Act one: Scrabble
Prologue Chapter 1 Chapter 2 Chapter 3 Chapter 4 Chapter 5 Chapter 6 Chapter 7
Chapter 8 Chapter 9 Chapter 10 Chapter 11 Chapter 12 Chapter 13 Chapter 14 Chapter 15
Chapter 16

Act Two: The Game of Life
Chapter 17 Chapter 18 Chapter 19 Chapter 20 Chapter 21 Chapter 22 Chapter 23 Chapter 24 Chapter 25

Act Three: Etch-A-Sketch Shake
Chapter 26 Chapter 27 Chapter 28 Chapter 29 Chapter 30 Chapter 31 Chapter 32 Chapter 33 Chapter 34



Title: We Who Remain Carry On

Author: Neoxphile

Archive: Link only please, using the url http://www.mulderscreek.com/weteaser.html

Feedback: Um...no thanks. Maybe later?

Rating: R with occasional NC-17 aspirations

Spoilers: Seasons 8-9, but becomes AU 37 minutes and 42 seconds into Existence

Category: Angst! Babyfic; Slow building MRR/Mulder-Reyes friendship(with some remembered MSR and Doggett/Reyes UST thrown in); Character Death(Scully)

Summary: A birth. A death. A rejection. Two people left to pick up the pieces.

Author's note: This fic was inspired in part by two different things. a. There are many Scully/Doggett fics about what if Mulder died/stayed dead after "This is Not Happening"; this is the flip side of that coin. b. Reading the scenario in SnickJF's fic In The End gave me the jolt to properly work out what I'd been pondering about a for a long while prior. If you read her fic, I'm sure you'll see the connection =)

Last Updated: 1/18/12, chapter 34.





 

Prologue-

Blood on snow. That was the first image his mind fastened on, but he soon realized his error. It wasn't snow at all, rather it was the clean white linens Reyes had found when Scully had gone into labor.

About the blood, however, his brain had been correct.

End prologue-




Act One: Scrabble

Chapter One

May 20th, 2001

The first thing Mulder heard when he finally found them was not "you have a son." It was Reyes' half-hysterical voice speaking to someone, a 911 operator. "There's so much blood, too much. I'm afraid she's bleeding to death."

Bursting into the room, he saw that Reyes was right; birth wasn't supposed to be that bloody. As he rushed to Scully's side he barely heard Reyes tell him that they promised that an ambulance would be there in 30 minutes. He glanced over at her. How could she be standing in a pool of blood, talking about minutes?

Holding Scully's pale, limp, hand, he knew that 30 minutes wouldn't be soon enough. Even as he spoke to her, pleading for her hang on, assuring her that he loved her above all else, a cold rational part of his brain insisted that he face reality. She was going to die, and there was nothing he or Reyes could do to alter the course events had been set upon. Nothing.

The ambulance wailed into the driveway within 20 minutes. Scully was already gone, her life snuffed out like a candle.

As EMTs came in and went through the motions, he kept expecting her to open her eyes and smile, amused by the joke she'd made them the butt of. Never had he so long to be proven wrong. Never. After a time the EMTs spoke in whispered council, shaking their heads. "I'm sorry." One of them offered. "Where is the child?"

Mulder started at them in puzzlement. Surely there were no children in that abandon town. Then the fog of grief abated slightly; they meant his child. His and Scully's. A panic then filled him. He hadn't seen or heard a baby. Had Billy Miles or one like him stolen his only link to Scully? Or worse, had death come for not one victim, but two?

Ten seconds before Mulder's panicky grief would have destroyed him, Reyes reached into a cradle that had been shoved in a dim corner like an abandoned plaything. The creature in her hands gave a heart-broken bleat as he reached for it. His child. Scully's child.

To his relief, the child looked normal. Nothing like those things in jars that he and Doggett had discovered. Nothing like alien babies that Scully told him about fearfully one night.

"It's a boy," Reyes said, her voice husky, her brown eyes filled with unshed tears. "She said she'd like to name him for your fathers, if it was a boy, but I don't even know the name."

"William," he said, studying the baby's face. He couldn't find a trace of anyone he knew. "William Mulder and William Scully."

The EMT who said he was sorry spoke again. "We'll have to bring your son to the hospital, but if you need a few minutes, we can bring... the mother out to the bus now while you have some time with the baby."

After an eternity, Mulder nodded. Scully would have wanted him to focuses attention on the living. Their son. Reyes.

As soon as the stretcher was outside, and the door closed, Mulder looked at Reyes. "Show me your neck," he demanded harshly.

The hand not cradling his infant son hovered near his waist; if she refused, he would shoot her. Not that it would have had much effect on her if she was one of them. It would be something, an alternative to his helplessness, and that might be enough.

To his relief she grabbed her hair with one hand, pulling it aside to reveal a smooth neck that contained no more bumps than it ought to. She was as human as he was. "I didn't kill her, Mulder. She was just too weak and bled too much."

"I had to be sure," he whispered.

They let him ride in the ambulance too. It seemed perverse him that William and Scully were transported in the same vehicle. Living baby for the nursery, dead mother for the morgue. The last glimpse he had a Reyes for three days was that of her weary face framed by one of the door's window.




Once they took William away to the nursery, Mulder didn't know what to do. If his life was a compass, Scully had been the needle. With the needle broken, he was useless and could tell no direction. For an hour or so he paced the corridors of the hospital, trying to gather his oh-so-elusive thoughts.

Eventually, one of the nurses came out and spoke to him. "Your son is fine, but we'd like to keep him 48 hours for observation."

"Why?" It was a two-year-old's meaningless question, but he didn't feel much brighter.

"No matter what the circumstances of a child's birth, we like to keep them for a day or two to make sure they don't have any health problems that aren't immediately evident. Things like a heart condition or hydrocephalia might not be diagnosable immediately." She seemed suddenly aware of the horror in his eyes because she hastened to add, "Not that the baby doesn't seem perfectly healthy."

"I see, a policy to cover the hospital's collective butt." Mulder's heart-rate slowed back to normal.

All of the sudden, a new worry hit. "How am I going to get him home? You're not supposed to fly with a newborn, right?" Scully had checked all the websites, when they thought they might go on a vacation over the summer. They all said two to three weeks at the youngest on a plane.

"It's usually not advisable. I suppose you'll have to drive."

Ten hours by car with a two-day-old baby. Resisting the urge to throw a tantrum, he merely nodded. "Okay. I'll have to buy a car seat tonight."

"Does the baby have a name? If so, perhaps you might like to see a clerk to fill out the birth certificate."

Mulder didn't know why she suggested that just then, but then, there could have been a connection, and he'd just missed it. He felt like he was missing a lot of things.

The nurse led him to the clerk's office, but before she left she stopped and looked at him. "Have you informed Ms. Scully's family about...her passing?"

It hadn't even occurred to him yet. "No."

"If you would like, we can have a doctor tell call."

Deep in his soul, Mulder was convinced that Maggie Scully would hate him if he let a stranger tell her that her daughter had died. "I, um, I want to call her mother. But could you have someone call her partner at the FBI and her superior?"

"Of course, Mister Mulder." She waited while he wrote down Doggett and Skinner's names and numbers on a scrap of paper. It was probable that Reyes had already informed both men, but he thought it would be good for them to hear it from an official source.

Fifteen minutes later, Mulder left the clerk's office, after having spelled out his son's first, middle and last names for him. It was the first time he'd ever seen the word "deceased" next to a mother's name on a birth certificate.




"Maggie, it's Fox."

She was on her guard from the first word. "Is there something wrong?"

"Yes..."

"Did something happen to the baby?" Her voice was laced with panic.

"The baby is fine. He's perfect. It's Dana. I'm so sorry, Maggie. She died."

she asked in a strained voice, "How did it happen?"

"I'm not sure yet. So far they're saying 'excessive blood loss during delivery' but they'll have to do an autopsy to know for sure."

"So it was giving birth?" Maggie paused so long that he thought the connection had been broken. "I thought you were going to say that it was job related."

"No, just human fragility."

"Yes." Another pause. "Fox, do you mind if I make the funeral arrangements?"

He marveled at how calm she sounded; maybe it was just numbness. "I don't mind at all. I wouldn't even know where to begin. I'm going to be checking into a hotel soon, so I guess you should call me on my cell if you need to talk to me. They say I can take William home in two days."

"You named him William."

Mulder couldn't tell if she was pleased or not by the name choice. "That's what Dana wanted."

"I'll see you in two days, Fox."




Gasping, Mulder woke in a cold sweat, alone in a strange hotel room. He struggled to sit up so he could turn on the light. A glance at his watch told him that it was 4 a.m., and he was reminded that he'd been meaning to get a watch with an illuminated dial for a while. It just kept slipping his mind.

Thinking of something as mundane as timepieces calmed him a little, because it helped loosen the grip his dream had on him. It wasn't really a nightmare, but it was even more devastating in its own way.

Somehow, in the dream, he and Scully had been mysteriously transported from Georgia to her apartment, without the inconvenience of travel with a tiny infant. It was supposed to be the first time he saw his son, and they were saying all these pretty dreamlike things about the baby. A joke about the baby looking like Skinner, an exchange about them knowing the truth about William all along...

Mulder threw himself back onto the mattress. This was not the time to be thinking about what might have been. The baby needed him to keep his thoughts on the future as it would be. Still, it would be nice to let his thoughts linger on a pleasant lie. It took until his cheeks were slick for him to realize he'd been crying since he'd woken from the dream.




Mexico

The ring of the phone startled Neva Reyes out of a sound sleep. She peered blearily at the caller ID box her daughter had sent her for Christmas, and exhaled a hiss of alarm.

"What's wrong, hija?" she asked as soon as she picked up.

There was some sniffing on the other end of the line. "Oh, Mama, something terrible happened tonight."

"Dios..." Neva muttered. She cast a look to the other side of the bed out of habit, and remembered, as she had so many times in the pervious eight months, that she was alone. Jorge was not beside her any longer. Being a new widow wasn't easy on anyone. "Tell me what happened. Are you hurt?"

"No, I'm fine..." Reyes broke off again, worrying her mother, since she didn't sound "fine." "There was this other FBI agent, a woman I knew a little, who was in danger, so they thought she ought to go into hiding, since people were after her baby-"

"Someone wanted to kidnap her baby?"

"It wasn't born yet. My friend John called me and asked me to take her, so I did...she went into labor..."

"Was the pobre babe stillborn?" Neva guessed when Reyes didn't continue.

"The baby is okay, I think. He's with his father, anyway. It was the other agent. She died. Una mar del sangre..."

The mental picture of an ocean of blood made Neva shudder. "Did the bad men find her, or was it giving birth?"

"They found us, but they didn't do anything. It was having the baby that killed her."

"How horrible."

"The paramedics said that there was nothing I could have done, but..."

"But you blame yourself anyway," Neva guessed.

"Wouldn't you?"

"Yes, I would. But I was raised Catholic and I'd hoped but I hadn't passed the tendency for senseless guilt onto you," Neva said sadly.

Reyes' words tumbled out in a rush. "But I shouldn't have... she was a doctor herself, and said that everything would be ok, but I shouldn't have listened. Should have insisted we go to the hospital, even if it would have been dangerous there too."

Neva made of scoffing sound. "This woman, if she was anything like you... would you have listened in her place?"

"No. I probably wouldn't have. Agent Scully probably wouldn't have. No, I know she wouldn't have gone willingly. She was too scared for her baby to be much concerned about her own safety," Reyes grudgingly admitted.

"So what would you do, drag her there? It doesn't sound as though you could have made her go to the hospital without using physical force."

"But Mama..."

"No buts. It's tragic that the woman died, but don't think, from what you've said, that things could have turned out much differently given the circumstances."

"Maybe."

"Hija, save your guilt for things you actually have done wrong," Neva advised.




Chapter Two

May 22rd, 2001
5 p.m.

At the hospital, he'd feared for a few minutes that they weren't going to let him take William with him. In his more morbid imaginings, he became increasingly convinced that the doctors were going to spring some horrible surprise on him, and confess they hadn't kept his son hostage two days because it was standard operating procedure, but because there was something horribly, fatally wrong with the infant.

Or just as bad, he'd arrive at the hospital, and be told in hushed tones that they were awfully sorry, but someone had snatched the baby out of the nursery. Then the rest of his days would be spent looking for his child, much as most of his life had already been spent looking for his sister. The thought of losing his son too brought tears to his eyes, which weren't really safe while driving.

When he got to the hospital, however, which he'd only left long enough over the previous two days to sleep at night, no one had any grim greetings for him. But they'd left him waiting in the hallway, clutching the handle of the baby seat he was beginning to become paranoid was not adequate enough, and that would be the thing to keep him from leaving with William. He could buy another, but his mind wandered, imagining returning to the hospital again and again with a succession of inappropriate car seats, each time being turned away until he could find the right one, a car seat in a haystack.

At last a nurse came into the waiting room, with William in her arms. "There's Daddy, ready to take you home."

"Is this car seat okay?" Mulder blurted out before quite thinking it through. He wished he hadn't brought the issue up.

She didn't even bat her eyes; apparently nervous new parents said a lot of strange things. "Looks good to me. You have a safe drive, you hear?"

"We will," Mulder said, looking up from strapping William into the seat. It alarmed him slightly that the baby seemed not to have any bones. Jello wouldn't have been much more of a challenge to secure.

"Bye-bye, little William." The nurse cooed to the baby. "Good luck, Mister Mulder."

"Uh, thanks."

He was about to leave when person rushed up to him, this one not wearing a nurse's uniform. He recognized her attire, though. He'd seen Scully in something like it many times. "Oh good, I caught you before you left." The woman thrust a bag into his hands. "These are Ms. Scully's personal affects. I thought that you or the family would want them."

Mulder felt the hard edges of her cross through the plastic. It was the only thing of importance. "Thank you."

As soon as she turned down another hallway, he had the mad urge to clutch the baby seat to his chest, and run for the exit as fast as he could, before anyone realized that he was complete unqualified to care for this little person.




Driving home to DC was every bit the hell Mulder had imagined. There had been times, impromptu visits to the CDC, that they'd driven from Atlanta to DC in nine and a half hours. Of course they'd driven, actually he'd driven, a little faster than the bureau would have liked him to in a commissioned vehicle, but there'd never been a mishap. This trip took close to thirteen hours, partly because Democrat Hot Springs was south of Atlanta, but mostly because of William. They drove all night. As it was, they barely had time for a nap before the funeral.

They stopped every two hours the entire ride home. Mulder began to look out for restrooms with a baby-changing symbol on the men's room door. There were some "family" restrooms, but after using the second one and realizing he was the only adult male in there, he began to get upset by the curious looks the mothers gave him. He had as much a right to be there as they did, but he felt wrong and intruding. Fortunately, there were many men's rooms with changing tables.

Feeding William was a far less nerve-wracking proposition. The already liquid formula didn't need heating or cooling, so he was in business as soon as he filled a bottle. It alarmed him that he'd already used up half of the dozen burping blankets he'd bought; the baby book he'd bought from the hospital gift shop assured him that a dozen would be plenty. It made him worry that too much of what William was being fed didn't stay in him, but the book also claimed he'd cry if he was hungry, and William rarely cried.

That was the only nice thing about the car trip, a lot less crying than he anticipated. He was rarely so glad to see his apartment as he was that morning when he pulled into the parking lot with his child.




May 23rd, 2001

Once inside the apartment, William slept soundly in his bassinet, and Mulder tried to sleep too, knowing that it was best to sleep when the baby did. After waking up every twenty minutes for two hours, he gave up and looked for a pressed suit to wear to the funeral.

At eleven o'clock they were standing by Scully's casket, out in the cemetery Maggie had arranged for the funeral to be conducted at. Someone, Maybe Maggie, bought a black baby blanket to wrap William in. Though he was too tired to argue against using it, it made Mulder angry that such a thing even existed. How many newborns attended funerals?

It wasn't supposed to have happened this way. He, with is not very well-developed self-preservation instinct, was supposed to die first. If, God forbid, Scully died before him, it was supposed to have been in the line of duty. A heroic death. Not having been cut down by her own body. Hadn't her remission from cancer proven as much?

He could barely endure the pitying looks cast at him and the bundle cradled in his arms. Maggie. Her two sons, Bill junior surprisingly cordial, not apparently blame him for her death; perhaps merely contributing DNA to the situation was a forgivable offense in his book. Skinner. Kimberly. Doggett, who Mulder barely knew. Reyes, whom he knew even less. Frohike, Langly, Byers... all of them staring with sad eyes. It wasn't supposed to be like this.

Eventually Mulder realize that the priest was speaking. A priest. He wondered what Scully would have thought of that. The priest had been Maggie's idea.

"...today we entrust your servant, Dana Katherine Scully, to you, Lord. We who remain carry on, remembering the departed. Dana's mother, Maggie, her brothers Charlie and Bill, her son William Dana Mulder, the boy's father, Fox..."

He stopped listening after that.

The priest had asked for people to say a few words, but just an hour later Mulder could no longer remember what he said. All he could recall was the tears in his eyes and the weight of his son in his arms.

Agent Reyes hesitantly approached him at the funeral's end. "Is he... okay?"

Mulder looked down a William, who was sleeping soundly in the crook of his arm. As okay as a motherless newborn could be. He gave the woman a wan smile. "In perfect health."

A very faint smile tugged at her lips. "I'm glad to hear that."

"She hemorrhaged, nothing contagious," Mulder told her, shifting the baby's blanket to block a wind that it suddenly blown up. "You should know that there wasn't anything you could have done. They said... it was so bad she probably would have died in a proper hospital too." He gave the shuddery sigh at memory of the coroner's words. "I didn't want you to think it was your fault or anything."

"Thank you. This might not mean very much since we don't know each other well, but I'm sorry for your loss. I didn't know agent Scully very well either, but she struck me as a remarkable woman."

"She was remarkable," he agreed." I'll never love anyone else as much as I loved her. Except maybe William."

Reyes gave them a sad smile. It might be true, but it was still one of the saddest things she'd ever heard.




Most of the mourners left almost immediately after the funeral-Reyes disappeared as soon as their conversation was over. The gunmen, clearly uncomfortable, stayed only long enough to tell him that they were "Really sorry about everything."

As if sensing how lost he felt now that the funeral was over, Maggie Scully came over to talk him. "Fox..." She gave him a look he couldn't quite read. Grief mixed with something else. "What are you going to do now?" She held out her arms, and he placed William in them.

"About what?" he asked blankly. Knowing that William would be going home with him, he had given the gunmen keys to Scully's empty apartment and collected all of the baby things she had bought. It was too painful to go there himself, and they had agreed that he couldn't leave the baby to do it himself.

"About William, Fox."

"I have a car seat," he told her, still not quite understanding what she was getting at. "So he'll be safe on the ride home."

"You're going to keep him, then?" She swayed a little as she spoke, and he made a mental note that the baby seemed to like that.

"Why wouldn't I?"

"A baby is a lot of work for a single man."

"You aren't implying that a man is less capable of parenting than a woman, are you, Maggie?" He tried to keep his tone light, but he wasn't sure he liked where the conversation seemed likely to be headed.

"Some men make capable single parents, others do not. Had something happened to me when the kids were small, I wouldn't have been surprised if Bill gave them up. He was a good man, but not up to taking care of four children on his own." Not like her, the tone implied, and he wondered how happy she'd been with William Scully leaving her alone for months on end. Not very, from the sound of it.

"Luckily, William is an only child." His voice was light, but the realization stung him the moment he said it. William would never had any brothers or sisters.

"I'm glad you're keeping him, Fox. But I'm afraid that I'm not going to be able to offer you much help. The only thing that kept me here after Bill senior died was Dana. Charlie wants me to move nearer his family, and I think that I'm going to."

You don't need my permission, he thought. "I'm glad you'll be near family."

"Yes, well...I planned on being the involved grandmother, but...just not to this grandchild."

"Uh, okay."

"If you need me to help I could put the move off..."

"No Maggie, we'll be fine." Mulder glanced over his shoulder to a man gathering up folding chairs. "But I do need a favor from you right now."

"Anything, Fox."

"Tell me what Bill junior is thinking about William and me," Mulder begged. "I need to know if he's going to be an obstacle."

Maggie shook her head. "He's not going to give you any trouble."

"Why?"

She blushed a little. "We had a little talk. He was upset and spouting about wanting you to take a DNA test to prove that William was yours. First I asked him if he thought it was fair to subject a newborn to a blood test on a whim, and while he stammered about that, I went on to ask him if he thought that his sister slept around. That stopped him in his tracks."

Mulder impulsively hugged her, taking care not to squash the baby. "I love you, Maggie. Thank you for looking out for us."

"Just take good care of my grandson for me. I want lots of pictures."

"I will. And you'd better get an e-mail account, so I can fill your inbox with pictures."




Thinking of all the movies and books that suggested that churches were a place to find peace, Mulder carried the baby inside. He needed to feel peace, though he doubted that he would. To his surprise, he noticed Skinner on a pew in the almost empty church. It had been his assumption that Skinner wouldn't have hung around any longer than the gunmen had, and made him wonder where Skinner had been while he talked to Reyes and Maggie.

The look on Skinner's face made it quite clear that he wished to speak to Mulder, so Mulder went over to him. "Sir?"

Instead of answering Skinner looked at William. "He has Scully's eyes," Skinner said at length.

In his head, Mulder could hear Scully explaining the almost all white babies are born with blue eyes. "I think so too. Did you want to hold him?" It seemed to Mulder that everyone did.

Skinner grimaced. "Thanks but no thanks. I'm not good with babies. I suppose it's a good thing that Sharon and I never had kids."

"Sure." Mulder couldn't think of another thing to say. He wondered if Skinner had imagined Scully bringing William to the Hoover building to meet him and everyone else. He knew that it's how he'd pictured things...

"I know you're sick of this, but I wish this hadn't happened. Scully was a good agent. A good woman. A good friend. We're all going to miss her," Skinner said gruffly.

"Not half as much as I will."

"Of course. I just wanted you to know...that you're not alone in your grief. Sometimes it's hard to remember that."

"Thank you, Sir."

"He should go home and get some rest, Mulder. You look like you haven't slept."

"It's just a new parenting thing," Mulder said dismissively. "I hear that newborns are known to keep two parents up too. And this kid, well... he just as me. And I'm a pretty poor excuse for parent."

"Don't sell yourself short. You're just... inexperienced. If you can take on world-wide conspiracy, going to be a good parent should be easy for you."

"For William's sake, I sure hope so."




By ten thirty, Mulder was utterly convinced that he could do nothing right, never would do anything right, and never had done anything right. No matter what he did, William would not stop crying.

William wasn't too hot, or too cold, wasn't hungry, didn't have gas, didn't want to be held or put down, didn't need his diaper changed... it seemed like all he did want was to cry. Mulder was beginning to want to cry too.

After Maggie's polite brush-off, Mulder was afraid to call her. All that would come of that would be that she'd think he was incompetent, and change her mind about moving on with her life. He'd been responsible for too much pain in the woman's life already, so he couldn't bear the thought of giving her another reason to resent him. She said she didn't already, but he couldn't think of how it was possible that she didn't.

Instead, as he held the inconsolable baby in his arms, he tried to think of what his parents would do in the same situation. These thoughts caused him to grimace. Faced with a screaming baby, probably him since he couldn't remember much wailing from Samantha, Bill Mulder would have gotten fed up, fleeing the house to spend the rest of the night in the local bar. Teena, for her part, probably would picked him up, brought him to his room, and left him in crib to cry himself to sleep.

Rocking William, he chided himself for being a revisionist. Things with his parents hadn't been that bad when he was little, they'd only gone south after Samantha disappeared. "Shhh, shhh, you're making Daddy crazy, William. Don't tell me you're going to be like this until you can talk. They'll come with a net to take me away, and then who'll look after you?"

This argument didn't sway William in the least.

Eventually, Mulder's tired arms ached so much that he had to put William down in the bassinet. Admitting defeat, Mulder grabbed the phone-book and began thumbing through the yellow pages.

"Dial-a-nurse, how may I assist you?"

"I think my new son hates me," Mulder admitted.

The nurse on the other end chuckled. "How old is he?"

"Three days old. Look, his mother died... He won't stop crying, and the baby books aren't any help."

"How long has be been crying? It sounds like he's got healthy lungs."

The nurse's question made him nervous. Was she talking notes? Was she in contact with Social services? Maybe he shouldn't give his real name. "About 45 minutes."

"I've got bad news for you, sir. Sometimes newborns cry for no apparent reason. Current research suggests that they might be trying to adjust to their new environment, and crying helps their systems acclimate."

"Really."

"Yes. You're probably doing everything right, but he'll still cry. If it goes on for less than two hours, I wouldn't worry about it. Of course, it's easier to say that than actually keep one's self from worrying." She chuckled again, and for some reason that put Mulder more at ease.

"Thank you."

"Oh, sir? I hope it doesn't happen, but in a month or so if you notice that his crying becomes far more constant, you might want to check with his pediatrician about colic. That doesn't start until one month, usually. Your doctor should be able to tell you more when you bring him in for his two-week check up."

Check up? Mulder thought, I have to find a doctor for William! "You've been helpful," Mulder told the nurse.

"Is it just me, or has he quieted down?"

Mulder looked over at the bassinet in surprise. William was asleep. "You're right!"

"Have a good night, sir."

"You too."

After Mulder hung up, he returned to his sleeping son. "Look, kid, I know you'd prefer to have your mom taking care of you, and I won't lie to you, I would too. Even though she didn't have other kids either-" he paused, wondering if Emily counted since Scully had never been able to raise her." - but she at least seemed confident that she'd know what she was doing. Me? Not so confident. I'm a nervous wreck. But I'm all you've got. I'm going to make mistakes. Lots of them. Hopefully I won't screw up as badly as my parents did, and you'll turn out a little more stable than I did. You and me, William, we'll make this work together." Even asleep, William turned his head when Mulder brushed his cheek.

Mulder thought about rolling the bassinet into the bedroom, but the thought of unearthing his bed made him feel even more exhausted. The only time he had used the bed had been the nights Scully was over, and they'd spent far more time at her place than his, so it'd fallen into neglect, completely covered in clothes and other hastily tossed items.

So he settled down on the couch instead, which was more comforting than the bed would have been anyway since it didn't remind him nearly as much about her. As Mulder drifted off, he thought he heard a strange squeaking noise, but it didn't sound like a baby, so he allowed himself to drift off before thinking much about it.




Chapter Three

May 24th, 2001
6 a.m.

you	should		go

no there's no reason to.

But Iwant youto.

Is that a reason?

itwould be		safer.

For who?	
	
	Every body

Not me

Yes 			you andallthechildren small and wee 

But why?

Your head is full of milk

When he opened his eyes, the dream shattered. He shook his head to clear it. It didn't make sense. At first the dream seemed to be a continuation of the one he'd had the night Scully had died, but they'd been happy in that dream. In this one Scully was urging him to leave her and William, and each time he refused her argument became more muddled and surreal, so in the end it was like trying to argue with an ee cummings poem.

Rolling onto his side, he peered at William's bassinet. How could he even dream that it would be safer for anyone that he left? Or that Scully of all people would have been the one to urge him to do so? Maybe it was his brain's way of telling him that he resented Scully for leaving them. As if he didn't already feel guilty for knowing that.




The dream left Mulder shaken. No matter how often he tells himself that the dreams don't predict the future, he can't rid himself of the feeling that perhaps the latest dream was a warning. He must be even more careful with his son then he already has been.

This led him to feeling guilty about the times he left William alone the day before. He'd peed several times and he'd even taken a shower before the funeral, for God's sake! Any one of those times could've been the opening the kidnapper was waiting for. How could he been so shortsighted? William was depending on him, dammit!

Luckily Frohike picked up on the first ring. "Hey, Fro, It's Mulder. I need a favor."

"What kind of favor?" Frohike asked suspiciously.

"One of the completely legal but yet slightly embarrassing kind."

"Tell me."

"I need someone to buy a baby seat."

"I thought you already had one. Didn't you have one at the funeral yesterday? And how did you get the baby home from of the hospital all the distance without a car seat?"

"I have one," Mulder grumbled. "I need another one."

"Why?"

"You don't want to know."




By the time Frohike left and Mulder had managed to get the new baby seat out of the box and set up, Mulder really, really, really had to pee. He considered going out to the car to get the car seat, but then he decided that it wasn't worth the risk. Besides, many many visits to baseball stadiums had taught him how to hold it for prolonged period of time.

Still, he was dancing from foot to foot as he retrieved his son from the bassinet. Fortunately, William seemed to enjoy being rocked so he didn't vocalize any objections.

Once he got into the bathroom, however, a new problem presented itself. Where was the best spot to put the baby seat? Eventually he settled on a putting it inside a perfectly dry bathtub. Bathtubs are only dangerous to babies if they actually have some water in them, he reasoned as he unzipped his fly.

Mulder could hardly think of the time in his life when he'd been more happy to finally been able to pee.




6 p.m.

The first thing Reyes did when she got to her hotel was to check up the front best to see if there had been any messages from her realtor. The hotel clerk, a bored looking young man, flipped through the message book and told her that no one had called for her. Reyes thanked him, but for all the in response she got she could've been speaking to a wall.

She was beginning to feel deeply annoyed. The realtor promised that he would help her find an apartment that day. He might feel no sense of urgency about her housing situation, but she did. It had been almost a week since she agreed to join the X-Files, and a week was too long to stay a hotel. It was expensive and she felt unsettled. Given the state of her finances, she's decided she had about two weeks before she would have to begin looking at roommate wanted ads the local grocery stores. Reyes smirked as she thought it; who knew what kind of psycho she could end up with as a roommate?

After signing deeply she kicked off her shoes and picked up her cell phone- it was really about time that she considered getting answering service on her cell phone, and she could avoid the bored jerk at the front desk. "Hi I'd like to speak to Tony please... Tony, I thought we agree the you would call and leave a message today letting me know what you found my price range... you're sure? Yes, I understand you can't work miracles... that would be great. I hope we have better luck tomorrow... I suppose the market changing daily is a good thing. Thanks, talk to tomorrow."

Looking for housing really sucked. Crumpling onto the bed, she wished that someone at the Hoover building specialized helping agents relocate. It was to the FBI's benefit in that they did, so why didn't they help out the people that were helping them? She considered calling her mother to complain, but thought Neva would tell her was that she raised her better than to think that life is fair; she didn't think she could deal with her mother being right too.




May 26th, 2001
10 a.m.

Why didn't anyone tell me that babies went through approximately 100 diapers a day, and that I'd run out of laundry detergent a mere three days after bringing William home? Because that's the sort of thing people tell new mothers, not new fathers, he thought grumpily as he pushed the shopping cart down the isles at Wal-mart.

William didn't seem to mind the impromptu shopping trip, lying slumped in the baby seat he slept through it all. Mulder, awake and agitated, made up for it by being annoyed enough for the both of them. It wasn't the shopping he minded so much, it was the other shoppers.

Inevitably, women would see the infant's flaming red hair, and be drawn to come over, like moths to a porch light. Unfortunately for them, he didn't like moths, and if another woman tried to touch his son's hair with her grubby hands, he was going to swat her the way pesky insects should be dealt with. He'd known that red hair attracts attention, and not just from the covetous eyes of men, from being out and about with Scully, but she'd never mentioned that the comments and attempts at touching were nearly constant when a redhead was small. No wonder she'd flinched away when strange old women moved their hands towards her hair...

Worse yet, were the comments; this was because "Oh, what a cute baby, and such lovely red hair!" was always followed up by "Must have got that from Mommy. Where is she?" Like it was any of their concern, really, as to where she was. What were they thinking, Will was too small by game warden's rules, but his mom would be big enough to bag and stuff to put on display?

He experimented with ways to say that Scully was dead. "She's in heaven, looking down on us," "Dead," "I'm not sure, last I saw her she was headed down I-9 without looking back," "It's just us guys from here on out." But no matter how fiction he put it, they always knew. Then they wanted to smother them both with sympathy, and he began thinking of moths again. "Fuck off, Lady" began to have its appeal as a response.

After what seemed like an eternity, Mulder left laden down with bags. Shopping was such a harrowing experience that he'd bought extras of everything. More than twice as much as he thought would be adequate for a couple of weeks. And if William outgrew things before supplies ran out, Mulder wasn't adverse to donating things to charity.




2 p.m.

The shrill ring of his phone had Mulder cursing under his breath. He'd meant to change it to something more soothing, perhaps Bram's Lullaby, but he hadn't gotten around to it yet. To his shock, it didn't wake William, so he slowly exhaled the breath he hadn't even realized he'd been holding.

"Fox Mulder."

"Agent Mulder, this is Alvin Kersh."

"Not agent any longer, as you well know, sir," Mulder said pointedly. "It's just Fox Mulder now."

"That's actually what I called to talk to you about...Mulder." The pause made it clear that he didn't feel comfortable calling him by first name. "I had a proposition for you."

"What sort of proposition?" Mulder asked warily.

There was an audible sigh from the other end of the line. "I don't know how to say this without sounding crass, but since you don't like me anyway, I'm going to be blunt. I've been authorized to offer you reinstatement now that Agent Scully is no longer...with us."

"Now that she's dead I'm fit to return to the X-Files?" Mulder asked bitterly.

"More or less." Kersh sighed again. "I think they're afraid of what will happen to the X-Files if neither you nor Scully are at the helm."

"I thought no one cared about the X-Files. Shouldn't they be pleased that with Scully and I gone there's no reason not to shut it down?"

"Someone wants it open, Mulder. I don't know why, and I don't care enough to ask. If I were you, I'd keep my suspicions to myself and take the opportunity that presents itself without asking questions."

Mulder didn't say anything for a long moment. Three months earlier he would have jumped at the chance for reinstatement, but so much had changed... "For once I agree with you. At the moment, however, I'm not sure I can. Scully's mother made it very clear to me that since she's moving soon she's not going to be able to spend a lot of time with my son-"

"The daycare at the Hoover Building takes kids as young as six weeks," Kersh told him. "I'll have someone reserve a spot for your son. We'll expect you to return then."

Mulder blinked. He didn't even know that the building had a daycare. "All right, then. See you in five weeks. Sir, before you hang up, can I ask you a question?"

"What do you want to know?" Kersh's voice sounded wary.

"A couple of days ago, did Doggett and Reyes investigate a case involving a ship and tainted water?"

"No, Mulder."

"Oh, okay. Just checking to make sure I'm not having prophetic dreams." Mulder laughed weakly. The dream had upset him, mostly because Scully had been in it, and she'd been more than half convinced that there was something wrong with William.

"Mulder? I'm sorry about Scully." Kersh's words stunned him. So many people had said those very words to him in the last four days, but he never expected them to come out of Alvin Kersh's mouth. "I'll let you go, so you can look after that baby of yours."



William woke up soon afterwards, and didn't seem to be in the mood to be pacified. As a last resort, Mulder tried something he'd read in one of the parenting books he'd been frantically consuming. His belief in miracles was reaffirmed when laying the baby on his lap and rubbing his back did calm him.

As he rubbed small circles, he thought about the offer for reinstatement. Unexpected and crass as it was, it did solve one of the worries he had for the immediate future - money. He had a fair amount saved up, given that he didn't have a lot to spend money on and that he'd inherited a good deal from his parents, but raising a child was expensive, so he'd rather had a steady income rather than be wholly dependent on depleting his savings.

And, he reasoned, the X-Files would be an easy place to leave if he ever decided that is casework was getting too dangerous for a single parent. All he would have to do would be to piss off Kersh or somebody else and get himself fired again. The thought made him chuckle a little; he was sure that the HR department never considered putting "easy dismissal" under the list of FBI benefits. It made him wonder how many people took advantage of something like that. At least until he was distracted by William's need for diaper change.




"And what if something goes wrong? If you're a doctor, you know the risks. You're unprepared here." The words of the creature who had replaced the game warden rang in Reyes' ears. Mulder might forgive her and Neva Reyes might believe that there was nothing she could have done differently, but she wasn't sure if she forgave herself. Even if there was only a slight chance that she could have been saved, they ought to have gone to the hospital.

Her mind kept returning to the lingering guilt she felt about Scully's death, because in a way, it was a welcoming distraction. She'd rather feel guilty than stupid. And lately, she felt really stupid.

Why is it, she wondered, that people tend to build things up in their mind, out of nothing? That is clearly what she'd done, in regards to John Doggett. She'd thought, years ago, that there had been some chemistry between them, but he'd been grieving for his son, and still in a shaky marriage. So she'd respectfully kept her distance. Now, however, it had been years since Luke's death, and Doggett had been divorced nearly as long. There was nothing to stop them from exploring what they'd had in the past.

Except it turned out that Doggett was completely uninterested in her. Or at least it seemed so from the impersonal way he treated her. Maybe he was afraid of being too friendly with a new partner, since his last one had died on him, but she really didn't think so. It was her.

She wasn't sure that transferring to DC had been a good idea. The job was okay, but she'd made the decision for the wrong reasons, and to top it all off, she was having a hell of a time trying to find an apartment she could afford. Doggett had mentioned off-hand that Mulder was moving, so she was more than a little tempted to see if his place was still available. She'd gone there once with Scully, and it hadn't seemed too bad.

It took her half the day to decide if she would stop by and visit or not. On one hand what she was doing seemed selfish, but on the other, he could probably use a grown-up to talk to. She knew the people Mulder did, and none of them seemed like the listening type. Eventually, she decided her good intentions out-weighted the bad. She hoped.







Chapter Four

7 p.m.

The knock on the door annoyed Mulder, but he went to see who it was with as calm an expression on his face as he could manage. When he looked through the peephole he was surprised to see that it was Monica Reyes.

"Agent Reyes," was all he could think to say as he held the door open for her.

Hearing William whimpering, she suddenly felt stupid for following through on her impulse. "If this is a bad time..."

Mulder gave her a wan smile. "From what I've come to realize in the past week, there's no such thing as a good time to visit a new parent. Therefore, any time is fine. We'll be awake. God knows, I'll be awake."

Reyes followed him into the living room and stopped to watch him carefully reach into the bassinet and take out the baby. William quieted almost immediately. "Could I hold him?"

Hesitating for just a moment, Mulder gave her a vaguely distrustful look, but he put the baby into her arms. "He's precious," she told him.

"Yeah, he is pretty cute." Pride seeped into Mulder's voice. "Did you just stop by so you could see the baby, or...?"

"I wanted to see how you were doing, actually," Reyes told him. "I get the sense that certain people at the bureau are being distant because they know you well enough to feel like they're intruding if they make assumptions that you might need grown-ups to talk to." She gave him a brief smile. "I don't know you well enough to know what would piss you off, and honestly, I don't really mind if you get mad at me, so I'm going to be nosey. How are you doing, really?"

Mulder sighed. "I'm sick of telling people I'm 'fine'. Scully used to say that all the time, and fine doesn't really mean you're okay. Too many people are willing to take you at your word though. I'll admit it, this solo parenting thing is tough. You don't realize how many things are easier to do without carrying an eight-pound person around, until you're the only one doing the carrying. I have a baby seat in the bathroom so I can pee and shower, for Christ's sake. I'm really not looking forward to moving in a couple of days, but this place is too small so it's not as though I have a choice. This place has already been rented to someone so the time-frame is going to be tight, and..." He shook his head, overwhelmed by trying to imagine the logistics of that.

A deep disappointment filled her when he mentioned that his place had already been rented to someone else. But then a strange idea came to mind. "I could help you," Reyes blurted out.

"You'd help with the move? That would be great."

"No. I mean yes, I could help you with the move, but...I could just help you. Your new place will have at least two bedrooms, right?"

"Three. It was the only one that wasn't one-bedroom that I could find. The apartment market is tight right now..." Mulder trailed off when her words sunk in. "Why would you help? If you're feeling guilty because of Scully, I already told you that you shouldn't."

"That's not it, well, not mostly. You're right, the apartment market is rough. I can't find one I can afford, and living in a hotel isn't practical now that I'm being transferred to DC for good. This could be good for both of us. I'd have a place to live, and you'd have someone to help you look after William."

Mulder stared at her.

"I'd pay part of the rent, of course," Reyes added.

"Is the apartment market really that bad?" His brow creased in bemusement.

"Are you saying you couldn't use the help?" Reyes countered.

"Of course not. It's just...you're asking for a lot of work in exchange for a mere place to live."

"That's my problem, isn't it?"

"I wonder if there are any rules against FBI agents living together..."

Picking up on his musing tone, she instantly made a suggestion. "Call Skinner and ask."




"Sir, it's Mulder, I have a strange question for you...Yes, another one. Are there any rules against agents of the opposite sex living together? As platonic roommates... Agent Reyes can't find an apartment she can afford and I could use the help with William...Yes, okay, I understand. Thanks a lot."

"Well? What did he say?"

"He says that the Bureau has no interest in who an agent shares living quarters with as long as their arrangements don't interfere with their job performance." He reached down and took William from her. "Are you sure that you want to live with the Mulders?"

"Definitely," she told him with a grin.

"I'd like to say you won't live to regret this, but...I hate to lie to people I'm just getting to know."

"I'll keep that in mind. The first of June, right?"

"Um, yeah. First of June."

"Great. When do you want me to stop by to get William? So you can pack."

"Would Wednesday be ok? Unless you have plans..."

"No, no plans. Wednesday will be fine. Thanks a lot, Mulder. I think this is going to work out well for everyone."

She breezed out a couple of minutes later, leaving Mulder to shake his head in wonder. "Well, brat, it looks like we've got a new roommate."

William wisely refrained from commenting.




That night

Neva was really beginning to hate the caller ID thing that Reyes had bought her. It made her feel like she was on one of those quiz shows where you had to figure out the answer before the timer off. At least she was able to recognize her daughter's phone number when it showed up on the little white plastic box.

"Hola, hija. Como estas?" she asked warmly.

"Bien, Mama. Y tu?" Reyes politely asked her mother how she was in return.

"I'm doing pretty good. The prettiest flowers are in bloom right now right outside the living in window. But I'm sure you didn't call to discuss flowers. What's on your mind?"

"I wanted to let you know that I found some place to live other than a hotel room. Finally."

"That's wonderful. I know if you were struggling to find a place that you could afford."

"Yeah... I solved the problem by finding roommate."

"I hope she's a nice girl. I'd hate for you to room with some person who was loco." Neva a wrinkled her nose. Her daughter living with a crazy person was something that she worried about after watching all of those movies on TV where girls moved in with seemingly normal people then the woman wanted to take over the lives and to kill them.

Reyes amused laugh came reassuringly through the phone line. "No Mama, I haven't found a crazy person to live with. At least I don't think so. Remember how I told you that FBI agent died a few days ago?"

"How could I forget?" Neva said somberly. "You don't often call me in tears."

"Well, the baby's father decided to keep him and he doesn't have anyone to help with the baby. He and the agent who died had plans to move into a new apartment, but... he still planning to move there any way, and there are three bedrooms, so I'm going to be his roommate. Their roommate actually."

"He talked you into this arrangement?" Neva asked suspiciously.

"No, I talked him into it. It was my idea. I'd gone to see him to see if his old apartment was still available for rent, and it came up that he was moving and his landlord had already rented out the old apartment. So I sort of came up with the idea that I could be his roommate and after little talking into he agreed after our boss at the FBI said that there were no policies against opposite sex roommates among agents."

Her mother's voice was flat. "You want to do this because you feel guilty."

"It's not that. Well maybe it is that the little bit... it's hard to explain but I feel a connection to the baby, perhaps because I was one that delivered him. It seems like I was meant to help care for him."

"Be careful with your heart, Monica," Neva said by way of advice. "Don't forget that he's not yours."

"I don't intend to."

"I don't understand why you would wastes time looking after someone else's baby when you could be looking for someone to marry and having one of your own." Neva couldn't resist scolding mildly.

"You say that like this is it's going to be some sort of permanent arrangement and as a result I'll be an old maid. I don't intend to raise this baby, I just want to help out his dad while he's still tiny. I'm sure that before a very long time at all either his father or I, if not both, will have new love interests and find other living arrangements."

"Ah. In that case, be careful with the baby's heart too."

"Mama, you worry too much."

"Someone has to. You certainly don't," her mother shot back. "It's going to get you into trouble one day soon if you don't start to worry about things that should be worried about."



As soon as the words came over the line, Reyes repressed a sigh. Why was her mother so volatile? Cheerful and supportive one minute, scathing another. Maybe that's just the way mothers were. She didn't know enough daughters to know for certain.

She said her goodbye soon after, because it never helped to keep talking when Neva got into one of her moods. The whole roommates thing hardly seemed a big deal, so she couldn't fathom her mother's objections. It wasn't as though she was pursuing a new relationship, just a living arrangement. What could be wrong with that?




Mulder found himself pacing nervously in his room. He wasn't trying to get his son to sleep, since the baby was already off in that nebulous dreamland that newborns seemed to inhabit most of the time. It was himself he was trying to soothe.

"Are you there, Scully? It's me, Mulder," he said aloud, his eyes cast towards the ceiling. "I know you put a lot of stock into heaven, so are you there, looking down on us like that priest said? If you are, I could use your advice.

"Did I do the right thing by agreeing to become roommates with Reyes? She seems nice enough, adores William, but I hardly know her. I know you didn't get to spend a lot of time with her, but all the books say that labor is something that bonds women to those who attend them, so...

"You would have said something if she was a psycho, wouldn't you?" Mulder smiled a little in spite of himself, but then sobered up. "If you are looking down on us now, just know that you're in my heart, and this is no attempt to replace you. It's more of an attempt to perform personal hygiene functions without an audience. If...if it had been the other way around, I would have wanted you to get help too, you know. I don't know if you know this, but this solo-parenting thing is rough. But we'll get by, so don't you worry about us. We love you."

He felt a little foolish when he concluded his monologue, but somehow he felt better too. The idea of the dead watching over had never really appealed to him before, but somehow he felt as though his message had been heard.




Wednesday

When he'd seen movies or read books in which mothers are extremely reluctant to leave their babies with someone else for the first time, he'd always had to resist the urge to roll his eyes. Babies were such a great amount of work, so how could the new parent possibly not welcome a break from their little time consumer?

Of course, that was before Reyes had William's baby carrier in one hand, and the diaper bag in the other. Then he knew. It was silly, since it's not as though she was a member of the consortium, but he was so afraid to watch his son go out the door without him. Somehow it was even worse than leaving him at the hospital the night he was born, maybe because he now knew how much William meant to him. Even though he promised himself that he wouldn't, he followed her to the door, offering her advice about signals that Will would need a diaper change or what his cry sounded like when he was hungry. Fortunately, she just nodded and seemed committed to remembering every detail he imparted as she tried to leave.

That was half an hour before the gunmen showed up to help him pack. Even if he was a little dubious about how good a job they would do, he found that he couldn't really afford to turn down their offer of help. He didn't have enough friends to go around alienating any by rebuffing sincere offers of help, and he certainly didn't have time to pack everything himself, even with Reyes willing to baby-sit. Getting a moving company was out of the question, because you never wanted strangers in your home. At least not if you were Fox Mulder.

The gunmen were enthusiastic, if slightly disorganized helpers, and they more or less distracted him from thinking about William with their frequent questions. He only thought of the baby every minute or two with them there to talk to. They also insisted on doing a lot of the work, rather than letting him help, telling him "Looking after the crib lizard must be tiring. Why don't you get us some sodas instead?" He was grateful, since it had been days since he'd slept well, so he was too tired to do more than pick a few thing up, look at them in bemusement, and put them back down.

"Hey Mulder, I need more packing tape!" Frohike's gravely voice sounded muffled. When he brought in the roll of tape to him, Mulder realized that was because the little man was in the closet. Everything else in the room had already been packed.

"Here, Melvin. You're quick."

Frohike backed out of the closet to take the roll from him. "Mulder, if you had any idea how many times I've packed at a minute's notice."

Mulder snorted. "Given what you were into when I first met you, I guess that I shouldn't be surprised at all."

"Don't knock it. That was on the legal-er end of my early enterprises."

Byers walked in, looking slightly worried. "Did you buy any bubble wrap? I don't want to break your dishes."

"No, they were all out. There should be a stack of newspapers on the kitchen table."

"Are you sure? I could go and get some-"

Mulder thought about the dishes. The motley collection was probably worth less than the bubble wrap. "If they break, I'll buy new ones." He shrugged. "I have a feeling that Monica will want to use hers anyway. Women tend to own nicer dishes."

"I don't get it, Mulder. You never lived with Scully, the love of your life, but now you're going to move in with this chick you barely know?" Frohike's look was anything but approving.

Mulder rolled his eyes. "She needs a place to stay, I need someone to help me with the 'crib lizard'. There's nothing more to it than that. We're just going to be roommates."

"Oh sure, that's how it started with Billy and Alison on Melrose place, but look at how they ended up." Until he heard Langly's nasal voice, he had no idea that the blond man had entered the room.

"You are such a girl..." Frohike muttered.

"Sorry, I missed Melrose Place, so I don't know what you're talking about," Mulder told Langly with a purposely expressionless face.

"If she ends up an alcoholic, running away with a strange guy named Jake after your wife mysteriously drowns, don't say I didn't tell you so."

"There isn't a pool at Mulder's new apartment," Byers objected, and Langly made a face at him.

"I'll keep your advice in mind," Mulder said dryly.

"Oh, I came in to tell you that I think we're pretty much done packing," Langly said. "We're helping you move in to the new place on Friday, right?"

"Yup. Maybe we should do it early so you guys don't have to ruin any of your plans."

"Damn straight. We've got a Magic: The Gathering game at 8 p.m.," Langly told him. "It's too bad you never got into it, Mulder, I think you would like the monsters."

"I get enough of that at work. Thanks a lot for helping me out."

"Someone's got to..." Frohike started to say, then he looked around the room. "What are you going to do until you move into the new place? Everything is packed."

"Live out of a suitcase. It'll be just like old times."

Except this time the suitcase was paired with a baby bag.




June 1st, 2001

"John, spit it out," Reyes demanded. The man had looked like he'd had something to say all day, but he kept it to himself.

"Are you really going to share an apartment with Mulder?"

For a second she convinced herself that he was asking because he was jealous, but the idea deflated immediately. There was nothing in his tone or posture to suggest jealousy. "Yes, I am."

"I've seen his apartment...You'd better work out who is expected to do what chores, or you're going to get stuck doing everything."

"Not all single men are as neat as you, John, but I'll keep that in mind."

Later on that day, she amused herself with a daydream that started out with the same question, but ended with an offer to share his place with her. Then she told herself to grow up.




The driveway was crowded when Monica arrived at the new apartment. Once inside, she saw why. Mulder and the gunmen had been very busy. Everything Mulder had taken with him had already been brought in and placed in the appropriate room.

"Very organized. For men," Reyes pronounced, her eyes twinkling.

"You're not into that feminist stuff are you?" Langly asked, giving her an apprehensive look.

"Not too much."

"In that case, would you like some help bringing your stuff up?"




There wasn't a lot of stuff to bring in. She hadn't been very attached to her furniture, so she sold it rather than bring it with her when she moved to DC. It had been her plan to buy new stuff when she got an apartment, but Mulder had a complete set of furnishings, so she'd only bought a bedroom set so far, and the delivery people had brought it in and set it up earlier in the day.

"I hope you don't mind me saying this," Frohike said, eyeing her belongings. "For a chick you don't have much stuff."

She laughed. "It doesn't pay to be a pack-rat if you're rootless. The less junk to cart around with you the better."

"Maybe you'll like DC," Byers offered.

"I might at that. This job is more interesting than my last one, so who knows?"

She disappeared into her room with her few belongings a couple of minutes later. Frohike gave Mulder a conspiratorial glance. "She seems pretty nice."

Mulder shrugged. "As long as she's good with the baby and not an axe murderer, it's good enough for me."

"Yeah..." Frohike suddenly had trouble looking him in the eye. "There's something I've been meaning to ask you, but I'm afraid that it'll upset you."

"Ask whatever you want."

"When we went to get William's stuff the day of the funeral, her apartment was still full of her things. Of course it was, she'd just died...what's going to happen to all of that stuff? I sort of thought that you'd take it, but I guess you don't have room..."

"Maggie and I are going to figure out what do to do with it before she moves to be near Charlie and his family up north. I think most of it will end up in the basement of her new house."

"Oh, okay. I just wondered if you'd need our help with it, or anything."

"I appreciate the offer."




Chapter Five

2:30 a.m.

They'd gone to bed exhausted, after unpacking their respective rooms just enough to find bedding. William had woken Mulder up an hour ago, and after that he'd fallen back into a hard, dreamless sleep. Until there was a sound. Mulder sat up in his bed, and his eyes instinctively sought out the bassinet near the foot of his bed. The guys seemed to think he was being silly, but he really did think that the move was traumatic on William, so he kept the baby in his room, despite their grumbling about having wasted time on setting up the nursery.

Someone was standing over the baby.

"Reyes?" Mulder asked softly, but he knew it wasn't her. Even in the dark he could tell that whoever it was, wasn't tall enough to be her.

It was Scully. He was sure of it.

"Scully?!" She turned her head in his direction, but he couldn't make out her face. A hand moved in the dark, and he more sensed than saw the woman hold her finger to her lips. He wasn't inclined to be quiet.

"What's going on? We buried you! Okay, so you buried me too... come talk to me," Mulder begged. The figure remained unmoving.

He took his eyes away just long enough to see where he was putting his feet so he could go to her instead. By the time he looked back, he was alone again.

Fear gripped Mulder, and thoughts of SIDS filled his mind until he stumbled to William's side and saw that he was sleeping peacefully. Slumping onto the bed, he covered his face in his hands and wondered if it had been a dream or a sign of impending insanity.

A soft knock at his door had him hopeful for a moment, thinking maybe Scully had come back. But it was Reyes voice he heard. "Is everything okay? I heard something..."

Mulder got up and opened the door. "Everything's fine. I just thought I saw..."

"An intruder?" Her sleepy brown eyes immediately filled with concern. She looked younger wearing a night-gown. Like a teenager woken up by noisy parents.

"A ghost. Or something. I'm sorry I woke you up over something so stupid," he apologized.

"I was awake." Mulder could tell she was lying. "Did you think you saw Dana?" When he didn't say anything she went on. "She thought she saw you, once, when you were gone."

"The only difference was I wasn't dead." Mulder sighed.

"She didn't know that, then, though. We all thought..." Her voice faltered as she thought of the implications.

"I wish she could come back by some miracle too," he admitted. "I've thought about it a lot. But I know she can't."

"I'm sorry."

"Me too."

They both found it hard to get back to sleep after that.



First thing in the morning, Mulder went through his suitcase until he found Scully's cross. He strung it through William's mobile.

"I don't know if my imagination was playing a mean trick on me last night, or your mom really came for a visit last night," he told William. "Either way, I think this is a good place for her cross, don't you?"

It seemed strange to him to see Reyes unpacking the new dishes she'd just bought when they got to the kitchen. She put down the dish she was holding, and held out her arms. "Why don't you let me give him a bottle while you take a shower?"

The first thing he wondered was if he smelled. Then he wondered why he never asked her if she had any experience with kids before his insanely hasty agreement to their new living arrangement. "I don't know..."

"What's the point of having someone to help you if you still want to do everything yourself?"

A reasonable question, he thought, deciding to put his son into her arms. "Got much experience with kids this age?"

"Oh yeah. If you want to keep them quiet, you just put a little whiskey in their bottles, and it knocks them right out." Mulder's face paled, and a split second later she burst out laughing. "I was the neighborhood baby-sitter for years. Don't worry, I know what I'm doing."

Watching her prepare a bottle one handed, a skill he'd kill for, he decided that William would be fine with her. Still, he grabbed the portable baby monitor off the counter, and brought it into the bathroom with his towel.




His hair was still dripping when he came back from his shower, which made Reyes hide a smile. He might trust her to look after William, but was obviously uncomfortable about doing so for long.

"About last night, Mulder...are you okay?"

"As okay as a guy can be after imagining he saw his dead lover." He tried for a laugh, but couldn't bring it off.

Reyes nodded. If Mulder expected her to tell him he might have really seen a ghost, he was in for a disappointment. "I wonder, if...you might have seen her because you haven't had time to grieve."

"Of course I've grieved." His voice was irritated. "I spent the first two days crying my eyes out."

"I'm sure. But then you've spent practically every waking second being a pillar of strength for your son. I'm not saying that's wrong, but I am saying that letting yourself focus just on the baby might not be healthy."

"What are you suggesting?"

"That maybe you need to spend some time alone, without William to worry about, so you can process everything. You could do something, and I'll be here to worry about him."

"But I'd still worry about him," Mulder pointed out. "I don't think there will be a minute of my time the rest of my life that I won't."

She thought the statement was touching, but didn't say, knowing it'd only embarrass him. "True, but at least you wouldn't be worried about his diapers and bottles. Look, we need some things from the grocery store, since we've got little in way of food for people who don't gain their entire substance from a bottle. Why don't you go shopping, and see how that goes? I promise not to give your son any alcohol while you're gone," Reyes encouraged with a grin.

"Yeah, okay."

"We should set up an ATM account for household expenses, but for now, let me give you what I think half this list will come to, and I'll give you more money if it's more."

Mulder nodded distractedly, but he took the money and the list and was soon out the door. Even if he did look back like a kid being abandoned by his mom at kindergarten for the first time.

"Well, William, promise me you won't do anything too upsetting while your dad is gone." He just gave her an unfocused look. "He needs to learn to trust more people, and you and I might be a good start."




It felt rather strange to be shopping without William in the cart. Even though the kid was only ten days old, Mulder was already beginning to forget what it was like to perform simple functions like shopping without carting a small warm body around with him. As much as he hated to admit it, the idea of putting the groceries into the car without having to strap the baby in first came as something as a relief.

He wished he had his reading glasses as he peered at the list Reyes had written. Her script was neat, but small, and it strained his eyes to make everything out, especially since he'd checked it twice to make sure she hadn't slipped anything unpleasant on to the list, like feminine hygiene products. Scully had had him buy all sorts of things he'd rather not, like a breast pump. But there were no unpleasant surprises on the list, other than finding out that she apparently preferred 1% milk instead of whole. It was probably better for him, he decided.

Did frosted Wheaties count as "healthy cereal" Mulder wondered. Shrugging, he put a box of that and one of Special K into the cart, deciding that variety was a good thing. As he picked out the rest of the groceries, he was filled with a sense of foreboding: this would be the only time he was going to be sent on a solo trip to the market.

Passing by the condom section, conveniently placed right near the alcohol and diapers, made him sad. He wouldn't be needing those any more, and probably never again. As far as he was concerned that part of his life was over.




The cashier took his money without a problem, but it made Mulder think of what Reyes had said about a joint account for household expenses. In all his adult life, no woman had ever suggested such a thing, even on this casual a basis.

It just served to remind him that he and Scully had never intended to be a family. He'd said yes readily enough when she asked him to be a donor for her, but they hadn't meant for it to mean that he'd be his son's father, an equal parent...Scully just wanted the baby, and he was okay with that. Then he'd been taken away, before he'd gotten a chance to reconsider, or even got the news that the IVF had worked after all, or maybe it had been the comfort sex immediately following the news of the failure. It was sad, but he'd never know which for certain. Either way, he still didn't know where he fit in when he was returned after his abduction. They'd started to make overtures that made him think that she might have decided that she wanted him to help her raise William, but he'd been willing to bide his time while she decided. And then there was no decision to make, because she was no longer there to make it-

"Sir?"

He blinked.

"Your change." The cashier's smile was tentative, as if she was trying to decide if there was something wrong with him. Mulder wondered how long he'd been wrapped up in his thoughts.

"Um, thanks," Mulder said, taking the bills from her. "Sorry, I haven't been sleeping well, it kind of makes me spacey."

This time her smile was genuine. "Judging from the size of the diapers, your kid must be tiny."

"He is."

"Have a nice day." Mulder nodded. She probably was required to say that to everyone, no matter how weird they struck her as.




William was alive and well, and seemed sober when Mulder got home with the groceries. "He's a doll, Mulder," Reyes told him with a grin as they traded groceries and baby.

"Yeah, a drink and wet one." But he smiled down at the baby as he said it. "He looks sleepy, I think I'll put him down and see if he'll sleep."

"Probably. He was awake the entire time you were gone."

Mulder wanted to think that his son had been awake and looking for him, but all the baby books said that wouldn't happen for another month, so he tried to be realistic about it- sometimes babies are just awake. Still...




"Reyes, why are you here?" Mulder asked. Baseball announcers blathered on in the background.

"Here, where?"

Seeing her puzzled look, he realized he ought to have been more specific. "Here in DC. On the X-Files."

"John Doggett needed a new partner to help him investigate Kersh. Not that went anywhere." She shrugged.

"That's a pretty big favor to cash in. If it went no where, why did you stay?"

"I like the X-Files."

"Nothing to do with Doggett, then?"

An interesting pink color crept across her cheeks. "No. John and I are just friends," she said firmly.

Mulder wondered at the instance of her tone. One of them obviously wished otherwise, and he couldn't tell which for sure, but he guessed it was her. "He's not an easy man to be friends with."

"No, he's not. But he's a good person to have on your side."

"Yeah." There was definitely more to the story than she was letting on, but he let it slide. It wasn't any of his business about his roommate's romantic interests, not unless she wanted to share. "Thanks for looking after Will while I did the shopping."

"That's what I'm here for."

"Right." They went back to watching the game.




1:30 a.m.

Rolling over with a groan, Reyes barely resisted the urge to throw a huge temper tantrum. It didn't matter which way she positioned herself, she couldn't get comfortable enough to sleep. Eventually, when she was frustrated almost to the point of angry tears, she admitted to herself that her true discomfort was a mental one.

Mulder's question about Doggett had brought back unpleasant, far too recent memories. She couldn't believe she'd been so adolescent and stupid. Giving into the lovesick urge to follow a crush was something that eighteen-year-old girls did on WB shows, not something a sane woman in her thirties did. Oh, sure she could rationalize it and say that her feelings for John Doggett had nothing to do with the move, and it all had to do with wanting to be on the X-Files, but she tried not to lie to herself to that degree. At least not very often.

In moments where she was feeling kinder towards herself, she decided that any feeling person would have jumped at the opportunity to try to start something with an old flame in what seemed to be more opportune times. Like far too many other people she allowed herself to be convinced that things had not worked out between them because of circumstances. Because at that point when she first knew him and they almost started something, he it was a grieving father and didn't have room in his heart for anyone else. It was pretty natural to think that if things were different things might have worked out between them, and a not in considerable believe in fate contributed to her expectation that she was being given a second chance, now that things were different.

But it still hadn't worked out that way and that became almost immediately apparent after she agreed to transfer to the X-Files. Her sense of expectation had been bolstered by Doggett' s invitation for a congratulatory drink. If only he hadn't merely been being friendly.

Since she was beginning to hate herself for letting her heart follow a course in futility for so long, she was trying to at least attempt to talk herself out of that attraction. Since it was not such an easy thing to over come, she created rules for herself to follow, because rules were far more authoritarian than the simple desire to change.

These rules, which she mentally recited in moments of weakness were: I will not depend on John by telling him personal information before anyone else I will not touch him for any reason that does not involve saving him from death. I will not imagine him as anything but a friend.

Just three rules. They ought to have been easy to follow. They weren't. Instead they just gave her another reason to be upset with herself.

She half wished that he would become involved with someone else, even go back to his ex-wife, but he wouldn't. He didn't seem to have any interest in relationships, and that was the problem. Sometimes she wondered if he was going to become one of those asexual men who poured all of their passion into their careers, emasculated by cold-eyed ambition. The thought mad her sad. And determined to avoid the same fate.




June 4th, 2001

A noisy crowd of women and babies only served to emphasize how out of place Mulder felt in the waiting room of William's new pediatrician. He was the only father there. Reyes had offered to come to the appointment with him, obviously knowing that he would be the only dad there even if he hadn't, but she would have had to take time off, so he'd turned her down. He was half regretting it, but it was probably better to learn to deal with it on his own - as William's sole parent, it was his duty to do these things, and hand-holding by a friend wouldn't make it much easier.

The doctor, One Ryan Stevens, a short blonde man in his thirties, gave Mulder a bright smile when he came in. "We don't see too many dads coming in with babies this young. Usually they can't pry them away from Mom."

Mulder gave him a strained smile. "I'm afraid that I'm all William has got. His mother is no longer living."

Stevens had the grace to look stricken. "I'm very sorry to hear that. Did she die in child birth?"

For one wild minute Mulder had the impulse to say "No, it was a tight-rope walking accident," but he was able to bite down on his words and nod instead.

William didn't seem to like the exam, but since Stevens didn't seem to be doing anything to actually hurt him, Mulder decided that pulling a gun on the man probably wouldn't be a good idea, even if it would make him feel better. Towards the end, Stevens asked him a lot of questions, but Mulder had known they were coming, since he'd found a list on the internet of information you're supposed to provide during the various baby check ups.

Then Stevens asked him a question that wasn't on the list. "And how are you doing?"

"Fine?"

His eyes held the expression Mulder had become all to familiar with. Pity. "I want you to know that your son is doing great. He's thriving, and you can tell he's really cared for."

"Thanks." Mulder was still puzzled.

"A lot of men who lose their partners in childbirth distance themselves from their babies, but I don't think that you do."

"Why would they do that?" Mulder wondered, looking down at the baby.

"They blame their babies for the mothers' death," Stevens answered quietly.

"That's insane," Mulder said shortly. "It's not as if the baby has any control over what happened. They aren't the ones who wanted them born anyway, the parents are."

The doctor shrugged. "Some people are irrational when they're hurting."

Mulder didn't say anything as he tucked William back into the baby carrier. Some people could afford to be irrational. He couldn't. "The next appointment is in two weeks, right?"

"That's right. Just see the receptionist on the way out."




June 5th, 2001

The knock at the door wasn't at all friendly, so looking through the peephole it came as no surprise to Mulder to see Bill Scully Jr. standing on the other side of the door, his face red and his fist raised to pound again.

"I never expected a housewarming visit from you, Bill. How nice," Mulder said dryly as he opened the door for his son's uncle.

Bill was in no mood for pleasantries. "Is it true?" he demanded to know.

"Is what true?" Mulder thought it was a legitimate question, since there were any number of things about him that pissed the other man off. Asking helped to save time narrowing it down.

"Is it true that even though my sister's body isn't even cold yet, you've got another woman living with you?" Bill's tone was more than a little belligerent, but Mulder was used to that.

Mulder wondered if it was worth pointing out to Bill Jr. that Scully herself could have told him that a body typically cools to room temperature within 48 hours, but he decided that Bill didn't look like he was in the mood for a science lesson. "I have a female roommate, yes. But that's all she is, a roommate."

"Like hell, do you really expect me to believe that?" Bill Jr. growled.

"Considering it took me seven years of knowing your sister before going out on a date with her, I think it's reasonable for me to expect you to believe that," Mulder told him impatiently. "I want to show you something. But keep your voice down before you wake William up."

Mulder led the grumbling man to the bedrooms. He carefully opened a door and invited Bill Jr. to look in. "This is my room." He prodded Bill along to the next room, taking less care while opening the door. "This is your nephew's room, though at the moment he sleeps in mine, as you probably figured out from the bassinet in there." The last stop on the tour was the third bedroom, and Mulder knocked.

"Yes?" Reyes poked her head out of the door, looking surprised to see Mulder and his companion. "Is something wrong?"

"No. William's uncle just wanted to meet my roommate," Mulder said blandly. "Bill, this is my roommate, Monica Reyes. She's a fellow FBI agent who recently relocated to DC."

"Nice to meet you," Bill Jr. mumbled, heat coming to his cheeks. "Sorry to have bothered you."

"Um, that's okay," she told him, casting Mulder a questioning look. He shrugged.

Back in the living room, Mulder turned to Bill Jr. "Are you satisfied now that everything is on the up and up?"

"Yes..."

"Good. I know you don't think highly of me, but I never thought you had such a low opinion about my feelings for your sister."

"I-"

"Agent Reyes is a nice person, maybe one day I'll even come to consider her a close friend, but at this point all I know about her is that your sister liked her, and it's nice to have someone else help out with William so I can pee without having to take him into the bathroom with me."

Bill Jr. winced. He probably never had that problem with Matthew since Tara was always around. "I'm sorry I jumped to conclusions," he mumbled, nearly giving Mulder a heart attack.

"Yeah, okay."

"I'll, uh, be going now."

Mulder shook his head after shutting the door behind him. Reyes startled him by speaking behind him.

"What was that all about?"

"Scully's brother. The moron somehow found out that you're my roommate and thought that I'd taken up with someone else. I can't imagine how Scully, as brilliant as she was, ended up with such a stupid brother. If I didn't know Maggie, I'd swear Scully must have been found on the doorstep."

"That's unkind, Fox. For all you know, he could have been dropped on his head as a baby." A smile tugged at the corner of her lips.

"That would explain a hell of a lot." Mulder snorted.




Chapter Six

The Next Night

"Reyes, what happened before... Scully died?" Reyes shot him a stricken look. Seeing this, Mulder decided he should clarify what he was asking. "I mean, after the two of you drove off in your car."

"Um, we drove." She wasn't sure what to say, but she could see that Mulder really seemed to need to know what happened. Since it might make him feel better she decided to try to put more effort into her description. "Doggett had told me where to go, and I drove."

"You and Scully must have talked."

Reyes shrugged. "A little. She fell asleep not too long after we started out. I figured that given how much stress she'd been under then, the best thing was to just let her sleep. I know some people need their passengers to be awake and engaging with them in order to stay wake themselves, but I was used to doing all the driving on my own, so having her sleeping didn't make much difference to me.

"She woke up as we reached Georgia. All we talked about them was how long she'd slept and how she was doing. She said she was fine. I could tell that she was lying. It'd probably been contractions that woke her up."

Mulder looked disappointed. She tried to sift through her memories of that day to find something more profound. "She told me that I reminded sure of someone. Her sister. I thought that was nice."

Mulder laughed. "I'm not exactly sure that was a compliment."

"She didn't get along well with her sister? I thought I remembered her saying that she did."

"Oh, she did. Most of the time. Melissa was... frankly, she was a flake." Mulder smirked. "She was into all that New Age crystal crap and thought she could feel other people's emotions."

"Some people can feel other people's emotions," Reyes said defensively.

"Oh brother. Not you too." But he laughed good-naturedly.

Reyes smile back, but after a moment her mirth faded. "She really wanted this baby. Even when she was in the middle of labor and in all that pain, and I could tell there was a lot of pain, Mulder, she was still the most concerned not for herself but that those... things were going to try to take her baby. She screamed at me- told me not to let them take him. And she screamed at them too, telling them that 'this baby is mine'." Reyes closed her eyes against the memory. "And they didn't take him. I never could figure out if it was because he wasn't the baby they thought he was going to be or because she loved him that much, so much that they couldn't bear to. I like to think it's the latter."

"She wanted him so much to make up for the fact that I didn't." He looked at the infant sleeping on his lap. "At least not at first."

"When we first talked about me being her donor, I agreed because I thought that I owed it to her; she'd lost so much because of me... so how could I say no? I think I knew from the moment that I found that vial that I'd be the one she'd ask if she decided to try to have a baby." Mulder gave a self-depreciating smile. "I know that sounds a little arrogant, but who else was there, for either of us? I know you haven't worked on the x-files very long, so maybe that's hard to understand... but what we fought for - and against - for so many years took all of our time and energy... we cut ourselves off from everyone else. So there really no one else she would of asked. Except maybe Skinner, and he's even less the paternal type than I am." Mulder laughed.

Reyes nodded in agreement. "And not as attractive." When Mulder started at the remark her expression just suggested that she'd merely been stating a fact, so he didn't make an issue of it. "So you felt obligated to give her a baby because you felt guilty."

Mulder shook his head. "'felt guilty' implies that the feelings were unwarranted. They weren't. If not for my crusade, she'd still have that sister, never would have had a child that had only been meant to suffer, and probably have had the family she wanted soon enough to enjoy it." With someone else was implied by his tone.

Reyes left the issues of Melissa and Emily aside; all she knew about them was what she'd read in their files the week before while trying to familiarize herself with past cases. "Or she might have died the same way, years earlier, while pregnant with a different child," Reyes said quietly.

"Maybe," Mulder agreed, but without any conviction in his voice.

"My point is that we can't really predict what might of been. If there's such a thing as fate, we might arrive at the same end no matter what choices we make."

"Scully once said something like that... all roads leading to the same path in life."

Reyes smiled. "I knew when I met her that she was wise."

"She was brilliant, but that was one of the few times I knew her to put any stock in something like destiny."

"Even skeptics have their moments," Reyes said quietly. "Sometimes we feel things even if we pretend we don't."

"And sometimes we get found out even when you pretend," Mulder said with a sigh. "When I... woke up, I didn't know what had happened while I was...gone. I'd seen Scully right after I began to come to, but I didn't have the wherewithal to realize that she was pregnant.

"Skinner told me, when my head cleared. Scully was pregnant, and that she had a new partner. John Doggett. I didn't find out until later that Skinner didn't know that I was William's father, which is why he didn't say that she was pregnant with my baby." Mulder spread his hands in a helpless gesture. "Since he mentioned that she was pregnant and had a new partner in the same breath..."

"Oh no." Reyes looked horrified when she connected the dots.

"I was so cold to her. When she told me that she prayed a lot for my return, and that her prayers had been answered, I said in more than one way. I told her I was happy for her... I know that doesn't sound cold, but it was. And I said that I didn't know where I fit in."

"What did she say?"

"Nothing at first. I think she was shocked that I didn't know that she was pregnant with my baby. But how could I know? It's hard to tell how far along someone is from just looking, and I'd never met Doggett so I didn't know how she felt about him." Mulder frown. "Maybe part of me was punishing myself with the idea of her having moved on and found what she was looking for- from someone else. I thought she deserved it. I deserved it too, for being too weak to resist them. For leaving her alone..."

He waited for Reyes to protest that he was too hard on himself, but she didn't say anything, so he continued. "Then she told me that the baby was mine. We'd gotten our miracle after all. Our miracle, that's how she put it. But it didn't feel like 'our miracle' it felt like hers. In the back of my mind I had this hope that she'd tell me that the baby was mine, and it would fix everything that I'd been feeling."

"It didn't."

"No."

"I'm sorry."

"I never thought it would be so hard to come back. Actually, I'm not sure I thought of coming back at all. It'd hard to tell the memories from dreams...and nightmares. Dreams or thoughts, I just wanted to come home. I thought it would all be the same. It hurt so much that things were different.

"Things started to get better, just within the past few weeks - can you believe it's only been a few weeks? - but there wasn't time. We went to a couple of Lamaze classes, arranged to rent this apartment, and that was it before everything went to hell."

Reyes shook her head. "No."

"What do you mean 'no'?" Mulder asked.

"I mean that's not it. You had enough time to make her realize you loved her."

"You can't know that. You barely knew her."

She shook her head again. "She knew, Mulder, and she loved you too. You didn't have to know her more than five minutes to be absolutely sure of that."

He didn't say anything, but for the first time in a long time, it was something about Scully to think of that didn't make him feel horrible.

"What about you?" he asked a couple minutes later after returning from putting the baby down.

"What about me what?"

"Until Scully wanted a baby, I never thought of kids at all, because I didn't grow up thinking about having a family... did you want to be a mother when you grew up? Do you?"

Reyes shrugged. "I don't know if it's just me, or if being adopted often puts a damper on fantasies about being a mommy, but I haven't given it a lot of thought. It's one of those things I pull out and think of once in a while when I've met the sort of guy I think is steady. It will either happen or it won't."

Mulder grinned. "Well, if you do find that right guy, at least you won't be scared to death when you have a baby since you seem to know what you're doing with William."

"Yeah...I bet my firstborn would be better adjusted too, since I'm doing my experimentation on your kid."

"Hey!"

Reyes just smirked when he jumped up at the sound of William's cry over the baby monitor.



June 8th, 2001

It took exactly a week before the honeymoon period of their roommateship ended. This came as quite a surprise to Mulder, who was watching TV when it happened. Suddenly, Reyes was looming over him, with an expression on her face that he couldn't read. "Mulder, I want to show you something."

"What?" he asked warily.

"Go get William, we're going on a little fieldtrip."

"Should I bring a diaper bag?"

"No, we won't be going very far, or for very long. We just shouldn't leave him in the apartment by himself."

"Well, I know that," Mulder bristled. "Are you going to give me a hint about where you're taking us?"

"Nope. It's a surprise." There was a glint of something he didn't like in her eyes as she said it. He was sure he wasn't going to like where they were going.

It wasn't too scary, but they walked down the stairs in the building. Down, down, there were so many stairs he expected the air temperature to climb as they got closer to reaching hell. If hell was bland cement walls, that is. To his alarm, the air temperature did begin to rise, and a increasingly loud rumbling noise made itself apparent.

Reyes didn't seem bothered by the noise or the heat. "Almost there," she told him, looking over her shoulder to see if he was still following.

At last they came to a break in the dull tan walls. She led them through a set of double doors, then stopped her with her hands on both hips. "Does this place look familiar to you?"

Mulder looked around at the rumbling machines. "Maybe."

"Since you don't send every piece of clothing you own to the dry cleaners, I assume that you do, in fact, know how to do laundry."

"Of course I do," Mulder replied indigently.

"Do you realize that these machines accept a wide variety of clothing sizes? From those formerly worn by that subway guy-"

"Jared."

"-to itty bitty ones like your son wears." She gave the baby he was holding a pointed look. "Mulder, what have you been doing with his clothes over the past two weeks? Besides letting them pile up in the bathroom, that is."

"I've been buying new ones when they got dirty," Mulder mumbled a confession.

"Mulder!"

"What? I don't like doing laundry."

Reyes shook her head. "It's your money, Mulder. But if you're going to continue to do that instead of trying something novel like washing his dirty outfits, how about you throw them away instead of letting a mountain of tiny clothes grow in our bathroom?"

"But they're too cute to throw away."

"Then wash them!" William flinched when Reyes raised her voice.

"Okay, okay. I'll buy some of that baby laundry detergent and wash his clothes."

"Good. I'll keep an eye on William while you do both. And Mulder? While you're shopping you might look for this neat new invention called a hamper. I hear that you can keep your dirty clothes in them until you're ready to wash them."

Mulder stalked off, mumbling to himself about how everyone thinks they're so funny.




June 20th, 2001

"But I need an appointment today," Mulder said, letting exasperation flood his voice. "No, not tomorrow, it has to be today...Okay, then I'll call another studio."

Mulder hung up the phone with a frown. Why had he waited until the last minute to make an appointment? Perhaps, he admitted to himself, because he hadn't realized until ten o'clock the night before that it was imperative to get photos of a baby done at one, three, six, nine and twelve months of age. He'd promised Maggie Scully that he would send her pictures, so he had to get them. If only he had found the advice sooner than the night before.

Fortunately he found someone who had a cancellation at one, so he was able to relax.

Right up until he walked through the studio doors. Every wall was covered in family portraits. Most were of happy parents with their newborns, and the rest were pictures of mothers and their babies. He didn't know which hurt more.

They were greeted warmly by a woman who seemed completely oblivious to his pained expression. The woman's own eyes were friendly yet a little...dull. "You must be Mister Mulder." To further his suspicion about her lack of intelligence she craned her neck and looked over his shoulder. "I don't see Mom anywhere. Didn't you want a mother-baby picture? They've very popular. "

Mulder felt awkward. "Umm...There is no mom."

The woman colored a little. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have presumed... I've had a couple of gay clients who've adopted or have gotten surrogates-"

Mulder had been looking down at Will, but his head snapped up in shock. "What? I'm not- there was a mom, just not any more."

"You don't need to explain to me. It's none of my business, I'm sure." Her tone, of course, suggested that she didn't believe a word he said. Mulder desperately want to convince her that he Was. Not. Gay. But he knew that further explanation would just cement her false impression. The straight doth protest too much.

"Yeah, can we do this now? I promised his grand mother pictures, and I'd like to follow through."

"Of course. If you'll just follow me." She led him into the next room. "It's so nice that your mother is supportive of your lifestyle."

Mulder wanted to strangle her.

If she noticed she hid it well. There are several customary poses for fathers and babies, or we could try-"

"The customary ones will be fine," Mulder said shortly. For just a little while it would be nice to be seen the same way as any other father of a month old baby.




Even if the woman was an idiot, even Mulder had to admit that she was a good photographer. She was gentle while posing the baby, gave him clear instructions on how to pose himself, and the previews she showed him on her computer looked great. He could picture them on Maggie's mantle. Or maybe hanging on the dingy walls of the gunmen's lair.

Even so, he wasn't sure he could bear dealing with her every few months. There had to be other photographers who'd be easier to deal with. Maybe if he tried to make an appointment for William's three month pictures as soon as he got home...




Two Weeks Later

Reyes unexpectedly ambushed Mulder as he was leaving the nursery. "Mulder, have you ever felt the presence of evil?"

His face took on a thoughtful expression. "When William was first born, I didn't empty the diaper pail for five days. When I took the lid off all the way, rather than only inching up enough to shove a diaper in, I smelled the presence of evil."

"I was being serious!" she protested but was close to laughing.

"So was I." Once they regained their composure, Mulder remembered the original question. "Why did you ask? About feeling evil?"

"Is this case John and I working on. A couple was murdered and set up in ritualistic manner, and that's all he'll consider - that someone wanted us to think it was satanic. But when we went to the murder scene, I felt... something. It wasn't pleasant. I worked in countless cases just like this one when I was in New Orleans but I never felt anything like what I felt in that house."

Mulder nodded. "It's hard working with a skeptic. Even with the truth right in front of her - or his - face he might insist that there's another explanation. One that there's no evidence for whatsoever, but would be easier to swallow."

"It's frustrating," he admitted.

"Sure. But that makes each time you get the skeptic to see the light all the sweeter a victory."

"Maybe with you on cases we'll wear John down more often."

"Or maybe we can decide all of our conclusions for write-ups by majority rules."





Chapter Seven

July 5th, 2001

It was the hottest day of the year, at least so far, and the weathermen said so repeatedly with an almost orgasmic glee, at least judging by their tone of voice. Worse, air barely moved in the apartment. Mulder slapped the feebly sputtering air conditioner with the palm of his hand. "The hottest day of the summer, and the manager has gone off somewhere." He moaned, giving up on beating the machine and reluctantly turned it off.

"Let's go to the beach," Reyes suggested.

Mulder frowned and looked at William who was sprawled out on a blanket, wearing only a diaper. "The baby does look hot, but the baby books tell you not to use sunscreen on infants less than six months old." He was also picturing wall to wall bodies, with scant inches of white sand between towels.

"So let's go to a lake instead. It'll be more shady. You do have a bathing suit, don't you?"

"Yeah, somewhere."




Reyes' instincts had been good because the lake wasn't nearly as crowded as Mulder feared. A few people staking claim to parts of the shoreline.

It didn't take them much time to dump their gear, although Mulder struggled a little with the beach umbrella he was trying to plant in the sand for William - one of its arms caught on the pocket of his baggy blue swim trunks. Somehow he managed to get it free without yanking down his trunks in the process.

He found himself a little surprised at Reyes' suit, a not terribly revealing one, which belied her usual not very strong sense of modesty; not that she wandered around the apartment in attire fit for a Victoria's secret's model, but plunge neck lines were no strangers to her wardrobe. The suit she was wearing was a red one-piece, which seemed to make slathering sunscreen onto her skin easier. Mulder looked away when he realized he was watching her fingers move.

"Do you think William would like the water?" he asked, noting that the infant's bright blue eyes were following some swimmers.

"Won't know until you try," Reyes said with a shrug. "Those diaper swimmy things Mrs. Scully sent are neat."

"Yup. One of my first memories is of going to the beach with my parents and sister. Sam's diaper got water-logged and white tuffs floated away in the water. My mother was of course mortified."

"I'll bet. That's kind of a nice memory to have, though."

"We only went to the beach once, and not during the day."

It took Reyes a minute to figure out that the "we" in his statement referred to him and Scully. "A beach at night can be romantic," she ventured.

Mulder shook his head. "Not while on a case. Not after your partner's dog had just been eaten."

"That would put a damper on things."

"Actually, the way we ended up on the island was that our boat had just sank, and that beach was the only piece of land we could find. We thought we stranded, and I believe Scully thought we were going to die there."

A smile tugged at the corner of Reyes' lips, but since she was wading deeper into the water, he didn't see it. "You didn't share her fear of imminent doom?"

"Nah. Back then I thought we'd go out in a blaze of glory, not as Big Blue snacks." He looked down at William, who squealed as a wave hit them. Since his son didn't seem upset, he continued his thought. "Too bad things don't always turn out how you think they will."

"I in no way mean to make light of your loss, but on the whole I'm not entirely sure that an entirely predictable life would be one worth living."

"I'd have taken the risk, even if it would have meant making her leave me."

"Even though such a choice probably would have meant that you wouldn't have your son now?" Reyes asked quietly.

"I..." Mulder looked away, only to catch sight of a man playing with his two small children. "I don't know. Before there was a possibility of him, without a doubt I would have chosen her. But now, I'd rather die than even contemplate such a choice."

"Which is a good argument against getting everything you ever wanted - you'd never know what you could be missing."

There didn't seem to be anything more to say as they stood waist deep in the water; the silence is broken only by the happy shouts of children. Finding inspiration in that, Reyes cupped a hand and swung it under water in an arch creating a fan of water that doused both Mulder and William. As Mulder sputtered she held her breath, wondering what his reaction would be once he got over his shock.

"Look!" he crowed, startling her since it wasn't anything like she was expecting. "He's smiling!" Peering down at William, she saw that the infant did indeed have what looked like a smile on his face. "Don't you dare say it's gas."

"It's not gas, he liked being splashed," she agreed.

Smiling himself, Mulder looked down at his son. "Coming through waves smiling, that's not too bad."

"That's actually sort of poetic," Reyes told him.

"Okay. Splash us again."

Reyes is more than happy to oblige, just to get another toothless grin for her troubles.




Mid-July

The door was firmly closed but there was a window in it that allowed people to see inside. Mulder took a brief look then backed away. Reyes hid her smile as he paced and gave the door distrustful looks. Finally he gave her a haunted glance. "I'm not sure I can do this." He whispered raggedly.

"Be brave, you can do it," she encouraged.

"I can't," he declared, starting to walk away.

Before he could, Reyes grabbed his arm. "What happens if you don't? Do you really want to live like that?"

"Yes."

"Mulder!"

"Okay, you're right. I can do this. I can d-"

Mulder was still trying to steel his resolve when the door abruptly swung open. "This must be William!" A bright voice surrounded by a smile and big hair exclaimed. Within seconds she was reaching to take the handle of the baby seat out of Mulder's hand. He was tempted to pull his son away from the strange woman - why hadn't he thought to have background checks done on all of the daycare employees? - but Reyes cleared her throat. So he handed the baby over. "Be a good boy, Bub." Mulder didn't care that both women heard his voice crack.

The hair didn't seem to notice. "We'll see you at five, Dad." At least she didn't pick up William's little hand and make him wave; Mulder hated when people did that, like they thought the child was a puppet.

Reyes patted Mulder's shoulder as they headed for the basement. "There. That wasn't so bad, right?"

Mulder didn't say anything. He was too busy trying to keep from whimpering.

"First days are rough," she continued. When they reached the office door and he just stared through it, she wondered if he'd heard a word she'd said.




Doggett's voice was gruff when he greeted them. "Welcome back, agent Mulder."

She frowned a little when she detected the jealousy in his voice; it was definitely work related. She warned herself not to sigh. "Good morning, John."

Mulder mumbled something that was probably a greeting in Doggett's direction. After another minute or so Mulder actually looked in the other man's direction. "What's your take on the case you and Reyes just finished?"

Doggett shrugged "It was all an elaborate game. The perp played us like chess pieces on a board of his own devising, but he set up a ritual murder to with another game entirely. Scrabble of all things," he concluded with a scoff.

"The board game spelled out something about demons. Don't you think that was less than trivial?" Reyes asked. "It had a significance."

Doggett answered something, but her attention was drawn to Mulder instead. Something in his stricken expression suggested that his mind had gone to the word's definition rather than the brand name. All things considered she couldn't say that she blamed him.

"Yeah, the significance was that they were playing it when they were murdered. There were no demons," he added, shooting Reyes a look.

"What's our next case?" Reyes asked, ignoring his look. "Don't try to pretend that you didn't come in early and read the casefile." She added in a slightly teasing tone.

Mulder gave the other man a vaguely surprised look; apparently he hadn't taken Scully's report of Doggett's dedication to the office to heart.

"I've only had time to skim it, since Skinner just had Kimberly bring it down a few minutes ago. From what I've read so far, it seems to be about a little girl who can see guardian angels."

"She can see angels?" Reyes asked.

"Allegedly. Between you and me I don't think we're going to get much out of this kid. The report says she has Downs syndrome."

"She might be able to communicate just fine. I mean, people wouldn't know about the angels if she didn't tell them, right?"

"Yeah...the local PD wants us to stop by and talk to them first, though. I didn't see any hint of a crime while I thumbed through the file, but they're involved somehow anyway."

"Maybe there's no crime, Doggett. You of all people know that cops are called for all sorts of reasons, like getting kittens out of trees. When do the local authorities expect us?" Mulder asked. Reyes thought that he probably sounded like his old self - not that she was sure of what that was like.

"In an hour. That gives us just enough time to drive there. I just hope no one called them to get a guardian angel out of a tree."

Doggett drove. Reyes had expected there to be a scuffle, or at least discussion about who would drive. But Mulder headed for the backseat without a word.




Sheriff Folger met them at the door before they went in. Taking them aside, he spoke in a low voice. "Thank you for coming, agents. I'll bring you in to see Jodie in just a minute, but as I told you on the phone she has Downs syndrome. She's fairly bright anyway, but she's rather shy. I've told her that I have friends coming, though, so she should be okay. If you'd wait her just a moment-" They nodded and stepped back into the house. They shuffled their feet as they listened to Folger explain that his friends had arrived. Her murmured response was too soft for them to make out.

"Okay, you can come in." Folgers showed them into a spacious living room.

Although Mulder knew that the girl had Downs, but even the abstract concept he had in mind didn't prepare him for the reality of the girl's appearance- small stocky body, round face, almond eyes... For half a second he found himself thinking that if it had been his child, he'd of rather have had him die at birth. It filled him with shame, but he still found himself thankful that his son, at least, was whole and healthy.

Despite Folger's concern, Jodie didn't seem frightened by them. Instead she sat on the couch, swinging her legs as she looked at them.

"Who you?"

The men exchanged helpless glances, so Reyes took it upon herself to speak up. "Hi Jodie. My name is Monica, and these men are John and Fox."

Jodie covered her mouth with her fingers and giggled behind them. "You're not doggie."

It took Reyes a minute to realize that the child was amused about Mulder's name. Usually it was Doggett who suffered through canine jokes.

"Miss, could you describe the alleged guardians you've seen?" Doggett asked in a polite, business-like tone. "The ones you told your mom you saw." He attempted to clarify.

The child gave him a blank look, and resumed her foot-swinging.

"Jodie, tell us about the angels," Mulder said quietly.

The girl pulled her fingers away from her face. "They talk Jodie."

"What about?"

"They my friends."

Doggett caught on. "What do your friends look like?"

"Birds." A frustrated look passed over her face. "People-birds."

"Oh, do they have feathers?" Reyes asked.

"Yes!"

"All over their bodies, or just wings?" Doggett shot her annoyed look, but Jodie responded by grinning and flapping her arms.

"Are the angels friendly?" Mulder asked quietly. He wondered if an angel would be gentle, or the fierce-eyed beings of the old testament...his bet was on the latter.

Jodie shook her head. "Shy. Not suposta see."

"But you do see them."

A tiny smile tugged at the girl's mouth. "Special."

"That is pretty special," Mulder agreed. "I wish I could see them too."

She cocked her head and gave him a quizzical look. "You can."

"We can?" Reyes looked surprised.

The girl shook her head again and pointed at Mulder. "Him."

A look passed between the agents, but they shrugged off their confusion and continued their questioning. "When do you see them, Jodie?"

"Everynight." She slurred the sounds, making it one word. Mulder thought perhaps the girl thought it was a single word, since her other words were clearer.

"Where?"

"My tree."

"The oak tree out back with a swing on it," Jodie's father explained. "She considers it her tree because of the swing."

Since the father had decided to join the conversation, Doggett directed the next question to him. "At approximately what time?"

"Right before bedtime, so around eight. At first we thought that it was just a tactic to delay bedtime, but then the things she told us started to come true..."

Reyes leaned forward on her knees, looking eager. "Things like what?"

The father paused for a moment, gathering his thoughts. "She said that the little Reilly boy was going to fall off the swings and break his arm, not his neck, because his angel would keep him from dying. Jodie wasn't in school the next day, but it happened during recess, just as she said. There were other things too, another child was nearly hit by a car, but dodged it at the last second...All sorts of strange things that she couldn't have known about before they happened, some while they happened."

"That would be hard to explain," Mulder agreed sympathetically, while simultaneously hoping that this wasn't the sort of issue he'd have to deal with himself as a parent.




They spoke for several more minutes, and listened politely every time the father remembered a new event to recount to them. While this went on Jodie's fingers played with the braid of a blanket on the back of the couch, and her boredom was very plain to see. "Did you have any other questions for Jodie?" Her father prompted.

When no one said anything, Mulder spoke up. "No. Thank you for talking to us, Jodie."

The child looked expectantly at her father until he said "You can go play, Jodie."

After the child slide off the couch and wandered off, Mulder turned to the other man. "I hope you don't mind a few questions as well."

"Fine."

"What exactly has your daughter told you about the angel?" Doggett asked.

The man spread his hands helplessly. "I'm sure that you're all aware that most children with Jodie's disease are also plagued by weak hearts." They all nodded wordlessly. "At first I thought that we'd lucked out because she didn't have to have heart surgery as an infant, but two years ago, just after her sixth birthday, things began to go badly. She became listless and got tired easily...so we scheduled the surgery.

"The operation didn't go as expected, and things were touch and go for a few hours. After that she recovered, but then she began to tell us about the angels." The man shook his head ruefully. "It was as if almost dying thinned the veil for her, between our world and heaven."

"You've raised your daughter to believe in angels?" Doggett asked.

"Of course." The father gave him a distrustful look. "I can understand if you believed that I'd talked my daughter into believing that there were angels all around us, but even if that were the case, it wouldn't explain how she knew things that happened before they did."

Mulder noticed that Doggett was going to reply, but jumped in first. "It might make our investigation easier if we were allowed to see if there's anything out where Jodie sees the angel."

"Of course."

"We'll come tonight then," Reyes told him.

Mulder shook his head. "Monica, Jodie seems to think that I'm only one that can see the angel, so it'd be just as well if you stay home with Will. No sense in bringing him out or getting a sitter."

Reyes looked as though she wasn't going to agree, but eventually nodded. "Yeah, okay."

"I'll go with you," Doggett announced abruptly. "I can wait in the car, but Skinner will have a fit if you go by yourself."

Mulder knew that it was true; ever since he got back Skinner seemed to greet any suggestion of independent FBI activity with an air of disapproval, as if convinced that it would lead to another extended Mulder-absence. "I appreciate that."

"Tonight, seven-thirty."

"Seven-thirty," Mulder agreed.




Good to his word, Doggett waited in the car, armed with an audiobook written by some obscure military author that Mulder had never heard of. "Call me if you get into any trouble."

"Trouble With Angels?" Mulder asked with a smile. From Doggett's nonplused look he decided that Doggett didn't have any female relatives that were Haley Mills fans, as Samantha had been. Mulder's smile slowly faded; the lack of commonality coupled with bitter-sweet memory brought him down quickly. "I'll call if there's a problem. But there won't be one."

As he walked away from the car he could hear the sonorous drone of the author's voice trail behind him, growing fainter with every step.

It took until the wind was picking at his clothes and mussing his hair that Mulder realized that a storm was blowing in. His sigh was lost in the wind's voice, and he had to squint in order to find the tree swing.

The swing itself was fairly ordinary, one of those reddish hard rubber deals common to school playgrounds, and it swayed back and forth as Mulder approached it. However, it wasn't the wind that gave it movement - that was caused by the figure behind it who gave it a hard shove every time it swung back towards him.

At least Mulder thought it was a him.

Him, her, whichever gender, the being gave him a semblance of a smile. "I've been waiting for you."

"Jodie's angel," Mulder acknowledged with a slight nod of his head. "I thought you'd be taller." Obviously not a sweet picture-book angel, it wasn't the imposing Old Testament figure Mulder had been expecting, either. Besides the white robes and the faint glow, you'd hardly know it was an angel. There were no visible wings, despite what the child reported.

It shook its head, making pale hair move ever so slightly. "I'm not Jodie's angel. I'm just the angel who wanted to speak to you."

"I didn't realize that I'd shown up on the angelic radar," Mulder said with a smirk. He glanced back behind him, looking quickly at the car and the house's kitchen window, but no one was looking, and he doubted that the conversation could be heard over the wind. A wind he realized didn't seem to be affecting the trees a few hundred feet away. "Jodie told me that only I could see you, is that true?"

"It's true that we only appear to people we choose to be seen by."

"Harmless people, right? A lack of credibility is something I share with a young mentally handicap child, I realize."

"If you wanted to harm us, I'm sure you could find a way. You're a determined person, who has a way of convincing people of things, even if those people do their best to hide it." Its face looked chagrined. "Jodie's guardian should have known she couldn't be trusted to keep quiet."

"So why take the risk of appearing before me then? You can't trust me to shut up either." Mulder was honestly puzzled.

"I was with her every day of her life," the angel said quietly, staring into Mulder eyes until it became too much and Mulder turned away. "From her birth to her death. I saw all of her deeds, good and ill. She'd want me to see you."

"Were you there to witness or to protect?"

"Both. Always both."

A quiet rage filled Mulder as he looked up at the angel's expressionless face, and he ground his fists into his sides. "If you were meant to protect her, why did you let her die? She was too young to die."

"She wanted to live," the angel agreed in its strange emotionless voice. "But she wanted your son to live more."

"Are you saying she had a choice?" Mulder gasp out painfully. His heart was in his throat, and it seemed to be strangling him.

"If one lives or dies is in God's hands. But if there had been a choice, she would have made it."

"It's nice to know that we have so little power...keeps us humble, right? If you see God, tell him I don't forgive him yet."

"He knows."

"I may never," Mulder warned. The angel just shrugged. "However, I will keep your secret."

"Why?" The angel sounded mildly curious, which made Mulder look up in surprise.

"It would depress too many people to realize that guardian angels will let them die." That said, he turned on his heel and marched back to the car. The wind died before he opened the passenger door.

Doggett hit stop on the tape deck. "So, was there an angel out in the tree?"

"Hardly. I didn't even see a kitten up in the tree. I think we have to chalk this one up to precognition."

"Do you think Kersh will buy that?" Doggett frown a little.

"More easily than if I claimed a kid was accidentally seeing angels."

"Good point."



Chapter Eight

The Next Day
7 a.m.

It didn't take long to write up the case, implying that the little girl was experiencing ESP after a near death experience in the operating room - Doggett and Reyes had to sign off on it too, but he thought what he'd written so far was convincing. He was still trying to talk himself out of citing "The Dark Zone" as evidence that the phenomena wasn't unheard of when William began to cry, so he left of in mid-sentence to get the baby.

Mulder was looking for a clean diaper when Reyes reached over his shoulder grabbed one first. "It's okay, I've got this diaper change."

He gave her a suspicious look; although she was great help with William, she hated changing the baby. After a few seconds she noticed. "So...you don't have any plans for tonight do you?"

"Nope." His only plans were to finish the write up and brood about what the angel said to him.

"Oh good, because I'm not going to be home, so you and William will be on your own."

"Got a hot date?" Mulder joked, finding his misplaced sense of humor.

"I'm not sure how hot it will be, but yeah, I have a date." She caught his questioning look as she finished with the diaper. "Sheriff Folger asked me out."

"Not worried about mixing business with pleasure, then I take it."

"Coming from you that's rich." She snorted as she passed him the now dry baby. "You can't get much more concrete evidence of people doing that than what you're holding in your arms."

"That's different," Mulder said primly, but his eyes smiled. "You know, you can have a life. Just because I don't have one is no reason not to enjoy yourself."

"What about you, aren't you allowed to enjoy yourself too?"

Mulder shrugged. "I can, I just don't."

"That's sad."

"I'm not a jolly guy, and never have been. When I claim to be Mister Happy and blow sunshine up people's asses, then you ought to worry."

"Now that's a lovely pre-breakfast mental image."

"You're welcome."




11 p.m.

William had been restless, so Mulder had taped the ballgame knowing that watching it live was a loss. After the baby finally fell asleep he put on his sweats and sacked out in front of the TV to catch up on the game before anyone got the chance to spoil the outcome on him. It was one of the only good things about chronic insomnia - he could get by the next day on his usual minimum ratio of sleep.

The Mets announcer was screaming, practically foaming at the mouth in Mulder's opinion, about a homerun when a strange scraping sound came from the other side of the door. After a few seconds Mulder realized that it was the sound of a misaimed house key. Just as he got off the couch to see if it was Reyes, she finally got the key into the lock and opened the door.

"I hope you got a ride home," he said, taking in her sleepy eyes and faltering steps. She was in no condition to drive, but then he remembered that Folgers had driven. He didn't see the man anywhere, though.

"Took a cab home," Reyes told him with a feeble flap of her hand. "Should have come home earlier..."

"The date went that good, huh?" Mulder kept his distance since she smelled 80 proof.

"Oh yeah, any date that makes your resort to drinking so your company is bearable is a roaring success."

"Sorry." He began to look around for a waterproof container. "You're not feeling sick or anything, are you?"

"I'm not that drunk," she told him, then collapsed on the couch where he'd been sitting. "My mother is right, I have many faults."

He decided not to make an issue of having his seat stolen, and moved to the chair instead. "It's human nature."

"No, she's right. I obsess. About the wrong men. Then I don't move on and screw everything else up, you know?"

Mulder wondered if she was talking about Doggett, but decided that it wasn't fair to ask her while her guard was down. "You know I'm not the move-on posterchild myself, Monica."

For some reason that made her giggle. "Nah, you're the alien abduction posterchild. Only one poster per person."

"Okay."

"I tell my heart to move on, but dammit, it doesn't listen. How come it doesn't listen?" she moaned.

"No ears?"

This set off a fresh peal of giggles. "Stop making me laugh, I'm trying to be hard on myself here."

"And I'm trying to watch baseball. Why don't you go to bed now and beat yourself up tomorrow after a good night's sleep?"

"Good idea. I'm glad I've got a friend with such good ideas."

"Who do you need to move on from?" Mulder asked curiously.

"I'm drunk but not that drunk," she told him with a smirk. Mulder watched her stumble over her own feet for a few seconds before wondering if he ought to help her to bed, but she righted herself so that potentially awkward situation was avoided. Yawning, he turned his attention back to the TV once her bedroom door closed.




Late July

"Yes. Thank you."

Reyes heard Mulder hang up the phone, then sit heavily in a chair. She decided the pasta was not in dire need of supervision, so abandon it to see was up.

"Everything ok, Mulder?"

He was looking down, at his own hands or at the baby sprawled out on a blanket sleeping she couldn't tell. "Scully's headstone is done. They just called let me know that they would be putting it on her grave soon."

"Oh," she blurted out, and cursed herself for not thinking of something more comforting. He gets jolting news of this dead loved one in all she can think of saying is oh? Not her best moment.

"I didn't expect it to be so soon... my dad was Jewish, so wasn't until the first anniversary of his death that we have the unveiling... I guess I should know more about Christian burials given that my mother had one, but I was - I was gone when her headstone went up."

Reyes nodded. She wondered if he realized how often he spoke about his parents that way. Mother. Dad. It probably reflected on his relationship with them. Somehow. "In my experience, there isn't usually any ceremony attached to headstones for Christians. It's just delivered and people see it on their own schedules. That there are often memorial services on their death anniversary, anyway."

"I didn't know that," Mulder said quietly. Reyes could tell that he was wondering if his mother had had a memorial service while he had been missing.

"There are a lot of Christian sects, so you're not likely to find too many universal practices, but I know Memorial services are-" she struggled to find a more appropriate word then' popular'. "-common for Catholics."

"I'll leave it to Maggie to plan if she wants one." On the floor William began to stir, so Mulder picked him up. He paused on his way to the kitchen for a bottle. "Were you raised Catholic?"

"Yes."

Seeming satisfied with her answer he disappeared for a few minutes.

"Did you go to Catholic school and all that?" he asked when he returned.

"Through eighth grade."

"It's hard to imagine you submitting to wearing a uniform everyday."

"I'm not going to ask you what you mean by that."

He waved his hand, until William shrieked when he lost his grip on the bottles nipple. "Oops. I just meant you're not the conformist type. How old were you when you left the church?"

"The nuns told me that I'd go to hell if I refused to be confirmed at 14. So then."

"Ah. Being raise by a nominal Jew and a nominal Protestant I missed out on the touchy-feely aspects of religion like that," Mulder said with a straight face.

Reyes snorted. "You missed out on so much."

"Movies make me think so. No uniforms in my school, so no girls trying to get around the dress codes-"

"I never tried to alter my skirts, but lots of girls did."

"And you didn't even appreciated it they way I would have." Mulder smirked.




A Week Later

The cemetery was hot. Everywhere was hot. Reyes would have felt bad about Mulder sweating in his suit if she didn't already feel bad for him for so many other reasons.

Like the fact that strapped to his chest was a little boy who never had and never would know his mother.

Maybe it was William she felt for more. After all she felt a kindredness there, never having known her real parents. But at least she had had two loving adopted parents. When she tried to picture growing up without one or the other, her imagination failed her. And, since she honestly couldn't imagine Mulder with anyone but Scully, it seemed likely that the child would never have a mother, natural or otherwise.

She noticed that Mulder was staring with a perplexed frown at something on the back of the headstone, so she reached over to give his hand a commiserating touch. He jumped as if he'd been touched with a live wire.




Mulder wasn't sure how to explain his startled reaction, so he didn't. Fortunately Reyes took it in stride, so he didn't have to. Something to be grateful of.

Unlike the thing that had captured his attention: his own name. Carved into the smooth finish of the granite was his full name, his date of birth and an ominous hyphen after which waited a spot for his date of death. That's why he jumped - for a fraction of a second he imagined that Reyes' gentle touch was the icy hand of death come for him.

Whoever had arranged for a double burial plot, most likely Maggie since Bill hated him and Charlie had never met him, must have meant it as a kindness, an acknowledgement of the role he'd played in Scully's life, but it was an all too visceral nod towards his own mortality for him to have been able to accept it with aplomb. Instead it seemed a taunt, a demand that he realize that his own life was no more guaranteed than hers had been; and, by aching extension, neither was their son's.




August 19th, 2001

On a bright note, William was sleeping more than two hours at a time at night, and was more alert during the day, which meant he spent longer periods awake and practicing his new laugh whenever Mulder tried to amuse him. The drawback was that because he was beginning to take interest in the world at large, it was often difficult to get him to sleep in the first place. Gone were the days of laying him in his crib and watching as he fell asleep as soon as he hit the mattress.

Pacing, contrary to popular wisdom, didn't ever make his son's eyelids heavy. And the one time he tried to let William cry himself to sleep, he felt like a child abusing monster, so it only took ten minutes or so to break him - but it felt longer - then he rushed into the nursery and promised to never do it again.

The only thing that seemed to lull William to sleep some nights was to sit in the rocking chair Maggie Scully brought over before she moved, and sing. At first Mulder stuck strictly to the real words, having diligently looked them all up on line, but after a while he began to bore of that. So he made up his own words. The one that worked the best, so far as he could tell, was his butchering of Hush Little Baby.

Hush little baby, don't you cry,
Papa's gonna sing you a lullaby

Hush, little William, don't give me lip,
Papa's gonna buy you a rocket ship

And if that rocket ship won't fly,
Papa's gonna buy you a telescope to spy

And if that telescope can't find them,
Papa's gonna get you a hacked security system

And if that security system fails,
Papa's gonna send an APB to all the jails

And if those jails don't keep the bad men in,
Papa's gonna buy you a hat lined with tin

And if that hat don't keep the voices out,
You'll still be my baby even if you're crazy and shout

So hush little baby don't you cry,
Momma would have loved you and Papa's in the FBI.

After the fifteenth night of singing it the last line didn't hurt his chest any more. This time as Mulder's voice trailed off he looked down and saw that the baby's eyes were scrunched tightly shut. They'd both survived another bedtime.




September 10th, 2001

Cases that wrapped up on Mondays were never any fun, and the current case was no exception to the rule. They drove back to the office in near silence, not because there was tension between them, but because they were so drained that there was nothing worth talking about.

Doggett stretched when they got out of the car. "I'm so glad this day is over."

"Me too," Mulder replied, but his mind was already on going up to the daycare and retrieving his son. "I think tonight's going to be a slow night for us, I'm tired and Reyes looks dead on her feet too. What about you?"

Doggett shrugged. "I was thinking of renting a movie that came out on video last week. That one with the guy who has no memory."

"Memento?"

"Yeah, I think so."

"I bought that this weekend," Mulder told him, thinking of the impromptu diaper run that'd lead to several other purchases. "I haven't gotten a chance to see it yet. Want to come over tonight and watch it?" Mulder asked impulsively. "If Reyes doesn't mind."

"I don't mind."

"So what do you say?"

At first Mulder was sure that he was going to say no, but then a rare smile lit up Doggett's face. "Okay, why not? It's not like another night at home would do me any good."




Mulder brought William out into the living room soon after the movie ended, because he could hear him snuffling over the baby monitor. His guess was that the baby was bored, and he figured that it would keep him from wailing.

Doggett looked up when Mulder sat on the couch." Can I hold him?"

Mulder realized that he never had before and wondered fleetingly if that too was something that would have been different were Scully still alive; after all, she'd been much closer to Doggett.

"Sure." Mulder put the baby in his arms and was pleased to see that he didn't need instruction on how to properly hold a baby. William seemed to like Doggett, and smiled up at him.

And Doggett smiled back, setting a new daily record. "Would you look at that red hair. When my son was this age his hair was so blond and wispy you more felt than saw it."

Mulder wasn't sure what he should say about the dead child, because he realized that even years later Doggett wasn't over it - how could he be and be human? "He has Scully's eyes too. But at least he doesn't have my nose," he added wryly.

Doggett didn't look up because his eyes were on William's hand, which tightly grasp one of his fingers. "I don't think your nose loses you any points with the women who stare at you when we're out on cases."

"What women?" Mulder asked innocently.

Both Doggett and Reyes laughed, to his puzzlement.

"What?"

"Nevermind, Mulder." Doggett told him. "When you went up to the daycare Skinner called and said he just wanted Monica and I to go to that interview tomorrow."

"Why?"

"He said something about not needing three agents for the preliminaries, and the daycare's hours. They want us there an hour before you could drop off the baby."

Mulder threw his head back into the couch. "Great. I guess I'll be doing the write up for this case too."

"I've got the next one. Promise," Reyes told him before offering him some popcorn.

"Uh huh. Where is it that you're driving to so early in the morning?"

Doggett waved his hand. "Some place I never heard of in New Jersey. I think. Skinner said he'd fax me the directions tonight."

"You've got a fax machine?"

"Yeah. It's a dinosaur that I almost never use since getting e-mail, but it beats driving in even earlier for a map."

Mulder yawned. "I'm beat. Don't stay up too long, kids."

"Sure, Dad." Reyes smirked at him.

"Yeah, I'm out the door once I finish my soda," Doggett said,handing Mulder his son.

"Have a good night."




Chapter Nine

September 11th, 2001

Theskyisfalling, theskyisfalling.

The first reports about the plane slamming into the World Trade Center came as Mulder was typing up a report about a case that involved insects reacting in a strange way. His fingers stopped clicking as he listened to the radio, one new addition to the X-Files office; there'd never been one since he'd always found them distracting, but he was recently outvoted. Staring at the small box in disbelief, he thought about calling Skinner to find out if it had been a hoax.

Before he could, another report came on, informing all and sundry that another plane has hit the trade center.

Skinner's line was busy when he dialed it, so he hung up, swearing in disgust. The reports go on and on, talking about the horror. Mulder tried go back to his reports after taking a mental inventory of those he knows. No one was in New York. Well, probably not. The reports go no where until 9:48 a.m..

Then two things happened at once: the radio bleats about the pentagon being struck, and an alarm goes off in the Hoover building, making Mulder jump out of his chair in alarm as well. Until that very moment he didn't even know that there were alarms for evacuation in the building.

The next minute he was running. Not out of the building, but headed up the stairs. He needed to get William. He couldn't lose William too, not his last link to Scully, his baby...Running up the stairs, he heard a couple of people telling him that he was going the wrong way, but he didn't take the time to respond or even shake his head. They could save themselves if they wanted, but he had to think of his son. All he could think of was his son.

Horrible scenarios ran through his head as his shoes pounded the stairs. Another plane might slam into the Hoover building, killing everyone still inside. They could have evacuated the nursery early, and he wouldn't find his son. What if the terrorists weren't satisfied with the destruction a plane could work and resorted to nuclear weapons instead?

The door slammed with the force of Mulder and another frantic parent flinging it open together. It might have frightened the kids if most of them weren't already crying because of the alarm sounds. All the little kids were already being bundled into coats, and the babies into carriers. Mulder could see the strain on the daycare workers faces- there were twenty kids and only five of them. It was a perfectly legal ratio, but it wasn't a realistic one when it came to moving that many kids to safety.

He looked around frantically until he found one of the women putting William in his carrier. A selfish part of him wanted nothing more than to take his son and leave, going as far as he could drive, but he knew that was wrong. The reason there were so many kids there whose parents hadn't come for them was because people dropped their kids off for the day while they went on cases.

"How can I help?" he asked hoarsely as he took William's baby carrier by the handled. The frazzled woman pointed to another baby carrier. He grabbed that handle too. The other father seemed to have come to the same conclusion he had, and had another child- not his- in his arms as well as his own daughter, as the seven, now eight as a mother arrived, adults made their way out of the room, carrying the youngest children and gently urging the older preschoolers and afternoon kindergarten kids to walk with them in the proper direction.

Every second was an agonized eternity. They could be attacked while they made their pain-staking way down the stairs. It was two floors to the bottom, and a stern announcement repeatedly told them not to use the elevators. All the adults knew why, but it didn't damper the temptation to take the risk, if only to get to their destination outdoors five minutes sooner.

At last they were outside, all twenty-eight of them. Every single one of the adults looked up at the sky, scanning it for planes.

It took another three minutes to meet the rest of the building at the fire drill spot across the parking lot. Surely some of the adults standing and watching could have come and grabbed the older kids, speeding up their progress, but they were too numb. Everyone was numb.

When they finally got there, Mulder had time to study the other baby in his care. He thought it might be baby Joel, the ten-month-old son of one of the agents on the first floor. He knew the agent only in passing, but well enough to see that she didn't seem to be anywhere around, and that observation seemed to bear out as parents came and grabbed some of the kids, their own, or their partner's children. Mulder stared at them, how could they have simply left them behind, trusting that someone else would get them out safely?

It seemed absurd to be standing under trees near a parking lot while waiting for Armageddon, but it was really happening, so none of them laughed. Not one.

There were a lot of tears during the emergency roll call, and not all of them from the kids who remained in their little group because their mothers or fathers weren't there to pick them up. Each time a name was hollered through a bullhorn, there was a horrific pause- people held their breath as they waited for a "here" or "She's in Pennsylvania," or otherwise innocuous location. But some people were in New York; that's what caused the tears. During roll Mulder learned that it was indeed Joel that he was looking after, because one of the daycare people shouted "Agent Mulder has him," much to his surprise. Joel's mother was one of the people in New York.

Eventually roll was done, and they were told they could leave. People began to scatter, still casting distrustful looks at the sky. Mulder looked around helplessly. What was he going to do? A woman tugged on his sleeve. "Do you think you could take Joel home? We called his dad, and he won't be able to get to DC for about four hours since the airlines are shutdown and he's coming from far away."

"Sure, give him my address," Mulder heard himself saying, glad that his job didn't involve a daily flight as a commute. "Wait, what about his mother?"

"We're still trying to reach her," he was told. "Most of the cell phone calls into NY are being frozen."

He nodded, and was about to pick both babies up when someone ran over to him with a diaper bag. It was only then that he recalled that the daycare people had been hampered by bags as well as babies. It was a good thing he got Joel's bag, since he didn't have anything back at the apartment for a baby as old as Joel.




It wasn't a good drive home. As soon as he strapped the boys into the backseat and got behind the wheel the realization hit him. These innocent little souls were trusting him to keep them both safe, even though the sky was falling. For all Mulder knew, Joel was now just like William, minus a mother. And his cell phone wasn't working either, so he couldn't call Doggett and Reyes and find out where they were. The thought upset him greatly, because his famous memory was failing him. Doggett had mentioned the night before that they were working on a case and mentioned where, but he couldn't remember. He thought the state had New in the name.

Mulder tried to distract himself with the babies instead of pacing around the apartment. It worked pretty well since both were wet, and both were hungry. Digging through the boy's diaper bag, Mulder learned that Joel was eating solid food, which he didn't have any experience with yet, so he was able to distract himself further by cleaning the kitchen up while both boys slept in William's crib.

Joel was still sleeping when the frantic knocking on the door started. Mulder looked through the peephole and guessed that the man looked vaguely Joel-like, but it was hard to tell, so he put the rarely used chain lock on before he opened the door.

"Agent Mulder? I was told you have my son."

"Can I see your ID, please?" Mulder asked him politely, making no move towards undoing the chain. The man pawed through his wallet and came up with a perfectly ordinary license- Mulder thought he'd heard that the man was lawyer- and the last name matched the missing agent's.

"He's asleep," Mulder told him as he let the man in and led him to the nursery.

A visible relief washed over the man as he reached into the crib and picked the sleeping child up. "I can't thank you enough for looking after him."

"He was no problem..." Mulder paused. "Have you heard from your wife?"

The other man nodded over the infant's head. "Just ten minutes ago. She's fine."

"That's good to hear." And it was, he wouldn't wish losing a loved one on anyone.

Once they were gone, Mulder resumed his pacing. He still hadn't heard from Reyes or Doggett. He still couldn't remember where they were. What if they were in New York? He was pretty sure it'd been New Jersey that they'd been going to, but the states were so close they could have gone into New York for something too. He and Scully had done so more than once.

Nervous glances at the clock gave to irritable ones. Pushing away his own frequent culpability on that score, he thought about how Scully never would have gone off all day without giving him an itinerary. He decided that the problem was that neither of his partners was Scully; it was a problem nearly every damn day.




Reyes thanked Doggett as he dropped her off, then ran up the steps. She hadn't been able to get to a working phone all day because the circuits had commandeered for emergency personnel use only. Her worries about Mulder and William lessened as she got to the top of the stairs and saw that there was light coming from the apartment's windows. Mulder must be home.

What she didn't expect, however, was to open the door only to be engulfed in a hug. "I couldn't remember where you said you and Doggett were going," Mulder told her shakily before releasing her.

"We were in New Jersey," she told him, touched by his concern.

"It's been a hell of a day," Mulder said quietly. "Right after the pentagon was hit the building was evacuated. Two other parents and I ended up helping the daycare evacuate. Then Agent Marks' son Joel went home with me and William, since she was in NY, condition unknown, and her husband a couple of states away. The husband came for Joel only an hour or so ago- Marks is okay. All I could remember was that you'd said the case was in a state that began with the word New..."

"At least it's all over," Reyes said, but neither of them believed her.




Taking a step back, Mulder released a shaky sigh. Seeing her safe, he wanted to berate her for not having told him exactly where she and Doggett were going. Wanted to accuse her of making him worry beyond his threshold, which he lived so much nearer to since May...wanted to express how upsetting entertaining the idea of him and William being all alone - again - had been. But he didn't. Instead he said none of these things aloud, unaware that his eyes told the story for him.




The phone rang at seven, startling them from the daze they'd sunk into when the news channels began to scroll through the names in ages of the victims who'd been on the doomed flights.

There had been an announcement earlier in the day that the phone lines were being shutdown except for emergency calls, so they didn't expect a called so soon. The phone continued its shrill complaint when Mulder found that his fingers were clumsy when he tried to answer it. After nearly dropping it, he managed to squeak out a "Hello?"

"Oh, thank God. I've been trying to reach you for hours, Fox." Maggie Scully's voice sounded both relieved and accusing.

"They shutdown the phone circuits except for emergency personnel," he said by rote, how many times had he heard that same sentence that day before came out of his own mouth?

"But you're okay. I was so worried that I heard about the pentagon being hit. For all I knew, you could have gone there for some reason."

"William and I are fine, Maggie. We were both at the Hoover building until we, all the employees that is, were told to go home." He briefly wondered if he should have mentioned bringing home baby Joel, but she spoke before he decided one way or the other.

"I knew the baby would be fine at daycare, it was you I was worried about."

"I'm touched." And he was.

"Have you written a will yet?" she asked abruptly.

"I've been meaning to," Mulder muttered guiltily. It really was on his to do list, but the thought of writing a will was upsetting. As much as seeing his name with the blank date on the tombstone had been.

"A day like today should serve to remind us that the unexpected happens," Maggie lectured, as though he of all people needed reminders that the unexpected was a part of life. "I talked to Charlie, and he agreed to take William in if, God forbid, anything happens you. You can write that into your will without any worries that he'll change his mind. Charlie never changes his mind about the important things."

"Oh. But I don't even know Charlie-" Mulder began to protest, until he thought of the alternative. Bill Jr.

"That reminds me, you're invited here for Christmas. Unless you other plans?"

He wished desperately for other plans. If only to avoid spending time with Bill Jr. "No. No plans."

"Your partners are okay too, right?"

The sudden backwards lurch in conversation topic made his head ache. He rubbed his forehead but it didn't help much. "They're both fine. I was worried for a while because I couldn't remember it they'd gone to New York or New Jersey, and the phones were out like I said earlier, but... they're both okay." Except, they probably weren't. No more than he was.

"I'm glad. John was very good to Dana when they worked together. I suppose he has family to see over the holidays. What about your roommate?"

"What about her?"

"Is she going to see family over the holidays?"

"Oh. I don't think so. Her mom's in Mexico, so that will make things hard if the news is to be believed. They think that there will be fewer flights than normal for a long while, especially international ones."

Maggie didn't answer. He thought she must have covered her phone's mouthpiece with her hand, because all he heard for the next minute was a muffled conversation the background, none of which he could make out. "Bring her with you, then. And if she's dating someone bring him too."

"I don't think she's seeing anyone, but a pass along the invitation." Mulder's lips worked into a wry smile.

"You take care, Fox."

"I will. You too."

"Kiss the baby for me."




"What was that about? Reyes startled him when she appeared behind them with William on her shoulder and even notice to leaving the room. He found that he was startled a lot that day. "If you don't mind me asking, that is." She added.

"Maggie called to see if everyone is okay. And to extend and invitation to go to Charlie's for Christmas."

"That's nice. Are you going to go?" She passed him the baby and the bottle she must have gotten up to get.

"It was actually an invitation for three, or four if you're dating anyone by then." He grinned at her surprise look.

"She wants me to go? But I'm not part of the family."

"Well, neither am I, really. I think she collects strays."

Reyes smirked. "At least we are housebroken." William chose that moment to split up on Mulder's shirt. "Or you and I are, anyway."

"Very funny. Get me a damp washcloth, please?!"




Later that night Mulder checked on William to make sure that he was asleep, and listened at Reyes' door. She seemed to be sleeping too. He slipped his house-key into his pocket and went outside.

The stars were out, as well as half the waxing moon, and it was cooler than he expected. His breath smoked as he looked up at the stars. The farther it got from Scully's death, the more secretive he felt he needed to be in order to talk to her. Outside, by then, since he was afraid that Reyes would hear him in his room and make grave pronouncements about his sanity.

But he still felt compelled to talk to Scully. Not every day, not even often, but on special occasions. The type he would have turned to her with had she still been alive. He turned his face towards the heavens, and picked a star to focus on.

"Scully, do you know what happened today? So many people died...It was so scary to not know what was going to happen next, and if the attacks would continue. I don't think I've felt that powerless since the day you died. Two instances of helplessness in four mouths. Either I'm becoming a wuss, or it's been a really hard year.

"The babies distracted me some, but I was still so worried about John and Monica-" he remembered that she would have probably called them by first name. "- since I had no idea where they were. They could have been at the world trade center for all I knew, then they would have been gone too. Then there would be two fewer connections to you, two fewer people to fight for the truth, and two more people that I would grieve for.

"They're fine though. I guess you know that since they're not up there with you, and neither are the type to be sent to fiery torment. I guess now I know why you used to get so upset when I ditched you." He chuckled weakly and shook his head. "I'm a slow learner. Love you."

After making his careful way back into the apartment, he held his breath and listened for waking sounds. There were none. He'd gotten away with it one more time.




Chapter Ten

Halloween 2001

"You're going to go Trick-or-Treating with us, aren't you?" Mulder gave Reyes big, puppy-dog eyes. "William won't enjoy it as much if you don't come with us."

He was soon disappointed to find that she was immune to his charm. "William won't have any idea what's going on either way. He'll probably sleep through it all. If you want candy, why don't you just buy some?"

"Buy some." Mulder gave her a scandalized look. "It's not the same if you buy it! The candy must be hard won by begging for it. Don't you know that?"

"I didn't grow up in this country, remember?" she asked, looking faintly amused.

"But...don't they celebrate The Day of The Dead in Mexico? I thought that was a lot like Halloween."

"Well, in some ways. There are treats, but not eaten by the living. And there are skeletons and ghosts, but they're your dead family members, not scary."

"But no trick-or-treating?" Mulder had trouble processing that fact.

"Not when I was a kid. Mama says that it's becoming more popular now, rubbing off on the kids down there, but it's pretty new."

"I hope you won't take this the wrong way, but...spending the day with dead people is no way for kids to celebrate a holiday."

"But dressing up as a monster and wandering around in the dark while taking food from strangers is?"

"Oh yeah." Mulder nodded enthusiastically.

Reyes rolled her eyes.

"Come on, I'll split William's candy with you. What? He doesn't have any teeth, I'm sure he won't mind."




Reyes found herself enjoying the evening in spite of herself, mostly because Mulder was acting like a kid. A more than six foot tall kid. He tried, unsuccessfully, to get her to dress as a pirate, but she did consent to wear a mask shaped like a cat's face that they saw while shopping at a warehouse store. For his part, Mulder went in full costume: he wore a striped convict's outfit complete with a black and white striped hat, and a ball and chain. Of course he'd made a rueful comment about the only way he would ever get a ball and chain. He dressed William up too, as Tigger. He of course looked the cutest.

Which was something they kept hearing all night long. One of the reasons that Reyes was reluctant to go trick or treating with them was that she thought that people would complain that William was too young, and that Mulder was obviously just using him to get candy, but they all thought the baby was completely adorable and gave them more candy then they probably would have gotten if accompanied by a less adorable child.

"This kid is a gold mine," Mulder whispered to her as they walk away from one of the houses. "If I was a little more ruthless I think I'd be a stage parent. Everyone thinks he is adorable, getting work would be a snap for him. We could live off his savings."

Her response was to punch him lightly on the shoulder. Mulder smirked, something she could see in the moonlight.

"I said if."

All of a sudden a whooping sound came out of the darkness at them. It soon became clear that it was a gang of children, probably between eight and twelve years old, and that they were doing their best to frighten anyone they might come across.

Grinning, Mulder decided to play along. "Oh scary!" he said, grabbing her hand with the one of his not occupied with holding onto William. The kids ran by them shrieking, and they both pretended to be very scared, which satisfy the children very much. They ran away laughing in the darkness.

Reyes watched them, but her thoughts were more occupied by the feeling of Mulder's warm fingers wrapped around hers. It didn't mean anything, there were just playing to make those kids happy, but it felt nice. It'd been too long since she felt another hand, besides William's, around her own. For moment she felt a wistful longing that it could be Doggett's. But that disappeared as soon as Mulder let go of her hand and started to head towards another house to beg for more candy.




November 16th, 2001
1:15 p.m.

"Christ, Mulder, are you okay?!"

Mulder stared up at Doggett, wondering briefly how Doggett came to be standing above him, and presently helping him to his feet. He'd been on the ladder above Doggett just seconds earlier, so being flat on his back came as a shock.

When Doggett hissed though his teeth and pointed at his arm, Mulder realized that it did feel strange. Like it was no longer under his control. "That's odd," he muttered, trying to get his hand to move on command.

"Oh man... we're going to the hospital right away," Doggett told him.

Mulder nodded and watched him take off his coat, wondering why he'd do that if they were leaving.

"I'm going to try not to hurt you, Mulder," Doggett said, and began to bind Mulder's arm to his chest.

Reyes ran into the room at that moment. "I heard a crash, what happened?"

Doggett finished what he was doing before he looked up at her. "Mulder fell off a ladder and dislocated his shoulder. We need to bring him to the hospital so they can put it back into place."

"What about the entity?" Mulder protested.

"We'll worry about that later," Reyes said firmly.

Mulder muttered about the possibility of it escaping but no one listened to him. Instead they made him leave it to its own devices while they left to seek medical attention.

Reyes led the way out of the building and across the parking lot, while Doggett helped Mulder. "Mulder, did you hit your head?"

"I hit everything," Mulder groaned.

"It's okay, the doctor'll check everything ou," Doggett told him as he helped him into the backseat of the car.




November 16th, 2001
Earlier that day...
eight a.m.

Doggett gave Mulder a wary look when he saw the excited gleam in his partner's eyes; he seldom thought of it as good news.

Heaving a sigh, he asked, "Am I going to hate this case?"

"You'll love it. Won't he, Reyes?" Mulder turned to his roommate for support. Her shrug did little to reassure Doggett.

"Don't keep me in suspense, what weirdness are we being sent to chase after today?"

Mulder grinned at him. "Shapeshifters. Or maybe just one."

"Like the thing that looked like you when you were missing?"

Mulder shook his head. "I don't think so. We had no evidence of the alien bounty hunters being able to assume non-organic forms."

"Non-organic? As in inanimate objects?" Doggett asked rather calmly. "What sort of creature are we talking about, here, Mulder?"

"The kind that impersonated a desk and terrorized a roomful of second graders before shifting into a ball and rolling down the hallway to make a fast get away."

"And these second graders are considered reliable witnesses? Little kids are known for wild imaginations."

"But their thirty-seven year old teacher is not. Most people describe her as logical and dry even. You should like her."

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"Ignoring Doggett's muttered question, Mulder added, "They've closed the school for the day, claiming 'heating problems'. We'll be meeting with the principal and the teacher who witnessed the incident at 12:30."

"Can't wait," Doggett said sourly.




Amelia Earhart Elementary School
12:30 p.m.

It seemed strange to see a school's parking lot almost completely empty. The only cars there when they pulled in seemed to belong to the principal and the teacher they were there to question. Mulder assumed that the nicer car belonged to the principal, not the Ford Escort.

"It's a crime what they pay teachers," he remarked as they walked by.

Doggett snorted. "It's a crime what they pay us."

"That too."

"If you want to make a lot of money, you have to do something useless, like act," Doggett added.

"Or play professional sports," Reyes said.

"Sports aren't useless!"
"Wait, sports are very important to the morale of this country."

Reyes rolled her eyes at her partners and pushed the door of the building open. The principal and the teacher, both women, were waiting for them in the lobby. The teacher looked shaken, but the principal's face was studiously bland.

"So," Doggett began. "Which one of you saw a desk run away?"

Mulder cringed a little bit; even he wasn't that blunt.

"I did." The teacher's voice was timid. "It's hard to believe, but it really happened."

Reyes smiled warmly at her. "Why don't you tell us exactly what happened? You might not have thought so from agent Doggett's tone, but we've all seen things that are hard to explain, so we'll all keep open minds."

Doggett took a step back, as if sensing that he oughtn't be in range of elbows.




They continued the rest of the interview in the principal's office, which had several comfortable chairs. Sitting there, the teacher seemed to relax. A little.

"I had my back to the class, so I could put up the spelling words that the kids were supposed to copy into their notebooks. We'll have a test on Friday..." She trailed off, sensing that she was digressing. "There was a bang and a couple of the kids started shouting about Jonny's desk, so I turned around expecting to see that he'd dumped it on the floor, or perhaps something had broken."

"But it hadn't?" Mulder prompted.

"No, it was ... moving. Have you ever seen a bull or horse trying to buck a rider? It was like that. I couldn't figure out how it could possibly be moving like that. Were we having a small earthquake? Had Jonny somehow rigged up a mechanism to do it? As I was reminding myself that Jonny was only eight, and not very bright either, it took off for the door, moving jerkily, as if it was unused to running. Which I guess it was..." She gave them a bemused smile. "For a couple of seconds I was rooted to the floor, but then I ran to the door to see where the crazy thing was going. It was shrinking. I don't know how else to put it, but it collapsed in on itself, and got smaller, all the while still straining to go forward. Eventually, it got small and round and shot forward very quickly. Until it came to a wall that it simply bounced against and bored through."

"It put a hole in the wall?" Doggett asked, surprised.

The principal nodded. "We haven't repaired it yet, because we thought you might want to see the damage."

"We would, thank you," Mulder told her, standing so they could go and see the damage for themselves.




If the hole hadn't been perfectly round, and eight inches off the ground, Mulder might have thought that it had been made by a very industrious mouse, one that had the fortitude to burrow through concrete.

Mulder shined his flashlight into the hole and saw very little. Whatever had made the hole was no longer in it. "What's on the other side of this wall?"

"It's a storage room. We used to use it as a classroom, but the population in the school dropped a lot after the dotcom crash, so we haven't used it this year."

"Are there lights in there?"

"Oh yes. I'll show you."

The room the principal led them to did seem more storage room-like than classroom. Although, the dusty chalkboard, still etched with the ghosts of former assignments, gave its history away. There were desks piled haphazardly, which Mulder eyed suspiciously; the whole lot of them could have galloped into the room and posed themselves, waiting for the unsuspecting to wander in before they struck.

When Mulder noticed Doggett eyeing the desks too, he held hope that the other man was on the same wavelength. Then Doggett opened his mouth. "Did the desk under suspicion have any identifying marks?"

When he turned to see the principal's reaction, he was a little surprised to see that neither she nor the teacher were still there.

"I think they went back to the main office," Reyes said. "I'll go ask them Doggett's question."

Mulder almost told her not to bother, but he caught movement out of the corner of his eye. "What was that?" he asked Doggett, expecting the classic ' What was what?' response.

To his surprise, Doggett said instead, "I don't know, I didn't get a good look at it."

Though there were lights, the day was raw and gloomy, so all the corners were in shadows.

They trained their flashlights into those corners, then dove backwards when something shot at them.

It moved so quickly that they were barely able to make out the color - silver. The color and the way it moved made Mulder think of mercury - if a metal could decide that it had places it needed to go, and had the volition to visit them.

Though they didn't say so aloud, both agents were glad that Reyes had not yet returned with their hosts, because the fewer people who saw them tripping over their own feet as they chased after the thing the better.

"Ah! It's coming right at us!" Doggett shouted in a tone strangled by shock.

The thing stopped momentarily, and then headed back at them, not seeming to have lost any momentum at all. Which was impossible.

Given what it had done to the wall, diving out of its way seemed like the smart thing to do, so they did. It soared past them, and bounced back into the classroom.

There were crashes, and the light leaking out of the doorway into the hallway ceased.

"It took out the lights!" Doggett hissed, reaching for his flashlight.

They approached the room cautiously, holding their flashlights ahead of them like swords. The floor was littered with broken glass. Mulder shined his flashlight up at the ceiling. "The light fixtures!" he hissed back.

"What about them?"

"There are two of them. When we were in this room earlier there was only one."

"So you think that...thing is imitating the light fixture?"

Mulder resisted the urge to groan about time wasted by repeating the obvious. "Yeah. Look at them. They're exactly the same."

"Wouldn't they be if they were made by the same company?" Doggett asked doubtfully. "And look, the bulbs aren't broken identically."

Mulder took a moment to reply, because he'd found a ladder and was dragging it under the fixtures. "Of course they're not. That'd give it away." Mulder began to scale the ladder. "Maybe you should look for something to trap it in when I grab it. I'll throw it down to you."

Doggett looked around, and found an old habitrail. Fortunately it was no longer occupied by a class pet. "Yeah, okay. I hope it doesn't bite. How do you know which one it is?"

"I think it's this one, because it's off center."

Two things happened at once: Doggett looked down to open the cover to the habitrail, and Mulder, at the top of the ladder reached too far and overbalanced himself.

As he fell off the ladder he saw one of the light fixtures recoil in surprise, which would have been gratifying if he wasn't rapidly approaching the corner of one of the discarded desks shoulder first.




November 16th, 2001
4:15 p.m.

The doctor made Mulder promise to wear the sling for a week, and threatened him with permanent damage when he was reluctant to agree. "So, do you think he meant permanent damage from the injury, or he was planning to hurt me?" Mulder asked as they headed back to the Hoover building.

Reyes snorted. "I wouldn't put the latter past him. It'll be okay, you'll just have to learn to diaper one-handed." The look of surprise he gave her made her face break out into a grin. "Or not."




It was fortunate that had been a carpool day for Reyes and Mulder because it meant no one would have to drive his car home. As it was, Mulder was unhappy that he needed Reyes to go with him to pick up William at daycare; at first he insisted that he could manage with his good arm-until his partners reminded him of something that he failed to take into consideration: doors.

Predictably, The Hair made a fuss when she caught sight of his sling. "Agent Mulder! Did you break your arm??"

He grimaced, was relieved to see that Reyes was taking advantage of the distraction and was gathering William's belongings. "No, I just managed to dislocate my shoulder. I should probably be back to normal in a week."

The woman nodded. "At least you'll have the long weekend coming up next week to recuperate." She wandered off towards the Infants room, but soon returned with Mulder's sleepy son, whom she deposited in Reyes arms before turning back to Mulder. "We were fussy today. He's probably teething, so I hope you have a few teething rings at home."

"His skin looks flushed," Reyes noted as she buckled him into the baby carrier.

"Sometimes teething is accompanied by low-grade fever," The Hair said in a teacherly tone that grated on both agents. "Some baby Tylenol should take care of that and pain."

"Yeah, okay. Thanks," Mulder said. "Reyes, mind if we stop at a drugstore in the way home?" He remembered that he only bought one teething ring so far, and had no baby Tylenol to speak of.

Reyes gave him a curious look. "I'd planned on it anyway. You were going to take the pain meds you were prescribed, weren't you?"

"Um... sure." He gave her rueful smile; Why did none of the woman he knew never want him to do the manly thing - grin and bear it?




Chapter Eleven

November 17th, 2001
1:04 a.m.

Curling up on her side, Reyes thought about Doggett. He'd been so kind to Mulder that it led her thoughts in the direction of knights in shining armor, which was a really appealing image. Knights always had maidens they were honoring. One hand slipped under the waistband of her sleep pants and she thought about Doggett's lips, how soft they would be if she kissed them, and he kissed her back. Her hips moved lazily when his icy blue eyes soften as he looked down at her. A soft sound escaped her as he dragged a thumb over one swollen nipple and she pushed herself against her palm-

And then the doorknob rattled. Shocked and mortified, she pulled her hand away so fast that there was an audible snap of elastic waistband. To her infinitesimal relief, Mulder seemed too panic-stricken to have noticed anything.

"I'm sorry to wake you, but William is really sick. He's burning up. I want to bring him to the e.r, but..." He plucked at his sling with his good hand.

"Okay, I'll drive you. Just give me a couple of minutes to get dressed and use the bathroom." Fortunately, it seemed as though he'd dressed himself without any trouble, which made her glad, since she'd had her doubts on that score. Helping with an injured adult's grooming was more than she signed up for.

"Thank you." He sounded so truly grateful that she almost forgave him for embarrassing the hell out of her. Not that he knew. "I'll get William wrapped up."

"Okay, but don't try to pick him up."

An unpleasant heavy sensation in her nether regions accompanied her down the hall, and only served to remind her that like her daydreams, it was yet another reason to feel completely unfulfilled. In the bathroom she spent twice as long as she should have washing her hands. It was ridiculous, but she still couldn't shake the alarm at the idea that her roommate might figure out what she'd been doing when he interrupted. "All the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand." She muttered under her breath. The thought made her wonder briefly about her monk-like roommate; if he did his sheets more often than reasonable, she hadn't noticed since they'd solved her only laundry issue months ago.

By the time she threw clothes on, Mulder was pacing William's room, with one coat sleeve flapping emptily. One look at the baby told her exactly why Mulder had woken her up: his skin was flushed nearly as red as his hair. Whatever was wrong with him, it went beyond teething. To her surprise he wasn't screaming, but only whining fretfully. His warm little body against her shoulder felt like she'd imagine a roast just out of the oven would, if held in a similar fashion.

"Mulder, why don't you get the door?"

He raced off, apparently happy to be of some help, despite not having use of one arm. At the car he climbed in back to sit beside William's car seat, and she didn't think it was a bad idea. Mulder's soothing noises accompanied their whole drive.




She'd scarcely pulled William out of his car seat before Mulder was rushing ahead to get the door. He almost seemed disappointed when it slide open on its own.

The only good thing about going to the hospital in the middle of the night was that the ER was nearly deserted. There were just a couple of green-tinged people sitting in the waiting area listlessly looking at magazines and a nurse yawning behind the reception desk.

Mulder made a beeline for the desk, and Reyes, burdened with the baby, trailed behind.

"My baby is sick," he told the in-take nurse before she even looked up at them.

The glance she gave them was scarcely interested. "Maybe Mom should fill out the insurance forms while you take him to the triage nurse." She suggested in deference to his injury.

Of course the intake nurse thought that Reyes was William's mother. "No, I'm...we're roommates," she stammered.

"My son's mother is no longer living," Mulder clarified in a flat voice.

After that the nurse ignored her completely, speaking only to Mulder.




When Mulder went out to the waiting room to find Reyes his face was drawn. The doctor's preliminary assessment hadn't been very reassuring. It had been his hope that he'd be told that he was over-reacting, but the doctor had agreed that William was not well. He was too tired to remember what the doctor said might be wrong, but it sounded exotic and awful.

"What am I going to do if he's not okay?" Mulder fretted. The look Reyes gave him seemed to suggest the thing that he'd been trying not to think about since the second he realized that his baby was sick; if he lost his son, he'd have to go on, just as he had when he lost Scully. Every time the world fell down around him, he was left standing, bewildered and grieved.

"Have faith, Mulder," Reyes said at length. "You believe in so many things...extend that to faith in a doctor's ability to heal and William's drive to survive."

Before he could form a reply a voice interrupted. "Mister Mulder?" It was a different doctor.

He hardly dared look at the man, but when he did he didn't see much pity on the doctor's face, which came as a relief. "Y-yes?" Still his voice trembled.

"Your son has influenza. I'd like to keep him over night, but he's feeling better if you'd like to see him now."

"Of course I'd like to see him, but the other doctor said she thought he had..." Mulder trailed off trying to remember the disease's name.

Giving a rueful shake of his head, the doctor said, "Doctor Swain and I discussed his symptoms and agreed that her initial suspicion was based on mistaking what appears to me to be diaper rash for another rash."

The doctor's candor surprised Mulder. "He got the rash a few days ago when someone at daycare mixed up his bag with another child's and put him in cloth diapers."

"Great for the environment but the detergent many diaper services use are too harsh for sensitive skin." The doctor nodded knowingly. "Let's go say hi, now, shall we?"

When they got to the room, William was sound asleep. Sweaty hair clung to his forehead and an IV sprouted from his foot but he looked much improved already.

"I know that the IV probably looks alarming, but one of the biggest dangers of influenza in infants is dehydration," the doctor told them.

Reyes was the only one really listening to the doctor. Mulder had tuned out shortly after it became clear that his baby was going to be okay. It was the only thought his head had room for.

Mulder was reaching out a hand to push William's hair off his forehead when the doctor's voice broke his reverie. "Mister Mulder? Next year you might consider scheduling a flu shot for William. It's approved for infants six to twenty-three months old."

His eyes widened in horrified surprise. Flu vaccines for babies were another thing he'd never heard of. How could he keep his son safe when there was so much to learn, and only him to do the learning? "Do you mean I could have gotten him a shot and he wouldn't be miserably sick now?" Mulder's voice was hoarse.

To his surprise, the doctor shook his head. "Babies have to get two shots the first year to be effective, one in October and one in November. According to William's chart he's not quite six months old, so he wouldn't have been given one last month." The doctor gave him a knowing look. "You couldn't have prevented this, so don't blame yourself."

Mulder's reply was a shaky laugh. "Easier said than done."

"Do you want to stay with your son? The chair's not terribly comfortable, but..."

"I'll stay," Mulder said, then looked apologetically at Reyes. "If picking me up later isn't too inconvenient for you."

"I could stay too," Reyes replied, covering her mouth immediately afterwards to smother a yawn.

"You need some sleep."

"What about you?" she asked. "You didn't sleep much either."

"I'll sleep when he's better."



Digging through her purse for her keys on the way out, it occurred to her that he'd been telling the truth. One day at lunch she ate with Scully, and the redhead had been in the mood to reminisce, so she'd told Reyes about Mulder's proclivity not to sleep when there was something important going on, and how it had always made her crazy because she was afraid he'd fall asleep while driving.

The door that Mulder had frantically tried to open a couple of hours before opened on its own with a gentle hiss. He'd stay awake now. What could be more important to him than his son?




November 19th, 2001
4:27 p.m.

Packing with one hand wasn't easy work, but Mulder was nearly done stuffing all of William's things into the requisite plastic bag provided by the hospital. Langly had dropped him off a while ago so he could spend the afternoon with William, and Reyes was planning to swing by after work to get bring them both home.

William didn't know that he was going home, but he did seem to realize that he was feeling a lot better. He was all smiles when the nurses came in, and seemed to eat up the attention they showered on him. Mulder ruefully wondered if he was going to miss his fan club now that he was going home. But he wasn't going to worry about that until after he managed to tie the bag closed with one hand.

"Mulder?"

Mulder looked up in surprise, since it wasn't Reyes' voice he heard. "Afternoon, Doggett," he greeted his other partner with a puzzled smile.

Doggett addressed the baby first. "Hey Champ, feeling better? I hear you gave your old dad quite a scare."

"Watch who you're calling old," Mulder growled jokingly." He's feeling a lot better, aren't you, Bub?"

"Good to hear," Doggett replied. "You have enough scares in your day to day life without health ones."

"At least, other people's health." Mulder smiled wryly, flapping his sling. "My own health scares are chronic."

"I think I'd heard that about you." Doggett nodded, then divulged the reason he was there. "Reyes isn't going to be able to bring you home, so I'm here to do the honors."

"You lost the bet, huh?"

Doggett shrugged. "I think Skinner had a hidden ace up his sleeve. I suppose there are worse things to wager on. And before you ask, Reyes put his car seat in my car before I left the Hoover building."

William's doctor came by a couple of minutes later and signed the discharge papers. Mulder's was officially no longer a prisoner of the hospital, and he felt like he'd been granted parole too, since he'd spent almost all of the past two and a half days there with him.

He watched as Doggett carefully put on William's coat, and held him close as the three of them walked out of the room and down the hall. There was something about the confident way that Doggett held William that made Mulder very sad. The other man obviously knew exactly what he was doing, but it didn't seem likely that he'd ever have another child of his own to fill those knowing arms. He could understand, though. If by some horrible stroke of fate William was taken from him, he didn't think he'd want another child, either.



After they'd slammed the car doors, Doggett looked over at Mulder. "So...You've got the okay to come back to work on Monday, right?"

"Yeah. And I was worried I would be bored with the time off. I should have been more careful about what I wished for," Mulder replied, twisting in his seat for a moment to glance back at William.

"I guess you'll want to go back to the school then, and look for that...thing."

Mulder shook his head, and Doggett gave him a surprised look. "It's probably long gone by now. It let itself be seen twice, and I have a feeling that it has learned its lesson about people by now. We could go by there every day for a month and never see it again. Although, if the school reports seeing it again, I'd be happy to concede that I was wrong and return."

"You're willing to give up on the mystery, just like that?" Doggett asked.

"We don't solve all our cases." Mulder shrugged. "You ought to know that by now."

"I do. I'm just surprised that you don't want to pursue this further."

"Although I'm too often overzealous, I'd like to think that others don't consider me a fool."

Doggett shook his head. "Anyone who would sum you up with a simple one-word label doesn't know you well at all."

"Thanks. I think."

"I calls 'em like I sees 'em."




Thanksgiving 2001

When Mulder opened the door Langly was standing in the hallway with a large box sprouting wires precariously balanced in his arms.

"What's that?" Mulder asked warily. It didn't look at all edible.

"Give me a hand, would you?" he asked, waiting for Mulder to oblige. "This is a one of a kind, state of the art, video baby monitor."

Mulder was tempted to ask why they thought he needed it, but kept his mouth shut because it was a well intentioned gift, even if he suspected that he'd get little use out of it.

"We can set it up after dinner," Langly added.

"Sure." He sniffed the air and didn't smell anything but plastic. "Is Byers cooking, then? Since you're not."

"Yeah, I can't even peal potatoes without getting yelled at." Langley smiled wryly. "But no, Frohike is cooking."

Mulder stared at his blond friend. "You're kidding."

"Nope. He's twice the cook that Byers or I are. Who do you think cooks all the cheese steaks?"

"I never really thought about it..."

"Someone get the door!" a voice grumbled.

Mulder had to make his face deliberately blank when Frohike entered lugging a huge foil covered turkey - while wearing a "kiss the chef" apron. He supposed that was one way to keep grease off the leather jacket he was wearing under it.

Spending the holiday with the gunmen wasn't something he'd ever pictured, but his defenses had been down when they'd asked him after a sleepless night over the summer. When it became clear that getting a flight out of the country was going to be a bigger pain in the butt than Alvin Kersh, they expanded their plans to include Reyes. She graciously accepted the invitation, and before long the venue became their apartment rather than the gunmen's lair. Which was probably more baby-safe anyway, so Mulder went along with the changes without protest.

Beyond opening doors, Mulder wasn't allowed to make himself of use, and was instead was banished to the living room. He attempted to amuse William for a while, shaking his otherwise purposeless keys with the hand of his good arm, but the baby soon got bored and whiny. Byers came to the rescue and kept William surprisingly entertained by talking about the football game; Mulder wasn't sure which was more shocking, that the baby seemed to be watching the TV or that Byers seemed to know his stuff. On further reflection, he decided that given the name Byers parents chose, his father had probably made sure that his son was familiar with the favorite sport of the Kennedy boys.

"Hey Byers, did you play football in high school?"

"No, I only played peewee. Why?"

"I was just picturing William with sport injuries of his own." He flapped his sling for emphasis.

There was an amused look on Byer's face. "Investigation of a case is a sport?"

"If you're doing it right." That made all three of them laugh. "Hey, did you know Will can sit up on his own now? Put him on the couch and you'll see."

"I don't know... I don't want to hurt him..."

"The worst that'll happen is that he'll tumble over sideways on the soft cushions. Just position yourself in front of him."

Still looking doubtful, Byers picked the baby up and positioned him on the couch. "Hey! He's doing it!"

"What did I tell you?"



Mulder fed William bites of pumpkin pie, making his son chortle in delight, which in turn made all the adults smile.

"I'd say it's unanimous, Frohike," Mulder said. "Everyone thinks you're a great cook."

"It's too bad that he doesn't have enough teeth to have turkey too."

"More for us," Langly declared. "Anyone else eyeing that leg?" He eagerly reached for it after they shook their heads.

"Does you family have any special Thanksgiving traditions?"

"No. We don't celebrate the holiday in Mexico, so it's just a nice time to visit home."

"Geez, do you people celebrate any holidays down there?" Mulder griped. "No Halloween, no Thanksgiving, you kids got ripped off."

Everyone ignored his bad joke.

Frohike left the room briefly and returned with plastic wine glasses and a bottle of cheap champagne. "I think it's time for a toast. Who wants to give it?"

"I do," Mulder said, surprising everyone including himself. They gave him encouraging looks, and he raised his glass. "This has been one of the two hardest years of my life. Yet there are still things that make me get up every morning. And those things are you. Friends who care, a child who smiles when he sees me...in the face of loss it's people like you that make me go on, and for that I'm infinitely grateful. To friends and new family."

"To friends and new family."

The dull click of plastic touching plastic was an unimaginably festive sound.




December 3rd, 2001

Having spent half the night before up with a teething baby, and then working eight hours, left Mulder completely exhausted. William fell asleep during the drive home, so Mulder took the utmost care bringing him in to assure that he stay asleep. Three minutes after tucking William in, he was in his own room, drawing blankets over his head to block out the dying daylight. He hadn't bothered to get undressed first; kicking off his shoes had taken as much effort as he could sum up.

Mulder slept for three hours. He dreamed of Scully.

In the dream Scully had the baby, and he wasn't around. Actually, he was there but no one noticed him, so he decided he must be a ghost, or maybe having an out-of-body experience. She dragged an unfamiliar carriage into a coffee shop/cyber cafe and logged onto her e-mail account. At first he couldn't figure out why she'd gone there to do e-mail since she had access at both the office and her apartment, and she wasn't the type to be so eager to send a message that it couldn't wait, but as she typed in the to address he understood two things. First, that she'd gone to the cafe seeking a domain address that wouldn't easily be traced back to her. And second, he wasn't a ghost because she was writing to him.

It seemed as though he was in hiding, making the dream a continuation of the ones he'd had right after she died. He wanted to know where his dream-self had gone, but the message that she typed was impossible to read. There was a word here or there he could pick out, but if he ran his eyes back over a line, the words seemed to have rearranged themselves. It made him wonder if the gunmen had created an elaborate encryption program for her, but there didn't seem to be a way to install outside programs on these terminals, and in any case he hadn't seen her install anything. The e-mail account seemed perfectly ordinary too. The frustration of tying to learn something from her message got to him, so he shouted as she got up to leave, perhaps her name or a swear or both, trying to get her attention. She never looked up. But William did.

When Mulder woke up shortly after he felt disoriented; the dream seemed real and unreal at the same time. Likewise, having seen Scully alive, if only in his subconscious, left him feeling torn. It made him happy and left him with the sense that he might weep.

After a few minutes he pulled himself together and stumbled out of his room to see what was going on. The baby was still asleep in his crib, so Mulder didn't disturb him.

Reyes was on the couch, curled into a tight little ball. He thought from the look on her face that she wasn't feeling well.

"Are you all right?"

"No."

That she admitted to feeling as bad as she looked worried him. Maybe she'd caught the flu from Will, but he thought it had been too long. "What's wrong?"

"Don't ask."

A light bulb went off for him just then. There had been enough women in his life for him to be able to crack that particular code. "Will's still sleeping. Would you be okay if I went to the store? I wouldn't be gone long."

"Yes. We're out of baby food."

"I know, and diapers, almost."

"He likes the bananas. But not the peas."

"Neither do I." Mulder made a face. "Do you need anything?"

"No, but thanks."



Mulder mentally added a few things to his list as he put the baby food and diapers in the cart. Shaving cream because he was nearly out. A bottle of Advil. Salted sunflower seeds. A hot water bottle because his mother had told him the truth about why she'd kept one in the bathroom cabinet - the warmth is good for menstrual cramps - making him regret asking. Two bags of Russell Stover chocolate Christmas balls, since he had a sweet tooth too...

Reyes surprised him with a hug of gratitude. Who knew that it took such small things to brighten a friend's day?




Chapter Twelve


December 5th, 2001

When the phone began to ring, Reyes put William into his playpen so he could amuse himself. Mulder wasn't due back for an hour, and she had a feeling that she might be on the phone for quite a while because the call was one she was expecting - her mother. She handed William a blue stuffed bunny before grabbing the phone off the cradle.

"Monica, I was watching the news about flights," her mother said without even giving her the chance to say hello. "You won't be coming home for Christmas."

It was a statement rather than a question, so she knew her mother understood how big a problem flying was right then.

"I'm sorry."

"I will miss you a lot," Neva said mournfully.

"I wish I was coming home too, but it's still hard to get a flight out. And it'd probably be even harder for you to come here."

"I know. The bullies at customs, Madre Mary." Reyes could hear her mother click her tongue.

"I'm glad that you'll be having dinner with Tia Maria's house, so you won't be alone."

"What about you?" Neva asked, sounding sad.

"Actually, William's grandmother asked us to come and see her and her sons. I thought I'd do that."

"What if you hate El Nino's family? It'd be rude to leave so you'd be up mierdra creek como no paddle."

Reyes blew her hair out of her eyes irritably. "Mama, if you're going to resort to trite clichés, could you keep them all in the same language from beginning to end?"

"What does trite mean??" Neva asked suspiciously.

The question reminded Reyes of something she often forgot - though her mother's English was good, it wasn't her native language.

"It means so over-used it's practically meaningless."

Her mother snorted. "So sorry I can't be original for your liking."

"God..." Reyes thought she muttered it under her breath but her mother heard.

"Nice thing, take el Padre's name in vain."

Reyes was suddenly glad that she didn't make an issue earlier about her mother's joy at nicknaming her roommate's son after the unpredictable weather front; it would have prolonged their argument, which she intended to nip in the bud. "I'm sorry, Mama."

"It's not me you need to worry about. Tell Dios you're sorry."

"Um, yeah, okay. Take care of yourself, Mama. I'll fly down to see you the next time I'm on vacation."

"If the planes get better. If they give you a vacation," Neva muttered darkly.

"Both things will happen by spring, I promise."

"Call me Christmas day," Reyes' mother demanded.

"I will. Love you."

"Te amo, tambien."

A huge sigh escaped her as soon as she hung up the phone. Apparently this amused William, because he laughed, mouth wide open to show off new front teeth, and clapped. "I'm glad I amuse someone. You don't know what a pain in the butt mothers can be."

As soon as the words escaped her mouth she was filled with horror. That William's bright eyes and big smile completely lacked comprehension only made her feel worse. She picked him up out of the playpen and held him tight. "I'm sorry, baby, I didn't mean to say that. I just forget sometimes."

William patted her on the head, and she took it as a sign that he forgave her.




December 17th, 2001

There was an insidious, yet subtle message to the toy ads in December. They meant, but did not come out and say, that parents who did not buy their children a king's ransom worth of toys were bad people and would be setting their children up for psychological problems, as well as social ones. Skimp on the gifts under the tree during the formative years and you might just be raising the next school shooter.

Many parents caved to the pressure, and Mulder was no exception. He'd left William and Reyes back at the apartment watching Christmas specials, while he pulled on his boots and set out to battle the elements so he could get his Christmas shopping done once and for all. Reyes had tried to stop him, saying that William was too young to have any idea what was going on for the holidays, but Mulder had given her a look. She wasn't a parent, so what did she know about the damages inflicted on young psyches that were deprived of developmentally appropriate toys? He sensed that no good would come from pointing out her naiveté, so he'd just given her a sheepish smile and left.

In the toy store he quickly learned the ins and outs of toy shopping. Keep your head down, absolutely no eye contact with the other frantic shoppers. Try not to look at something you're interested in too long, least you attract the fierce-eyed notice of a more seasoned shopper, who'll then swoop in for the kill, depriving your child of the interesting piece of plastic you were contemplating. The other shoppers seemed to adhere closely to the unspoken rules, so, as not to stand out, he made the attempt to as well.

Which is how he nearly knocked over Leyla Harrison with his shopping carriage. The only reason she didn't fall on her butt, was that stumbling backwards a display of stuffed animals kept her on her feet. Barely.

"Oh, no!" Mulder exclaimed, reaching out a hand to steady the woman as she tried to regain her balance.

"Don't worry, it was an acci-" A look of recognition passed over her face, making it clear that she hadn't taken a good look at her assailant until then. Not that he'd recognized her until just then, either. "Agent Mulder!"

"Uh, hi, agent Harrison," he muttered, feeling even more embarrassed now that he realized that his victim was someone he knew. "Christmas shopping?"

"Yeah, for my nieces Ali and Laura," Harrison said brightly. The basket she held in her hand was overflowing with pink boxes, and he could see plastic shoes peeking over the lip of the basket, so he assumed the girls were early elementary age.

"So, your baby must be getting big by now. Boy or girl?"

"Boy. His name is William."

"A nice traditional name." Harrison looked around suddenly. "Is he home with Mom? How is agent Scully, anyway?"

A pained feeling in his gut nearly knocked Mulder off his own feet. Nearly everyone he talked to knew that Scully was dead, or never met her so they didn't care. It had never occurred to him that he'd be running into people this late who had no idea that she'd died. "Um. William's birth was very difficult, and Scully was weaker than anyone had anticipated..."

A sudden horror filled the blonde agent's eyes. "She died?"

He was grateful that she'd figured it out so he didn't have to say the words himself. "Yes."

"Oh my god, how horrible! I'm so sorry."

"Thank you."

"It must be hard, just you guys all alone," Harrison said sympathetically.

"Actually, one of my partners rooms with us, and she's a big help with the baby," Mulder said. "Agent Reyes has been a lifesaver."

The other agent nodded. "It's great to have help when things are rough."

"It sure is."

An announcement that the store would be closing in twenty minutes interrupted their awkward conversation. "I guess we better finish our shopping," Harrison said. "Have you considered getting your son some soft blocks to stack? My nieces loved them when they were around his age."

"That's a good idea, thanks."

"Have a good Christmas, agent Mulder."

"You too, agent Harrison."

After they exchanged greetings they went their separate ways in the store. Mulder shook his head, marveling that surreal experiences could be found anywhere, even in as mundane a place as a toy store.




Christmas 2001 Despite having gotten up at 3 a.m. to make it there by noon, the long trip to New England wasn't as bad a drive for Mulder as the one the week of William's birth had been. Then he'd been terrified of single parenthood, and his grief was like a sword wound to the side, draining him of the will to live himself, with only a sense of duty to his child pushing beyond that. By Christmas, however his grief had most scabbed over, and as long as he didn't pick at the scabs or bump against something unexpected, it just hurt dully.

Reyes was quiet, reading a book, not sleeping like William was. She probably wouldn't have minded if he wanted to talk, but he didn't. Instead he let his mind wander, the way he liked to when he was driving. These were the things he thought of while the tires ate miles on the highway He'd never even heard of Stockholm, New Hampshire so he didn't spend much time anticipating the town; although he did wonder about the prolifera of international capitals as town names in northern New England: Paris, Rome, Poland, Berlin, Egypt... but the town itself figured into the trip very little, since he and Reyes were only planning to make a polite appearance then leave, not enjoy the wonders of whatever attractions the place might have.

No, the whole purpose of the trip was to give his son access to his extended family. Even if it wasn't something he wouldn't remember, it was important. Maggie had explained how on the phone, but he hadn't paid much attention. The fact that it was something he couldn't provide had filtered through enough to make him feel guilty. Just because he didn't feel a overwhelming sense of loss about not having a family, though his sister was still a dull ache that woke him breathless some nights, it didn't mean it was okay to cut his child off from blood relations if there was an alternative. Even if that alternative included Bill Scully junior.

He didn't like thinking about Bill, so he thought about the scenery instead. It was far less likely to one day snap and punch him, so he felt more at peace when it centered in his thoughts. Massachusetts still looked like civilization to him, especially Boston with its endless Big Dig construction and hornet's nest of snarled traffic, but north towards the border, wilderness encroached. Maggie had described the area as "Rural" but that word conjured the wrong mental picture: one of vast fields, placid cattle and grain silos like the one Krycek had once vacationed in.

There, on the way to Stockholm, rural meant undeveloped land, acres upon acres of it in some towns, and undeveloped meant trees. Back in high school he was taught that there was more forest land in the North East during the twentieth century than the eighteenth because farms grew little but rocks and were given up on during the industrialization, leaving the trees to their own devices. Unlike food crops, the trees flourished, or at least those who didn't begin life in the shadow of larger trees did, then they took over, blocking the view of much else along side the traveled roads.

Glancing out the driver side window, it seemed to him that the forests had crept in even more since the last time he'd been to New Hampshire, back during the Milford Haven case almost seven years earlier. He could almost imagine the trees becoming rootless at night and slowly creeping towards the highways...

"Sixty more miles."

"What?" He blinked in confusion, surprised that there was a voice besides the one in his head.

Reyes pointed a long slender finger at the windshield. "That sign there, sixty miles to Stockholm, fifteen to Portsmouth." Reyes pronounced the last word carefully - and completely incorrectly.

Her pronunciation of the latter town made Mulder grin. "Actually they say 'ports-mith', or maybe 'ports-muth' depending on how thick the accent is, similar to how Plymouth from the Mayflower story is pronounced."

"Why say it differently than it's spelled?"

"Who knows? For the same reason Haverhill is Hav-rill not Haver-Hill and Worchester is Wuster, not War-Chester. It's a way to immediately identify the tourists."

Reyes nodded. "So how do you say Braintree?"

"Braintree."

"Figures. What the hell is a Braintree anyway? Trees don't even have brains."

"Did I ever tell you about the case Scully and I had in Leon Country, Florida? There were these mutants that seemed very tree-like..."




William woke up about ten miles before they reached Stockholm. He seemed to be in a good mood, so Reyes didn't have to go to any great lengths to keep him entertained. Peek-a-boo and tickling had him giggling up until they pulled into Charlie's driveway.

If Mulder and Reyes felt shy walking up to the stairs, so did William; he hid his face against his father's neck, as if anticipating meeting strangers. It made Mulder feel a little guilty for it because he'd never pushed for a visit to or from Maggie sooner. She'd seemed content with photos, so it had been easy to let things slide. His hand shook a little when he knocked on the door, and he couldn't convince himself that he was just shivering from the cold.

To his surprise, it wasn't an adult who answered the door, but a young blond boy. For a moment he couldn't figure out where the child came from since he was too fair and too old to be William's cousin Matthew, unless he was going to be a giant, until he remembered a long ago conversation with Scully- "I baby-sat my nephew this weekend. He watches "Babe" fifteen times a day." "And people call me 'Spooky'." The boy looked about nine, which would have made him the right age to be the movie buff.

The kid didn't seem shy. "So that's my little cousin, huh?" He stepped closer to Mulder so he could get a better look at William.

"He is if you're Maggie's grandson too."

"Yup. I'm Garrett. Charlie's my dad. 'course I call him Dad instead of Charlie," he added with a grin.

"Garrett. That's an unusual name," Reyes blurted out.

"People think so, until they met my sister, Harper," the boy said sagely.

Mulder and Reyes exchanged a quick look over the kid's head. From the name choices it was clear that either Charlie or his wife were nuts.

"You must be the guy your aunt Dana said was obsessed with Babe," Mulder said instead.

The boy squirmed. "That was a long time ago. Come in and I'll tell Dad and Grandma you're here." With that he scampered off leaving them standing in the foyer.

Reyes turned to Mulder with a puzzled look. "The baseball player?"

"What?"

"Was he obsessed with Babe Ruth?"

Mulder laughed. "No, the pig."

"I know of a blue ox named Babe, but not a pig."

"It's a kid's movie. We have that to look forward to in about two years." He paused, suddenly conscious of the presumptuousness about how long they'd be roommates. "Or I will at least."

There was a commotion on the stairs before Reyes replied. Maggie Scully said something to someone they couldn't see, then appeared on the landing with a smile. "Fox, Ms Reyes, I'm so glad you could join us."

"Um, thanks," Mulder mumbled. He'd expected her to swoop in and take William from him, but she didn't so he glanced around. "Is there a place I ought to put Will's snowsuit when I get him out of it?"

"Give it to me and I'll put it away," Maggie instructed.

Mulder shrugged, then put William on the floor to unzip him. William squirmed a little, seeming excited to finally be free of his royal blue, polycotton blend prison. He laughed loudly enough to grab his grandmother's attention when Mulder peeled the hat away from his staticy hair.

"Now that hair is Scully red," Maggie remarked, leaning down to tickle the baby's belly. "It's hard to believe that this is the only grandchild who inherited it. At least so far." She added as he handed her the snow suit.

"Is Bill here?" Mulder asked, craning his neck to look for the most imposing of the Scullys.

"Not yet. His flight is supposed to arrive in about an hour." She gave him a sly look. "I heard that he dropped by to meet William the last time he was in DC."

"It was a memorable visit."



Slow steps on the stairs made Mulder raise his head to see the man descending them. The first thing Mulder noticed about Charlie was that he was short. Not unnaturally so, but probably about five foot nine. Somehow he'd expected him to be just like Bill Jr. - tall, gruff and unpleasant. As he exchanged polite greetings with the shorter man, he decided his presupposition had been silly, since Scully had been very unlike their sister.

For his part, Charlie seemed a lot friendlier than Bill Jr. too: his face held a welcoming smile. "So I finally get to meet the elusive Fox Mulder," he said as they shook hands.

"Just Mulder, please."

"I thought I heard Mom call you Fox."

Mulder shrugged. "She does."

That made Charlie laugh. "That's my mother for you. Missy was the same way."

"Not Scully, though," Mulder said.

"No, not her. She was always a more private person, and gave others the courtesy as well. I think maybe she was adopted."

Maggie overheard and swatted at her son with the arm not around William's waist. "Wouldn't that make you adopted too? I remember quite a few scowls when people commented on how much you and Dana looked alike."

"No boy ever wants to be told he looks like his sister," Charlie grumbled good-naturedly.

"I'll tell you, Dear, it didn't gladden her heart either," His mother confided.

Mulder smiled a little to himself. Charlie really did resemble Scully more than their other siblings did. And for some reason, looking at Charlie and seeing that didn't hurt.

"I never had that problem," Reyes spoke up. "Paulo and I don't look at all alike because I really was adopted."

Paulo? Mulder wondered. Reyes rarely mentioned her family, other than to occasionally complain about Neva's confusing phone calls. He cast his roommate a sidelong glance; there really was a lot he didn't know about her.

"Older brother or younger?" Charlie asked.

"Ten years older. I was still very young when he went to University in Mexico City, so we aren't exactly close." She gave them a rueful smile. "He's not very close to our mother either. Paulo could have gone to visit her for Christmas with ease, but things like that never occur to him."

Charlie nodded, and turned to Mulder. "Want to come with me to pick up Bill and his family?" He grinned at Mulder's suddenly stricken look. "Just kidding."

"Charlie!" Maggie's stern tone had him pretending to be contrite, but their was still humor in his eyes when Mulder caught his glance again.

"I guess you're the funny Scully," he remarked.

"Someone has to be."




While Charlie was off getting Bill Jr., Maggie and Charlie's wife, Julia, played cordial, if distant hostesses. Julia didn't know either of them, so he wouldn't have expected much warmth there, but Maggie seemed distracted, even as she played with her grandson. It made Mulder feel vaguely anxious, but he tried to push the feeling aside without letting his paranoia worry about what was wrong. Still he was expecting a scene when the elder Scully son arrived.

The scene never came. Bill Jr. greeted Mulder politely, and even seemed to try to charm Reyes before scooping William up into his large hands. The baby did not share his father's reservations about his uncle, and seemed to find Bill amusing, because he kept bestowing three-toothed grins on him. Mulder grudgingly decided that the other man couldn't be all bad if he'd captivated William.

It was the other grandchildren, however, that had William wide-eyed in amazement. His cousin Matthew, who was all dark hair, dark eyes and energy, seemed the most charmed by him, but the older children fascinated William. After a few moments Mulder realized that while William spent time with other children five days a week, none of them were nearly as old as Harper or Garrett so it must have come as a surprise to him that people came in their sizes too. The former didn't materialize from her room until after he father came back, and she still had a pair of earphones on when Julia coaxed her down stairs. The girl turned out to be a blonde eleven-year-old who looked very much like her mother.

For all the older two's aloofness, William had all three of them wrapped around his finger the time the kids were half-way through opening their presents. Matthew and Garrett made a game of trying to make him smile the most, and Harper was soon begging to hold him. Tiring of their adoration, he held his arms out to his father for a rescue, sighing happily when Mulder hauled him up onto his lap.

Like a true techophile, Harper was the one to finally turn on the TV, tuning into a spat of sitcom Christmas specials.

"Oh, I love this one," Julia said, smiling as the figures on the screen suffered holiday mishaps that all the adults in the room desperately wished would never visit their own lives. "I used to love sitcoms when I was younger."

Reyes shot Mulder a sly look before asking, "Did you like Facts of Life?"

At this Julia's eyes rounded in surprise. "That was my favorite in college! How did you know?" Reyes just shrugged. "My second favorite back then was this show about a couple quitting their jobs to run a day care. Day by Day, ever hear of it? Most of the people in it when on to do big things. One went to Melrose Place, one to Seinfeld, and the one who played their baby daughter is in that new movie Ghost World..."

Mulder leaned back into his chair, happy that Reyes had found a Scully to talk to. He'd been worried that she'd feel out of place, but he'd forgotten that she was more outgoing than most people he knew. Later he'd have to ask her what the look she'd given him meant.

"Is he saying anything yet?" Maggie asked a few minutes later. She reached out a hand to touch William, who was bouncing happily on Mulder's knee.

"Not quite yet," Mulder admitted. "He's barely seven months though, and I'm sure it's just a matter of time-"

"Dada," William interrupted.

"Oh, that's sweet." Tara's remark softens Bill Jr's scowl into a terse smile.

"If Dana was alive he might have said Mama first," Bill Jr. said, but without malice.

"Maybe," Mulder agreed. Maggie held out her arms for the baby, so he passed him over.

"Can I talk to you, Fox?" Maggie asked, standing with William her arms.

"Oh, sure." He tried to keep his voice calm, but he could clearly see that strange look on Maggie's face again.

She led him into the den and closed the door. "Have you been seeing anyone?"

His cheeks became flushed, surprised that she'd think he'd be disloyal to her daughter's memory. "Of course not."

It confused him when she gave him a sad look and said, "I was afraid of that, not that I blame you for being hesitant to move on."

"Um, what?"

Maggie rested her chin lightly on the baby's head. "He needs a mother, Fox. Dana would want him, and you, to have a woman in your lives, so you shouldn't feel guilty when you find someone who makes you both happy."

After a moment his brain caught up and he almost laughed. His dead lover's mother wanted him to find a wife. "I'm sure that your oldest son doesn't share in your sentiment," he said, thinking about how upset Bill Jr. had been when he learned about his roommate.

It surprised him when Maggie shook her head. "Bill can be a little hot-headed but he has his nephew's best interest at heart. He agrees that William would be better off with a stable woman's presence in his life."

"After you bulled him." Mulder's voice was dry.

She didn't deny it. "He can be made to see reason."

"Great, just as soon as I find a good mommy-figure I'll be sure to let you both know."

"What do you think about Monica?" Maggie asked after a pregnant pause. "She seems like a nice girl."

Only someone Maggie's age would consider a thirty-three year old woman "a nice girl" but he didn't make an issue of it. "We're friends, Maggie."

"Just friends?"

It was too complicated to elaborate on. "Yes."

Maggie reached over and patted his hand. "A lot of marriages begin as friendships."

"Maggie, I - it's only been seven months and...." He trailed off at a loss for words as the idea buzzed uncomfortably in his head.

"It's just something to think about," Maggie said lightly. "For now just promise me that you won't let how you felt about Dana let you close you heart off to everyone else for the rest of your life."

What else could he do with her looking at him like that? "Okay. I promise."

"Good. Let's join everyone for eggnog now."

Just like that she'd let the conversation drop, as if she'd never brought up the subject. Mulder kept expecting one of the other adults to bring it up during dinner, particularly Tara or Julia, but if any of them knew about what Maggie discussed with him, they kept the knowledge to themselves.

Just before dark the Scullys waved from the door way as their boots crunched across the snowy yard. At least the skies were calm, and not threatening to add to the snow pack they didn't yet have in DC.




The plan had been to tough it out and drive back to DC after dinner, but around eleven they'd had enough driving. William was clearly sick of being trapped in his car seat, and the two of them were hanging onto wakefulness by a thread. Following a brief, nearly monosyllabic conversation, Reyes pulled into the first motel they could find.

Stumbling sleepily to the front desk, they were not terribly surprised that their ersatz inn-keeper claimed there was almost no room at the inn. If there own vehicle fatigue was any indication, they wouldn't have been surprised if every hotel and motel in the country was filled.

"So, you want the room?" The impatient look on the desk clerk's face suggested that speaking to them was keeping him from something a lot more interesting. Maybe they were.

"Two beds?" Mulder thought about going back out to the car and driving for who knew how much longer to locate a place with more rooms.

"Yeah. I can bring in a crib for the kid too."

Mulder gratefully surrendered his credit card to his new hero.

There wasn't a lot of awkwardness when they got ready for bed; they just turned their backs and undressed, not overly concerned that either would glimpse something more than they already had at home. William didn't wake up when Mulder undressed him and put him in the crib that had been wheeled in for him.

Once the lights were out Mulder stared at Reyes, who was also lying on her side. "Maggie likes you, you know."

"Does she?" she asked before smothering a yawn. "That's nice."

"No, I mean she really likes you."

"Are you trying to tell me that Dana's mother is gay? I know that after being widowed some women experiment-" Reyes tone made it clear that she was teasing him for his word choice.

"Not like that!" Mulder laughed for the first time all day. "She said you were a 'nice girl' and asked me if I'd thought about the fact that William needs a mother."

"Mulder, I..." Even in the dark he could see the helpless movement of her hands as she spoke.

"Exactly. I told her it's too soon for me to think about other women, and she dropped it."

"I'm glad she didn't pressure you to continue the conversation."

"Me too. Having Maggie suggest I find a mother for her grandson is too weird."

"It would be for anyone."

"Yeah."

He tried to sleep after that, unused to the sounds of both William's and Reyes' sleeping breath in the room. A frown creased his face as he fell asleep imagining introducing Reyes to someone as "Monica, my wife."




Chapter Thirteen


December 27th, 2001
6:30 a.m.

Spooning cereal into William's reluctant mouth posed more of a challenge than Mulder wanted at that time of the morning. Reyes came in and made them both coffee. He flashed her a grateful look as he took his mug.

"That was some visit, huh? It was exhausting. No wonder we slept most of the day yesterday."

"Sixteen hours in a car will do that to almost anyone," she said, then yawned.

"I've been thinking about what Maggie said." Reyes became very still but he didn't look up to notice. "I'm pretty sure it's guilt. Deep down she must be feeling guilty that she moved in with Charlie, so far away from William. I don't mind, but I'm sure she thinks she ought to help, be involved in his life...She might not even realize what motivated by."

"Yeah, that's probably it," she agreed .

"So I'm not going to obsess over the suggestion."

"Good idea. You can't force yourself to begin feeling something just because someone thinks you should."

He grinned at her. "Did I ever tell you that you're a smart woman?"

"No, but I know I am. I knew immediately that I was going to room with the world's greatest guy, and I was right. And you're not too bad a roommate, either," she added.

Mulder smirked at her and whispered to William that he'd been insulted. Rather than show his father any sympathy, William grabbed his nose hard enough to make Mulder wince.




9 a.m.

Skinner called them to his office, but instead of an assignment, he gave them an unusually friendly message from the powers that be. "There's going to be a New Years Eve party at the Marriott. All agents are invited, and there's an open bar. Attendance is of course voluntary."

Skinner's announcement was met with mixed reactions. Doggett and Reyes were enthusiastic but Mulder responded with just a shrug, and Kimberly was even less receptive to the idea.

"I'm sorry, I have other plans. It's not that I wouldn't enjoy spending time with you all socially-"

"But there are people you'd rather spend New Years Eve with," Skinner said evenly.

Kimberly blushed and nodded.

"I'm afraid I won't be going, either," Mulder said. "I'm probably going to be better company for William than for adults."

"Maybe next year," Skinner said before turning to the others. "Looks like the three of will be representing this office."

Perhaps he'd meant this statement in a friendly way, but it had an air of command about it, so they both were quick to agree.

"This will be fun," Doggett remarked as they left the office.

"It might be," Reyes agreed. "It depends on how many people get sloppily drunk and make fools of themselves."

"I always thought that was the best part," Mulder commented.

"You would think so," Doggett said. "I was expecting him to want us for something else, though. A new case."

"Oh no," Mulder said with a shake of his head. "The week between Christmas and New Years is usually pretty dead. I guess even the things that go bump in the night need some time off to rest and see family."

"Doesn't that just warm the cockles of our hearts." Reyes smirked at him.

"Well, it does mine, but do you even have cockles?"

"I think they're like gonads, Mulder, we all have them," Doggett explained with a straight face.

"Ah, I see."

Both men feigned bewilderedness when she rolled her eyes and beat them to the office. Their moment of mutual satisfaction dissolved when they simultaneously realized that she'd get first pick of which case to write up.




New Years Eve 2002
7:45 p.m.

Hangers clicked dully as Reyes frantically pushed them around, looking for the right outfit. There were more clothes in there than she had thought, but it was difficult finding something she could bear the thought of wearing. It made her wish that she'd gone out and bought something after all.

In short, she felt sixteen years old.

The source of her nerves was a throwaway comment made by Doggett late Friday afternoon: "'There's no point in taking two cars. I'll swing by and pick you up at eight.'"

She knew that there was no deep meaning to his suggestion, but just knowing didn't slow her heart-rate to a saner pace.

Her fingers brushed against something silky, and she pulled out a soft black dress she didn't remember packing when she moved to DC. The bodice clung in the right places, in contrast to the looseness of the skirt that would flow if she chose to twirl around. In short, it was the perfect choice. Or so she hoped.

After she put it on she wandered out into the living room to see what Mulder thought of it, knowing full well that if he said anything negative, she didn't have something else in mind instead. It'd be back to the closet for another round of "what the hell am I going to wear?" which she didn't really have time for.

Fortunately, Mulder said the exact right thing to put her mind at ease about her choice. "Planning to break some hearts tonight, I take it."

"Well, maybe one," Reyes said happily. "What about you? All you'd have to do is show up and you'd break a few, at least that's what whispers say."

"Too late for a sitter." Mulder shrugged. "And like I told the guys, I'm looking forward to a quiet night. Maybe the kid and I will watch Rudolph's Shiny New Years or something."

"Are you sure?"

"I'm sure. Go on, go have some fun for the both of us. I'll expect a full report on who makes a fool of themselves."

A knock at the door interrupted her train of thought. "Okay, have a good night then."

"We will."




10 p.m.

"You know," Mulder said to his son in a conversational tone. "New Years eve was the first time I ever kissed your mom. Not last New Years, but two years ago. Last New Years I was with some horrible aliens and they were not nearly as good company as your mother. And when I say first time I kissed her, I mean the first time I kissed her on the lips. It's not that those kisses on the forehead or cheek weren't nice...You know, I should have kissed her on the neck because I once read that means "I want you" and I did... but there's something about kissing someone on the mouth that means more. I know that the bard compared lips to two blushing pilgrims, but that misses the point, and glosses over the intimacy of the act."

Lying on the floor, William crinkled his eyes and laughed to himself.

"You think that's funny, do you? I'll tell one thing, Kid: when you find 'the one,' don't waste seven years before you kiss her. When I think of how long I waited, scared to death that she'd reject me, I almost cry. Don't make the same mistake," Mulder said with a yawn. "That's one I'm going to regret for the rest of my life."

"Dada." William pursed his lips and gave Mulder a sad look because his father had gone silent with a far-away look in his eyes. He'd already learned that using the magic word would return attention to where it belonged - on himself.

Mulder blinked and looked down at his son. "You know, the rest of the night I first kissed your mom was pretty exciting too. Do you know what a zombie is? It's a reanimated dead person who shuffles around, a lot like the drunks at the party Daddy is missing. Anyway, Mom, a guy named Frank Black and I got caught up in this case about zombies that were coming back at New Years. I guess they thought they were missing something..."




11:53 p.m.

It was probably unworthy of her, but Reyes was impatient all night for Skinner to go hang around someone else. It wasn't that she disliked his company, she just wished that she could have Doggett's full attention, for just a while. Then, while Doggett was at the bar, it happened.

"I'll be back in a while, Agent Reyes. It's too stuffy in here."

Doggett grinned broadly as he brought the new pitcher to the table, then he looked puzzled. "Where's the Skinman?"

Reyes hid a cringe: Skinner would kill him if he heard that. "He stepped out for some air. The cigarette smoke was getting to him."

"Oh well, more for us, Mon."

She smiled at him and wondered if he was drunk enough to get a straight answer from. There was a twinge of guilt, but she drowned it with her next drink.

"John, have you ever thought about us?"

"Us?" The look on his face suggested that he had forgotten what the word meant.

She felt curiously unafraid to elaborate. "Us. You and I, maybe in a relationship."

To her surprise he slung an arm around her neck. "You 'n me are friends, Mon." He grinned at her again. "That's our relationship."

She shrugged off his arm. "Do you ever think of us being more than friends?"

Doggett shook his head happily. "Nope."

"No?" she asked, feeling rather curiously numb.

"Nope. We don't have that spark. Whadya call it? Chemistry."

"You mean you don't find me sexually attractive."

"I'd do ya. I just wouldn't marry ya." He giggled and then suddenly looked as serious as one can whilst intoxicated. "And that's the problem. Mon, you're the marrying type. You know ya are. And me? I've only ever wanted one woman enough to stay with her. I must be a goose."

A goose?" she asked blankly. For the life of her she couldn't figure out where oversized water fowl fit into her devastation.

"They mate for life," he explained, apparently oblivious to her dismay.

Reyes gave him a sickly smile, but she was thinking that maybe she was the goose. Although fool was probably a more appropriate descriptor than silly in regards to her persistent adolescent crush.

"Didn't work out with Barb, so I'm gonna be single for the rest of my life. 's okay, though, I like not bein under a woman's thumb. Gotta wonder about those guys with five wives-"

"But don't you get lonely?" A plaintive note crept into her voice.

"Nope," he said cheerfully. "I like being alone."

"I don't."

"That's why you gotta marry a nice guy." His eyes lit up. "What do you think of that Byers guy? He's a little odd to hang out with those two scruffy weirdos, but he seems like a nice guy. Real polite, well groomed. I bet moms like him."

"I barely know him," she protested.

"That's no problem. Like arranged marriages, remember those? I learned about them in school or something. They don't sound so bad." He blinked owlishly. "Or you could get Mulder to invite him over or somethin'. Maybe I should tell Mulder on Monday."

"Nah, I'll tell him myself."

"Yeah, okay, you do that. You know, my sister Liz used to say that she wouldn't have minded an arranged marriage, since it was easier than dating."

"Uh huh..." Reyes willed Skinner to return, and if by magic she spotted him walking through the smoky room. "Hey, um, I think I'm going to call it a night."

"White knight on a horse," Doggett muttered.

"So early?" Skinner sounded surprised. "You'll miss the countdown."

"Yeah, that's okay. I'll see you both later." She paused, looking at Skinner. "Make sure he gets home alright, okay?"

The smoke followed her out the door and the wind plucked at her skirt as she ran to the side of the road to hail a cab. Faintly, she heard the people still in the bar begin to count down to midnight. A cab pulled up to the curb just as she was wishing that there were someone she could kiss to ring in the New Year.




During the cab ride home Reyes made a silent vow to god that she was through pining for John Doggett, if only God would help her get on with life. After her silent plea for divine assistance, she thought about her brother. It had been God that had come between Nieva and Paulo, and their mother had turned a cold shoulder to him when he'd declared himself agnostic; she'd made him feel so unwelcome that he rarely visited. Given that Reyes had only been ten when her brother revealed his beliefs, his banishment had stunted the relationship between the two siblings. By the time she was old enough to make her choices own choices about who to see when, the damage had already been done. Every time they saw each other there was an awkwardness that neither could ignore or seem to overcome.

Thinking about her mother's unyielding devotion made her wonder how many other families had been splintered in the name of God.

She also wondered if leaving something to God meant it was destined to fail given the weakness of her own belief. The thought made her shiver, not the cold.



Reyes was still thinking about Doggett and religion as she put her key in the lock. Confession was supposed to be good for the soul, and maybe that would be the thing to keep her from weakening. If she told Mulder about her folly, she'd feel ashamed if she backslid, and there was a lot more for shame as a motivator than most people were willing to admit.

Mulder's my friend, she thought as she swung the door open, maybe the best one I've got in this city. If anyone would understand what it's like to want for something, someone, you can't have, it's him, given that he's still hung up on Dana. I'm going to do this, I'll just tell him everything -

But as she opened her mouth to complain, she noticed that his mouth already was. A soft, stuffy nosed, snore poured out of him as he lay on his back on the couch. His right arm was flung out over the edge, and his hand rested on William's foot. The baby was sound asleep too.

"Happy New Years, guys," Reyes whispered.

She paused for a moment, contemplating putting the baby in his crib, but decided against it. He seemed comfortable enough, and she knew that Mulder would panic if he woke up alone in the living room.

Reyes sighed as she entered her room. She'd have to be strong on her own. For now.




Chapter Fourteen


January 2002

After New Years, Mulder began to sense a shift between his partners. Although not exactly cold towards Doggett, Reyes definitely wasn't as warm as usual. It made him wonder if he'd missed something interesting during the New Years Eve party.

Impulsively, he decided to broach the subject while they washed there hands in the men's room. "So, did I miss anything important happen at the party?"

"I don't know." Doggett shrugged. "Let's just say I remember when I started drinking, but not when I finish."

"Shame, shame."

"I think I must have said something to tick Monica off," Doggett confessed.

"Probably."

"Has she said anything?"

"Nope."

"You're no help," Doggett complained.

"Maybe you should just apologize and get it over with," Mulder suggested.

"What? Without knowing what I did?"

"You were married, Doggett. I bet you don't know half of the things you've apologized for."

"That's different."

Mulder shrugged. "I'll tell you one thing, though. If anyone knows what you did, it's Kimberly."

"What makes you say that?"

"Reyes and Kimberly eat lunch together whenever we spend the day in the building."

"So?"

Mulder gave him a disgusted look. "You know even less about women than I do, which isn't much."

"Thanks for the sage assessment," Doggett said sourly.

"Glad I could be of service. Now what do you think of the case we were given this morning?"




January 19th, 2002
7 p.m.

"Mulder?" Reyes poked her head into Mulder's room. "You asked me to let you know when it was seven."

"Oh right." Mulder closed some sort of book and put it in a desk drawer. "I know that the other two don't care about punctuality, but it bothers Byers. He's just too polite to make an issue of it."

Thinking of Doggett's drunken advice, she had to fight to keep her expression neural at the mention of the nattiest of the gunmen. "Are you sure you want to bring the baby over there?"

"He'll be safe in his travel playpen."

She was thinking more of the guys being a bad influence, but didn't say anything.

"We should be home by ten," Mulder told her.

"Have a good time."

Reyes watched TV but once Mulder had been gone a while, she found herself standing outside his bedroom door, contemplating doing something she hadn't been tempted to do before: invade her roommate's privacy. Her curiosity got the best of her, and she found herself opening his desk drawer to see what the book he'd had put away.

She'd expected to find a journal, which she swore to herself that she wouldn't open. Instead she found a baby book.

Flipping it open, she found a careful record of William Mulder's time on Earth. A tiny hospital bracelet was affixed to the very first page. After that photos, perfectly centered, showed a progression from tiny reddish infant (she remembered him saying that he'd taken William's first pictures shortly after the funeral ) to his current, smiley self showing off new teeth. The other pages were written on in a surprisingly neat script, each milestone duly dated.

Looking at the writing without really reading it, she wondered why some of the entries were in pen, and others in pencil. When she picked the book up to tilt it into the light to read it, she knew.

The entries in pen said various things like "7/12/01 - William's first smile (NOT gas)" and "10/25/01 - William sat unassisted for the first time." "11/27/01 - watched a Dana Carey movie today. Got to remember that actor when William complains that his middle name is girly."

The others all were the same day of the month: the twentieth. They all said exactly the same thing except for the number in the entry. "6/20/01 one month without Scully," "12/20/01 seven months without Scully."

It wasn't until she figured out why those entries were in pencil that tears welled in her eyes. Mulder wrote nearly everything in pen, his case notes, memos to his partners... the sole exception was the grocery lists. She'd asked him about it out of idle curiosity once, and he'd laughed, saying that he might change his mind about what he wanted to eat before he got to the store.

At some point he intended to erase the lines written in pencil. Maybe he thought his son would want to see it one day, or maybe Mrs. Scully would.

It was the nineteenth. Would he add an entry the next day? She rubbed her eye with a fist before closing the book. With luck Mulder would never know that she'd touched it.




February 2nd, 2002

"Suppose we'll have six more weeks of winter?" Reyes asked cheerfully as they drove towards the mall. Both she and Mulder had things to buy, so they decided to carpool to save the gas.

"At this rate it seems like we'll have six more months of winter," Mulder replied grumpily. He'd spent nearly fifteen minutes scraping ice off the windshield, and had declined Reyes assistance, thinking that it was more important that William have company in the car. As noble an aim as that might have been, it was the cause of the ache in his shoulder that made him wince a little each time he needed to turn the steering wheel for a right turn.

"If it's still snowing in August, we'll really have an X-File on our hands."

"Yeah. And think of the money we'd save trying to keep beer cold at the 4th of July."

"See? There's a bright side to everything." The smug look she affected made Mulder grin.

"Be careful. Your optimism is unfamiliar and is scaring me."

"Ha."

"Hey, were you planning to try on clothes or anything?"

"No, why, did you want someone to escort you to Victoria' Secrets?" Reyes asked mischievously. "So no one would think you're a perv."

"I am one, and I would investigate her secret, but I don't think they carry anything in my size. Actually, I was asking because I was hoping you weren't. Every time I bring William into an electronics store lately, I end up spending half the time there trying to grab things out of mid-air before they hit the floor."

"Sure, I can bring him with me."

"Thank you," Mulder said gratefully. "I don't think I can afford his attraction to shiny objects."

Reyes turned in her seat to look at William. "You're going to put your daddy in the poor house, yes you are."

William just laughed.




Bored of watching Reyes look at books, William decided to get her attention. "Moni." He held out his arms to her, begging to be taken out of the stroller. "Moni!" She smiled at him and put the book back onto the shelf.

"Aww, that's sweet," an elderly voice remarked over Reyes' shoulder as Reyes unstrapped him and picked him up. "He's trying to say Mommy."

Reyes glanced back at the woman. "Actually, he's trying to say my name. Monica."

The woman looked taken aback. "I wouldn't let my children use my first name," she said with a slight sniff. "It's disrespectful."

"I think it's disrespectful to call one's parents by their first names too, but he's not my child, so it isn't a problem."

"Oh... your stepson?"

"No, he's my roommate's son. I don't mind helping him with looking after this little fellow while we're shopping."

Reyes could tell that the woman was gearing up for another mini-lecture, probably about the evils of men and women living together. "C'mon kiddo, let's see where your daddy has gotten to." She made as quick a getaway as was possible to while dragging an empty stroller with one hand.

Reyes did not look happy when she found him. "Uh oh, was he causing trouble?" Mulder asked, putting down the DVD player he'd been contemplating.

"No, he's as good as gold. Too bad the same can't be said for some nosy old women."

"I wish we lived some place where it was considered abnormal to talk to strangers," Mulder said. William didn't protest when Mulder picked him up and put him back in the stroller.

"I don't think such a place exists if you have a child with you."

"Guess it's just another one of my fantasies, then."

"I wouldn't have guessed you had many that didn't involve kicking alien butt," Reyes remarked.

Mulder choked on a laugh. "I have those too."

"C'mon, Mulder, we've got a lot more shopping to do and a lot more old ladies to scandalize," Reyes told him.

Both of them dove for William when they realized he'd managed to grab a digital camera off a display while they were talking.




February 14th, 2002

"I'm not interested in celebrating Valentines' either."

"You're not?"

"Nope. Short of picking someone up in a bar, there's little chance I'll be spending the night with someone special. And don't say 'that's not safe' I was joking."

"I know. Let's be anti-celebratory, then."

"How?"

"Wear all black, look away if someone says 'happy Valentines Day', rent really unromantic movies."

"Like?"

"Like Falling Down and Boondock Saints."

"Sure."

"Good plan."

The conversation that Mulder had with Reyes ran through his mind as he carried William out of the Hoover building. It was beginning to snow lightly, and his son squinted up at the snowflakes with a little frown.

"Cold, huh, Bub? It doesn't look like you are enjoying the snowy weather." He slowed his stride enough to dig a blanket out of William's bag and used it to cover the child's head. "Now you look like an Eskimo." He glanced over his shoulder. "Or should I say Inuit?"

Peering out from under the blanket, William only said, "Dada."

"I know, you're telling me that we've wasted too much time out here and ought to be headed home. Just one quick stop and we'll meet Reyes at home. You don't care, but I'm happy she's picking up some takeout. Maybe if we'll share our rolls with you."

"Moni?" William asked as Mulder stopped in front of his car.

"Yup. I'm not going to get you to say 'Reyes,' am I."

A grin was all he got in response as he buckled William into his car seat. "Gotta scrape the windows. Leave your hat on."

As he scraped at the thick frost that had formed during the work day, he peered up at the sky himself. There hadn't been any snow in the forecast that he recalled, but his opinion of weather forecasters wasn't a high one to begin with, so he wouldn't have been surprised if they'd blown another one. The only meteorologist he'd ever known to be able to make predictions worth a damn was Holman Hardt and that was probably because he was also creating the weather. Just as he was about to open the driver's side door he saw a small blue object go flying across the back seat. William really hated his hat.

Which is why he whined when Mulder retrieved it and put it back on his head, this time tying the strings under his chin. "Sorry, Bub, it's too cold and you have too little hair not to wear it. Look at that pout! I'm going to have to harden my heart before you can form complete sentences."

The drive to the video store was punctuated by the occasional frustrated squeal as William was defeated by the knot and the crunch of snow beneath the tires. Neither the roads nor the parking lot had been plowed, and Mulder thought that the sky looked even grayer, and the clouds more pregnant.

"This will be a real quick stop," he muttered, more to himself than to his son.

They exited the store ten minutes later - it would have been seven had William not tried on three occasions to help with the movie selection by grabbing tapes and dropping them to the floor - with three video tapes in a plastic bag. Another minute had been wasted as Mulder stared longingly at the store's small DVD selection and wished that he'd bought a DVD player for himself a few days ago like he'd considered. By the time they got outside, the snow had picked up its pace by a considerable amount.

"Gotta love these unexpected storms," he said personably to someone heading in. The other man had nodded in grim agreement.

Other drivers seemed to catch onto the fact that the roads weren't in great shape, and they slowed to a crawl. It probably was preventing accidents, but it didn't have a positive effect on Mulder's nerves. His anxiety slowly built as the minutes ticked away without getting too much closer to his destination. The three cars off the side of the road that they passed did nothing to help.

Even though he was going at a mere crawl, his tires still found a patch of black ice as he was braking for a red light. Since he was already stepping on the brake, there was little he could do when the wheels locked and the car began a slow-motion lurch towards the side of the road - which was flanked by a steep embankment. No matter how much he fought to regain control, the car seemed dead set to hurtle itself over the edge.

For one fleeting moment he pictured what was going to happen next: the car was going to fly over the edge, and William would scream, if they didn't hit a tree. If he wasn't injured too badly, he'd have to extract them both from the car, and he'd be fighting a battle to get the car seat to relinquish the baby if they ended up at an unnatural angle. He'd climb up the hill with his traumatized child, and hope that he could flag someone down before it got dark, before hypothermia set in -

At the last second the car responded to the wheel and gave a leftward lurch that Mulder had to pull under control before they overshot and headed into the other lane. As soon as the car was under control again, he glanced in the review mirror to check on William. If he'd been frightened, he no longer was, but instead bestowed a wide smile on Mulder when he caught sight of his reflection.

"That was close, Will," Mulder said aloud in a shaky voice. "Good thing we're almost home."

They arrived home a few minutes later without further incident. Reyes met them at the door, and took the videos from her roommate's hand. "Are you okay, Mulder? You look really pale."

"It was a rough ride home, and I had a scare about three miles from home. We nearly slid off the road."

She made a sympathetic sound. "I'm glad you are okay."

"Thanks."

"I was going to suggest beers for our movie watching, but I think you'd be better off with hot cocoa. Want me to make some?"

"That would be wonderful," Mulder said gratefully. They were home safe, but he couldn't seem to stop shivering. He'd never been that upset about a bad weather driving experience, but then, he'd never been transporting his son when one came up before, either.

The sound of a whistling teakettle filled the air by the time he'd gotten William changed out of his snowsuit and rediapered. William was bouncing in his playpen when Reyes came back to the living room with two steaming mugs. "Aren't you glad we don't live further north, when they get storms like this all winter?"

Sipping his cocoa, Mulder couldn't even think of words to express just how glad he was of that. Living in New England or on one of the Great Lakes would probably cause him to die of a heart attack before William was old enough to start school.

"There's something to be said about living in DC," he finally agreed after he drained his mug.

To his utter surprise, Reyes kissed him and then William on their cheeks. "I'm glad you guys are okay."

She took their mugs to wash out in the sink, and didn't seem to notice his stunned look. By the time she returned he'd composed himself. It had just been so long since he'd been around anyone who bestowed casual affection that he no longer remembered the appropriate responses to it. Deep, meaningful affection between two people in love he remembered, but not simple kindness between good friends. It made him dimly aware of how much he'd isolated himself for as long as he could remember.




Chapter Fifteen


March 10th, 2002

"What a cutie." A flight attendant stared down at William, who turned on the charm and bestowed a big smile upon her. "What's his name?"

"Austin," Mulder lied smoothly.

"Oh, I like that. Is this his first flight?"

"I'm afraid not." Mulder made a sad face. "Katie and I broke up a month after he was born, so the little guy has already clocked a lot of airtime."

"I'm sorry to hear that, um..."

"Travis," Mulder helpfully supplied.

The flight attendant grinned. "If you or Austin need anything, let me know."

"Thank you."

Leaning over Mulder, she addresses Doggett, who gives no sign of being familiar with either passenger sharing his row. "And you, sir? Is there anything I can bring you?"

Doggett shakes his head. "I'm all set, thanks." He picks up a novel off of his lap and begins to read it, giving all appearance that he's intent on ignoring his fellow passengers.

Mulder leaned back in his seat, and stared at the seat in front of him. It's difficult not to speak to Doggett, but they are studiously trying to give the impression that they're strangers. The gentle movement of the plane soon had William asleep, leaving Mulder free to rehash the events that had led up to this sudden flight to Brightwater, Georgia.




Two days earlier
March 8th, 2002
8 a.m.

Skinner didn't knock when he entered the office. What bothered Mulder however, was the grim set of his boss' mouth. So it was only with trepidation that he accepted the folder that Skinner held out to him.

"You need to know about this."

"An X-file, sir?"

"I don't know, maybe. It's definitely of personal interest. Just read it."

He expected Skinner to leave then, but he stood there with arms crossed, seeming determined to make sure that Mulder read it. Inside the folder were two printouts of newspaper articles. Both were dated that morning, and both were reports of infants being abducted the day before.

"Sir?" Mulder looked up confused.

"Even you don't read that fast, Mulder." The older man sighed. "Read the last paragraph of each story."

The air seemed to be sucked out of the room as he did so. The names were different, but other than that they were almost word for word identical. "...Mother was also a victim of abduction... the father was also a kidnapping victim...discovered last winter, unharmed, by FBI agents in an abandon farm house in Helena, Montana...discovered uninjured by FBI investigating a compound in Helena, Montana...three-month-old kidnapping victim...two-month-old kidnapping victim..."

His eyes flew across the pages, and the only thing he drew comfort from was the fact that neither baby belonged to Teresa Hoese. Although he didn't dislike the woman, he wasn't sure if he could deal with yet another case dealing with her abductions.

Mulder slowly looked up at Skinner. "These are people who were returned when I was."

"I know."

"But their babies were born after their abductions."

"So was William," Skinner pointed out.

"But he was conceived before I was taken," Mulder protested.

"I hope that makes a difference."




The next twenty-four hours brought two things: an unearthed statement about a prophecy, and a dream.

Oddly enough, it was one agent's insomnia that led to the very first clue. Agent Amanda Rex, who was supposed to be sleeping before she brought her sixth-grader to a fieldtrip, got up in the wee hours and put on the radio. None of the songs caught her interest, so she tuned into a radio program known for bringing the crazies out of the woodwork - Coast To Coast with Art Bell. Although agent Rex herself thought that everything on the program was complete bunk, she did like it in a lurid, smug manner, and occasionally listened to the conversation.

That morning she had her tea and was only half-listening until one of the callers started excitedly ranting about how two recently acquired super-children were going to bring about the fulfillment of a prophecy that said that aliens would come to earth and lead hapless humanity to a new paradise. Rex snorted to herself and almost turned the program off when the host got the nut to explain how the group had gotten a hold of the children. As soon as the caller explained, Rex realized that it sounded a lot like the kidnapping case she'd heard being discussed by one of the Ads' secretaries the afternoon before. She wasted no time calling her own AD, who immediately passed the information along to people who could demand a copy of the radio transcript and tape.

The transcript fell into the hands of FBI agents monitoring a suspected alien cultist group, and they found a message board activity that confirmed the fact that children fitting the profile for a "miracle child" had been collected and brought to Canada.

Digging deeper, they were able to discover the exact nature of the prophecy being discussed. A faux book of the bible, Ephesians, possibly named for the canonized lunatic Vernon Ephesian, foretold the birth of a special child, one who would lead the alien colonists when they arrived.

All of this occurred before Mulder got into the office, so he was surprised when Skinner, no less grim than the day before, handed him sheet of paper.

The text of the prophecy stated: "Behold, a whirlwind came out of the north and a brightness was about it. And out of the midst came the likeness of four living creatures. And they had the likeness of a man. Knowst they were not men, yet for all appearances had the seemness of them.

A child, born of one who knowst the four well, shall lead them and bring about a new age for men. The father, upon return from a long journey with the four, begat this child.

We await the day this child takes up scepter and robe, and leads us all to days of milk and honey. Raise this child amongst the wise, the faithful, least the child's truth path be diverted by thorns alongst the way."

"'Alongst?' "Mulder smirked. "This was clearly written by someone whose idea of sounding biblical is to merely as 'st' to words that don't ever get that ending."

"I thought you would be more concerned," Skinner replied darkly.

"Did you? Actually, I'm slightly less concerned now. At first I thought that someone had nabbed the kids to experiment on them, but this makes it seem as though the kidnappers have something less harmful in mind. Not that kidnapping isn't a scaring event in a child's life, but at least when we find them - and we will find them - they're both going to be all in one piece."

"What about William, Mulder?"

"I'm not sure what you mean," Mulder said blankly. "Did you mean to assign us the case? I suppose the gunmen can keep him for a few days if Reyes and I are both going to be out of the country-"

"Are you being deliberately obtuse?" Skinner snapped. "I'm asking about your concern for your child's safety, not your babysitting plans."

"There's nothing that leads me to believe that William is in any danger," Mulder insisted. "Now, are we on the case or not?"

"Not. The team investigating the cult will be looking for the missing children." Skinner shook his head. "Your lack of concern concerns me, Mulder."

"I am concerned, sir. But I don't think anything about the situation points at a threat to William."

"For your sake, I hope that doesn't change," Skinner said over his shoulder as he walked away.




That evening

"Here, Will, you keep this." William grinned at Reyes, showing all his teeth, then waited for her to straighten up before very deliberately heaving the stuffed bear she's just handed him over the side of the playpen. "Hey!"

Mulder snorted. "You must know this game."

"Game?"

"I thought you said you had a lot of experience with babies." Mulder smirked. "You didn't lie when you told me that, did you?"

"I do. Just not babies this age."

"Ah. Well, I remember this game from when Samantha played it when I was in kindergarten. It's called 'give me, then go fetch'. Most babies figure it out around this age from what I've been reading. I think it's what gave people the idea that they could train dogs."

"What?"

"Well look, William's already good at training you, so why not a dog in a few years?"

"Funny."

He put down his book. "In a grandfatherly-like show of concern, Skinner made it clear that he thinks that I'm being rash not to suppose that there's some boogeyman lurking, ready to snatch William away. Am I being rash?"

"I don't think so. Sure, there's a connection there between William and those poor babies - they're all children of abductees. But so are a lot of children. If the kids who had been kidnapped both had red hair, do you think Skinner would be upset if you didn't immediately become concerned that William was next?"

"I think there are a few more babies with red hair than babies whose parents have been abducted by aliens."

"Okay, say it was the children of FBI agents, then. I'm just saying that it's not irresponsible to not worry about a singular link that a lot of people might share."

"Yeah. But for William's sake, I hope we're right."

"If we're not, we'll deal with it."

The statement was cheerful enough, and full of conviction, but for some reason it didn't make Mulder feel much better about the situation.




Hours later, Mulder tossed and turned in his bed. It wouldn't be accurate to say that he dreamed, because the pictures in his head were too horrific for that. Even in his sleep he moaned.

They had William. Someone had broken into Scully's apartment, beat up Maggie, and tried to kill William for it. So Scully had shot him. Her son still wasn't safe, so she had brought him to the gunmen, and asked them to hide him. They had agreed, but someone had followed them. Taken the baby by gunpoint. Took him away. Nearly killed Doggett.

And when Mulder woke up, he realized that it was all his fault. At least that was the conviction his sleep-fogged mind crowed as he came to. He'd gone away, left them alone, and bad men had taken his son because he didn't have a father to protect him.

Of course, once he was fully awake, he realized that it wasn't true. Scully was the one who'd gone away, and he was the one there. William had him, not Scully. Mulder wasn't sure if the baby had made out worse in his dreams or in reality. He certainly wasn't a fortunate baby, since a lucky baby would have had them both.

But you couldn't tell that by looking at William, he thought when he stumbled into the nursery and looked down at his sleeping child. He looked happy enough. Maybe he was just too young to know what he was deprived of, Mulder thought as he picked him up without waking him. He'd learn soon enough - other children would teach him that he was different.




Hoover Building

After an hour or so of quiet despair, Mulder couldn't take it any more. "We need to talk to Skinner." He declared. "But not here." Despite not telling them what he meant, Doggett and Reyes exchanged a knowing look, which made him wonder if he was becoming transparent in his old age.

If the AD was surprised that his agents requested that the four of them go get coffee at the café across the street, he hid it well. His face was blank as he slid across the booth's seat to sit next to Reyes. "I assume that this is about the baby."

Mulder nodded. "I had a bad dream."

Skinner nodded, and didn't ask him to elaborate. "So what's the plan?"

"I'm not sure," Mulder confessed. "I know I need to get him some place safe, but-"

"Maybe the gunmen-" Reyes began, but he cut her off.

"No. I don't want to involve them." He thought about sharing the details of his dream, but decided that it wasn't prudent. "I love the guys, but it wouldn't take a genius to realize that they're who I'd go to in a pinch. It has to be someone that doesn't have much of a connection to me. That leaves the Scullys out too."

"I'd suggest bringing him to my mom, but that would require getting him a passport..." Reyes frowned.

"I know what to do," Doggett declared with a snap of his fingers.

"What?"

"We'll send him to my sister. No one would think of looking for him in-"

Mulder held a finger up to his lips, looking around warily for people who might be listening. "I know which state. Where in the state?" Mulder asked guardedly.

"Not where I was born."

He relaxed a little. At least it wasn't Democrat Hot Springs. "You really think your sister would be willing to take in a nine-month-old for an indeterminate amount of time?"

Doggett nodded. "Kelly would do it. She's got a soft heart."

"If she'd do it, it sounds like a good solution," Mulder admitted. "But we can't talk to her around here."

The seat crackled as Skinner extracted himself from the booth. "Agent Reyes and I will head back to the Hoover building while you gentleman find a good place for a phone call. Check back in before you leave for wherever."

A good place for a phone call turned out to be a phone booth about thirty miles away. No one had followed them, so Mulder had finally pulled off near a small, nearly empty, shopping plaza.

He hovered near the phone booth while Doggett spoke to his younger sister. "Hey Sis, it's John. How are you doing? I'm good...Yeah, you're right, I do have an ulterior motive. We've got a kidnapping case we're tying to solve. Some cult group has grabbed a couple of infants...and we're afraid that the nine-month-old son of one of my partners might be a target...Yeah, we're hoping to find a place to stash him until this all blows over. Somewhere they wouldn't think to look for him...Really? You're sure? That's great. We'll catch a flight today."

After he hung up, he turned to Mulder. "Pack your bags, we're going to Georgia."




Their meeting with Skinner was brief, and would have been briefer had Mulder not gotten Skinner to promise that he'd get them welcomed onto the team searching for the missing babies when they returned. "I won't know he's safe until this is over," Mulder pointed out to win the argument.

Doggett left immediately, informing Kimberly that he was feeling very sick, and probably wouldn't be in the next day, either. Everyone liked Kimberly, but they also knew that if you wanted to seed a rumor in the Hoover building, the secretarial staff was the best place to start.

After swinging the door to the daycare open and seeing his son sitting on the floor playing, Mulder exhaled a noisy sigh of relief. This did not escape the staff's notice, so he gave them a sheepish look before walking over to his least favorite daycare worker.

"Good afternoon Agent Mulder, what can I do for you?" The Hair's voice was polite but curious.

He pulled a sad face. "I have to leave early today, and William won't be in tomorrow... My great aunt Edna is in a bad way. We're going to catch a flight to South Dakota this afternoon. We don't have much family left, so it's important that we go and see her."

"Oh! I'm sorry to hear that. Any idea how long you'll be gone?"

He held out his hands. "She's really sick."

"I understand." The Hair nodded. "I hope she feels better."

"Me too," Mulder replied before stepping over toys to reach his son.

William was peacefully playing with baby Joel, or more accurately playing by himself right next to the other child, when Mulder came to claim him. He spared a moment to say hi to the other little boy and admire his shaky walking skills, before picking William up.

The daycare staff had no idea that he didn't have any relatives out west, which made the necessary deception easy to carry off. He felt a little bad about lying, but given that there had been no practical way to get the guys in to do a bug sweep of the daycare- the thought of Frohike suspended from a harness above the blocks was more funny than a workable plan- it was an unpleasant necessity.




Brightwater, Georgia
7 p.m.

Neither Doggett nor Mulder had said much, even after picking up a rental car in Atlanta. Mulder wasn't sure what Doggett was thinking about, maybe he was lost in memories of growing up in the state, but his own mind kept thinking about the CDC.

It wasn't as though the Center for Disease Control held any special charm for him, but it had been a place that he and Scully had visited a time or three in connection with their cases over the years. A surprising number of their cases had involved bizarre illnesses...

The car rolled to a stop in a residential neighborhood. "We're here," Doggett announced needlessly.

A street light shone on the house, making the front door stand out a bright white, while the rest of the house continued to be swathed in shadows. Something about that made Mulder shiver a little as he got out of the car to open the back door.

William had fallen asleep at some point during the drive, and was sleeping with his head lolling on his left shoulder. Surprisingly, his hat was still on his head, and Mulder hadn't even remembered to tie it on earlier. "Hey Bub, wake up," he said softly as he pulled the baby out of the car seat. It might have been easier to give him to Kelly Doggett while he was asleep, but he knew that the little boy would be terrified if he woke up somewhere strange, with his father gone. He was yawning against Mulder's neck when they reached Doggett.

Just as Doggett raised his hand to knock, the door swung open. A tall blonde woman threw her arms around Doggett's neck. "I've missed you, Johnny."

Freeing himself from his sister's embrace, Doggett pointed at Mulder. "This is my partner Fox Mulder and his son William."

"Nice to meet you," Kelly said. "I'd like to tell you that my brother has told me all about you, but that would be a lie. He's very closed mouthed about what you all do at the FBI."

"We put away the bad guys and try not to get ourselves killed," Mulder said dryly.

"Come on in, it's getting cold out here. Hal isn't home yet, but Keith and Lacey are in the family room if you want to say hi, John." Kelly surged ahead. "And you can put the baby in playpen, Ryan's already asleep."

"My niece is seven and the boys are four and two," Doggett explained as he and Mulder walked down the hall. "That's why I knew that Kelly is good with kids."

Mulder nodded, and looked around the house. It certainly looked child-safe.

When they got to the family room, Kelly held out her arms. "Why don't I take William."

He hesitated for half a second, then handed William over. "Are you sure that you and your husband are up to doing this?"

"Sure. People like you and my brother are doing the people in this country a great service by looking out for our welfare every day. Helping you folks out for a few days is the least we can do." Kelly smiled at him. "And in case you worried, Hal was here when Johnny called, so he's not coming home to a surprise or anything. We both want to do this."

"Thank you," Mulder said sincerely.

"Mulder, I think we need to leave soon if we're going to make our flight to Ontario," Doggett said softly.

Mulder looked at him. Doggett had been talking to the two little kids on the couch, so he'd almost forgotten that he was there. Instead of answering, Mulder leaned over the edge of the playpen, where William was already happily playing. "Bub, Daddy's got to go. Once Doggett and I find those kids and bring them home to their parents, I'll be right back for you, okay?"

Although he knew that William was too young to have any idea what he was talking about, it made him feel a little bit better when William smiled up at him. Mulder ruffled his hair. "You be a good boy for Kelly. Love you."

"Don't worry, Agent Mulder. We'll have fun while you're gone," Kelly said. She hugged her brother again. "Both of you be careful, promise?"

"Promise," Doggett agreed. "I'll call you as soon as we have the situation under control." He turned to Mulder. "Come on, the sooner we get to Canada, the sooner we'll be back here."

Mulder was the first one out the door. He couldn't bear to still be there when William realized he was gone and started crying. Or didn't.




March 11th, 2002
9:47 p.m.

"Over here! We think we hear something. Crying." Reyes' voice crackled over the walkie-talkie strapped to Mulder's belt.

Shaking his eyes, he looked around trying to pick out his partner from the backdrop of desolation. After long moment he spied movement just to the right of one of the largest pieces of burning wreckage. He was fairly sure that it was Reyes and a another agent who had been looking nearby.

Another burst of crackling, then he heard too: an infant's crying. He pushed the button on the walkie-talkie to speak to her. "That's good to hear. How many did you find?"

There was a pause. "Just one. He seems unharmed."

Standing amidst the fires, he wasn't sure he was more surprised that found one of the babies alive at all, or heartbroken they'd only found one.




Even an hour earlier it seemed as though there may be a chance to reason with the cult leader, Josepho. Surprisingly cordial for a man in his position, Josepho agreed to talk with the FBI. In hindsight, Mulder thought that ought to have been a big brightly lit warning sign. Unfortunately, none of them saw what was coming.

Ten minutes before Josepho was to meet with the agents, everything went to hell. Almost literally. Although he became clear that he aspired to borrow a page from Vernon Ephesian's book, he evidently considered poison too tame. So they blew the compound up. This group of cultists really wanted to leave their mark on the world, scorched into the ground.

By some miracle none of the agents were badly injured in the blast. The paramedics, who had reached the scene within five minutes, were instead kept busy just with abrasions, minor burns, and in the case of one unfortunate agent, a broken wrist. Several agents, including all those from the X-Files office had escaped injury entirely; these were the ones who scored the area hoping against hope to find both of the kidnapping victims still alive.

And now one of the boys had been found, alive, unmaimed...the air rang with jubilant shouts, but Mulder's voice didn't add to the din. He suspected that those who were celebrating had no small children in their lives, therefore couldn't picture telling someone they cared about that their child was never coming home - which was becoming increasingly likely for the other child.

A charred arm nearly tripped him as he attempted to make his way towards Reyes, so he recoiled in half-horrified disgust. But as he stepped back, he caught a tiny movement out of the corner of his eye. He figured that it was a piece of cloth picked at by the wind, but given the fact that it might be the rest of the body, he did not relish the idea of going to investigate. Sighing, he shined his flashlight in the direction of the movement.

It turned out to be a sock, light blue, the foot still in it. The foot, along with the rest of the body shivered as the wind picked up. Mulder dropped his light and tore off his coat, bending to wrap the victim. He then groped for the walkie talkie. "Got him." The bite of the wind through his dress shirt made him gasp out his message, but he tried to control his shivering so he wouldn't drop the baby when he called again. "He's okay."

Standing in the middle of those fires, he gave a quick thanks to whatever force in the universe had allowed the two little boys to survive when every one of their captors had not.




March 13th, 2002
5:12 a.m.

When one knocked on the door of a house before six a.m., it would be normal to expect that the homeowners, if they bothered to get out of bed at all, would greet you with yawns and tired stares. In this case, however, the woman who opened the door for Doggett was not sandy-eyed, but had the tremulous appearance of someone who had not slept in days - and it was likely that she hadn't.

He smiled his best it's-a-happy-ending smile, and held out the infant to his mother. "We had him checked over at the hospital, and he's fine."

There were tears in her eyes, but she took the baby in firm hands that belied the shakiness she probably felt. "Oh, Christopher, Mommy thought she'd never see you again." After a couple moments studying the sleepy infant's face, his mother turned shiny eyes towards him. "I can't thank you enough."

"Just doing our job, Mrs Hetsel," Doggett told her with a tired grin. "I'll be honest with you, this is one of the happiest endings for a case I could ever hope to work on."

The mother began to smile, but then didn't. "Is the other baby okay too?"

"Oh yes. Baby Michael is being brought to his parents by another FBI agent as we speak."

"Thank God." This time her smile was genuine. "I was so afraid since the FBI called and said that Chris was coming home that I'd be celebrating only to find out that the other baby hadn't made it."

"You can pull out the party hats without guilt," Doggett reassured her.

"I heard they're all dead. On the news," Mrs Hetsel confessed.

"They won't be bothering your family again."

She hugged her son close to her chest. "Two babies going home to their families today, you can't do better than that."

He smiled and said goodbye, but all along was mentally half correcting her. Three babies were going home, but she was right, there was nothing better than that.




Meanwhile
Over Virginia

"Can I get you anything?" A different flight attendant on a different plane spoke to Mulder in a polite whisper, since he was the only one awake.

"Orange juice if you have it, thanks," he whispered back.

The flight attendant smiled as she passed him the small, sealed, cup of juice. "You have a lovely family, I hope you don't mind me saying so."

"Oh. Thanks."

As she pushed the cart away, he wondered if he should have corrected her. William was lovely and the whole of his family, but Reyes had just gone along to lend moral support. Or maybe not just, he thought, looking at his sleeping partner, she had certainly proved not to be just another agent over the past year, but a good friend as well.

Hours ago, just after they'd brought Christopher Hetsel and Michael Stoke to the waiting ambulances, other agents seemed shocked when Mulder had immediately declined the privilege of being the agent to bring Christopher to his family. Most agents jumped at the opportunity to be the bearer of good news.

Doggett, however, understood why he wouldn't want to do that, and volunteered in his stead. The other agent with Reyes when she found Michael decided to do the honors for that homecoming when it became clear that Reyes intended to go with her roommate to retrieve his son from Georgia.

"You probably shouldn't go for him alone," Reyes had told him. "I hate to say it, but it's clear that this case has your nerves shot, and you probably shouldn't drive once you get to Georgia."

He could have protested that it wasn't true, but he figured that she knew him well enough to know that he'd be lying through his teeth. So instead she'd driven once they'd gotten to Atlanta.

Strangely, though, she'd hung back when they'd gotten to Kelly's house, and she still wouldn't tell him why. "Don't want to know if John's been telling tales out of school." She'd muttered before getting back in the car, and refused to say another word about it.

At the time he'd been so overjoyed with having William back in his arms, after profusely thanking Kelly, that he hadn't thought much about her odd statement. Looking at her now, however, he wondered if perhaps his mention about what Kelly had said about Doggett's closed-mouthness was really what she meant.

Mulder sighed and looked out the window, wondering why she still had never talked to him about Doggett. It was obvious to him that she'd been hung up on him until around New Years, then obviously wasn't. If he was so good a friend that she'd fly to Georgia with him to keep him from having to drive, why wasn't he good enough a friend to talk to about something like that? Who was she talking to anyway, anyone? It occurred to him that maybe she wasn't talking to anyone, which made him a little sad. And more than a little empathetic.

At least her feelings for Doggett, whatever they currently were, weren't causing a problem in the office. At least they were almost home. The last thought made him smile.




Chapter Sixteen


April 2002

The week began with Doggett getting a tip that led him to a corpse walled up behind new plaster, and went downhill from there. Although she was obviously bothered by their partner's moodiness as he was, Reyes made no move to speak to Doggett about it, so it fell to Mulder to try to sort out one late afternoon when Reyes wasn't around.

For the subject of an intervention, Doggett seemed fairly calm, but only because Mulder had yet to get to the point- William bounced in place happily as Doggett obligingly held him up to the side of his desk. The glee on his son's face had distracted him for a moment, but then he realized that he ought to get to his reason for asking Doggett to come back to the basement with him after he picked William up from daycare.

He tried to keep his voice casual. "What is it about this case that has you so tense?"

"That cadet, Rudolph Hayes, he came to speak to me at my place yesterday," Doggett replied without looking up.

"I take it that it wasn't a mere social call."

"No." This time he did look up, frowning a bit. "He told me about how he figured things out, and I admit that I lost my head a bit, and gave in to the irrational desire to know if... I asked him if he could help me the same way. To find my son's killer."

Aghast, Mulder didn't know what to say. He still can't imagine how painful it would to lose William, and it surprises him sometimes that Doggett doesn't hate everyone who hasn't lost their children, because he thought he would. "Oh."

"You know, I looked at the case files the first few days I was at the X-Files. Ran across a picture you must of taken, or someone did, of little boys and little girls at a farm." His voice was so soft it was almost hard for Mulder to hear him. "Little blond boys... I stared at that photo, willing it to be Luke. Your report said they were clones, and couldn't even talk, but I didn't care about that, because it would mean that part of him survived... but it wasn't him, no matter how hard I squinted or hoped."

After giving a short brittle laugh, Doggett transferred William's tiny hands to Mulder's. "Bet that sounds dumb, but it shows you that I've never really gotten over Luke's murder, because it's still unsolved."

"I'm not sure that it being unsolved is why it's hard to get over," Mulder said gently.

"Yeah, but it does keep the wounds open. So I asked Hayes for his help, and do you know what he said?" He waited for Mulder to indicate that he didn't. "He said that this case, the one with the dead women, was the same case," Doggett said,referring to the case he'd stumbled onto earlier in the week.

"Meaning..."

"Meaning that that punk Nicholas Regali we've got on the wire about those two women is the same creep who killed my son."

"Do you believe him?" Mulder asked while pulling his head back from William's grabby fingers.

Doggett shrugged. "He said he's got crime scene photos on all his walls, and they tell him things that led him to solve the crimes. Either he's nuts, or I'm nuts to even contemplate believing that he's not completely full of it."

"He did lead us to those two bodies," Mulder pointed out.

The look on Doggett's face was grim. "Which might just mean that he's an accomplice to the murders."

"It might," Mulder admitted .

Getting up from his chair, Doggett sighed. "I've arranged a line up for tomorrow, and have somehow convinced Barbara to come. Maybe she'll recognize the creep."

"Your ex-wife." Mulder looked a bit startled; he had no idea that the two were still in contact.

"Actually, no. We never filed the divorce papers. I suppose we should have since we've been legally separated for as long as we were together..." He trailed of and gave a helpless little shrug.

"That sort of thing must be hard."

"Yeah, it is." Doggett's eyes were a bit shiny when he looked up. "But who am I to complain to you? At least I know she's okay, even if we're not together."




The next day Barbara Doggett stood and looked through a two-way mirror. There was no one on the other side, and the room was empty but for the oversized height chart on one wall, that was lit by a single light bulb.

The woman looked over her shoulder and spoke to Reyes, who had been reluctantly drafted to wait with her while they set up. "Do you suppose this will take long?"

"I don't know," Reyes confessed. "I've never seen a lineup before."

"Not your part of the proceedings, I take it. You were one of the people who was there when Luke's body was found."

The tonelessness of the other woman's statement made Reyes wince. "Yes."

"And you work with him now too'" Barbara stated. "Tell me something then-"

For a heartbeat Reyes was sure she was going to ask "Are you now or have you ever been in love with my estranged husband?"

"-Is he better now?"

"In what way?" She hoped that her voice didn't seem as unnatural to the other woman as it did to her ears.

"After eighteen months of moping alternating with angry determination to find our son's killer, I left him. It was like living with doctor Heckle and Mister Hyde - and they were both unbearable after a while. I just got so tired of trying to cope for the both of us..."

"If that's how he was, then he's better. We know who to expect at work each day, no surprises."

Barbara looked relieved. "You can understand why reopening this case would make me wonder that."

"Yes. Between me and you, I wonder if reopening this case has something to do with our partner. He has a baby, and John likes him a lot. Maybe he doesn't just want justice, but to keep a monster from..."

"He's interacting with your partner's son? That surprises me. For a long time he wouldn't look at other children."

"He is better," Reyes repeated.

"Must be." They watched men troop into the other room. "I want to recognize him. Then, once this is behind us, John and I can both move on."




The Next Day

All three agents looked up in surprise when Brad Follmer walked through the door of their office. He rarely came down to the basement, so it made them all wary.

On the other hand, Follmer had a friendly enough look pasted to his face. He stopped in front of Doggett. "I heard that your ex-wife-"

"We're separated," Doggett told him. "Never filed the papers."

Mulder glanced at Reyes and saw a fleeting expression of shock, but he was sure that he was the only one who noticed, and said nothing to draw attention to it.

"All right, Mrs. Doggett then," Follmer agreed. "I heard that she was unable to identify Regali in a lineup."

"Unfortunately that is true, but she may not have ever noticed him-"

Follmer held up a quieting hand. "When you raised concerns about Regali I looked into the source of these allegations -- uh, a cadet, right?"

"Rudolph Hayes. He's been very helpful in this investigation."

"Rudolph Hayes died in 1978 in a car accident."

"What? Let me see that." Follmer held out a file to him, and he was quick to take it.

"Cadet Hayes's real name is Stuart Mimms of Mendota, Minnesota. Last known residence the Dakota County Psychiatric Facility."

"He was a mental patient?" Reyes asked.

"Diagnosed paranoid schizophrenic voluntarily institutionalized in 1990. In 1992, he checked himself out and disappeared. There's another thing. We can also place him in New York city in 1993 ... the year your son was murdered."

"I don't like what you're implying," Doggett told him.

"You don't have to like it." Follmer shrugged. "As matter stands we're going to dismiss him from the FBI today for falsely representing himself. And we're going to question him about the murders he's been so helpful at investigating - your son's included."

"I know he didn't have anything to do with Luke's murder!" Doggett's voice was raised, but not quite a shout.

"Then let's hope our investigation bears that out." Follmer walked off without allowing further comment.




"AD Follmer was involved with Regali," Reyes told Mulder that night. "That's why I broke things off with him a few years ago."

"Not because, to quote Doggett 'he's an oily little weasel'?" Their other partner had filled Mulder in about what had come of their investigation of Kersh during the weeks between Scully's death and his return to the X-Files.

"Well, that didn't help. Just by chance I ended up seeing something I wasn't meant to - Brad taking a payoff from Regali."

"Did they see you, too?"

"I don't think so." She laughed, but humorlessly. "I kept expecting that it would come up and that there was a logical explanation for what I'd seen... it was part of a sting, maybe...Then Brad began to spend like crazy and I knew. What I'd thought I'd seen had been what I'd seen." She spread her hands. "Instead of confronting him and giving him the change to lie to my face, I put in my transfer request and broke up with him."

"He didn't ask why?"

"There were plenty of reasons he could have picked from to nail his assumption to. So I let him do that."

Mulder didn't want to force her to elaborate, so he merely made a non-committal noise in his throat.

"The years haven't refined him, so I wouldn't be surprised if he's setting Hayes up."

"Why would he do that?" Mulder asked.

The corner of her mouth quirked. "If he's in as deep as I think he is with Regali, it's probably a CYA measure. What do you think Regali would do to him if he let some schizophrenic kid like Hayes land him behind bars for one of the murders he committed?"

"Um...nothing good."

"Exactly. I don't know, Mulder, maybe you should talk to Hayes. They let him go and he checked himself back into the hospital, saying it was time to go home."

"Why should I talk to him?" Mulder asked again, this time actually surprised.

"You want to know if he knows," Reyes said cryptically, and wouldn't elaborate.




Worth's Hospital
8 p.m.

The nurse at the front desk was not thrilled to see Mulder. She frowned when he explained who he wished to speak to. "We don't usually allow visitors on the day a patient checks in."

"But you're going to make an exception because it's necessary to speak to him for an FBI investigation," Mulder said pleasantly, if firmly.

"Of course," she said, but she didn't look happy as she led him down a hallway. When they stopped outside a room she gave him a pointed look. "I trust that this won't be a long visit."

"Probably not," Mulder agreed as he knocked on the door.

Former Cadet Hayes looked surprised to see Mulder standing there with his badge out. "I don't think I know you."

"You know my partner, John Doggett," Mulder told him, waiting to see if he'd be allowed in the room. After a couple of heartbeats Hayes realized this and motioned for him to take a seat.

"I suppose you're here to ask me if I killed his son," Hayes said simply.

"No. I'm fairly certain that you did not."

"I obsess not because I'm involved, but because that's what people with my illness do. Obsess." Hayes looked down at his hands. "And some times that leads to answers."

"Like the identity of Luke's killer. Regali."

"You believe that." The younger man sounded surprised.

"I do. But that's not why I wanted to speak to you tonight."

"Then why?" The brown eyes are lit with curiosity as they look at Mulder.

Instead of answering Mulder dipped his hand into his coat pocket. He fished out a photograph and handed it to Hayes. "They said that pictures of the dead speak to you. I don't know if it has to be a postmortem picture..."

"It doesn't. They're just easier to access than family pictures, usually."

"Easier?"

"For everyone. You don't have to talk to the family, just to the people who have copies."

"Oh." He watched as the man studied the picture. "What does she say to you?"

Hayes' face looked suddenly sad. "Nothing."

"Nothing?"

"I'm sorry." Mulder felt numb when the photo was handed back to him. "There's no voice in this picture."

"Maybe another-" His voice began to sound desperate to them both.

"It wouldn't help. I hope you find peace, somehow, anyway."

"Thank you." Mulder stood and began to walk towards the door, but stopped short. "I do believe you're innocent, you know."

"I can tell," Hayes said calmly, then picked up a book as Mulder headed out the door.




Two Days Later

Regali was dead. Shot in the eye by AD Follmer, who was immediately arrested for the crime. If not for Doggett's insistence that he was going to speak to Regali alone, Mulder or Reyes might have witnessed his dead body first hand too, not just hear about it from Skinner an hour after it happened.

"Is John going to be okay?" Reyes asked shakily once they got the news.

"He's a strong person, and he'll get over it," Skinner told her. "He's going to take a few weeks off, though. Use up some of that vacation time that's accumulated since he started with the bureau.

Sitting at his own desk, Mulder found his mind wandering. It never occurred to him that accumulated vacation time would travel with an agent if they transferred from one department to another. After scolding himself about focusing, he turned to their boss. "They're absolutely sure that it was Follmer pulled the trigger?"

"Yes. They've got his prints on the weapon and he confessed immediately. Why do you ask?"

"It's just..." Mulder hesitated. "I got the impression that if Doggett had gotten the truth he suspected out of Regali that he would have killed him."

"Witnesses said that he was quick to follow Regali out of the bar after they had a heated conversation. I can't tell you that he didn't have murder on his mind, just that if he did, he didn't act on that impulse."

Which didn't really make Mulder feel all that much better. For all they knew Follmer was just a quicker draw than their partner.

"John wouldn't have killed anyone," Reyes insisted.

Mulder let that go, and so did Skinner. "I trust that the two of you can hold down the fort without assistance while agent Doggett is on vacation."

"Yes, sir," Mulder answered for the both of them, and Reyes didn't contradict him.

"Good." Skinner started to walk away. "This isn't an optimal outcome, but I think that we can all agree that it's a good thing that the Doggetts will now have some closure."

Two dark heads bobbed in agreement, but it was just as well that Skinner couldn't see the questions in his agents' eyes.




A Few Days Later

Waves crashed noisily as Mulder and Reyes watched the scene that played itself out near the shore. Neither of the pair they were watching would have objected if they'd gone closer, but they didn't feel right about it, anyway. It was a private scene, and they both considered it nearly an intrusion to be even as close as they were. Doggett had asked them to come, to bear witness, so they had.

Even William seemed struck by the solemnity of the occasion, and stayed quiet in the protective circle of his father's arms.

A polished wooden box was clutched in both of Doggett's hands. She couldn't read the inscription from that distance, but Reyes knew what was burned into the lid. "Luke Doggett January 9, 1986 - August 13, 1993." Reyes had been there the day that Doggett had called the funeral home to make the arrangements for his son's cremation. It had been her last day in New York, and she couldn't return there without imagining, at least once, a grieving father telling a faceless stranger on the other end of the phone what to do with the broken body of his only son.

Reyes glanced away from the shore to look at William. She made a silent vow to do everything in her power to protect this friend's son. Even if she hadn't been able to do the same for Luke, a boy who had been dead before she'd even seen his picture.

Down by the water Doggett slowly opened the box. It was hard to tell from a distance, but Reyes thought that his hands were shaking, at least until Barbara covered his hands with her own. Together they got the lid off. Wind took the little boy's ashes, and for a moment they made a film on the ocean water, but soon waves dragged them away. Neva would have said it was his spirit being set free, but Reyes wasn't so sure that her mother would be right.

If Luke was free, why were Doggett and his ex-wife crying?

As she watched, Reyes thought that the years fell away from the estranged couple. Doggett became aware of Barbara's tears, and pulled her into his own watery embrace, trying to comfort them both.

At that point Reyes turned away. What they'd been asked to witness had passed, and this was just voyeurism. Mulder took her cue and began to carry William back up the beach to his waiting car. Neither of them thought Doggett would notice that they'd left.




May 20th, 2002
7 a.m.

The smell of strong coffee assaulted Reyes' nose when she walked into the kitchen. Sitting at the table, Mulder's eyes were as red as the mug he held in both hands.

She knew why, of course. It wasn't marked on the calendar, but it didn't have to be. Everyone in the apartment knew the significance of the date, except maybe William. Deciding not to bring it up first, she poured herself coffee too and took a seat across from Mulder.

He gave her a weak smile. "I invited the guys over tonight. In honor of William's first birthday. Hope you don't mind."

"Of course not. Birthday boy still sleeping?"

"Yeah. I thought I'd let him sleep until we were just about ready to go. I think he's going through a growth spurt."

"I guess that means we'll have to clear the end tables." Her joke earned her another smile, one a little less anorexic.

"I suppose. Wouldn't want him to steal the TV Guide. Now that he's holding onto the furniture to keep himself up, I think it's only a matter of weeks, if not days before he's walking," Mulder told her.

"You've been reading baby books again."

"Of course. I don't have a handy grandma to ask these things of."

"Or one to tell you the 500 ways you're raising your child wrong," Reyes pointed out.

"There's that too," Mulder agreed. "I asked them to come around seven so I have time to swing by the party store for decorations."

"Okay. I'll help you set up."




8:07 a.m.

Reyes had the office to herself for a few minutes, because Mulder was still upstairs talking to the daycare staff. As she'd left him he'd muttered something about being sure "the Hair is going to make a big deal over the baby's birthday," and it seemed like he might have been right.

When Doggett walked in that morning, he was whistling. This startled Reyes, since she was expecting him to be depressed; for some reason she expected everyone to be. "Having a good morning?"

"Having a good life," Doggett corrected. "Finding out about what happened to our son has healed the rift between Barbara and I. We don't blame each other any more."

"Oh," she said, wondering why she'd never stopped to wonder how he'd spent the leave he'd been on until just a few days ago.

"It's been good to learn we can move on," Doggett added cheerfully.

"Are you getting back together?" Reyes blurted out.

Doggett grinned at her. "I think I'm wearing her down about moving back in with me."

"That's great," she said in a faint voice that Doggett didn't pick up on. "I'll be back in a couple of minutes."

Once in the ladies' room she closed herself into a stall.

It hurt to breathe for some reason.

What's wrong with me? She wondered. I've been over him for months. Then it hit her - she'd come to accept that they weren't likely to be together, but it had only been easy as long as he was rejecting all women in general. Now that he's chose his estranged wife, the "what's wrong with me?" questions were free to bubble to the surface.

Five miserable minutes passed in silence, and then, "Agent Reyes?"

Reyes looked up, mortified to hear Kimberly's concerned look. "Yes?"

"Are you okay? Agent Doggett said you looked sick."

"Bad cramps," Reyes instantly improvised an excuse.

"Oh, that sucks."

"Yeah. I'll be out in a few minutes," she said, hoping desperately that no proof of her imagined condition would be requested.

"No problem, just wanted to make sure we didn't have to send for the nurse."

"Ha, no."

Once the other woman's clicking footfalls faded away, Reyes took a deep breath and left the stall. She took a moment to glance at the mirror. She did look pale, but at least she hadn't cried. Pretend cramps couldn't explain a blotchy face.

Apparently Kimberly had explained things to Doggett, because he refused to meet her eyes when she returned to the office. She thought it was just as well. The tension in the office faded when Mulder came in, complaining that giving a bunch of toddlers cupcakes was no way to kick off a morning.




That Night

The party was probably the dreariest Reyes had ever been at that had not involved burying someone first. As she collected the paper cups and plates, she reflected that it was entirely hers and Mulder's faults. If the hosts are depressed...

Not that people didn't try to be happy for William's sake. Even they had tried. She might have even carried it off, if late into the affair it hadn't become clear that Doggett was included in "the boys" that Mulder had mentioned inviting. And maybe she could have tried to be cheery if Doggett had come alone.

William didn't seem to realize that his father was depressed, and actually seemed to enjoy the proceedings. He's been thrilled to smear cake on himself for the second time that day, this time while Skinner took pictures. And he'd really enjoyed the gunmen's gifts - leave it to them to present a baby with empty boxes and a roll of wrapping paper as gifts. Byers had given him something more practical - a savings bond - but it was hard to deny that he appreciated Langly and Frohike's taste in baby gifts more.

Eventually everyone left, using the fact that William was sleepy as an excuse to go. She didn't blame them. Mulder took his son to his room before they'd even left.

After she tied off the bag for trash, she changed for bed before wandering into William's room. Mulder was slumped in the rocking chair, with his son in his arms. He wasn't rocking. Still awake, the little boy fussed a bit, holding his arms out to her. Mulder didn't protest when she took William from him.

"Rough day, huh?"

"Yeah," he said in a broken voice. "It's just...it's just..."

"I know," she said soothingly. "Go to bed, I'll change William."

"Thanks."

It didn't take her long to change William. He was sleepy, so there was only minimal flailing of his little legs to contend with as she tried to get his diaper and PJs on. It gave her plenty of time to think about how miserable she felt.

She thought that she could hear Mulder crying in his room. It seemed like a good idea. Just go to her room and cry herself to sleep in her cold lonely bed. It's what she had every intention of doing as she laid William in his crib.




But somewhere on the way to her room it stopped making sense to her that they should both grieve alone, when they might find comfort in each other. It felt like a dream when she followed her impulse to walk the other way and enter his room without permission; she left her nightgown at the door with any second thoughts she might have been capable of having.

He made no protest when she climbed into his bed, and that made her bolder. She kissed away his warm salty tears, and darted out her tongue to get the ones that had run to his lips. There was a muffled gasp when he must have realized that she was naked, but he didn't push her away, and he soon began to kiss her back.

They didn't say anything about what was happening, nor where things were likely to go. Not as they ran their affection starved fingers over the contours of each other's body; not when her soft questing fingers helped him free of his boxers and kneaded his long neglected member hard...or when he pushed her onto her back with a low growl and sank himself into her deeper than she would have imagined, had she ever given the scenario any thought.

It became difficult to remember the moment became before, and she barely dared too anticipate those yet to come. As long as she concentrated on the present, she could pretend that nothing else mattered. Unfortunately, her body brought her back to herself, but it wasn't a bad place to be.

The only sounds in the room were their ragged breathing, the soft rhythmic sound of flesh meeting flesh and the woosh of blood of blood pounding so hard in their ears that they both thought of heart attacks.

A heart attack would have been worth it, Reyes decided fleetingly. At first, each time she strained to move her hips to meet his, she hoped this release would loosen the hold impossible love had on them. But long before Mulder's warmth spurted deep into her she forgot to think of anything but not wanting the sensation that pulsed through her to end, and sorrowed that it would.

After their shuddering ended and their breathing returned to a less marathon pace, she whisper two words into Mulder's sweaty shoulder. Neither of them heard, and later she would forget she'd uttered them. His contented sigh as he slid out of her echoed her sentiment of gratitude.

Soon enough they'd have to sort out what what they'd done meant, but not then. At the moment it was enough to curl against the side of a man who wasn't John Doggett and fall asleep dreaming of neither of them.

End Act One




Act Two: Game Of Life

Chapter Seventeen


May 21st, 2002

She wasn't in his bed in the morning. That confused his sleepy mind; had it really happened, or had it just been a dream produced by his over-heated brain?

Though there was no discarded nightgown by the door, his boxers laid in a crumpled heap where he remembered her throwing them in his "dream." It had really happened, then.

Mulder perched on his bed, trying to think of what to say. It had obviously been a mistake. They'd both been thinking of other people and one thing had led to another... He hoped they could be mature about it and not let it complicate their arrangement.

A new worry froze him. What if it had meant something to her? He wasn't sure he could handle it if she somehow got the impression that the night before had been the start of something. He'd have to though; it would be cowardly to try to avoid the situ-

A thump at the door. "Mulder? Did you oversleep? William and I are ready to go."

"Um, Yeah. I'll be five minutes."

As he quickly threw on his clothes, he tried to figure it out. Muffled as her voice had been by the door, it hadn't sounded emotional. Except for a mild annoyance that he was making them late, perhaps. He didn't know what to say in that case.

Fortunately, William's insistent clamor for his attention saved him from saying anything at all. "Go! Go!"

Mulder took him from Reyes, and ruffled his hair. "Morning, Bub. Your old man's making everybody late. So let's get the show on the road."

"Rud," William said.

"Is it just me, or has he just started mimicking us?" Mulder tried to maintain the same cool calm Reyes had shown since he walked out of his room; he didn't want to be the first one to betray nervousness.

"Us!"

"I'd say so."

"Guess we'd better be careful about what we say," Mulder suggested. He watched her, wondering if she'd get the duel meaning.

She made it impossible to tell by her response as she shouldered the diaper bag. "Good idea."




"Us! Rud! Go! Us! Rud..."

Mulder knew that he ought to be proud that his son had acquired not one, but three new words - even if he couldn't pronounce one of them properly - just a day after his first birthday, but he was too distracted to give it the proper attention.

"Wonder what he'll be saying by the end of the day," Reyes remarked after smiling at the little boy.

That's what Mulder was mostly worried about: what people would be saying by the end of the day. Sneaking a glance at Reyes, he reminded himself that it wasn't that he thought she was reckless, but he'd already realized that if Doggett hadn't shown up the night before with his wife, what had followed once the guests were gone may well not have happened.

It was Doggett he was worried that she'd say something to. Maybe he'd spent too much time around women like Phoebe Green, but it wasn't hard for him to imagine a scene...

"Morning. Could you hand me that file?" Doggett would ask.

Reyes would shake her head. "I'm afraid I can't. I can't give you anything, not any more."

"Um. What do you mean?"

"Last night I got sick of living like a nun while I pined over you. So I had great sex with Mulder-"

"You what?" At this point Doggett's eyes would be wide with shock."

"Had sex with Mulder. Pay attention. In a moment of post coital clarity, I realized that you aren't worth the time or the effort. Barbara can have you if she'll take you back."

"Okay." Doggett would look quite bemused at this point. "I'm sure she'll be glad to have your blessings."

"I can't believe you never mentioned the fact that you never signed divorce papers! What sort of person holds out hope for some sort of relationship that's been dead in the water for years?"

"I was going to say Mulder, but not if he's been slippin' it to you. And how do you know that I'm the one who refused to sign the papers? Maybe it was Barbara."

Reyes would shake her head. "I've met the woman. She didn't strike me as needy or desperate."

"And I do?" His voice would rise in disbelief.

She'd give him a nasty smile. "If the shoe fits, wear it."

And all during the conversation, Mulder would wish that the floor would open up and swallow him whole; before they realized that he could be the next thing they took swipes at.

Trying not to be obvious about it, he gave her another uneasy glance and tried to telepathically send the message that he didn't want their business to become the talk of the Hoover Building.




The look on Doggett's face was sort of sour when they came in. Mulder's eyes widened, and he wondered if perhaps the reason Reyes hadn't been in his bed in the morning was that she'd gotten up and called Doggett.

Before panic could completely overwhelm his brain, Doggett spoke. "An old friend has come to visit."

Mulder drew a blank. "An old friend?" Was Doggett calling sex an old friend? Maybe they called it that down south...

"She's talking to Skinner," Doggett replied. "Said she'd be back in a minute.

"Oh." Mulder thought he could feel his heart regain its normal rhythm. At least until a few seconds later.

"Agent Mulder!" To his surprise, someone rushed towards him and gave him a hug. "I've thought a lot about running into you in December."

Once the woman pulled away from him, he knew who it was. He snuck a quick look at Reyes, wondering idly if she'd be jealous of the greeting he'd gotten. If she was, she hid it well. "I don't think you ladies have met," Mulder said aloud." Monica Reyes, Leyla Harrison."

Harrison's attention was quickly focused on Reyes. "Nice to meet you. Aren't you so lucky to be working with agents like Doggett and Mulder?"

"I'm thankful every day," Reyes said dryly.

"You probably don't know this, but I once worked a case with these guys," Harrison said cheerfully. "Agent Doggett and I were nearly killed by a...I don't even know what it was, after being blinded, but agent Mulder came to our rescue and saved the day."

"That sounds like Mulder. There when you need him," Reyes said.

It took all of Mulder's self control not to squirm like an embarrassed five-year-old. What had her comment meant, was it a veiled reference to the night before? And worse, was it sarcasm?

"Yeah..." Harrison trailed off with a thoughtful look. "So, has agent Doggett told you why I'm here today?"

"No, I didn't get around to it," Doggett said. "Maybe you should explain it to them just the way that you told me."

"Oh, sure. One of my aunt's neighbors is having a problem with brownies."

Mulder's face was puzzled. "She is? Aggressive cookie selling tactics or something?"

"Cookies?" Harrison now looked confused as well, but then shook her head. "I don't mean girl scouts."

"I'm lost, then," Mulder admitted,and he noticed Doggett smirking.

"You're talking about the fairy-creatures?" Reyes asked.

"Yes, exactly."

"I thought they were supposed to be good beings. Helpful with chores and stuff."

"Normally, but it seems that they're harming her business. She does stuff with recycled objects, and they keep dismantling her work."

"Ah."

"And I think there might be an aughisky in the neighborhood too."

"A what?!" Doggett asked rather loudly.

Harrison didn't seem bothered by his tone. "It's a type of wild horse."

"That doesn't sound so bad. A little unusual for DC-"

She interrupted him. "My aunt lives in Maryland. But the thing that's bad about them is that they let you catch them and ride them."

"Why is that a bad thing?"

"Because as soon as you're on their backs the run towards the nearest body of water, drown you, and eat you."

"Yikes," Reyes muttered.

"Why would you suspect that something like that is in your aunt's neighborhood?" Mulder asked.

"There have been three drownings in the neighborhood pond over the past month."

"It's a bit cool out for swimming yet, but it's not improbable that three people got the bonehead idea to go swimming in May," Doggett said.

"In all three cases they're found hoof prints along the edges of the water when they've recovered the bodies." Harrison explained.

"Why didn't you mention that first?" Mulder wondered out loud. Harrison just shrugged slightly. "All we have to do is convince Skinner to approve-"

"It already has been approved. By Kersh," Doggett said, which probably explained his mood. "We're supposed to spend several days researching the creatures before we go to the neighborhood agent Harris said is having problems."

It was on the tip of Mulder's tongue to protest. If some animal was drowning people, several days delay might cost more lives. But then he cast a look at agent Harrison. She still seemed very eager to be around the x-files, so maybe there was nothing to her claims. Mulder decided not to agonize over it. Especially considering that the prospect of waiting didn't remove the happy look from Harrison's face.

"I guess we'll be experts by the time we get out there."

"Guess so," Doggett agreed. "I didn't think you'd like the idea of being stuck in the office."

"Given the fact that until a few minutes ago I never even heard of this thing that might be killing people, so it sounds like a good idea to learn all we can before we go after it."

Doggett nodded, but his expression suggested that he thought that Mulder was being uncharacteristically sensible.

Mulder suppressed a sigh. His mind was too full of wondering what his other partner was thinking about him to be overly concerned about that too.




All day long Mulder was distracted because he kept expecting Reyes to act differently, or to say something, but she didn't. Not at the office, not at home. Not even as they said good night and retired to their respective rooms. It upset him a bit for reasons he couldn't identify, and left him feeling as nervous and awkward as he did around the first girl he'd ever slept with. Then, however, the girl seemed to feel the same.

When he woke up from a nightmare he couldn't remember, he figured it out. He felt used. It'd been a long time since he felt that way. In a way though, it didn't seem like a betrayal, but a gift - it was also the first time in a long time since anyone had thought of him as anything but an asexual grieving father.



The next night the door to Mulder's room opened so quietly that he thought at first that he'd imagined it; the soft shift of the mattress alerted him otherwise. More awake, Mulder froze, and wondered what she would do.

It didn't turn out to be what he expected. There was a slight breeze when she pulled up the sheet and thin blanket, but it faded away as the bedding collapsed around her. Feeling brave, he reached out a tentative finger and felt cloth, not the sheet or blanket - she was dressed.

She was tentative too, moving closer to him by painfully small degrees. It took so long that he drifted off. When he woke again it was an hour later, and she was pressed up against him, sound asleep.

He liked that. It made him feel trusted in a way he hadn't for years. This time, she was there when he woke up.




It became a pattern.

All day in the office they'd commiserate with Doggett as they spent their hours trying to learn as much as they could about that mythical creature, the aughisky. By the end of the first week Mulder thought he could give a relatively informed presentation to a group, telling people how the creature was in Scottish mythology too, but they called it Each uisge or Kelpie, and that inland they remained horses, but if you let it near water your life was as good as over. No one could believe that Kersh really wanted them to spend two weeks looking things up. Out of desperation, Reyes decided to look up the far less dangerous brownies instead, but that wasn't much of a reprieve after a day or two. The three of them were bored senseless and complained often.

Later in the day they'd go home, play with William who was delighted with the world now that he could pull himself up onto his feet though he'd yet to attempt any steps, eat dinner and watch TV. Same as always. Except that most nights Reyes ended up in his room at some point. More often than not, they'd just sleep, drawing comfort from the fact that there was someone else there.

But not always, which is why Mulder found him some place he'd concluded a year before that he'd never visit again - the condom section of the grocery store.

It wasn't easy to make himself go to that aisle, though he knew he had to after the second time he and Reyes had made love - he'd been lucky to find an unexpired condom that time. The first two times he walked by the aisle, people had been there, so he'd pretended that he needed something in the next row, and waited. He hoped it had looked like he hadn't run away like a scared high school kid afraid of being caught.

Although, he really was afraid of being caught. A scenario kept running through his mind: he'd be reaching out his hand to take a box of Trojans off a peg when he'd hear it. "Agent Mulder!" Spinning around he'd be horrified to see someone he knew smiling at him. The product his finger tips had just brushed would require an explanation, from all but the least nosy, and who did he know that wasn't nosy? The diapers and beer were both too far from the condoms to make anyone believe he'd been reaching for them, so it would seem as though his standing before the display was deliberate.

It would be deliberate, of course, but he didn't know how he'd explain that. Reyes wasn't his girlfriend. Friend, certainly. A very good one indeed. Roommate, definitely. Just the sort you occasionally had sex with. But for that their relationship hadn't really changed much that he could tell. They hadn't discussed what it "meant" as he was dreading, and she didn't seem to need to talk about it any more than he did. At least he didn't need to talk about it badly enough to bring up the subject himself... but how could you explain any of that to a person not involved in the arrangement? He didn't think he could.

Which is why he waited until the aisle was completely empty, then shoved the box under the newspaper in his basket. Next time he was going to go to a warehouse store far from home.




June 3rd, 2002

"Hey, Mulder, can I talk to you?"

"Sure." He dropped the book with relief. There was only the rest of the day that they were expected to 'research' the pests before they were allowed to finally go to Maryland the following night. Coincidentally, it was only before the end of the day that Mulder had before he lost his mind from boredom too. If they were smart like Reyes, they would have gone off to the library too.

"Has Monica said anything to you about Barbara and me?"

Mulder gave him a blank look. "Like what?"

"I told her a couple weeks ago that Barb and I had gotten back together, and she's never brought it up."

"Why would she?" Mulder asked. He wondered if Doggett realized that Reyes had been hung up on him, after all.

"We're friends. I thought she'd have an opinion about it, is all."

"Maybe she does," Mulder agreed. "But she's had a lot on her mind lately." Or so he imagined.

"Oh, okay." Doggett sounded a bit disappointed.

"Why, were you hoping she thought it was a good idea, or a bad one?"

"I didn't have either reaction in mind, really. Just wondered if anyone cared."

Mulder hid a smile; Doggett sounded sixteen, so it made him happy he wasn't the only one acting immaturely lately. "If you want people to care, you've got to make them realize that you care."

"What do you mean?"

"How many people know you and Barbara are back together?"

"Um..."

"Exactly."

Doggett shook his head. "It's just...it's probably my imagination, but I thought she was into me. I had this weird dream about talking to her about a relationship a while back and everything."

Mulder decided to be merciful. "Okay, let me be straight with you. I think she was interested in you, but it passed." He felt like he was back in high school all over again. But, as a testament to his actual age, he didn't add a brag that Reyes had found greener pastures.

"I hope so," Doggett replied. "Because Barbara and I are toying with the idea of renewing our vows in a few months."

For just a moment, Mulder's conviction that she was completely over Doggett wavered, but he didn't let on.




June 4th, 2002

Mulder supposed that it was because he'd built it up in his mind, but their first night in the field for the aughisky case just wasn't that exciting. It mostly involved hiding amongst the trees and crouching down a lot to make themselves unnoticeable. It made him very thankful that they'd chosen to only stake-out the three hour window that the medical examiner said all the deaths occurred within, rather than the whole night. He'd had a hard enough time making himself request that the gunmen look after William for that long, never mind the whole night.

For reasons only known to himself, Doggett suggested that they split into pairs, and each watch a side of the lake. He even volunteered to be paired with agent Harrison, who'd surprised Mulder and Doggett both by wanting to be involved in the case after her horrible time in the field before. Kersh approved it without a peep of protest, leading Mulder to wonder if Harrison had some dirt on their boss, and if she was black-mailing him.

Doggett volunteering to be paired with the woman, he thought he might be able to understand. Although Doggett would never admit that it dictated any of his actions, it was quite clear he'd received the upbringing of a southern gentleman that the romance novels were so fond of. Chivalrous attitudes dictated that leaving ladies, even armed ones, by themselves at night wasn't the thing to do, so he and Mulder weren't going to be watching together. And given that he was clearly concerned about Reyes' thoughts about his reconciliation with his wife, he could see how the opportunity of three hours of quiet conversation would not appeal. So Harrison was the logical choice.

This left Mulder with a problem. There he and Reyes were, hunkered down out of sight from the other agents and everyone else... It fueled his imagination, and made him ponder any number of actions that would lead to dismissal if witnessed. It was funny, but when they'd first gotten there he'd noticed a bite in the air, but it had gotten a lot warmer.

Except that Reyes seemed to be shivering. Puzzled, he peeled of his jacket and held it out to her. "Take this, you look like you're freezing."

"Aren't you cold?"

"No, I've been sweltering all night. I really don't need a jacket."

He half expected her to touch his forehead to see if he had a fever, but instead she just gave him a doubtful look. "If you're sure you're not going to freeze..."

"I'm positive," he assured her, adding to himself that if he started to cool off, all he needed to do was ponder what they could get away with on duty without getting fired. Uh...she fell in the water. Wasn't breathing. Had to give her mouth to mouth...




Frowning, Mulder turned to Reyes. "Are you feeling restless too?"

"I'm feeling pain," Reyes told him. "I think my calves are going to freeze in this position and I'm going to scuttle around like a crab for the rest of my life."

"Can't have that," Mulder said, pulling her to her feet. She groaned. "Let's find a new spot to observe from. Maybe we can find one with a stump or rock to sit on to give our legs a rest."

"She pointed her flashlight a short distance away. "Like that fallen log?"

He calculated how much foliage surrounded it to offer camouflage, then nodded. "That looks like it will do nicely."

Mulder grabbed Reyes' arm when she stumbled. "Hey, are you okay?"

"Yeah, I just tripped over something..." She directed her flashlight down towards their feet, then quickly pulled away from Mulder and crashed a few yards through the undergrowth.

He winced a little when he heard her throw up, but with his own unruly stomach, he couldn't blame her. Yanking out his walkie talkie, he tried to get the others' attention. "Doggett? Harrison? This surveillance is over for the night."

Doggett's voice came back to him. "Why?"

"We started too late. Reyes just stumbled over a body. Literally."

"Jesus. Are you sure the victim was killed earlier tonight?"

"Um..." He looked down at the remains. "I don't have a lot to go on, here. The ME will undoubtedly be able to tell us more."

"Okay. We'll join you ASAP."

"Good."

Listening to Reyes retching, he steeled himself for another quick look at the body, and wondered if he had time to throw up too before Doggett rejoined them.




Chapter Eighteen


June 5th, 2002

The medical examiner had information for them by the following afternoon. It was somewhat to their relief to find out that they had not, in fact, stumbled over a murder that had been committed shortly before they arrived. It seemed that the victim had been killed several days, were even a week earlier.

"God damn Kersh, if he hadn't made us do all that stupid research we might have been able to catch this thing before killed this last person," Mulder grumbled.

Although Reyes nodded in agreement, she was really trying to do her best to block out the mental image of the scattered body parts, because every time she thought of them her stomach roiled in revolt. She'd seen bodies before, but just not in quite so many pieces. A foot here, a bicep there, it didn't surprise her that the thought made her ill.

"You're looking a little green there, agent Reyes," Agent Harrison noted. She'd stop by the office to find out the ME had a cause of death for them yet.

Reyes waved one hand dismissively. "I just can't get that image out of my head. Makes me want to bleach my brain."

"Hmm. Glad I didn't get better look at it."

"Him," Mulder said sharply.

"What?"

"The victim was a young man, not an it."

"Oh." Agent Harrison looks startled. "I didn't mean anything-"

"I know you didn't, but you can't do that. Distancing yourself from the victim is no way to motivate yourself to discover a killer. You have to keep reminding yourself that victims had names, and lives, before they were taken away...even if it makes it hurt more."

"Yeah, I'll keep that in mind," Agent Harrison muttered.

Reyes started at Mulder, startled by his passionate rebuking of a fellow agent. Harrison was younger, but she was an adult, their equal, not a child in need of a scolding. He knew that, but his feelings had obviously overpowered his logic. Was it Scully he was reminded of by every victim in there cases, she wondered. Or was the association even older, going back to his missing sister? Frowning a little, she thought that must be it. Not everything could be about Scully.

"-need to make sure this doesn't happen to anyone else," Mulder was saying when she realized that the conversation had moved on without her.

"Of course," Doggett agreed. "Surveillance tonight, then?"

She agreed when the others did, even though the mere thought made her weary. A nap as soon as the got home was definitely in order.




A Few Hours Later

When Reyes woke up, she heard music. In the living room Mulder was sitting on the couch, his head back and his eyes closed.

Your hands on me; pressing hard against your jeans
Your tongue in my mouth, trying to keep the words from coming out
You didn't care to know who else may have been you before

"What are you listening to?" she asked, making him open his eyes.

"I'm not sure." Mulder picked up the CD case and read it. "I guess the band is called Bright Eyes."

"Funny, but this isn't the type of music I see you buying."

I want a lover I don't have to love.
I want a girl who's too sad to give a fuck.
Where is the kid with the chemicals?
I thought he said to meet him here, but I'm not sure
I got the money if you've got the time

"You're right, it's not. One of my cases took me to Idaho back in the early nineties, and I met a couple of kids, real stoners. The boy got in touch with me a while ago, seems that he cleaned up and is now a DJ. And apparently this CD is an advance copy and won't be released in stores until August. I think it amuses him to send something of questionable legality to an FBI agent." Mulder looked amused too.

"Still, it was nice of him to send it to you."

"Yeah, it was. And I think I actually do like this song."

Love's an excuse to get hurt
and to hurt

Do you like to hurt?
I do, I do
then hurt me..
then hurt me...
then hurt me...

Reyes yawned. "When's the babysitter supposed to get here?"

"In about fifteen minutes." He gave her a long look. "You still look tired."

She yawned again. "Some of us don't do real well with spending half-days in the office and half the night out in the field."

"My sleep cycle has been screwed up most of my life, so it doesn't really make much of a difference to me."

"Well, lucky you." When someone knocked on the door she reached over and turned off the CD player while he got the door.

The song is "Lover I Don't Have to Love" by Bright Eyes. I like the cover by Bettie Serveert better, but it didn't exist in 2002.




Spring peepers and crickets chorused all over the night, but neither Mulder nor Reyes could hear anything larger. They crouched for the second time, keeping an eye out for potential victims, and their elusive killer.

Bored, Reyes decided to break up the monotony by speaking quietly. "Mulder?"

"Hmm?"

"Who do I complain to about being required to wear FBI approved attire in the field?"

"Kersh, I'd imagine. He's the one who decided to enforce that."

"I'd like to get him out here in a skirt."

"Kinky."

"Ha. After an hour of having wind blow up his skirt I'm sure he'd change his tune damn quick."

"I'm sure you're right, but if it's all the same to you, I'm going to shoot myself in the head to get the image of Kersh wearing a skirt out of my mind."

"Aww man, here I thought you'd make some suggestions about how to keep me warm, and I've got you contemplating suicide instead."

"Funny how life turns out like that some times. Besides, we're working."

"Uh huh, that's exactly what's on your mind." Reyes smirked. To her surprise, he grabbed her hand.

"You really are cold."

"It's not even 50 degrees out and I'm wearing a stupid skirt. You do the math."

"Maybe you should invest in those old-fashioned bloomers," Mulder suggested with a straight face.

"The ones with the leggings? Believe me, I'm thinking about it," Reyes said before sinking into silence.

"Um...I think you should stop doing that," Mulder said in a strangled voice two or three minutes later.

About to ask "what" she realized what he meant. Although she hadn't really been conscious of it, she'd been stroking his palm with her thumb since he'd taken her hand. "Oh, sorry. Did I hurt your hand somehow?"

"No, not hurt," he said as soon as she dropped her hand.

Realization hit her when she noticed that he was squirming. "I thought you were thinking about work."

"I was, but you were making it difficult."

"How?" she asked, attempting to sound completely innocent.

"Repetitive up down motion... like you said 'you connect the dots.'"

"I think I said 'you do the math' but...really? I guess we can't take William to the amusement park, then."

"What?"

"The merry go round, Mulder. Although I think there are some without horses that go up and down, up and-"

"Stop that!"

Although she knew she should, she didn't. Needling was just too much fun, and he didn't really seem upset by her teasing.




Something crashed through the undergrowth, quite near by.

"What the hell was that?" Mulder toppled over and landed on his butt.

It might have amused her to see him land like William did while attempting to walk, and she was tempted to tease him about "your new center of balance," but her pulse was racing as she looked around, trying to see it again. Because she had seen it, out of the corner of her eye. All she had caught was long legs and the flow of something like a mane.

Next to her Mulder already had his gun out, and he was looking for the target too.

"I think it's gone," Reyes whispered when there had been nothing but their breath for over a minute.

"Mulder?" The sudden sound at her waist nearly made her gun. "Reyes?"

She fumbled for the walkie-talkie. "Is it over there, Doggett?"

"No, it got by us. I think it's heading your way."

"It's come and gone," Reyes told him.

"Do you think we scared it away?" Doggett's disembodied voice asked.

Mulder requested the walkie-talkie, so Reyes handed it to him. "The way it was moving, I don't think it'll be back tonight."

"Gotcha. We're going to come around to you, then."

"Do you really think it's gone?" Reyes asked, as they listened to Doggett and Harrison tramp through the trees a couple of minutes later.

"It seemed pretty spooked, just taking off like that without attacking anyone."

"What do you say?" Doggett called once he was in sight. "Should we call it a night."

"Yes, let's," Mulder agreed, and Reyes wondered if she was the only one who detected the note of eagerness in his voice.




It wasn't until Doggett and Harrison left that Reyes discovered that her coy teasing had not be lost on Mulder. A pleasant surprise, because she hadn't thought he had it in him to take this sort of risk.

"I need you so badly," he growled into her ear, and when he leaned across her to kiss her, she could feel the heat and hardness of his erection up against her leg. "So hard to be professional...thought they'd never leave," he muttered.

"We're not on duty now," she told him with a smile. He responded by hauling her onto his lap and pawing at her clothes. Wearing a skirt had some advantages after all, she mused. Although the steering wheel bit into her back, she could ignore it in favor of the other things she felt, like Mulder's warm hands around her waist while he moved inside of her -

The glare of headlights started them both, and Reyes jumped off his lap and back onto her seat despite his frustrated groan of protest. Ignoring that, she buttoned up her shirt with shaky fingers and thrust her underwear under the seat. She made herself glance quickly at Mulder's lap, and gave a sigh of relief that'd he'd made himself presentable too. There'd be no story at the water cooler the next day about how Spooky Mulder had been caught with his dick out - literally. She didn't even want to think about where the now unseen condom had ended up.

When the rap on the driver's side window came, Mulder affected a bored look and rolled down his window. "Can I help you, officer, or are you interrupting an FBI stakeout for fun?" His voice dripped with arrogant condescension.

The cop wasn't an idiot, and was clearly annoyed by what probably seemed like an unwarranted attitude. "Stakeout, huh? I'm going to need to see some ID."

Both agents flashed their badges, and the police officer reluctantly offered a sullen apology for "interfering with a case." Then he stalked back to his cruiser and drove off.

Reyes swatted Mulder on the arm.

"What?" he asked, his expression very like William's when he knew he was being naughty.

"Did you have to be such an asshole to the cop?"

"Yes." He grinned when she stared at him. "I have a reputation to maintain. I doubt he had time to read our badges, but if he did he'd expect by reputation to have FBI agent Mulder treat him like a smug prick."

"It was a fine performance, Mulder. I'm sure that's the exact impression he took away with him." Reyes giggled softly.

He turned the engine over and said, "Put your seatbelt on. Let's go home before another bored cop decides to investigate this car for public fornication."

"Huh. I guess I was right to peg you for the type to worry about being caught."

Mulder shrugged. "This cop didn't think to ask how we could survey anything with steamed up windows, and we might not get lucky twice."

"Too bad we didn't think to requisition some night goggles, huh?" she asked. "They'd of been practical and provide an explanation."

"Wait, are you suggesting that we could have done that? How'd you find out that there are night goggles to requisition?"

"Kimberly is a fount of useful information. You should join us for lunch some time."




Mulder nearly screamed in frustration when he realized that as soon as they got home he was going to be right back out the door. William's babysitter Kerry was a nice kid, but she was a freshman in college, and her college didn't allow freshmen to have cars on campus. The bus she took to get to Mulder's apartment did its last run at ten, so she needed a ride home.

William was sound asleep when they got home, so Mulder was able to gently rush Kerry out the door. They made polite small talk, but his mind was elsewhere, so later on he wondered if his answers to her questions made any sense at all. She didn't seem upset when he dropped her off at her dorm, so he supposed he hadn't said anything too bemusing.

"Thanks a lot for watching William." He remembered to tell her out the window as she was walking away.

"Any time, he's a doll."

Waving good-bye, Mulder wondered how fast he could drive home without endangering anyone or getting busted by the cops for the second time in one night. It was the longest fifteen minute drive he'd had in a while.

And in the end it turned out to be all for naught. By the time he got home, Reyes was sleeping as soundly as William.

Shaking his head slightly, Mulder decided to take a very through shower.




As Mulder stood under the warm pulsing water and cleaned up the mess he'd just made, something Reyes said came back to him. "I guess I was right to peg you for the type to worry about being caught."

Was that true, he wondered for a second before forcing himself to admit that it was. The reason he was so eager to keep his sexual relationship with Reyes to himself was that he was worried about what people would think when they found out. A small voice at the back of his mind, one not subject to reason, insisted that anyone who found out would condemn him for cheating on Scully.

Scully was dead, but it still felt like cheating. He knew it was irrational, even unhealthy, to have that attitude, but he couldn't shake it.

Sighing, he turned off the water and wondered if it was a good or bad thing that despite the guilt he was able to continue his relationship with Reyes. Worry nibbled at him, insisting that the fact that she allowed him to keep it under wraps was letting him take longer to deal with his issues.

Grimacing at himself, he decided that he couldn't put any of the blame on her. He'd have to cure himself - by telling someone what was going on when he and Reyes were alone. Who to tell was the thing he pondered as he climbed into bed. It would require some deep thought and careful consideration. Worries pushed aside for the moment, he was soon asleep too.




June 9th, 2002
Sunday morning

"Do you need anything at the store?" Mulder looked up that Reyes, but his pause caused William to squeal in irritation-Mulder had been helping him "walk."

"What? No, I'm okay. I can't think of anything I need right now."

"Mine if I leave the squirt here?"

"Go ahead."

As soon as Mulder was out the door, Reyes scooped William up and put them in his playpen. He began to whine immediately. "I'll take you out when I get out of the bathroom." Reyes smiled thinly, realizing that Mulder's explanations to his young son rubbing off on her.

Three minutes later she made good on her promise. However, she was too distracted to notice how happy that made William. Instead she paced the living room.

Don't turn blue, don't turn blue, it can't be blue, don't be blue-

A short time later she picked an object up, looked at it, then calmly carried it into her room and set it on her dresser.

Mindful that William was loose, she hurried back to him. "Moni!" he crowed in delight when she sat on the floor and began to play with him. The two of them were still stacking letter blocks when Mulder got home.

"Was he good?" Mulder asked as he stacked cans in a cabinet.

"Sure. He really likes knocking down blocks if you make a tower for him."

"I'm afraid he's going to be disappointed when he grows up and figures out that Godzilla isn't a viable career choice." When he didn't get to laugh, he looked away from the groceries. "You're awfully quiet."

"I'm just tired." She got to her feet. "I'm going to go back to bed."

"Okay."

She didn't notice his look of surprise when she headed for her room instead of his.




After Mulder put William down for a midmorning nap, he spread out the notes he'd taken on the aughisky, and began to systematically compare them to the medical examiner's report.

Reading the man's judiciously chosen words made Mulder sigh in frustration. The old saw about not realizing how valuable something is until it's gone struck a chord with him then. It wasn't until he had lost Scully's expertise with a scalpel that he realized just how much easier it made his work... or how much he'd taken her work for granted. Whatever her doubts about a case, she had never manipulated her findings to put herself in a better light. Unlike, it seemed to be the case with the ME they were working with at present.

He threw the report on the table with a disgusted sigh. A moment later his stomach growled, prompting him to look at the clock. To his astonishment, it was nearly 2 p.m..

Casting a look at Reyes closed door, he got up to make a sandwich and debated if he ought to see if she was hungry.

In the end he decided against it, figuring that bothering her would do more harm than good if she was ill.



She wasn't really asleep. Instead she was lying on her bed, staring at the wall. Although her face was blank, her mind was going a mile a minute.

A little blue line changed everything.

Absolutely everything.

She curled up on her side and tried to imagine Mulder's reaction when she told him - and she would have to tell him. All she could think of were the extremes. He'd scream and accuse, maybe demand she move out and be sent to another division of the FBI. Or the flip side of the coin: he'd be thrilled beyond belief and pull out a ring he'd been waiting for the right moment to give her.

And she didn't know which scenario scared her more.

The rest of the time she scolded herself for being so impulsive. Though people often lamented that hindsight is 20-20, she still felt as though she should have anticipated what had happened. It was obvious from that baby book she found that he was still grieving enough to have fallen apart at the one-year mark. And she thought that she might well have wanted to comfort him that night, even if Doggett hadn't dropped the bombshell that had her craving solace as well. She should have known, should have taken precautions...

Rolling over, she decided that the one thing she couldn't claim was that this turn of events put a damper on the plans she'd made for her life. She didn't have any. Instead she'd spent the greater part of the last two years living in the moment. That's why she'd agreed to leave New Orleans to take part in Doggett's aborted attempt to investigate Kersh. It was why she made the impulsive offer to help care for William, and why she barely sought to spend time with any men besides her coworkers; living with Mulder and William was so comfortable and easy that it made her complacent. Somewhere along the line her desire to make any long-term plans had wandered off, and she'd yet to attempt tracking it down.

Now she was going to have to.

Eventually worry exhausted her and she fell into a deep sleep. Every dream involved raising William.




June 11th, 2002
9 p.m.

"Drop it now!" Her heart in her throat, Reyes watched as the net floated down in what seemed like slow motion. It was never going to work. She could see that clearly, even if Mulder and Doggett didn't.

The idea had seemed completely insane to her when Doggett had proposed it hours earlier, and the look on Harrison's face suggested that she too thought that the effort was going to prove to be futile.

Now, however, both women were rapidly being proven wrong. It had actually worked. The horse, or what was passing for one, was tangled in the net that had suddenly dropped down on it, and it pawed at the rope, shrieking in fury.

There was a flurry of bark as Mulder and Doggett descended the trees they'd been hiding in with more agility than she'd expected from either of them. "Doctor Shaw!" Doggett yelled as he and Mulder struggled to keep the animal from getting free of its bindings. "We need you now!"

"Coming!" the vet shouted back. While he ran he clumsily filled a syringe from a small glass bottle, and Reyes was afraid that he was going to stick himself with the tranquilizer rather than the horse.

To everyone's relief, he managed to keep the needle out of his own body long enough to inject the horse. It was a short reprise, however, because the horse continued to thrash beneath the net, showing no sign of being tranquilized.




Basement office
Seven Hours Earlier

"So I went by the site this morning, and I realized something," Doggett began before Mulder interrupted him.

"This morning? Did you sleep at all? You know we're supposed to sleep during the day when we do stakeouts at night."

"Yes Dad, I know, and I did. I meant around eleven in the morning. Anyway, I noticed something - the hoof prints."

"What about them?" Reyes asked blankly. They'd all seen them, so he couldn't just mean that he'd seen them that morning.

"There are all in the same place. New hoof prints cross over old ones, at least three times."

Mulder's eyes lit up. "So you're saying the, whatever it is, takes the same trail through the trees?"

"I think it must. And it's smart, too. It must try to stay to where prints won't stick, because the hoof prints trail off into needles and fallen leaves," Doggett explained. "If it could jump over the fifteen feet of bare dirt, I don't think we would have been able to find any trace of it at all."

Mulder slammed the palm of one hand onto the top of his desk. "This is great, we can really use this information."

Doggett looked pleased as well. "I thought so."

"Where these prints are, do you recall there being any trees?" Mulder asked.

"Of course. There are trees everywhere."

"Ones we can climb, I mean."

Neither man noticed Reyes' alarmed look, but she knew that Harrison did. Giving the woman a wan smile, she hoped that Harrison just thought she wasn't a fan of tree climbing.

"Sure."

"So what we'll do is climb up a couple of trees with a weighted net, and drop it down on him when he walks by."

"That, um, sounds a little far fetched," Harrison protested weakly.

"Do you have a better idea?" Mulder asked, but nicely.

"Short of finding a blow gun, I'm not sure there's a better way to do this." Doggett told her.

"Besides, just Doggett and I will be climbing the trees. We need you two to be our look outs."

"So suppose this plan does work, what happens after the... after it's caught up in the net?" Reyes asked. "Hopefully not it kicking the crap out of us."

"Nah. I'm pretty sure the gunmen can hook us up with a sci-fi loving vet who would be willing come out in the middle of the night to work on something foolish and dangerous."

"Way to characterize our work." Reyes rolled her eyes.

"I'm nothing if not honest," Mulder said, affecting a humble air.

For some reason, no one seemed to believe him.




9:10 p.m.

Under the net, the horse, or maybe it really was an aughisky like Harrison thought since it did seem to be preternaturally strong, bucked and snorted. Mulder, Doggett and doctor Shaw did their level best to keep the net down, and near by Harrison looked on helplessly.

Reyes wanted to help them, but she was afraid to. Normally as rough and tumble as any agent, she was gripped by the terror that a well placed kick to her belly would take away what she wasn't even sure she was anticipating yet. Happy or not, she didn't want to take the risk. That fear kept her rooted to the spot.

Ten heartbeats later it was all over. The creature snorted one last time, then its eyes rolled back into its head. It completely shut down. Reyes almost felt bad for it, the way she did for King Kong when he had finally been subdued in the old black and white film.

She continued to stand back as Doggett and Mulder talked excitedly, and one of them called someone to get the animal. Even Harrison regained her animation as she crouched down and pulled off a dangling hunk of fur, and sealed it up in a specimen bag.

What she thought was strange was that no one noticed that she wasn't doing anything. They were all completely absorbed in what they were doing, and she got the sense that she could have stripped naked and done the chicken dance, with no one noticing. No one at all seemed to realize that she'd committed a crime of inaction.

On the way home that night she didn't say a word, and if Mulder thought it was strange, he didn't make light of it. Instead he talked excitedly about the case being closed, and he was still talking about it when she went to get ready for bed.




Chapter Nineteen


June 12th, 2002
6:30 a.m.

Mulder was trying to figure out a seven-letter word for fifteen down when Reyes joined him in the kitchen. Even though he didn't consider himself very good at assessing people's health a glance, even he could tell she still didn't feel well.

"I could tell you had trouble sleeping last night. You tossed and turned. I made coffee-"

"I'm pregnant." After three days of carefully scripting ways to tell him, in the end she'd just blurt it out. Her worry about being hurt and losing the baby without him even knowing it existed had festered all night, until she was opening her mouth without forethought. It might not have been the wisest move, but she couldn't bear to shoulder the knowledge alone any longer.

He put down his paper. "Oh." At first he thought to protest that he'd bought condoms, but then it occurred to them that birth control hadn't been on either of their minds the first time. It was sort of ironic - he could have saved himself the agony of shopping for it later, given it hadn't made a difference. In the back of his mind his brain played dialogue from various movies that lamented about girls getting pregnant their first time.

"Yes, 'Oh.' You're not going to ask me if it was on purpose?" she asked with a note of challenge in her voice.

"Um, no. I didn't figure that it was."

"Damn right it wasn't. Getting pregnant out of wedlock was definitely not one of my life goals," Reyes said sourly. She didn't bother to add that she had few goals, so it definitely hadn't been one.

"Have you, um, given any thought to what you want to... do?" he asked nervously.

"I don't believe in abortion," she said sharply.

Mulder gave her a shocked look. "I wasn't suggesting...! I meant about you and I. We could act like this doesn't change anything. Or we could get married."

The silence filled the kitchen.

"You didn't marry Scully."

"She wasn't the marrying type."

"But you think I am?"

"You're not Scully."

"I'm glad you're aware of that." Her voice was flat. Unfriendly.

"That's not fair."

"Isn't it?"

"No, it isn't. That you'd even think that makes me wonder about whether or not I'm just a substitute for Doggett," Mulder said a little heatedly and something like jealousy danced in his eyes. "Don't think that I don't realize that you never would have come to me if John Doggett hadn't gone back to his wife. I know full well that I'm just a consolation prize."

The bitterness in his voice made her feel ashamed. She could deny what he said for the next hour, but they would both still know the truth in the end. Flapping her hands, she asked. "So what does arguing about this prove? That we've both been using each other to get what we need? Neither of us his blameless in this and neither of us is an innocent victim here."

Mulder looked weary and contrite. "You're right, arguing about who used who isn't going to get us anywhere. What we should be doing is thinking about the real innocent victim here, the kid whose parents thoughtlessly created it."

"Our baby doesn't have to be a victim," she said quietly. "He or she doesn't ever need to know that it started like this."

"No...it's not as though we don't get along, right?" Mulder said stoically. "There's no bad blood to put aside or anything. It'll work out fine."

Sure, Reyes thought. Just as long as you ignored the fact that neither of the baby's parents was in love with the other.

Mulder kissed her on the cheek. "Every thing is going to be okay."

"Right." More than anything, she wanted to believe him.

"Promise me one thing," Mulder requested.

"What's that?"

"We save ourselves some money on therapy by never mentioning to William that his younger sibling was conceived on his first birthday."

"You've got a deal."




Hover building
Mid-morning

It had taken almost an hour of talking to clueless insurance administrators to set up a doctor's appointment for Reyes' first prenatal visit. Her GYN wasn't an OB/GYN so there had to be referrals...Listening to the terse exchange, Mulder thought Reyes had been very close to shouting at the fourth person who told her that they'd perform another pregnancy test in the office instead of giving her more important information - like the date of the appointment.

He thought that she looked like she had a headache when she hung up the phone, and was on the verge of offering her some Advil when he realized that he had no idea which drugs were okay to take while pregnant and which weren't. Most weren't, a voice in the back of his head insisted, but he wasn't sure if it was a voice backed by knowledge or innate paranoia. Instead he did the best to keep William quiet on the drive into work, figuring that it would be best to not add to a headache that couldn't be cured. He couldn't tell if she noticed.

Unlike most mornings, William seemed happy to be going to daycare, so Mulder felt good about that as he and Reyes walked away. Maybe there was hope that William might start to like some of the other kids there, not just Joel. He made a mental note to look up the development of childhood friendships in his psych books.

They were almost to the door of their office when she grabbed his arm. "Don't say anything to Doggett," she hissed.

"Okay," Mulder agreed. "We'll wait as long as you want to."

Her fingers relaxed and she let her hand drop away. "Thank you. It's just too soon."

"Right."

As soon as they stepped through the door, Doggett flashed them an irritated look. "Where have you been?"

"Car trouble," Mulder lied smoothly. "Ever had it?"

"Yeah...wish you'd called to let me know you were running late, though." Doggett grumbled. "The lab called right after I got here this morning."

"And?" Reyes asked.

"Don't keep us in suspense. What did the lab say?" Mulder added.

"For one they hope we never give them an animal to study again. The guy on the phone muttered something about a liver fluke, but that doesn't sound like much to bellyache about.

"Anyway, they've done some preliminary tests on it. The thing doesn't match the DNA of any horse breed they have in their database."

"I knew it!" Mulder crowed. "The way it fought, it couldn't be a normal horse."

"There's more," Doggett told them. "Since we told them that we suspected it in deaths, and had partially eaten corpse, they evacuated its stomach contents."

"And?"

"And it threw up meat. Are you okay, Monica? You're looking a little green." After she nodded, he said, "That has the lab guys all freaked out. They don't know what sort of meat yet, but horses aren't supposed to eat any kind at all..."

"It's beginning to sound a lot like agent Harrison was right," Reyes remarked. "What happens to the... animal if she is?"

Mulder shrugged. "I couldn't tell you. But being released back into the wild won't be one of the options."

"That makes me kind of sad," she replied.

"Why?" Doggett looked faintly disgusted.

"It's just that it was free, and now it's not, because of us."

"And it's not eating people anymore because of us, too," Mulder pointed out. "So I consider it a reasonable trade off. It's not like this is a gentle little kitten we're talking about."

"I guess."

Doggett smirked at Mulder. "Spoken like a man who has never owned a cat. They've got sharp claws and sharp teeth."

"Remind me to practice saying no before it occurs to William to ask for a pet."

"Nah, you could get him a turtle. Nothing sharp on them."

As soon as the words were out of Doggett's mouth, Mulder began to laugh to himself. He had a vivid mental picture of his year-old son trying to cram his pet into his mouth. For the turtle's sake it'd better be a big one.




That night Reyes decided to call her mother and give her the good news before she lost her nerve. It was possible that her mother might take the news well - after all the fact that Paulo and his wife had decided against children was something Neva counted as a black mark against him - so she must want grandchildren. Still, she tried not to let her optimism infect her as she dialed the number.

"Hola?" Neva's voice sounded slightly suspicious, making Reyes wonder if her mother actually used the caller ID.

"Mama, I'm getting married and you're going to be grandmother," Reyes said in a rush.

"Things worked out between you and Juan, after all?" Neva eagerly asked.

Reyes took a deep breath. "No mama."

"But you are pregnant?" Her mother sounded confused. "And getting married."

"Yes mama."

"Then who...?"

"Fox."

There was silence on the other end of the line.

Reyes tried for joke. "You know how they tell you that you get pregnant on the first time? I never believed that until now - it only took one time."

"Dios mios! How did I raise such a hija tonta?"

"Mother!" It was the first time her mother ever called her fool.

"Es la verdad!" Neva swore it was true.

"And I suppose if I told you I was pregnant by John and marrying him instead you'd be thrilled?" Reyes asked sarcastically.

"Mejor tan eso," her mother muttered.

For a moment Reyes wanted to scream at her mother and ask why it would be better than this, but sense prevailed. This was not the time to alienate herself from her mother. "I'm sorry I disappointed you." Effort or not her voice was still cold.

"I never wanted this for you."

"You never wanted me to be a mother?"

"No no. I never intended for you to be tangled up taking care of someone you're not in love with and his baby, then getting pregnant so you have to stay. Just like one of those mail-order brides."

"You think I have to stay?"

"What else would you do?" Neva asked impatiently.

Reyes shook her head. Her mother's ideas came out of the dark ages. "I could raise the baby on my own. I don't like the implication that Fox somehow orchestrated this as a way to keep me from leaving."

"How do you know he didn't?"

"That first time I mentioned... it was my idea."

"Or that's what he wanted you think," her mother said darkly.

"Mama, enough," Reyes said. "I'll talk to you another time." When her mother didn't protest, she hung up.

As soon as she put the receiver in the cradle, she realized that her mother would hold something she hadn't said against her- she never corrected her mother's statement 'you're not in love with'. Damn her for seeing things in black and white, Reyes thought bitterly.

She'd been six years old when she learned what her mother's name meant. They'd been having class one warm fall day, and she'd been wearing a pastel plaid sundress that Neva made her. Bored, Reyes had drawn one leg up, sitting on it and tangling it in her dress.

"Today in science we're going to learn about the weather." The teacher had droned. The little girl hadn't paid attention to her until the woman put up a slide. In the picture a white substance covered a house. "Who can tell me what this is?"

A little boy in the front of the room waved his hand. "It's snow!" But since he was speaking Spanish, he'd used a form of the Spanish word for it - Neva.

"That's right, Miguel! Has anyone here ever seen snow?"

All but one or two kids said no. Reyes wasn't one of them, but not because she'd seen it. She hadn't said anything at all because she was still struck on the fact that her mother's name meant something. She wondered if Monica had any secret meaning to it too.

As an adult she'd learned that her own name meant " advisor", and she'd come to a conclusion about her mother's name - it was a perfect fit. Cold, crystalline, alternatingly anticipated and unwanted. It summed up her mother and her infernal opinions all right.




The Next Afternoon

The view through the lens made everything seem small and rounded. A faint noise and an annoying green light that shone in his eye when he moved his head the wrong way indicated that the video camera was running.

"Wave to Grandma, Will," Mulder encouraged his son.

William ignored him, intent on taking wobbly steps towards his object of adoration - Mulder's new camera. The very first time the baby had attempted to walk towards anything in particular, it had been so he could try to get the camera away from his father.

"Tell Grandma that you're going to be a photographer, or maybe a film director when you grow up."

Grinning at him, William merely said "Dada" as if trying to convey what would in his teenage years come out as a much aggrieved, "Dad, please."

As soon as William had threatened to become mobile on twos instead of all fours, Mulder had rushed out and bought the camera. Maggie deserved to see her little grandson's milestones.

And for the movie Mulder dressed William in the sky blue outfit that Maggie had sent for his birthday. It was tasteful and matched the little boy's eyes.

Switching off the camera, Mulder said softly, "Will, tell Grandma that you're going to be a big brother."

He wished William would, since he had no idea how he was going to tell Maggie. Maybe he wouldn't. Uncle Bill would be most unimpressed, Mulder realized.

During a solitary moment, Mulder had mulled over that idea - William was going to be an older brother. For nearly the first forty years of Mulder's life, he'd been childless. None of the women he'd been involved with before Scully had ever, to his knowledge anyway, even suffered a pregnancy scare, much less had a child with him.

And here he was now, having fathered two children by different women in less than two years. In black and white it sounded rather sordid, but there were fine nuances to his life. He just wondered if anyone would notice them, or just tut at him like he ought to be a guest on a seedy talk show.

"Come on, Will. It's time to find Monica so we can make her pick a place to order dinner from."

Completely obvious to his father's mental gymnastics, William took careful steps until he was tottering into Mulder's outstretched hands.




Things became less tense between Mulder and Reyes a couple of days later. It just took until they were comfortable with the idea of the change in their lives.

"I had a realization," Mulder said. He held a mug, one decorated with a candy cane, in one hand and a pot of coffee in the other.

"That you're the only one who can drink that stuff? That maybe we ought to have put away the seasonal glassware?"

"You say that like you believe that coffee would really stunt William's growth if I gave him some in his sippy cup," Mulder teased. "Actually your second guess was closer. I realized that the Scullys probably won't be inviting us for Christmas this year, considering-"

"Considering that you knocked someone else up?" Reyes asked wryly.

"Well, I was going to say 'marrying' but yeah."

"They'll get over it."

Mulder nodded, but he had his doubts.




"So..." Mulder said a few nights later. "Getting married. Any ideas about when and where?"

"As soon as possible, and by a justice of the peace," Reyes said firmly.

"You're sure that you don't want a big to do? Or even a small church gathering with friends and family?" Mulder sounded surprised.

"What family?" she asked pointedly. "I hate to pour salt in a wound, but William is your only family. My mother doesn't approve, and I doubt like hell I'd coax my brother into coming to the states to watch me get married. And friends... a nice wedding with loved ones around seems like the sort of thing that only people deeply in love should subject their friends to. Besides, getting married in a church was never something I've ever really aspired to," Reyes told him with a shrug.

The fact that she didn't mince words but was rather blunt about the fact that they weren't marrying for love gave him a pang he couldn't quite define. That wasn't what he wanted to discuss, however. "What did you aspire to?"

"In regards to getting married?"

"In regards to anything," he said wryly. "You've never been terribly forthcoming about what you've wanted out of life."

"It's hard to be talkative on a subject when you have nothing to say."

"I don't buy that. You can't have lived your whole life day by day with no thoughts towards the future or what you wanted to accomplish."

"Yeah... I used to have a plan. It didn't work out." His gaze pieced her, so she gave him a half smile and went on. "When I was a kid, I had my whole life mapped out. Graduate from high school at eighteen, graduate from college at twenty-two, marry at twenty-three, have my first child at twenty-five... The first two things were easy enough, and after college I lost touch with the last two in light of other things. But I had plans, I had goals...until a couple of years ago."

"Tell me what happened," Mulder prompted her.

"Like I said, the first two things on the list were easy. After a college I spent a year 'finding myself' and found that I needed to go to Quantico. I was going to make people's lives better, and solve crime so they could have some piece of mind. For a while, all though the first couple of years of being supervised, I thought I was actually accomplishing something. Did you know that I didn't work on my first case involving a dead child until Luke Doggett died? That's not the type of mortality you want to be confronted with at age twenty-five."

She looked up to see if he was paying attention, and he was. Even William had stopped beating his stuffed bear on the floor to listen. "So after a few months of soul searching, I decided to ask to be transferred to New Orleans to work on cases that were related to the occult. That's what my education was a background in, anyway. I liked the work. Most of it didn't involve dead people at all, and when it did, it wasn't children. The only thing that annoyed me was that so few of the cases were anything but crimes dressed up in the occult. That probably sounds strange, but I wanted proof that the things I'd grown up believing in were real, and it wasn't all just people being unfathomably evil."

"I can understand not wanting to believe all the evil in the world is caused by people," Mulder said softly.

"So I did that quite happily for a long long time. But don't get me wrong, I was ambitious. I was going to make AD of my division before my 40th birthday. Every step I made was weighted - would this be the right thing to do in order to advance my career in the direction I wanted it to take? Then one case two years ago changed all of that."

"Moni!" William squealed, interrupting her and holding out his arms to be held.

Smiling at the baby, she pulled him and Bear up on her lap. "The series of murders were the most grisly I've seen. The victims...it was very clear that they suffered. The surprise and pain was etched onto their faces, which were about the only parts of them unmarred when we got to them. Maybe it's perverse, but I thought I'd finally found proof. These murders, there was no way a mere person could have committed them. It must have been a demon, or some other soulless evil that had killed these poor people...

"The murderer turned out to be a woman. Just a seemingly ordinary, forty-three-year-old business woman. You wouldn't have looked at her twice if you passed her on the street. I questioned her, and as I listened, I saw myself reflected in her eyes. That scared the shit out of me. Every one of the people she'd murdered had been someone who had gotten in the way of her ambition. So she'd made them hurt but good.

"When I asked her why, she said that they'd stolen everything from her. Pressed farther she explained how it was this one's fault that she'd not been promoted, that one's fault her husband had left her because the other woman was willing to have his children then when she wouldn't... basically her step-by-step plan had gone off the rails, so she'd not been the success that'd she'd known she was meant to be, and she'd spent so much time on her floundering career that she'd learned just before the murders that she'd waited too long to have a child too. Her ambitions added up to a hill of nothing, and she snapped."

"Yikes."

"I left her, and went home terrified. If you could plan out your life that carefully and still have nothing to show for it, what was the point? What if allowing myself to driven by my ambition to be AD allowed me to hurt people too? It was just too much to take, so I opened the window and let ambition escape out it. It hasn't yet come back."

"I think you're wrong," Mulder disagreed. "You are still driven, just not ruthlessly so."

"Driven to what?" Reyes asked with a crooked smile.

"Driven to do what's best for our baby, for William, for you and I, for the people we help with our cases... and that's not anything to sneeze at."

"Okay." She looked down at the child sitting on her lap. "This is the best for him and us, isn't it?"

She watched as his eyes widened in surprise. "Of course it is. Having you for a stepmother is the best thing that could happen to my son. Don't you realize that he already loves you?"

Looking at Mulder, she wondered if either of them could learn to love the other. Why did what come so naturally to children become so tentative in adults?




Chapter Twenty


A Week Later
Shirley Hayes Home
Maryland

Crammed between the dinette set and a metal flower-stand that nearly overflowed with pots of African violets, Mulder felt foolish. Glances at his fellow agents' faces suggested that he wasn't the only one who did. Doggett, who was mostly obscured by the drapes he hid behind looked particularly self-loathing. And Harrison, who was crammed into an undersized pantry reminded Mulder of a cat his mother had once had; Mr. Jinx made a hobby of forcing his bulk into impossibly small boxes, unmindful that he overflowed them on all sides. Reyes, crouching under the table, looked like an idiot too, but a less uncomfortable idiot. It was probably the best hiding place of the lot for a pregnant woman, not that the other two knew that. She'd called dibs and they had reluctantly agreed that she'd thought of it first.

Their stupid hiding places made him wonder how they'd apprehend the suspects, if any showed up. Giving the room a suspicious sweeping glance, he hoped that there were no hidden cameras, because he feared that they'd do a credible impression of the Keystone cops if they had to exit their hiding spots quickly.

A scraping sound made him look around, but he couldn't pinpoint its source. He hadn't actually expected to see a brownie, but the idea was sort of thrilling. Harrison had shown them a number of pictures depicting the creatures, and he wondered if they'd be as sinfully ugly as artists imagined.

Harrison must of have had better hearing, because she pointed at a wall. Focusing his eyes there, Mulder noticed what had probably once been a connection for a wood stove, but was now just a round pipe-lined hole. It was too dark to see the inside of the hole, but gripping the lip of the pipe were two small hands.

They were vaguely misshapen, at least by human guidelines, and hairy. That didn't belie the artists' renditions, though, so it came as some surprise when the creature hauled itself out of the pipe.

It had a pointed face, and wore a mask to obscure its dark eyes. And it had a black and white ringed tail.

Taking no notice of the agents scattered around the room, though its quivering nose must have told it that it shared the room with humans, the raccoon boldly launched itself on top of Reyes' hiding spot. Using its unusually clever paws, it picked at the sculpture in progress that had been left out as bait, until it managed to yank off two of the shiniest bits. Then, with its treasure held between its teeth, it jumped back into the defunct stove pipe and got away.

The kitchen was filled with a stunned silence for a moment, and then four sheepish agents extracted themselves with as much dignity as they could muster up given the circumstances.

Harrison disappeared briefly and returned with her grandmother's friend. When no one else seemed inclined to explain to the sleepy old woman, Mulder took the duty upon himself. "We were not able to apprehend the culprit at this time, but we have identified it."

"Was it a brownie?" Shirley Mayes asked.

He winced a little, because he'd noted an eagerness to her tone. "Actually, it was a raccoon."

"Oh." She looked faintly disappointed. "But how-"

Doggett pointed at the stove pipe's hole. "He crawled in through there. I suggest that you have someone patch that up if you don't plan to get a stove."

"I'll have my nephew Harry come by and do it." She gave them a bright smile. "It's wonderful that bright young people who don't mind helping an old fool solve a mystery."

"Don't call yourself a fool, Mrs. Mayes," Harrison admonished.

"I'm just happy for an open and shut case, for a change," Reyes told the old woman.

"I think we all are," Mulder concurred, though he figured that Harrison privately disagreed. She'd probably have been thrilled to continue working with them.




July 4th, 2002

The air pouring in through the open window carried the mingled scents of at least a dozen barbecue grills, and it made Reyes' stomach give an uncomfortable lurch. It wasn't that the smell made her feel sick, but it made her even more nervous. Most everyone else who had the day off had different plans than she and Mulder did. Most people were enjoying the holiday with friends and family. She and Mulder were sneaking off behind their backs. It was the best way, but the thought of people being together eating burgers and roasted corn cobs made her feel faintly guilty. Mulder didn't look guilty, though.

When they pulled into the parking lot, it was nearly empty. As with other national holidays, most people who worked in that office were off for the day. It was just luck that they found a justice of the peace who was part of a skeleton crew at her office. A light was on in the building, which was the only thing that convinced her that the date for their appointment wasn't some sort of strange joke.

She wore a dark blue dress. Though she'd briefly considered white, it hadn't felt right. A pure blushing virgin she wasn't. When she got out of the car she smoothed the skirt, relieved that it hadn't wrinkled like dresses often do at the most inopportune moments. Then she had to stifle a laugh. They hadn't invited anyone to join them, so who was she worried about impressing?

William insisted on walking rather than being carried, so she had a couple of moments to collect herself while Mulder tried to get the little boy to take his hand. The door open easily when they tried the knob, and a voice called down the hallway asking if they were "the Mulder party." Reyes looked at herself and them. Not much of a party.

A moment later they were standing in front of a woman with an iron-gray bob, and a smile on her face. It made Reyes want to stand up straight. Beside her, Mulder wore his best suit, one that was charcoal gray, and he'd found a formal looking outfit for his son, too. William was not happy to be wearing the jacket, but he confined himself to pouting instead of whining or trying to get undressed.

Another woman, this one younger, a secretary the justice of the peace confided, joined them. The witness. They hadn't brought their own, so one was provided for them. Mulder turned to look at her and smiled. Then she knew. It would be okay. Everything.

The vows were the standard ones, cut out obey, paste in your names, so she found that she wasn't really listening to them. She ought to have been, perhaps, since she didn't intend to take them again with anyone else, but she found herself only paying enough attention to respond at the appropriate times. Glancing at her very-soon-to-be husband, she wondered if he was listening better.

When the vows were exchanged, the rings slipped on fingers, and the theoretically happy couple congratulated, they went back out to the car. Their next destination was a fancy restaurant that had sparkling grape juice on its wine list, and the best steaks in a fifty-mile radius.

As they drove the barbeque smells were still hanging in the air.




At the restaurant William made eyes at all the waitresses, and broke out into delighted smiles each time they noticed.

"Oh lord," Reyes moaned. "A year old and already a shameless flirt."

"Well, he doesn't get it from me," Mulder claimed.

"What are you insinuating, dear?" she asked archly.

"Behaviors are as much learned as genetically predisposed," he replied, looking smug.

"Oh, is that so-"

"Excuse me." They looked up sheepishly to see an elderly woman smiling at them. "I hope you don't mind me saying, but you have a beautiful baby."

"Thank you," Mulder said, beaming.

"He looks more like his daddy, but his eyes are on mommy. He's aping everything you do."

"Is he?" Reyes asked. Looking at William, she saw it was true. She'd been fiddling with her silverware while they talked, and the baby had gotten a hold of a spoon. He held his as alike hers as his pudgy little fingers could manage. Experimenting, she waved her spoon and the baby immediately mimicked the action.

Mulder noticed and smirked at her. "And you thought I was full of it."

"She probably still does, dearie," the woman said and patted his hand before walking off. Both of them were still trying to stifle giggles when the waitress appeared with their meals.




Lying on his side that night, Mulder watched Reyes sleep. He'd read an article once, while in a hospital waiting room, that stated that in the modern age when no one waited until marriage to consummate their relationships many couples didn't make love on their wedding night. The thought had depressed him then and still did. He hadn't wanted to press the issue, thinking it would be insensitive give that she was pregnant, but it turned out that he didn't need to say a word. No matter what their relationship lacked, at least they were sexually compatible.

Bill Mulder would have shouted him for even thinking of comparing two lovers, since he had firmly counseled his son that gentlemen didn't, but Mulder couldn't help it. Without a doubt Scully had been a generous lover, and anyone who thought that she might be frigid was severely deluded. However she was so tiny that he couldn't entirely shake his ever-present low grade anxiety that he was going to hurt her. He tried to convince himself that he was just being egotistical about his strength and virility, but that didn't shame him out of what he rationally knew to be rather baseless fears.

Fears that he never felt about Reyes. This made him smile in the dark; it was good to have a sturdy wife that you weren't afraid to be adventurous with. And she had quite the adventurous streak...he had the not entirely unpleasantly sore back muscles to prove it. Not to mention that he noticed her browsing the shelf at the bookstore devoted to sexual positions and pregnancy.

While he watched, she opened her eyes. "Hey."

Mulder leaned over and kissed her. "Hey yourself."

"What are you thinking about?" she asked.

"You," he said simply. It seemed crass to say, "I was thinking about what I like about you," because while it was true it wasn't all inclusive.

"Oh," She said, fondling him through his thin pajama bottoms. "I can tell." Reyes laughed softly when it only took her seconds of effort to bring him to full attention.

Growling playfully, Mulder reached for his new wife.




July 5th, 2002

In the morning Reyes found Mulder sitting at the table reading their marriage license. Across from him William sat in his high chair, picking cheerios off the tray one by one and clumsily shoving them into his mouth.

"Looking for typos?" she asked Mulder before going to the cabinet to get a bowl.

He shook his head and smiled. "No, I was just thinking about how you're still Monica Reyes."

"In the modern world, it's not uncommon for women to keep their last names." She reminded him.

"Oh, I know. I'm a modern guy - I wouldn't presume to try to make my wife take my last name."

"Emphasis on 'try'." She smirked.

"Ha. Monica Mulder would sound strange anyway," Mulder told her. "And just think what it would be like at the office - 'I'd like to speak to Agent Mulder... Which one? Um...'"

"Well, it'd make it easier to identify telemarketers," Reyes replied. "But I think one Mulder is enough."

Mulder surprised her by letting out a whoop of laughter. After sobering, he grinned at her and said, "Skinner probably has that embroidered on a throw pillow."

"You know, we haven't really talked about Skinner," Reyes said, after accepting a damp cheerio from her stepson and placing it on the table. William didn't look affronted that she declined to eat it.

"In what way? Do you want to fix him up with Kimberly?"

"I think we can let them arrange their own dates," she said dryly. "You know what I mean."

"Eventually he's going to find out that we got married, you mean."

"Exactly."

"I looked into the FBI policies and protocols. There isn't any hard and fast rule against agents marrying," Mulder said quickly.

"True, but that doesn't stop people from getting in trouble for violating 'unofficial policies'. If someone does make a stink about it, I'd be the one to resign."

"Monica-"

"No, I'm serious, Mulder. I enjoy working on the X-Files, don't get me wrong, but I'm not as deeply invested in them as you are. Odds are better than even that nothing negative will come from this, but if it does, we know where we stand. There are plenty of divisions right here in DC, so it's not like separating us would make where we choose to live a hardship."

"But I want you there," Mulder protested.

"And I want to be there too," she said, giving him a soft smile. "This is just contingency-plan thinking."

"All right. If the issue is pressed and you want to bow out gracefully, I won't raise a fuss," Mulder reluctantly agreed.

"Thank you." Standing up, she looked at the clock on the wall. "If we want to make it to the museum before our picnic, we should get going soon."

"Yeah...This isn't much of a honeymoon, is it." It had taken arm-twisting to get the single day off, so they hadn't pushed for more time than that.

"It's enough."

"No it isn't, not really," he told her firmly. "But it'll have to do for now. I promise that we'll do something special, just you and me, one of these days. Maybe for our fifth anniversary."

"That sounds nice," Reyes agreed, and she kissed his cheek. "I need to get dressed."

After she left the room, he found that he could picture it. William would be five, and his little sibling four, which was old enough to spend a week or so with someone else. Just the two of them, somewhere warm with umbrella drinks...

William poked a hole in his fantasy when a smell told Mulder's nose that Reyes wasn't the only one who needed changing before they left. Still, as he picked up his son and held him at arm's length, he thought he could still hold onto the impression of palm leaves in his mind.




July 6th, 2005

"I think I'm going to practice being a married man," Mulder announced after dinner.

"Practice how?" Reyes asked, looking puzzled. "I thought you were leaving in a few minutes so..."

"Not that!" Mulder said quickly. "Later. But I mean an obviously married man. I'm going to wear my wedding ring tonight."

"Do you think they'll notice?" Reyes asked him.

"The gunmen aren't wholly unobservant," Mulder said, defending his friends. "One of them might notice the ring."

"Byers," she predicted.

"Are you sure you don't want to come?" Mulder asked for the fourth time that day.

" am I sure that I don't want to watch you guys play cards? Positive."

"I don't have to go if you'd rather I stay home-"

"Mulder, go. I don't need to be babysat."

This flustered him. "I wasn't implying that you did, but-"

"If I wanted you to break long-standing plans on my account, you'd be the first to know. Married people don't need to spend every minute together, even if they are newlyweds. You want to play cards with the guys. I want to watch bad lifetime movies and eat ice-cream. We're allowed to have difference interests still, honest."

"I'm being silly, huh?"

"Not too much. Just go and have fun. William and I will be fine."

William, sitting in the playpen, clapped at the mention of his name.

"Good. I'll be back around ten."

After Mulder left the apartment, Reyes looked down at William. "I lied, Daddy is being very silly. I think you and I will have more fun than him, Kiddo. If you promise not to tell, we'll have ice cream together."

Ice cream, a term definitely in the little boy's vocabulary, made his eyes light up, and he opened and closed his fingers like he did when he wanted something. Laughing, Reyes picked him up and put him on her hip. "I think we've got chocolate and vanilla both! Let's see if Daddy's weirdo friends notice his ring, huh?"




Two Hours Later

"Gimme three cards," Frohike commanded in a gravely voice.

Mulder obliged. He had pretty much conceded defeat at that point. None of his friends seemed to notice the gold band on his finger, despite the fact that he made no effort to hide it. "I fold," Langly declared.

"You always fold," Frohike told him.

"I-" Langly started to defend himself, and he turned to Mulder for support. "Mulder, why are you wearing a wedding ring?"

"Everyone knows that rings attract the chicks," Frohike said, giving Langly a disgusted look. "Right, Mulder?"

"There aren't any 'chicks' here," Byers pointed out.

"Yeah, that's true. So what's with the ring, then?" Frohike asked.

Mulder gave them a weak smile. "I couldn't make your 4th of July bash because I was getting married."

"To who?!" Frohike demanded to know.

"To Monica, obviously," Byers told him. "It's not like there are a lot of women in his social circle."

"Byers' right. To Monica," Mulder agreed and then cringed, waiting for them to tell him how Scully wouldn't have approved.

"Damn," Frohike said, giving Mulder a nearly admiring look. "This comes out of nowhere. You didn't knock her up or anything, did you?" Though he'd meant it as a joke, Frohike observed that Mulder was quickly turning a bright scarlet.

"No way!" Langly shouted, knocking a bag of corn chips on the floor when he flailed in surprise. Byers caught the salsa before it became another casualty.

"It just happened," Mulder mumbled.

"When's she due?" Byers wanted to know.

"Early February."

"Wow," Langly said. "Just wow."

"I guess congratulations are in order!" Frohike crowed. "I figured you for a hopeless bachelor like us slobs, so it's nice to see that I was wrong."

Byers shot Frohike a reproachful look. "Speak for yourself. I'm not a slob."

Frohike waved his hand dismissively. "Slob by association."

Byers rolled his eyes. "I'm really happy for you, Mulder."

"Us too," Langly and Frohike chorused.

"Me too," Mulder agreed.



When he got home that night he gloated that Reyes was wrong about which gunmen would notice the ring. He went to bed happy, because the gunmen's opinions were the ones he most feared would be negative. After them Skinner and Doggett would be easy. He hoped.




July 10th, 2002

Reyes could have taken the elevator, but she chose the stairs. Kimberly's voice had been entirely neural when she'd called five minutes earlier to inform her that she was being summoned to Skinner's office for a private chat, but she was sure that they'd been found out. Being spoken to separately didn't evoke a sense that things would go well, no matter what Mulder thought about bureau policy.

The look Skinner gave Reyes as she entered the office was hard to read. "I heard a rumor that you were talking to human resources about the planned document for our medical coverage."

"Um, yeah," Reyes replied nervously. She'd been so sure that their recent nuptials were under fire that it hadn't even occurred to her that he'd discovered that she was pregnant instead.

"I take it that your questions about maternity care didn't pertain to a hypothetical pregnancy?"

Reyes gave him a guilty look. "No, not hypothetical. I was going to tell you soon-"

Skinner held up a hand to quiet her. "I realize that being the first person agent Scully told was a matter of circumstance, not normal practice. How far along are you?"

"About seven weeks."

He nodded. "Do your partners know, or would you rather I keep the knowledge to myself?"

"Mulder knows, but I don't think I'm ready to share that with Doggett. Anyone else, really," she added quickly.

Then she waited for him to ask her if one of her partners was the father, but instead he said, "I'll make a conscious effort to censor my remarks around anyone but you and Mulder, then."

Watching him nod like he was okay with being kept in the dark gave her a pang of guilt. She fished in her pocket and pulled out her wedding ring. Laying it on the table, she said "I think that Mulder and I might have to redo our I-9 forms."

"I'll let human resources know," Skinner replied, looking unsurprised.

She began to regret letting the cat out of the bag on her own. "Will there being any problems with Mulder and I remaining partners?"

"Not that I can think of," Skinner said.

"You don't seem terribly surprised by all of this," Reyes remarked.

Skinner didn't appear bother by the observation. "Call my way of thinking out-dated, but I find it difficult to believe that a man and woman can long remain platonic roommates. If they live together long enough..." He trailed off with a shrug.

It shocked her to realize that her boss considered it a given that she and Mulder would eventually have had sex. Neither of them had, after all. "Oh."

"Take good care of yourself, agent Reyes. We'll discuss arranging your maternity leave in a few months."

She left the office in a daze. Things had gone so much more smoothly than she anticipated. That was almost an X-File itself, but she was humming happily as she made her way back to the basement.







Chapter Twenty-One


<

A hacking cough greeted Mulder when he opened the door to William's room. Sighing, he picked his son and carried him into the bedroom. Reyes looked up from putting on her slacks. "Still not feeling good, huh, Wills?"

The red-faced baby coughed again in reply, and screwed up his eyes, apparently trying to decide if he should cry or not. He decided against it, but still looked miserable.

Mulder sighed; William had been coughing since the afternoon before. "He's not better. I think that I'll have to bring him by the doctor this morning after all. It could be the whooping cough."

"I'll do it," Reyes told him, and he looked up, surprised. "I have to go to my appointment this morning anyway, so there's no sense in you missing time too."

"Are you sure you don't mind?"

"I wouldn't have offered if I did, would I?" She leaned over and kissed him. "Go on, you're going to be late."

"Thanks. When I'm not busy, I'll try to think of some way to pay you back."

"Can't wait." She smiled at him. As soon as he was out the door she found the list of emergency phone numbers and called the pediatrician for an appointment.




Pediatrician's Office

"Good morning, mister Mulder-" Doctor Stevens finally saw her and reddened. "Oops, you're not mister Mulder."

"Moni," William said, patting her hand. Her wedding ring glinted when he did. Both of the adults noticed.

"I'm Monica, William's new stepmother," Reyes explained quickly.

"Oh, so you're the one responsible." She froze but the doctor when on as if he hadn't noticed, and maybe he hadn't. "Every time I've seen William I've remarked on how well he's doing, and mister Mulder has claimed he's had a lot of help."

"I've done my best to help him," Reyes admitted .

"Besides being under the weather, this little fellow seems happy and healthy so you and his dad are doing a great job." Stevens reassured her. "Let's see if we can figure out what's going on today though."

"Mul- Fox was concerned because Will got so sick with the flu in November." She watched nervously as William was examined.

Doctor Stevens looked up. "William has been sick other times since then, hasn't he?"

"No. Is that unusual?"

"Somewhat. Most babies don't go more than a month or two without catching something. Especially babies in daycare. William must have a good immune system."

"Lucky boy." Stevens pulled an otoscope down off the wall. "Let's take a look at his ears and nose."

Seeming to anticipate what the doctor was going to use the otoscope for, William threw back his head and flailed his hands near his face. "No no!" he whined.

"Sorry, buddy, I need to look."

Reyes tried to soothe him, and eventually the baby submitted to being examined, leaning back into her with an air of defeat. He pouted, and said "Yuck!" once his nose had been looked at.

"Has he been doing that for long?"

"Doing what?"

"Using language purposefully, in this case to express his displeasure at a situation."

"A while, maybe two months."

"How many words do you think he can say?"

"Thirty or so," Reyes told him. "He learns more every week."

"Thirty. That's pretty impressive for someone only fourteen months old," Stevens said with mild surprise.

"Hmm. Fox talks to him like he understands every word he says. And has practically William's whole life."

"Well, no baby-talk helps in many cases." He made a face at William, which set the baby laughing. "Or maybe he's just a bright little boy."

"Both of his parents are. Or were, in his mother's case."

Doctor Stevens looked up. "You knew William's mother?"

"Just a little." Reyes' heart beat harder at the thought of confessing that she'd attended William's half-tragic birth. "Enough to know she wasn't average."

"Mister Mulder rarely talks about her," Stevens observed.

"It's still painful for him," she said evenly. "But I think it's getting better."

He looked her in the eye. "I should think it is." And she looked away. The doctor straightened up. "You can tell him that this is just a cold, and not the whooping cough."

Reyes' eyes widened in surprise. "How did you-"

"I've seen five other babies with coughs this week and every single one of their parents were spooked by a news report that said that whooping cough is poised to make a comeback. I'm just surprised that it wasn't the first words out of your mouth."

"Guess I missed that report." She concentrated on redressing William before interrupting the doctor's chart-writing. "Um...are you taking new patients next year?"

His pen hung in mid-air. "I take it that young William is going to be an older brother soon?"

"February," she replied, her cheeks suddenly burning.

"Congratulations. Sure, I'll be willing to take on a new pediatric patient from this family next year." Giving her a sidelong glance he added, "You don't need to be embarrassed. William's been motherless since birth, people expect that his father would move on with his life."

Reyes managed a small laugh. "Tell that to the OB-GYN we're visiting in an hour."

"Well, at least they can't say that you've had babies too close together."

"Yeah," she agreed,picking her stepson up. "But only if I tell them William's not mine, biologically."

"True. On your way home, buy some baby cough medicine and set up a vaporizer in William's room. If he doesn't get better in a couple of days, you or your husband can bring him back."

"Great, thanks."




Wentworth OB-GYN

If there was anything considered normal that was more humiliating than a medical professional conducting a conversation while getting an eyeful of your genitalia, Reyes wasn't sure what it was. She reminded herself that she'd have to endure it frequently over the next six and a half months, but somehow that didn't make her feel any better.

To distract herself, she looked down at the floor so she could see William. When he'd been the patient earlier in the morning she'd forgone his baby seat, but it was a necessity while she'd be in no position to chase after him if he broke free. Despite his cold, he was surprisingly content to play with her keys. She'd expected him to be grumpier.

"So, I take it the charming young man you've brought with you isn't your son," the obstetrician said, her voice slightly muffled by the sheet tented over Reyes' knees.

"Stepson."

"Ah. Then I don't need to lecture you about breast-feeding with pregnancy without seriously ramping up your calcium intake."

"No."

"Well, Monica, everything looks great so far. I'll go have the receptionist set up an appointment for you will you get dressed. Then, if you have any questions, we can talk."

"Okay, thanks."

When the obstetrician left the room, Reyes found herself suddenly grateful that William was far too little to realize that she was getting dressed. It would have been a pain to find a nurse or someone to take him out of the room for a few minutes. It made her wonder what it would be like if she and Mulder chose to have another baby will William and this one were still younger than school age.

She laughed at herself as she pulled on her shoes. One baby at a time. Her laces were half-tied when there was a knock on the door. "Come in!"

"So, how's the morning sickness?"

She wrinkled her nose. "Bearable." Glancing down at William she added, "Diapers don't upset my stomach the way I expected but strange things do."

"I'm not surprised, since a lot of women find that their sense of smell gets crosswired while they're pregnant. I love ranch dressing but one whiff of it while pregnant with my son had me running for the nearest toilet," the doctor confided. "Did you think of anything you wanted to ask before you go?"

The paper sheet she sat on made a crunching sound when she shifted her weight. "Can you take a bath while you're pregnant?"

"As long as it's a warm one rather than hot, sure. It's actually recommended to soothing headaches and achy muscles."

"Oh, great. That's all I could think of right now." Reyes slid off the table.

The OB looked down at William. "Your stepson is very cute. However, once he and the baby seat weight 25 pounds together you're going to have to stop carrying him."

"Why?"

"Carrying that much weight once your center of gravity becomes awkward makes you more likely to fall, which can really hurt your fetus. Now might be a good time to shop a stroller."

"Yeah," Reyes agreed, not bothering to mention that they already had one, but she thought it was a pain in the butt to use on a regular basis.

"See you next month." The doctor held the door open for them.




By the time she strapped William into his car seat, he was yawning. Reyes brushed his hair with her hand. "Is it wrong that I'm already sick of telling people that you're my stepson? Two doctors in a row...Your Daddy and I have never talked about what we're going to tell you about you and me. I guess we should think about it, huh?"

William yawned again and looked around sleepily. "Daddy?"

"We'll see him in a bit, Kiddo." He seemed to understand what she was telling him, and let his eyelids droop.

After she buckled her seatbelt, she looked over her shoulder, and he was already sleeping with his mouth slightly open. She felt such a surge of feeling for him, that it left her shaking her head to clear it. Thank God she'd married Mulder. It would have broken her heart if things had worked out differently and she'd had to give William up to some other woman.

Before she looked forward, she said, "Your Daddy is going to be so disappointed when he realizes that your doctor means a vaporizer for medicine, not shooting tiny insignificant planets Marvin the Martian style."

A response of blown out bubble of spit might be interpreted either way as agreement or derision. He didn't open his eyes when she put the car in drive.




Hoover Building
Meanwhile...

After debating for weeks about who should tell Doggett about Reyes' pregnancy, fate conspired to drop the responsibility into Mulder's lap.

Hanging up the phone, he said to Doggett. "Monica says that it's not whooping cough after all, and William just has a cold. Apparently he's finally asleep, now that he's been tired out by going to both his own doctor's appointment and hers too. I hope he's feeling better by tomorrow."

"Two sickies at home, huh? That sucks. Monica seems to be under the weather a lot lately," Doggett remarked with a concerned look. "I hope there isn't anything seriously wrong with her."

"She's pregnant," Mulder said simply.

Doggett was wide-eyed with shock. "How do you know that?"

"How do I know?" Mulder gave him an incredulous look. "Who do you think fathered the baby? It wasn't a spontaneous conception, you know."

"If it was you would have started an X-File about it," Doggett muttered, then he turned to Mulder with a confused look. "But really, you and Monica."

"Yes really," he said irritably.

"If they gave out metals for discretion you'd get the gold."

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"Nothing either of you said or did at work offered even the smallest clue that you were romantically involved."

Mulder opened his mouth, intending to explain that romance had little part in his relationship with Reyes, but he thought better of it and shrugged instead.

"Are you going to get married? I know you and Dana-"

"It was Scully who was against getting married, not me. Monica and I want what's best for this baby, and William too, and that's two parents Actually..." Mulder trailed off and looked towards the door. "She'll kill me for telling you this, but we've already gotten married. Fourth of July."

"You know, in a way I'm not surprised," Doggett said.

Mulder, on the other hand, was surprised. "What makes you say that?"

Doggett's shoulders rose in a shrug. "She never let on, but I know she wanted a family. Husband. Kids. Now she has both."

"Yeah." Mulder gave the other man a sidelong look. He was taking the news rather well. It was probably because of Barbara, he supposed. "Though she didn't get them in the conventional order."

"I doubt that matters to her, Mulder." Doggett grinned at him. "Traditional things in a non-traditional manner probably suits her just fine."

"I hope so," Mulder told him. Deep down, he worried that they'd some day come to think their choice of wedding dates was an irony - codependence bringing them together on the date that celebrates the country's independence.

"She start pestering you about picking names yet?" Doggett asked.

"We don't even know if it's going to be a boy or a girl yet," Mulder protested. And if he had his druthers, he wouldn't know until they were in the delivery room. They hadn't yet gotten around to discussing if either or both of them wanted to know in advance. Though his vote was no he wouldn't make her keep it a secret for months if she wanted to know.

Doggett laughed at him. "That doesn't matter. With Barbara the stick was barely dry before she was talking about which relatives she didn't want to name Luke after."

By the time he headed home for the day, Mulder couldn't remember why he'd ever been afraid of how his friends were going to react to the big news.




A Few Hours Later

"He's asleep." Reyes took the box with the vaporizer from Mulder so he could us both hands for the gallons of water he was juggling. "What's the water for?"

"That." He tried to point at the box. "It's distilled, so he won't breathe in any impurities that might be in our water."

She resisted the urge to ask him what he thought drinking that very water might do to them all. "Oh, okay."

William slept through them carrying the now unboxed vaporizer and water into his room. After they set things down, Mulder whispered to Reyes. "Do you mind filling this? There's still stuff out in the car."

"Sure."

Mulder was on the way back in by the time she finished and smeared some vicks into the vaporizer. It was already steaming merrily as she shut the door.

He smiled when he noticed her. "Will still asleep?"

"Soundly."

"Good." He pulled a clear box full of chocolate fudge out of the bag he was holding. "I wasn't kidding when I said I'd try to think of a way to repay you."

"Good choice." Her eyes lit up as she unsnapped the top of the plastic container. "And a good thing I'm not on a diet."

"Mulder snorted. "As if you've ever needed to diet."

"Actually, I was on the chubby side as a young teenager. Blame my mom's wonderful cooking."

"You've obviously out-grown that phase," he said, and produced another container, this one filled with peanut butter fudge. "I do have a confession to make."

"Uh oh."

"Nothing terrible but...Doggett knows you're pregnant." He gave her a sheepish look. "It sort of slipped out when he worried that you were sick a lot. I think he thought you had something seriously wrong with you. So I told him the truth."

She felt a brief start; once upon a time, she'd imagined being married to Doggett and telling him that she was expecting his baby. "How did he take the news?" she asked as soon as she could push the unwelcomed memory away.

"Much better than I expected. He seems genuinely happy for us."

"Good." She eyed the peanut butter fudge. "Do you think we could work out conditions for a partial trade?"

He raised his eyebrows at her. "I'm sure we can reach a satisfactory agreement."

That made her laugh and him wonder how long the vaporizer would run before their negotiations would have to halt so he could refill it.




Mid-August 2002
7:30 p.m.

Fortunately William go over his cold quickly, but for weeks afterwards he slept fitfully, so they tried to keep things as quiet as possible for the hour or so after putting him to bed for the night.

Which meant an unexpected phone call was very jarring in the otherwise silent apartment.

Mulder dove for the phone, hoping to answer it before woke William. He succeeded, but barked his shin on the phone table in the process. Trying not to swear, he clamped one hand to his injury. "Uh, Hello?"

"Zorro," an unfamiliar voice said disdainfully. "Zorro, I wish to speak to my daughter."

"M-Monica?" he stammered.

"Si."

"Uh... just a moment." He set the phone down on the couch without waiting for Neva's reply. Reyes was just about to draw a bath when Mulder found her. "Sorry, that's going to have to wait." He smiled apologetically. "Your mother is on the phone."

"What? Really?"

"Yeah." He handed her the robes that already hung on the door. "Uh... why does your mother call me Zorro? Dashing though I may be, I'm not the gay blade."

"To a few men's disappointment, I bet," she said with a naughty smile. "Zorro is your name in Spanish."

"Zorro is Spanish for Mulder?"

Reyes shook her head. "For Fox."

"Great!" He groaned. "It figures."

"Maybe I can get her to stop."

"From what you told me about her, I doubt it."

"Well, me too, there was trying to make you feel better." She patted him on his arm as she passed him a by.

Not wanting to intrude, Mulder decided to head to their room and update William's baby book at the new words he'd added to his vocabulary so far that week -car, dog, on, moon.

The ink wasn't dry when Reyes wandered in, looking out of sorts. "Bad news?" he asked, closing the book.

Reyes sat on the bed. "I guess it depends on how you look at it... She wants to come to visit next weekend."

"Oh."

"Yeah, Oh." Reyes frowned. "I asked her why now- not bothering to add that I was surprised given that she couldn't be bothered to come for the wedding- and she said that it was time for her to make peace with my having married you."

"That's nice, I guess."

"She's probably coming to make sure you're not Bluebeard."

He smirked at her. "My past track record isn't quite that bad."

Reyes spread her hands in a helpless gesture. "She just worries about me still."

"I've heard that some parents are like that." A sardonic edge crept into Mulder's voice. "But I don't have any first-hand knowledge on that score."

"Mulder..."

He shook his head, rejecting the pity in her tone. "So, do we know when her flight gets in?"

"10:30 on Saturday morning. She leaves at 8 on Sunday night."

"You told her that we'd pick her up, right?"

"Sure. I suggested that we visited the aquarium why she's here too. She'll like it, and it might interest William too." Her voice sounded tentative.

"I'm always up for a visit to see fish too," he said in a way that he hoped would put her at ease. How bad could two days be? "Come on, let's take a bath."

"Let's?"

"It's a big tub." He cast off clothes on their way to the bathroom.




Chapter Twenty-Two


August 2002
9:25 a.m.

"What time does her flight get in again?" Mulder asked as he stuffed extra diapers into William's bag.

"Like I told you five minutes ago, ten minutes ago, ten-fifteen."

"So we have about five minutes before we have to go, to give us a cushion in case of Saturday morning traffic."

"Right," Reyes agreed. "I need to pee before we go so I'll meet you at the car-"

No sooner were the words out of her mouth than someone knocked on the door.

"Tell whoever it is that we're on the way out," Reyes advised before shutting the bathroom door.

"Right." He expected to see one of the gunmen, but it wasn't.

Mulder, with the baby still perched on his hip, gave the small dark-haired woman a surprised look. "Senora Reyes! I thought we were going to pick you up at the airport."

Her baleful look included William. "Miracles of miracles, my flight came early. I decided to take a taxi." She peered around his shoulder. "Where is Monica?"

"Mom!" Reyes came up behind them and gave her mother a hug. Mulder backed a few steps farther into the apartment to give them room. Still, they stayed in the doorway. He shrugged.

Neva pulled away first, and raked her daughter's figure with her eyes. "You're not fat yet."

"Well no," Reyes laughed softly. "I'm only three months along, Mama." Reyes took William from Mulder's arm, and Neva thrust her suitcase at him to fill them again.

He put the suitcase on the guestroom bed, but still was able to overhear Neva say, "Yes, but you will be fat soon enough. Just like Paulo's wife, Isabella."

As he reappeared, puzzled surprise flooded Reyes' features. "You've seen Paulo? Isabella is pregnant?"

"Si, y ella es muy embarazada."

"I thought people agreed that there aren't degrees of that, Mama." Reyes snorted, but then realized that her husband had no idea what Neva had said. Turning to him, she explained "embarazada is 'pregnant' not 'embarrassed'."

"I see."

Before Reyes could finish wondering how her mother would react to being asked to keep things in English, Neva shot Mulder a shrewd look before asking Reyes. "Zoro no habla espanol?"

"Solamente un poco," Mulder replied promptly. "And I'd rather not be called 'Zorro', that's even worse than Fox."

"And I'd rather Monica not live here in the States. We all have troubles, eh, Zorro?" Neva said dismissively, and Reyes gave Mulder an apologetic smile. "We're going to see pescados, yes? Let's go see the fish, then."

Before Mulder or Reyes could reply, she was at the door waiting for them. Mulder grabbed his keys and William's abandoned baby bag, and then hurried after the women who were already out the door.




Mulder tried to make small talk on the way to the aquarium, but Neva pointedly ignored him- except to criticize his driving once. "Zorro, why you let him pass you like that?"

It didn't seem worthwhile to mention that the other driver was being reckless, and therefore safer in front of them than behind.

Reyes had offered her mother the passenger seat, but Neva had declined, making some sort of cryptic remark about it being unhealthy for pregnant women to ride in the backseat. For all Mulder knew, it might be true, so he didn't protest. As a consequence, however, this meant that Neva and William shared the backseat.

The baby found his seatmate fascinating and kept his eyes fastened on her. At first she ignored William as well, but eventually she began to talk to him. "Nino, you have very blue eyes. Ojos azuel."

"Oh!" William crowed.

"Your Papa doesn't have blue eyes. Did Mama?"

Reyes leaned over the seat. "Dana did have blue eyes. And red hair," she added before her mother could ask.

"Then he must look a lot like his mother," Neva said .

"He does," Mulder agreed without taking his eyes from the road.

"It must make you sad, then," Neva said shrewdly. "To look at him and see her."

He sighed. "It did when he was very small, but now it makes me happy. Now that he has a distinct personality of his own, I usually just see him."

His mother-in-law didn't say another word until they reached their destination.




One thing he'd forgotten about aquariums was that there were many dimly lit areas, so he began to become paranoid that he was going to run in the stroller into something but he didn't. Unlike the home or office, they were few obstacles to avoid - other than small children running wild. It made him glad that it hadn't yet occurred to William to throw tantrums until he was set free himself.

Once they got to the penguin enclosure, however, William leaned so far out of the stroller that Mulder was afraid that he was going to tip it. William pointed excitedly at the penguins below, "Puppy!"

"No, Bub, that's the penguins."

William gave him a puzzled look. "Gwin?"

"Peng-uin," he said slowly.

"Ping-win!"

"Close enough."

"Puppy ping-win!" William waved frantically at the penguins.

Mulder gave a good-natured groan. "Not a puppy, Will. It's a kind of bird."

Bird was a word in William's vocabulary. "Fly ping-win!" he demanded.

"Sorry, Bub, they don't fly. But they are good swimmers."

"Oh," William said. Then, as if to illustrate his father's point, four penguins dove into the water. William clapped.

Mulder looked over her shoulder and his wife and mother-in-law. "You can go on without us if you want. I'm pretty sure he'll throw a fit if I tried to leave now."

"If you want us to leave, fine," Neva said,and stalked off. Mulder looked after her helplessly.

Eventually William tired of the tuxedoed birds, and they caught up with the women.

After a moment he realized most of the tanks were set above William's line of vision, so the baby just had a view of blank wood. It was a wonder that he hadn't noisily protested yet. It didn't take long to pull his son out of the stroller and put the diaper bag in it in William's place.

William and Neva were both enchanted by the various fish, but he was fairly sure that Neva wouldn't appreciate it if he pointed out that she too wore an expression of wonder on her face. On the other hand, he was easy to tell that William was having fun, because he bounced in Mulder's arms.

Before long, Mulder wriggled his nose. "I need to bring him to the restroom," he told Reyes.

"Are you sure that there will be changing table in the men's room?"

"There's a symbol for it on the doors. I think is a place a lot of dads bring the kids on their own," he said, and grabbed the diaper bag. "Come on, Bub, before we need to look in the gift shop for sure that says' I'm a little stinker.'" William laughed, apparently convinced it that his daddy had said something funny.




The men's room was empty, which Mulder was willing to bet real money was not the case with the ladies' room next door. William peered around the tile room, obviously looking to see if there were people in this room too. He didn't seem disappointed that there weren't.

Once Mulder had William on the plastic changing table, he found himself glad that he'd dressed his son in the sort of coveralls that had snaps along the leg seams, which meant he wouldn't have to half-undress him to get his diaper off. William barely noticed Mulder's efforts, because even the bathroom was fish-themed. Since his attention was caught by the colorful wall-art, William didn't give his father a hard time.

It made Mulder wonder how many other fathers visiting that restroom had been grateful for the distraction.

With the final snap closed and the diaper carefully slam-dunked, William and Mulder were ready to go. On the way out Mulder paused after only opening the door an inch; Neva and Reyes were talking just outside the door. About him.

"Hija, I just don't like him."

"There has to be a reason, Mama!" Reyes sounded frustrated, and he suspected that he'd been the topic of conversation for most of their bathroom visit.

Neva didn't say anything, but he thought that, through the sliver of open door, he saw her shrug. "It's my gut. But he is a good father, like your Papa. No one likes changing diapers, but he doesn't complain." She paused for half a beat. "Or make you do it."

"Make me?" Reyes' voice spoke of disbelief. "I'm his wife, not his servant."

"As long as he remembers that." They both fell silent.

He counted to ten silently, then pushed the door open. "Where next?" he asked brightly.

"Mama and I were thinking of visiting the 'tidal pool' next," Reyes told him, and managed to make it sound like it actually was what they'd discussed in his absence. Perhaps their conversation had covered a wider scope than his short-comings.

"Yeah...I think Will needs to skip that area. He's far too inclined to put things in his mouth, and I think they'll kick us out if he eats any of the sea creatures. We'll go on a bit, and you two can catch up when you're done," Mulder told her.

She looked torn. "We won't be long."

"Fine."

An unexpected surprise met Mulder when he and William rounded the next corner: there was a new jellyfish exhibit. One tank contained moonlight jellyfish and he quickly realized that the plastic disks in front of the tank controlled the colored lights under the water. The translucent creatures turned the color of the lights.

He turned all the dials to blue, then pointed at the jellyfish. "What color are the jellyfish, Bub?"

"Blue!" Blue seemed to be William's favorite color, since it was the only one he'd learned. So far.

He turned the dials, one handed, keeping the other around William's waist. The ghostly jellyfish turned red.

He pointed at the tank. "Red. These are red now."

"Wed?"

"Red," Mulder corrected.

"Red!" William pointed too.

They turned the lights to green next. "Now it's green."

"Geen!" Later on he learned "Lello!" too.

It occurred to Mulder to wonder if William was only repeating the words, or actually associating them with the colors. That in mind, he turned the dial back. "What color, Bub?"

"Red!"

"Aren't you clever!" a voice behind Mulder cooed.

Before Mulder could reply, a more familiar voice spoke up, surprisingly proud. "Thank you. My grandson is a smart boy."

He looked back, mostly to reassure himself that those words had actually come out of Neva's mouth, and not from a confused stranger. It really was her.

The four of the continued through the aquarium without further comment on the subjects of Neva claiming William as family - or her dislike of Mulder.




Once everyone was in the car, Reyes turned in her seat so she could see Neva. "Mama, we were thinking that you'd like to see a movie."

"In the cinema?" Neva asked.

"That was the idea."

"I'm too old to have to sit with strangers for that long."

"You're not that old-"

Neva waived away the idea. "If I say I am, I am. I would like to see a movie, though. You have one of those VCR things?"

"Yes," Mulder told her.

"We could rent something," Reyes ventured.

Which is how Mulder found himself in the video store on a Saturday night forty-five minutes later. The store had only been fifteen minutes from the aquarium, but Neva had been stalking the aisles for quite a while. For his part, Mulder was bouncing William and trying to keep him from crying, since he'd had quite enough of their outing.

They both had.

A few minutes later Reyes put a movie in Mulder's hand, and he felt a surge of gratitude. At least until he looked at the box. It was a Spanish movie. Reading his mind, Reyes said, "There are subtitles."

"Okay." The description of the movie was in English, so that didn't surprise him. "She knows this is a horror movie, right?"

"I pointed that out," Reyes told him. "She claims that she had lately discovered that she likes them."

"Okay, then." Mulder shifted William long enough to get to his wallet, then went up front to check out.



Later

William decided not to sit on anyone in particular's lap, and was instead draped across both Mulder and Reyes. Though Mulder had been tempted to rest his bowl of popcorn on his son's back, he decided no one else would find it funny, and put it next to him on the couch instead.

The move - The Devil's Backbone - was probably the sort of thing Mulder would have normally gotten into, but even with subtitles it was difficult to follow. Mostly because Neva had kept up a running commentary since the opening credits.

"That Jacinto is a bad man." She declared at one point, then gave her daughter a sidelong glance. "At least you didn't end up with someone like that."

"At least," Mulder said dryly.

"But that Carlos, eh, he's a smart little boy. Like this one." She pointed her thumb at William. Then, under her breath, added something that sounded a lot like "el nino must take after his mama" but Mulder pretended deafness just then.

It wasn't until Mulder picked him up at the end of the movie that William seemed to wake up enough to realize that he had slept through dinner. Then he began to fuss.

Over that, Neva stood and yawned loudly. "Like I say before, I am old. I think it's time for me to turn in."

"Sure," Reyes agreed, standing too.

"Zorro took my bag in there, yes?" Neva pointed at the door to Reyes' old room.

"Yup. Do you need any help unpacking?" Reyes asked her mother once they walked into that room. From the sounds coming from the kitchen, it seemed that Mulder was getting more dinner on William than in him.

Neva made a derisive sound. "Your Mama may be getting old, but she can still unpack a night bag."

"I didn't..." Reyes said, floundering.

Her mother peered around the room. "This was your room, no? Before you began sleeping with him."

Reyes tried not to roll her eyes. "Technically it's still my room. At least until the baby's born."

"You and the baby, you could come live with me," Neva surprised her by offering.

"Mama!" she yelped. "You honestly don't think this is going to work out."

Neva said nothing, but gave her a sour look.

Shaking her head, Reyes quickly said good night and left her.



"She really hates me, huh?" Mulder after he'd put William to bed.

"I hate to say it, but yes. For no good reason too. She's convinced that we won't last."

Mulder pat the bed. "We could provide her some auditory evidence to the contrary."

Though the idea of using noisy love-making as a way to prove her mother wrong was tempting, she knew her mother better than that. If confronted, she'd only retort that sex wasn't love.

Still, she saw no reason to turn her husband down. Let Neva think whatever she liked.



Sunday

To nearly everyone's surprise, Reyes refused to go to the airport with Mulder and Neva. Mulder was tempted to beg her, but she looked a bit green, so he didn't press the issue.

Reyes hugged her mother fiercely. "I love you, Mama. Have a safe flight home, and take care of yourself."

"Me?" Neva asked. "I'm not the one embarazada. You take care yourself."

"I will." Reyes gave Mulder a quick kiss on the cheek. "Drive careful. Wills and I'll make dinner."

"Oh, I'm sure he'll be a big help." He laughed.

"Well, someone needs to bang on the pots and pans."

This made him smile, but his levity melted once he and Neva got into the car.



Neither of them said a word until signs for the airport loomed in front of them.

At that point Neva twisted in her seat to stare at his profile. "Let me be clear, Zorro. I do not like you."

"You've hidden that well," Mulder said dryly.

She ignored him. "But Monica believes you to be a honorable man. I expect you act it."

"Meaning?" Mulder raised his eyebrows. They had arrived at the airport's unloading area.

"Take care of my hija, and my grandchildren, no matter what happen between you and Monica."

Rather than waste his breath trying to convince her that she had no right to judge him so poorer, he simply said, "I intend to."

Neva opened her door. "Good. I'll hold you to that."

Before her could reply, Neva slipped into the throng headed for the doors.

Sighing, Mulder put the car into drive and headed home. It wasn't until he was nearly there that he'd realized she'd said grandchildren, not grandchild. At least William passed muster, he thought with a rueful smile.




That Night

By the time dinner Reyes had regained her normal coloring. She claimed to be feeling her old self again by the time they climbed into bed.

Mulder put his hand on Reyes' warm, still flat belly and then looked her in the eyes. "Is Paulo your only sibling?"

"Where's that coming from?" she asked. "Yes, he's my only brother."

"Doggett has two sisters that I know of. Kelly and Liz."

"Em-hmm. Liz is older than John and Kelly."

"It's good to have siblings," Mulder told her. "At Scully's funeral I talked to Mrs. Scully and realized that William would never have any brothers or sisters. I'm glad I was wrong."

"Me too," Reyes agreed softly.

"Things are going to be so much better for William and the baby than Jeffrey and I. They'll grow up together, and they'll be friends."

"And if the baby is a boy they'll occasionally beat the crap out of each other."

"How do you know that?" Mulder asked her.

"Most of the boys I grew up with had brothers."

"Yeah, now that you mention it I think I remember friends fighting with their brothers...we should have a girl, then."

That made Reyes laugh. "It's a little late to decide that now."

"You can picture it though, can't you? She'd have dark hair and brown or hazel eyes..."

And as he said it, she found that she could picture it.




Chapter Twenty-Three


Last week of September, 2002

Though he hadn't been conscious of it, Mulder's mind had been valiantly keeping monsters at bay for months. It wasn't until people could tell that Reyes was pregnant no matter what she wore that the monsters began to win. Watching her rub a hand over her belly one day filled him with a sudden and nameless terror. She noticed.

"I'm not going to die," Reyes said calmly.

"What?" He tried to make himself look shocked and innocent both. His poker face must have slipped for a second. Long enough for her to see through him.

Her brown eyes looked serious. "Don't play games. You look at me like you're measuring me for a casket and I'm not supposed to realize that you're worried?"

"I can't help it," Mulder protested. "Worrying isn't something you choose to do so you have a new hobby."

"Months ago you told me that I wasn't her. Now you need to remind yourself that."

"I-"

"She had a rough pregnancy from the beginning. And I'm fine. I will continue to be fine."

"You're right," Mulder told her, doing his best to sound contrite. But in his heart, he still worried. What if he wasn't merely unlucky, but that the world really was against him? It was too easy to imagine being in the same spot again, the only parent to a motherless infant. Of course he worried.

Reyes nodded, but she walked over to the desk that he'd long ago pushed up against the wall, and opened a drawer. After she took out a stack of papers, she handed them to him. "What's this?" he asked, trying to make sense of the formal language.

"Life insurance policies, and a rough draft of my will. I know you made yours months ago, so I decided a matched set was best." Actually, she'd nagged him into doing his right after they decided to marry. He'd named her William's guardian, in case in predeceased her while William was still a child.

"Is this supposed to make me worry less?" he asked, letting his eyebrows rise in disbelief.

"I don't know, maybe. At the very least you wouldn't have to worry about money if your worst dreams come true, even though they won't. A few more signatures and they can be notarized."

Mulder's fingers found a brochure at the bottom that clearly had nothing to do with life insurances or wills. The glossy photos on it showed smiling adults holding small children and pushing slightly larger ones on a swing. The bright primary colored title cheerfully said "Formally Adopting Your Stepchild."

When he looked up he noticed that her expression was an endearing mixture of uncertainty and hopefulness. "What do you think?"

"I think this is a fantastic idea, if you want to do it."

"Of course I do. I love Will. He already feels like he's mine, this would just make it legally so."

For a second Mulder thought briefly of Scully, and decided that she'd like the idea too. "I'm not sure I could convince him to say Mommy instead of Moni, though," he teased her.

"That's okay, I rather like Moni," Reyes told him. She then deftly returned the conversation back to its starting point. "I have every intention of being in both of your lives for the long haul, Fox Mulder, and don't you ever doubt that."

"I won't." He promised, and all of a sudden his worries seemed a lot more remote than they had only minutes earlier.




October 12th, 2002

"Come on," Reyes told Mulder while she tugged on his hand. It was a sleepy autumn Sunday, and he'd been trying to care about the game he'd been half watching. Unaware of his feigned interest, the announcers on the TV continued to shout with bliss about a sudden save.

Mulder yawned and stood up. "Where are we going?"

"For a walk," Reyes told him.

"Okay, just let me get Will dres-" At that moment William ran into the living room, already wearing a light jacket and a hat. "Oh. I see that this invitation was premeditated."

"Isn't everything I do?" Reyes asked him lightly. She threw him his jacket. It matched Will's, though the little boy didn't seem to care nearly as much about the sports insignia on them as Mulder did.

"What about you? Aren't you going to put on a coat?" Mulder asked her when she made no move to do so.

"Nope. I feel like a furnace. This sweater is almost too warm as it is," she said, pulling at the burnt orange sweater she'd been excited to find because it didn't have ribbons, bows, or any cartoon animals on it. He recalled that she'd said that it was something she might have picked in a non-maternity version had she'd been shopping at another time.

"And they say that there are no pluses to being pregnant," Mulder muttered. Then he ducked the couch pillow she tossed at him. "I'm just saying, it sounds like we'll save on the heating bill this winter."

"Would you like me to find you a shovel, Mulder?" she asked archly. "I'm sure it would be quicker."

"Uh, no." Mulder reached down and took William's hand. "Come on, Bub. We're going to follow Monica's lead. Before Daddy says something that makes her hurt him."

"Wise choice, Dad." She smirked at him over her shoulder as she opened the door.

Outside, the smell of wood smoke hung in the air, and several chimneys had smoke trailing out of them. Mulder pointed at one. "You could almost forget you were in DC on a day like this."

"I know. Look at these leaves! Every year I'm surprised all over again by the fact that the leaves change colors in the fall."

Holding each of their hands, William stomped on fallen leaves with the enthusiasm only seen in the very young. Laughing, they swung him by his arms and made him shriek happily.

"How long did you live in New York?" Mulder asked her. "The leaves must have changed there."

"They did. A couple of years."

"So you really haven't seen many colorful falls," Mulder said. "Or maybe I'm wrong and there's a lot of color in New Orleans come fall."

"Nope, at least not like this. It's one of the things I like about living up here."

"What else do you like about living up here?" he asked suggestively. To his disappointment, he wasn't first on her list.

"I like that there's snow more often than there are hurricanes. That you can visit the capital even though you're not a tourist. I love our crazy job..." She trailed off and smiled at him. "And you guys. I definitely love the two of you."

He tried not to let his surprise that she'd made an open declaration show. Instead he gave her a wobbly smile. "Well, we love you too, so it's only fair."

"Good. I like it when things are fair."

Completely unaware of the serious nature of his parents' playful conversation, William continued to stomp all the leaves he could reach with his small sneakers. When he looked up at Mulder, he felt his heart swell. "Monica, we need to buy a rake."

"Uh, interesting change of conversation," she said, though she didn't look upset to be confused. "Why do we need a rake?"

"So we can rake leaves into a pile to jump into," Mulder replied, as if it were the most obvious thing in the world.

"I'm not sure that the building super would appreciate that."

For a moment Mulder was disappointed, but he immediately brightened. "After we play with the leaves, I'll spread them out again. He'll never know."

"That's not sane, but it does have merit as plans go," Reyes admitted. "Just don't expect me to be doing any jumping myself. I'd catch hell from my OB if I managed to hurt myself."

"That's okay. You can woman the camcorder."

"It's very kind of you to find something for me to do," she said drolly, but he knew that she'd do it. Just as soon as they got back from the hardware store with a rake.




October 31st, 2002

Skinner was waiting for them when they got back in that morning. To see him standing there in their dingy office struck Mulder as strange enough to have him looking at the clock to see if they were late. They weren't.

This apparently also seemed odd to Doggett, who gave their boss a curious look. "Sir?"

Skinner's own expression was grave. "I take it that you didn't listen to the news while you ate."

Reyes answered for them. "No, sir. The diner had the Yankees on." It was rare for them to do anything before work, but Doggett had wanted them and Barbara to eat breakfast with him. The women got along better than Mulder would have expected.

He sighed, which alarmed Mulder a little. "We have a situation."

"Define 'we'," Mulder requested.

"The FBI. One of the agents from DC seems to have suffered a nervous break down."

"Which agent?" Reyes wondered aloud. It was clear from her tone that she was worried that he was going to finger one of them. Which was probably silly, Mulder decided. Probably.

"Agent Cameron Hart."

The three of them looked at one another and shrugged. From the blank looks on Doggett and Reyes' faces, neither of them had heard of him, either.

"I may be wrong, but I suspect that you haven't told us this so we can send a get well soon card to the sanitarium," Doggett said in a tone that just managed not to come off as sarcastic.

"Unfortunately no. I'm sure that Mulder at least already knows this, but there's a house here in DC that's reputed to be haunted."

"I'm afraid you'll have to be more specific," Mulder told him. "Many dead people are supposed to be wandering around the capital."

Before Mulder could begin naming dead presidents, Skinner elaborated. "Specifically the Carver House."

Even Doggett shuddered a little before asking, "Isn't that the family that was supposed to have murdered all their children?"

"It wasn't alleged murder but well documented. Henry Carver lost his job during the great depression. When he couldn't find another job he began to drink. One night, after a hard night of boozing, he decided that his children would starve to death, but that was a bad way to go. So he murdered all eight kids before he killed his wife. He then calmly walked to the police station and confessed."

"What happened to him?" Reyes asked.

"Before he could go to trial he hanged himself in the county jail."

Mulder gave into his impatience. "It's an interesting story, but what does that have to do with the FBI? You mentioned a situation with an agent Cameron."

"I was getting to that, Mulder... Agent Hart has been having some trouble, depression, instability. To be frank, he was put on leave for attacking a witness he and his partner were supposed to be questioning. His partner had been checking in with his wife every couple of days, and he seemed to be settling down. At least until last night."

Reyes' eyes were filled with concern. "He didn't do anything to his wife, did he?"

Under the desk, Mulder gave her hand a reassuring squeeze.

Luckily, Skinner shook his head. "No, nothing like that. Hart was fascinated by the history behind the Carver murders, and told everyone that he'd taken some time off from work to write a book about the incident. Since his wife and partner didn't want to upset him, and given that he did seem to be coming around, they didn't tell anyone otherwise. Unfortunately, the current owners of the Carver House have been widely proclaiming that there are ghosts actively haunting the site. It's not the first time that anyone has made the claim, but it is the first time that anyone has guaranteed that people could experience the haunting for themselves."

"Let me guess," Mulder said. "They didn't bother to have any special effects in case they were wrong?"

"The fools were so sure that the ghosts would materialize that they didn't consider for a second that they wouldn't. Anyway, Hart was one of their guests last night. When the ghosts didn't materialize in the wee hours of this morning like they were supposed to, agent Hart lost it. Now we've got a hostage situation at the Carver House."

Mulder held out his hands. "It's been a while since I've do anything like profiling, and I've never negotiated a hostage situation other than the Barry case and you know how that turned out, but if you think we can help-"

"You're one of his demands," Skinner said far more calmly than Mulder thought the situation warranted. "The three of you, actually."

The hand that Mulder had squeezed went to Reyes' belly as she gave their boss a shocked look. "What?"

"Agent Hart has long been in awe of the work that the three of you do down here. He's one of the few agents I've ever met who asked how he could be transferred to this division. That was probably a year ago. At the time I told him that we'd just put two new agents here, and I didn't know when we'd add more. He looked disappointed, but not dangerously so. Anyway, when the police and the hostage negotiator spoke to him he said that he'd only speak to the three of you."

"Wow," Doggett muttered. Mulder felt that it was an understatement, but he couldn't think of the right words himself.

"I told the negotiator that I had no problems with Mulder and Doggett speaking to him, if they wanted to, but that agent Reyes is fairly far along in her pregnancy, so I didn't think it would be a good idea if she entered such a situation."

"Of course not!" Mulder exclaimed.

Reyes glared at him and Skinner both. "Although I appreciate the concern for my welfare, I'm not a child-"

Skinner held up a hand. "Let me stop you there, agent Reyes. The negotiator said that he conveyed the message to Hart who then insisted that it was the three of you or he was going to start harming the hostages."

"Jesus!" Mulder swore. "Is it our assignment to go see him?"

"I can't order you to put your lives at risk for a case that technically falls outside the scope of this division-"

"But we can't let him kill people," Reyes shot back. "Not if there's something we can do to keep him from hurting anyone."

"That's what I thought you would say," Skinner said before turning and gesturing at the doorway. Two people walked in quickly. One of them carried a pair of Kevlar vests, the other a measuring tape. Mulder and Doggett were each handed a vest. "While you two go and put those on under your clothing, Mrs. Davis here is going to measure agent Reyes. It's lucky that we're in DC, where one of the only makers of Kevlar vests meant for pregnant police officers and FBI agents operates."

Davis had already measured Reyes by the time Mulder and Doggett reached the hallway. He heard her say, "Oh good. We have something that'll fit you in stock."

Once they reached the men's room, Mulder grabbed an out of order sign out of the supply closet and stuck it to the hall side of the door. "I don't feel like trying to get my shirt on and off in the stalls, do you?"

"Not really," Doggett told him, beginning to unbutton his shirt. "So... you're okay with Monica going?"

"Of course not," Mulder snapped.

"Then, why-"

"Not long ago she accused me of worrying that she was going to die on me like Scully did. I told her that it wasn't true, but we both knew that it was. How can I tell her that she shouldn't come?"

"Well, you're her husband," Doggett pointed out.

"Right. And I'd like to be her husband who trusts her to look after herself, rather than her over protective husband who she ends up leaving," Mulder told him as he strapped on his vest. "Being more worried for her than us is irrational."

"But it's normal."

"Are you saying you would have told Barbara to stay home because you were afraid that she'd get hurt?"

"She sold real estate when she was pregnant with Luke."

"You know what I mean."

"Probably not," Doggett admitted. "I wouldn't blame you from telling her not to go, though."

"With advice like that, I'd worry that you want me to screw up." Mulder snorted.

"Why would I want that?"

He gave him a sidelong look. He wasn't going to make the obvious joke about Doggett having designs on his wife. Not with Doggett being the serious sort. Not with her carrying Mulder's son or daughter. "So you look better by comparison? How's Barbara anyway?"

To his surprise Doggett's face lit up. "Great. Keep it under your hat for now, but we're really doing it. Renewing our vows. Probably right before Christmas."

"That's great!" Mulder's enthusiasm was genuine. It would do everyone good if Doggett s also considered himself safely married.

"Yeah. Are we done here? Much longer and we'll have jokes about falling in."

Mulder smoothed down his shirt and looked in the mirror. It was no more visible than the seamless bras Victoria's Secret kept advertising during football games. He wondered if one would make a decent Christmas present. Somehow, he thought it wouldn't be as appreciated as much by the recipient as himself. "Let's go."

It turned out to be a case of hurry up and wait, however, because they had to wait while a vest was procured that would fit over Reyes' belly. Half an hour later, Reyes was also sporting a Kevlar vest, and they were on their way.

It was a quiet drive after Mulder made the mistake of telling Reyes that with the vest on she merely looked heavy instead of pregnant. Doggett mouthed the words "don't ever say anything like that again" as soon as he blurted it out. Not that Mulder hadn't immediately drawn that conclusion himself. He might be a rookie husband, but he wasn't a fool.




Chapter Twenty-Four


The Caver House

When they arrived at the Carver House, there were a lot more cars in the lot than one would expect that time of day, even for Halloween morning. A van from WCC26 was parked prominently in front of the doors.

Doggett was already looking for the reporter that belonged to the van when he climbed out of the car. He pointed at the offending vehicle. "Things like that make me wish I was still a cop."

"Why?" Reyes asked. She rubbed the small of her back while making a mental note to ask Doggett to sit in the back later.

"Cops can write tickets. And that van is clearly illegally parked."

"Maybe we can find an obliging officer after we're through," Mulder suggested wryly. "But for now..."

The three of them made their way towards a cluster of people wearing black FBI jackets. "Like a murder of crows," Reyes muttered quietly. "Or an unkindness of ravens."

"You know what they say," Mulder said as they were waved over by another agent. "Birds of a feather-"

"If you finish that, you're asking for it," Doggett threatened. Mulder chose to let the remainder of the expression go unsaid.

The agent looked relieved to see them. "Thank God you came." She held out a hand. "I'm agent Pope, by the way. Cameron Hart is, or perhaps I should say was, my partner."

Mulder nodded, now understanding why the partner had kept in touch with the wife. Not that male agents wouldn't be so concerned for a partner's welfare, but that she hadn't had to worry that being that familiar with Hart's wife would be considered untoward. "How do you want this to go down?" he asked her.

For a second agent Pope looked like she felt helpless, but it passed quickly. "Personally, I want this to go as cleanly as possible. Cameron's a good guy and I don't want to see him hurt, but I want to see those hostages hurt even less," she said with resolve. "I believe AD Hopewell wants you to just talk to him. If you can talk him into letting people go, great. If not, just distracting him will be a benefit."

Mulder was relieved to hear her mention an AD's name. It was never a good idea to have someone be in charge of situations with potentially poor outcomes that involve their partners, estranged or not. There was just too much emotional baggage there to ensure clear thinking.

"Hopewell," Doggett remarked. "How fitting."

It took Mulder longer than he wanted to admit to understand what Doggett meant. Hopewell soon joined them. "Thank you for coming." He looked down at Reyes' stomach. "I trust you'll take every precaution for your own safety."

"Of course," they agreed.

"I'm going to have the negotiator bring you in. I have no idea what Hart is going to say to you, but I assure you that we have snipers in place, should it look like the situation is going south."

"Hopefully it won't come to that," Doggett said, tapping his chest. "We're wearing vests if it should."

"But the hostages aren't," Hopewell said darkly. "With luck it won't come to that."

As they followed the negotiator a minute later, Doggett looked back over his shoulder. "You think he'd of been more optimistic."

" am I being punished?" Reyes asked then, and all three men looked at her. "Or are bad jokes you guys' way of trying to remain calm?"

"What bad jokes?" Mulder asked Doggett.

He shrugged. "I thought you might know."

Reyes stalked after the hostage negotiator and didn't speak to either of them again until they were inside.




The Carver House must have been remodeled at one point, because most of the bottom floor was one very large room. At the back there were a few doors, probably for offices and bathrooms, but the rest was a rather large living room like place. Plenty of room for a crazed man to hide, not that it turned out that way.

They were barely in the room before Hart rushed forward. "Not so fast!" the negotiator shouted. Mulder wondered fleetingly why they hadn't gotten his name. It clearly wasn't a good time to just then.

Hart stopped short, but he was close enough for them to see the strangely eager look on his face. "You're here!"

"I heard that you're our biggest fan," Mulder said evenly. "What is it that you requested an audience with us for?"

"Your help, of course," Hart said, looking a little disappointed that they hadn't known already.

"With?" Mulder asked, but he wasn't really paying attention to Hart. Instead he was silently counting the number of people in the room. An elderly woman stood behind a desk, looking frazzled within an inch of her life. A young couple in their twenties crouched next to the spiral staircase that dominated the center of the room. An older couple held hands with a boy who looked about fifteen and a girl a couple of years younger. At the far end of the room a mid-aged man in gray overalls stood next to a forgotten mop bucket.

Hart waved his arms. "The ghosts. You're going to help me get the ghosts to show themselves."

"Why do you think we can help you with that?" Reyes asked, honestly curious. "I don't know if someone told you that we're mediums or anything like that, because we're just ordinary people."

"Of course you're not," Hart scoffed. "There's hardly anything ordinary about the people chosen to work on the X-Files." He looked a bit chagrined, but went on more or less calmly. "Clearly you were chosen for your special attributes."

Doggett and Mulder shot her looks that telegraphed their desire that she tread carefully. She didn't need to be warned. "I suppose you're right. My mother taught me to be humble, though."

"False modesty isn't very becoming." Hart's tone carried a faint note of rebuke.

"Right," she agreed.

"No," he said, beginning to pace. "I'm very sure that if anyone can help me, it's you."

"So, what did you have in mind?" Doggett's voice was exaggerated casualness that immediately had Mulder worried. Doggett was anything but casual on a day to day basis, so him playing at it during a tense situation couldn't be good.

Hart smiled, which raised the hairs on the back of Mulder's neck. "I've read all about your cases. Strangeness follows you like eager puppies. The way I figure it, all we need to do is wait."

"Just wait?" Mulder asked.

"Yup." Hart nodded sagely. He waved at the floor and they sat down.

So they waited. And waited. Close to an hour ticked by while everyone got antsy. Except for Hart. He sat peacefully with a blissfully expectant expression on his face.

Mulder shot daggers at the negotiator, who seemed to be trying very hard to ignore him. For a negotiator he didn't do much negotiating. He hadn't said anything at all to Hart after yelling at him to slow down.

"I can't take this," Reyes said softly just before alarming Mulder by getting to her feet. Hart immediately turned his head in their direction. Reyes smiled apologetically. "Hart, maybe we'd be more successful if we take a look around. We usually have to investigate things even though they probably seem to just find us."

Hart took a moment to consider this. "All right. But only if you split up. You go to the second floor, Mulder goes to the third, and Doggett stays on this floor."

"Sure," Reyes agreed, and she and Mulder headed for the stairs.

"Third floor, agent Mulder!" Hart warned.

"Right."




Mulder did in fact go up to the third floor. He spent a while looking in rooms and seeing nothing, just as he expected. Then he concentrated on figuring out a way to get to the second floor without being noticed, which was only a problem since the large fist floor had cathedral ceilings that cut into the second floor. It was easy to see the second floor balcony from below.

After a bit of wandering, he discovered that the leftmost staircase opened into a short walled area before the balcony stretched the rest of the floor. Getting there was easier than getting Reyes' attention. He waved to her for a while before she noticed him. And when she did, she jumped a foot.

Her right hand was on her chest when she reached him. She used the other hand to punch his shoulder. "Jesus Mulder! I thought I saw-"

"-a ghost?" He smirked at her.

"Yes, something like that." Her voice was rather reluctant. "It's dark up here, I saw something move... it's not a huge leap."

"You think this place is haunted?"

Reyes shrugged. "This place must have a reputation for a reason. It's not creepy enough to have people thinking it's haunted without someone having seen something."

"Well, maybe..." Mulder said doubtfully. He didn't add more to his thought because they heard raised voices coming from the floor below. Hugging the wall, they peered down stairs.

"You're never going to see anything here!" Doggett snapped, making Mulder wonder what had come earlier in the conversation.

"Why not?" there was an edge to Hart's voice.

Which Doggett ignored. "Even if there were such a thing as ghosts, they probably wouldn't appear for a crazy asshole waving a gun around!"

What happened next happened very quickly. Without ranting or yelling Hart turned towards Doggett and fired at his head. One of the hostages screamed, but Doggett did nothing more than widen his eyes in shock. For his part, Hart looked at the gun with a perplexed expression, and shook it.

Armed agents burst throw the doors, ordering everyone to get down. Everyone did so, except for Doggett and Hart. Hart dropped the gun to the floor like a petulant child and held out his wrists. Three agents swarmed him, and cuffed him.

Hart was still being docilely led out of the house when Mulder and Reyes burst through the door to the stairwell and ran to Doggett. To Doggett's surprise, it was Mulder who gave him a bear hug. "I thought you were dead for sure, Man."

Doggett grimaced and pushed his friend away. "I'm fine." He glanced at Reyes. "But you were right. It was irrational not to worry as much about you and I. Not that I meant to tick him off enough to shoot at me. I...lost my cool." He looked sheepish and slightly ashamed of himself.

"What as that about worrying as much about yourselves?" Reyes asked, but they pretended not to have heard her.

Hopewell and Pope were the next to force themselves into the room. Pope spared her former partner a look before walking over to Doggett. "Oh, thank God. I wasn't sure if his wife had been able to do it."

"Do what?" Doggett asked. "Would you mind explaining why my head isn't splattered all over the walls behind us?"

"What a lovely mental image," Reyes murmured to herself.

"Blanks." Pope told him. "I got his wife to load his gun with blanks."

Reyes looked faintly scandalized. "This was easier than having her simply take the damn gun away?"

Pope didn't react. "Easier than having to explain to a mentally unstable man why she'd taken it away and why he couldn't have it back, yes."

Reyes turned to Mulder, who immediately said, "Don't look at me. I promise you'll never have to take my gun away because I've gone insane and plan to take people hostage."

"You'd better promise that," she said, sounding a bit fierce.

"I don't think he actually planned-" Pope began to protest, but gave up. "Married, huh?"

"Yeah, they are. Can we get back to the subject of almost making me piss my pants by shooting a blank at me?" Doggett asked impatiently.

Mulder glanced down at his front of partner's pants. "You've got nerves of steel, John."

"Of all the things to be admired for, not pissing myself isn't one I was aiming for," Doggett said sourly.

"Aww, we don't get to choose how we become people's heroes," Mulder said with a smirk that made Doggett roll his eyes.

"Are we done here?" Reyes asked. "My own bladder's killing me, and not because of the gunfire. Not to mention I'd kill to get this vest off."

"Poor choice of words considering today's events, Monica," Doggett scolded, but his eyes twinkled with the return of good humor.

Pope's look was one of commiseration. "I need a statement, but you can go to the bathroom."

"Good," she said, trotting off faster than Mulder expected a woman more than five months along to be capable of.

Mulder turned back towards the other agents. "What's going to happen to Hart now?"

"Psych evaluation," Pope replied bleakly. "I don't think it's going to go very well."

"Gee, he only held eight people hostage, I can't imagine why you think that," Doggett snapped.

"You'll have to excuse my partner, he gets cranky whenever someone pulls a gun on him," Mulder told Pope.

Reyes returned a couple of minutes later with the vest slung around her left forearm. Mulder tried to make amends for his earlier blunder. "See, now you don't look fat."

Doggett shook his head in dismay, but didn't offer any advice this time.

"When are you due?" Pope asked.

"February."

"Wow. My husband would have had a fit if I wanted to go into the field for a case like this that far along."

"Good thing mine's more reasonable," Reyes remarked coolly.

"Even if he's an idiot about a lot of other things," Mulder said, hoping she'd correct him. She didn't. He sighed. Deeply.

The three of them trudged back out to their waiting car, and then sat in it for quite a while as the parking lot emptied around them. "No hurry, right?" Mulder asked them and they didn't disagree. "We haven't been here for hours and hours like those poor folks were."

"It felt like it though," Doggett remarked. "I can't believe how tiring it is to just watch a nutcase for a while."

"No kidding," Reyes began, but Mulder cut her off.

"You're spying on me now?"

"Ha."

The parking lot was finally pretty much empty, so Mulder put in his key and was about to turn the engine over when Reyes grabbed his arm. "Look," she said, pointing up to a third floor window.

Two small faces peered down at them. They were hard to see, but clear enough if you looked in the right spot.

"We must have missed some of the hostages," Doggett said dismissively. "Since the rest left the building before we did. I counted."

"I guess we did," Mulder agreed, but it was all he could do to keep his voice from shaking. He'd checked every room on the third floor. He knew he had.




Later

"Tonight's Halloween," Mulder said with a yawn when they finally arrived home. Before doing anything else, he set William on his feet. It only took about two seconds for the little boy to disappear deeper into the apartment. "There's no rest for the wicked."

"He's so little that he probably doesn't even understand that it's tonight," Reyes suggested.

William toddled back a moment later carrying his costume. "Daddy, treats?"

"Fat chance," Mulder said sadly. "I'm betting The Hair told them alllll about Halloween today. That's so like her."

"Maybe you can get someone else to take him out," Reyes suggested, barely resisting the urge to tell him that he was being too hard on the daycare worker.

"Maybe..." Mulder was doubtful, but he found willing volunteers.

They arrived in short order, which impressed him given how last minute the request for aide was. His feet dragged as he pulled himself off the couch to get the door. Once he opened it, he was deeply confused. The gunmen were standing there, as expected, but they weren't wearing what he thought they would. Instead of scary masks, or maybe star trek costumes, they were each dressed in a tuxedo.

Langly was oblivious to his puzzled look. "Is the little dude ready to go score some candy?"

"Uh, yeah, I think so." Mulder looked over his shoulder and caught a brief glance of William dragging his bag by one handle. "So... what are you guys?"

"Bond," Frohike told him solemnly. "James Bond."

"What? All of you?"

"There were lots of Bonds," Byers pointed out. "We're just three of them."

"Okay, right," Mulder said, and looked down at Frohike. "Which Bond are you?"

"Pierce Brosnan."

This was too much for Mulder, so he made his escape. A minute later he walked back, using the baby's back to muffle some of his laughter. By the time he'd rejoined them, he was composed again. "You'll be careful, right?"

Frohike gave him a disgusted look. "Like we'd ever do anything reckless-" Mulder stared at him. "-around William."

"I know. It's just..." Mulder shrugged.

"Parents are worrywarts," Langly supplied.

"More or less."

Byers reached over and took William from Mulder. "We'll be back at nine. Say good-bye, William."

William opened and closed his hand. "Bye Daddy."

"Be a good boy, Will," Mulder told him, and planted a kiss on the top of his head.

He watched them walk away, and wasn't really surprised when Reyes appeared at his side and wrapped an arm around his waist. "Your friends are very strange. Nice, but very strange."

"I know, isn't it great?"

Since it would be two hours until the guys returned, they settled on the couch to watch a movie. Reyes leaned back against him, and they watched a screaming damsel run up the stairs. "Dammit, don't go that way! You're going to get trapped, you stupid tart," Reyes complained, but then she took Mulder's hand and placed it on her belly. His hand bounced just seconds later.

"Wow. I don't think the baby likes this movie," Mulder remarked, sounding a bit awed.

"Too bad." Reyes yawned. "I want to see how it ends. What? I'm the one fielding the objections here."

"Whatever you say."

"I like the sound of that," she said smugly. "Queen of the known universe, that's me."

"Well, at least until the grays come back," Mulder told her. "You know that 'They are among us.'"

"Don't I just." She sighed, putting her head on his chest. "At least they're not here in the room with us."

Mulder thought about saying it might be kinky if they were, intergalactic voyeurs, but he realized they were both too worn out by the day's events to think about putting on a floor show. Another night, then.



Chapter Twenty-Five


November 15th, 2002

Reyes stared down at her bloody hands, then over her shoulder at the gathered crowd. They stood there impassively. "Help me!" she demanded, but none of them so much as blinked.

It didn't make sense. They'd come for the baby, hadn't they? That's what they both had believed. Yet it seemed as they didn't care if the baby died, and the mother along with it.

Scully's face was nearly as red with exertion as the blood on Reyes' fingers. "You can't have him! He's mine!"

"He's-" Reyes had been about to agree but glanced down at her self and stopped, puzzled. It was her own waist that was swelled, not Scully's.

"He's mine," Scully repeated, no longer laboring. She was looking at Reyes. "He will always be mine."

Drops of blood fell to the floor as Reyes wrung her hands. "William?" she asked.

"No," Scully said vehemently. "No!"

"But-"

The redhead's fingers looked like claws, and Reyes turned away. Not quickly enough. Within a couple of heartbeats those claws were hooked into her shoulder, and it hurt. "Mine!"

"Not any more," Reyes asserted.

Her shoulder began to burn. It was so convincing that she looked for flames. Unsatisfied that she was burning her rival, Scully began to shake her.

"Come on, wake up," a voice demanded, but she was still being shaken.

Shaken awake, she soon realized. Opening her eyes, she saw Mulder bent over her. He gave her a slow smile. "Must have been some nightmare."

"Yeah." She ran one hand along her belly and winced at a particularly fierce kick. "Did I wake you up? Too?"

"No, I was feeding Will breakfast when I heard you crying."

"I was crying?" she asked, but then became aware of the wetness on her cheeks.

"That's why I decided to wake you. Are you okay?"

"I'm fine," she told him before throwing her feet over the side of the bed. "Are we late?"

"Not yet. Take your time."

"Thanks."

He smiled again, and left her to her own devices.

Guilt, she silently told her pale reflection as she looked in the mirror. Of course it would surface now, once she was pregnant. If things had turned out differently, it might be Scully standing here in Mulder's room, looking at her pregnant silhouette. They hadn't and it wasn't.

After reminding herself that she'd done everything she could to save the other woman, Reyes finally calmed down enough to pick out something to wear. Some day she thought she might believe that it wasn't her fault.




November 28th, 2002

Although it was only nine, a few fresh poinsettias set around graves he drove by told Mulder that he wasn't the only one out and about on Thanksgiving morning. At that moment, however, he and William were the only ones around the cemetery, at least as far as Mulder could see from the car within the vast sea of peaceful dead.

Reyes had offered to come with him, but her eyes had told him that she was only being nice, so he'd suggested that she'd be better off resting before the gunmen arrived for dinner. He couldn't quite pinpoint the moment where the meal the year before had morphed from an event to a tradition, but it had seemed as natural as breathing to invite them over again. Though he had to wonder what his friends would think if they'd heard Monica's declaration that she'd try to find them "nice girls" within the coming year. It didn't seem quite fair to the nice girls, in his opinion, but he hadn't said anything. He'd let her enjoy the illusion for a while, at least until she spent enough time with the boys to realize the folly of her conviction.

"We're here, Bub," Mulder told his son as they pulled up near Scully's grave. It didn't take him very long to unbuckle William from his car seat. Once he was on his feet William began to toddle aimlessly, but Mulder's hand reined him in. "This way."

"Okay," William agreed, and more or less walked in the direction Mulder led him in.

For Thanksgiving morning, it was fairly warm. Not balmy, but there wasn't an icy wind. A slight breeze picked at the potted evergreen in Mulder's grip. He'd thought of a poinsettia too, but he knew they were poisonous to cats, so they probably weren't safe from inquisitive eighteen-month-olds either. Eventually Mulder stopped in front of the granite marker that bore Scully's name.

William looked up at him. "Here?" To his perspective, one gravestone was probably much like another, considering he couldn't read the labels.

"Yup, right here, Will," Mulder said, kneeling down to put the pot on the grave. Frowning, he picked it up again. The striped plastic wrapper looked festive now, but he'd seen the weather's effects on packaging like that. It might break his heart if he came in a few months and noticed that the red stripes had faded to pink. Once he'd peeled it off the pot, he balled it up and put it in his pocket. "That's better."

His son sat down on the dead grass. It made Mulder wince a little, since he was sitting directly on the grave. He fought back the urge to move him. "So, this is where Mommy is now, Will. Someday you'll understand more, but this is where we can visit her."

William didn't even look up at him. Instead his gaze was fixed on the stuffed bunny he'd insisted on bringing with them from the car.

Satisfied that he was occupied for the moment, Mulder relaxed. "Hey Scully, happy Thanksgiving. William and I are doing pretty well. I told you that Monica and I got married, and that Will's going to have a little brother or sister. So far the doctors are saying that the baby looks really healthy. Three more months to go, now."

He paused and looked over at William. The little boy was thumping his bunny on the ground, and looked quite content to listen to his father talk to someone he couldn't see.

"We miss you, Scully. Oh God. If you could only see how big Will's getting... he's beginning to look even more like you. I hope he'd be taller than you, though. Your little feet never really did seem to reach the pedals...

"He's smart too, but I guess he gets that from me." Mulder's mouth curled into a smile. "Kidding. Neither of us are dummies, so I guess it's natural. His doctor says that he understands and uses language that's pretty advanced for such a young child. I bet he's going to be good in school too. I know I always was. The only year I had any trouble was the one Samantha went missing."

William dropped the bunny on Mulder's lap and grinned at him. Once Mulder threw it back he laughed.

"Have you... have you seen her? I want to believe that you ended up in the same place. She was just and innocent little girl, and you... a person would have to look far and wide to find another woman as good as you. I think Monica is, though. How lucky am I? Two great women stumbled into my life, and I didn't manage to scare either of you off. I've gotten off track now, though. If you do see Sam, tell her that I love her? I know I don't even have to ask. The thought of death is scary for everyone, but I know that when my time comes, I'll see you both again. That makes it a little easier." Mulder got up from his crouch. "Love you, Scully."

He picked up William's bunny and took the boy's hand. Before he could lead him back to the car, the little boy ran forward. Reaching out one chubby hand, he patted the gravestone. "Mommy."

"That's right," Mulder told him. He blamed it on getting dust in his eyes, but they had suddenly smarted with unshed tears. "This is where Mommy stays."

Someday his son would be old enough to wonder why, but at the moment his simple acceptance broke Mulder's heart.




November 30th, 2002

As a timer went off, Mulder hurried towards the stove. Reyes gave him a gentle push. "Mulder! I'm trying to make cookies!"

"I know, I just thought-" Mulder turned slightly red. "I didn't know if you'd be able to get the stove open okay, considering."

"Considering you think I'm getting as big as a house?" Reyes asked archly.

"Of course not! I uh, remember you saying your back has been aching today," he said quickly.

She bought that. Almost. Still, it was fun to gently tease him. "I can do it fine. Watch." She deftly opened the oven door and pulled out a tray of sugar cookies. "Fat people can use the oven without getting in their own way too, you know. You should spend some time watching the cooking channel."

"I'd rather die." Mulder's tone implied that he was serious.

"Okay... These won't be cool enough to eat for twenty minutes."

"Are you going to decorate them with icing?" It amused her to notice an excited gleam in his eyes. "My mom used to let me help her do that."

"If you want to decorate them, knock yourself out. I'm fine with them either way."

"Good, I think I can find an icing recipe on the internet." He smirked at her. "I can make it myself, before you ask."

"I assumed," Reyes said, but she still looked amused.

William toddled in just then and tugged on Mulder's hand. "Play, Daddy!"

"You heard him," Reyes said. "I'll look up a recipe for you."

"Great," Mulder called over his shoulder as he allowed himself to be pulled away. "It's called royal icing."

It didn't take Reyes very long to be completely overwhelmed by the sheer number of icing recipes. At first she thought it was merely 800,000 copies of the same recipe on different sites, but clicking a few links showed that they were variants. She was on the verge of admitting defeat when a knock on the door provided a welcome distraction.

At least it was pleasant until she actually opened the door and saw William's grandmother standing there. "Uh...Mrs. Scully, what an unexpected pleasure." Reyes' cheeks flamed when the older woman's eyes zeroed in on what used to be her waist.

"Hello, dear. I came to DC to do some Christmas shopping with some old friends, and I thought I should visit my little grandson. But if now is a bad time..."

"No, of course not. Please come in. Mulder and Will are in the baby's room."

The older woman raised her eyebrows, but didn't ask which baby. Reyes reached William's room first, and stuck her head in. "Mulder, Will's grandmother is here to see him."

Mulder swung a surprised face towards the door. "Maggie. How have you been?"

"Quite well, Fox." To his further surprise, she got down on the floor amongst the baby toys. "Hi sweetie, do you remember me?"

At first William looked uncertain, but then he solemnly handed her one of the plastic rings from his stacking toy. "Like this?" she asked him as she carefully placed the ring on the cone. William grinned at her.

"You've had a lot of practice with toddler toys, I see," Mulder noted as William placed the next smallest ring.

Then he realized that Maggie's eyes were on another ring - the one on his finger.

"I think you and I have some catching up to do too, Fox," she said mildly.

"I meant to write to you..." It was Mulder's turn to have roses bloom in his cheeks.

"The wedding ring is hard to miss, and you can correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't think Monica has just developed a weight problem."

He kept his eyes guiltily downcast. "Monica is due the first week of February."

"Good for you." Maggie startled him by patting him on the back.

"You're not mad?"

"Mad? Of course not. I recall advising you that a lot of couples begin as friends."

"I thought you were just being... I don't know," Mulder trailed off lamely.

"Nice?" Maggie Scully raised an eyebrow, which keenly reminded Mulder of her daughter. "Trying to make myself less guilty for not being around much?"

It took all Mulder could do not to wince, since he could recall suggesting just that to Reyes nearly a year earlier. "Maybe."

"I wasn't being nice, though perhaps there's a grain of truth concerning guilt. But what I wanted is what I see right this minute, Fox. You and William both look content. So does Monica." She put her hand on his shoulder. "You look like you belong together."

"We do," Mulder said firmly.

"I know." Maggie's smile suggested that she'd known it long before they did. "So what do you say to letting an old woman take a lovely young family out to dinner tonight?"

"We're not so young," Mulder corrected. "But it sounds like fun. Let me ask Monica if she's up to it."

"You do that," Maggie told him.

It didn't take Mulder much convincing before he got Reyes to agree to the outing. On the way out Mulder eyed the cookies and thought they'd make a great dessert once they got home.




December 2nd, 2002

"It's starting to look a lot like Christmas, everywhere you go..." The loud, if slightly tinny music had a point, Reyes decided. The customary floral arrangements through the mall were temporarily replaced with potted Christmas trees that were festooned with tiny twinkling lights.

"Geen." William pointed at the trees as Mulder pushed his carriage. Reyes had wanted Mulder to correct his pronunciation, but he insisted that it couldn't hurt to let him say it that way for a while. And it was cute.

"That's right," Reyes told him. "But what color is that star?" Her index finger indicated the gaudy thing atop the nearest tree.

"Lello!" William crowed, clapping for himself.

A long line came into view. Many parents and small children were fidgeting while they neared the candy cane'd village that represented the north pole.

Mulder smiled down at his son. "We're going to see Santa, Will! Isn't that exciting?"

From the way William craned his neck and looked around uncertainly, Reyes doubted that he was excited. In fact, he looked sort of scared. She decided not to tell Mulder since it was possible that she was wrong.

Mulder nudged her with an elbow and whispered in her ear. "Does it make me a bad person to think that Will is the cutest kid here?"

"You're his dad, you're supposed to think that." Privately she did think that William was the least goofily dressed child there. Most of the little girls wore velvet and lace dresses, and looked uncomfortable in them. The little boys wore garish red and green two-piece outfits. William, on the other hand wore a blue sweater adorned with a single snowflake, and brown corduroy slacks. And the fact that Mulder had let his son's hair grow long enough to curl under at the ends only made him look more endearing.

William surprised them by going to Santa and settling on his lap without protest. He just eyed his parents who stood not far away behind a miniature fence meant to corral anxious adults while pictures were taken. All was well up until the moment that the photo was actually taken. The flash of the camera must have him startled, became his face immediately crumpled. Within seconds his face was awash in tears. Holding out his arms, he began to whimper. "Moni! Moni!"

After exchanging a look with Mulder, Reyes pushed her way forward, nearly tripping over the fence, and the faux Santa held her stepson out to her. "Uh oh," Santa said cheerfully. "I guess we'll have to hope that one take came out well."

"Thanks," Reyes told him. As soon as she awkwardly settled William on her hip, he buried his face against her shoulder. "Sorry about this."

Santa waved dismissively. "This happens twenty times a day. And every single one of them wants their mommies."

"Yeah..." Reyes found herself smiling. "Kids are like that."

"Let me guess, this little guy here is the firstborn, right? Your hubby looks anxious enough for it."

"Yes, Will's our first," Reyes agreed. She wondered if Santa was always this talkative.

"Don't worry. By the time the next one is this big, you'll feel old hat at parenting." Santa gave her a sly smile. "At least when it comes to babies and toddlers. You folks have a great holiday."

"You too, Santa."

By the time she and William rejoined Mulder a person dressed as an elf had already brought Mulder the picture. He was looking at it with a pleased expression. "What do you think, Monica? I don't think this came out half bad."

The photo must have been snapped just before William decided that he didn't trust the jolly old elf. His little face wore a curious but not yet distressed expression.

Reyes handed it back. "He's adorable. As usual."

"Isn't he? Our boy is going to be a heartbreaker when he gets older."

"Not much older, I bet," Reyes predicted. "Little girls will follow him around in kindergarten."

"I remember that." Mulder's eyes had a distant cast, as if he were actually remembering being chased around by five-year-old classmates. It made Reyes smiled. After a few seconds, he returned to earth. "What do you want to do next?"

She looked around at the nearest stores, then pointed at one of the seasonal ones. "We didn't do much for Christmas last year because we knew that we'd be going to the Scullys. I think we could use a few new ornaments."

"And a tree." Mulder looked up at her as he buckled William back into his stroller.

"Well sure, but I don't think we're going to find one of those in the mall, Mulder."

"What do you mean? There are trees all over the place." He waved a hand to indicate the gaudily decorated trees that were a permanent fixture in the mall at that time of the year.

"I meant ones for sale!"

"You didn't say that."

"But you knew- Unless you planned to steal one, you knew what I meant."

"Maybe I meant to steal one."

"Why? Missing being on TV? Stealing one would get you on the news."

"Missing being on TV?" He shot her a puzzled look.

"Oh. I caught part of that Cops episode a few nights ago. I'm surprised that you and Scully didn't get fired over that."

He shook his head. "They told her that the FBI has nothing to hide, so how could they have fired us for hiding nothing?"

She reached up and placed her hand on his forehead. "Are you feeling okay? You just indicated that you think that the bureau operates rationally."

"Ha. I was being ironic."

"Right. Let's try The Christmas Barn first," she said, leading the way through the crowds.

"Barn? You know, my mother once said she'd never buy anything from The Dress Barn because it seemed so low brow."

"I think I would have liked to meet your mom."

"I don't think you would have liked her."

"I'm pretty sure that I didn't say I thought I would. It just would have been nice to meet the person who raised you."

Mulder gave her a considering look. What would his mother thought of his wife, he wondered. She'd never warmed to Scully, but it might have been the fact that both women were reserved. Would she have accepted Monica for her openness, or have been utterly repelled by it? "That would have been interesting," he said at last.

"I'm sure." Reyes glanced down William and around at the store. There were fragile ornaments everywhere you looked. "Maybe we ought to have brought some duct tape with us."

"For what?" Mulder asked, obviously distracted by the shiny display he was looking at.

"To keep Will from breaking anything."

"You're worrying for no-" Mulder bit off his placating words when he had to dive for a box that William had managed to pull off a low shelf. "Monica, maybe we should go to hallmark instead. The ornaments they sell seem a little...sturdier."

"True. But I like those angels over there," she said, pointing at a display a few feet away.

"I don't know..." Mulder gave them a doubtful look.

"We can put them on the top of the tree." When he still looked doubtful, she began to laugh.

"What?"

"He's not a kitten. He's not going to climb the tree."

The look Mulder gave his son suggested that he wouldn't put it past him. "Well, okay. He wouldn't. Not this year."

"Ha. And if he does next year, you can tape it for America's Funniest Home Videos."

Mulder wheeled the stroller out while Reyes made her purchase. To kill time he daydreamed about what Bob Saget, or whoever the current host was, would have to say about William scaling a tree.

End Act Two




Act Three: Etch-A-Sketch Shake

Chapter Twenty-Six

December 4th 2002

The church bells in town
Christmas
They're ringin' a song
Christmas
What a happy sound
Christmas

Less than 48 hours later the smell of fresh pine filled the apartment. Mulder thought it had better, considering the trouble he'd had getting the tree into his car. Reyes had offered to help, but he wouldn't think of making a woman almost seven months pregnant help manhandle something that large into the vehicle. In the end he'd asked her to stay home with William the night before, which had allowed him to swear at the tree in private when a branch had escaped from the netting it was wrapped in and tried to skewer his right eye.

Thinking about the narrow miss again, for a second he was tempted to thwap the tree in retaliation, but he noticed that Reyes was smiling at him. He let his hand drop and suspiciously wondered not for the first time if she could somehow read his mind. He almost began to explain his action, but her voice stopped him.

"This really is a lovely tree, Mulder. Look how full the branches are!"

"Yeah," he sheepishly agreed. "Can you hand me the next box of lights?" So far he'd managed to string lights on half of the tree. Bill Mulder had insisted that it was the man's duty to put the lights on the tree, so when his wife hadn't volunteered he'd assumed the traditional role.

"This used to be my Dad's job too," he commented. "Mom used to yell at him when he swore while Samantha and I were in the room."

"You're showing more restraint." Her eyes twinkled as she said it.

"Ah, but these lights are fresh out of their boxes. The ones he usually worked with were tangled in balls like they were the play things of giant kittens, and then inevitably some of them wouldn't light because bulbs were burned out."

"I hope he figured that out before putting them on the tree."

"Sometimes," Mulder told her, and grinned when she covered her mouth and laughed.

He and his sister had thought it was pretty funny on the occasions when Bill had skillfully draped the lights, and plugged them in only to find that half of the strands stayed dark. Back before things got too bad, he sometimes had thought it was funny too.

Two holiday CDs later, the vast majority of the ornaments were on the tree. A few were relics of their childhoods, but most were brand new. Like the one Reyes handed him last, after he'd put up the glass ornaments she'd bought at the mall on the highest branches.

"This one should go up high too, please."

"No problem." Before he hung it, Mulder took a good look at it. It was a slightly 3-D trio of snowmen. One very small, and two larger. In fancy script it said "Mulder, Monica and William 2002" in the snow below the snowmen's bottom balls. The small family of snowmen looked happy.

"What are you doing?" Reyes asked, making him look down because the question hadn't be directed at him.

William had been "helping" by haphazardly placing wooden ornaments on the lowest branches of the tree, but now he was lying on his back with his head under the branches. He pointed a small finger upwards. "Pretty lights."

"Watch this," Mulder told him before flipping off the living room lights.

"Wow," William remarked before putting his thumb in his mouth.

There was something magical about Christmas lights, Mulder decided. Part of you was transported back to the first time you saw them. Footed pajamas and all.

Reyes must have been thinking something similar because she sighed and said, "The first thing I remember about Christmas is my mother letting me help paint ornaments. I was so small that I was in a high chair to do it. Next year we should do that with William."

"Yeah," Mulder agreed and put his arm around her. "We definitely should make it a tradition."




3 a.m.

A frantic knocking on the door roused Mulder from a sound sleep. He groaned and rolled over, immediately noticing that Reyes wasn't in bed. Feeling a little guilty, he wondered if William or her bladder had woken her. The faint sound of the toilet flushing gave him his answer.

Mulder yawned as he stumbled to the door. It was three a.m. who could need him at that time of night? It was never a good sign, so his heart began to thump noisily behind his ribs. Belatedly, he wondered if he ought to have gotten his gun.

If he had, it would have dropped from his nerveless fingers as soon as he opened the door.

"Scully!" His voice came out as little more than a squeak. She looked bewildered, and was trembling. He probably was too." I...I don't understand You're dead."

"No," her teeth chattered as she denied it. She had no coat on and her shirt was dusted with snow. She must be freezing. Still, he didn't move aside to let her in. He wasn't sure she was real. It was December, after all, wasn't it a season for a Dickens haunting?

"Mulder, what's going on?" Reyes' voice was soft and sleepy, but she looked alert when she reached his side. "Dana!"

"Why do you use my name? I don't know you!" Scully's eyes were wild, panicked, just like the night they stuck in that haunted house so many Christmases ago.

Mulder stepped back finally letting her in, not that she went in readily. At least she was real, if Reyes could see her too. "You've met Monica before, Scully. You met her before I did," he said carefully. "When I was missing the last time."

Her look was one of disbelief and suspicion. "I never met her, and the only time you were missing was when you and Krycek got captured in Russia."

"That was a million years ago!" Mulder exclaimed.

"Not to me."

Reyes looked bewildered still; Mulder knew how she felt. "We obviously have our wires crossed somehow. Let's go sit down and talk about this," Mulder suggested. Some disassociated part of him marveled at how calm his voice sounded, since his heart still felt like a frantic animal trapped in his rib cage.

He and Reyes sat on the couch and Scully slumped into an armchair. Once Reyes folded her hands on her belly, Scully seemed to realize her condition. "Now I know why Skinner wanted me to stay and talk...but I made him give me your address and let me go."

Skinner knows something, Mulder thought with a measure of relief. "Let's start at the beginning. What's the last thing you remember?"

"The last time I saw you was after I'd been stung by a bee in you hallway." Noticing his stunned look, she went on. "You look surprised, so when's the last time you think you saw me?"

He ignored her implication that it was his memory that was faulty - the fact that she couldn't remember anything beyond that night four years ago was deeply troubling. "The last time I saw you was when you died. Right after William arrived."

Scully nodded grimly. "Who is William, and where did he arrive from?"

As if on cue, a piercing cry came over the baby monitor on the coffee table. "I'll get him," Reyes said quickly, leaning on Mulder to get up.

Scully watched impassively as Reyes shuffled off. "Skinner could have warned me that you'd gotten married and had a baby with her, with another on the way. Not that I'm upset that you have a personal life, mind you, but an update on your life might have been nice. I would have come by in the morning if I'd known you have a little kid."

"Scully...William isn't Monica's son-"

The sound of the phone was jarring. Set to take a message after the first ring, Skinner's voice over the answering machine filled the room two seconds later. "Mulder, I'm sorry to call so late, but-"

"Sir, I assume you're calling about Scully," Mulder mumbled as he hurried with the cordless phone into the kitchen. He was too stressed to worry about Scully thinking him rude to leave her sitting alone.

Skinner sighed. "She's already there?"

"Yes. And I want to know what's going on. Why is my dead partner sitting in my living room, with no memory of having seen me since 1998? She has no idea who William is! How am I supposed to explain that to her?" Mulder raked a hand through his hair as he spoke in an agitated whisper.

"I don't know too much about what has happened-"

"If you know anything you've got one up one me."

"Earlier tonight I got an anonymous call saying that they had agent Scully and they were willing to hand her over to me. Of course I protested that Scully was dead. They assured me that she wasn't and put her on the phone long enough to say my name. Then they repeated the offer. I asked what the catch was - I was assured there were no strings attached."

"Didn't you suspect that it was a trap?"

"Of course I did." Skinner sighed. "We buried her, after all. But I couldn't take the chance it wasn't. We buried you once too- When I got to the address I was given there was no building. Just an old fashion phone booth. And Scully. As soon as she saw me she demanded to know where you were. I told her that you were fine but she should wait until tomorrow to see you. That made her frantic and she said she was going to go to your apartment as soon as she could get a cab. Trying to defuse the idea I told her that you had moved, which was a bad idea. She begged for the address then cried until I gave in."

"Jesus," Mulder breathed. "If this is Scully, who did we bury?"

"I'm giving the order to exhume her grave later in the morning. First we'll see if there's body in if still. And if so find out whose. We'll know more then, Mulder. I'm going to come for Scully now and bring her to a hotel. I'm only about three blocks away."

"Thank you, Sir."

Mulder's head ached and he stared at the woman sitting on the couch without her noticing. She looked just like he remembered, but he wasn't sure if it really was her, and not some elaborate shared hallucination. It really was Scully or it wasn't. Either way he didn't know how to feel.




"Sorry about that," Mulder apologized as he rejoined Scully in the living room. His eyes caught sight of the half-decorated tree that he'd brought home the night before. There were a few wooden ornaments haphazardly on the bottom - William's contribution towards trimming the tree.

"Busy night for you," Scully remarked as he hung up the phone.

"Busier than most," Mulder agreed. He paused, listening to Reyes speak softly to his son over the baby monitor. He didn't blame her for hiding, he wished he could avoid the situation too.

Skinner must have been speeding, because he arrived only a couple of minutes later. Mulder bolted from his seat in an undignified rush to answer his knock.

"Thank God," Mulder muttered as he opened the door to let the other man in.

"Have you told her about William yet?" Skinner kept his voice low, and Mulder responded only with a brief shake of his head. "I think it should be sooner than later."

"All right, I'll get him now."

After a couple of moments of coaxing, Mulder convinced Reyes to go back into the living room. He thought that the fact that Skinner was there was the only reason she gave in.

William was wide-awake and seemed delighted to have his father's attention - the thought that his son may have inherited his insomnia crossed his mind. Mulder had intended to carry William into the living room, but the toddler had other ideas so he led him by the hand instead.

Scully was talking to Skinner and Reyes when they came in. "Monica is one of the agents to have joined the X-Files over the past two years. John Doggett is the other," Skinner said carefully, obviously hoping that mentioning Doggett's name would prompt a reaction from her. If so, he was disappointed.

"You're an agent too? For some reason I'm surprised," Scully told Mulder's wife in a politely disinterested tone.

Mulder took a deep breath and spoke up. "Scully? This is William."

She glanced down at the child with no air of recognition. "Your son. I didn't know you had redheads in your family too." She glanced at Reyes, and then looked back at Mulder. "I guess he favors you except for the hair and eyes."

Mulder shot Skinner a helpless look. The AD cleared his throat and turned to Scully with a gentle look. "Actually, he favors you." He paused long enough to let that sink in. "William is your son, Dana."

The wild look returned to Scully's eyes and her hand covered her mouth. "Like Emily?" She gasped from behind her fingers.

Mulder felt a pang of relief when he understood her horror. "No, not like that. He's fully human. Ours. Um...you died giving birth to him a year and a half ago. Or so we thought."

A familiar look crossed her features - her 'you're crazy Mulder' expression. "You're mistaken somehow. I can't have children. You know that, Mulder."

"There are miracles every day," he said quietly.

"Not for me." The flat look in her eyes made something cold slithered in the pit of his stomach.

The all but forgotten subject of their conversation pulled his hand out of Mulder's and popped his thumb into his mouth before climbing up on the couch next to Reyes. Mulder had seen his son do the very same thing so many times, but he'd never done so with Scully's reaction in mind before.

Scully watched this, and he was nearly able to predict the next words that came out of her mouth. "Even if there was the remote possibility that this child is mine, it's quite obvious that he doesn't need another mother."

"Scully." Mulder meant to say something that would make things better but her name was the only word that would come out.




Reyes shifted on the couch as William settled for cuddling up against her when he realized - again - that there was no room for him on her lap; he seemed to think her swollen waist was going to suddenly disappear at his convenience.

Conscious of Scully's stare, Reyes turned to address the other woman. "When you first got here you said that the last time you saw Mulder was after you were stung by a bee. Is that the last thing you remember at all?"

"Of course not," Scully snapped, apparently realizing that they thought she was suffering from severe memory loss. "I remember the last four years quite clearly, thank you very much."

"Then what do you remember happening after you last saw Mulder?" Skinner asked.

"I was loaded into an ambulance, then driven to some building in the middle of nowhere. Someone administered a shot from a bee sting kit and explained that many otherwise unallergic people were sensitive to a new sort of honey bee they'd bred for increased honey production traits."

"And then?" Mulder asked impatiently.

"And then I was informed that I was a 'guest' and would be staying there indefinitely. Indefinitely turned out to be four years."

"But that's not what happened." He protested. "They injected you with the black oil. Or not exactly injected, since the bees carried it. As soon as I recovered from being shot - again - Skinner and the gunmen helped me to escape from the hospital. Soon after the well-manicured man gave me the coordinates to where you were being held. In Antarctica. You, and a lot of other people were in pods, intended to be hosts for the virus. Unfortunately the rest of them were dead. It was only after I got you out of there, we saw that it was a spacecraft-" He broke off in frustration. "Dammit, you don't remember any of this! I can see that in your eyes."

"I can't remember something that never happened," she said with a shrug.

Mulder and Skinner both gave her dumbfounded looks.

"It did happen," Mulder said slowly.

Scully shrugged. "Not to me. I haven't seen you in four years, I was never pregnant, and I certainly never gave birth."

"What are you suggesting?" Mulder asked in a choked voice. "That the woman I worked with for three years, then mourned for another year and a half was a stranger?"

She shrugged again. "Your guess is as good as mine."

Before Mulder could say anything else, Skinner spoke up. "Perhaps the exhumation tomorrow will shed some light on the situation." He stood up and reached for his coat. "It's late. Come on, Scully, I'll bring you to the hotel."

She got up without a word, and two minutes later she and Skinner were gone.

Mulder realized that he was still shaking.




Reyes got up without a word and sat William on his father's lap. Then she went into the kitchen and filled a pot with water and rummaged through a cabinet for coco mix. She was adjusting the flame under the pot when she heard Mulder's voice behind her. "Are we okay?"

Not are you okay, but we, she thought to herself. Looking up she saw that he had William on his hip and the unwelcome thought that he was her stepson passed through her mind. What if...what if Dana wanted William back?

Wanted them both back?

Trying not to cry, she looked him in the eyes. "I don't know, Mulder. Are we okay?"

In one fluid motion he put William in his high chair and reached her side. Wrapping his arms around her, he whispered into her hair. "I love you. You know that."

"Yeah," she agreed, but the doubts were still clamoring to be heard. "I love you too. Both of you."

When he pulled away from her, he was wearing a tired smile. "She doesn't even remember William. I doubt she's going to want to take him away from us. And if she does, well, she'll have on hell of a fight on her hands."

Right then he managed to run a sword through many of her doubts. He hadn't seen Scully and began mentally packing his bags to run away with the real love of his life.

"Mulder, the water's beginning to boil," she told him a couple of minutes later when he'd made no move to let her go.

"Let it boil."

"Mulder-"

He finally stepped away and got mugs. "At least we won't be visited by three more ghosts tonight."

"What?" Reyes shot him a confused look.

Mulder flipped his palms up. "It's like A Christmas Carol, is all."

Coco was in their mugs before she answered him. "You think she's a ghost?"

"I don't know what to think."

That was all right with her. She wasn't sure what to think either.





Chapter Twenty-Seven

When he tried to go to sleep again an hour later, Mulder still didn't know what to make of Scully's return. It had only been days since he spoke to her at her grave, but then he had no illusions that his words would ever be heard by her again. The fact that they might made him feel like he had been dropped headfirst into a work of science fiction.

His wife had seemed as shaken by Scully's unexpected return as he was, but Reyes was already deeply asleep. Mulder spooned against her, draping one arm over her belly. Even the baby seemed to be asleep in the womb. It made him feel lonely, and he almost gave into the temptation to wake up William just so he could have someone to talk to.

Instead, because everyone else deserved to sleep even if he couldn't, he used the time to try and sort through what had happened. It couldn't be Scully. Not really. The woman he'd spent three out of the past four and a half years working closely with, trusting above everyone else, the one he'd fallen in love with and had a child with, was dead.

She had to be. There was no way that the wide-eyed woman that had knocked on the door tonight was the woman that he'd been grieving over for the past nineteen months. The woman he'd loved wouldn't have looked through William like he wasn't there. Not after the way she'd instantly taken to Emily years ago.

It couldn't be the real Scully.




8:30 a.m.

The sound of Mulder talking on the phone was the first thing that Reyes was aware of when she opened her eyes. Her gaze traveled to the clock. At first she was confused that their alarm hadn't gone off, and assumed Mulder was calling in to explain their lateness. Perhaps there had been a power failure, she thought drowsily.

It seemed plausible until Mulder's raised voice brought the events of the night before back in sickening clarity, "What do you mean I can't be there when they do the exhumation?!"

His outrage was apparent, even from the next room. Curling on her side, Reyes wished that the night before had all been a nightmare of some sort. How could it be true? Dead women didn't come home out of the blue and disrupt everyone's lives. The thought immediately made her feel guilty. It wasn't as though Scully had purposely disrupted anything. Alone and scared she had naturally turned to Mulder, and had no idea what sort of effect that might have on him. Or anyone else.

A few seconds later she heard the phone being slammed down, and took it as her cue to get up. "Hey," she greeted him cautiously. She didn't know what to do with her hands, so she thrust them into the pockets of her robe.

He ran his hands down his face, a measure of how distraught he was. "I just got off the phone with Skinner. Apparently he thinks it's too distressing for us to be at the exhumation, so we're supposed to wait at home like obedient children until it's all over."

"You wanted me to come too?" she blurted out before thinking better of it.

"Well, if you weren't up to it, no, but I supposed we'd go together."

"I would have gone, but I wasn't sure you'd want me there," she confessed.

And he immediately took it the wrong way. "Why? I thought you were mostly over getting sick to your stomach at strong smells."

She just stared at him.

"What?"

"Nothing."

"Okay... Since we're being held prisoner, I thought I'd cut us pieces of that danish we bought last night."

"That sounds good," she agreed mechanically.

They didn't say much as they ate their late breakfast, but William made up for it by being delighted by having "umm cake" as a treat. Reyes tried to let herself be immersed in her stepson's joy at the unexpected, but every time she looked at him, she wondered what would be found when they dug up his mother.




"How long can this possibly take?" Mulder gripped mid-morning.

They'd been waiting, first patiently, then increasingly less so, for what seemed like an eternity.

"I don't know. They'd use a backhoe, wouldn't they?" Reyes asked, imagining that they would take much longer to dig the dead woman up if they'd gone the old-fashioned shovel route. "It would be silly to literally dig the casket up, unless they were afraid of damaging it. What was it made from anyway?"

"One of the funeral director's selling points was that it would weather an eternity underground, so I doubt it's deteriorated in just over a year and a half."

"Yeah. They don't bury folks in the traditional pine box any more, do they?" Reyes found herself rambling, but was powerless to stop.

Mulder didn't seem to have the ability to rein the conversation in either. "They still sell pine boxes, believe it or not. For a few thousand, I could have had Scully put to rest in a polished pine box stamped with a pine tree."

"It's shameless how they prey on people who are grieving."

"Tell me-"

Mulder's comment was cut off when he dove at the phone. A terse Skinner asked them to meet him at his office, and refused to answer any questions. They got William dressed and headed out in record time.




"There's nothing in the coffin," Skinner reported mid-morning.

Mulder ran a hand down his face. "That's not possible. The casket was open until less than an hour before the funeral."

"There's evidence that the coffin had been occupied at one time, but they haven't been able to determine how long ago the body had been removed."

"It doesn't make any sense."

Skinner's voice was quiet. "Mulder...Have you given any thoughts to there having been a clone? It would explain the lack of remains in the coffin."

"No," Mulder said, even as his memory summoned up the image of Emily's sand-filled casket. Scully had bled in front of him many times. It would have taken an astonishing level of duplicity to fake that every time she was injured.

"It's an explanation that we have to consider. We know from your dealings with the Kurt Crawfords that the technology to create rapidly-aged hybrids-"

"No." Mulder allowed his voice to be flat.

"We've never had a reason to suspect that, so naturally we thought it was the Scully we knew."

"Exactly, we never had a reason!" Mulder retorted. "There must be another explanation. Maybe she just seemed dead like I did. For all we know they could have drugged her while she was in labor, Reyes said they were there... Then, since they knew that she wasn't dead they waited until after the funeral to dig her up."

"And her memories of the last four years?" Skinner asked, patience wearing thin.

"Brain-washing."

"It might have happened that way," Skinner replied, unable to keep doubt out of his voice. "We'll know more when Scully's DNA tests come back. We have tests she did a couple of years ago on file still."

"All right. Do the test," Mulder had agreed with something Skinner said at last. But he didn't think it would shed the light that his boss seemed to be counting on. "Where's Scully right now?"

"She's at the doctor's office, having blood drawn, and getting a cheek swab done," Skinner explained patiently.

"You sent her alone?" Reyes asked, feeling vaguely horrified by that for reasons she couldn't quite put her finger on. "Shouldn't someone have gone with her, to make sure she got there all right?"

"For God's sake, she's an adult!" Skinner snapped. "You sound like you would if it had been William I'd sent off alone."

"We're talking about someone who has no memories of the past four years," Reyes calmly replied. "How much has this city changed over that timeframe?"

How much have we? Mulder wondered then, but didn't say aloud.

Skinner's anger faded away into concern. "It's not too far. I'm sure she can get there and back okay."

"I hope you're right." Mulder looked unconvinced.

It came as little surprise when Scully soon called, and told them she was lost. What did surprise Mulder and Skinner, however, was that Reyes volunteered to go get her. "She doesn't know me, so it will be less embarrassing for her." She'd explained before heading out the door.

Mulder watched her go, and wondered if it was true. Was the woman his wife was going to pick up likely to be embarrassed before any of them? She seemed like a stranger to him, didn't he seem like one to her as well?




Aware that his pacing was bothering Skinner, Mulder eventually had wandered down to the basement. Doggett was bent over his computer screen, and for a moment Mulder felt bad that neither he nor Reyes were officially in for the day - the only man left looked lonely.

Perhaps William thought so too, because he was soon cheerfully greeting his parents' friend. "Hey."

"Hi, Kiddo." John smiled at him before looking up at Mulder. "I guess you've come in to talk to Skinner. Where's Monica?"

"Scully got a little lost on her way home, so she volunteered to go get her."

"Wow."

"What?" Mulder asked. He'd been busy pulling a couple toys out of his desk to occupy William, and hadn't seen the other man's face.

"I don't know." Doggett shrugged. "She's just taking it better than I thought she would."

"Which she?"

"Monica, of course. Skinner told me that Scully showed up at your house this morning. I'm surprised that she didn't freak out."

"You think the odds of her having freaked out where greater than mine?" Mulder asked, surprised.

"Nah, not greater. Just different," Doggett clarified. "You are probably freaking out because Scully's back from the dead after more than a year and a half. On the other hand, the thought of Monica running away with Dana has probably never crossed your mind. I'm sure it has hers."

Mulder briefly considered teasing Doggett about why he'd think his wife would want to run away with his ex, but the joke is never made. "You really think she's worried that I'd leave her?"

Doggett's only reply was a long stare.

"I have no intention of leaving my pregnant wife for a woman who doesn't remember anything that happened between us after the summer of 1998!" Mulder said defensively. "How am I supposed to reassure Monica that?"

"You're not supposed to bring it up," Doggett said quickly. "If you do, then it sounds like it's something you've at least considered. She probably won't bring it up either, because she'll worry that it'll give you ideas or make her seem insecure."

He frowned. "I'm supposed to reassure her that I'm not going to leave her without either of us ever bringing the topic up? How the hell am I supposed to do that?"

"You'll think of something."

"Right."

"You didn't think marriage was going to be easy, did you?" Doggett asked innocently.

"I thought we'd have some disagreements, like what to name the baby, or where to send William to preschool. Not have to worry about my son's dead mother rematerializing," Mulder groused.

"Sucks. I guess you're one of those men who brings his work home with him now."

"You aren't making me feel better!"

"Who said I was trying to?"




Meanwhile...

When Reyes was seven, one of her classmates had gotten onto the wrong bus the first day of school. He'd spent the entire ride looking confused because he didn't recognize the neighborhood, and had eventually gotten off the bus at a stop, even though it didn't look like home to him.

Concerned by the terror on his face as the bus left him behind, Reyes had immediately reported this to her mother. And her mother had sent her and Paulo to get the little boy. A seven-year-old doesn't make the best navigator, so more than half an hour had passed between the time the boy had gotten off the bus and Paulo's beat up old car pulled onto the road where he had been left.

The dark-haired little boy had tears on his cheeks, and he stood there looking hopelessly down the road. It was clear that he was wishing for his parents to appear, but had nearly given up hope of rescue by the time Reyes' older brother coaxed him into giving him his address so he could be driven home.

She wasn't crying, but the expression on Scully's face was nearly identical when Reyes reached her. There was bench out under some trees, and she was sitting on it when Reyes parked the car in front of it.

"Oh. They sent you," Scully said listlessly when Reyes got out of the car and walked over to her.

"I'm Monica," Reyes reminded her.

"Right." There was a hollow look to her eyes. "I'm supposed to bring this to a lab, but I can't find the damn place."

When Reyes looked down, she saw that Scully was holding a vial of blood. "I'm surprised they don't have a courier to do that sort of thing."

"So am I. Apparently the HMO hasn't improved any in the last four years. They don't even have their own lab to process samples any more, and have contracted out to another company."

"I know." Reyes thought about her pregnancy test. "It's not very convenient."

"They gave me directions, but everything looks so different. I wish I hadn't insisted on walking, but they said it was in walking distance..." Scully trailed off, and looked angry. "How can so much have changed in such a short amount of time?"

Reyes was about to commiserate with her about how much the construction had changed everything, but she realized the Scully was looking right at her when she said it. Right at her stomach. Fire rushed to her cheeks.

"Come on, I'll bring you to the lab."

"Thank you," the other woman said mechanically before opening the passenger side door.

The ride to the lab was silent, as was their walk through the lab. Reyes led the way, and they were able to drop off the blood sample without any problems. It was only as they were walking back to the car that Scully spoke again.

"How long ago did you marry Mulder?"

"We got married on July 4th," Reyes told her, hoping that she wouldn't do the math.

"Because you had to, I suppose," Scully said emotionlessly. "I'm not surprised he is the type to immediately propose after a positive pregnancy test."

"It wasn't..." Reyes was too flustered to properly defend herself or her husband.

"At least these days you won't have to pretend that the baby is a month or two early. No one really expects people to wait any more." Scully gave her a sidelong glance. "I guess not having sex with your FBI partners is passé too."

"I don't care to continue this conversation," Reyes shot back coldly. It was on the tip of her tongue to tell her that she was a hypocrite since she'd done the exact same thing, right down to getting pregnant outside of wedlock, but she decided it wasn't worth it. The woman claimed to not have seen Mulder for four years, so it wouldn't mean anything to her.

"Fine."




Hoover Building

As soon as they stepped into the building, Scully was called away by Skinner. Reyes was glad see her go. It surprised you're, however to see Mulder and William standing in the lobby, apparently waiting for her. "I take it were not staying all day, then," she said, inclining her head in the direction of her young stepson.

"No. Skinner thought we should probably take the rest of the day off." He looked off in Scully's direction. "Did she say what happened?"

"She got lost trying to bring a blood sample to the lab."

"Did you see it? The blood sample," Mulder asked, shifting William's baby bag on one shoulder.

"Sure."

"What color was it?"

"What color was it, what kind of question is that?" Reyes looked at him incredulously. "It was blood-colored. What were you expecting, blue?"

"No. Maybe green."

"Green? why on earth would you think her blood was green?"

"Call it a hunch," Mulder said cryptically. He had every intention of filling her in on this theory, but standing in the lobby, not 15 feet away from Scully, was not the time or the place to do it.

"Right. I'm going to get the sweater I left here. Be right back."

"We'll be waiting," Mulder said cheerfully. Something had gone on between the two women, but he wasn't sure what yet. He hoped it was nothing to feed into the fear of being left that Doggett claimed she surely had. Maybe he could get Reyes to open up once they got home.




Skinner and Scully were in the middle of a conversation still, when Scully turned and looked right at them. Mulder smiled at her, but William hid behind Mulder's legs once he caught sight of her. His father intended to pick him up so he could say hi to his biological mother, but the little boy wrapped his arms around Mulder's legs. And Mulder could feel him trembling.

By the time he looked up again, Scully was gone, swallowed by the crowd that milled through the building. Eventually his son released his death grip on him, so Mulder was able to pick him up.

"Hey, what was that all about?" Mulder asked gently, turning the boy's chin towards him.

"Don't like her," William mumbled.

"How come?" Mulder asked, though he didn't expect an answer.

And he didn't get one.

"I guess you picked up on Dad and Monica's tension when she came by last night, huh?"

William didn't answer, but Mulder decided that must have been it.

Reyes returned with her sweater, and gave them an expectant look. "We're ready to leave, aren't we?"

"More than ready," Mulder told her. He took her elbow, and they threaded their way through the crowd without a backwards glance.




He waited until they had dinner in the oven before he asked what had happened. "Okay. I may not be the Stupendous Yappi, but I can tell that something is bothering you. Did Scully say... anything to upset you?"

She turned to look at him, one hand on her hip. "Are you the type of man who is ready to propose immediately after positive pregnancy test?"

"She didn't-"

"Oh yes. She also said that apparently not sleeping with your FBI partners now consider passé." Reyes eyes flashed. "The goddamn hypocrite."

"You didn't hit her, did you?" A small amount of worry seeped into his voice. On the other hand, he was also vaguely relieved that it had been that sort of cattiness, rather than the type to make her worry about the stability of their marriage.

"No!"

"Just checking. It's not as though she wouldn't have deserved it," he said mollifyingly.

"You're not going to defend her, and say that she's had a rough few days of it, everything changed on her, we should grant her some leeway?" Reyes asked expectantly.

Mulder shook his head. "If it was really Scully, I'd hope that we could help her adjust. But it can't really be her."

"You honestly don't think it's her?" Reyes asked, looking very surprised.

"I don't. For so many reasons," Mulder said firmly.

"Well, I guess we'll know in a few days when that blood test comes back."

"I guess we will."





Chapter Twenty-Eight


11:30 p.m.

Although Mulder didn't seem to have any trouble getting to sleep that night, Reyes tossed and turned, unable to get comfortable. Eventually her restlessness propelled her out of bed, and she found herself in the living room, staring at the phone. Even as she thought better of it, she dialed her mother's number.

A few seconds later Neva Reyes' sleepy voice answered. "Monica?"

"Hi, Mama...." Reyes already felt sheepish for disturbing her mother at that time of night. The difference in time zones made it a little earlier in Mexico City, but not much.

"What's wrong?" Neva asked patiently.

She was about to reflexively answer "nothing" but it wasn't true. Why was it her instinctive impulse, and that of a lot of other people as well, to automatically rebuff worried inquiries with denial that there was something wrong? There was probably a lot of secret pain caused by the inability to readily admit when things weren't right.

"Um... it... last night William's mother showed up at our door."

"You saw a ghost?" Neva's voice was full of surprise. "Just like those movies I keep watching!" This reminded her daughter of the horror movie she'd insisted on renting when she came to visit.

"No, she's not a ghost-" Reyes tried to explain.

"A zombie? A vampire?" Her mother's voice seemed to take a lurid interest.

"Mama! She's just a woman. A normal woman," Reyes told her.

"No. She is not normal. She is dead. You saw her die yourself."

"I thought I did..."

"And what does Zorro think?" Neva asked sharply.

"He doesn't think it's really her because she says she doesn't remember being with him the past four years. She doesn't even remember having William," Reyes told her. "They're doing a blood test to see if it's her."

"They check her DNA, yes?"

"Right."

"And what if it is her, what then?"

"I don't know. Right now I guess we're operating on the assumption that this woman isn't really William's mother." At least that's what Mulder believed and she didn't have reason to think otherwise herself.

"Hija, you should come home to me," Neva declared. "Just come home now."

"Mom, why?"

Her mother cut her off with a deep affected sigh. "Monica, you need to face reality. It will turn out to be her. How could it not? This is real life, not some movie where they can clone a dead person! As soon as he realizes that it's really her, he's going to go running back to her, and he'll take their son with him when he does. You won't have Zorro, you won't have William, you'll just have a baby to raise all alone, and a broken heart."

"You don't know that he'll leave me. Us," Reyes amended when the baby kicked, seemingly in retaliation for being left out of her statement.

"Of course I do. I'm old. And I've seen this sort of thing more than once."

Reyes doubted anyone had ever seen something quite like what she was going through, but it didn't seem worth arguing about.

"You can't fight human nature, Mi bebé. The heart wants what it wants." Not her, Neva meant. "Duty and honor will always fall aside when love is concerned. It happens every time. You can wait and see, but travel will be harder after the baby is born."

"I can't leave William," Reyes protested automatically. Her mouth quirked down when she wondered what had prompted her to say that instead of "leave them."

"You said she doesn't remember him. Does she want him anyway?" Her mother's voice took on a sly tone, alerting her that Neva would soon be saying something outrageous.

"I don't think so. She said he already has a mother," Reyes said cautiously.

"Then take him with you. His papa won't want to upset her, so why shouldn't you have him?" Neva's tone tried to sound reasonable, even if her words didn't.

"Mama, that would be kidnapping!"

"Maybe by law." Neva agreed. "But Dios would think you were doing the right thing. I know it. He left his own boy to an honorable man like Joseph who wasn't related to him by blood, after all."

"Mom..." Reyes ran her hand down her face, wondering if the Christmas spirit would prompt her mother into retelling the nativity story.

"You think about it," Neva advised her. "If you show up here soon, I promise not to tell you what a mistake you made marrying that man. Love you."

"Te amo tambien." Reyes hung up with a sigh.

Before she made her way back to the bedroom, she heard an indignant squawk from William's. He was wet, so she changed him. Once he was dry, he sleepily played with a lock of her hair.

Staring down at him, she wondered if she could go through with a plan as crazy as the one her mother proposed. If Mulder truly lost interest in his son, would it really be wrong to take the boy away from him?

It wasn't as though William wasn't hers too. He'd been less than two weeks old when she assumed half of his care. Surely a judge would take that sort of thing into account? Because there would have to be a judge involved if it came to that. She wasn't a law-breaker by nature, and it would be too cruel to Mulder to simply disappear with his little boy.

William was starting to nod off in her arms, so she lowered him into his crib.

"Sleepy, Moni," William muttered as his eyelids drooped closed.

"Good night, Baby." She whispered back, and tucked him in. "Moni is silly. Your daddy wouldn't leave either of us."

But she wished she could be sure of that. She leaned against William's wall with a sigh. It had seemed like they'd made a lot of progress over the past few months, but she was still unable to get past the niggling doubts that said that she was second best in her husband's eyes. It made her wonder if he still felt that way about John. She almost wished she did, so she wouldn't be the disloyal one instead of half of an insecure pair.




Hoover Building
December 6th, 2002

The morning started off with a surreal feeling that Mulder couldn't seem to shake. It beggared belief that he and Monica got into the car and drove to the office, intending to work like it was just any other day. Unbelievable or not, that exactly what they did.

"Mulder, are you paying attention?" Doggett asked, and Mulder looked up. From the way the other man held his hand, Mulder was suddenly sure that he had been seconds away from snapping his fingers in his face.

"Not really. Sorry. What were you saying?"

Doggett heaved a long suffering sigh. "I was trying to tell you that a new case landed in our laps this morning."

"What about?" Reyes asked, and Mulder glanced at her. Her voice was listless.

"According to Skinner, the DCPD is stumped by a string of kidnappings. Every year for the past ten, a kid has been snatched from his or her bed a few days before Christmas."

"They want us to look for people who have been missing for up to ten years?" Mulder's look matched his incredulous tone.

"No." Doggett shook his head. "They're not missing any more."

"Dead?" Reyes asked quietly.

"They're fine. They usually turn up on the 23rd or 24th. The problem is that none of them has any idea what happened to them. And we're not talking about little kids here, but teenagers. Most of them have been fourteen, but there was a thirteen-year-old and two fifteen-year-olds too."

"No idea at all?" Mulder asked, his mind casting back to the kids with He is One written on them.

"Nope," Doggett confirmed. "That's bad and all, and I hope someone can prevent it from happening this year, but I can't figure out what it has to do with us. Why don't they get the usual suspects to look into this?"

"There has to be something you haven't told us yet," Reyes said, looking thoughtful. "What makes the DCPD think it's something other than run of the mill kidnapping?"

Doggett grimaced. "Because it's the kidnapper's MO to leave behind a calling card when he takes the kids."

"What does he leave?" Mulder asked, annoyed. Why couldn't Doggett just spit it out already?

"It's stupid... Holly. Evergreen. Ivy. Mistletoe. And some damn thing called meadowsweet. The scary kidnapper leaves behind plants, and suddenly they realize this means it's our problem." Doggett grimaced in disgust.

"I'm not sure about the last one, but the rest are symbolic of renewal and long life," Reyes told them. "Fertility, everlasting life... those are pretty big deals in the winter for Celtic solstice celebrations."

"Right. Solstice," Doggett said. It didn't escape Mulder's notice that Doggett's gaze had drifted towards his wife's belly when she said fertility. "Does this look like Ireland to you guys? We've got some sicko out there snagging kids and leaving behind plants to mess with the parents' minds. There isn't anything paranormal about a kidnapping. Or even ten."

"Maybe, maybe not-" Reyes started to say.

"When do we go and talk to the kids?" Mulder interrupted to ask.

"Some of the kids are all grown up, so we don't need to persuade their parents." Doggett handed him a sheet of paper with an address on it. "This one agreed to talk to us today."




The Residence of Kelli Cross
10:30 a.m.

Reyes was getting tired of stairs. When her doctor had warned her months ago against hauling around William's baby carrier, she'd thought he'd been exaggerating about what a challenge her changing center of balance would be later in pregnancy. It turned out that the warning was fair, and she felt awkward sometimes, especially going up and down stairs. Lately she'd taken to using the elevator at their building, but Cross's building didn't have one.

Apparently noticing something, Mulder took her elbow. "We're almost there," he told her as the studio apartment finally came into sight.

"Uh, let me knock," Doggett said suddenly as they grouped before the woman's door. Mulder shot him a questioning look, and Doggett shrugged. "Hopefully, she'll recognize my voice."

He knocked firmly, and the three of them stood there, waiting.

After what seemed like an eternity, the door creaked open. A pair of suspicious blue eyes took them in. "What do you want?"

Doggett cleared his throat. "Ms. Cross? I'm agent Doggett. I spoke to you on the phone this morning."

"Yeah. Hold on." The thin twenty-something disappeared back into her apartment. She returned with a pack of cigarettes. "I'll talk to you outside. The landlord is a prick about enforcing the smoking ban in the building."

Reyes nearly groaned when she realized that they'd basically walked up four flights of stairs for nothing. If they'd of known that she'd insisted on speaking outside, she and Mulder could have waited while Doggett went up to fetch her.

Without asking, Mulder took her arm again. They followed a Doggett and Cross back downstairs.




As soon as they stepped out onto the cement deck, it became clear that the wind was up. It picked at Kelli Cross's already messy brown hair, making it float about in tangles. Sort of like a Halloween witch, Mulder thought. She didn't seem to notice, but was intent on lighting the cigarette she'd already jammed into her mouth. He was tempted to offer to do it for her, but he didn't think the gesture would be well received. As it was, she was already so nervous that her hands shook. Or maybe that was the cold. Why hadn't she put on something warmer than the long duster sweater she was wearing? Going outside had been her idea.

After what seemed like hours, she finally got the cigarette lit and took a long drag off of it. "You said you wanted to talk to me. So talk."

"We're investigating a series of kidnappings," Mulder said.

She cut him off before he could say anything else. "God dammit, is that what this is about? I've been telling people for the last eight years that I don't remember anything. Why the hell won't anyone believe me?"

"Because they don't think it's true," Reyes said flatly.

"Fuck them, then," Cross huffed. "I don't remember shit about what happened."

"Okay," Doggett said with a forced easiness that he probably learned as a NYPD cop. "What about before you were kidnapped? Do you remember anything about that night?"

Mulder expected her to snap back that she didn't, but she surprised him. "It was finally the last day of school, before the holidays. My parents had grounded me for something like always, so as soon as the old farts went to bed, I snuck out the window."

"Are you saying you ran away?" Mulder asked.

"It's not running away if it's only for a few hours, is it? I was back in my bed by two. Even fell asleep. Then I heard this scratching noise, and I figured that I hadn't shut the window properly when I came home. When I looked up, there was a face." Her face creased in remembered horror.

"And after that?" Doggett asked patiently.

Cross shrugged her shoulders. "I don't remember anything after that."

Reyes looked exasperated. "Have you even tried to remember? With a therapist or anything?"

"No. Why should I?" Cross asked defensively. "It's not like dwelling on it is going to make my life any better."

Reyes took a step towards the younger woman. "But this keeps happening! There have been several kidnappings since yours."

"So? It's not like I owe anyone anything. No one helped me, so why the hell should I care what happens to anyone else?"

"How can you be so callous about misfortune you know is going to be visited upon other people without your help? We're talking about innocent kids, just like you were," Reyes said heatedly.

"Leave me alone!" Before anyone could react, Cross's hands reached out and gave Reyes a hard shove. Unbalanced, Reyes tripped down the short set of stairs, and fell to the ground heavily. Her cheek struck an uneven flagstone, and a small line of blood began to seep out of a cut, and down her chin.

"Monica!" Mulder shouted. He was by her side within seconds.

Reyes pushed his hands away and sat up. "I'm okay."

Behind them, Doggett shouted at her assailant, informing the woman that attacking an FBI agent was against the law. There was a distinct snapping sound as Doggett cuffed her.

Once it was clear that she wasn't at death's door and a handkerchief was offered up for her bloody cheek, Reyes found herself being mostly ignored as her husband and partner held a quick conversation about her, without allowing her to contribute to it.

"I hate to abandon you, but can I take the car right now? I want to bring Monica to a doctor to be looked over. I can swing by afterwards and pick you up."

"Go ahead, I'll radio and ask to catch a ride with the police when they come pick up Cross," Doggett said, eyeing their sullen victim-turned-arrestee.

"Mulder, I'm fine. Really," Reyes protested when he led her to the car.

"What if you're not? Or the baby's not?" he asked quietly, making her feel guilty.

"All right. There's an urgent care a couple of blocks from here," she relented.




Unlike the ERs she'd been to, there wasn't much of a crowd at the urgent care. An elderly woman with a cough, and a kid with a suspected broken wrist were the only people in the waiting room when she and Mulder arrived. They were called in to see a doctor within minutes.

"Are you experiencing any abdominal pain?" the doctor asked her. A tag on his lapel declared him to be Craig Johnston, MD.

"None," she said firmly, hoping that the doctor would just tell Mulder that he was overreacting. He didn't.

"That's good. Let's take care of the bleeding first. You had a fall? How did that happen?"

Reyes let Mulder explain what had happened, and the doctor looked at her cheek while he rambled out their story.

"This cut looks worse than it is. Since it's already clotting, I don't think you'll need any stitches, just a couple of butterfly bandages. I'll put a dressing on it to keep it clean, though. I doubt there will be a scar."

"Great," she said and meant it. Though she didn't want to admit to vanity, the possibility of a scar had bothered her.

"I know you said that you're not experiencing any belly pain, but it's best to error on the side of caution. We're going to do a quick ultrasound, to make sure the fall didn't cause any problems with the fetus or placenta that you can't feel yet. How far along are you?"

"Thirty weeks. Though I still don't know why they count a week before you conceive," Mulder replied for her. That made the doctor chuckle.

After a couple of minutes, the screen showed a familiar wiggling shape. "She's already as squirmy as William," Mulder said with a note of awe. They hadn't really discussed whether or not they should know the baby's sex in advance, but the image showed that it was more than likely a little girl that Reyes was carrying.

"William?" Doctor Johnston looked up the screen.

"William's our toddler," Mulder explained.

Johnston finished examining her and gave them a reassuring smile. "Everything looks fine. You'll have a painful bruise on your hip, probably, but there doesn't seem to be any serious injury to you or your fetus."

Tension drained from Mulder shoulders. "Thank God."

Nodding a bit, Johnston fixed them with a stern gaze. "Two months before you have a baby is not a good time to be running around after a bad guy."

"It's not like that-" Reyes started to protest. Mulder squeezed her hand, and she stopped talking.

"If you want a healthy child, you'll have to take it easy," her doctor continued.

"She didn't get hurt on purpose," Mulder protested.

"I know. That's what concerns me. With your sort of job, you have to be extra vigilant in protecting yourself from harm. I don't want to see you back here again."

A few minutes later they'd paid and were heading back to the office. "That guy had some nerve, huh?" Mulder asked as they drove.

"He reminded me of my dad," Reyes said wistfully.

"Nothing is going to happen after this, so I don't know what he was going on about," Mulder continued. Reyes didn't feel like she needed to say anything, so she didn't.




Skinner's sectary was waiting for them when they got back to the office. Giving Reyes a sympatric look, she said, "AD Skinner wants to see you, immediately."

"He couldn't have called?" Mulder muttered.

Reyes followed the other woman, and became more nervous when she didn't say anything more the entire elevator ride. Worse, she disappeared as soon as she could, abandoning her before she even entered Skinner's office.

"Sit," Skinner barked impatiently. Reyes scrambled to do so. "I heard that there was an incident today."

She immediately tried to downplay things. "It wasn't that big of a deal."

He looked at her over the rims of his glasses. "I think any incident that requires an agent being checked out at a medical facility is a 'big deal'. Especially when they come back bandaged up."

Beginning to feel like she had as a small girl sent to the principal's office, Reyes was consumed with a sinking feeling. "The doctor said everything was fine."

"I know," he said, making her curse the busybody. Skinner sighed. "This time. I wish I had listened to my instincts during agent Scully's pregnancy. This time I'm going to."

"Sir?" She gave him an uncertain look.

"Your maternity leave has been rescheduled. It starts tomorrow," Skinner said shortly.

"I don't think you can do that, legally," she shot back, although she knew there wasn't much in the way of maternity law in the US. He, however, probably didn't know that.

"Then I'll have you suspended for reckless conduct," Skinner snapped.

Despair washed over Reyes. She wanted to tell her boss that she needed to be in the office. She couldn't bear to learn the truth about the woman claiming to be Scully secondhand. But as she stared at him, she had the sudden realization that Skinner shared the same anxiety about her health that Mulder did. If she told him that she refused to go on leave early, she was sure that he would reply something about the office not being able to afford to lose another agent permanently.

"Fine," she said tightly, starting to stand. Skinner looked somewhat surprised that she didn't offer further protest.

"I'm glad you're being reasonable," Skinner said, and his expression softened. "I have every intention of keeping you in the loop about Dana Scully."

Not "agent" Scully, she noticed. It sounded like he was treating the woman like the X-Files that she was, and took some small comfort from it.

"Thank you," she said at last. It wasn't the same as being there would be, but what could she do? "I'll pack my things."

"Good. Make sure you have Mulder carry them out for you, though."

"Right."




It was hard for her to hold back the tears that threatened to overflow, but the last thing she wanted to do was to return to the office in tears. Knowing Mulder and Doggett, both of them would overreact. Sure, they'd both readily go to bat for her and try to change Skinner's mind, but she didn't want that. If she cried, she couldn't convince anyone that her mishap earlier in the day hadn't been a big deal. She still needed to believe that.

So, squaring her shoulders, she took a few calming breaths before she reached the basement. It didn't surprise her much to see both of her partners looking out the door, apparently waiting for her.

"Did Skinner give you a hard time?" Doggett wanted to know immediately. "It's not your fault that the victim was unstable-"

Sighing, she sat down at her desk. "I'm out. Skinner decided that my maternity leave starts tomorrow."

Mulder stared at her, his eyes wide with shock. "He can't just do that-"

"I'm pretty sure he can."

"But it's not right! I'll-"

"Don't, Mulder. I don't like it, but maybe he's right. It may have just been luck that kept me from being seriously hurt today." She offered him a grim smile. "I suppose I should be as concerned for my health and the baby's as our boss is."

"Oh." She could see that the idea was sinking in.

"I think on the way home I'll stop at the store and get some paint samples. Now that we know it's going to be a girl, I can decorate the nursery."

Doggett looked startled, but he soon smiled. "You found out you're having a girl? Congratulations."

"Thanks." Reyes managed a smile. She'd secretly been hoping that their child would be a girl. It was nice to know that they'd have one of each. Maybe this would be the dark-haired little daughter Mulder had once talked about wanting.

"I always wanted a little girl, but Barbara only wanted one kid," Doggett continued wistfully. It made Reyes feel a little guilty.

"Well, I'm sure the baby will love her Uncle John," Mulder said with a grin. "I'm sure we could teach William to say that right now," he added.

Doggett looked pleased. "Yeah."

Reyes took her time packing up the things she didn't want to leave in the office until spring. Mulder promised to bring them home with him. "Don't worry about Will. I'll take him home with me too," Mulder told her.

She nodded, glad that it was one of the days they'd decided to both drive to work.




The apartment felt very empty when Reyes got home, so she turned on the lights and the radio, trying to fill the void. It didn't help very much. And she felt restless because she wasn't used to being home that early in the day. Inspiration stuck and she decided to go through the couple of boxes of her things that were still in what would be the baby's room.

Bing Crosby sang to her about being far from home over the holidays as she sat on the floor and opened the first box. There were a lot of photos and letters in there, and she put them aside, reminding herself that she was supposed to buy a photo album before the pictures got bent.

As she reached further into the box, her fingers brushed something hard and rectangular. Her hand drew out a small box, one containing the deck of tarot cards that she'd bought while still living in New Orleans.

One of the women she'd been acquainted with specialized in doing readings for unborn babies. Upon being told this, Reyes had protested that she'd heard that you couldn't do a reading on someone who wasn't yet born. And had coolly been informed that you also heard that you couldn't do a meaningful reading at all. "Monica, if you're going to believe in the cards, you have to do so completely. You can't pick and chose what you think they can tell you." Being polite, Reyes hadn't told her that she mostly thought of card readings as a game. Mostly.

Staring at the cards in her hand, she was tempted to try to do a reading for her daughter. She knew how to do it, so that wouldn't be a problem. But did she really want to know what the cards might have to say? Even though she didn't really believe they could tell you your future, it might be enough to sew seeds of doubt if they predicted something unfavorable...

She put the deck aside without opening it.





Chapter Twenty-Nine

Later

When Mulder got home from work, the rich scent of beef and vegetables filled the apartment. He gave an appreciative sniff. "You've been busy."

"Not really. A stew is not hard. The crockpot has been doing all of the work."

"Meet and veggies don't cut themselves," he objected with a vehemence that made her smile.

"True." She held out a small piece of cardboard to him. "What you think of this color? Before you worry I already asked our landlord if painting the room was okay. He said no dark colors, but sure."

"Purple, huh? I should have guessed you weren't the pink is for girls type."

"Yeah, you should have." She grinned at him. "Have you ever seen me with anything pink?"

"You mean besides your tongue? Or your-"

"Mulder! I was obviously talking about objects, not body parts."

"You look so sure that you know what I was going to say before you cut me off," he said, smirking at her.

"Don't I?"

"Yeah."

"See?" she asked, looking smug. "Please rescue your mind from the gutter so we can settle the paint color issue."

"If you like that purple, buy it. I'll paint the room over Christmas vacation."

"You will?"

"I looked it up on the Internet, and painting isn't such a good idea for pregnant women. Harmful fumes."

"But-"

"Besides, I want to do my part getting ready for the baby too. I don't know squat about decorating, but I'm handy with a paint roller."

Okay," she relented easily.

"Since supper already smells good, does that mean it'll be done soon?" he asked sounding hopeful.

"Pretty soon. I just need to throw in the batter for dumplings."

"Dumplings! No one has made me dumplings since my grandmother died."

Reyes kissed his cheek. "If you ever doubt that I love you, keep this in mind."

He ran his hands up her rib cage, letting his thumbs come to rest on her nipples. Mulder caressed her lightly through the fabric of her shirt. "Let's put those dumplings in now. I have an idea about how we can while away the time until dinner is ready."

She laughed before kissing him again, this time on the mouth.



The Next Day

When Mulder's alarm went off Reyes rolled onto her side, but Mulder pushed her back onto the mattress. "What? Last night wasn't enough to sate you?" she asked sounding both sleepy and suggestive.

"Never. But I don't think we have time. Or I don't. There's no reason you need to get up now too. I can get William ready myself."

"I want to get up now." She gently removed his hands. "But let Will sleep. There's no reason to send him to daycare today. I don't have any appointments, and my plans can be made to include them."

"Are you sure? He can be a handful."

"I was armed yesterday. I think I can apprehend a rambunctious toddler today," she said dryly.

"Of course," Mulder replied quickly. "Would a kiss mollify any hurt feelings my doubts might have caused?"

"Hmm... maybe. Let's see," she said, pulling him towards her.

A few minutes later he rolled away from her with a groan." Damn, I've gotta go."

"If you must. Let me know if you get anywhere with Cross."

"Will do."



11:15 a.m.

"What do you think of this one?"

"No."

"You don't like it?"

"No."

"Well, let's look at the next one."

"Okay."

When Reyes began to at nurseries on Mulder's laptop, William seemed interested in giving his opinion of what she was looking at. His opinion consisted primarily of "no" and "pretty."

When the next page loaded, he squirmed on the couch next to her. "How about butterflies? You think your sister might like that?"

"Pretty bugs," William told her, not mincing words.

"Okay. I'll add that set to the list of ones under consideration," she told him very seriously, and he laughed.

Someone knocked on the door just as she bookmarked that page.

"I'll get it," she said, just before William could scramble off the couch. He pouted but stayed put.

Reyes stared in shock at the tall, medium-complected man who stood in the door way. Then she broke into a smile and threw her arms around him. "Paulo!"

"Hey, Monica," her older brother greeted her. "Are you busy, or can you suggest a place for lunch?"

"I'm not busy at all-"

"Who dat?" a suspicious voice asked at knee-level. She looked down to see William standing there. He held Bear by one ear.

"This must be my genius nephew," Paulo said teasingly before stooping to address the small boy. "I am your mama's brother, uncle Paulo."

William looked up at him for a moment before losing his wary attitude. Instead he offered the man a tentative smile.

"Let me leave his father a note, and we'll be right with you," Reyes promised. She dashed off a note before grabbing their coats and William's bag. "We'll take my car. The car seat's in it already."

Paulo led them out to her car, snagged the keys from her, and opened the doors for them. "Mustn't be too long before you have the baby, huh?"

"Six, seven weeks," Reyes agreed.

He gave William a doubtful look. "Do you think he'll let me put him in the car?"

"Maybe. I guess it can't hurt to try." To her surprise William didn't pitch a fit when her brother picked him up and set him in his seat. She thought maybe he was too astonished to protest.




"How's your new baby?" Reyes asked just after they ordered at the restaurant. Both he and their mother had called to let her know a month ago that she was an aunt for the second time.

"Matteo is wonderful. Already sleeping through the night. He's nothing like Estaban was at his age."

"So you got lucky once," Reyes quipped. "It's been known to happen now and again. How's Estaban doing? Liking school?" Her oldest nephew had just turned six over the summer, and Paulo had said the boy was apprehensive about starting first grade.

"After all that belly-aching and carrying on this summer, it turns out that he loves school. I knew he would."

"So what brings you around?" Reyes tilted her head. "I hope Mama didn't enlist you in her plan to get me to return to Mexico."

"Nope. I'm here on business for a few days, and thought it would be a sin not to see how my little sister is doing," Paulo said lightly, but she wasn't fooled. Paulo might not be on the best terms with their mother, but Neva had definitely filled him in on what was happening in his sister's life.

"As you can see, I'm fine." She kept her tone just as bland.

Their conversation stalled for a moment when a waitress arrived with their plates. Neither of them said anything until she was gone and William had a soft breadstick to gnaw on.

"Mama told me that your husband's ex is back in the picture," Paulo said with an exaggerated casualness. "You must not like that."

"It's complicated."

"I'll say. I got the impression that she died."

"So did everyone," Reyes said with a frustrated sigh. "As it is, we're not sure that it's really her. In fact, Fox is convinced that it isn't."

"Does this woman look like her?"

"Yes."

"So, an identical twin or something?"

"No, Fox is friends with her mother, and neither she nor the Dana we knew would have hidden the existence of a twin all these years."

Paulo looked confused. "A look-alike actress? Like on the soap operas?"

"No, nothing like that." Despite herself Reyes couldn't help but be cheered by the image of real life turning out like one of the telenovelas that their mother had watched their whole childhoods. "That would be easier, really."

"Then what?"

"You don't know the kinds of things I've seen it work..."

Her brother put his fork down. "Explain it to me, then, Monica. I'm not Mama, I have an inkling that you don't deal with the average headline-making crimes."

"What do you think I do?" she asked, curious about what her brother suspicions might be. "What sort of cases do you think come sliding across my desk?"

"Zombies? Ghosts? I know it has something to do with the supernatural."

Reyes lifted her head, surprised by how matter-of-factly he'd said it. She had the strong sense that Neva was only humoring her when she discussed work, but her brother seemed more open to extreme possibilities. "And the paranormal."

"What, alternate dimensions, aliens, or time travel?"

"All of the above and more."

Paulo accepted this calmly. "So which you think this is?"

"More, pwease," William begged before she could reply. She took her time giving her stepson another breadstick, so she could think about what she was going to say.

Finally, she said, "I'm hoping that she will turn out to be an imposter."

"Do you think it's likely?"

She shrugged. "Before I joined the office there were a couple of cases about people who could alter their appearances-"

"You mean shape shifters?" Paulo interrupted.

"Something like that," she agreed, not up to explaining about the aliens or the man who fathered babies with tails. "It's possible that this is that again."

"How would you know for sure?" Paulo asked, obviously fascinated.

"The first thing my boss did when she came around was to have her give blood so they could test her DNA. We haven't gotten the results back yet, but if they don't match the DNA of Dana Scully, it's a pretty sure bet that this woman isn't her," Reyes explained.

Paulo looked puzzled. "Why would your employers have a sample of the dead woman's DNA?"

"Oh, they don't have a sample, but the scans from a DNA test."

"Again, why?"

Reyes frowned and looked at William. Nodding towards the boy, she said, "He had an older sister, one their mother didn't know about."

"How could that be possible?" Her brother's knife froze in mid-air, and his expression suggested that he thought that he was the victim of a joke.

She sighed and tried to think of a way to frame her reply. "You know how there are drugs that make women ovulate a lot of eggs?"

"Sure, that's how those people ended up with seven kids at once."

"Right. Dana had a hard life, Paulo, and a lot of it was because of her association with the job. Everyone who works on the X-Files has made dangerous enemies-"

"Even you?"

"John and me less so than Fox, Dana or our boss, but probably."

An expression she remembered from him lecturing her when she was in middle school pasted itself to his face. "I didn't realize that your job was so dangerous."

"Dammit, Paulo, I'm an FBI agent. Danger comes with the job. Don't you watch any American TV?" she snapped, and he looked embarrassed. "How dangerous my job is isn't the issue here. What is, is that Dana was kidnapped so someone could steal her ova. She didn't find out about the little girl until the child was three. That's when they did the DNA test, so that's why the beaureu has her DNA on file."

"What happened to the girl?" Paulo asked quietly. "She's dead, right?"

Her brother's correct conclusion surprised her. "Yes. How did you know?"

"I don't know a lot about what sort of man your husband is, but I'm pretty sure that he must be a good one if you married him. And I know that there isn't a little girl living with you...a good man wouldn't have abandoned the child," Paulo said. "And if he didn't abandon her...well, it was either that she was dead or someone else was raising her, and you didn't talk about her like she was fine somewhere else."

"She only lived a couple of weeks after Dana found her," Reyes told him with a sad smile. "I can't imagine how horrible that was, to find the child you didn't know you had only to discover that she was dying. It was like a cruel joke."

"It must have been terrible for her," Paulo said softly.

Reyes nodded. "And it's one of the reasons I'm far from convinced that this woman is her."

"What do you mean?"

"Him," she pointed at William. "She went through hell to be a mother, but she barely acknowledges his existence."

"You'd rather that she try to take him away?" Paulo looked surprised.

"No, of course not. William is almost as much my son as Fox's by this point and it would tear me apart to lose him now. But I can't imagine that his real mother wouldn't love him just as much as we do."

Her brother nodded and touched her arm. "For all of your sakes, I hope that she's not the real woman your husband loved, not this little guy's real mother."

She smiled up at him. "Thanks, Paulo."

After that, conversation turned to more mundane topics like soccer and their opinions on immigration policy reform as they finished their meal.



That Night

William was in bed, and Mulder and Reyes were halfway through National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation when someone knocked on the door. Opening it revealed a snow-dusted Walter Skinner. His expression was somber, so neither of them was surprised when he said, "I'm sorry for bothering you so late, but I didn't want you to be blindsided tomorrow."

"I take it that you found something out about Dana," Mulder said tensely.

Skinner nodded. "The DNA results came back and as I requested, I got the lab to inform me before anyone else. Like I told you they would, they compared the sample taken this week to the films someone ran when Emily was found... there are match."

"So it's her," Reyes said because she felt someone had to.

"It must be."

"Oh." Mulder sat down heavily. "Oh."

It seemed to Reyes that he became very small just then, almost folding in on himself. All of his surety, all of his declarations that this was an impostor flew out the window, leaving him bewildered. Skinner seemed to notice too, and no one said anything for over a minute.

"Does she know?" Reyes finally asked. Mulder looked up at her, and his startled expression suggested that the thought hadn't crossed his own mind yet.

"Yes." Skinner's voice was terse. "I felt the need to tell her before I came here."

"How did she take it?" Reyes asked, imagining a reaction full of wild, Cruella de Vil-like laughter. She immediately regretted the thought, and chided herself for being unkind.

It was only after she asks that that she noticed how tense Skinner looked. "What?" Mulder asked, obviously having noticed the same thing.

"She said, now that we have proof of who she is, that she wants back in the FBI."

"That's insane!" Mulder protested. "How could she go off for four years and expect that she would be welcomed back with open arms?"

Reyes 'reaction was slightly less theatrical and slightly more pragmatic. "When you say back in the FBI, do you mean back on the X-Files?"

"The latter," Skinner said stiffly.

"Now what a minute..!" Mulder was beginning to get even more wound up.

Skinner held up his hands in the shape of a T. "What I think of it, and even less what you think of it, is of no importance. If the decision is going to be made to allow her back, it won't be mine to make."

"No, I suppose it would be Kersh's," Mulder said bitterly.

"Unfortunately, that's exactly right."

"So you're saying that you have no say whatsoever in who they place under your command?" Reyes asks, slightly surprised. She wasn't exactly sure why she should be surprised though, considering what a control freak Kersh was.

When Skinner looked up at them, his eyes were slightly apologetic. "This isn't a hill I want to die on. I know that it will take some adjustment, but I think everyone involved could make it work."

Reyes wasn't so sure of that. Although it seems unlikely that Mulder would be openly hostile, she was sure that he had little ways to make sure that Dana knew she wasn't welcomed. She just didn't know if he would eventually get into trouble over them. A lot of people were being sued over creating hostile workplaces, and she had the idea that the legalese version of hostile might pale in comparison.

"Sure, whatever," Mulder said shortly.

Skinner stood and reached for his coat. "Look, it's already the second week of December. I'm sure that I can talk Kersh into delaying things until after New Year's."

"That sounds like you already think that Dana coming back is a given," Mulder accused.

Mulder man shrugged. "My mother used to say to hope for the best but plan for the worst. I don't think it would hurt in this case." He left a moment later, leaving Reyes to deal with her husband.

As she predicted, he continued to fume long after their boss left. "I can't believe that he came here to dump that on our laps tonight."

"Mulder, we told him that he wanted to know as soon as possible. It isn't fair to fault him for taking us at our literal word," she protested lightly.

As she feared he would, he took it badly. Wheeling, he turned to look at her. "You're taking his side? I didn't think you wanted her back in the X-Files office any more than I did."

"Mulder, I don't! But what can we do? Neither of us wants to see Skinner get fired for refusing to have her in the X-Files office. Do we?"

"No, of course not," Mulder grumbled. "You just don't understand. Skinner has a history of having people's backs, but only to a certain point."

That was easy enough for her to shrug off, but she didn't dare to. Who didn't occasionally succumb to championing their own best interest, rather than support those of a third party? "So he's human," she muttered under her breath.

Mulder eyed her suspiciously, but didn't ask her to repeat what she said. Instead he threw up his hands. "Well, if Kersh sticks her back down in the basement with us, I'm not working with her. She can be Doggett's problem."

For moment she had a vision of how Mulder had been as a small boy, but she didn't bring it up. In another three or four years she would get to see firsthand how a little boy Mulder would behave when backed up to a wall.

Surprisingly, they let the topic of both the DNA's test revelations and the possibility of Dana rejoining the office drop for the night. Which isn't to say that it wasn't on either of their minds. Reyes couldn't stop thinking about it.





Chapter Thirty


December 8th, 2002

Reyes was the first one out of bed the next morning, and she left Mulder sprawled across most of the bed, thinking that he looked like he could use a little more sleep. His expression was grumpy when he joined her in the kitchen twenty minutes later.

Looking up from the pan of eggs she was scrambling, she offered him a tentative smile. "Hey."

His response was a monosyllabic grunt, which, along with his wildly disarrayed brown hair, made him seem rather bear-like. He didn't appear to notice that the belt to his plaid robe was trailing the floor as he collapsed onto a chair in front of the table.

It seemed safer to make him a mug of coffee rather than let him do it himself, since he was barely awake. He said something that sounded like 'thank you' when she put the coffee in front of him.

It took another couple minutes for the eggs, bacon, and toast to finish and neither of them spoke again until they had forks in their hands. Mulder looked at her. "I did a lot of thinking."

She barely resisted the urge to say of course he did. "Oh?"

Mulder nodded. "I keep thinking about how she said she doesn't remember the last four years. Or, she doesn't remember the last four years the way I do." Reyes didn't reply, because she did not to say, so she just tried to look interested. He went on, "Do you think that means there was an impostor?"

"I don't know."

"You must have an opinion," he insisted.

She suddenly felt attacked. "I..."

All at once he seemed deflated. "Sorry. I know you didn't know her before. I'm just so... what if the impostor was William's mother?"

Now Reyes knew what had him so upset. She supposed any man would be out of sorts if they were trying to figure out if the woman he had loved enough to have a baby with hadn't really been the woman he thought she was. It was on the tip of her tongue to ask him when he and fall in love with Dana, but she found that she didn't really want to know the answer to that.

On one hand, if it had only been after Dana supposed abduction, then this woman wasn't the one he loved, and therefore was no threat to her. But on the other, she didn't really want to hear it if he had fallen in love with Dana a million years earlier... She knew which scenario she preferred, but it would be really selfish to suggest that might be for the best, considering it would have meant he had been tricked and betrayed into loving a stranger.

After a moment she realized that he was staring at her, and supposed he had been waiting for an actual answer. "I'm sorry, I just don't know what to say."

He gave her a smile that was both sad and weary. "No one does. That I'm sure of."

That just served to make her feel guilty. Other people didn't have the obligations to him that she did, so for them it was a fine excuse that they were only acquaintances or friends. "Whatever this is, we'll deal with it somehow."

"I've are thought about that too. I'm going to insist that they test William's DNA against hers. It should give us a better idea of what happened."

Before she tackled her bacon and eggs, she nodded. She wasn't so sure that the answer would put either of them at ease.

Mulder put his fork down and looked at her. "I never got to ask you yesterday, how did the visit with your brother go?"

Cheered that they were on a far more neutral topic now, Reyes smiled at him. "Good. It was really nice to see him, and even William seemed to like him."

"Did he? He must be a nice guy then, because William has really good instincts when it comes to liking or disliking people."

She froze for a moment, thinking back to several days earlier when Mulder had complained that William was very wary of Dana. "Yes, he certainly does."

"So, do you think your brother might like me more than your mom does? I mean, if I ever meet him."

Reyes smirked at him. "It would be hard to like you less."

"Nice." He scowled back.

"Paulo is going to be in town for three more days. Maybe we should have him come over for dinner."

"That would be nice."

As they made plans to spend time with her older brother before he returned to Mexico, part of her brain kept returning to the idea of Dana being in the X-Files office. She wanted to think that it was more than simple jealousy that made her uneasy with the idea.


December 9th, 2002

Doggett was already sitting at his desk when Mulder arrived, nosily that morning. He didn't bother to look up until Mulder thumped a file cabinet deliberately. It was clear that he was trying to lighten the mood with a half smile, but Mulder wasn't in the mood for cheer. Instead he roughly placed a box of donuts on his own desk and flipped the top open. "Help yourself, Doggett."

"Thanks." Doggett wandered over and plucked a honey glazed out of the box. "I take it that Skinner talked to you this weekend?"

"You knew about Dana?" Mulder asked, holding a chocolate donut too tightly. It was beginning to lose structural integrity.

Doggett shook his head. "Not until about fifteen minutes ago."

"When she comes back, she's your problem."

"When, not if? You think it's a done deal then?"

For a moment Mulder didn't say anything, he just stuffed the broken donut in his mouth. At last he said, "You know how people are these days. No one wants to deal with possible lawsuits, so they let employees run roughshod over them to avoid litigation."

"I hadn't thought about that. What sort of grounds can you imagine her coming up with?"

"I'm sure she'd come up with something plausible. And if she could convince a judge that she was being discriminated after being held against her will for four years..." Mulder shrugged. "It would be hard not to find that sort of thing sympathetic. Yeah, she'll be back."

Doggett stared off into space. "Okay."

"Okay?"

"When she comes back, she'll be my problem." He sighed. "I can't imagine how you feel about this situation."

"Not good about sums it up," Mulder grumbled. "I know I should be happy that she's alive, but..."

"It's just too weird," Doggett supplied. "It's weird for me too, you know."

"Is it?"

"Yeah. I spent almost two years working with a woman who looks at me like we've never met before, and worse yet that I'm screwing with her by insisting that we have. So not only are we starting over from scratch, we're also starting off on the wrong foot."

"I guess I didn't think of that," Mulder admitted.

"Eh, I didn't expect you to." Doggett shrugged. "I wonder if her mother's happy, at least."

Mulder started. He hadn't given Mrs. Scully's opinion of the situation any thought, either. "Hopefully."

Now that Doggett brought it up, though, he couldn't help but wonder. He knew that Skinner had told Maggie, but he didn't know if the two women had been reunited yet, and if so, had it gone well. Mulder made a mental note to e-mail Mrs. Scully some new William pictures to provide her with an opening if she wanted to talk about it.


Falls Church First Baptist December 14th, 2002

"I now pronounce you man and wife," the minister declared, only to be interrupted by a wit who cried "again!"

Both Doggett and Barbara smiled at the joke before kissing.

Sitting in a pew next to Mulder, Reyes supposed that it was a lovely ceremony. Barbara Doggett didn't wear white, but her cream colored dress was quite tasteful. The flowers perfumed the air. And the cake she'd seen in passing looked decedent - and liable to slay many a waistline before the reception was through. Not that she gave her own waistline much thought those days.

A tiny part of her was envious, because hers and Mulder's wedding had been such a stark affair. She hadn't thought that she'd miss the frills that usually accompanied such an occasion, but then she hadn't been confronted by any of them before the Doggett's remarriage, either.

The biggest reason she wasn't enjoying the ceremony had nothing to do with wedding envy, or the fact that she had once carried a torch for the bridegroom. Instead she was tense because she kept expecting Dana Scully to show up during the proceedings. The more rational part of her being knew that it was a silly worry because Mulder had told her about Doggett's complaints that Scully treated him like a stranger, but her emotions insisted that it would be like the woman to show up unannounced and uninvited.

"Hey, you okay?" Mulder whispered to her.

She blinked, and wondered if he was worried about how she felt about Doggett being married again. Saying that she was fine with it seemed stupid to her, and more likely to be interpreted as the exact opposite, so she thought hard about what to say, "Mulder, are you sure he didn't invite her?"

Mulder's shoulders immediately relaxed, and she was sure now that he thought her frown had been about her former object of infatuation. "I'm sure. She's got you shaken up that badly, huh?"

"It's just..." She spread her hands helplessly. "She keeps popping up in unexpected places." It didn't seem like the time to tell him about her nightmares, the ones where she found Dana standing over William's crib, or lying on her side of the bed.

"It's okay." Mulder kissed the top of her head. "I get it."

She tried to smile, and wondered if there was any way that he really did. She doubted it.


December 23rd, 2002

"Blake Evans," Skinner said as he came into the basement office unannounced. It was just after eight o'clock, and their coats were shedding snow still as they hung from hooks on the wall.

Both Mulder and Doggett look up. "What?" Doggett asked warily. He had just returned from his honeymoon that morning.

"Blake Evans, age fifteen, reported missing yesterday morning. His parents found a tear in the screen of his bedroom window, and 'strange greenery,' on his pillow."

"This year's victim," Mulder said heavily.

Skinner nodded. "It seems very likely."

"I assume that you wish us to conduct a stake out for the next two days?" Mulder suggested. It seemed like the most logical course of action. If there were going to find out who was abducting the juvenile victims, watching to see the latest one being returned was probably good idea.

Doggett, on the other hand, clearly didn't agree. He turned to Mulder, and said, "You seem to be assuming that they are being led home. What if they are getting home on their own?"

Mulder raised an eyebrow. "You have a better suggestion?"

After a moment of squirming, Doggett finally admitted that he didn't.

Skinner waited for a moment, then said, "It seems as though Mulder's idea is the only game in town. Good luck on your stake out." He turned, and missed a sour look at Doggett cast in his direction.

Trying not to be a sore winner, Mulder didn't grin openly. "None of those books on tape this time."

"I suppose you'll want to listen to Christmas music," Doggett said heavily.

"Who doesn't love Christmas music? I'll swipe a bunch of Monica's CDs and you can pick which ones we listen to."

"Oh, boy." Doggett scowled at him.


9 p.m.

Mulder was still yawning and stretching as he wandered into the living room. His wife and son were on the couch, but only Reyes was still awake. William was stretched out, his head on her thigh, and a string of drool running down his cheek. Mulder bent and dabbed at it with a tissue before hefting the toddler up. "I see that he's not a big fan of Frosty," he whispered.

"I guess not. It's always been one of my favorites, though." She slowly got off the couch, and Mulder glanced down at the baby, wondering if he ought to put him down to give her a hand. She managed on her own. "I made you and John some coco to take with you."

"Awesome," he said, turning to kiss her lightly on the lips. "That might cheer him up a little."

"Well, some people just don't take all-nighters in stride."

Mulder snorted when William chose that moment to wriggle. "He should have a baby. That'll teach him to get up in the middle of the night."

"I wonder..."

"You wonder what?"

"Never mind," Reyes told him. "I'll pack you some cookies to take with you to. Ones that I iced."

"Are you saying there's something wrong with the way I ice a cookie?" Mulder asked, affecting an injured tone.

"Would I say that?" The corners of her mouth quirked.

"No, you'd just heavily imply it." He stuck his tongue out at her as he made his way to William's room.


The Evans' Residence December 23, 2002 11:55 p.m.

There was only one house in the block that wasn't lit up. And Doggett and Mulder sat in the car in front of it. Mulder thought he could understand why the Evans didn't feel like displaying something akin to good holiday cheer, and he's supposed that the lack of 12 W bulbs might work in their advantage, considering there wasn't lighting to scare off the perp.

He was very clear, however, but Doggett wasn't thinking about the potential advantage that gave them. Instead, he wore a scowl and glared at the house. "This is great. We can barely even see Blake's window."

Mulder thought about asking him who had pissed in his cornflakes, but he was pretty sure that it was the case. "Missing out on big plans?" he asked lightly instead.

Doggett turned to glare at him. "Aren't you?"

Before he answered, Mulder looked down at his watch. "Not these days. William went to bed hours ago, and Monica's probably asleep too. Neither of them are night owls, and all I'm missing is sleep myself."

"Bully for you," Doggett grumbled. "Barbara is still awake at this hour, and..."

Mulder held up a hand. "No need to fill in details, John."

Doggett's scowled turned into a smirk. "You're a newlywed yourself, so I guess you can use your imagination."

"But you're remarried," Mulder objected, thinking about how long the couple had been married the first time around. "I assumed it would be different, then."

"Why do you think people bother getting remarried?" Doggett asked. "They don't call it a second honeymoon for nothing."

"If you say so, please don't elaborate."

Doggett gave him a sidelong look. "I didn't have you pegged as a prude."

Mulder thought about a night with steamed up windows, when Monica had said something similar about him. He pushed the thoughts away - no point in letting himself continued thinking in that vein and getting all hot and bothered miles away from his wife.

Out of the corner of his eye, Mulder caught a movement. He held a finger up to his lips, Doggett caught on. Without saying a word both men reached for the night goggles that they had requisitioned from Kimberly. When he had his in his hand, Mulder wondered why Doggett had complained about not being able to see anything. Perhaps it just been for the sake of having something to complain about.

As soon as he held them up to his face, a pair a greenish figures materialized in the distance. One of them was definitely being prodded along by the other, judging by the way he stumbled along.

Mulder reached up and pushed a button on the dome light, so the light wouldn't come on when they opened the car doors a moment later. Still wearing their night vision goggles, they improvised a plan of attack through an elaborate play of hand signals. They'd make wide circles in opposite directions towards the perp.

And that's what they did. The missing boy, Blake, had just climbed through his bedroom window when Mulder and Doggett reached the do-er. Mulder behind him, and Doggett suddenly in his face with a gun aimed at him. "Freeze! FBI!" Doggett snapped.

"Wha-what?" the bad guy squeaked, sounding more like a confused third-grader than a kidnapper.

"Are you alone?" Mulder demanded to know, and from the way the man started, it was obvious that he'd been unaware that someone had snuck up behind him too.

"Yes?"

"That sounds like a question," Doggett growled. "Are you alone?"

"Oh God, yes. I'm alone," he babbled. " am I under arrest?"

Mulder stared at him. It was hard to tell through the night vision goggles, but he sounded like a kid himself, not a hardened criminal. "How do you think this looks?" he asked eventually. "We've got a kidnapped boy who was found with you."

"Kidnapped?"

Doggett shot Mulder a look that suggested that he didn't think too highly of their suspect's attention. "Yeah, when someone removes a child from their parents' care without their authorization, it's called kidnapping."

"What child? You mean Blake? He's fifteen!"

"And a minor in the eyes of the law," Mulder said gravely.

"But!"

Doggett had evidentially tired of speaking to the genius, because he pulled out a pair of handcuffs and read the man his Miranda rights. The kidnapper was crying by the time their liaison with the police department came and stuffed him in a cruiser.


Doggett stopped Mulder on their way into the police station, where officers had agreed to let them interrogate their subject. "Mulder, what do you think is going on here?"

Mulder sipped a coffee that someone had offered him as soon as they arrived outside the station before answering. "I don't know. He was with the missing kid, so we must have the right person, but..."

"But this guy seems as dumb as a box of hair," Doggett said with a sigh.

"I was thinking rocks, but yeah. He hardly seems smart enough to pull it off."

"Maybe he's just a good actor."

"We'll find out, won't we?"

With that, they stepped inside and followed an officer to the room where their suspect was being held. The room had a two-way mirror, so they could see the guy before he could see them. It struck Mulder that he looked nervous.

And very young.

He put out a hand to stop Doggett before his partner could open the door. "Doggett, how old does this guy look to you?"

Doggett peered through the two-way glass. "Maybe he just looks young for his age."

"I don't know," Mulder said doubtfully. "These kidnappings have happened for years, and this guy looks like a college student."

"That doesn't mean anything. Barbara's younger sister could pass for ten years younger than she is."

"Maybe..." But Mulder could help but thinking that the guy probably hadn't been up to kidnapping ten years ago, not when he looked for all the world like he'd been in the fifth grade at the time of the first one.


The suspect, whom Mulder had already mentally labeled "Dopey" looked up as they walked into the room. Dopey had been wearing a baseball cap when they grabbed him, but he was now kneading it between his fingers like a toddler would a security blanket. Mulder had to squelch an impulse to offer to run to his car for one of William's spare blankies.

"What's your name?" Doggett asked sharply.

"M-Mark. Mark Jessup," Dopey said in thin voice.

Doggett set his coffee down roughly, and he and Mulder sat across from the suspect. "Well, Mark," Mulder told him in a slightly more affable tone, "you're in a lot of trouble."

Dopey didn't look up. He just hung his head.

"We need to know if you understand what you're being charged with," Mulder continued.

This made him look up. "Um, you said kidnapping. But-"

"That's right, kidnapping," Doggett said. "Blake Evans has been missing for two days, and he shows up with you. That doesn't look right, Mark."

"I can explain!" Dopey said quickly.

"Can you explain the other kidnappings too?" Mulder asked. "This is the tenth one in as many years. It might go easier on you if we know about those too."

"Yeah, sure," he babbled.

"Really? How old are you, Mark?"

"Twenty-one. I, um, I'm taking classes at the community college and-"

"So that makes you eleven at the time of the first kidnapping. How could you know anything useful about it?" Doggett asked.

"Because!"

"I don't see an eleven-year-old kid kidnapping a teenager, Mark. You must have had help."

"Help? No, man, I wasn't the one who kidnapped a kid ten years ago," Dopey protested.

"But you know about it." Doggett's voice was flat.

"Yeah, I do."

"So you're saying that you've only involved with some of the kidnappings," Mulder said to goad him. "Not all of them."

"Some of? No, look, I didn't kidnap anyone, never mind more than one person."

"Mark, Mark, I thought we were making progress here. Going back to denying your involvement isn't going to help you any."

Dopey held up his hand. "I didn't say I wasn't involved. I said that I didn't kidnap anyone."

"Explain what you mean," Mulder told him in the same firm tone of voice he used when William tried to get into something.

He sighed. "Kidnapping is when you take someone away without their consent, right?"

Mulder looked up, a bit surprised to hear him use a word like consent properly. "That's right."

"Then there weren't any kidnappings. No one got taken away without their consent."

Doggett's brow furrowed. "What are you saying, the victims went willingly?"

Dopey brightened enormously. "Exactly! They wanted to do it. I mean, they planned it and everything."

"Planned 'it'? What's 'it'?"

He waved a hand. "You know, leaving for a couple of days, and then coming back."

"What the hell for?" Doggett asked abruptly.

"Um," Dopey shrank back in his chair. "They wanted more attention from their parents. You know, to get their way more and stuff. It mostly worked for them, too."

Mulder wondered if Kelli Cross was the reason for the 'mostly' given it didn't seem to have helped her any. "Are you saying the victims knew each other?"

"Define 'knew'. We've set things up online, you know, not in person. It's not like people would have known each other to say hi to in real life."

"What do you mean, the internet?" Doggett asked. "The first of these crimes happened ten years ago. There wasn't an internet back then."

"Not like now, but yeah there was. There were usernet groups even back then. Mostly nerds had internet at home back then. Now it's even easier."

"So you're saying that people in some sort of group online arranged their own kidnappings to get back at their parents." Mulder gave the kid a puzzled look.

"Yeah, basically."

"Mark, you're not one of the victims, so how do you tie into this?"

"My girlfriend got kidnapped," he used his fingers to make air quotes at the last word, "a few years ago. Part of the deal is that if you get 'kidnapped' you've got to let someone crash at your house for a few days another year, once you grow up. She and I live together, so..."

Doggett stood up abruptly, and the chair groaned as it slid unevenly across the floor. "Agent Mulder, could I have a word?" Mulder nodded and followed him out of the room. "Do you believe him?"

Mulder nodded slowly. "I don't think he's smart enough to have made it up."

Doggett ran a hand down his face. "Then there's no X-File here, just like I said two weeks ago."

"Yeah."

"Then we're going to have to get the police to haul Blake in for questioning, see if his story matches up with Mark's."

For a second Mulder wondered who Mark was before remembering that it was Dopey's name. "Sounds like. But that's really their problem, not ours, right?"

"Right." Doggett immediately looked more cheerful. "Let's go tell them-"

"Wait. There's one more thing I want to ask Mark first."

Doggett nodded, and they went back in the room.

"Mark, what's with the greenery?"

"Greenery?" Mark looked puzzled.

"The plants left on the pillows," Mulder clarified.

"Oh, that. Way back when someone decided that having a 'calling card' would make it seem more like the kids had really been kidnapped instead of running away. They were like into that Wicca stuff, so they picked plants."

"Uh huh." With that, both tired FBI agents left the room, and went to find the officers to inform them that the case was officially their problem again.


4:45 a.m.

As quite as he tried to be coming in, Reyes still stirred sleepily when he opened the door to their bedroom. "Mulder?"

"Sorry. I was trying not to wake you."

"It's okay," she said with a yawn. "Did you get the kid back?"

"It's kind of a long story for this time of morning, but yes, the kid is back home safely." He stripped off his shoes as they talked, then unzipped his pants.

"That's good. His parents must be pleased."

Maybe not, Mulder thought, considering that the officers had gone to their house to bring them and Blake in for questioning. "I'm sure they're happy he's safe."

"I'm happy too," she murmured.

"Oh yeah?"

"Yeah. You'll be here tonight, not off battling evil. I know evil never takes holiday, but it's nice when we get to."

"Hmm. Maybe we can stay up tonight to watch for Santa."

She smiled. "You don't really think we'd see anything, do you?"

"How do you explain all those movies where adults insist there's no Santa, but there are presents under the tree that they didn't buy? You'd think they'd be glad for a benign explanation."

"Mulder, I love you, but you're not making sense," she said, reaching up to hug him.

"Love you, too," he replied and pulled on his pajamas. She was asleep again before he crawled into the bed with her, but she snuggled against him anyway.





Chapter Thirty-One

Christmas Eve
7 p.m. "NORAD reports that Santa sleigh has been sighted over the Atlantic Ocean. Sources estimate that it's only a matter of time before he reaches the United States-" said a man wearing a more expensive suit than Mulder ever hoped to own.

Mulder used his index finger to point at the anchorman. "Look Will, Santa's coming."

The redheaded toddler gave the television a brief glance, but then looked away. He apparently found the Christmas puzzle that Reyes' mother had sent him far more interesting than Santa sightings.

Reyes noticed, and smiled at her husband. "I guess he's not old enough to get it yet," she remarked from where she was sitting on the floor.

Until the report had come on the TV, she and Mulder had been in the process of wrapping Christmas presents for Doggett and the gunmen. Mulder would have been content buying them gift certificates to online stores, but Reyes insisted that they should have something more tangible to unwrap, so they'd scourged the mall for suitable gifts...and mostly ended up with geeky t-shirts and books related to their hobbies.

Mulder shrugged as she passed him a present to affix a stick on bow to. "I guess not."

"By next year, I'm sure he'll be into Santa. From what my mother told me, most little kids develop an interest in 'Santo Clos' between the ages of two and three. I suppose she'd know, considering how many nieces and nephews she has, in addition to raising Paulo and me."

He gave her an interested look. "Santo Clos? I take it the man in the red suit visits Mexico too, then?"

"Yeah, but like Halloween, Santa isn't as long-standing a tradition as here in the US. In fact, in Mexico, the three wise men have been giving gifts on January sixth for a longer than kids have been writing letters to old Santo. I used to look forward to a visit from Los Reyes Magos so much when I was a little girl."

"What does 'Los Reyes Magos' mean?" Mulder asked.

"It means the wise kings, but it literally says the kings wise, because we put the adjectives in a different order in Spanish."

"So your last name means Kings then?"

"Yup."

"Monica, you wouldn't happen to know what Mulder means, do you?"

She nodded. "It means one who grinds grain. Like a miller."

He sighed. "The meaning of your last name is definitely cooler than mine."

"I know. But I'll try not to rub it in."

"You!" He pulled her into a bear hug, making her laugh.

William finally looked up from his puzzle. "Hey!" he said, looking indignant about being left out of the fun.

Mulder swept his arm down, and pulled their son to them too. At first the little boy seemed startled, but then he began to giggle. He continued to laugh until there was sound from outside their apartment. "Daddy, Moni, door!"

"Yes, Sweetie," Reyes said, and kissed him on the top of his head.

Mulder went to get the door, because it was easier for him to get to his feet from sitting on the floor. He glanced back over his shoulder before opening it, worried that it could be the gunmen, who would see something they shouldn't. But when he opened it, he realized he'd worried about nothing

"Fox," Maggie said warmly. She was bundled up in her winter coat, and her arms were full of bags.

"Come in," Mulder said, shutting the door behind her. A few steps later, he bent down to pick up his son. "William, here's your grandma, the one who likes me better."

Maggie gave an uncharacteristic snort, and then blushed. "I take it that Senora Reyes is not a fan of yours?" she asked. She didn't seem to think it was odd that he'd refer to another grandmother despite his own mom being gone.

Mulder shook his head. "I think it says a lot that she calls me Zorro even after I've asked her not to."

Maggie cocked her head. "Oh, because you're Fox. I'd forgotten what Zorro meant."

While they talked, William studied his grandmother. Eventually he held out his arms so Maggie took him from Mulder. "Hi, Darling. Merry Christmas."

"'erry kissmas," William repeated after a fashion, and all three adults smiled at the attempt.

Maggie held up large bag that Mulder noticed earlier; tissue paper sprouted from the top. "Want to see what grandma bought you for Christmas?"

William nodded enthusiastically. "Yes!"

His grandmother turned to look at Reyes after setting both William and the bag down. "Monica dear, would you mind watching to make sure he doesn't eat the paper? His uncle Charlie had to be watched like a hawk at that age."

"No problem. There is a pot of coffee in the kitchen that should be done by now, if you and Mulder need to talk," she said a little pointedly. Mulder wasn't surprised that she had come to the same conclusion about Maggie's visit as he had.

Maggie looked a bit taken aback by the beverage offer, though. "Coffee at this hour?"

Mulder grinned. "We have a couple of construction projects to accomplish before bed. Monica won't drink coffee, so it may mean that I need to soldier on myself if I run into any problems. I want her to get all the rest she needs, of course."

Maggie laughed, and followed him into the kitchen. He took cream and sugar out too before sitting down, and she smiled as she took them from him. "You've seen Dana," he said. He wanted to ask her how she felt about it, but I reminded him too much of his days of studying psychology, and he wasn't her therapist, so he didn't.

It turned out that he didn't have to. Maggie reached across the table and touched his arm. "How have you been, Fox?"

"There aren't even words," he admitted with a wry smile. "I take it that you're in DC to see Dana."

Maggie looked up. "You called her Dana, just now. That's different. I'm used to you calling her Scully."

He shrugged. "Things change."

"As to the answer to your question, yes. I am here in DC to see Dana. I saw her today, actually."

He wanted to ask her, or perhaps interrogate her, if she too had noticed how different Dana was now. But he was afraid to, afraid that she might say that nothing had changed, that it was just his memory that was faulty, and she was perfectly content with her prodigal daughter.

Eventually Mulder noticed that Maggie was staring at him. "Dana doesn't remember anything that has happened over the past four years."

"I know," he said. "It came as quite a surprise to us all."

"It's like..." She shook her head softly. "God forgive me, but at times it's almost like talking to a stranger."

"I know," he said again.

Maggie sighed. "I'd like to believe that this is just some sort of traumatic amnesia, but then...." She drifted off into silence. "The funeral was real, wasn't it? We did bury a woman in May of last year. I just don't know who. Who did we bury?" Maggie asked.

Mulder shook his head. "I don't know. Someone is trying very hard to keep us from finding that out."

"I was told that the grave was empty."

"Yes, they dug up the casket, and found it unoccupied." It felt very strange to be talking to Scully's mother about this, since he had assumed that everyone had gotten the information at the same time. Apparently it had only been given out on a need to know basis, and he disagreed with the notion that a mother wasn't someone who desperately needed to know.

Lights shimmered off of Maggie's eyes, and it took him a moment to realize that they were full of tears. "Was it her? Did we bury her, and she got out somehow?"

A shudder went through him when he thought about her waking up in the casket, and desperately clawing her way through six feet of dirt, eventually breaking through to the surface. Like a fiend in a zombie movie. "Maggie, if I could give you the answers I would."

"I know you would." She looked away and rubbed at her eyes. "It must be difficult for you, not being able to share the experience with her."

"What do you mean?"

Maggie's hand fluttered up in a vague gesture. "Coming back to life, I mean. She doesn't remember burying you, or your boss ordering you...disinterred."

Mulder's eyes widened in surprise: he hadn't thought about how Dana had no memory of him coming back. Intellectually he knew that it Dana had no recall of his resurrection, but it was a sterile thought until then, divorced from emotion. A sense of loss welled up in him when he thought about how the moment he'd woken up to Scully's tears only being real to him.

Maggie misinterpreted his surprise. "I'm sorry, I should have known that it was inappropriate to bring that up-"

"No, it's fine. I just hadn't given that a lot of thought."

She nodded. "You've had a lot to think about the past three weeks, so of course you can't have thought of everything yet."

Mulder nodded, but three weeks seemed like a very long time to him. A lot of happened over those twenty something days, but Maggie was right. He did feel at sea still. He couldn't think of anything else to say, so he asked, "Are you going to see her tomorrow?"

Her expression clouded. "I had hoped that she would want to go with me to see her brother, both of them actually because we're having Christmas at Charlie's again, but..."

"She won't go with you?" he asked knowingly. In his mind he could picture her flatly refusing, saying that she'd rather be alone.

"Oh, she agreed to," Maggie said, surprising him. "I'm just not sure that she actually intends to participate. I have this picture in my head of her politely nodding, but not actually saying much of anything. Perhaps sitting in a corner by herself... I'm beginning to wonder if I am putting too much pressure on her too soon."

"It's Christmas," Mulder said. "Of course you want to include her."

"I know, dear. Still, I feel like I'm forcing her. But...Maybe that's a good thing."

"What do you mean?"

"I don't know about you, Fox, but I know that I at least have been guilty of treating her like a temporary visitor. If we don't force her to engage with the world again, what will it be like for her later on? Always an outsider?"

"Then you believe it really is her?" Mulder asked.

She shook his head. "Does it matter if it's her or not? This person, whoever she is, I think she's here to stay. Perhaps we better treat her like we believe that. Even if this isn't my Dana, it is somebody."

Mulder wondered what Maggie would think if she knew that someone had once cloned his sister, making many copies of lost Samantha. He hadn't given them a lot of thought, not after the one he tried to rescue with Jeremiah Smith was eliminated, but maybe Maggie would have. It made him uneasy to think that perhaps the woman in front of him might have greater stores of compassion then he had access to himself.

After a few minutes of them both being in contemplative silence, Maggie stood up. "Well, it was wonderful to see you. I hope that you all have a lovely holiday tomorrow. I think I need to go home so I will be rested for the drive in the morning."

He gave her a tentative hug, not sure how she would react. It made him miss his own mother more than a little.

Despite her declaration that she needed to get going, Maggie spent a little while playing with William and the new toys she bought him before she left. It didn't surprise Mulder or Reyes much because William was rather irresistible. She took her cue that it was time to get going when William yawned loudly and rubbed his eyes.


A short while later Reyes came into William's room just after Mulder had put him in the Christmas themed blanket sleeper that she had insisted he needed for Christmas Eve. Apparently in her family new pajamas were a tradition for Christmas Eve. She'd also bought them for herself and Mulder, which amused him more deeply then he would let her see. Christmas sleepwear hadn't been a Mulder family tradition. In fact, after Samantha disappeared, they were very few Mulder family traditions to survive the aftermath.

William was already asleep, tucked in, and though probably not thinking about sugarplums, there was a faint smile on his lips.

Mulder slipped his arm around his wife. "What's up?" he asked, leading her to their room so they wouldn't disturb William.

"Do you mind if I'm curious about what you and William's grandmother might have talked about?" she asked, sitting on the bed.

"Dana. I'm sure you're not surprised."

"Yes, I did expect that much," she said giving him a wry look.

He sighed. "Apparently Maggie has decided that she is going to try to have a relationship with Dana, regardless of whether or not she is her actual daughter."

Reyes cocked her head. "You're still not sure?"

Mulder shrugged helplessly. "Things don't add up. He would be nice if there was a bright trail of clues that said definitively that yes, this is the Dana Scully I had a child with, or no, it's an impostor, or it isn't the Dana I had a child with but she was an impostor, but the clues are tangled. I don't know what it would take to convince me one way or the other, but I haven't gotten there yet."

"That's understandable."

"Is it?" Mulder wanted to know. "If anything, Maggie's decision seems to prove that she's a better person than I am. She is concerned about Dana, even if she isn't her daughter. I don't know, maybe I should take a cue from her and try harder."

"Mulder, are you sure that's wise?" Reyes asked. "If this woman is some sort of impostor, it's not like she's a victim of chance who has no idea what's going on."

He raised his eyebrows. "You're going with the nefarious Dana Scully theory?"

"I don't know, Mulder. I knew her much less well than you did, so I have no idea what to think."

He pulled back the comforter on their bed. "It's Christmas," he looked at the clock, which only read ten. "Or close enough. I like to put a moratorium on talk about that woman. Let's enjoy the holiday. We know that she's going to be with Maggie, so on the off chance it is our Dana, we have nothing to feel guilty about if we don't spend all of our emotional energy being concerned about her too."

"Okay, what should we talk about instead?"

"Frohike bought me a Santa hat." He had, one decorated with the logo for the Knicks. "How about I put that on, and we'll pretend I'm Santa. You can sit on my lap, and we'll talk about whatever pops up," Mulder told her with a leer.

Reyes snorted. "I think sitting on your lap is what brought us together tonight anyway."

"That's possibly true, since we aren't entirely sure of when we conceived this baby. But isn't that a nice memory to reenact?"

"I suppose that would bring us some holiday cheer," Reyes said thoughtfully.

His eyes widened in appreciation as she slipped off her panties. He thought about asking her if she was sure, but he didn't want to start an argument about treating her like she was an invalid, so instead he said, "I'm beginning to see the virtue of your new Christmas Eve nightgown."

"Shut up and kiss me," she said as he helped her settle onto his lap.

Mulder was more than happy to oblige. It definitely wasn't a silent night as she sank down onto him, but it least the apartment was well insulated.


Chapter Thirty-Two

December 31st, 2002

"Are you sure that you're up for this?" Mulder asked as he parked in front of the gunmen's place of business/residence.

Reyes forced herself not to roll her eyes - it was a little late to be asking after they'd already driven there. "I'm good."

"Okay." When they got out of the car Mulder took charge of William, and left her with only her purse and a giant bag of Chex Mix to carry.

The bag was light in spite of its large size. "You're sure they like this stuff?" She'd been dubious since watching Mulder stirred every few minutes for over an hour.

"Trust me, they love it."

Langley apparently had door duty, and his eyes lit up when he saw William. "Little dude!"

"Hi!" William shouted. For reasons known only to the boy himself, the blond gunman was the toddler's favorite gunman. He held out his arms to Langley and giggled hysterically when he was swooped up.

"Kids, you've got to love their weird sense of humor," Langley said before he noticed what Reyes was holding. "Chex Mix!"

"Told you," Mulder muttered, making her smile.

"That stuff is like the perfect snack food. It'll go great with the Philly cheese steaks and wine." He glanced at Reyes' belly. "We've got sparkling grape juice too, so the little dude and you won't be left out. You know, on account of your delicate condition."

She snorted. "I have never felt less delicate and more like a water buffalo in my whole life."

"Be glad you're not really a water buffalo. Those things are pregnant for a whole year," Langley said seriously.

"Langley, get out of the way so they can come in already," Frohike he snapped while walking towards him. "It's cold enough out there to freeze the balls off a brass monkey."

"Oops." Langley backed out of the doorway so they could step inside.

Reyes looked around and noted that there were more, and newer, computers around the place than there had been the last time she'd been over. It looked like some of their financial difficulties were past them.

"Can I take your coats?" Byers asked, startling her because she didn't hear him come up behind her.

"Thanks."

He took William's and Mulder's too.

"Food's almost done," Frohike called on his way back to the kitchen.

"Great."

"Hey, Mulder," Langley said. "While you're here, can I experiment on Will?"

"Questions I never thought I'd be asked for $200, Alex," Mulder muttered before giving his friend a wary look. "Experiment how, exactly?"

"Nothing with electrodes or probes," Langley said in what was probably meant to be in a reassuring tone. "No, I'm trying to develop a software program for toddlers, and I was hoping to use a little dude is my first beta tester."

"You're developing software for toddlers?" Reyes asked.

"It's a growth market," Langley said with a shrug. "Those crappy Baby Einstein videos have shown that guilty parents are huge source of untapped consumer potential."

"So, you're what, teaching him to type?" She tried not to laugh at the absurdity of teaching someone who was still innocent of the ABCs to use a computer.

Langley eyed Mulder and squirmed a little. "Actually, it's a game."

"A game?" Mulder looked unaccountably alarmed, making his wife wonder why. "I remember the last game you were involved with..."

"It's nothing like that," Langley promised. "No 3-D immersion, no Jade Blue Afterglow-"

"Jade Blue Afterglow?" Reyes asked, looking bewildered.

"You never told her about that?"

"I was saving the story for our fifth anniversary."

"Ha!" Langley drew his chair closer to hers and began to tell her the saga of "the time Scully went all Rambo on a bitch's ass" to save Mulder.

Mulder's only contribution to the tale was to declare that "I never even got her phone number," after Langley's lovingly detailed description of Ms. Afterglow's physical attributes.


Later

"Anyone want another sandwich?" Frohike asked, and was answered with a chorus of Nos. "In that case, the grill is now closed."

"Technically it's a stove, not a grill," Byers pointed out.

Frohike scowled at him. "Technically saying 'the stove is now closed' sounds idiotic."

"Not much longer until the ball drops," Reyes said brightly, hoping to stave off further disagreement.

"This could be the year," Mulder said to no one in particular.

Byers took the bait. "The year for what?"

"For Dick Clark to finally dissolve into a pile of ash in front of horrified viewers. Like the vampires on that Buffy show Monica watches."

"Langley watches that too," Frohike said disdainfully.

"What, am I supposed to deny it?" Langley asked. "Hell yeah I watch. You would too if you have any taste in women. Willow's a babe."

"The goody-goody witch?"

"She's not a goody-goody anymore. People change, man."

"With the right script writer, sure."

"Speaking of change," Byers said loudly enough to be heard over his roommates, "What's the latest on Scully?"

Mulder froze, clearly taken aback by the conversational shift, but he soon recovered himself. "The DNA test says she's a match for the DNA on file."

"So it is her," Byers said softly.

"I guess."

"I'll tell you, I'd be looking for a pod in her basement," Langley intoned.

Frohike rolled his eyes. "Invasions of the Bodysnatchers, Blondie?"

"Exactly."

"It's just a movie," Reyes blurted out.

The blond gunman's expression darkened. "That's what they want you to believe."

"She is different, though, isn't she?" Byers asked.

"Yes."

"I don't believe she's a pod person, but she's not welcome here," Frohike said firmly. "They might have brainwashed her into being a spy."

"They who?"

"Ten! Nine!" a little voice said, clearly aping the TV. This got the adults' attention and everyone focused on the ball hanging above Times Square.

"... One! Happy New Year's!"

Langley and Frohike blew plastic horns, William clapped, Mulder and Reyes kissed, and Byers looked uncomfortable about the public display of affection. Then they all clinked together glasses of wine or grape juice.

"I have a New Year's resolution," Langley declared.

"This ought to be good."

"What is it?" Byers asked.

"By this time next year I'm going to find girlfriends for all three of us, even if it kills me."

"How do you plan to do that? E-Harmony?" Frohike smirked at him.

"Laugh it up, Loser. I found us a perfect online dating site and were all filling out profiles tomorrow."

"E-Harmony rejects people. People like us." Byers sounded mournful.

"But Techlovers.com, doesn't," Langley told him. "We'll be gods there."

Mulder yawned loudly. "Would you look at the time?" He gently pulled on his wife's hand to get her to stand.

"Watch out for drunks," Frohike told him.

"We will."

"Do you want to take some of the leftover Chex Mix back home?" Langley asked. He looked delighted when they said no.


After Mulder started the car, Reyes began to laugh hard enough to make her shoulder shake.

"What?"

"Do you really think that an online dating service is going to find them girls willing to put up with them?"

"They'll be gods there," Mulder said solemnly before dissolving into laughter himself.


Early January 2003

"Morning, Doggett. How were the holidays?" Mulder asked as he entered the basement office their first day back after the holidays.

"Not bad. Our families were still a bit bewildered, but generally supportive."

"Generally?" Mulder asked knowingly. It didn't take a psych degree to realize that remarriages often left families nonplussed.

"Barb has this cousin Frankie-" Doggett broke off when Scully walked in.

She didn't smile, but dumped her bag on the floor and sat in the chair that Reyes generally claimed.

"Mornin', Dana," Doggett offered tentatively. Mulder said nothing; he was thinking that he'd much rather have his wife sitting there.

"Good morning."

It was only then that Mulder realized that she wasn't wearing her coat. Looking over by the door he saw it, and wondered when she'd gotten in, and where she'd gone. Probably to fill out paperwork with HR. It was a bitch to get your health insurance started back up once you'd been declared dead, so he didn't envy her.

She bent down and fished a folder out of her bag, which made Mulder raise his eyebrows. Apparently HR hadn't taken up all of her early morning. "Skinner asked me to bring this down with me. I haven't looked at it yet," she said, handing it to Mulder.

"Thanks," he said shortly. His mother would have rolled in her grave if he hadn't thanked her.

Mulder took a moment to skim through it before glancing at Doggett. "Remember the Cameron Hart case?" he asked meaningfully. Doggett's eyes widened.

On the other hand, Scully looked annoyed. "Cameron Hart case?" she asked, her tone making it clear that she didn't like being excluded.

"A former agent had a psychotic break and took a bunch of people hostage at Carver House back at Halloween," Doggett explained before turning to Mulder. "Are we talking about another loose canon?" His expression said it all - trying to reason with another person after a mental breakdown wasn't how he wanted to spend his day.

"No, another historical site with disturbances, former civil war era home turned historical mini-museum. Fortunately, this one doesn't seem to involve hostages. Just vandals getting in and out of a locked building."

"I don't see why that'd be an X-File," Doggett grumbled. "Someone probably has a key."

"They thought of that, and set up cameras at all the doors. The cameras have never picked up anyone going through them."

"Okay, a locked room mystery. But that still doesn't make it an X-File."

"What if I told you that all four times the house was broken into there was a lingering scent of sulfur?" Mulder asked, smiling.

"That sounds like an X-File," Doggett conceded.

"Underground," Scully said, making both of her partners look at her.

"What?"

"Is there a basement? Someone could have gotten in through it."

"You're suggesting that they tunneled into the basement?" Mulder asked.

"No, I'm not," she parroted his terse delivery of 'thank you' from earlier. "I'm suggesting that this is a historical home, and considering how close we are to the Mason-Dixon line it very well could have been part of the underground railroad."

"So you're suggesting that there could already be tunnels," Doggett suggested, obviously taken with the idea. "And that the vandals are taking advantage of them."

She shrugged. "It couldn't hurt to look, could it?" She looked directly at Mulder as she spoke.

He had to admit, it was a good theory. "Do we want to check out floor plans with the historical society, or see if we can commission a ground penetrating radar imaging crew to come out with us?"

"Historical society first," Doggett and Scully said at once, making clear that they'd rather not try to get an expensive requisition request approved. Everyone grabbed their coats.


Symthe Museum

The caretaker/curator of Symthe House turned out to be a short, painfully thin and decidedly high strung man named Garland Timmons. Timmons, probably in his forties despite bouncing around like a nervous first-grader, had parted ways with almost half his hair, and after speaking to him long enough to determine his low threshold for stress, Mulder wondered if he torn it out himself.

"I don't understand what you're doing," Timmins protested anxiously as he watched them rap lightly on the walls. "You do understand that this is the home's original wallpaper, don't you?"

"Yes," Doggett said shortly, making Timmons shrink.

Mulder thought about suggesting that the caretaker go across the street to Starbucks and get a coffee so he didn't have to watch them explore Scully's theory, but he worried that adding any caffeine to the little man might push him into a heart attack.

He was still trying to think of a diplomatic way to get him out of their hair when Scully spoke up. "Mister Timmons, please go outside."

"Wh-what?" he squeaked.

She waved a hand towards the door. "Go. Take a walk. Find something to do for the next hour that doesn't involve staring at us like you're afraid we're going to break something valuable."

"But-"

The look she gave him was devoid of warmth. "I understand that you're trying to do the job you were hired for, but your actions are impeding a federal investigation. I'm giving you the chance to cooperate now, rather than face the legal penalties concurrent with attempts to obstruct justice."

Timmons' watery blue eyes got very wide before he abruptly raced out of the house.

"That was little harsh, don't you think?" Doggett asked reprovingly.

Scully shrugged. "I couldn't handle any more whining about the rugs and the walls."

Rather than enter the conversation, Mulder had continued to knock on the walls. Eventually he heard a different noise. "Hear that?" he asked, tapping the same place again.

Doggett and Scully joined him, and the three stared at the wall. Mulder wasn't quite sure what they were supposed to be looking at, but it seemed as though Doggett did because after a few minutes he spoke up. "Look at the seams."

"What?"

"The seams of the wallpaper. Now, I don't have a tape measure with me, but I'm willing to bet the sheets of wallpaper in this room are 24 inches wide."

"And?" Mulder asked, willing him to get to a point.

"And this one isn't." Doggett pointed at the wall directly in front of him.

Looking closely, Mulder was willing to concede that it was slightly narrower than the other strips. "They had to trim to get the last piece to fit?"

"Why would they have started papering in the middle of the wall?" Scully asked.

Mulder tried not to bristle because even he had to admit that was a logical question. "I don't know. What do you think it means, John?"

Doggett stared at the wall for moment more before beginning to run a finger nail down one of the seams.

"Oh, don't let Timmons see you doing that," Mulder joked, and Doggett abruptly stopped. "I was just-"

"There," Doggett declared.

Before Mulder or Scully could ask him what he meant by "there" the wall began to move. A floor length section of it swung an inch or two into the room. Doggett grasped the edge and pulled.

It was a door, and it revealed a dark hollow space.

"Underground Railroad," Scully said under her breath, and they could only nod their agreement.

All three agents switched on their flashlights and aim them at the darkness.

After a moment Doggett aimed directly at the floor 10 or 12 feet into the tunnel. "I see something, trash maybe."

"Antique trash that Timmons can put under glass?"

"Not less Kit-Kat bars were a civil war staple." Doggett bent down and picked up a familiar red wrapper.

Mulder advanced into the tunnel a few feet more, and kicked something small. He held it up. "Ye olde smoke bomb."

It looked like Timmons was on the edge of a nervous breakdown when they showed later him what they had discovered.

"It leads all the way to the outside," Scully explained. "And there is no grate on the outside lip to keep anyone out anymore." They had examined the grate, which had obviously been in place at one point but long since rusted it away.

"And another thing," Doggett said. "You're lucky that no animals have found their way in the building, and the tunnel has never flooded."

Timmons ran a hand through what remained of his hair. "Oh. Oh. I'm going to have to talk to the board of trustees about this immediately."

"When you do," Mulder suggested. "Make sure you suggest that you put a camera in that tunnel. If any miscreants return, you'll want to be able to identify them on film."

The caretaker looked at him like he had just suggested that he tell the board of directors that they ought to perform a human sacrifice in the tunnel. "I'll tell them, but I don't know. I just don't know."

"I think our work here is done," Scully said firmly. She didn't seem at all bothered by the fact that the little man was wringing his hands. "We'll see ourselves out."

"Poor bastard," Mulder said as he got in the car. Scully gave him a sharp look. "What? The poor guy just about shit himself when I suggested he give the board our recommendation. He's wrapped about two or three times tighter than anybody needs to be."

"I take it this is the new kinder gentler Mulder that I'm being introduced to?" Scully asked flatly.

Mulder shrugged. "Time changes a person," he said, echoing Langley's New Year's eve comment.

The look on Scully's face suggested that she didn't find it a universal truth herself, which he found ironic all things considered.

"You suppose Skinner will be pleased or displeased that we just spent the last two hours working on something that was definitely not an X-Files?" Doggett asked, apparently unaware of their exchange.

"It prevented a costly stakeout. I think that counts as a win in his book."

"We can only hope. And I hope that when we hand off this case to the police they take over the clerical administration of it too."

"You just want to get out more paperwork," Mulder accused cheerfully.

"And you don't?"


Later That Night

Reyes and William were in her old bedroom when she heard the door to the apartment open. Mulder had moved all of the furniture out of the room over his vacation, ultimately selling the unneeded bed to a couple of kids renting their first apartment and finding a place for everything else, so the room was mostly empty. She'd been mentally arranging baby furniture in the room while William was staging an animated conversation between Bunny and Bear. She couldn't make out most of what he was saying, but the stuffed animals nodded agreeably, or perhaps woozily, at each other.

"Hey, what's up?" Mulder asked, poking his head into the room.

"I was thinking about where to put the crib, changing table, and the baby's dresser. Once I make up my mind about color and we get them, that is." She'd been trying to decide between walnut like William's furniture, or white.

"When William was a newborn, I thought about putting his crib by the window, but then I realized just how much sun came in and figured it'd wake him up," Mulder recalled, making her happy that he actually had an opinion. "So...if you want my advice, I'd put the changing table there instead."

"Sounds good," she said as she watched him make William squeal in delight by sweeping the little boy and both toys up at once. "How was the first day back?"

"Down Daddy, down!"

"Oh," Mulder said, putting William back on his feet. "It could have been worse."

"That's good to hear." Reyes was actually a little surprised that he wasn't ready with a laundry list of complaints about Dana.

"Yeah. Dana actually saved us from wasting time on a case that turned out not to be an X-File. A historical home kept getting vandalized without anyone ever being seen entering or leaving the building, and it turned out that some jerkoffs had discovered that there was a set of tunnels for the underground railroad that lead into the basement. So they'd been going in that way, and setting off stink bombs to ape demonic activity...demons who left candy wrappers and soda bottles behind in the tunnels. The local cops are planning an ambush, having someone inside the basement for the rest of the week to arrest anyone who comes in through the tunnels," Mulder explained.

"You must be relieved not to have to work on a pointless case," Reyes replied, feeling a little uneasy about the grudging admiration in his voice. Stop it, she told herself, it's a good thing that they can work together, you know that.

"Sure. A stakeout wouldn't be the same without you," he said, making her feel better instantly.

"You say the sweetest things."

"Speaking of sweetest things, do you mind if I make brownies? I have a killer chocolate craving."

"Knock yourself out."

"Good. I might even share."

"Mulder!"

"Okay, okay, I will definitely share. You can have one brownie each."

She shook her head, but she was still smiling.


Chapter Thirty-Three

Mid-January

One morning, while trying to get ready for breakfast, Mulder tripped over the paint can that had been sitting in the kitchen since two days after Christmas.

"Ow, dammit," he swore, giving the can a baleful look.

The expression on his face made it difficult for Reyes not to laugh, but she did her best. "You okay?"

"I'll live." It looked like Mulder was weighing the temptation of kicking the can, but his temper held, and he didn't. "That's it. I'm sorry that I didn't get around to painting the nursery over my vacation like I said I would-"

"A lot has happened since you made that promise," Reyes said quickly.

"I know. But it still needs to be done. I'm going to take a day off from work later in the week and finally get it done."

"Are you sure you want to waste a vacation day on that?"

"I have tons of them because they're not allowed to screw us by disallowing rollover from year to year. I know it will come as a shock to you, but I didn't take a lot of time off over the years before I met you."

The effort became too much, and this time she erupt in giggles. Trying to sober up, she said, "Really? You don't say."

"My dad used to be big into taking days off to go to RV shows, I've never really felt the pull of the open road," Mulder waxed poetically, making her laugh even more. "Scully once told me that I'd become catatonic if I was separated from my cell phone for a prolonged period of time, and she might've been right."

Reyes tried not to bristle at the unexpected mention of Dana. Though, she thought perhaps he wasn't actually thinking about the woman he shared an office with when he said it. "What about boat and fishing shows? You haven't ever wanted to go and check out a fishing expo to see the brand-new carbine steel double reel titanium reinforced Marlin poles?"

"As much as it shames me to admit, I've never been much of a deep sea fisherman." By now even Mulder was losing his composure.

"That's hard to believe, because you're quite the catch."

Mulder looked her up and down. "If I didn't think you'd slap me, I'd make a joke about landing a big one."

They both dissolved into incoherent laughter, and were still holding onto the table for support when William wandered into the room. "What doing?"

"Oh, Daddy and Moni were just being silly," Mulder said, wiping his face. Then he looked at his son. "Hey! How did you get out here?"

"Out!" William said proudly, pointing at his chest.

"Little monkey," Reyes said fondly. "Mama said that I began jumping out of my crib headfirst when I was just his age. Eventually she left a chair next to my crib so she didn't have to worry about me cracking my skull."

"So, how do we deal with this? There's already bars on the crib, so obviously that doesn't help."

Reyes laughed again, picturing bars over the top of the crib too, like a lion's cage. "Don't say netting."

Mulder looked crushed. "No?"

"No. I think we're going to have to suck it up and buy a toddler bed sooner than we anticipated."

"Right. I guess it's a good thing we hadn't bought another crib yet anyway. But Monica, won't a toddler bed just make it easier for him to get up and wander around?"

"A toddler bed, and a baby gate for his door," Reyes amended. "That should keep him in his room at any rate."

"Yeah, but he'll be able to get out of bed, stand at the gate, and scream," Mulder complained.

"You didn't think he'd stay a baby forever, did you?" Reyes asked, but from the look on his face, she thought that maybe he had hoped something like that, at least a little.


Later That Week

A radio talked to Mulder about the need for term life insurance then new windows as he rolled a new coat of paint on the walls. The fact that it had once been his wife's room was making him feel a bit nostalgic, and also had him idly wondering why they had never had sex in the room: she had always found her way into his room instead. Too late for that now, he decided, the paint fumes would make them sick even if he could wrestle an air mattress into the room-

His phone chirped, startling him, and he used his jeans to brush paint off his hands before he thought better of it. "Monica?"

"No, it's Dana."

"Oh."

Apparently his flat response made her nervous. "If you're expecting a call, I can-"

"No, it's all right. Monica took William in to have pictures taken," he explained. Reyes took pity on him now and then and dealt with a photographer who somehow still was under the impression that he was gay. "I wasn't really expecting anyone to call. What's up?"

What's up, he thought, rolling his eyes. As if she was just calling for casual chat. She wouldn't now, and had almost never then, now that he thought about it. Dana Scully was definitely not the sort of person anxious to reach out and touch someone.

"I wouldn't bother you if I thought that there was someone else I could ask..." she dithered, making him feel impatient with her.

"What do you, wa- Um, what do you need?" he asked impatiently.

"When my mother was here, she helped me pick out things for my new apartment-" the lease on her old one had run out a long time before, even though she had prepaid for the previous year. "And it's all come at once."

"Uh huh," he said not sure what she wanted. Even if she didn't remember the last four years, she knew enough from before to realize that he was no Mulder Stewart. Slapping paint on walls was the full extent of his home decorating skills.

"And the delivery guy piled everything on the lawn and said, 'sorry, honey, I don't do stairs,'" Scully told him, and Mulder thought she sounded close to tears. "Even though I was afraid of things being stolen, I brought up all the boxes that were light enough for me to carry. But the furniture is too heavy to manage on my own, and when I asked the building manager for help he just snapped that the stuff better be out of people's way before they came home for work..."

Mulder gave the wet paint a rueful look. "All right. I'll come help you."

"You will?" she asked, sounding both grateful and surprised.

"Yeah." Realizing that he had no idea where she lived, he added, "I need your address, though."


On the drive over to Scully's, Mulder gave his suspicions full reign. It'd serve me right if this is some sort of setup, he thought, for rushing over to help my ex instead of finishing painting the baby's room. What sort of guy does that? A chump.

But he knew that the real reason wasn't that he was some sort of idiot still caring a torch for his ex. He was literally the only one she could ask for help. Her brothers were far away, Doggett barely knew her, the gunmen thought she might be proof that Invasion of the Body Snatchers was a thinly veiled documentary, and Skinner wasn't the sort of guy you asked to knock off early and help you move furniture. Her mother didn't even live in the area anymore, not that he wanted a small woman Maggie's age to be doing heavy lifting like that anyway.

So it was up to him, whether he liked it or not.

He could see Scully when he parked. DC hadn't gotten much snow but it was damn cold to be outside there the way she was, cheeks getting red as she watched over a pile of oversized boxes and a fully assembled kitchen table. She hadn't noticed him yet, so he felt free to study her. Her wary expression spoke less of the joy of screwing someone over than the simple fear that someone stronger would help themselves to her new acquisitions, so he allowed himself to let his guard down, and wondered why she hadn't thought to arm herself on her day off.

"What? No recliner?" he called as he made his way up the walk to meet her.

Scully gave him a tense smile. "No, I ordered it from another company. Believe me, after all this I called to check on that order. They do stairs."

"Everyone who delivers stuff for a living should 'do stairs.' It makes you wonder what he's got on the boss to get away with that sort of crap."

"Blackmail, Mulder?"

"Or he's the regional manager's nephew."

"Not unless the regional manager is Methuselah."

"His uncle then." As they spoke, Mulder had been studying the collection of large brown boxes between them. "So here's what I think we should do. I know you're worried about getting robbed, so if you can stand the cold a while longer, you'll wait out here with the table and whatever is in that box," he almost joked and called it a casket, but that didn't seem so funny considering they'd each owned one for real.

"It's probably the grandfather clock," Scully volunteered.

"Right, the table and that while I get the rest of these boxes upstairs. Apartment 112, right? Then we'll carry the last two things up together."

"Apartment 112," she agreed and handed him a key. "Thank you."

Instead of saying you're welcome, he ducked his chin before grabbing the first box. When he did, he decided that she never could have gotten it up a flight of stairs herself. Scully had always been tough for her size, but there were limits to what a woman of 5'2" could manage up stairs on her own, and this box sailed past them. Even he was breathing heavily by the time he set it down in front of the door to 112.

When he swung the door open, he was glad that she was still outside because it was too hard to fully hide his look of dismay. Scully had left the hotel and moved in almost two weeks earlier, but the place was still empty enough to be shown to potential renters. He hoped that the bedroom was a different story, but with the exception of the boxes that had just arrived, the living room contained only a folding chair and a few books, and the kitchen just a pan and a pot and a few boxes of cereal.

It's like she's been squatting, he found himself thinking before trying to push the uncharitable thought away. Not everyone needed a couch and TV to be happy, but he literally couldn't imagine how she was managing to pass non-work hours without going mad from boredom.

He set the box down with the others and tried to fake a smile as he went back for the next one. If he'd had a mirror handy he would have given up because his expression was more of a grimace than a smile.


"That's the last of it," Mulder announced needlessly as they hauled the table into the kitchen.

"Thank you," she said again before looking down at him. "Purple paint?"

"What?" Mulder looked down and noticed the lavender fingerprints on his old jeans. "Oh, that. When you called I was doing my part towards getting the baby's room ready. Don't worry, it dried on the drive over here so it shouldn't have rubbed off on anything over here."

A strangely fragile expression crossed her features for moment before she regrouped. "You found out that it's a girl, I take it?"

"It is. Having a girl and a boy is just what we wanted. John said that he and Barbara had once hoped for one of each... "Mulder trailed off, kicking himself for having brought it up. "Um, so I think he's looking forward to playing 'uncle' to a little girl as well as William. God knows that he's one of Will's favorites."

"What's he like?" Scully asked.

Mulder gave her a confused look. "Who, John?"

"No, your little boy," she corrected. "What's he like."

"Oh." Mulder couldn't help but smile as he thought about his son. "He's a smart kid, in a lot of ways advanced for his age if I do say so myself, and starting to develop a sense of humor. It's not always deliberate, but he really cracks Monica and me up."

At the mention of Reyes, Scully's face closed off a little, but she bounced back quickly. "He seems attached to your wife."

"Very. But no wonder, she's been one of his caretakers since he was only a few days old. That, and he seems to sense how much she loves him."

"It must be nice, being loved by a child," she said quietly. "I thought when we found Emily..." Scully broke off, shaking her head at the memory. "You're both very lucky."

"We know," Mulder agreed.

Part of him wanted to blurt out that she could still be lucky too, but when he thought about her infertility and her failed attempt at adoption, it seemed crass to blithely tell her that maybe she'd meet the right guy soon and have a family of her own. Single dads were not out of the question, but it didn't feel like she was ready to type up her E-Harmony, or maybe Techlovers.com, profile quite yet. "Anyway, Will is a great kid."

"Where are my manners? I should offer you a drink, a snack-"

The thought of seeing if her cupboards and fridge were as bare as the rest of the place left him more than a little horror-stricken, so he quickly said, "Thanks, but I need to hit the hardware store for more painter's tape before it, um, closes."

Instead of calling him on his lie by asking what sort of hardware store closed at two, she only nodded vaguely. "Well. Thanks again, Mulder."

"Right. I'll show myself."


As he drove away part of him felt bad for abandoning her to that lonely, empty apartment, but he told himself to shake it off. "There's got to be a ton of stuff in those boxes," he muttered to himself as he waited to turn into the hardware store's busy parking lot. "Maybe enough to turn a house into a home."

That had been the sort of pithy cheerful advice on the covers of his mother's magazines when he was a boy, and now he wondered how many women starting over felt like failures when a throw rug and some colorful potholders didn't get the job done for them.

At last the left hand turn arrow turned green and he was able to turn into the lot. Difficulty finding a spot dented his dream of getting right in and out to beat Reyes home.


Meanwhile

The scent of fresh paint filled Reyes' nose as she opened the front door. Smiling, she headed for the nursery just after putting William in his playpen. She expected to see Mulder standing there with a paint roller in hand, perhaps looking proud of himself, but she didn't. One complete wall, and half of another, was covered in the lavender paint she had so carefully picked out. A paint tray stood in the middle of the room with a thin layer of paint forming a skin on it. A wet paint roller sat neatly on a still folded plastic tarp. Other than that, the room was completely empty.

"Mulder?" she called uncertainly.

A cursory search through the apartment revealed that she was alone. Eventually she noticed a note pinned to the front of the refrigerator with a magnet in the shape of a dolphin, something once given to her by an acquaintance in New Orleans thought she needed to lighten up. It said:

Sorry,
Dana called in a panic. Went to see what was wrong.
I'll be home soon.
Love,
Mulder

From where she stood Reyes could see the half painted wall in the nursery. It filled her with an inexplicable feeling of despair. Her mother used to talk about seeing the writing on the wall, but Neva probably would not have imagined such a literal portend of things to come.

The thought that Mulder might keep dropping everything to run off to help his ex whenever she demanded attention made Reyes bristle. No matter what other people might think, there was no way she thought the woman was this helpless.


Mulder felt his heart sinking when he saw that Monica's car was already in its parking space. It had been a lot more crowded at the hardware store than he had hoped it would be, and he spent nearly 15 minutes waiting in line behind a pack of elderly women buying winter bird feed and ice softener that needed to be carted out to their cars.

As he jogged into the apartment's lobby, he felt himself becoming inexplicably guilty. Maybe a better husband would have told Scully that he needed to finish painting before he came over, but even as he thought it, it felt unreasonable to him. If he had waited until then, she might have frozen to death while continuing to guard her new belongings.

And yet...

Considering the guilt he felt, it shouldn't have come as any surprise to him that his wife would be less than pleased when he came in to their apartment. Before he could even think to begin to formulate a line of defense, she gave him a hard to read look and asked "what did she need?"

"Help moving boxes and furniture." The chilly look on her face didn't abate any, so he added, "apparently the delivery company hired some idiot who refused to bring things up to her apartment for her. She didn't have anyone else to help..." he trailed off, realizing that she didn't actually care about Scully's plight.

"Daddy!" William cried, apparently having finally noticed that he had come into the room. He held his arms up, waiting to be freed from his playpen prison.

"You act like you are getting paroled," Mulder said, hoping that the lighthearted statement would defuse some of the tension in the room. He tried to look at Reyes to see if she was amused, but her back was to him as she straightened something on an end table.

"Down you go," he said, trying not to sigh as he set William on his feet. William immediately ran to his room, planning the sort of adventure that only makes sense to toddlers.

When Mulder looked back, he realized that Reyes was looking at him. "Dinner is going to be in about an hour. If you're going to do anything more with the paint you should think about doing it soon."

"I'm on it."

He'd hoped for a smile, but all she did was nod almost imperceptibly.


Reyes began to feel badly almost immediately.

Everyone she knew told her that hormones made women a little crazy and unreasonable when they were pregnant, but she had a hard time dismissing her reaction as just a chemical fluke. She had a feeling that even if she wasn't expecting a baby, she still would be pissed at Mulder for abandoning his project in favor of helping that woman.

That woman. The thought almost made her giggle. What was it about the great, and as of recently late, Dana Scully that made her feel so damn insecure?

The day she told Mulder that she was pregnant, they had had a heated conversation about being a replacement, a substitute, for what the other really wanted.

Mulder seemed to have gotten over this feeling himself, and got along very well with John despite knowing that his wife had once had major designs on the man. The only way that Reyes could interpret this was that Mulder felt secure. He knew that she wouldn't put him aside for anyone.

But she on the other hand... things had been better before Scully returned. Until Scully had returned, she could force the feeling that she was an understudy playing an unexpected role down into a little ball, and stuff it into the back of her mind. That had changed once Dana Scully turned up at their apartment that night.

As hard as she tried to deny it, Scully's presence left her filled with anxiety. And the more that people begin to accept her return, especially to the office, the less that Reyes felt like there would be a place for her when she returned. What if there wasn't? What if the powers that be decided that there should only ever be three people in the X-Files office? And that the understudy had to go?

It also worried her that people were beginning to warm to Dana again on a personal level. It felt like it would be so much easier if Mulder continued to hate her. But people don't rush off in the middle of things to help someone they hate.

Everyone was starting to act like Scully's return was a miracle. A new beginning. So why did it feel to her like the start of the end of everything? It felt like a door was closing permanently, and she was terrified that she'd be on the wrong side when it did.


Late January 2003

Reyes had her ankle twined between Mulder's calves as they sprawled on the couch. The nursery was completely painted, and it was already beginning to feel like they'd never had a silent fight over it. She lifted herself up onto one elbow to look at him. "Hey, have you given any thought to baby names?"

His eyes twinkled with good humor. "Not really, but I take it that you have."

"Oh yeah?"

"Yeah. You wouldn't have brought it up otherwise. Unless you were at a total loss, and if you were relying on me to pick the name, you'd be a lot more panicky."

She snorted and pushed his thigh. "I have more confidence in your ability to pick names than that."

"Why's that?" He gave her a curious look when he realized that she was serious.

"A man who hates his name would think pretty hard about what to name a child," Reyes told him. "But you're right, I do have a name I'd like us to consider."

"I'm all ears."

"I've always liked the name Emma Claire," she told him. To her disappointment, the revelation didn't make him smile. "You hate it."

"No, I don't," he said quickly, but he still didn't look pleased. "Scully's daughter was named Emily."

"So?" She looked at him for a moment, wondering what that bit of trivia had been brought up for.

"So...maybe it's a bit insensitive to name our child something so similar."

"Mulder, I'm sure that Emily was a lovely child, but I never met her, and I barely know Dana, not to mention the fact that Dana didn't even name the girl herself, so why should her feelings, which might or might not be negative, color the name we choose?"

His body tensed beneath her for a second before relaxing again. "You're right, I'm being silly. She might even think it's nice. I like the name, you like the name, so let's go with that."

"Okay, good." She'd won, but somehow it didn't feel like a victory. Not when he was still thinking more about how Dana might react than if he even liked the name himself. At least he didn't use the phrase "beautiful homage" like she'd been afraid for a moment that he might.

If he was aware of how conflicted she felt, he didn't let on. "I'm glad that's settled. Too bad not everything can be that easy." He smiled as he spoke.

"Yeah, too bad," she echoed.


Chapter Thirty-Four

Mulder was barely in the door after work one afternoon when his son clamored for his attention. "Daddy!"

"Hey, little man." Mulder glanced around and then realized that he could hear Reyes in the bathroom, which explained why William was playing by himself; they trusted him alone long enough to use the bathroom, but no longer than that. "You being good?" he asked, hanging his coat in the closet.

"Yea. Daddy, look." William, still sitting on the floor, waved something and all Mulder noticed at first was that it was flesh colored plastic.

"What have you got?" he asked, leaning over to get a better look. It looked back at him, with brown plastic eyes.

"My baby," William said proudly. The doll looked moderately expensive, but also toddler-friendly. It had dark hair and wore a sleeper type of outfit that looked like it'd almost fit a real newborn, and from the way William moved it, Mulder suspected it had been given some weight to feel like a real baby too.

"Oh. Where did you get that?" Mulder asked him.

"My mother sent it," Reyes explained, coming into the room. "She sent a note about how it'd be good for him to get used to the idea of a baby. A lot of her friends' children introduced the idea of a new sibling to their grandkids that way."

"That's...unexpected."

She frowned. "I'm sorry, I suppose I should have asked you before giving it to him-"

Mulder made a warding gesture with his hands. "No no. I'm not one of those guys, who thinks that a doll will make a boy turn out...funny. Scully's older brother doesn't even strike me as being one of them." He smiled at her. "I'm just a little surprised that your mother is showing an interest in William." To his alarm, her face clouded. "What?"

Reyes shook her head, saying, "Nothing."

He decided to let it go because it was obvious to him that she wasn't going to tell him what her mother had said, at least not then. Instead, he turned to William. "What's the baby's name?"

"Baby."

"Well, at least he's consistent," Mulder laughed, thinking about Bear and Bunny.

"Maybe it'll mean that he'll call his sister by her name, since Baby is taken," Reyes suggested, looking more cheerful than she had since before they'd begun their conversation.

"Maybe." Mulder picked William up, and gently separated him from the doll before setting him on his hip. "I was thinking we could go to dinner, if you haven't started making anything yet."

"No, I haven't even had time to think about it yet. My appointment ran over an hour late."

"Anything wrong?" he asked anxiously.

"Oh no, sorry. My doctor was busy delivering a baby this morning, and it threw off all her appointments."

"Ah." Mulder turned to the coat closet and took out William's jacket. William eagerly 'helped' him put it on, saying "Goin' somewhere? Goin' somewhere?"

"Yes, we are," Mulder replied. "Somewhere more fun than Moni's doctor appointment too."

"Get icequeem?"

Mulder shot Reyes a look. "It's winter. Why would he...?" He broke off shaking his head. "Kids are weird."

She laughed. "I have the feeling it's only going to get weirder when we have two."

"But will it be more than twice as weird?"

"I guess we'll see."


The restaurant was a well lit, slightly noisy, family-friendly place. The only thing Mulder didn't like about it was having to reject waitresses' offers of crayons and coloring sheets, which William always manage to see and shriek for when they were taken away. Both Mulder and Reyes looked forward to when their son was old enough to be trusted to scribble on paper rather than trying to eat the crayons; judging by comments from The Hair, daycare was looking forward to that as well, non-toxic though the crayons they stocked might be. Fortunately, they were able to get the crayon offer rejection over with almost immediately after they were seated that night.

"I'm going to miss this," Reyes said over William's indignant wails when the waitress left with the crayons.

Mulder raised his eyebrows. "William howling like a banshee when we say 'no crayons please'?"

"Not that, Mulder!" Reyes smirked at him. "I meant going out to dinner."

"Oh. Why-"

"How many dinners out did we have before he was six months old?"

Mulder thought about it. "Uh... none?"

"Exactly."

"But we weren't dating, then," he pointed out.

"We went out to dinner long before we..." Reyes gestured with one hand.

"Okay, you have a point." Mulder smiled at her, but his smile faltered when he caught sight of someone else in the dining room. "Dana?" he blurted out.

"Where?" Reyes turned to look over her shoulder.

Several tables away a forlorn looking redhead sat by herself. After a moment Mulder caught Scully's eye, and motioned her over. She got up with obvious reluctance and walked over to them.

"We didn't expect to run into anyone we knew," Mulder said mildly.

Scully looks slightly abashed. "I had plans to meet a former classmate here tonight, but she called to cancel a few minutes ago."

"Sorry to hear that," Reyes told her, sounding disinterested.

Mulder, however, was sorry for her. He thought that attempting to reconnect with people she had known was good for her, so broken plans were sad. "Why don't you join us, then?" He pretended not to notice the flicker of annoyance that crossed his wife's face.

"If you both don't mind..." Scully looked at Reyes as she spoke.

"Of course not," Reyes said a bit sharply. "Do join us."

"Thank you." Scully took the empty seat near William.

William stared at her for a moment, an indecisive look on his face. "Hi," he said eventually.

"Hi, William," she said, seeming to make an effort to sound cheerful.

The toddler looked faintly surprised that she knew his name, but he didn't cry because he also seemed to remember her from the times before. Looking at Reyes he asked, "Moni friend?"

"Daddy's friend, William," Mulder explained before Reyes had to think of something polite to say. "She works with Daddy."

"Oh..." William replied seriously, as if his father had just said something very profound to him.

It was only then that he noticed the expression on Scully's face. She seemed to find the boy's manner amusing. That was hardly surprising, considering how much mirth William created for himself and Reyes on a daily basis.

"So," Reyes began awkwardly. It made Mulder wince inside because she'd seemed so at ease before he'd asked Scully to join them. "Are you working on anything interesting?"

"Sure," Mulder replied, and began to fill her in on the details of their current case with some interjections by Scully. Talking about business was a safe topic for the trio, he thought, though it probably made his wife feel a little left out considering that Skinner had benched her.

The atmosphere never really warmed between the two women, but it did seem less chilly by the end of the meal. This should have made Mulder feel better, but it didn't really.

"Are we going to order desert?" he asked, just for something to say.

"Sure," Reyes agreed. "Someone still wants ice cream, I'm pretty sure."

William's eyes got big. "Daddy, icequeem? Icequeem?"

"Yeah, okay. Chocolate ice cream for William."

William's nose wrinkled, and Reyes shook her head. "I think he prefers vanilla. Plus, it's easier to get out of his clothes."

"All right, vanilla then." Looking at his wife, he asked, "What about you?"

"I'm thinking marble cheesecake."

"We'll order two of those," he said appreciatively. Looking towards Scully, he asked, "Or should we order three?"

She shook her head. "Actually, I think William has the right idea." She reached over and tickled the little boy, who at first looked stunned but soon began to giggle. "Chocolate ice cream for me, though. Maybe I'll ask if they can make me a brownie sunday"

"Sure you wouldn't prefer a nonfat tofutti rice dreamsicle?" Mulder asked, a smile tugging at one corner of his lips.

Scully gave him a blank look. "No, why would I?"

"Never mind," Mulder told her. A feeling colder than the ice cream Reyes was telling the waiter they wanted slithered in his belly.


When she woke up a few hours later, Reyes found herself alone. She ran her fingers over Mulder's side of the bed, and the sheets were cold. She heft herself out of the bed and threw on a robe before she left the room.

"Mulder?" Her voice sounded unnaturally loud given the hushed pall that had settled over the rest of the apartment sometime during the night. It made her wince.

She had already made up her mind to check the hall table for Mulder's car keys when she noticed that the door to William's room was ajar. Pushing it open she was at first relieved to see Mulder standing in the moonlight, looking down at his sleeping son.

When he failed to react to her arrival, Reyes began to feel a faint stir of alarm. "Are you okay, Mulder?"

He turned towards her, shaking his head. "No."

"No?"

He sighed, and she could almost touch the weight that pressed down on him. Gesturing towards the baby in the crib he said, "I can't stop wondering whose child he is."

"Yours," she blurted out, willing him to agree that it was all that mattered. To her, it was.

"I know," he snapped. "That isn't what needs to be questioned."

"Oh." His dour mood was beginning to bother her.

Mulder crossed the room abruptly, and came to rest in the honey-colored rocking chair that was seeing them through nights of teething. He looked up at her, expression closed off. "I don't know who William's mother is. His biological mother," he added as an afterthought.

Reyes, sensing that he was just getting started, leaned back against the cold plaster of the wall and wished that he'd think to offer her his chair. "Scully," she said, hoping to move the conversation forward.

He nodded in grim agreement. "But which one?"

"Which one?" she repeated, uncertain of what he was getting at.

"There must have been two. We buried one, and here's another. The question is, when did they make another?"

"The consortium?" she asked, beginning to feel disoriented. It was like waking up in the middle of a David Lynch movie and no one had given her script. Why was this something they were talking about now? Had something subtle happened during dinner to push him into thinking that there were two women?

"Exactly."

"Mulder, you can't just make a copy of a person. Even if you clone them, the clone would start out as an infant, not a thirty-eight-year-old woman." A horrible image of giving birth to an adult surfaced in her mind, and she shoved it away with a shiver, vowing never to read Anne Rice again.

He glowered at her. "John has read all the files. Clearly you haven't."

She pushed herself away from the wall and put her hands on her hips. "Which one could possibly be relevant?"

"The Kurts. The Consortium grew them in vats, spitting out grown men after just a few months."

"That science fiction," she said dismissively.

Mulder stared up at her. "And a woman returning from the dead isn't?"

He had her there. She couldn't come up with a workable theory without evoking twentieth century genre literature either.

"What I'd like to know," Mulder said slowly, "what I'd really like to know is when the switch was made. When Scully became women, not a woman."

Tired and distracted, Reyes allowed herself to say what she was thinking. "That really matters now?"

He looked up sharply. "Of course it matters."

"Why?"

"I want to know if the Scully I fell in love with is the one who gave birth to my child," Mulder said quietly. "And now I don't know if she is."

Sighing, Reyes crossed her arms. "Are you going to tell me what this is all about?"

He waved a hand. "Tonight at dinner. She ordered ice cream."

"So?" It wasn't like him to give women's weights much consideration, and even if he was worried that she'd get fat, his reaction was way too extreme for that. Something much more important was worrying him.

"She..." The hitch in his voice worried her. "Scully didn't like ice cream. She liked the idea, but not the calories, and would settle for this pretend rice based thing that only had been cold in common with real ice cream."

"So she changed her mind," Reyes found herself saying, mildly shocked to be defending the other woman.

"No." Mulder shook his head. "If she just changed her mind, she wouldn't have given me a blank look when I mentioned it by name. She clearly had no idea what I was talking about."

"Oh." A tiny voice at the back of her mind was amused that he was placing such significance on such a small inconsequential detail, but she told the voice to be quiet. If Mulder had anything, he had good instincts. Something was wrong with Dana if he thought there was.

He ran a hand down his face. "I've been trying to wrack my brain to figure out when they made the switch. After the incident with the faux ice cream, clearly. Switching her in Antarctica would have been the easiest, but we'd already gone and come back by then."

There were still so many things she would have liked to know about that adventure, but Mulder was clearly not in the mood for twenty questions, so she let it go. "Alternate theories, then?"

"My father kidnapped her shortly before I was abducted. Maybe then. Or maybe while I was gone. I don't know. I know she seemed different when I was unearthed, but so did everyone. I was different, I think." He looked up at her, his expression bleak. "And of course there's the obvious motivation for wanting to think that."

"What's that?" she asked carefully.

"If they swapped Scullys while I was missing, then what happened to her isn't my fault. It can't be, because I was gone, I was helpless myself, so I couldn't defend her. I didn't slip up and let something bad happen to her."

"She was an adult, Mulder," Reyes found herself scolding him. "You loved her, but ultimately it was her responsibility to keep herself safe, not yours."

Mulder laughed, brief and bitterly. "After everything in her life that went wrong and led back to me, how could I not feel a sense of responsibility?"

"It was inevitable," Reyes allowed. She knew that part of him wanted her to claim that the things that had happened to his ex weren't his fault, but she knew that she couldn't convince him of that so it wasn't worth the effort. Not only that, he'd done his level best to convince her of his culpability too, and she wasn't positive that there wasn't enough of her that didn't believe him to make a convincing argument. "But you don't have to continue to wallow in it now."

"Wallow." He snorted. Then he took her hand. "Is that what I'm doing?"

"Isn't it?"

When he started to stand she took a step back, and her eyes landed on the baby sleeping peacefully in his crib. Mulder's arms went around her and she leaned back against him, letting him support her some. "You know it doesn't matter."

He rested his chin lightly on her head. "What doesn't?"

"Who his biological mother was. If she was the woman you fell in love with, if she wasn't...she hasn't had any part in his life. You have, you. You're the one that matters here, when it comes to who parents this boy. You."

His grip tightened slightly, at least until the baby kicked in protest, startling them both. "You're wrong," he said softly.

"No, I'm not."

Mulder kissed the back of her neck. "Yes, you are. You matter too. I couldn't have done this without you, and you know it." She could feel a slight rumble in his chest when he began to laugh. "If it had taken you any longer to rescue us, I don't know what I would have done. Not pee alone until he was three, for starters. You probably think I'm joking, but I was trying so hard to tread water those first days...then you pulled us both out of that ocean of grief that was trying to drag me under and kept us from drowning. You did that."

Tears unexpected pricked the corner of her eyes, but she wasn't sad. Not exactly. "Thank you."

Smiling, he just shook his head slightly and motioned for them to leave the room. Reyes knew that his angst over the situation with Scully wasn't over, but it seemed to be for the night.

Pausing for a second, she stopped to pull the blanket back over William, and thought that Mulder wasn't quite right: those first few days it had been William who had kept the waves of grief from pulling him under. No doubt she'd played her role in the weeks and months that had followed, but it was having a needy, innocent child depending on him that had kept him from doing anything foolish immediately.

"It was you," she whispered to her sleeping stepson. "I know it was. You helped your daddy hold on until someone could throw him a rope."

William stirred in his sleep but didn't wake up, not even when the door clicked closed behind her.


The Next Morning

Mulder looked up in surprise when Scully dropped a blue and yellow striped bag on his desk. "What's this?"

She suddenly looked shy. "Something for William."

"Do you mind if I look?" he asked, all the while thinking furiously. William must have made a positive impression on her if she gone out and bought him something on her way into work.

"Go ahead."

Mulder gingerly lifted the tissue paper that was sticking out of the bag and discovered a teddy bear. Pulling it out, he looked over to Doggett, who had been looking on with interest. "He could be Bear's long lost brother."

Doggett shook his head. "Nah, Bear's brown. This new one is black."

"Bear's long lost adopted brother," Mulder amended. He and Doggett grinned at each other, but Scully looked confused. Glancing at her, he said, "Try not to be too concerned about a pair of middle aged men bickering over the fraternity of stuffed animals."

She smiled back wanly. "At least we all know that this isn't the strangest conversation to take place between these walls."

Mulder listened to her and Doggett talk about what were good nominees for that, but he was covertly watching her out of the corner of his eye. Reyes was probably right to insist that they were the only ones who were important in William's life, and who his biological mother was had little importance, but what if Scully wanted to be a part of his life after all? The night she came back she'd insisted that William already had a mother, and he did, a damn good one, but she'd been in shock. Maybe she'd had time to regret that remark, and the bear was her way of trying to reopen that door. He'd have to think about that.

To Be Continued




Since I'm not sure how much Spanish is understood in context, which is something you begin to forget once you gain familarity with another language, I guess I ought to provide translations. I know I tend to overestimate my coworkers' ablity to figure this out, so here you go...

Chapter one:

Hija - Daughter
Dios - God
pobre - poor
Una mar del sangre - an ocean of blood

Chapter four:

Hola - hello
Como Estas? - how are you?
Bien - good
Y Tu? - and you?
loco - crazy

Chapter twelve:
Madre - mother
El Padre - The Father
Tia- aunt
el nino - the boy child (I've met kids as...unpredictable as the weather front, so it's a good choice!)
mierda - shit
Como no - without (literally "with no")
Te amo, tambien - I love you, too

Chapter nineteen:
Dios mios! - My God!
hija tonta - stupid daughter
Es la verdad - it's the truth
Mejor tan eso - better than this

Chapter twenty-two:
Zorro - fox (the animal, but Neva isn't tactful...) Si, y ella es muy embarazada - Yes, and she's very pregnant
Zorro no habla Espanol? - Fox doesn't speak Spanish?
Solamente un poco - Just a little
pescados - fish
Ojos azuel - blue eyes
Chapter twenty-eight:
Mi bebé - My baby


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