that, outside of third party dialogue, I will not refer to our Mulder and Scully as " Fox" and " Dana" except in the pre-series portions of this fic.
Content Warning: This fic contains vague/non-graphic references to a child molestation incident within a minor character's past.
Last updated: Chapter 9...hopefully this fic will be finished in 2010
PrologueMiramar Naval Air Station
December 18th, 1970
"Dana, come on."
Looking up at her mother's impatient tone, the little redhead put her crayons down with great reluctance; Santa and his sleigh were neatly filled in, but the team of reindeer were still off-white, and leaving it half done bothered her budding sense of aesthetics.
Still, her mother was helping Charlie get his coat on, and she knew that she'd be expected to get herself ready before Maggie was ready herself. Zippers were tricky for small six-year-old fingers. As far as Dana was concerned, this "big girl" stuff was overrated, no matter what her mother and Missy said.
Mittens on, she slipped her hand into Charlie's. His mittens had teddy bears on them. Publicly she agreed with Billy - but now he wanted everyone calling him Bill, which confused her - that they were babyish, but secretly she wished her mittens had bears too.
"Where we going, Mommy?"
"Captain Nightwoods is being transferred to a base in Massachusetts, so we are going to say goodbye to his family."
"What about Daddy, Missy, and Billy?"
"Daddy will say goodbye later, and I don't think that Missy or Billy have ever met the Nightwoods. Jamie and Joel go to a different school."
"To my school," Dana said, referring to the public elementary school. Her older siblings attended Catholic school, but were lobbying to go to public school as well, taking the fact that Dana hadn't been transferred to their school after kindergarten as they had as a sign that private school was losing its appeal to their parents.
"That's right," Maggie agreed, ushering the children out the door.
"Will Santa know where Jamie and Joel are?" Dana asked as they reach the Nightwoods' driveway."‘cause it's almost Christmas."
"There's an elf whose job it is to keep track of where kids moved to in December," Maggie told her.
"Like the post office does?" Dana asked thinking of forwarding orders. Her family had already moved twice in her short life, so they were something she was familiar with.
"Are we going to move too?"
"But someday?" Dana persisted.
"Maybe. I can't see into the future, Dana."
"Jamie," Charlie said, pointing the thumb of his left mitten at the open front door of the house where a dark-haired boy was standing. In the house full of talkers, Charlie was the only one to considered words at a premium.
Dana approached the house shyly. She liked Joel okay, but Jamie was an even older kid, and that always made her little anxious - she is always scared that she'd do something dumb that make them teased her. Like Billy always did.
Jamie gave them a sad smile when his mother invited them in.
"I am sorry that you're moving," Dana told him and eight-year-old Joel.
"Me too," Jamie said with a sigh
"It ain't fair we gotta move," Joel added.
"Joseph Nightwoods, how many times to have to tell you not to say ‘ain't' and ‘gotta'?" Mrs. Nightwoods scolded.
Before Joel came up with an answer sure to get him into trouble, the mothers got to their goodbyes.
Right before they left, Dana worried that her mother was going to make her kiss the Nightwoods boys goodbye. It happened to her friend Kathy - her mother had made her kiss a boy on the cheek while the mothers had cooed about how sweet it was. Fortunately, that didn't happen this time.
"Goodbye," Dana said when her mother took Charlie's hand.
"Goodbye," Both boys looked forlorn.
Dana was sure she'd never see either of them again.
October 29th, 1972
"Fox, have you ever heard of a soap bubble universe?"
Fox looked up with a frown. Even though he kept asking people to call him Mulder, no one listened; of all people he thought Jimmy would, since he often griped that his parents still called him Jamie, as if he were five. Jimmy was looking back at him, with an excited gleam in his brown eyes. His friend really dug physics, which wasn't something he really cared for. Still, Jimmy was his friend, so he repressed an annoyed sigh. "Don't think so. What is it, a world made out of soap?"
"Nah. Back when the big bang had just happened, and the universes were still forming, all the new universes got surrounded by bubble of ionized gas. But not little bubbles like when we're taking a bath- "
"You take bubble baths?" Fox asked, incredulous. Samantha kept a bottle of Mister Bubble in their bathroom, but he never heard of a boy over the age of six admitting to taking one.
"No. anyway, they were huge pockets of gas, and they eventually got absorbed into the new universes as they expanded, and eventually all of the gas in space was ionized."
"Okay…how come you're thinking about that?"
"I was reading a biography on Joseph Cornell that my dad bought me."
"Oh. Have you read Flowers for Algernon? I think it came out about six years ago. It's about this guy who's dumb that they make smart-"
"Yeah, I read it." Jimmy pushed his dark bangs out of his eyes and looked at the metal alarm clock sitting on Fox's bureau and compared it to his watch to see if it was accurate. It was. "Wow, it's getting late, I better get home before my mom has a fit. She's already been in a grouchy mood all week because Joel got into another fight at school."
"Your brother gets into a lot of trouble," Fox observed. "That's one of the only good things about having a little sister, she doesn't make my parents mad by getting into trouble."
"Aww, come on. I know you like your sister, so that's not the only good thing about her."
"I said about having a sister. I like her, mostly, but it'd of been better if she'd been born a boy, you know?"
"I guess. I've always kind of wanted a sister, though."
"They're more trouble than you'd think. Oh, I forgot, Mom said you could stay for dinner if you wanted."
"Aww man, I can't. My mother would never let me at the last minute because she's already made dinner, I bet."
"Too bad," Fox said glumly. "Maybe next week."
"Yeah, maybe," Jimmy echoed, stuffing things back into his school bag.
Jimmy reached the intersection before his road when Mrs. Snow drove by in her gold Cadillac. She noticed Jimmy and lifted one hand to wave to him before continuing down the road a little ways before pulling into her driveway. Jimmy waved back, but he wasn't sure that she saw him.
The kitchen light wasn't on when Jimmy got home, and that struck him as a little odd, since his mother should have gotten back from picking Joel up from detention by then according to his watch. The front door wasn't locked, so he thought that perhaps the light had blown out or there was a power failure. Looking over his shoulder, though, he could see the glow of a TV in the neighbor's window. " Gotta be a bulb blown out." He muttered before opening the door and calling uncertainly. "Mom?"
Instead of his mother's voice, he heard a male one. Unfamiliar. "You bitch! I told you that you better not call anyone!"
His mother's voice answered, high and pleading. "I didn't! It's my son, it's just my son."
"I don't believe you." The voice growled back. "That's your son there, so how could your son be outside?"
"I have two sons!" his mother shouted.
Then there was a sound that Jimmy's brain couldn't quite conceptualize. It was a bang, and it sounded familiar, but it wasn't a house sound. It was a movie sound effect, for action films and war movies. Gunfire.
His mother screamed once, long and low, then felt silent. Joel didn't make a sound.
The boy squeezed his eyes tightly shut. "This is not happening. This is not happening."
Jimmy opened his eyes, and was startled to find that he was half a block away. He looked down the street, hoping that he could go to Mrs. Snow for help. She was his neighbor, and knew his mom. If his mother was dead, he wanted someone with him when he found out. An adult.
Mrs. Snow's driveway was empty. He blinked in confusion, since it'd only been a minute since she passed him and waved. The sound of a car behind him made him turn, and there the gold Cadillac was, and Mrs. Snow was raising her hand…
It wasn't possible, Jimmy told himself, but his wristwatch said that it was a minute earlier than when he looked at it the last time.
One glance at his darkened house was enough to make up his mind. If he'd somehow been given a second chance, he wasn't going to blow it. He turned on his heel and ran back to Fox Mulder's house.
Teena Mulder greeted him with a warm smile. "You're back."
"My mom had to go to my grandma's at the last minute, she left me a note…is it too late to change my mind about staying for dinner?" Jimmy lied glibly as he secretly battled to stay calm. Everything that had happened before was his imagination, and he hadn't actually seen his mother dead, so it was just a dream, or maybe a hallucination. It had to be.
"Of course not."
The boy almost collapsed with relief when Fox's mother bought his story. Dream or not, he didn't want to have to call home, just in case.
The two boys were doing the dishes when Jimmy's father pulled into the driveway. They heard him talking to Mrs. Mulder in a low voice, and she made a sympathetic sound that set Jimmy's nerves on edge. He wiped his hands and walked out to them.
"I'm glad you were here, Jamie," his father told him, slinging an arm around his shoulder. "Someone broke into the house about an hour ago."
"Are Mom and Joel okay?" he asked in a voice not much more than a trembling whisper.
"They're shaken up, but they're okay. The thief didn't hurt them, but he scared them pretty bad with his gun."
Jimmy' eyes searched his father's face, wondering if he was lying, but the man's expression was utterly sincere. "I'm glad that they're okay."
As they drove back to the house, Jimmy stared out the window, into the growing dark. Hearing his mother being shot had to be his imagination. It just had to be.
He threw himself into his mother's arms as soon as he saw her, and couldn't explain to anyone why there were tears running down his face.
Chapter One - The Strange Death of Mister North
August 16th, 2000
Scully's stomach roiled suddenly as she looked down at the body of Philip North. It wasn't that the blond twenty-seven-year-old had died in some spectacularly gruesome manner, because his method of death had been nearly pedestrian - a single gunshot wound to the heart. The police thought perhaps it had been over a dispute over a girlfriend. Nothing out of the ordinary there.
No, the reason that her stomach was suddenly in revolt was Mister North was looking at her with a shocked expression on his face. The queasiness only increased when he opened his mouth and spoke. "Hey, that's me." He pointed one tanned finger at the body that lay flayed open before them.
"Well no," Scully denied.
"Looks just like me, though." North suddenly looked more interested than stunned. "If I didn't know that I was standing here, I'd of thought it was me, too."
She looked from the corpse to the man standing beside her. "Who let you in here?"
"The morgue attendant. My mother called my roommate in hysterics, saying that she was called to ID my body. But I was home, so I talked to her and calmed her down before deciding to come here and ID myself."
"But it's not you," Scully reiterated wearily.
"I know, it's just…" North trailed off, looking down at his dead double. " Odd."
"In a word, yes." She nodded her agreement. "While you're here, would you be willing to submit a DNA sample?" She didn't add that she could get a warrant for one if he declined, since he looked like the agreeable type.
"So you can prove it's not me?" he asked with a faint smile. "I thought you already established that."
"It's not me who needs convincing."
They didn't continue their conversation while she swabbed his mouth for DNA, which was probably just as well given that it'd have garbled his words. He gave her a quizzical look while she sealed the sample. "You're a doctor. Do you have any idea what the odds are for there being someone who's the same age as me, and looks just like me, turning up in the same city?"
She shrugged. "Astronomical."
When North left a few minutes later, she returned her attention to the other Philip North, whom she supposed was technically a John Doe, given that he wasn't who the police had originally identified him as from the identification he carried.
She wished she hadn't agreed to come at the police's frantic summoning an hour ago when the other mister North showed up. Even more she wished she had some Maxloxx.
"You know this makes no sense at all, Mulder," Scully said with a frustrated sigh.
Mulder was tempted to hug or tickle her to distract her, but he decided not to. They hadn't had the discussion yet about how "public" they ought to be about their new relationship; he half suspected that she just didn't want to deal with all the "it's about time" comments, and frankly, he could do without them too. So he kept his hands on the desk.
Instead he let amusement infuse his voice. "When did you begin to assume that our cases would make sense, Scully?"
She gave him a wry look. "I've been around you too long, I guess. But you have to admit, this case is stranger than most. Philip North is dead, in the morgue at Quantico-"
"Where you've sliced, diced and julienned him-"
"It was on my word-a-day calendar."
"Where I've autopsied him, and he's dead. Dead-dead."
"Dead-dead is a scientific classification?" Mulder wondered aloud.
Scully ignored his digression. "Yet he's alive, and wandering the greater DC area."
"I agree that is troublesome. Especially since the DNA checked out."
"Of course it did. This isn't like that case we had with the false Micah Hoffman." Her fingers toyed with the edge of a folder, and he wondered if she realized that she was fidgeting. " Fortunately we weren't the ones to notify the….dead gentleman's family this time."
"No, the police made that blunder all on their own. Which means our asses won't be in a sling this time with Skinner."
"That's not the point, Mulder. The point is that mister North's claim that he never had any siblings, let along an identical twin checked out too. I just got off the phone with the hospital where he was born, and their records clearly show that his was a singleton birth. There's no twin, so it's not possible for the dead man to have identical DNA as mister North."
"Yet he does."
"Yet he does," Scully repeated. "What's your take on this?"
"What makes you think that I have a take on this?"
"You always have a theory, Mulder. No matter how implausible it is, you always have one."
He didn't know if he should feel complimented or insulted. "I think that the dead mister North and the living mister North have a family connection we just haven't figured out yet. Maybe his mother was drugged during her delivery, and unwittingly delivered twins, one of which was kidnapped without her even knowing that he'd been born. Or perhaps she herself is an identical twin, as is her husband - there's a theory that two pairs of identical children who married might produce children that are identical cousins-"
"Patty Duke? I expected you to come up with a theory about North being the victim of some Consortium cloning project, and you bring up identical cousins." Mulder rolled his eyes when she began to sing off-key. " Still, they're cousins, identical cousins and you'll find they laugh alike, they walk alike, at times they even talk alike…"
"Short of mister North turning out to be Kurt Crawford's brother, I think it's safe to leave the Consortium out of this one."
"Ruling that out, what does it leave us with?" Scully asked, her eyes suddenly serious.
"I don't know." Mulder admitted.
Mulder stared off into space, turning the issue of the two mister Norths over in his mind. There had to be something he was missing to account for the existence of the dead double. Perhaps the fairytales about fairyfolk abducting children and leaving changelings behind had some element of truth to them. In that case the trouble would be convincing Scully and devising a method of figuring out which North was the real one, and which the lifelong poser; a poser who might not even realize, or have realized if it were the dead man, that they weren't human. Would a more meticulous DNA analysis pick up on some subtle genetic marker that-
"Mulder?" Her voice brought him back to reality. "It's time to go home."
He checked his watch in surprise. "So it is. Home to where?"
Although it had been about a month since she first spent the night, they'd yet to fall into any sort of predictable pattern, which lent itself to anxiousness and queries like this one. Not that it seemed to bother her as much as it did him. She seemed a lot more mellow about all facets of their budding relationship, now that he thought about it.
"How about my place?" she asked. "We're spent so much time at your apartment this week that I'm sure my plants are wilting from lack of watering." A small smile crept across her face. "Besides, there's a movie I want to inflict on you, and you said last week that I could when we were at my apartment."
Last week. The genie case still had Mulder reeling a little when he thought about it during quiet moments while his mind was otherwise unoccupied. The question he came back to time and time again was whether or not he'd used his third wish wisely. Although it had made him feel good to magnanimously use the wish to free Jenn, he suspected that it had been subconsciously motivated by the terror he'd felt when he'd accidentally wished Scully, and the rest of humanity away - he'd wanted more than anything to keep from screwing up by letting her trick him into screwing up again. Now, though he wondered if perhaps he should have used the wish to make Scully happy in a more tangible way. But it was too late now.
On the other hand, when he'd alluded to that to Scully, she'd said, "Well, I'm fairly happy. That's something," which had filled him with a warm glow. It made him feel foolish that an off-hand remark had meant so much to him, but he couldn't deny that it did.
They had begun their day at his apartment, so as a result they'd taken his car into the office. As Mulder unlocked the passenger side door for Scully he found himself idly wondering if that raised any eyebrows at the Hoover building, or if people who noticed thought they were especially environmentally conscious and carpooling to help Mother Earth. He glanced at Scully, wondering if she wondered.
He decided not when a minute later she looked up from buckling her seatbelt and said, "I don't feel like going straight home. There has to be more to life than home and office."
"Where do you want to go?" he asked gamely.
She shrugged her shoulders. "I don't know. You decide. Be impulsive."
The thought that it was some sort of test like his ex-girlfriends had been fond of crossed his mind, but he dismissed it. Scully wasn't the testing type. "Are you sure you want *me* to be impulsive?"
She smiled sweetly at him. "Yes. I'm sure we won't end up bored."
As he drove he kept an eye out for some place interesting to stop. He was mentally dismissing a bar - remembering the speech he'd given a waitress a couple of years earlier- when another establishment caught his eye.
"Weee'rrrreee heeeerrrreee," he announced as he parked the car near the curb.
The raised eyebrow that accompanied her question made him doubt his choice. "Too impulsive?"
"No, it'll be fun."
"You're humoring me."
"Does that bother you?" she asked sweetly.
"No, I just wanted you to know that I knew."
A small set of wind chimes jangled as Mulder pushed the front door open. He wrinkled his nose, not liking the sound, but as a woman bustled into the room, he realized that the sound acted as a doorbell for her.
"Welcome. Sit." She invited with an expansive sweep of her arm. Mulder and Scully took their seats in two red velour flocked chairs while the woman settled herself in a fancier chair across from them. "I am Mama Zulu."
Mulder hid a smirk. She was dressed for the part, wearing wispy peasant clothes in garish purple and green, her hair tied back with an even less substantial scarf, and large golden hoop earrings, but…Her skin was as fair as Scully's, she had blonde hair bestowed by nature rather than a bottle, and vivid green eyes. In short she looked as much like a Zulu as he did a Fox. It made him wonder if she was the product of mixed heritage as he was, or if her name was as invented as her business.
Scully's nudge made him aware that he was staring, so he smiled and said. " We were interested in palm readings."
"Ah. Both of you, I presume?"
"Yes," Mulder said with a nod, then turned to Scully. "Ladies first."
"No," Mama Zulu corrected. "In this thing only, it's polite for the man to seek his future first. If there is bad news for the lady, he can put his whole heart into comforting her without being preoccupied about what his own fortune holds."
"So you give out bad fortunes as well as good?" Scully asked in a skeptical tone. It was clear that she didn't think that doing so would be good for the woman's business.
"I do not give fortunes." Mama Zulu sounded faintly insulted. "I merely make people aware of them. The fates give us our destinies, all."
"I can't argue with that," Scully said. She, unlike Mulder, did not bother to hide her own smirk.
Mama Zulu ignored the slight. "Your left hand, please." She asked Mulder, holding out her own. "Unless you're left handed."
"Nope. I'm not sinistral." Mulder gave her his hand.
It stuck him as a little strange to have his hand be the subject of intense scrutiny. To distract himself from the slight tickle as she ran a light finger over the lines of his hand, he tried to guess how long it took her to memorize what each line of the hand meant. It wasn't as though she could just make things up off the top of her head, since people who came here as more than a lark probably would know a fabrication when they heard one. That kind of fabrication, anyway.
"This line here indicates that you will encounter a lot of danger," Mama Zulu said while gently touching a long line on his palm. "But you will mostly get through it."
Mulder glanced quickly at Scully, and was not surprised to see her roll her eyes. He turned his attention back to the palm reader. "Hmmm."
"And this here indicates that you'll have a family reunion." To his surprise she clucked her tongue. "It will not be a happy one, however, and will ultimately lead to you leaving this world."
He bit his lip, mostly to keep from laughing. "My family is going to kill me then?"
Mama Zulu shrugged. "Our hands leave us signs, but do not tell a complete story."
"I see. Is there anything else, or is it Scully's turn?"
She peered down at his palm again. "You will find much happiness. If you stop fighting it."
"Thank you for the…enlightenment."
"And now, the lady."
For a moment Mulder worried that Scully was going to refuse, but she held out her hand to the other woman. Mama Zulu's face took on an air of concentration, and she seemed not to breathe as she looked down at Scully's small hand.
"For someone so young, you've suffered much loss." The palm reader's voice was oddly gentle. "A parent, a sibling, a child…I wish I could tell you that that was of the past, but it's clear here," her index finger pointed at a spot in the middle of Scully's palm. "That you will lose again. But take heart, this loved one will come back to you."
Her face brightened a little. "And here it indicates that you will have a happy family with wonderful children. They will be your joy in times of trouble."
Over the next few minutes Mama Zulu told Scully other things, but Mulder didn't hear a word of it. He was concentrating too hard on Scully's stony face. It had been a mistake to stop here. It wasn't the palm reader's fault, since most young women wanted to hear of family and children, but it had been the exact wrong thing to say to Scully. She hadn't said much in the weeks since they'd learned that the IVF had failed, but he knew her well enough to know that it weighed heavily on her heart.
So heavily, in fact, that it had compelled him to return to the lab in Lehigh Furnace, Pennsylvania where he had once liberated a vial of Scully's ova under the watchful eye of a Kurt Crawford. It had been his wildest hope that there would still be more ova there under lock and key, and even if it was dangerous to go in there, especially considering how close he'd come to disaster the last time, he'd break in and get them… but when he got there the building had been razed, and only a sign hung cockeyed on a fence indicated that he had found Center For Reproductive Medicine. The only thing to do after that was to slink away with his tail between his legs.
He'd spent the night alone then.
"Would you like to have your cards read?" Mama Zulu asked hopefully.
"No, I think we're all set for one night." Mulder pulled out his wallet. "Thank you for your time."
"You're welcome, Child. Do come again, Mama Zulu will be here."
"I'll bet," Scully muttered as they walked out to the car.
After closing the car door, Mulder turned to face her. "Are you okay?"
"Why wouldn't I be?" she asked evenly.
"That stuff she said about kids…"
"I'm okay, Mulder. She didn't know I can't have children. It's just a parlor trick anyway. None of it means anything."
It was on the tip of his tongue to bring up the things the woman had gotten right, Scully's losses, his penchant for danger, but he knew that she'd come up with rationalizations for both, and he didn't feel like having a half-hearted argument. "Yeah…Still, maybe you should be the impulsive one next time. But please, no home and garden shows."
She smiled, and looked happy enough, but still he wondered what was going on inside her head. They were closer now, but he still couldn't read her mind.
Chapter Two - Extreme Incredulity
August 19th, 2000
The weight of a strange arm pinning him to the bed made Mulder's heart jackhammer in his chest. For three seconds he squeezed his eyes more tightly shut, imagining the worst. It was the alien bounty hunter, returned to finish him off. Or perhaps he'd fallen into the hands of the smoking bastard again, who was unsatisfied with kidnapping Scully for wild goose chases of late, and his brain was being prodded again. Or maybe it was Krycek come to bump off the competition or-
Hair tickled his nose, and he nearly sneezed. None of the villains likely to attack him while he was helplessly asleep had long hair, and even if they did they probably wouldn't get any closer than they needed to shot or stab him, so he at last cracked his eyelids open. And come to think of it, most villains probably wouldn't have the silk sheets he felt under his fingers all along. When he moved to crane his neck to see her, Scully mumbled something in her sleep and pulled away from his chest, but burrowed against his side. Which might have been nice if it wasn't already 75 degrees out and rising.
Still, he grinned as he let his head fall back on the pillow. There was no need in the world to tell Scully that the first emotion he'd upon waking to being in her bed was fear. Knowing her, she probably wouldn't have been terribly surprised. He stretched his legs and contemplated hiding her clothes so they'd be late for work.
"Mulder, have you seen my bra?" Scully looked up at him as he put his pants on, and he had to make his face a mask of innocence.
"I don't think so, no."
"I don't know what's wrong with me, I keep losing things. I swear that I left it with the clothes I wore yesterday."
Mulder shrugged. "I lose things all the time. I misplaced my favorite Knicks jersey for six months last year."
"But your apartment is a mess."
Rather than protest, he simply nodded. There was no sense lying to either of them about the state of his place. "At least I can find the fish every day."
"Hey, it's not like they're dogs or cats, they can't alert me with noise if there's a problem."
"Good point," Scully said with a slight smirk. "Don't ever let me ask you to water my plants."
"That's not fair, I'm dependable. And children and animals love me."
"Now you're just being mean." He groused. But his eyes were smiling. "Maybe if you're having memory problems you can try some of that Ginko Biloba stuff they're always hawking on TV."
Scully wrinkled her nose. "No thanks. That sort of thing isn't regulated by the FDA. Just help me find my bra, would you?"
Everything went to hell almost as soon as they stepped into the basement. The phone rang, and it was Skinner with the terse message "My office now."
After sneaking a quick look at a poker-faced Scully, Mulder shuffled his feet and walked to the elevator. He let her push the button.
Standing in the elevator he kept meaning to talk to Scully. If they were going to be called to the carpet for fraternization they should strategize. Form some sort of defense. He glanced at her quickly. Did she even know why they were being called up stairs? She should be as nervous as he was, if she knew. She didn't look nervous.
A bing sound announced their floor, and Scully stepped out without hesitation as soon as the doors swung open. Mulder trailed after her like a duckling. A nervous duckling.
The air in Skinner's office was already fraught with tension the second they stepped through the door. At his desk Skinner was quietly fuming, and one look at him made Mulder wish that the ground would open and swallow him. They were screwed.
Skinner cleared his throat. "The local police called me this morning to help deal with a situation."
Mulder blinked in confusion; he couldn't think of a reason that the DC police would have any interest in his personal life.
"What situation is that, sir?" Scully asked calmly. Mulder quietly admired her for that.
"Philip North turned himself in today." Skinner fixed them with a fierce look. "For the murder of the identical John Doe cooling his heals in the morgue. Did he say anything yesterday that would have suggested that this revelation was coming?"
"No sir," Scully said before turning to look at Mulder.
"Not us," he blurted out in relief, earning strange looks from both of them. "Um, that's to say that if he'd told anyone about his intentions to confess it hadn't been information he'd shared with Agent Scully or I."
Skinner nodded "I suspected that would be the case. However I'll need you to sit in on his statement. The police haven't taken it yet, in anticipation of your joining them."
"We're on our way," Mulder assured him before beating a hasty retreat.
"Why are you acting so weird?" Scully hissed as they reached the car.
He gave her a sheepish grin. "I thought he was on to us."
"About what?" she asked blankly.
"You know, us," Mulder stressed the last word.
"Oh Mulder. He doesn't suspect a thing."
"He doesn't? Why not?"
"We're discreet," Scully explained.
This came as a surprise to him, but he kept it to himself.
For once, the police seemed glad to see them. Mulder suspected that it threw off their world views when they didn't have to hunt for the bad guy but had him show up ready to be arrested. He didn't blame them; it would have surprised him too.
North had been left alone in an interrogation room, and he looked like a wreck, kneading the bill of his baseball cap . They hadn't cuffed him, and they'd given him a soda, which made Mulder suspect that they didn't think it was a genuine criminal they had on their hands. As he and Scully took their seats across from the man, he had his doubts as well.
An officer with a tape recorder gave North a bored look and said. "Go on and tell your story now."
"It was kill or be killed," North claimed in an anxious tone. "I was waking my dog in the woods when it happened. Casey suddenly went crazy, barking like mad and surging ahead so vigorously that she nearly pulled my shoulder out of the socket. I looked where here eyes were fixed, and immediately noticed that something was wrong. It's kind of hard to explain, but there was this haze, and a guy was in the middle of it. And it was me."
He looked up with glassy eyes. "I couldn't believe it, there was an exact duplicate of me, and the look in his eyes, it chilled me. I wasn't surprised when I saw that he held a gun, or when he flew at me. There was a scuffle and...he got shot. I didn't mean for it to happen, but it did."
"Could I talk to you outside, Mulder?" Scully asked, standing abruptly.
"Um, sure." Mulder shot North an apologetic look before following his partner.
He caught up with her in a dark corner that the only appeal of seemed to be the bench she was perched on. He had a fleeting image of another appeal a dark corner could have, but tried to erase it from his mind and focus on work.
"So…what do you think of his story?" Mulder asked, testing the waters.
"I think this story is crap. Whatever his connection is, it can't be as simple as 'I saw my crazy double and had to shoot him'." She frowned when he didn't immediately agree with her. "You don't believe him, do you?"
The question led to some mental squirming. On one hand he wanted to agree with her to make her happy because they were involved which heightened his desire to please her. On the other hand he didn't actually agree with her… "I don't know. The story does sound somewhat contrived, but what if it did happen?"
Scully put a hand on her hip. "And what if horses grew wings?"
Her remark made him wince a little. "So you're thinking it was just murder, then, identical killer and victim not withstanding?"
"I think North is being dealt with by the right people - the police."
"There's no X-file?"
"There's no X-File, Mulder. We'll tell the police this is there problem, then go back to the office and write this up for Skinner."
On the surface it seemed to him that she was probably right, but as they drove back he couldn't rid himself of a nagging feeling that there was more to the death of John Doe that couldn't be explained away in a normal police investigation than could be.
August 21st, 2000
A noise interrupted Mulder's admiration of his pencil collection in the ceiling. He glanced over at the door and noticed that there was someone, probably a man, standing in the shadowed doorway. Whoever it was, he shouldn't have been there.
"Excuse me, you can't be down here," Mulder said, causing his uninvited visitor to turn. When he did, Mulder saw that "boy" would have been a more accurate description than man, since he guessed that the lanky kid with spiky brown hair was in his late teens.
"It's the right guy," the kid muttered himself before turning a blue-eyed gaze to the irritated FBI agent. "You're Fox Mulder aren't you?"
"Special Agent Mulder." Mulder snapped. "And you are?"
"Where's Dana Scully?" the kid asked instead as he took a few steps towards the lone desk.
"Doing an autopsy." Mulder glared at the young man; the police had begged her to double check the John Doe's cause of death, and he wasn't happy about being reminded of that." Who did you say you were?"
"Oh, I guess I didn't. I'm Charlie Jr, but most people call me Chip." He extended a hand, which wasn't taken, and let it drop to his side again.
Mulder studied him for moment. There was something familiar looking about him, even though he was sure they'd never met. "Are you related to agent Scully?" he asked, remembering that years before while on a case in Pennsylvania that Scully had mentioned having a nephew before Matthew's birth, which mean the mysterious Charles Scully must have had children already since Missy certainly hadn't.
Chip's head bobbed. "I'm Dana's nephew. Yours too," he added.
Mulder spoke slowly, trying to maintain his relatively calm exterior. "That's not possible. My only sibling died as child."
A storm of emotions crossed the boy's face as he obviously tried to think of what to say. "Perhaps I've misspoken… You're famous for keeping an open mind. Do you really?"
"I like to think so," Mulder reluctantly admitted. He wondered how he'd gotten the reputation that the kid spoke of, however. Had he been the subject of gossip at a Scully family dinner? He just couldn't picture Scully laughing at his antics at the dinner table.
"I am the nephew of Fox Mulder and Dana Scully. But not your nephew, exactly," Chip added.
"Well that clears things up," Mulder groused. "Do you mind explaining how that could be possible?"
"Have ever read novel 'The Gunslinger' by Stephen King?" the boy asked, rather abruptly and bizarrely in Mulder's opinion.
"No, I think I missed that one."
"At one point Jake, who is dying, says to the main character Roland 'Go then- there are other worlds than these.' And he's right, there are other worlds."
It took Mulder's brain a couple of seconds to figure out where the boy was going. "You believe that there are other worlds, other Earths?"
"And that you're from one of them?"
The boy's eyes lit up with what was clearly unanticipated delight. "Yes! That's exactly right. My mother was right, you are really smart."
"Your mother, my sister Samantha Mulder?"
"Well, a Samantha Mulder anyway," the boy agreed. "Samantha Scully, though, now."
"Did someone pay you to come here with this story?" Mulder asked, keeping his tone conversational. "I'm not mad at you, but it's not considered polite to do this sort of thing to a government agent."
The boy didn't catch onto his suspicions at first, because he said. "No, I volunteered-" Then he looked crestfallen. "You don't believe me."
"Would you believe you?" Mulder asked.
"Since I am me, I guess I would."
Mulder shook his head to himself before trying again. "Okay, what if you were me?"
"Yeah…maybe not," Chip agreed. "But maybe if I gave me, I mean you, proof, I would."
The conversation was beginning to make Mulder's head hurt. A lot. "Do you have some sort of proof?"
"Maybe?" Chip sounded a little doubtful, which Mulder didn't think was a good sign. "Okay, how about this. You've got a case right now that you can't solve-"
"Which is hardly unusual," Mulder pointed out.
Chip seemed not to hear. "And it involves someone who was murdered, but they're still alive."
"How did you know that?" Mulder's eyes widened. They hadn't released any information to the public yet.
"I know that because someone disappeared completely from my 'world'. The living person? That's not someone from this world, it's someone from my world."
"Not according to them," Mulder said faintly.
"Of course not, they don't want people to know that they assumed their this-world's counterpart's life. That's a good way to get into the loony bin."
"You don't seem worried about that…" Mulder muttered.
"I Don't have a this-world counterpart," Chip remarked before narrowing his eyes. "Look, the person who created my world, you knew him when you were a kid."
"Jimmy disappeared the year before my sister did," Mulder said.
"He didn't. He made our world by accident. In 1972," Chip said emphatically. "1972, do you understand now?"
"No, but I'm pretty sure that you're going to tell me that my sister was never kidnapped or murdered in your world," Mulder said without humor.
"She wasn't. But she's in trouble now, we all are."
"If my sister exists in your world, does that mean I do too?"
"Yup," Chip agreed. "And so does Dana."
"So why don't you get them to help you with whatever the problem is?"
"For one, they're not FBI agents in our world. And for another, they're dying. All the adults are," Chip gave him a rueful smile. "At least I think they are, anyway. I'm not an expert, but I know this thing is trouble."
Mulder blinked. That wasn't the answer he was expecting. "They're dying? Of what?"
"Some sort of disease. It's been kept hush hush, but I found a picture....things grow in people and tear them apart. At least two people so far."
"The alien virus," Mulder breathed, not realizing that at some point he'd stopped humoring the boy. "But Scully and I ended that."
"Only here," Chip said sadly. "No one was looking out for the danger in our world. Look, James asked me to bring you and Dana Scully back to help, will you?"
"You're saying I can go to your world?" Mulder asked in disbelief.
"Sure. I know exactly where to go. It's not really all that far from her."
"How could I possibly-"
"Mulder?" Scully's voice called from the doorway. "Who are you talking to?"
Not knowing what else to do, Mulder pointed at the boy. "This is our nephew, Chip Scully."
"Our nephew?" Scully asked, but didn't wait for Mulder's reply. "Charlie's son is only eight, and his name is Aaron, not Chip. What year were you born, anyway?"
"1982," Chip answered, confirming Mulder's suspicions about his age.
"No. When you were born Charlie would only have been-"
"Fifteen. My father was fifteen when I was born. My mother was eighteen," he added.
"My sister wouldn't have seduced a young boy," Mulder said flatly.
"What? Your sister? Samantha?"
"Yeah. It's a long story, but Chip claims to be Samantha and Charles' son. But my sister would never have-"
"You only knew her until she was eight, so how can you be sure about what her choices ten years later might have been?" Scully asked. "Not that I believe any of this," she added as a disclaimer when he scowled at her.
"If there was any seduction, from the way my parents tell it, it was mutual." Chip shuddered a little, apparently as unthrilled as any other teen to be privy to details about his parents' sex lives. "Dad was just about failing math, so his parents hired a high school student to be his tutor, because she was a math wiz-"
"Samantha always got As in math," Mulder muttered mostly to himself. Chip stared at him a moment, wondering if he had something else to say. It didn't seem like he did.
"They got along. Really well. I arrived about a year after they first met."
The look on Scully's face was one of disgust. "How did the grandparents take it?"
"About how you'd expect them to. They were pissed. There was talk about putting me up for adoption, but of course once I was born, they loved me." Chip grinned at them. "Mom and I lived with Grandma and Grandpa Mulder. My parents had to wait to get married until Dad was sixteen. Apparently I slept through the wedding."
"What happened after they got married?" Scully asked, suddenly looking more fascinated than disgusted which surprised Mulder. Maybe she could picture her little brother sleeping with his tutor more easily than Mulder could think of his sister playing a role in that. "Did your dad drop out of school and get a job?"
Chip shook his head. "Grandpa Scully gave Dad an ultimatum - they'd only let him get married if he promised to finish school. So he did. He was the only guy in his graduating class with a three-year-old."
"Wow." Mulder tried to picture his sister at twenty-one, holding a little boy on her lap as she watched her eighteen-year-old husband receive his diploma. Suddenly disgusted by his turn of thoughts he wished he could take a walk to clear his head. Since he couldn't, he decided to poke holes in the boy's story instead. "Now tell Scully about how you're from another world and want to take us there." He commanded before turning to Scully. "See, it's not your real brother or my real sister he thinks are his parents, but people from another world."
"It's true!" Chip cried desperately. "I can show you too. Look, just let me take you there and James Nightwoods can explain everything to you. I can't believe he didn't tell me that this would be so hard."
"Jamie?" Scully asked. "I haven't seen him since I was six."
"You knew him too?" Mulder asked in surprise. "I guess it's a small world after all."
"Worlds," Chip corrected. They both glared at him. "What do you have to lose from letting me show you? If I'm lying you can have me arrested."
"Or committed," Mulder said.
"Or that. Doesn't it mean something that I'm willing to risk those things? It's only a few miles from here so you wouldn't be wasting much time, either."
Mulder expected Scully to insist that they just throw the kid out of the office, but she didn't. "What the hell, let's go with him."
"Chip, go wait outside," Mulder commanded. As soon as the door shut, he gave Scully a puzzled look. "Are you sure you want to encourage this sort of delusion?"
"Even I get tired of endless skepticism. Wouldn't it be nice if one of the weird theories you usually had nicely wrapped up a case for once? I went over my findings again, and found nothing new to explain this case, so maybe…"
"Do you have a fever?" The fact that she was willing to follow Chip to God only knows where minutes after meeting him caused Mulder to worry. She'd never had such a reckless desire for a case's closure before.
"No, I'm -" She smiled at him. "Just consider it a game, Mulder. This time I play the believer, and you play the skeptic."
He leaned over and nuzzled her neck before whispering. "Just as long as I get to pick the game next time."
"Even though there's only a million and one chance that the kid is telling the truth this is a good way to get rid of him." She whispered hotly into his ear.
"And that's the important thing." He agreed, already thinking about other games they could play later that night. Straightening up, he opened the door. "Lead the way, Chip."
"Really?" Chip's eyes were hopeful.
"What the hell," Mulder replied, motioning with his hand that they should get moving. It didn't take any more than that to get Chip going. He scampered ahead like a puppy, which might have made Mulder smile if he didn't have a sinking feeling in his stomach that something bad was going to happen because they'd agree to see what the boy wanted to show them. He let a hand brush his waist, reassuring himself that his gun was there, if it came to that. All he could hope was that the vague sense of threat he felt had nothing to do with Chip, since he sort of liked the strange kid already.
Chapter Three - On The Flip Side
They traveled by foot, and Chip claimed that it wasn't far, but Mulder wasn't sure if he believed that. Of all the things Mulder believed at that point, that they were on the way to meet with James Nightwoods was not one of them. He glanced at Chip's trusting face and felt the fraud; he was a skeptic dressed in believer's clothing.
Jimmy's life had been changed for the worse because of dinner plans. If only he'd stayed for dinner that night...it had all been so tragic that Mulder tried not to think about it, but as they followed Chip down the street the events swam into sharp clarity to torment him once more.
Mulder's first clue that not all was right with the world came with his mother's tears as she stood next to his bed crying one Monday night. As he first woke up he didn't look up at her face to notice that, and assumed that she'd just come to wake him because he'd forgotten to set his alarm for school. It soon dawned on him that it was still dark, and that even if it wasn't, his mother wouldn't cry over a missed bus.
He bolted upright in bed. "What's wrong, did something happen to Dad?" Even then he'd had the sense that his father's work was dangerous, and worry for him wasn't far bellow the surface.
His mother shook her head, then her face crumpled again. "Oh, Fox..." He stared at her, terrified for what seemed forever, but was in reality just a few heartbeats. At last she regained her composure. "There's been a terrible tragedy tonight, and I didn't want you to find out at school..." She reached for his hand, and hers was icy. "Sometime after Jimmy left here, someone broke into his house. They, um, they murdered Gloria-"
For a moment he wondered who Gloria was, then a sinking realization hit him. "Jimmy's mom is dead? What about Jimmy, is he okay?"
Tina said nothing. The longer she went without answering, the more scared he became that her next words were going to reveal that it had been a triple homicide.
At last she cleared her throat. "There was a lot of blood in the house, but they think it was all Gloria's. Fox, whoever killed her took the boys. Jimmy and Joel are missing."
"But they'll find them," Mulder insisted.
"I hope so. We need to pray that they'll both come home safe and sound to their father."
Sitting in his bed, Mulder pictured captain Nightwoods alone in his home. The image broke his heart because Jimmy's father had been nothing but nice to him. It was a horrible injustice that such a nice man would lose his wife and both his children. Without another word, he scrambled out of his bed and dropped to his knees, eager to pray with his mother; he'd been taught that prayer was to be reserved for the important things, and nothing seemed more important right then. As Teena prayed aloud, he closed his eyes tightly and prayed that the brothers would find their way home
But they didn't. At least not both of them.
On the second of November a farmer found Joel Nightwoods by the side of a road. The child had clearly been beaten, and wore no clothes other than a pair of boxers and one dirty sock. Seemingly in shock, he said nothing when the farmer wrapped him in a horse blanket and took him to the hospital.
By time the captain arrived the doctors had established two things: Joel thought that he'd been alone for the past three days, and whoever had held him had done more than beat the boy black and blue…he'd molested Joel.
The latter thing was something that Mulder's parents only spoke about cryptically and in hushed tones, but he overheard and more or less understood what his friend's little brother had had done to him. It was why you weren't supposed to take candy from strangers, and watch out for strange vans; what the whole bathing suit lecture had been about when they were little.
Because Joel had more or less blocked out his molestation and everything else about the three days he was missing, he didn't provide any leads about his brother's possible whereabouts. Instead of waiting to see if he'd remember anything a search team, lead by the good Samaritan farmer who'd taken Joel to the hospital, combed the woods all around the area where Joel had been discovered. Despite the efforts of many men and several dogs, no sign of Jimmy was uncovered.
For weeks after Joel's return Mulder lived with the expectation that someday soon Jimmy was going to be found just like his brother. Recovering from the abuse would be hard on him - as it obviously was on Joel - but he'd get through it. Mulder would help him as best that he could, because that's what friends did.
As the weeks rolled into months, hope faded. Not just Mulder's but everyone's. Adults didn't bother to whisper anymore when they spoke of the likelihood that a camper would someday discover Jimmy's remains. Joel's insistence that his brother hadn't been with him was what made the adults so sure he was dead - he'd probably been murdered out of Joel's sight, and hastily dumped somewhere. In stores the missing posters for the boy curled with age, and fliers for other, trivial, things began to obscure them.
When tragedy struck Mulder's own home the following year, he found himself dreaming every night that Jimmy was still alive. Somehow, in the dreams, Samantha and Jimmy found each other. They couldn't come home but they weren't alone, so it was a little better. He never heard adults suggest that they'd been taken by the same person, so he kept the theory to himself. It wasn't that he didn't want anyone to laugh at him, since he figured people would probably be kind, he just couldn't bear to see disbelief in adult eyes.
But Mulder hadn't prayed when Samantha went missing. At twelve he had already found the cynicism about religion that would stay with him for rest of his life.
And now, decades later, Chip wanted him to believe that Jimmy hadn't been kidnapped and murdered at all. Instead he'd created a new world for himself. But if Chip was proof that he himself could have come through, why hadn't he ever? Why let the captain and Joel suffer, thinking him dead, for no reason? It didn't seem like the boy he had known, which is why he had such a hard time believing that Chip was really going to show them any sort of proof that'd back up his wild claims; believing him would meant he'd entirely misjudged his boyhood friend's character.
At the same time, it was to Scully's chagrin that Chip declined the offer to drive him to his imagined destination. It was easier for him to locate the spot on foot, or so he claimed. All she knew was her pumps had begun to cut into her feet by the second mile.
It didn't help her mood any when she realized that Chip was leading them into the woods. She began to wonder if humoring the kid had been a bad idea. What if he was friends with Philip North, or maybe Chip had been hired by him, and his bizarre story was an attempt to validate North's untenable account of what had happen between him and the John Doe? She recognized the area as one that had long been a source of local contention; plans to develop the area had been put on indefinite hold while the developer and the town fought over the appropriate use of wetland. As the foliage thickened, so did her worry build. The blankness of Mulder's face, which made it clear that he was lost in his own thoughts, did nothing to assure her that her fear was unfounded.
Apparently unaware of the mental states of either of his companions, Chip forged ahead, rarely looking back except to check now and then that they were following. "Almost there!" His distinct lack of empathy grated on her as much as her sore feet did.
They stopped abruptly in the middle of the woods, and it startled her when Mulder grabbed her arm and pointed. Training her eyes in that direction she caught sight of it. Although 'haze' wasn't what she would have called it, she could understand why North had called it that. The air was disturbed in a spot about eight feet high and ten feet wide. And it shimmered.
Her brother Bill had enjoyed giving Missy a hard time about her new-age beliefs, and had played a song for them one Thanksgiving to tease her. Lyrics to the song came back to her as she stared. I awoke and faintly bouncing round the room the echo of whomever spoke... then before and now once more, I'm bouncing round the room... they dance above me as I sink I see them through a crystal haze and hear the sweet sound bouncing round the never-ending coral maze…
She squirmed out of Mulder's grasp so she could take a better look at what she thought of as "the disturbance". When you got closer to it, it became clear that something wasn't right about it - you could see through the haze, but...what was on the other side shouldn't be. It seemed to be a building that wasn't supposed to be there. If you looked around it, you saw nothing of the building. Scully found that puzzling.
"There it is," Chip announced, as if they hadn't concluded that on their own already.
"So now what?" Mulder asked. "We walk through the haze and step out into a Washington DC in another world?"
The note of challenge in Mulder's voice wasn't lost on Chip. He gave Mulder a nervous smile before correcting him. "Actually, we'll step through and find ourselves in Chilmark."
"Chilmark is hours from here," Scully protested. "How could we get there from here?"
"Um, we'd take advantage of the properties of a tesseract -"
"I see," Mulder said evenly. "Will Mrs. Who, Mrs Which, and Mrs. Whatsit be joining us on our little adventure though time and space?"
Chip's eyes widened as if he'd been slapped. Taking pity on him, Scully made a halfhearted attempt to defend his idea. "Theoretical physics embraces the concept of wormholes-"
"Which would be conveniently connecting our world to one created by a kid who was kidnapped and murdered twenty-eight years ago." Mulder's tone made it clear that he was close to losing his temper, and she couldn't imagine why.
To Scully's surprise, Chip wasn't cowed by this the way so many other older adults had been. Instead he stood straighter, which was a body movement that reminded her of her younger brother standing up to Bill jr. "It's clear to me that you're not willing to take my word for it, so go on. Step through and see for yourself."
"Why not?" Chip asked quietly. "If I'm wrong, which you obviously believe me to be, all that will happen is you'll walk a couple of feet into the woods."
Mulder considered this, and then took a step forward.
Scully, overcome by a sense of foreboding, cried out. "Mulder, don't!"
He muttered "Relax" before taking several calm steps forward into the shimmer. Then he vanished.
It was something she'd been dreaming about for years, even before she put any credence at all into the existence of "them": Mulder would step into the light then be sucked up into the heavens. It wasn't exactly what she'd just seen, but enough like it to make her shake all over.
The smile on Chip's face faded when he turned back to look at her. "Hey, no. It's okay."
"But he's gone."
"I know. He can come back any time he wants, and we're going to go see him now anyway, okay?"
After taking a shuddery breath she croaked out an agreement. "Yeah."
"It doesn't hurt or anything, if that's something you worried about." He took her arm, and before she quite knew it lead her out of one world and into another.
There was no tumbling sensation, nor did they slowly float down a long tunnel. Instead they stepped out onto the sidewalk of an average looking street. To her relief, Mulder was one of first things she saw. She would have run to him if her feet hadn't hurt so much.
He was standing in front of a house, staring at it, so he didn't notice them until they were right on top of him. The house looked ordinary, so she couldn't imagine why it had so thoroughly captivated his attention. One would have thought from the intensity of his stare that there were grays pouring out of it, but as best she could tell it was empty of people and aliens both.
"What are we looking at?" she finally asked.
"This is James' house."
"But they tore it down years ago." His voice sounded dazed. "How can it be here?"
Chip laughed. "You still don't believe me yet? The house was never torn down, here. Believe your own eyes, man."
"This isn't proof," Mulder insisted, yet it was clear that he was unable to tear his eyes away from the familiar looking structure. "Someone could have rebuilt it, to convince me."
Scully stared at him, and he saw a question in her eyes that he chose not to acknowledge: who would go to the trouble, and to what end? Instead he continued his diatribe. "For all I know, it's not even a real house. It could be a false front, like the movie sets of westerns."
The boy shrugged. "If you want to spend the time exploring the house until you're satisfied that it's real, we can. James doesn't live there anymore, and I'm sure he wouldn't care.
"But I thought you might prefer to meet Fox and Dana and see if you can save them, instead." Chip concluded.
"Our infamous doubles," Mulder muttered. "I suppose we should pay them a visit. Are they nearby?"
"A couple of blocks over. Their family lives near Mom and I."
Shaking off some of the dazzlement that'd clung to her since they'd breached the veil between two worlds, Scully repeated the boy's response in her head, and immediately formed two questions. The first was where did 'her brother' live if not with Chip and Samantha. The second, however was the first she gave voice to. "Their family? Are you saying Fox and Dana have children?" The unfamiliar sounds of the names paired together made them feel like they had sharp edges on her tongue.
Mulder swung his head towards her, but said nothing before Chip answered.
"Two, a boy and a girl."
A sharp pain pierced Scully's chest, causing her to wonder fleetingly if that's what a heart attack felt like. Maybe it was the heartbreak of envy. Of course the other Dana had children. The fact that their name meant "mother" in Celtic practically decreed it. "Oh."
"I'd prefer that they not be orphaned while little," Chip added pointedly. "So if we're done here I'd like you to take a look at their parents before it's too late."
"What about James?" Mulder asked suddenly.
"He's not sick. One of the few people older than thirty or so who isn't."
"Okay, but that's not what was I asking." He looked frustrated. "Trying to ask, anyway. When do we get to see our not-dead-after all childhood friend?"
"After you see Fox and Dana." The boy's calm facade was beginning to crumble, and his desperation was becoming readily apparent. "If you can't help them..."
"Let's go." Scully took Mulder's arm as her doctor's curiosity rose to the surface. "We haven't seen him in decades, so a little longer isn't going to hurt."
Mulder cast the empty house a bitter look she couldn't quite understand, but followed without any prodding.
Chip gave them a history of the disease while they finished their trek through the faux Chilmark. "It's strange, but no one was sick three months ago, then scores of people were. When they began to realize that there was an epidemic, they moved people to the biggest hospital in the city-"
"There isn't a hospital in Chilmark," Mulder interrupted. "It's too small to support one."
"Maybe in your world, but here Chilmark is a pretty big place. Anyway, it's just on the next street over."
"What about the rest of our families?" Scully demanded to know as they approached the hospital. "Dana and Fox's families, that is." She corrected herself.
"Unfortunately, the elder Mulders and Scullys have passed on. They all died some time ago." Chip looked sad to be talking to them about his grandparents.
"I'm sorry to hear that," Scully said. "But what about Bill and Missy? You haven't mentioned them at all."
Chip looked puzzled. "Who?"
"Your aunt and uncle, Dana's older siblings," Mulder told him.
"Dana was the oldest," Chip replied. "So I'm not sure who you're talking about."
"I'm not the oldest," Scully insisted.
The answer wasn't satisfying, but it was the only one Chip seemed likely to give, so Scully shrugged off the feeling of unease that it left her with.
The hospital was small, and the halls were nearly vacant. Here and there a figure wandered by in nurses' scrubs or white lab coats, and through slices of doorway they could see still figures in beds. If anyone official objected to their presence, no one spoke up about it.
Chip bypassed all the other rooms, heading for one in particular. There were two people in room 9, one a man, one a woman. Mulder ignored the man at first, and went to stand over the bed of the woman. The familiar woman…
It was as if someone had made a Scully out of wax. Pale, smooth skin surrounded closed and smudged eyes. He could almost imagine that it was an excess of eye makeup, but his memory insisted it wasn't. The resemblance to how Scully had looked when he'd rescued her from the syndicate was too uncanny to be fake. Perhaps they could have reconstructed Jimmy's house from floor plans and photos, but there had been no photos of those incubating the virus that he knew of. And even if the syndicate were in possession of some, they surely wouldn't share them with anyone wishing to rid people of the virus.
Unless that too was faked, and part of a more elaborate set up. But for what? After most members of the syndicate had been murdered, there shouldn't be enough left of it to toy with him for no apparent gain...
He returned his gaze to the woman in the bed. This could have been Scully if he hadn't gotten to her immediately after she'd been spirited away to Antarctica. And if Chip was to be believed, it more or less was.
It was a tale of two Scullys, he decided. How different would his Scully have been if she'd lived a different life from the age of eight on?
"I don't think we can help, Chip," Scully said as she stared down at Fox. He too was still and pale. It was the only thing that kept her from wondering if it was a trick, like the time she'd mistaken something else for Mulder and had been slammed into a wall as payment for her folly. From a quick look Scully decided that he was the sicker of the two, but she couldn't quite figure out what fueled that assumption. If she'd asked Mulder, he'd have told her she must remember some of her experience, but she didn't ask him.
"But aren't you at least going to try?" Chip looked both annoyed and anxious. "There isn't anyone else who can help, you know."
"Chip..." Scully sighed and wiped her brow with the back of her right hand.
"If you don't help, everyone is going to die. You'd let them die? Even the children?"
"You said that the children weren't infected."
Chip shrugged. "If all the adults die, what do you think will happen to the kids? It's not like they're going to be able to care for themselves."
And the virus mutated into horrible monsters, a voice in Scully's head insisted. The memory of one such creature stalking Gibson flooded her mind. With no adults the kids were surely doomed to die, by starvation or at the hands of the virus.
"At least come back to the house and meet my niece and nephew before you decide not to help," Chip pleaded.
"You're trying to manipulate me." Scully accused.
"I know. Is it working?"
Scully shook her head slowly. She already knew that there was no way that she was going to leave wherever it was that they were without getting a glimpse of the children belonging to Dana and Fox.
Chapter Four - King of a Small Kingdom
The house Samantha owned was an average looking one, blue clapboard siding, two stories, and two cars in the driveway. One of them was pretty beaten up, so Scully assumed that it belonged to Chip. The other car was newer, and better maintained. It doubtlessly belonged to Samantha or maybe Charlie.
Just then Scully remembered the question she'd never asked. "You've mentioned that your mom isn't sick. What about your dad?"
A sudden sadness filled Chip's eyes. "My dad died when I was five. He was in a car accident." Before Scully could say that she was sorry to hear that, the boy had bound ahead with keys in hand, ready to unlock the front door. Chip disappeared inside, not noticing that they were lagging behind.
Leaning into Mulder, she asked him in a low voice. "Does it make me a horrible person for thinking that no Charlie in this world means one less problem to deal with?"
" I don't think so."
"It's not that I don't feel for Chip but..." She shrugged. "The Charlie he knew was only five when he was copied from the brother I knew."
"Coming?" Chip shouted his question from the stairs. "I thought you wanted to meet the kids." Scully sighed. One part of her did. The rest of her was terrified.
"I'm pretty sure Ezra and Mckenna are up in my room," Chip told them as he led the way to the stairs.
"You'd let them die? Even the children?" The words echoed though Scully's brain as they followed Chip into his room, where his niece and nephew were napping on his bed.
"Sorry about the mess," Chip said self-consciously. "My mom was going to set up their cribs in the guest room this afternoon but it looks like she got distracted...She's in the middle of doing it now, actually." He added, as if to reassure them that his mother hadn't left the children alone in the house.
He continued to speak, but Scully had stopped listening. Like most toddlers, Ezra and Mckenna had surrendered themselves to sleep with complete abandon. If they'd been stressed, she would have expected them to be huddled together with tangled limbs like puppies, but they seemed relaxed, as if their visit to their aunt and cousin's was no big deal. Lying on Chip's twin bed, they were small enough to make it seem huge, and they'd each sleepily staked out their own spot. Mckenna slept with her arms flung out, with a pacifier hanging out the corner of her slack lips. Ezra, on the other hand was curled into a little ball. She wondered if they had blue eyes, because they'd definitely inherited her red hair. Dana's, she reminded herself, not hers. Not really. Still it was a wonder to see how her DNA and Mulder's could have been combined - if things had been different.
"How old did you say they were?" Her voice was a little hoarse.
"I don't think I did, but they're fourteen and twenty-five months," Chip said. "Their birthdays are the same day of the month."
"Didn't waste any time," Mulder said, but Scully barely heard him.
She pushed away an internal voice that whispered that they were young enough to forget their real parents, to be fooled into accepting ersatz copies, to not give away what would be a flawless kidnapping scheme... Scully shook her head to clear it. They were there to help Fox and Dana, if they could, not to steal their children.
Ezra stretched one leg, making her wonder if he was waking up, but he drew it back again. As he did, she noticed that there were trucks on his sock. How could they put a pattern on a sock that small?
Ezra and Mckenna. They weren't names she could picture herself having chosen, since she'd imagined naming her hypothetical children more traditional things like Thomas and Heather, but her path in life had diverged from Dana's eighteen years before so even simple things like the appeal of names very well may have changed. Mckenna's name, at least, she could understand. Her great-grandmother Maureen's maiden name had been Mckenna, and the old woman, already ancient by the time Scully had been born, had been an important figure in her girlhood. She had died peacefully in her sleep at the age of 87. Scully had been twelve. Erza, on the other hand, was a mystery. Perhaps, she thought, it was a Mulder family name. Or maybe an homage to Mulder's esoteric taste in music…assuming that that part of Mulder had been cemented before he and Fox split.
"You said your mom was going to set up the cribs today." Mulder's voice broke through her wondering, so she turned to look at him as he addressed Chip. "How long have Dana and Fox been sick?"
"Since Saturday morning," Chip told him. "The three of us had gone fishing at dawn, and they both got real sick, so we had to come back home. By yesterday morning they were so sick we brought them to the hospital. And today, well, you just saw them."
"It's only Monday. It is Monday here, isn't it?" Mulder asked.
"Yeah, it's Monday here too," Chip said. "This thing works fast."
Scully bit her tongue, not wanting to say how fast it worked. The victims only had about ten days at the outset before they were completely consumed by the virus. She shot Mulder a look, but he didn't seem inclined to tell the boy the truth either.
Instead, Mulder said, I wish there was a way to know conclusively if the alien virus is what they have."
"It makes sense to proceed as if they have it," Scully said, joining the conversation. "Given that time is of the essence."
"Were you around either of them when they fell ill?" Mulder asked. "If so, did you see anything that looked like oil soaking into their skin?"
"Um…" Chip frown. "I swear I saw flat worms when Fox got sick. I just couldn't imagine what they were doing there. Night crawlers, yeah, since we were fishing, but how did flatworms get on the dock?"
"I guess it could be said to look like flat worms," Mulder said with a shrug. "It's a sentient oil, anyway."
Scully sat on the edge of the bed, and admired the sleeping toddlers. Despite the not terribly quiet conversation, they slept on soundly. She balled her fists in her lap, so she wouldn't give into the urge to touch them, just to see if they were real.
If either of the men thought that she was acting strangely, it didn't show. Instead they continued their conversation until they heard a door slam somewhere in the house.
"Chip?" An unfamiliar voice called from down the hall.
"In here Mom!" Chip called, turning away from Mulder.
Mulder shot Chip look, but the boy was already heading towards the door. After everything in happened over last couple hours, Mulder had forgotten that "My mom" was Samantha. That puzzled him; shouldn't the fact that he was meeting a Xerox of his dead sister stick his mind?
Before his mind could followed that with the prediction of what Samantha would look like, she was walking through the door. Straight brown hair. Taller than Scully by three or four inches, so their mother's height, actually. She looked little like the women that were supposed to be clones of her, and he thought that maybe he'd always suspected that it was a lie. Or that they were.
But no, he corrected himself. Once, standing on a bridge, he'd thought them genuine enough.
As she entered the room the woman's eyes, no Samantha's he corrected himself a second time, were on the sleeping children, but they soon lifted. To his. They were the same eyes remembered from childhood, one is that laughed and accused, or occasionally cried. When they met his, those eyes softened with recognition, clearly remembering him too. He felt frozen in time.
At last, Samantha broke the spell. "Fox. I didn't really believe James that there was another world..."
"Everyone calls me Mulder," he informed her gently. "I haven't been Fox for a long, long time." When she gave him as surprised look he almost told her the truth; their parents finally acquiesced to his request just after she'd been taken. It made a suspect that in a way his parents were trying to erase the family that had once been Teena, Bill, Fox and Samantha. They replaced it with Teena, Bill, and Mulder. Mulder, they could pretend didn't still need them the way Fox did.
"Okay, Mulder it is," Samantha said with a tiny nod. "I guess that will make things less confusing."
"Thank you," Mulder replied, never taking his eyes off of her. It was not until he heard one of the kids stirring that he even remembered that there are other people in the room. Even so, it barely registered when Chip bent over the mattress, and picked one of the kids up.
"C'mon, Kenna, let's go try the potty." Chip brushed past Mulder, with the little girl on his hip.
The child rubbed her eyes and pushed a damp coppery curl out of them. "No potty, Chip."
Chip ignored her and took her out of the room. Mulder glanced down at the little boy, and saw that he was still sleeping, so he looked back at Samantha. "Well."
It bothered him when Samantha gave him an anxious look. "Fo- Mulder. James wouldn't tell me what happened to the Samantha from your world, he just said that I could go over if I wanted to…she's dead, isn't she?"
"Oh." It wasn't a story that he expected to be telling, at least not to someone who was like his sister. "Yeah, she died."
"I'm sorry to hear that," Samantha said. She watched as the woman who looked like her sister-in-law thread an arm around Mulder's waist, comforting him. "It must hurt to see me, then, looking so much like her."
"Not really, she died young. The last time I saw her she was only eight, so I don't, or didn't, know what she would grow up to look like."
Samantha opened her mouth to reply, but as she did a small figure hurtled across the room and threw itself at Scully's legs. "Mommy!"
Scully looked down at the little girl in shock, but Chip was in hot pursuit and extracting her little arms a moment later. "No sweetie, that's not your Mommy." He handed her to his mother. "I think it's time for me to bring Mulder and Scully to see James."
"Sure." Samantha nodded over the top of her niece's head. "It was, um, nice to meet you both.
Mulder nodded distractedly. His eyes were on the puzzled face of the toddler held in Samantha's arms. "See you."
On the way out of Samantha's house, it was Mulder's turn to comfort Scully. Part of her wanted to tell him that she didn't need to be guided by the elbow, but she wasn't sure if she would have followed Chip and Mulder if left completely to her own devices.
Mommy. The little girl had called her Mommy. It was something both sweet and horrible. There had been a time when she'd longed for a little girl, not a whole lot older than Mckenna, to call her that, but that child had died. The only time that girl had called her mommy was during a hallucination.
"Scully are you okay?" Mulder had leaned so close to whisper it that his breath tickled her ear.
"I'm fine." Her voice was toneless.
"Scully…" The helpless look on his face hurt her, so she squeezed his hand.
"It's time to see the great and powerful Oz, Mulder."
This evoked a weak smile from Mulder, but Chip turned and looked at her with a dismayed expression on his face. "James doesn't think of himself like that."
"How then?" Mulder asked. "Isn't he the king of this world?"
"It's complicated," the boy muttered. "Get in the car, would you? It's too far to walk."
Up close it looked even less like a car Scully would ever want to get in, but after Mulder opened the door, she dutifully slid across the backseat. Mulder got in back too, and she wondered if this would cause Chip to complain that he felt like a taxi driver. He didn't, but then she wondered how well he drove…
When the car had been in movement for three minutes without smashing into anything, Scully let her body relax, and allowed her head to sink back against the seat. Her eyes stared out the window at passing scenery, but she didn't really see anything. Instead her thoughts turned inwards, thinking about what it would be like to have some child call her Mommy without it hurting for being a lie.
The building that Chip pulled up in front of was almost big enough to be as castle. Peering out the window, Mulder thought that it was probably what real-estate agents would refer to as "Victorian," however. It was three stories and sprawling with turrets and gingerbread trim.
"All it needs is to be painted black and the Addams family could move in," Scully muttered, opening her door. They climbed out of the car and gave Chip an expectant look. The slightly mulish look on his face suggested that the charm of being the guide was beginning to wear thin, which was fine with Mulder; he was thoroughly sick of being lead. No one seemed eager to go to see the man pulling all their strings.
Without knocking, Chip opened the front door and let them in. Inside the building was stark. It lacked all the finery expected in a home that size, of that expense. No art work, no curtains, and scarcely any furniture to speak of. Mulder guessed that he was glad for that, because the idea of having to make his way out through a maze of antiques made him faintly anxious - no doubt an echo of childhood reminders to be careful in the antique stores his mother had enjoyed visiting every summer. Back then, however, it had been Samantha's small hands that had caused him more heart-stopping moments than his own.
"He's probably down the hall," Chip told them, breaking into the perfect cadence their steps made on the hard floors.
Without any ceremony at all, they entered the room where Chip correctly surmised that James would be in.
It seemed like an unworthy thought, but Mulder was a little surprised that there wasn't a throne. Instead James sat on a white loveseat, with his legs thrown over the arm in an abandon he never had shown as an intense adolescent boy.
To his surprise, Mulder's emotions upon seeing his long lost friend were not joy that he was alive, not even gratitude that James had kept a part of his dead sister alive. Instead, he was really pissed off. "You're really alive after all this time." He accused.
"I'm really alive," James replied easily. If he felt any emotion, he kept his mask well in place.
Bile rose up in Mulder's throat and flowed out with his words. "Do you have any idea what your disappearance did to your brother? A ten-year-old boy who'd been raped and held captive, and he'd thought that *he'd* been the lucky one because at least he'd gotten away and found his way home."
The pleasant look fell from James' face, and was replaced with one that Mulder remembered well - one that wanted to explain something he wasn't sure the intended audience would understand. It made Mulder bristle, but he let the man speak uninterrupted. "Why we all sit down and talk about everything that's happened?"
"Yes, let's," Mulder growled, sitting reluctantly after Scully and Chip had taken seats. A childish part of him wanted to remain standing out of spite, but he looked at Scully and tamped the urge down, if only for her sake.
James seemed to relax a little, but he was having trouble getting his amiable mask to settle back into place. "I didn't realize the effect it had on Joel until years after it was already too late."
Mulder was about to tell him that it was bullshit, but a look from Scully made him bite the comment back. "So you assumed that he and your dad merrily got on with their lives after your mother was murdered and you disappeared?"
The comment made the dark-eyed man wince. "As far as I knew, none of that happened."
"As far as you knew?" Mulder mocked him. "So you not being with your family wasn't a big enough clue for you?"
"I was with my family," James said evenly. "I left your house and headed home for dinner. I imagined I heard my mom getting shot, but found myself down the road. I ran back to your house, had dinner, then waited for my dad to come get me. When I got home my mom was fine, and so was Joel."
The protest tore itself from Mulder's throat. "That's not what happened!"
"It is, and it isn't. You have to understand, Fox-"
James didn't miss a beat. "-Mulder, that I didn't know at age eleven that this wasn't 'the real world'. As far as I was concerned, the events that you know to have happened were all just a brief, yet horrible, waking dream I once had. It wasn't until I was in my late teens that I discovered that this world wasn't the same one I'd been born into."
"How did you discover that?" Scully asked quietly.
"I fell through. One minute I was in 'my' world, and the next I was in yours. It took me a long time to figure out what happened, but I think I finally did."
Mulder stared at him.
"I think my fear, and grief, let me create this place. There's a lot of energy in powerful emotions-"
"I've got friends who would love to print this story," Mulder told him. "And while this is all very…interesting, it doesn't explain why you brought us here."
James shrugged. "You're the only one who can help."
"I'm Obi-Wan Kenobi?" Mulder asked sardonically. "Oh wait, that movie came out in 1977. You probably don't know it."
"I'm familiar with Star Wars, yes." James began to sound irritable. "And I don't appreciate the flip comment."
"I'm not sure I care," Mulder said with an exaggerated shrug. "Go on, you were talking about how we're your only hope."
"As I started to say, I am familiar with Star Wars, and nearly everything that's gone on in your world since I left it. Which is why I'm sure that you two might be the only people on Earth who can stop this virus from killing everyone here over the age of twenty-nine or so."
"Why that age?" Scully asked suddenly. Both men turned to look at her. "Do you have any idea why no one younger than that has been affected by the virus? And how many people have been, anyway?"
"So far 200 people have been stricken, and I'm sure it's just the tip of the ice berg." He suddenly sounded very tired. "As for why the younger people haven't been infected, my theory is that they got the MMR vaccine, and the older people didn't."
"But we've all been vaccinated against measles, mumps and rubella," Scully protested. "And both Mulder and I were infected by the virus, but were lucky enough to survive."
James shook his head. "But you didn't get the MMR. The separate vaccines were developed and administered in the 60s, but the MMR wasn't first administered until 1971 - which is coincidentally the first year of birth for people who seem to be immune to the virus."
"I don't know…" Scully trailed off doubtfully. Mulder could read her thoughts on her face: she was thinking about Texas.
"Do either of you have a better theory?" Despite the question, his voice didn't imply a challenge. When neither of them said anything, he asked them the question they'd been expecting all day. "Do you think that you can help us?"
It didn't surprise Mulder when Scully turned to him. She couldn't remember being cured herself, after all. "I don't know, maybe," Mulder said finally. "There's nothing we can do from here, though. If we figure something out, can we come back through, or would we need an escort again?"
"If you know where to go, anyone could go through," James replied.
"What's to keep people from wandering in on a regular basis?" Scully asked, giving him a curious look.
"The area is low traffic. But I wouldn't be surprised if we've had a visitor or two who got a few feet in and turned around abruptly, thinking they were imagining things."
Mulder stood up. "It's been nice seeing you, James, but I think Scully and I need to go home now. If there's anything we can do for you people, we'll be back."
Scully scrambled to her feet, shocked at Mulder's abruptness. She half ran to catch up to him, not caring that Chip was lingering, making apologies from what she could surmise from his tone of voice.
"Mulder, wait!" After a couple more steps he stopped. "How could you give him false hope? There's nothing we can do for these people."
"That's not true, Scully. If we had a quantity of the vaccine, we might be able to save some of them."
"But we don't have any of the vaccine," she broke off, frustrated.
"Actually, we do." She gave him a surprised look that he pretended not to notice. "When I found you in Antarctica something strange happened when I began giving you the vaccine - the line I injected it into began to shrivel up, suggesting that it might have been organic material. Reminded me of when Wayne put salt on a slug. " He shuddered a little. " Anyway I decided to inject the rest into you once I freed you. But you were okay, so doing that slipped my mind. I still have the rest in a safe place."
"Yeah...there isn't much though," he apologized.
"We may not need much," she said, looking relieved for the first time.
"Hope so," he said. "I'm not fan of James, but I can't take it out on these innocent peo-" Chip's sudden appearance made Mulder stop talking.
"You're really going to see if there's a way to help?" Chip asked them as they got into the car. "Really? You weren't just saying that to get James to shut up?"
Scully thought his word choice was interesting, and wondered if there was no love lost between James and Chip as well. "If we can help, we will."
"Good. Because if you don't, we're all doomed."
No one said another word after that cheery pronouncement, not on the entire drive back to the break between the two worlds.
Chapter Five - Sober Morning After
By the time the car stopped it was dark out. It'd been getting dark entire fifteen minute drive, but it seemed to get dark quicker than it would've in DC. "Maybe I should come find you tomorrow morning," Chip said as they stared at their world from the street some Mulder had grown up on.
Mulder gave him a slightly annoyed look. "It's going to take us time, Chip. You don't think that we're going to magically come up with a solution after a good night's sleep, do you?"
"I know, it's just…"He wrung his hands. "They don't have a lot of time."
The agents stared at him. If anyone knew how little time the infected people had it was them. After all, they'd seen what happened when the infection had been allowed to progress, and this boy hadn't.
"Chip, why don't you come back here around six tomorrow night?" Scully suggested, earning a questioning look from Mulder. "We probably won't have anything going by then, but we can at least give you an update."
"Okay, yeah. See you tomorrow, then."
Chip's anxious face was the last glimpse of the other world before they stepped through.
The second time they crossed the divide was less jarring than the first, mostly because they knew what to expect. Still, Scully couldn't help but feeling a little dizzy once they were back on their own solid ground. She shook her head and willed it to clear.
"Well, that was interesting," Mulder remarked quietly.
"An understatement." Scully looked around and remembered that they were miles from their office. She winced a bit thinking of walking all that way. "If we do this again, let's drive here next time. We've still got a hike to get back to your car."
Mulder's car. It seemed like weeks ago that they'd driven into work together.
He took her arm when she stumbled over the uneven ground, and didn't let go once they reached the flatness of the sidewalk. People hustled past, and Scully marveled: to people passing by they probably just looked like a couple out on a walk. Not a couple who had spent hours in another dimension.
After what seemed like an inordinate amount of time, they finally reached the parking lot of the Hoover building. Mulder's car was not the only one in the parking lot, but there were only a handful of others left. Glancing at her watch she saw that it was closing in on ten o'clock. The two walks had taken a lot more time than she'd considered.
Realizing that Mulder was about to open his mouth, she took a preemptive strike. "Let's wait until tomorrow to rehash this, okay?"
"Okay," he agreed once they were in his car.
"All I want now is to go home and get some sleep." She glanced at him as he started the engine. "Sleep alone, I mean."
The hurt look on his face made her frown. "Don't be like that. I'm exhausted, all I'm going to be doing is really sleeping. At least I will after I call in and take a sick day."
"You feel sick?" Mulder studied her face with a concerned look.
"No. You're calling in sick too."
She nearly sighed in exasperation. "You are. You're going to retrieve what's left of the vaccine and meet me at my apartment before lunch tomorrow. Or did you expect that we'd get paid to wander off and look into this? It's not an official case."
"Oh, right. That's a good point. Around eleven then?"
"Sure, that's fine."
Mulder had trouble sleeping that night. He tried to lie down and shut his eyes several times, but to warring trains of thought made his mind a battleground, so he couldn't get any peace.
When he turned on the TV he caught part of a rerun of Father Knows Best and it immediately sent his mind spiraling towards one of those dueling thoughts. The little girl had called Scully Mommy. It probably wasn't something she'd been aware of, but Scully had flinched when the child threw herself at her legs. There had been a pained and shocked look on her face for just a second, then it was gone. She was good at throwing up a shield at the first sign that her defenses were crumbling, but he'd seen it for just that moment, even if everyone else had missed it. The child's innocent mistake had wounded her, and there was nothing he could do about it.
It broke his heart. But it also prompted him to promise himself that he would do what he'd been considering for a while - broach the subject of adoption with Scully after they were married.
And that was always how he thought about it - when, not if.
A long time before he realized that neither of them were going to find other people who understood their relationship, so all other romances were doomed to failure as long as they remained partners. And they couldn't stop being partners any more than they could stop breathing; as it was weekends apart were like holding their breathe past the point of reason.
Which served to make his other worry so painful to contemplate. He was terrified that once the dawn arrived, Scully's desire for reason would over power her belief in what her eyes had shown her. He didn't think that he could bear it if she denied everything they'd seen over the course of their admittedly strange day. In his heart he knew he believed that Chip's mother represented his best chance of getting his sister back. She wasn't exactly the sister he lost, yet identical to her in every way. And what's more, he was sure that if they compared notes, they'd find that their memories matched up until October 1972.
And the kids. He was still in awe to see how the genes of someone who looked just like him and just like Scully had combined to create two perfect little beings. Someone had to save their parents so they didn't end up orphans.
Which made him think of adopting a child with Scully again....
The Next Day
Mulder was grinning at her when Scully opened the door to her apartment. "This fits the definition of 'before lunch' doesn't it?"
"Sure," she agreed, kissing him on the cheek. "What have you got?"
He was holding two paper bags. "In this bag is lunch. In this other one is the vaccine. I promise not to get them mixed up." He added with a grin.
"Let me have the vaccine." She held out her hands. "I hope this stuff is still good."
"I think we're going to have to go back sooner than we planned. I was thinking about that dead man in Phoenix."
"Any particular dead man?" Mulder asked and Scully didn't answer right away. "There was more than one stiff on that case." To his disappointment his indelicate wording didn't needle her. He was pulling their lunch out of the bag when she finally replied.
"The one that…thing killed, by bursting out of his chest."
"Oh, that dead guy in Phoenix."
"I seem to recall you telling me that the creature wanted heat, so that's why it went to the nuclear power plant."
"That's right. We decided that the heat was what made it gestate faster than all of the other examples you and I encountered."
She bristled a little at his use of the word "we." It was he and Fowley he was referring to, not to herself. "So we should get them to make sure that Fox and Dana are kept as cool as possible."
Instead of responding, Mulder just stared at her. It made her self-conscious, so she finally asked, "What?"
"Nothing. It's just that this isn't what I was expecting today."
"And what is that supposed to mean?"
"To be honest, I was expecting to get here today and have to plead with you to reconsider."
The look she gave him was a confused one. "Reconsider what, I don't follow."
"I was positive that you'd have concluded by breakfast that everything that had happened was a shared hallucination, or something along those lines."
Nodding slightly, she squeezed his hand. "I've got to keep you on your toes, Mulder."
"Oh, you do, you do." There was a touch of awe in his voice as he said it.
"There is one thing I have my doubts about, though. James said that he thought that the MMR vaccine protected the younger people from infection by the black oil, but how could that be true? We know that one of the victims in Texas was a twelve-year-old boy, and before that a child died at a bee out-break on a school playground-"
He held up a hand to interrupt her and grinned. "Great minds think alike. I knew those two cases would throw a monkey wrench into the theory so I did a little research..." He rummaged through the bag he'd brought their lunch over in and fished out a manila folder. "The child at school died from a reaction to the bee stings. And the victim in Texas never received the MMR."
"Mulder, that can't be right. You have to get the MMR before you can register for first grade in this country."
He shook his head. "You can get medical wavers for that in all 50 states, and most states allow for religious wavers too. The victim's cousin is autistic, so his parents refused to give him the MMR."
"But the study that purported to prove a link-"
"It doesn't matter if there's really a connection or not. Either way it does show why he was vulnerable to the black oil."
"How would they allow that?"
"Who allow what?" It was his turn to shot her a confused look.
"If your theory is correct then everyone under the age of twenty-eight would be immune. How could that have escaped their attention?" When he continued to look blank, she growled. "Don't make me say 'the aliens,' Mulder."
He shrugged. "I'm sure they don't know. They've taken so little notice of human activity that they've yet to realize that people have been working on a vaccine specifically against black oil infection for forty years. If they've missed that, I'm sure that an unintended side effect of a wholly unrelated vaccine has gone under their radar."
"What about the Syndicate? Do you think they know?"
"Have you noticed them kidnapping children to experiment on lately?"
"Then I think it's safe to assume they don't."
While Scully looked for something, Mulder scooped the remains of their meal into the trash. Though they both probably would have preferred a more leisurely lunch, Scully insisted that time was of the essence, so they'd rushed.
Scully opened her fridge and peered into the depths. "Do you think they'll have eggs there?"
"Why wouldn't they have eggs?"
"There's no Bill in that world, so obviously things are somewhat different."
"I see. But why would a more perfect world not have any eggs?" Mulder asked with a smirk.
"Funny. If we're going to make more of the vaccine, we'll need eggs."
"Eggs are one of the best mediums for reproducing antibodies."
"You know how to make a vaccine?!" he yelped in surprise.
"I took virology in school," she told him. "So at least I understand the underlying ideas."
"You're one up on me." Mulder took her arm. "Let's hope that someone over there really knows about vaccines, because I'm not going to be much help. You could fit my knowledge of the subject into a thimble."
"Mulder, give yourself a little credit," Scully chided him. "Given what you know about the black oil, you'd be able to at least fill a shot glass."
"Thanks a lot," he grumbled good-naturedly.
"I did say at least."
Although she would never admit it after Mulder had expressed his worry about the subject, Scully was surprised that the shimmery void was still there when they tramped down to the spot they'd left the night before. It was there, and she had mixed feelings about stepping through it again, but she'd made a commitment so she steeled her resolve. It made her feel better when Mulder took her hand.
On the other side Mulder gave her a wry smile. "Do you suppose we can find our way back to my sister's, I mean Samantha's," he corrected himself, "house?"
"Do you expect me to treat that as a serious question? I could probably blindfold you and you'd still find your way back there."
"If I wasn't run down by a car, or hit by a kid on a skateboard." He gave her a sidelong look. "Now you praise my unerring sense of direction, but I distinctly remember one day two years ago while looking for a tanker that you doubted that I knew where I was going."
She smirked at him. "I was commenting just now on the power of your memory. I still don't think you're psychically able to find your way."
"Aww, and here I was hoping that you were convinced that I'm developing ESP. The gunmen told me chicks dig that sort of thing."
"I guess you're lucky that I accept your short-comings."
Before they knew it, they were on Chip's street.
And Chip seemed very surprised to see him when they show up at Samantha's house. "Oh, hi! I wasn't expecting you to get here on your own."
"Hope you don't mind," Scully said politely.
"Of course not. But what are you carrying?" Chip directed his question at Mulder.
They both looked down at the paper sack that Mulder was holding. "Eggs. Scully was afraid you wouldn't have any over here."
Chip looked puzzled. "Do you want me to make you an omelet or something?"
They both laughed. "You need eggs to grow a vaccine."
"Oh." Chip gave them an uncertain smile. "Do you have something to make one?"
"We might. You have any virologists over here?" Scully asked sounding hopeful.
"Sure. I bet James can put you in touch with one. I'll call him and tell him you're here."
"Good. Can you have him meet us at the hospital? We want to talk to him about changing how your aunt and uncle are being treated."
"Oh!" Mulder said suddenly. "While we are making demands, can you asked James if maybe he could find an old car to leave at his old house? I know walking is good exercise, but this is getting ridiculous."
Their 'nephew' smiled at Mulder and took the bag of eggs from him. "I'll see what I can do." Chip looked back. "Do you like French toast? Maybe I can get mom to make some tonight."
Less than a half hour later
The fact that doctors at the hospital seemed reluctant to listen to her made Scully feel right at home. She couldn't count the number of times that she'd been tempted to end an argument with other doctors by pulling her gun on them. These doctors were no different. Stubbornness seemed to transcend dimensions. It made her wish that Mulder hadn't gone off with James to find somebody who could help them with the vaccine.
"Dammit. Have either of you ever treated this disease before?" Both the doctors reluctantly shook their heads. "Well I have. So how about you listen to the one person who has a damned clue about what this disease is like?"
"Inducing hypothermia to treat a disease sound wholly implausible," one doctor protested weakly.
Scully's thoughts returned to her gun, but she recalled clearly leaving it on her dresser. Trying very hard not to sigh, she growled instead. "Just. Do. It."
The second doctor gave her a doubtful look. "If you're willing to take responsibility-"
"We've talked to their family, they want them saved any cost. I'm sure if you asked nicely you can get consent, if covering your ass is what you're worried about. Their next of kin is right over there." Scully pointed in Chip's direction.
Doctors one and two scurried off to talk to Chip, leaving Scully to stand there staring into Fox and Dana's room. Stepping into the doorway her mouth folded into a frown. They didn't look good. She hoped that James, Mulder, and the virologist got there soon.
A short time later the doctors pushed past her into the room, and began shouting at nurses, finally prepared to carry out her instructions. At least that was something.
At first Scully thought that dealing with the virologist would be easier than dealing with the doctors at the hospital, but it quickly became apparent that despite the smiling face and eagerness to help, she too were set in her ways.
"It's nice that you have a sample of a vaccine for this disease," the virologist said cheerfully. "But that's not the most effective way to make more of a vaccine."
Scully gave her a puzzled look. "What is the most effective way to make more of a vaccine?"
"By taking the blood of a person who is immune to the disease, of course and straining it for antibodies." Which, she remembered from med school, is how they had tried to develop a vaccine for the flu in the 40's. "Do you know of anyone whose immune?"
Before she could answer no, Mulder spoke up. "Yes. Both doctor Scully and I been exposed to the disease and did not contract it."
"That's just great. Wait here while I go get some syringes and vials." She hurried off after giving them another bright smile.
"So what are we going to do with this?" Scully asked rattling the bag that had the vaccine sample in.
Mulder shrugged. "My first temptation would be to give it to either Fox or Dana, but I don't think there's enough for that to be an effective use. And I'd like to think that it might be useful in our world if we ever have a mass infection too, so I think it needs to back into storage."
She nodded reluctantly. Her first impulse had been to give it to one of their doubles too.
"Okay." The virologist said when she returned with a metal tray full of blood taking paraphernalia. "Who wants to go first?"
Mulder rolled up his sleeve.
"How long do you suppose this will take?" Scully asked doubtfully. "Creating a vaccine from antibodies, I mean."
Looking up from the vial filling with blood, the virologist said. "About 24 hours."
"What?" Scully cast her an astonished look. "Vaccine creation takes much longer than that."
The virologist shook her head. "They did. But we've discovered within the past few years that super heating them provides a much more fertile ground for replication."
"That's wonderful," Scully said as she rolled up her own sleeve. "If you can make enough you should be able to create a vaccine to inoculate everyone in short order."
"If we get the antibodies from you, yes," the virologist agreed.
Staring at Mulder, Scully tried to telegraph a silent message to him. Maybe there is hope.
There wasn't a lot else that they could do to assist the virologist after they'd given blood, so they took Chip up on the offer of going back to his house for dinner. Both of them dragged their feet a little. Mulder knew that he was nervous about spending more time with Samantha, but he was sure that wasn't Scully's problem. Her thoughts were probably on those kids. He hoped they were asleep when they got there.
It was a hope that was dashed immediately. All three of them were in the kitchen. Ezra was sitting in his high chair, dropping dry cereal on his sister's head. It didn't seem to bother Mckenna, since she was absorbed in playing with pots and pans at her aunt's feet.
Samantha smiled brightly when they walked into the kitchen. Both her apron and her right cheek were smudged with flour.
"Chip told me about the eggs, and I think I will take his suggestion of making French toast, if that's okay."
Both of them nodded their consent "I love the idea of breakfast for dinner," Scully confessed. "It seems slightly naughty some how, like having desert first."
"We could do that," Samantha said with a grin. "I was counting on you saying yes, since I used a lot of the eggs to make a pound cake. I love them but they take nearly a dozen eggs each."
"They'd just go to waste if we brought them back home," Mulder told her. "So if you can come up with any other uses for them, feel free."
"Great. Why don't you guys help Chip entertain these two in the living room? French toast is quick, but they've getting bored of the kitchen.
Scully froze, which made Mulder wince in sympathy. Samantha's back was to Scully, so she hadn't seen the pain in Scully's eyes at the suggestion. He couldn't really get mad at Samantha, because she had no idea how painful a subject children were to Scully.
On the other hand, Chip had seen the look on Scully's face. "Mulder, here, why don't you take Ezra?" He put the baby in Mulder's arms before taking his niece's hand. "Let's go in the living room, Kenna."
"'kay," the little girl agreed.
"Um, can you direct me to the bathroom?" Scully asked while watching Mulder settle on the couch with Ezra on his lap.
Chip told her where it was, then looked at Mulder when she was out of the room. "Why do the kids upset her?"
"You're very perceptive, Chip. She can't have any, that's why."
"And she obviously wants some," Chip stated. "That's horrible."
"Yeah," Mulder agreed quietly. "From her point of view it must be very strange to see kids who look just like the ones you'll never have."
"She'd have them if you if she could, wouldn't she?" Chip's eyes were on Mckenna, who was playing with a doll. "So they really would look just like these two monkeys."
"I'd like to think so. Our relationship is new, but I believe it will last."
"Maybe you'll adopt."
Chip lifted his eyes to Mulder. "If being around them is too hard on her I could feed them upstairs and put them to bed a little early."
Mulder shook his head. "I don't think she'd appreciate being coddled like that." He started when Ezra jumped in his lap. Turning his head he saw that Scully was coming back into the room.
Over the course of their meal, Mulder couldn't help but feel a sense of surrealism. If he put a little effort into pretending, it could be his real life. Over for dinner at his sister's house, while his nephew made silly jokes and entertained the two little ones in high chairs.
He glanced at Scully, who didn't seem to be flinching any more when the kids looked in her direction. Just a little more imagination and he and his wife were over his sister's for dinner, and they'd brought their kids too, who were being entertained by their uncle. Why couldn't it be reality? He nearly sighed.
"This is really good," Scully told Samantha as she helped herself to another slice of French toast.
"Thank you." Samantha beamed at her.
"Do you remember when we tried to help mom make Christmas cookies?" Mulder asked before remembering that he shouldn't extend his pretending to out loud.
To his surprise Samantha nodded. "Who could forget the mess a full bag of flour makes when spilled on the floor?"
"It wouldn't have spilled if you hadn't grabbed at the bag," Mulder accused playfully.
"Well, you wouldn't give me a turn to help, what else was I supposed to do?"
"Thank god that the vacuum had a disposable bag. Mom would have killed us if we'd tried to use the old one with the bag you had to empty."
"You mean thank god it was too heavy for us to lug up from the basement," Samantha corrected. "I seem to recall it was our first choice."
They both laughed and Mulder decided that he was right. There was something so comforting, so easy, about pretending that this was part of his real life. Glancing at Scully, who seemed more at ease than he ever would have expected earlier in the evening, he wondered if she was pretending too.
Chapter Six - Waiting And Hoping
Thirty-six hour later
It seemed too incredible to believe but the virologist said that the vaccine was ready barely a day later. Either James hadn't taken the concept of the FDA with him when he built this world, or the hospital was operating on the concept of "desperate times call for desperate measures," but either way it hadn't taken much to be allowed to use the new product on Fox and Dana.
A conversation with James and Samantha, and a few forms signed, and they'd put the vaccine into Scully's hands. It was easier than gaining access to one of the dead victims, because after hemming and hawing the hospital said she could look at a body the next day. She would have rather have gotten it over with first, but she forced herself to be content with the fact that they might be able to spare more people from a one-way trip to the morgue.
"I think you should give the vaccine to Fox first," James commented as they walked to the couple's hospital room. Mulder and Samantha trailed after them, deep in conversation. Ezra was on Samantha's hip, and Mckenna toddled after her. Without even looking back to check, Scully knew that Mulder was keeping an eye on the little girl. It was just the sort of thing he did without having to be asked to.
"Because you think he looks worse too?" Scully guessed, looking up at James. It struck her as hard to believe that this was the same person she'd said goodbye to when he was a ten-year-old boy. Around the eyes, though, she thought she saw something familiar.
"I'm scared," James admitted. "I'm afraid that this isn't going to work, and I'm going to lose my best friend the same way I lost my brother."
"Lost your brother?" Her face creased in confusion. "I thought you made this new world and everything was fine for your family."
"It was. Then. Did Chip or Samantha tell you about Charlie? That he died?"
"Yes, in a car accident. That's very sad."
"Charlie wasn't the only one in the car." James' voice was pitched low, probably so Samantha wouldn't overhear. "Joel hadn't wanted to go to college after high school, so he got a job. He and Charlie worked on the same shift, and carpooled together. The night of the accident was pretty icy…neither of them made it home safely."
"I'm so sorry."
James nodded vaguely. "I started going through on a regular basis after he died, hoping that I could find the same thing Mulder has."
By that point Mulder and Samantha had caught up to them, so they let the conversation drop. Scully knew what he'd been referring to; all she had to do was look at the joy on Mulder's face as he spoke to Samantha to get the message loud and clear.
"Let's hope for the best," Scully said a little too brightly as they walked into the hospital room. "I'll examine them, and then we'll give the vaccine."
"And then we'll hope," Samantha added softly.
"Then we'll hope," Scully agreed. Looking back at the longing on James' face, she suddenly realized what he would have told her had they continued their conversation in the same vein - unlike Mulder, he hadn't found his other brother yet.
Lying still in his bed, Fox looked frail. Scully stood above him, and studied him, looking for the telltale signs that it was too late - a translucence or a jelly-like consistency of the flesh. She doesn't see either of them, but there were other things she didn't see either. There weren't deep worry lines creasing a well-loved brow, and there was no scar on his shoulder from a well-aimed bullet. These things helped to ground her, and remind her that this is not a mere copy of the man she's in love with. If he had been able to sit up and talk, there was a chance she might not have even liked Fox.
"Dana? Uh, Scully, that is." James sounded embarrassed, but she didn't turn around to see. "Would it be okay with you if I stole Mulder and Samantha for a couple of hours?"
"Oh, sure. It's going to take me a while to examine them thoroughly, and when I'm done I'll go find Chip."
"Great, I'll send them back there when we're done."
"Bye," Scully said faintly. She wasn't even curious enough to ask what they'd be doing in the interim.
Running her fingers over the still man's hand, she didn't find anything wrong with it that indicated that he was being hollowed out from the inside by some manner of vicious parasite. For a moment she closed her eyes, but that only allowed the screen of her imagination to throw up an image of a cold-eyed creature with razor tipped claws. She opened her eyes with a shuddering sigh. Her hands trembled a little, and she came dangerously close to dropping the syringe.
Steadying herself, she found a likely vein. Fox didn't react when the liquid coursed through him, and that worried her. Scully knew from personal experience that it burned like a cleansing flame. He should at least flinch. Instead his respiration continued at its steady pace, and the heart monitor didn't change a note in its two-note song.
Next she turned her attention to Dana. Despite doing her level best to convince herself that any resemblance between them was superficial, she failed. Dana was Scully dipped in skim milk, with hair grown overlong, with callused fingers. It should have been easier to assess her condition, knowing exactly what she ought to look like in perfect health, but she found it immeasurably harder.
At length she decided that Dana was not quite as ill as Fox, but it was close to a toss up. Maybe the vaccine would help at least one of them, she hoped as she filled a new syringe.
"I can't let you do that, Doctor Scully," a stern voice interrupted Scully, who paused with the syringe an inch above Dana's arm. Until that moment she'd thought she was alone with her two patients.
"Here you go, Sport." A small foam ball threw through the air and landed in Ezra's hands. The baby's eyes widened in astonishment, making James chuckle. He looked up at the adults and said, "I used to date a girl who did a lot of babysitting...sometimes I'd sneak over while she did. There was this one kid she looked after whose only toys were balls like that one. I wondered why, until I figured it out when he snagged a glass from me and threw it against a wall. He grew up to play baseball in high school."
They'd been at James' house for almost fifteen minutes, and so far James had done nothing but play polite host. Their drinks were filled, the little ones had things to keep them amused, but Mulder still had no idea why they were there. "So, um, James. How many people live here?"
"The best I can tell, there are about five thousand people," James said casually. "It's a lot, if you think about it."
"Think about it in what way?" Mulder wondered. His old friend's statement didn't make a lot of sense to him.
"You haven't figured it out yet, Mulder? I'm surprised. You were so good with those two minute mysteries when we were boys." James gave him a wry look. "I created this world, even if I didn't do it on purpose. And because of that, all the people are connected to me."
"But not everyone you knew is here." Mulder protested. "Because Chip has no aunt Missy and uncle Bill."
"Who?" James looked blank.
"Scully's older brother and sister. Maggie Scully's oldest children were a set of twins."
The other man frowned. "That sounds vaguely familiar, but I never met them."
"So they don't exist in this world?" Mulder gave him an incredulous look. "I didn't realize that you fancied yourself some kind of deity."
"I'm not claiming to have god-like powers, Mulder. I'm just telling you like it is. Everyone here is connected to me. Whatever created this world picked the men, women and children I knew out of my head to people it."
"What do you think created this world, James?" Mulder asked. "You said something once about strong emotions, but that seems pretty fuzzy for you to believe, at least based on what I remember from when we were kids."
James held out his hands. "Your guess is as good as mine. Maybe this is a soap bubble universe like I used to be obsessed with as a kid. Maybe it's something else entirely."
"Maybe aliens created this world." Mulder suggested sourly. "Made their own little rat maze to experiment on you and everyone here."
"There aren't any aliens, Mulder," James snapped. "Don't be ridiculous."
"You're wrong, James. There are aliens, and I've seen them."
"Mulder, it's statistically improbable for life to have sprung up on other planets." Samantha interrupted.
"It's also statically improbable for a whole new world with just five thousand people in it to spring up unbidden too." Mulder retorted. "What do you think that disease is? The one you asked us to cure?"
"I'm not sure what it is. Some sort of advanced pathogen."
"Why us, James? Chip said you knew that we'd dealt with it before. How do you know that?"
A tinge of pink crept into James' cheeks. "The internet. On a visit to your world I went to one of the libraries and tried to see if I could discover if the disease had affected your world too. I found this e-zine online by some people who seemed like nutjobs, but they described exactly what we'd seen."
"An e-zine?" Mulder asked, raising an eyebrow. "Wouldn't have happened to have been The Lone Gunmen, would it?"
"Now that you mention it, I think that's it."
Mulder covered his face with his hands. "It figures."
"I can't let you do that, Doctor Scully," the voice repeated when Scully made no move to put down the syringe.
"Why not?" Scully demanded to know without even looking up.
"Because there's been no study done to see how this would affect an unborn child." The other doctor said. She thought it looked like than man she had mentally dubbed "doctor one" a couple of days earlier, but she saw that his badge bore the moniker Gil Howard, chief of staff. "You never should have been allowed to administer it to anyone without clearing it with the head of infectious diseases - me."
Ignoring the arrogance in his last statement, she fixated on the reason for the denial and gave him a stricken look. "Dana's pregnant? She doesn't look pregnant." She insisted before realizing how silly that sounded.
"She's only about six weeks along." Doctor Howard gave her a level look. "Being pregnant effectively reduces her chance of survival to nil since she can't have the vaccine."
If the vaccine even works on anyone, she thought grimly. "You've seen other stricken with this condition. Do you that that she would survive if she wasn't pregnant?" Scully asked softly, not wanting anyone else to hear their conversation.
He shrugged. "Maybe, maybe not. It's impossible to tell since no one has been cured by the vaccine yet. Since she is pregnant, however, that point is moot."
"You could terminate the pregnancy," Scully suggested hesitantly. Abortion wasn't something she liked to think about, but like many others she considered it the less of two evils in some limited circumstances. Circumstances like orphaning two small children.
"Perform an illegal procedure?" Howard gave her a look like he thought that she was both insane and immoral. "I'd lose my medical license."
"Il-" Scully then realized that this world was created in 1972, but the Roe v. Wade decision hadn't been handed down until the first month of 1973. "Is there nothing that can be done, then?"
The doctor gave her a sweeping glance, then looked at Dana. "You and your sister are identical twins, aren't you?"
Scully battled to keep the surprise off her face, and instantly decided in for a penny, in for a pound. "Yes, we are."
"You'd be an ideal candidate for fetal transference, then, because identical DNA would more or less preclude rejection."
"Fetal transference?" Scully asked, puzzled. "I'm afraid that I'm not familiar with that." She gave him a lopsided grin. "I must have missed that class in med school."
Howard didn't look surprised at her ignorance. "It's not an often used procedure. It involves moving a fetus or embryo depending on how early the procedure is done, placenta and all from its mother's womb into another woman's. It's usually is done in infertility cases for women who can't obtain pregnancy, but would be able to maintain one. And occasionally for pregnant women who develop a life threatening illness while pregnant. Would this be something you'd be willing to do?"
Scully thought about Mckenna and Ezra, facing them after their mother died, when there might have been something she could have done to save her. They were only babies now, but someday they'd grow up. Then she thought about carrying a baby, only to hand it over to someone else once it was born. That would be painful and difficult - but it also assumed that Dana would get better. Lying pale as death already come, it was hard to believe.
"And this would involve some sort of surgery? I don't think she's strong enough to survive that." Scully added as the thought occurred to her.
The doctor shook his head. "No surgery is involved."
"Then how is it done?" She failed to keep disbelief out of her voice.
"It's a form of matter transference."
Beam me up, Scotty, Scully thought to herself. "And this is safe?"
"Perfectly. Neither mothers nor babies have ever suffered any ill effects from this."
Scully wasn't as concerned about the baby as Dana and herself, but she didn't think saying so would be of any advantage. "How long until we can do this? I assume that I'll need hormone injections first."
"Actually, we're discovered that it's easier to figure out the correct balance after the procedure is complete. We could do this right now, if you'd like. Just as soon as I can send for some equipment."
Scully nodded, even though she knew that Mulder would be unhappy that she made such a major decision without consulting him, but she was so convinced that it wouldn't really result in her becoming pregnant- she thought that the story was just a cover for performing an illegal abortion, and that she and Dana would be sadly informed that the embryo hadn't survived- that it didn't seem worth the time. "The sooner the better."
Within a matter of minutes, she found herself lying on a hospital bed beside her unconscious double. To speed things along she claimed next-of-kin rights to make medical decisions on her "twin's" behalf.
The machine the doctor wheeled in made her think of Doctor Who; it seemed to mostly be comprised of a box whose insides glowed a sickly green and tubes that ended in funnel-like apparatuses.
When he started an ultrasound to locate the embryo, Scully turned her face away. Given what she thought would happen to it, she didn't think that she couldn't bear to think of it as alive and growing in its mother.
"There he is." Doctor Howard said as he moved the wand across Dana's belly. He carefully placed one of the funnels over the spot he'd pinpointed with the ultrasound. "Not that we can tell the gender so soon, I just know that Dana was hoping to have another boy." He clarified.
He came to Scully's side with the other funnel in his hand, but he paused. "Maybe we should do a pregnancy test on you first."
"I'm not pregnant," Scully said coldly. "I'm barren." Her thoughts turned to the failed IVF attempt just weeks earlier, so she barely heard the doctor offer of condolence. It had been her only chance, and it was still too painful to believe that she'd never have her own child. Maybe it was the reason that she'd volunteered for this strange duty that had to be a hoax - if it was legitimate it'd be her only opportunity to ever feel life growing within her.
It was all over in a couple of minutes. She only had time to wonder why Dana's feet hadn't been put in stirrups when there was a green flash and out of the corner of her eye she saw the image of the embryo disappear off the monitor.
A moment later the doctor announced that he next wanted to do an ultrasound on her to check the baby's placement; that was the word he used. baby. She had a sneaking suspicion that diehard pro-life proponents in her world would love that.
Scully was enveloped by a sense of surrealism when he squirted the clammy medium onto her bare belly. The doctor's body blocked the monitor, but she did see him frown. "What was this business with you claiming to be barren? You're just lucky that this didn't turn out very badly. They very well could have fused since we did a blind placement on the assumption that your uterus was empty."
"I don't-" Scully sputtered until the doctor side-stepped, giving her full view of the monitor. Two small objects she recognized from her medical books as gestational sacs were on the screen.
"Dana was pregnant with twins?" she asked blankly, as her mind grasp at the first logical explanation - after rejecting the idea that the process had somehow accidentally cloned the embryo.
The doctor pointed at the screen. "This is Dana's unborn baby," He moved his hand until his hand was next to the other shadow. "And apparently, this is yours. It's fortunate, since it seems as though your child is only about a week younger, gestationally."
Although stunned, Scully's mind automatically did the math - and figured out that she must have conceived immediately after her run-in with Daniel Watson…Or had the pregnancy test she'd taken at the fertility clinic provided a false negative?
Terror gripped her with a sudden intensity. "I didn't know I was pregnant, I was told I that I'd never...is my baby going to be okay? If I'd known I wouldn't have risk-"
"Both babies ought to be fine, as long as you take care of yourself like any woman expecting twins would. Of course, being that you and Dana are identical twins, you'll have to do DNA tests against the fathers to sort out which baby is which."
Scully felt very faint when it occurred to her that Mulder and Fox would have identical DNA too. They might never know which baby was theirs, and which was Fox and Dana's.
"Why don't I give Dana the vaccine now?" Howard suggested. "You don't look like you should be doing it yourself."
Scully's eyes never left the silver glint of the needle as he pushed most of it into Dana's arm.
A few minutes later, after the doctor gave her several pieces of supposedly helpful advice and departed, Scully walked unsteadily out into the hallway and leaned against a wall.
It was all some sort of macabre joke. There was no way that a machine with green lights and black tubes had pulled an embryo out of Dana Mulder's womb and put it into hers. The supposed ultrasound proved nothing. It could have been faked. Tapes, maybe a hard drive on the machine -
"Are you okay? You don't look too good." When she looked up she saw Chip's concerned face. It stuck her that for all that he was over a head taller than her, he still looked very young. And worried about her.
"I'm okay," she lied.
"Did you give it to them?"
It? She wondered, then realized that he meant the vaccine. "Yup, they both got it."
"Oh good. I really hope it cures them," he said earnestly.
"Me too, Chip. Me too."
"Do you have any idea where my mom is? She's not at the house."
"She and Mulder went to talk to James. Uh, Chip, do you have a James' phone number? I need to call Mulder."
"Yeah sure." Chip fished a cell phone out of his pocket, and pressed a button. "Here you go."
"Thanks," she told him, then wandered a short distance away to speak to Mulder.
A couple of minutes later she hung up and gave the phone back to Chip. "Chip, Mulder's going to spend the night at James' place so they can discuss things, like setting up a way to vaccinate everyone over the next few days. You were right earlier, I'm feeling less than my best. Do you think you could give me a ride so I can get home? Once I'm…on the other side, I've got keys to Mulder's car."
"I'd be glad to. I'm sorry that you're not feeling well."
That made her feel a little guilty. "It's probably nothing a good night's sleep won't cure." She reassured him.
An hour later
"I need to be seen tonight. No, it needs to be tonight!" Scully snapped at the woman on the phone. "I have a dangerous job, and if I'm carrying twins, I need to take much more care than with a singleton pregnancy…I'm a doctor, I know the symptoms." Scully added frostily when the nurse tired to tell her it's hard to figure out that there multiple embryos early in pregnancy. "Excessive exhaustion, more severe than usual nausea-"
The nurse seemed sick of her, but convinced that she knew what she was talking about, because she began to mutter about checking for cancellations. Then she said the magic words, "We can fit you in at five-thirty."
"Thank you so much," Scully told her. "I'm sorry for being such a bitch, but you know, hormones…"
"The first thing we need to do is a pregnancy test." Another nurse, not the one Scully had abused on the phone, announced as soon as Scully was dressed in a faded blue jonny that left little to the imagination. Scully ruefully guessed that Mulder would like it.
"We'll put a rush job on it, given the hour," the nurse added.
Quicker than Scully thought possible, the result came back. Positive. That surprised her a little, because she'd half believe that the whole experience in the other world had been some sort of hallucination.
She was still feeling a little stunned when the doctor, Cabbot, came into the room to do the ultrasound. "I hear that you're concerned that you might be carrying twins."
Scully nodded. "I have this strong feeling. From what I remember from medical school, my exaggerated symptoms add up." She invented again.
"Well, let's take a look. Given the date of your last period, there's a chance we might not see anything conclusive yet," he warned.
"That's okay." Scully tried not to shiver as the medium was squirted onto her bare belly for the second time.
"It looks like you're right and it's twins, Mrs. Scully. Or should I say, doctor Scully?" Cabbot said with tentative smile a few minutes later when they looked at the monitor and saw two familiar shapes.
She didn't bother to correct his assumption that she was married. "Doctor is fine. How far along do you think I am?" Her eyes were fastened on the screen. Twins.
"Just a few weeks. Somewhere between a month and six weeks. Sorry, we can't tell the sexes yet at this point." He added with an apologetic smile. "We can find out later if you want to know."
"Okay, great." Scully started to get up.
"You mentioned on your form that you conceived through IVF, how many embryos were implanted?"
"It's unlikely, but as I said ultrasounds are not really considered conclusive this early into pregnancy, so there's a chance that more than two of the embryos took. We'll do another scan in six weeks, just to be on the safe side."
Scully stared at him, hoping that it was just twins. Given her petite size, triplets or quads would lead to discussions about selective reduction, and she knew that she could never go through with something like that.
It was colder there then in DC, reminding Mulder of how far north Massachusetts was, and presumably this faux Chilmark too. In deference to the chill James had laid a small fire in the grate of the fireplace. It was beginning to make Mulder feel nearly as sleepy as the babies Samantha had carted home over an hour before.
He rubbed his eyes then turned to James. "So try to explain to me again what your role is here. How do the five thousand souls you've pulled into this world see you?"
The other man shrugged. "They see me as a clever scientist, nothing more. I told you before, I'm no king. Dictator either."
"Do they know?" Mulder asked.
"Do they know that I make no pretense to rule this little world?"
"Do they know that you created a small world and that there are only five thousand people in it?"
"I used to believe that they didn't," James said slowly. "But I'd be lying if I tried to claim that now."
"What changed your mind?" Mulder asked impatiently.
"The murder case you were working on when I sent Chip to find you." James replied. "That man, North, it's clear that he figured it out. He killed his double, or his double killed him. If the vaccine fails I fear it won't be a singular case."
Mulder shook his head bemusedly. "There's one thing I don't understand about that case. Or two, actually. The first thing is why did North have a double at all? This world was made twenty-eight years ago, and the victim was twenty-seven."
James shrugged. "A twenty-seven-year-old man would have existed nearly twenty-eight years ago."
A light of recognition glowed in Mulder's eyes. "In Utero."
"But wouldn't North be immune anyway? Surely he got the MMR as a baby."
The corner of James' mouth quirked. "You give him too much credit. That connection is hardly common knowledge, and most people wouldn't work it out for themselves."
"Should it be? Common knowledge," Mulder clarified.
"If the vaccine works, it needn't be."
"How are we going to convince medical personnel to give it out?"
"I think I was a bit humble earlier. People view me as a charming, clever scientist. Don't worry, I'll convince who needs convincing."
Mulder gave a weak smile. If James was now compelling and charismatic, he hadn't grown up to be the man Mulder would have expected. The sweet but fumbling boy was gone. Mulder missed him acutely.
Her bed was far too big without Mulder in it. This was something she'd been conscious of every one of the rare nights she'd spent apart from Mulder recently. But no night before was it more noticeable. She wished he was there so she could curl up against his warm back - she slept best that way.
On the other hand, not having him there gave her a chance to think. There were two embryos. The IVF several weeks before had clearly worked. It made her slightly angry that she'd been told before that it hadn't, but her happiness that she was finally going to be a mother occluded most other emotions. Twins. She was having not one, but two children. And they were Mulder's.
Both of them, she thought with a little frown. The whole thing with Dana at the hospital had been too bizarre, too far removed from reality to been anything but some sort of mean-spirited joke. Maybe it was petty revenge for usurping Howard's power by getting permission to administer the vaccine herself. Some doctors were territorial, this man was probably one of them. The trick had been effective, and she couldn't believe how much she'd let it shake her up. It made her feel foolish.
The only thing she wasn't able to nail down in her mind was how he'd guessed that she was pregnant. Shrugging her shoulders, which felt strange to do while lying on her back, she thought of her grandma Ruth. Ruth had driven her aunts crazy by guessing that they were pregnant before they'd even told the uncles. Doctor Howard must also have that skill. It must have filled him with evil glee that he'd not only been right, but that she was expecting twins - he'd been quick enough to create a story to take advantage of it, and lecture her.
Howard was a jerk, but she decided that she wasn't going to waste any more energy thinking about him. Not when there was suddenly so much to be happy about. Scully fell asleep with her hand resting on her belly.
Chapter Seven - Fading Fast
Mulder was in a pretty good mood when he returned to Scully's from visiting the other side. Scully looked happy to see him, but faintly nervous too. Eventually she disappeared into her room, and when she came back she wasn't empty handed.
"Mulder, I have something for you." Scully held out a small white box, tied with a yellow bow. When he took it, she urged, "Open it."
"My birthday isn't until October," he reminded her.
"Mulder! Open it!"
"Okay, okay." Deciding to tease her a little, he slowly worked the knot to release the bow, then carefully pried the tape off the paper with his fingernails. She was beginning to look impatient, so he didn't fool around with the tissue paper.
Once the gift was revealed, he stared at her, dumbfounded. It was a shirt that would have fit on Samantha's dolls, and emblazoned on it was the sentence, "If you think I'm cute, you should see my Daddy."
She smiled at him. "I found out that I should have gotten a second opinion a few weeks ago."
"The IVF worked?"
"Oh my God, Scully!" He threw his arms around her. "We're going to be great parents."
"I hope so."
"Do you know if it's a boy or girl yet?" he asked eagerly before shaking his head at his own question. "No, of course not. It's too soon."
"My new OB said we can find out in another eight weeks or so."
"This is so great. I really wanted this for you…" He trailed off and gave her a loving look. "I wanted it so badly for me too, but I didn't want you to know if we never were successful. But we were, I can't believe it."
"Yeah," she said, snuggling against his chest. "It's enough to make you believe in miracles, isn't it?"
"Hey, I never claimed to be an atheist," Mulder objected. "I never said that miracles don't happen. You putting up with me as a partner this long is a miracle too."
"Quit with the self-deprecating humor and just be happy with me," Scully commanded.
"I am, I already am."
As he hugged her tight, she was glad that she'd nixed her initial idea of presenting him with two baby t-shirts. Although she was hopeful that the babies would both be brought to term, she knew as a doctor that twin pregnancies didn't always result in two babies at the end, especially when twins were detected this early.
With luck her next ultrasound would show them both two babies more than a third of the way along in their development. He had a lot to worry about already, and she didn't mind shouldering the secret for a few more weeks.
Two Days Later
Though James claimed not to be a king or even a man of much consequence, he still had a great deal of clout. Working round the clock, vaccine was mass produced. Scully could scarcely believe that it was possible to create a supply that quickly, but her doubts had been laid to rest, at least to a degree, by the speed in which vaccine enough to test in on Dana and Fox had been produced. And, Scully reflected, it wasn't as though they needed to vaccinate millions, just two or three thousand.
Within days people were being warned to go to visit their local hospitals for an inoculation. Of course, people thought they were being protected against something particularly nasty and viral, like Small Pox, not a disease that would eat you alive then burst out of your body and attack people.
Both Scully and Mulder helped out at the Chilmark hospital, mostly directing people where to go. After a few hours, Mulder tapped her on the shoulder. "You should go to Samantha's for a while. She said you're welcome at any time."
"Because you look dead on your feet. Is it-" His face creased in concern, and she noticed that his eyes flickered towards her waist.
"No, everything's fine there. I'm just worn out, I guess."
"Okay." Mulder kissed her quickly. "See you in a while. This clinic is only supposed to go another couple of hours."
As she walked away from him, it occurred to her to wonder if part of the appeal of coming to this place was the fact that they didn't have to worry about what anyone thought of their public displays of affection. She couldn't say that she didn't like the faux Chilmark for that reason, too.
Somehow, Scully and Chip ended up in the spare room, chatting while the kids slept. Having her alone for the first time, Chip seemed every bit as curious as his father. At least the version of his father that'd she'd grown up with.
"Tell me everything that's different between this world and yours," he invited, and two hours passed in a flash.
"Yeah," Chip was saying. "Uncle Fox is an engineer, and Aunt Dana was a librarian, but she's been staying home with the babies-"
Before Scully could make a comment about how different Fox and Dana's chosen paths were, Mulder burst into the room, looking pale and frantic. Without even seeming to look at them, he picked Ezra out of his crib and thrust him into Scully's startled arms before scooping up Mckenna. "Chip, you have five minutes to grab whatever you need. You and these two," he nodded at the toddlers with his chin, "are going through to our world right now. You can stay at my apartment."
"Mulder, what's going on?" Scully asked as she tried to sooth the crying baby in her arms.
"Chip, I'm sorry to be the one to give you this news, but… Fox is dead," Mulder said shortly. "I'm not willing to take any chances that the MMR will protect these three."
Chip had been methodically gathering things he hadn't already packed looked up with a concerned face. "Poor uncle Fox. But what about my mom?"
"We'll send her through when she gets home," Mulder assured him. "Bring your stuff out to the car."
As soon as they were out of earshot, Scully turned to Mulder. "How is my family going to react to the kids?"
"I have no idea," he admitted. "We can't lie to them about who they are, they look too much like us to be some random children we decided to look after."
"We can't tell them the truth," Scully hissed. "They'd have us institutionalized."
"We'll cross that bridge when we come to it," he told her. "And it's not like Dana might not get better, so we can give them back before your family ever sees them."
"Mulder," Scully said slowly. "Dana's probably not going to get better either. She isn't in much better shape than Fox was."
"We'll figure something out. Right now getting these kids away is the most important thing. Right?"
She found herself nodding in agreement, but still she wondered if they were being selfish to think of the people they cared about first. Who didn't, though, in a situation in which you couldn't save everyone? No one. That's what she kept telling herself as she grabbed baby belongings and stuffed them into diaper bags so they could grab the kids and run.
Mulder's apartment was overfilled that night. The little ones crashed in a playpen Mulder hastily bought, but that still left three adults to deal with. Looking around at the inadequate accommodations, Mulder gave Chip and Samantha an apologetic smile. "I'm sorry. I don't host too many sleepovers…" He glanced at Scully. "At least not many that involve more than one person spending the night."
"Good thing we washed the sleeping bags," Scully remarked brightly, which only made him feel worse.
"It's okay, Mulder," Samantha assured him. "Besides, it's just for one night."
He shook his head. "I don't think that's wise. I'd like for you guys to stay here until it's clear that the vaccine is going to work."
"And what if it doesn't?" Chip asked innocently.
"Then your mother and I will have to have long talks about that," Mulder told him after thinking the answer over. "If it doesn't work, your world isn't the type of place anyone is going to want to live in."
Samantha began to object. "Disease is terrible, but-"
"You've never seen a disease like this one," Scully said quietly. "Whatever you're thinking disease is, this disease will completely challenge your mental picture."
"Scully, I don't know if this is the best time to be telling them what we might be up against." Mulder objected.
"I think it is, Mulder. It took me a long time to come to terms with what we know, and Chip and Samantha probably don't have the luxury of time, not if this thing turns into a full-scale infection."
"I guess," he said reluctantly.
"The reason that Mulder doesn't want to explain this now is because you're probably going to think that we're insane when we tell you what might happen. But James sent you to us because he knew that we'd dealt with this before, so you're going to have to trust him that we know what we're talking about, even if you don't trust us," Scully told them, and then she and Mulder explained everything they knew about the virus in question.
It was clear that neither Samantha or Chip wanted to believe that they were telling the truth, but by the end of the lecture, they seemed to fall into a grim acceptance. That was enough for Scully, so she was able to leave for the night without worrying that they'd try to get Mulder committed in her absence.
Although he tried to talk her out of it, Samantha insisted on returning to her world the next day to keep a vigil over her sister-in-law. Mulder had seemed ready to argue with her, but Scully had drawn him aside, taking him out of the room.
"Mulder, you have to look at it from her point of view. Her brother has just died, and odds are fair to middling that her sister-in-law, whom she's known for half of her life, is going to die too. You can't keep her away from Dana, it would be cruel."
"Keeping her safe would be cruel?" he grumbled.
Scully gave an incredulous snort. "Are you implying that you'd never, or rather you haven't, put yourself at personal risk for someone else's sake? Think carefully about what I know before you lie to me."
"Those times were different."
"They just were," he insisted stubbornly.
"If you keep her here, she'll hate you," Scully warned him.
This elicited a huge sigh from him, and he turned and walked away, leaving her behind. Though the walls muffled the conversation in the other room a little, she still clearly heard him say, "If you feel like you have to be there, you're an adult, and I guess I can't stop you. I ask, however, that you go alone. At least for now, unless it becomes clear that good-byes need to be said…"
Perhaps realizing that they could be overheard, they pitched their voices lower. A few minutes later Mulder returned to where she stood, and he still looked aggrieved. "Chip is going to stay here and baby-sit."
"And what are we going to do?"
He shrugged. "Go to work. Unless you think there's anything more we can do for Dana-"
Scully shook her head in sad denial.
"If we miss too much time we'll put our work in jeopardy too," he concluded.
"Didn't I say that days ago?" she asked, raising her eyebrows in amusement.
"Maybe I listened for once."
Two days later
The heart monitor was still making its steady buzz when Chip put his arm around his mother's shoulder and lead her out of the hospital room. Giving Mulder and Scully a sad look, a nurse turned it off and left them alone with the dead woman.
Dana looked peaceful. Nothing had burst out of her, clawing its way into life, which was the only blessing in the sad situation. The vaccine hadn't cured her, so Scully thought perhaps they'd just been too late giving it to her. Or perhaps it worked like the treatment for heartworm in dogs: poisoning the parasite, but throwing pieces of the decaying creature into the blood stream to cause blockages. Nearly half of dogs given the last ditch cure didn't survive the treatment.
What was worse, as far as Scully was concerned, was that the vaccine hadn't prevented new cases from showing up at the hospital. At least a handful of the new cases were people who'd been amongst the first vaccinated.
As if reading her mind Mulder sighed heavily. "We're not going to be able to contain this. This world is doomed."
"Then what do we do?" Her voice was laced with frustration.
"We evacuate as many as we can. All those born after 1973 and anyone whose double isn't living. Then quarantine them to make sure they're not infected."
"And the ones who can't go through because they are living in our world already?"
His only reply was a bleak look.
"This is going to break up families."
"After being quarantined the orphans can be adopted." His look softened a little. "Except for Mckenna and Ezra." There was a note of challenge to his voice. "I intend to raise them."
"And if I don't?" she blurted out before stopping to ask herself why.
Mulder gave a nearly imperceptible shrug. "Then I'd do it alone. Isn't that what you had in mind for yourself when you asked me to be your donor months ago?"
"Things are different now."
"I hope that they are. But if they're not I'll hire help and do things on my own. I owe them that much."
"Why do you owe it to them? It's not your fault that this dying world exists. So why are you the one who has to sacrifice?"
"That's just the way things are. No one's actions exist in a vacuum and consequences have to be dealt with. As consequences go, there are worse. Murder, disease, poverty... two unexpected children are a joy in comparison."
"Three unexpected children." She put a hand to her belly. "But Mulder, what if Samantha wants them?"
He looked stricken. "Do you think she does?"
"She might. Mulder, she's their aunt, and she's been looking after them since their parents took ill."
"Maybe she doesn't."
Scully stared at him. She was beginning to warm to the idea of raising their duplicates' children, but now she was worried that her question was one born of unconscious insight rather than practicality. Just then, she had no idea how soon the issue would be resolved.
Samantha had promised to bring Chip back through as soon as they said goodbye to Dana, and she'd kept her word. She and Chip were red-eyed and antsy when Mulder and Scully met up with them a short time later.
"We can't go back," Samantha said heavily.
"No," Mulder agreed. "It wouldn't be safe for you. In fact, we're going to try to get as many people out as possible."
"And those you can't get out?" she asked.
"Pray for them," Scully replied bleakly.
"We're immune to this," Mulder told Samantha. "So if you want to make a list of things you want, we can try to get them for you. We're going to have to go back and speak to James, anyway."
Samantha nodded slowly. "Thank you. Do you know of a good hotel in the area that rents by the week? It's going to take some time to settle, and I don't think sleeping on your floor will be the best plan for everyone."
"Take my apartment," Scully blurted out. "Until you find one. I can stay at Mulder's. I do half the time any way."
"That's kind of you," Samantha told her. Then she sighed. "When Charlie died, the three of us discussed what we'd want done when we died. Fox and Dana wanted to be cremated. Can you get James to arrange that, please?"
"Of course," Mulder said quickly.
Chip looked like he was thinking hard about something. "We're not going to be able to bring their ashes here, are we?"
"No. I'm sorry." Scully looked it. "We have no way of knowing if cremated remains still pose a risk of infection."
"That's what I thought. It's okay," he said shakily. "Who needs urns to dust anyway. It won't bring them back any."
With nothing left to say, they got into the car and prepared to move the displaced to Scully's apartment.
They left Mulder sitting in the car when they pulled up to Scully's apartment. She leaned over the front seat and kissed his cheek. "I'll just show them where everything is and get some clothes, okay?"
"Sure. I'm going to be listening to the game on the radio, so don't hurry on my account. Do you want me to help carry the kids in?"
"We've got it, Mulder. Thanks," Samantha answered for her.
"Yeah, we'll be fine," Scully told him. "We've got Chip for the heavy lifting."
Chip grumbled good-naturedly and they abandoned Mulder to his radio baseball game.
Once inside the apartment, Scully played tour guide. "The master bedroom and the spare bedroom are those doors there-" She pointed, "and the bathroom is over here. You've seen the living room and kitchen by now." She turned to Chip. "Help yourself to anything in the fridge that doesn't try to eat you first."
"If you'll excuse me, I need to pack a bag to take to Mulder's."
"This is very generous of you…Scully," Samantha told her before she was able to leave the room.
"No problem. It's only temporary, right?"
"Yeah. I hope we find a place real soon."
In her room she debated a while about what to pack. On one hand she could always come back if she needed more clothes, but on the other she didn't want to come around any more than necessary, since she thought it would seem territorial, and less than welcoming to her guests.
She was still putting things into a bag when a gentle hand closed on her shoulder, making her jump. When Scully looked up Samantha's dark blue eyes were filled with concern. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to startle you."
"It's okay," Scully said quickly. "I've just been a little on edge lately."
"I don't blame you. It's been one shock after another the last couple weeks."
Scully looked up at the taller woman, suddenly surprised that she'd only known her for two weeks. "More so for you and Chip than me."
"That's up to debate."
"What was it that you came in to asked me?" Scully asked, aware of how fire their conversation must have wandered from what was on Samantha's mind.
"I... I wanted to talk to you about Ezra and Mckenna," Samantha said looking guilty.
A sudden icy panic flooded Scully stomach, and she didn't think it was morning sickness. She realized that despite her recent conversation with Mulder, she already had convinced herself that the children belonged with them.
"I love my niece and nephew dearly, but... I raised a child already, and I'm proud of the young adult my son has become. I don't think I could start over again, with diapers rather than college tuitions." Samantha looked away as if ashamed. "I know it's a lot to asked, considering how convoluted your relation to the kids is, and Mulder let it slip that you are already expecting baby, who'll be pretty near them in age... I'll understand if you're not interested in doing it..."
Scully blinked in confusion. "Are you saying that you want Mulder and I to raise them?"
"Like I said if you don't want to, there's always private adoption-"
"No, no don't get that idea. We do want them, actually. Mulder already made that quite clear."
"What about you?"
"I want them. God do I. I was afraid you're going to say that you want them."
"They're the sweetest things, but I don't think I could do it." A smile broke out on Samantha's face. "I'll help you and Mulder and I can."
Even over the frantic announcer, Mulder heard the door to Scully's building open. He looked up and was surprised to see Mckenna toddling out in front of Scully, whose arms were filled with Ezra and baby bags.
It only took him a moment to launch himself out of the driver's seat and meet her on the walk. "What's going on?"
Scully gave him a happy smile. "They're ours, Mulder. Samantha asked me if we'd raise them. She's had her fill of child-rearing."
Bending down, he pulled Mckenna off her feet, which made her laugh with delight. "That's fantastic! I can't believe that we're parents. I thought we had more than seven months left to prepare ourselves. Not that I'm complaining."
"It's something else, isn't it?" Scully agreed.
Before they knew it they were strapping the kids into the car seats that they hadn't got around to taking out of the car.
Having the kids alone for dinner proved to be an interesting experience.
"What do they eat?" Mulder asked Scully once she broached the topic of food.
"I'm not sure. Mckenna is two, so she probably eats what we do. Ezra I'm not so sure of. Bill told me that Matthew had some very strange eating habits at Ezra's age. Maybe we should call Samantha and ask."
"No, I don't want her to think that we're completely incompetent at this," Mulder told her. "Well, we know he can eat french toast, anyway."
"We can't feed him that three times a day, Mulder!"
He held up his hand. "I meant for tonight." Suddenly, he looked down at Mckenna. "Hey, Kenna, do you know what your brother likes to eat?" The little redhead gave him a blank look. "Oh well."
"I think they make food for toddlers at the grocery store." Scully suddenly remembered. We can pick up some meals tomorrow."
"Good. Problem solved." He gave her a long look. "So, do you know how to make french toast?"
Sighing, Scully handed him Ezra and went into his kitchen.
The kids were enthusiastic, if messy, eaters, and they didn't require as much help as much help eating as either of their new "parents" anticipated. Mckenna used a fork with some skill, and Ezra was content to pick up the pieces Mulder cut up for him and stuff them in his mouth.
Eventually, Mckenna pushed her plate away. "All done?" Scully asked.
"Let me grab your plate, then," Mulder told the little girl. Everyone else had finished, so he took all the plates to the sink. "We're going to need a bigger place." Mulder called over his shoulder.
"Yeah," Scully agreed faintly. If he'd looked back, he would have seen that Scully was staring at Mckenna.
Mulder woke to rain on his fingertips. Brow furrowing over the wrongness of that, he struggled to gain access to the waking world. They were sleeping in bed, so there was no rain. Yet his fingers were wet. Eventually he realized that the wetness was tears, not raindrops. His fingers were pressed to Scully's wet cheek.
Leaning over, Mulder saw that she was awake. "What's wrong?"
After taking a hitching breath, she looked up at him with a crumpled face. "We're terrible people, Mulder."
This pronouncement startled him. "What do you mean?"
"Fox and Dana are dead."
"And we don't even care! Parts of us have died-"
"They weren't us, Scully."
"In a way they were, and you know it. And we can't even summon up the least bit of grief for them. All we have is a little polite sympathy for Samantha and Chip. Where is our sense of empathy?"
"We never even met Fox or Dana, so you're being a little hard on us-"
She shook her head. "What's worse is that we've scavenged the dead."
"Picked up the fallen off pieces of their life that they can't hold on to any more."
Sighing, he gathered her into his arms. "So this is about the kids."
"And Samantha. And Chip," she agreedwith a tiny nod.
"I don't think they'd be mad. If you died, wouldn't you be happy if there was someone there to help your mother, Bill and Charlie carry on with life?"
"Yes, but…Mulder, Mckenna calls me Mommy. She thinks I'm her real mother!"
"Ezra probably does too. That's a good thing." He rubbed small circles on her back as he spoke.
"Is it? Letting them believe that is lying to them."
"Back when that surgery was done to me, the smoking bastard claimed to be my real father." Mulder confessed. "And as much as I hated to admit it to myself, I don't think he's lying. Do you think I would have been happier growing up knowing that Bill Mulder wasn't my father?"
"I don't know."
"I do. Knowing that the man who terrorized my mother and upset the man I thought was my father would have just made my life harder. Not knowing the truth meant life was pretty good until I was twelve…the lie was kinder," he said firmly.
"When they're older, we can decide if it's better to tell them or not. Right now, let's just let them enjoy their childhood."
He felt her give in, her body relaxing against his, before she replied. "Okay."
Chapter Eight -Untrue Confessions
They'd barely dressed before the door was being knocked on.
Samantha gave Mulder a tentative smile. "How did last night go?"
"Not too badly," Mulder told her. A moment later his eyes widened in surprise when a small body collided with his knees.
"Always plant your feet firmly. They do that a lot at this age." Samantha picked Mckenna up and cuddled her. "It doesn't seem to hurt them any, but Chip knocked me on my butt one icy day."
"Good advice," Mulder told her just as Scully carried Ezra over.
"Good morning, Samantha."
"Morning. I was just checking to make sure they hadn't run you both ragged."
"No they were both very good," Scully told her.
"Maybe that will hold while I'm gone this morning," Mulder said wryly. "Good thing I just need to talk about evacuation plans with James."
"Evacuation plans?" Samantha asked.
"To get other people out. The vaccine doesn't seem to be working." Scully explained.
"But I thought you couldn't bring everyone here."
"We can't." Mulder admitted. "But we can get out those that we can."
Samantha set the little girl on her feet. "James isn't going to be very receptive of that idea."
He shot her a perplexed look. "Why wouldn't he be?"
"He's an all or nothing type of guy. Stop-gap methods won't interest him."
"Stop-gap methods may be the only ones available to us." Scully protested.
Samantha gave Mulder a pitying look. "Good luck."
Just after Samantha left, a smell reminded them that although Mckenna seemed to be nearly potty-trained, her brother was too young. "We might want to invest in Huggies or Luv stock now." Scully remarked and carried him out of the room.
"We just can't come in today!" As Scully returned, Mulder was speaking into the phone. To Skinner, she surmised. "I'll give you a call tomorrow. Okay."
She handed him a mug of orange juice. "Skinner's ticked?"
"He says we've been mysteriously ill three times this month."
"Do you think we should tell him what's going on?"
"I think we're going to have to. Eventually. We'll explain to him that we've recently been made parents." He glibly replied.
"That's not the half of it, Mulder!"
"I know. But it's the half we can tell him about." Mulder tickled Ezra to make him laugh and squirm in her arms. "But first things first. I'll try to be back as soon as I can."
"Don't rush on my account. I'm taking them to the grocery store."
"My but aren't you brave." Mulder teased on his way out the door.
Speaking with James was not the easy thing Mulder imagined it would have been. James had been so accommodating about the vaccine that it lulled Mulder into forgetting one important thing - James was a man of science. He might readily believe in another world but that was only because he had empirical evidence right outside his window. His life was his evidence.
So Mulder sat in the living room of James' home and stared at the frowning man, trying not to frown himself. "I understand your assertion that the vaccine is not working, Mulder. We've has twelve more cases of vaccinated people arrive since yesterday. So yes, I realize that it is not working out the way that your lovely partner hoped it would. But I hardly see how a little virus is going to bring about the destruction of this world."
Mulder bit back a growl of frustration. "You're not listening to what I'm telling you, James-"
The other man unfolded his hands. "I am listening. I just happen to believe I'm listening to insane paranoia."
"Do you think I'm the type of person who gets off on lying to people?" Mulder demanded to know.
A shrug. "I don't know. You seem to sincerely believe this story you've been feeding me, but I haven't known you since we were eleven. People change in three decades."
"What about Fox. Did he grow up to be a liar?"
James flinched. Noticeably. "No. Fox was a honest man. But you aren't him."
"I could have been," Mulder said. If Samantha had never been taken...that sort of debate seemed like it would have been a deadly drain of energy, so he let that approach be sidelined. "James, have you stopped to consider what might happen if I'm telling you the truth? If we don't warn people..."
"And what if we do tell people and it turns out to be a regular flu?" James snapped. "We can't very well tell people that monsters are coming to eat them without letting them know that this isn't the 'real world' like they think it is."
"Would that be so bad?" Mulder asked.
Real anger flared in the other man's eyes. "Of course it would be. Don't be stupid."
"Is it stupid to wonder if people are really better off not knowing that they've been living a lie for twenty-eight years?"
The finality of that got Mulder to his feet. "You better pray I'm wrong, then, James."
"I don't pray."
Mulder was tempted to say that he'd meant it as a figure of speech since he didn't pray either, but he'd found himself offering thanks to God several times a day since learning that Scully was pregnant. "Fine. When the monsters start to kill people, remember this conversation. This is when you could have saved more people but chose not to."
"I'm not a vindictive man. When they bring you to your knees, don't be too proud to come for help. I owe you that much for giving me back my sister."
James watched him walk away, and made no attempt to stop him. Mulder thought he might have heard a faint "Good-bye" as he closed the front door.
You couldn't force a person to see reason, and all by themselves he and Scully would lack credibility if they tried to circumvent James and go public. The only way they could help was with James' cooperation. He just hoped that very few people would die before James could bring himself to give it.
On The Other Side
He got home just in time to help Scully bring in groceries. Through the opaque bags Mulder could just make out colorful labels that promised to be exactly what toddlers needed nutritionally. Both kids watched the car be unloaded, thumbs in their mouths. They didn't make a peep when he set the bags on the ground and carried them into the building before sprinting back outside for the bags. They still had their thumbs in their mouths when he returned.
Scully motioned for them to come when she paused to unlock his door, and they toddled down the hall to her. They looked pretty tired to Mulder, which he decided wasn't a good sign. Especially since Scully looked worn out too. It made him afraid to ask how shopping had gone - it seemed like people behaving like petulant toddlers had gone around. At least the kids had the excuse of actually being toddlers.
Taking the initiative, Mulder checked diapers and put them back into PJs. They fell asleep as soon as they stretched out in the playpen. Scully was still putting things away when he went to the kitchen.
She looked up at him, with a thick paperback about toddlers in her hand. "So, how did talking to James go?"
"No worse than talking to your average brick wall. Does it usually hurt right here-" He tapped his temple. "-when you're forced to admit that a sibling was right?"
Scully gave him a knowing smirk. "Usually."
"Jesus, Scully, he made your level of scientific objection seem reasonable by comparison."
She glared at him. "I'm going to pretend that you didn't just say what we both know you just did. Be more specific. How was he unreasonable?"
"He's utterly convinced that this virus is just a bad flu. A few people will die, most will get over it, and no one will be ripped apart by anything with long claws. People are going to die over his stubbornness."
"People are going to die either way, since we can't bring them all here if we wanted to. But you're right, it will be much worse if we don't save those that we can. We've got to tell them-"
Mulder shook his head firmly. "I thought of that. How would you react if two people you never met showed up at your house and politely explained that you live in another dimension, and by the way, it's going to be overrun by monsters that eat people soon?"
"I'd probably do my best to have them committed," she said, chagrined.
"Exactly. People might give James the benefit of doubt, but we'd probably end up in jail or hospitalized. Immune or not, I don't want to be locked up when those things get loose."
"So we do nothing and just let them all die?!"
"We bid our time. James isn't a fool. He'll come to us when he realizes that we were telling him the truth."
"I hope you're right."
"I can almost guarantee that I am." Mulder reassured her. "I'm so sure of it that I think we need to work on what we're going to tell Skinner in a way that includes what's to come."
She gave him a curious look. "I can tell you have something in mind."
"Yeah, I do. I'll tell you about it while the kids nap."
They made a scene, quite by accident, when they arrived at the FBI. No less than four secretaries and five agents - two of them men - stopped them to ask about the adorable kids they'd had with them. Fortunately, they both had practice with being evasive, and pulled off seeming to answer questions without actually revealing anything.
Finally, they reached Skinner's office. Kimberly wasn't at her desk, so there was no one to announce their entrance. Given this, Mulder opened the door with one hand, while the other supported Mckenna's squirmy weight. Scully followed, cradling a sleeping Ezra in both arms.
Skinner looked up from his desk, and his look of annoyance that they'd come in unannounced melted into an expression of confusion. "I see you're not as sick as you thought this morning." Then he seemed to notice that they weren't alone. "Why are you bringing babies in here? Is there something about your latest case I don't know about?"
Scully gave him a shy smile. "No, this is personal."
Skinner paused, and stared at the kids. The resemblance to Scully was easy to see, and they could tell he was trying to put two and two together. "Your niece and nephew?" he asked, apparently wondering if she was stuck baby-sitting.
Skinner looked surprised when Scully shook her head. "No, my son and daughter." She reached out and put her hand on Mulder's arm. "Ours, actually."
Their boss took of his glasses and rubbed the bridge of his nose. "Explain."
"Remember Emily?" Mulder asked softly.
The older man froze, clearly startled to hear that name. He had only learned about Scully's daughter after all references to the child had already become past tense. Scully herself had only mentioned the girl to him once, and in such a heartbreakingly wistful tone that he'd never had the heart to direct questions to her, and had only brought up the subject with Mulder long enough to learn the facts. Mulder hadn't volunteered any more than that. "Are they...healthy?"
"The doctor we brought them to said Ezra and Mckenna are in perfect health," Scully said.
Mulder's mouth quirked, as if unable to decide if he should smile or frown. "There's another problem, sir. It's actually what we've been working on this month."
"Related to these children?" Skinner asked. He was staring at Ezra, who was still blissfully unaware of the conversation going on about him.
"Related to these children...and others," Scully replied after a pause.
"There are more of your kids out there?"
"No, not ours," Mulder said quickly. "If you recall, there were other women who were taken when Scully was, and subjected to the same indignations."
"Yes, I recall that, agent Mulder." Skinner sounded impatient, and Ezra flinched in his sleep. Softening his voice a little, Skinner asked, "So we're talking about the children of these other women, then?"
Scully nodded. "Some of them aren't children, though. It turns out that this project has been going on for longer than any of us imagined - close to three decades."
"If we can get them out, we're going to," Mulder told his boss. "But we're going to have a lot of displaced people to deal with."
"How many is 'a lot'?"
Mulder did some quick math in his head to calculate how many people they might get out; bearing in mind that James' early estimate of there being five thousand people had turned out to be a gross overestimate. "Um, I'd guess between five and eight hundred."
"Jesus." Skinner turned red when he noticed that Mckenna was looking at him with interest. "Sorry. That's a lot of people, but I'm sure that we can get some federal assistance for them."
"That's good to hear. And hopefully some of the older ones will be willing to take on the care of younger children, so not all of the kids will have to be put up for adoption," Mulder told him.
Skinner gave them a sharp look. "You don't think their mothers would want them?"
"Most of their mothers are dead," Scully said softly, and both men turned to look at her. She placed a fingertip on the bridge of her nose. "Remember, I was the lucky one. I survived the cancer."
"Oh. I'd forgotten..," Skinner said anxiously.
"That's okay," she told him. Ezra woke a little, and made a grab for her hair, which she quickly brushed back.
"Sir, the reason we came by to see you, besides introducing you to the kids, was to ask if you could approve our rush requests to take some of our accumulated vacation time." Mulder began.
Skinner cut him off with a wave of his hand. "Of course. You need time to deal with this, and HR keeps bringing up the fact that I should remind you both that its been two or three years since you used any of your time... There's nothing important going on here, so why don't you take two or three weeks off?"
"Excellent." Scully beamed at her boss. "With luck we should be able to get these two squared away, and have made progress on getting the others out by the time we come back."
"Do you want to open an X-File on this situation?" Skinner asked. "If you need additional agents as support-"
"Not at this time," Mulder replied. "We're working with someone on the inside, and I'm afraid that involving more feds will make him bolt."
"Okay. That makes sense."
"We'll need more help eventually, but not until we've gotten them out."
"Say the word and I'll get agents and social services to come to you."
"Thank you, sir," Scully said warmly. As she did, Ezra's eyes popped open and he smiled broadly at the man sitting behind the desk.
Skinner smiled back at the baby. "Do they ever look like you, agent Scully."
"Lucky them." Mulder laughed. "Thanks again, sir."
"Don't mention it. But keep me informed as to how you're doing. Not just with the case." He looked pointedly at their new children.
"Mulder, do you mind if I go alone to break the news to my mom?" Scully asked as they buckled the kids into car seats. She gave him an uncertain look. "I mean alone with them."
"Sure," Mulder replied, his feelings unhurt. "I had a couple of errands I wanted to run solo anyway."
"Okay. I'll meet you back at your place later. Sorry, but I have no idea how long I'll be."
"Don't worry about it," he said, kissing her. Then he turned around to face Mckenna and Ezra. "Be good for Mommy."
"Bye Daddy." Mckenna said. Ezra just grinned and opened and closed his hand in an approximation of a wave. In the front seat, Scully tried not to cringe, reminding herself that she had agreed to let the kids think that she and Mulder were their real parents.
An Hour Later
Maggie's expression was puzzled when a waiter escorted her to the table her daughter had taken. There were highchairs pulled up to either side of her.
Unbeknownst to her, Maggie Scully jumped to the same conclusion as Skinner had earlier in the day. "Dana, are you babysitting?" but even as she said it, she realized that both of the little ones had her daughter's coloring.
Scully shook her head. "Mom...there's no easy way to explain this, but I want you to meet your grandchildren. The boy is Ezra, the girl Mckenna."
Maggie half covered her mouth and stared at the children. "Are they sick? Like little Emily was?"
"No! They're healthy, both of them."
"Why?" Scully repeated, unsure what her mother was asking.
"What's different about them so they're healthy? I know you were never pregnant..."
"Oh. The difference is that they're not genetically altered-" The best Scully could make of it was that Maggie was convinced that Emily had been a failed attempt to manipulate genes to make a perfect child, so she used that to her advantage. "Actually, Mom, they seem to be Mulder's biological children too."
"There's something else too... I never thought I'd say this, but we found Mulder's sister," Scully said quietly. She looked down so her mother couldn't see her eyes.
"Yes, Samantha is alive and well. Can you believe it? She has a son, too. Chip, who's nineteen."
"And how old are these children?" Maggie motioned vaguely at them.
"Mckenna is two, and Ezra is one."
"Is having them here related to finding Fox's sister?"
"And you won't tell me how." Maggie predicted in an even tone.
"Mom. You know I can't discuss the details of my cases."
"Of course not." Maggie snapped. "Not even when it involves my mysterious grandchildren showing up unexpectedly. Will you at least tell me if you know whether or not there are any more out there?"
"As far as I know, there are not. I hate to say it, but if there ever were any more like Emily, they probably weren't any healthier."
Scully toyed with her napkin, and wrestled with whether or not it was the right time to give her mother the rest of her news. Bracing herself, she took the plunge. "There's on more bit of news..."
The look on her mother's face asked 'what now?' which did little for her nerves.
"I had a doctor's appointment a few days ago... The clinician who told me that the IVF failed was wrong."
After a moment a smile broke out across Maggie's face. "You're pregnant?"
"Amazingly, yes," Scully told her.
Ezra began to fuss, pointing at the basket of soft breadsticks. Maggie handed him half of one, and gave the other half to her new granddaughter. "You should sue the first clinician."
"Mom! I never thought that I'd hear the day you suggested a frivolous lawsuit."
"It's not frivolous. They ruined your piece of mind for nothing."
"Well..." Scully trailed off, unsure how to respond. She had been anguished when she'd been told that the pregnancy had failed, but things had changed significantly since then, so it was hard to hold a grudge.
Maggie took advantage of Scully's quietness. "Will you and Fox be getting married?" Scully looked up, wide-eyed with shock. "I know it wasn't what you planned when you asked for his...help, but now there are going to be three kids under three to deal with."
"I don't know, Mom. Everything has happened so quickly. We haven't really talked about it yet," Scully said, feeling flustered.
"You will. But as a word to the wise, don't wait until your last trimester to do important things. You'll be uncomfortable as hell and want to hurt people who are less than helpful for longer than five seconds. I'd imagine that goes double for planning a wedding."
"Um, thanks, Mom."
"So, are we ready to order?" Maggie asked brightly.
To Scully's surprise, Chip was waiting to baby-sit when she got back from visiting with her mother.
"C'mon," Mulder said with a secretive smile. "I want to show you something."
She didn't protest when he lead her back out to the cars. "We're going somewhere?"
They didn't drive for very long. Mulder stopped the car about seven miles from the Hoover building, then turned in his seat to give Scully an expectant look. "Well, what do you think?"
"What do I think about what?" She asked, confused.
He waved his hand towards the large brick building he'd parked in front of. "It a duplex."
"Okay," she said, still wondering what he was getting at.
"I bought it." He said brightly.
"You bought it? Today?"
"Yup. One-half of the building for you, me and the kids, the other for Chip and Samantha. This way we'll all be together."
"You really bought a house?" Scully asked, dazed.
"I really did. After my folks died I sold off most of their property, putting some of it into CDs, some into stocks and bonds, which gave me the capital at hand to buy this place out right."
Scully stared at him. As well as she knew him, she hadn't known anything about how he'd managed his inheritance. He'd never said a word, nor had he flashed anymore cash than usual, so it had been her assumption that the houses were still sitting empty. It surprised her that he'd been so quietly proactive.
"Wow," she said at last.
"Do you like it?"
The boyish eagerness in his voice tugged at her heart. "It's great, Mulder." She managed a genuine smile.
"I knew you'd like it." He threw an arm around her. "I paid cash, so the deed is in my pocket. I cashed in a lot of my holdings the day after you told me that you were pregnant, and have been looking for a house since." He didn't make a point to mention that had been just a matter of days. "As soon as I saw it, I knew it was a perfect home for my family."
His family. It took until then for her to remember that Mulder had mentioned sharing the building with Samantha and Chip. "Mulder... I love the house, but you really think that-" She almost said 'your sister.' "Samantha will want to live next door to us?"
Mulder smiled grimly. "Yeah. She doesn't have anyone but us in this world, and she can't go back to her own. Samantha isn't the sister I spent a lifetime looking for, but she is my sister anyway."
"I'm not sure that I'm ready to consider Chip my nephew." Scully confessed. "But you're right about Samantha. I just wasn't thinking." Maybe, she decided, the fact that she wasn't the same Samantha that he lost really didn't matter to him. If the "real" Samantha had lived, she'd of have an entire lifetime of unshared memories after her abduction too...
"Want a tour of the house?" Mulder asked, bringing her back to Earth.
It wasn't until Mulder fished a key out of his pocket that it sank in for her that he'd said he'd bought the place. Since that was the case, she took her first real look around. The building itself was large and brick faced. It was surrounded by green lawn, and a sturdy wooden fence. In her mind sigh she could already see a vegetable garden, swing set and a sandbox...
Mulder's arm around her waist tightened, pulling her nearer as they reached the front door. He made her feel strangely comforted. The front door opened into a large empty living room.
"It's great, Scully. Five bedrooms, three bathrooms... I know it's a little much for Samantha and Chip, but they could each have an office or something. The realtor said the schools are top-notch, which is important with three kids - Scully, are you okay?!"
He loomed over her and looked down in concern, because she was suddenly sitting on the floor. She couldn't quite remember sitting down. She shook her head and made no move to get up. "Three kids. It just hit me, Mulder. Three." In her head she mentally corrected the statement to "hopefully four."
Immediately, he jumped to the wrong conclusion. "If you're having second thoughts about raising Mckenna and Ezra maybe we could..." He trailed off. On his face concern warred with disappointment and irritation.
"No! It's not that. I just... I never thought after my cancer and Emily that I'd ever have a child, never mind three. It's overwhelming but in a good way. In a good way, Mulder."
Hands under her armpits, he helped pull her to her feet, and wrapped his arms around her. He rested his chin on her head before saying, "You're finally getting the miracle you deserve."
"We both are." She smiled up at him. "And it's about time."
Chapter Nine - Evacuation Plans
Spots for Tots
They were the only couple with children actually in tow in the baby store. Most of the other customers were either women alone with far rounder bellies than Scully, or ones with their husbands. Scully decided to try to keep the kids entertained, and quiet as well, leaving Mulder to ring things up.
"So I think that's everything," Mulder told the clerk as he laid the tags to order furniture on the counter.
Before they could settle on a time for delivery Scully reappeared carrying Ezra and shepherding Mckenna while pushing the carriage one handed.
"Let me take him." Mulder held out his arms.
"He wouldn't stay in the carriage." She explained.
"Well, he's going to have to learn to," Mulder said. "Since in seven months we're going to be carrying around a newborn a lot of the time, and he'll be too little still to run around on his own much."
"Yeah," she agreedhalf-heartedly, but it was hard for her to think about spoiling someone barely a year old.
"I'm serious," Mulder told her, sounding uncommonly firm. "We're going to have three kids under the age of three running around, so we should start making things easier on ourselves now, before they know the difference."
"But they're so little!" Scully objected. "Aren't they too young to learn anything much about manners and good behavior?"
He gave her a surprised look. "I seriously doubt that your mother let you kids run wild, even as toddlers. I know mine didn't. We don't want to someday be the parents of a three-year-old that everyone hates, do we?"
"Of course not." She could recall a child just that age throwing things around the bookstore the last time she was there and how annoyed the other customers had been.
He just nodded. "So we start the groundwork now." With that, he put Ezra back in the carriage and buckled him in. Ezra gave an indignant whine, but quieted down once he realized that Mulder meant it.
Mckenna reached for his free hand, and he smiled down at her as he took it. "They said that they'll deliver the furniture tomorrow morning. I was thinking that we should stop for i-c-e-c-r-e-a-m before we leave the mall."
Scully's belly gave a sudden growl of agreement. "Sound like a good idea."
A short time later, as she watched Mulder sit Ezra on his lap and help him eat vanilla ice cream, it occurred to her that he might talk a good game, but his resolve was probably no more hardened than hers. God forbid if either of the kids figured that out.
The Next Day
By the time that the delivery for the new nursery furniture was made, Mulder, Chip and Samantha had moved most of the other furniture into the duplex. At first Samantha had been reluctant to spend her money on this side, given that her cash wasn't backed by the US treasury, but the empty half of the house had quickly persuaded her.
"Look at it this way," Mulder had told her. "The money you brought with you to the other side started out from here."
"What, the eight dollars saved from my allowance?"
"It's not counterfeit. I don't know what to say about it, but it's real money. Besides, I bet there's a lot of genuine currency in the same boat these days."
Something still felt off about that, but she and Chip did need to replace everything they were leaving behind. A few boxes might not draw too much attention at the divide, but bedroom sets probably would, even late at night.
The first order of business once Samantha's purchases and Mulder and Scully's moving truck arrived was to bring in the queen size bed that'd go in their master bedroom. Scully thought of objecting to being left out of the moving activities, but she found herself so tired that she readily agreed to take a nap with the kids once the bed was set up.
As Samantha pulled the sheets tight across the mattress, she smiled at Scully. "It gets better later on. You won't be tired all the time once you hit your second trimester."
"That seems like forever from now," Scully told her, sighing. "Do you think they'll actually sleep?" She pointed down to the floor where the kids were watching them from the playpen.
"Put them on a bed, and they'll sleep. It's an hour past their nap anyway."
They did, and they did. Scully stretched out next to them and was soon out like a light herself too.
Once the kids were out of the way, Chip let his cheerful façade drop. Looking up at Mulder over the box he was carrying, he asked, "I hate to bring up the elephant in the room, but what are we going to do about James?"
Mulder put down his own box and shrugged. "I don't think there's anything we can do to change his mind."
Chip grimaced. "So nothing is going to happen? Four of us get out and the hell with everyone else?"
"I said there's nothing we can do. I didn't say that there's nothing that will change his mind. We wait. The inevitable will happen, and he'll come groveling."
"How can you be sure?"
The expression on his uncle's clone's face chilled Chip. "I'm sure." Mulder shook his head. "C'mon, let's get a move on. I want to have everything in before the kids wake up."
"You know, once upon a time Scully and I worked an undercover case where we posed as homebuyers. They had this rule about having everything in by six pm…"
Samantha drifted over with boxes of her own, and seemed more entertained by Mulder's account of that gated community than her son did.
"Doctor Scully, do you want to know the sexes of the embryos before I implant them?"
She'd looked up at the masked face looming over her and wished that they'd of let Mulder be present during the procedure. "You can already tell?"
"Yes. So, would you like to know?"
"Hmm?" She turned and saw Mulder standing in the doorway.
"You were in your own little world." He smiled softly and joined her at the empty crib that he and Chip had set up last. "Unless you saw something in there."
"Nope." She leaned back into him as he gently wrapped his arms around her waist. "I was just imagining it filled."
"With another little redhead, no doubt."
"No. Even though they run in my family, I've got a feeling that this one is going to have your coloring."
"I don't mind if he or she doesn't. Just as long as it's pink not gray."
"What, you think I cheated on you with the bounty hunter?" she asked archly.
"Well, even I can tell that he's a handsome man. Or alien."
"You don't have a crush on the alien bounty hunter, do you, Mulder?"
"No, my heart belongs to you. And Assistant Producer Skinner."
She snorted. "Thanks for letting me sleep. I feel bad about not pulling my weight during the moving in."
"Hey." Mulder objected and put his palm on the flat of her belly. "You're doing hard work twenty-four hours a day lately. Let me worry about the heavy lifting."
"But, if you'd like to help me get the mushed carrots out of Mckenna's hair, feel free." He added.
Scully stifled a laugh. "How'd she get them in her hair?"
"I'm becoming sure that two-year-olds have magical powers," Mulder told her with a straight face. "All I did was turn long enough to put juice into a sippy cup, and they were in her hair."
"Good thing it was an orange food."
"Yeah, but if I ever dared suggest something like that, I'd be in the dog house."
"Of course. Only redheads can poke fun at red hair."
"You're the boss." Mulder grinned at her. "Now, about the bath?"
De-carroting their new daughter didn't take long with a team effort.
Two Nights Later
A pounding on the front door jolted Mulder out of a sound sleep. No one else seemed to have been woken yet, and wanting to keep it that way, he hurried down. The furious knocking had not abated, so Mulder was highly annoyed by the time he wrenched open the door.
A whey-faced James stood on the other side, his fist still upraised. "Mulder!"
"It's three am! What do you want?" A second later it occurred to him to wonder why James would have left his own little world, even though Mulder had given him the address earlier in the week.
"Can I come in?" James' voice shook.
"If you stop trying to wake Scully and the kids." He swung the door open to let him in.
James collapsed on the couch. "Everything is going to hell." He moaned.
"In what way?" Sleepiness made Mulder impatient.
"I think literally, maybe. Two days ago a man was brought to the hospital, unconscious. There was something wrong with his skin, it seemed gelatinous-"
James covered his face for a moment. When he looked up it was haunted. "And he was murdered horribly... Someone broke into his hospital room and carved up his chest..."
"James, that's not what happened. I told you that this creature would gestate-"
"I know!" James shouted. "I just..."
"Didn't want to believe me?" Mulder asked heatedly. "Thought I was crazy?"
"Yes." James didn't bother clarifying which guess he was responding to.
"What happened when it got loose?"
A violent tremor ripped through the other man's body. "It uh...uh..."
"What happened?" Mulder repeated.
"Two nurses. God. They're dead."
Mulder learned forward on his knees and gave James an intent look. "Did it get out of the hospital?"
"No! No. It's dead. Security shot it. Several times. The bullets more or less tore it apart."
"So something will kill them then."
James looked up. "You didn't know that?"
"We never killed one. They..." He trailed off. "Well, you wouldn't believe me if I told you how we got rid of them, but suffice to say it wasn't by killing them."
"But how can these, these things be a virus? A virus causes you to get a fever and chills, not to become a host for a parasite that rips you apart to get out and terrorize people!"
"It's an evolved pathogen, millions of years older than man. It was designed to take advantage of people spreading across the globe like locusts."
James raised his eyebrows in disbelief. "That implies that the virus was capable of predicting that man would not only come, but become the dominant species. That's not possible."
"It's not a virus in the way we're used to thinking of them. It's possible that they were able to predict what would happen with man, because they created man."
"A virus as God?" James' pale face looked faintly outraged. It surprised Mulder, because he hadn't thought of James as a potential believer.
He shook his head. "Not God, but other-worldly."
"You can't sit there and tell me that mankind was created by aliens."
"James, you live in an alternate dimension. Is this really so much harder to believe?"
James made a pushing away motion with his hands. "It doesn't matter what they are. We just need to find a way to deal with them."
"I already offered you a possible solution."
"Don't try to fool yourself." Mulder warned. "This won't be an isolated incident. There will be more of these things."
"So what if we do it your way and send as many people as possible here? What happens to those who can't come through?"
"They can fight back, or hide, try to ride it out," Mulder told him.
"You don't sound optimistic." James accused.
"I'm not. I've seen what these things are capable of."
"Then that's it, then? Either people live or they don't." James snapped.
James glared at him. "I sent Chip after you because I thought if anyone could help, it'd be the great X-Files agents." He scoffed.
"Special agents, not great." Mulder corrected mildly. "Unfortunately, we probably are your only hope whatsoever of salvaging this situation to any degree. You should have thought about dealing with a catastrophe before you made all those people there."
"I told you! I didn't know for years that this wasn't the real world. I didn't create these duplicates on purpose. I didn't know."
"Yet you expected us to be able to tidy up your mess without any problems." Mulder glowered. "And besides, I don't believe you. You probably suspected immediately that something had happened."
Something like surprised fear flicked across the other man's face before an affronted expression slammed back into place. "Of course not. It was just like home. How could I have known?"
"Whatever you say." He waved a dismissive hand, mimicking the gesture James made earlier. "I need to know where you stand. Do you want Scully and I to give you what help we can, or not?"
James had a thousand yard stare. After a few moments he snapped out of it. "Yes. Dammit, yes."
Mulder nodded slowly. "First things first. You have to convince people that this is real. Then we gather them together to discuss the problem."
"How am I supposed to do that?" James demanded to know.
Mulder shrugged. "You're a smart man. You'll think of a way."
Mulder walked him to the door. "We'll help you, but we're not taking all the responsibility. Whether you meant to or not, you made this mess. You're going to work at least as hard as we do to clean it up."
Before Mulder could shut the door, James looked back. "Why not here?"
"Why isn't the real world overrun with these monsters?"
Mulder had already thought about that, so he was ready with an answer. "You only duplicated the people you knew as a child. That meant my father, but not the men he was working with, or in some cases against, to keep the threat at bay. Apparently my father alone wasn't enough. Although, I'm not even sure that the people who created a vaccine that work on this side did it on purpose."
"Okay. I, uh, I'll contact you once I've arranged for people to meet with us."
"Have them gather at the divide," Mulder told him. "After sunset. We don't want to be in broad daylight when we work on this problem."
"Wouldn't it be more practical to have them gather in the Auditorium?"
"No." Then he firmly shut the door. Instead of watching James walk away, Mulder went back up to bed.
42 Hours Later
As they counted off the assembled crowd, Mulder decided that James was probably the scientist with the poorest counting skills that he'd ever met. Puzzled, he turned to the other man. "Are you sure this is everyone?"
James nodded emphatically. "I went door to door. That's why it took two days to arrange."
"How on Earth did you come up with the estimate that there are five thousand people in this world?" Mulder asked. "There aren't even two!"
"I...there just seemed like more," James said lamely.
"Whatever. This makes the problem more manageable, anyway."
"Are you ready?" James asked him, and Mulder nodded. James turned to address the crowd. "I'm sorry to have to bring everyone here tonight to tell you this, but there are serious problems in our little world."
A few people yelled questions, and James seemed to listen, but he didn't address them. "This will sound insane, but when I said 'our little world' I was being quite literal. You see, the world we live in has only existed for the past twenty-eight years-"
More people shouted, and they clearly heard one person ask "What the hell are you talking about, James?"
James took a deep breath, but didn't waver. "This is an alternate dimension that I'm ashamed to say I'm responsible for creating. I'm still not clear on how I managed it, but I did."
Angry mutterings converged, sounding like the waves at the ocean.
"The problem we're faced with is not that we live in another dimension, but that there are... dangerous creatures set loose amongst us." James turned his back and pointed at the slide projector that shared the stage with him. In a moment the image of the two torn apart nurses appeared fifteen feet high on the pair of screens behind him. Several people gasped in horror. "As you can see, these unfortunate souls were brutally attacked. This man here is Agent Mulder of the FBI. He's seen this in the real world too."
Mulder didn't smile as he looked out on the crowd. "I wish I could tell you folks tonight that James is a complete lunatic, but he's telling the honest truth. My partner and I work for a division of the FBI that is put in place to investigate paranormal cases, and the creatures that killed those nurses have killed a number of people. They're parasitic, and usually kill their host as they incubate. And after they gestate, they're able to kill readily, which is what happened to the women on the slides behind us."
"You really believe there's another world?" Someone yelled.
Mulder nodded. "I'm from that other world. In our world these creatures have been contained via a vaccine. Unfortunately, the vaccine was tried here as well within the past several days, and it doesn't work the same way here. My partner and I, and James as well, believe that the best way to prevent more deaths is to send as many people as possible into our world, and out of this one."
"Unfortunately," James spoke up. "Those people born before 1973 might not be able to cross over. People who have real world counterparts do not seem to be able to cross into the real world, though people from the real world can get here."
Mulder nodded. "I'm sure you're all filled with healthy skepticism, perhaps wondering if you're the butt of a joke on a hidden camera show. I assure you that you are not. However, I'm sure that the assurances of a complete stranger are empty at best, so I'm prepared to demonstrate the truthfulness of our claim as well."
That said, he jumped off the low stage and headed to the divide a few feet away. With no ado, he stepped from one world into the next. Even as he passed through, he heard gasps. The crowd of doubting Thomases were converted to believers by the time he reappeared before them.
"Where did you go?" A young man in his twenties shouted.
Mulder waved him forward. "See for yourself."
The guy swaggered forward, but he couldn't hide the shadow of fear lurking in his eyes. He barely hesitated before stepping across just as Mulder had moments before. He looked shell-shocked when he appeared before them again. "It's... it's not here," he told the crowd.
"Now, how about some people born before the 70s volunteering to try to get through?" James invited.
There was some hesitation, but eventually some brave souls stepped up to the challenge. After a few people tried to get through and couldn't there was real fear in the eyes of the crowd.
"If those monsters are real too, what are we going to do?" became a common refrain.
Mulder held up his hand, and to his surprise the crowd fell silent. "The first thing we need to do is to evacuate as many people as possible. This means we can get out everyone born after 1972 and anyone whose double has died."
Someone voiced the question on everyone's mind. "What about the rest of us?"
"You'll have to fight back," Scully said simply, speaking to them for the first time. "These creatures can be killed, and you will kill them. Or you'll die."
A new wave of panicky chatter began to build, and Mulder held up his hand again. "Since time is of the essence, we need to begin sorting people tonight. We can probably organize people on our side to pick people up tomorrow night."
"What happens once the kids are on the other side?" A woman asked. "If most people older than their late twenties can't go, there are going to be a lot of kids who can cross, but without their parents."
"That's a very intelligent question," Scully said. "Foster homes will be found for kids who need them. We're hoping, however, that some of them will be kept with adults who can go too."
This statement sent another buzz through the crowd. James decided to rein things in before they got out of hand. "We're going to begin the sorting now. We'll have three groups: In the first group I want everyone born in 1972 and 1973. In the second everyone born before 1971, and in the third everyone born from 1974 on."
Earlier in the day they'd put up banners in areas around the divide, and people began to congregate below the appropriate ones.
Mulder spoke up, "The first thing we're going to do is to see who in the first group can pass through, and who can't."
Those people, in the smallest group, looked willing enough to try it. The first few people who prepared to attempt to step across the divide looked scared to death, but Samantha and Scully were able to soothe them enough to get them to move. Within fifteen minutes or so, the hundred people in group one had all attempted to cross over.
The results weren't as promising as Mulder and James had hoped. Only sixty of them were able to cross over into what James still insisted on calling the Real World. The forty that hadn't been successful looked devastated, and everyone knew that would only be the tip of the iceberg.
It took the rest of the night and into dawn before they were able to sort the rest of the people. As suspected, everyone born after 1973 had been able to pass easily from one world to the other and back again. This proved that one had to at least have been conceived when James had created the smaller world to have a double.
People looked anxious, but no one protested when James declared that they'd begin moving the people who could cross over the next night. Mulder and Scully looked at James after the crowd dispersed, and he stared back, puzzled. "What?"
"How many do you think will sneak over tonight?" Mulder asked him.
James blinked. "Do you think some will?"
"Well, unless you want to post a guard…"
"No, of course not. I trust these people."
This made Mulder shrug his shoulders. "As long as some of them stick around to help with the kids on the other side, I guess I don't care what they do."
Before Mulder could turn to leave, James clapped him on the shoulder. "I know that we don't always see eye to eye, but thank you for helping in what could have been a disastrous situation."
Scully waited for James to leave before remarking, "Doesn't he realize it still could be?"
Mulder gave her a long look, but he couldn't find it in himself to disagree. "Come on, Scully. I bet Chip is sick of babysitting," he told her as he slung an arm around her waist.
She fit herself again his side, but craned her neck to look around. "Is it terrible that I won't miss this place once we've helped as much as we can?"
"No, not really. I don't suppose I'll miss it either."
She shivered a little, but not from the cold. "It's just too bad that some people will never be able to leave."
"It's only too bad now that they know. I wish we hadn't had to tell them." Mulder admitted.
"It would have been unconscionable not to, Mulder. Not with those…things loose in this world."
"I know. It's just…" He trailed off, and they both let the subject drop.
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