Amor Fati: The Fated Love, Acts I and II

by Touchstone, the PsychoPhile

Title: "Amor Fati; The Fated Love" (A Phile's Conclusion to the TXF Mytharc: the MSW-F Way...or the 'Renegade' version of S9 and beyond)

Note--(I checked the Latin, and there were three possible meanings for 'Fati' for Philes to choose from, probably to give us the chance to decide on our own. I chose 'Fated' for obvious reasons...Cos' Mulder and Scully are meant to be together, of course! But if you're not a shipper, no fear; this is heavily mytharc as well, and the MSR is highly psychological.

Rating: It's classy, but they don't stop at a kiss, either. Hell; what is fanfic for, then, eh? We'll say PG-13 with room to grow on (we may progress to NC-17 on my website version, but that would be more for the occasional spot of language, mild violence or pregnancy details than anything really overt.

Category: Classy MSR-Mytharc-Babyarc, Acknowledges S9 events up to "Scary Monsters", departs before that crap "Jump the Shark", but with a lot of character/relationship backstory and flashbacks to previous seasons. Wordy, Psychological.

Summary: This fic is sort of my renegade mytharc ending encompassing the entire series, old and new Projects. Act One and Two are a sort of alternate ending to Season 9, departing right before 'Jump The Shark'/'William' but still acknowledging the JD backstory events that happened after. Act Three, to be entered next year, is my movie and Act Four (WIP) is a third movie, and my sequel fic, still in progress and to be posted/completed ASAP, is a new series. All are heavily Mytharc, and the MSR is intelli-classy rather than rabid. When I first started this, around 'Existence' through 'TrustNo1', we still thought DD was never coming back. I figured, Scully's gotta leave sometime, right?! So of course, she's going to go straight-line to wherever Mulder is! And William will get to know his father, and about time too. I'm not going to ignore the Rebels or the Invasion, either; I think that is something that was being left on the back burner, and it's damned important. Especially to M&S, now that they have William and his destiny as the new key to the X-Files/the Mythology (i.e. a new improved Gibson Praise). Oh; and some old friends and enemies are more important in here...because I hate how they've been tossed aside like used prophylactics!

Spoilers: Well, at this point if we haven't seen 'em all, we should be ashamed of ourselves, LOL. j/k. But I used from everywhere and anywhere, S1-S9 and the outtakes, DVDs, etc; so if you've missed some eppys, be prepared!

Note on Timelining: I chose to ignore the dates given on the episodes ever since the whole 13 month pregnancy thing, so I've chosen to make TN1 fall in September, not January, and made Scully's departure fall around April, for a couple of reasons, among them:

  1. in TN1, it looked like September outside, unless they were having a much less annoying winter than me, and
  2. they've been apart long enough, right! Heck yeah! So William was born in June, cos I'm not gonna rearrange all of S7-8, but after that, its on my time.

Okay; serious stuff:
Disclaimer: these characters aren't mine, yadda yadda...no reflection on CC's or anyone's vision, yadda yadda and etc... but Goddess, do I ever wish I could publish this thing as a 'Renegade' ending to S9! And do I ever wish they were mine, all mine!!! But certain liberties taken with the mythology are mine, and the Driving Man, the Renegades, and for a large part, William and some later characters (Anda St. Claire Reinhart, Ariana and Jesse Jordan and William's sister) are MINE, ALL MINE!!! LOL

Acknowledgements: Silgil, SADKSM, PMPrometheus, Jellybeanie, and Gstring (Da AmorFati Orgiastic Goof Troupe), I definitely couldn't have done dis witout my goofies!!! TY TY TY for loving me!!! And thank you Shelly-Angel for being my earliest copy editor, Goof for giving MSR pointers and for starting da group, Andi and Rie for the scientific, Scully-angle on my mythy theories, and Jen for being there from the very beginning. We MISS you!!! Thanks also to Trekkie6 and DKS4ever for late copy editing and MSR pointers and nights of fun at chat! LOVE YA! Thanks to everyone who read this from day one, esp SeasonFan for the comp and inspirational gear (OMG!), Togui for the Scully-Mulder angles, and RValles for the lovely character feedback. Thanks also to NewFileFan and NotHappening, FelineFemme and others for reading the newest stuff; without you I would have gone insane! There are too many of you to name, but I love you all, and you know who you are. Muah! Kat

Enjoy, All!!! And thanks! WE'RE BACK! Love, Touchstone, 'the PsychoPhile' (FinelyDetailedInsanity)


"Amor Fati: The Fated Love"
(A Phile's Conclusion to TXF, the MSW-F Way) Act I: "The Longing"

--Prologue--

  1. "Imperishable"
  2. "Missive"
  3. "Core: Visible"
  4. "Resolve"
  5. "Decision"
  6. "peTrie"
  7. "Ruminations"
  8. "Waiting Game"
  9. "Impatience"
  10. "Summons"
  11. "Surmise"
  12. "Avoidance"
  13. "A Conspiracy Of Silence"
  14. "The Ties That Bind"
  15. "All The Little Details"
  16. "Farewell"
  17. "Abode"
  18. "You Say `Either'"
  19. "Godfather"
  20. "Leavetakings" --Epilogue--

Act I: "The Longing"
PROLOGUE:

--"One day, you'll ask me to speak of the Truth; of the miracle of your birth. To explain what is unexplained. And if I falter or fail on this day, know that there is an answer, my child. A sacred, imperishable Truth...but one that you may never hope to find alone. Chance meeting your perfect Other; your perfect Opposite. Your protector, and endangerer. Chance embarking with this other on the greatest of Journeys. A search for Truths fugitive and imponderable. If one day this chance may befall you...my son...do not fail or falter to seize it. The Truths are out there. And if one day you should behold a miracle as I have in you, you will learn that Truth is not found in science, or on some unseen plane...but by looking into your own heart. And in that moment you will be blessed...and stricken. For the truest Truths are what hold us together...or keep us painfully, desperately apart."--

(Dana Scully's journal, Sept. 16, 2001: TN1 opening monologue)


(Amor Fati, pt.1: "Imperishable")

Aventon Bus Services,
en route to Central City, Nebraska
April 22nd, 2002
5:52 am

Scully sat tense and unmoving in the gloom of predawn, staring unblinkingly out of the bus's dew-drenched windows at the preternatural changes in light quality as grey dawn threatened approach on the yet unseen horizon. She would have liked to open the window and feel the crisp predawn winds on her face replacing the rustle and squeak of drying plastic and damp cloth, the snorts and grunts of the sleeping passengers, dispel the sickly and fetid air of the bus comprised of stale cigarette smoke, damp wool, eu de baby and diesel and burnt oil. Pervading and accenting all of her senses, however, was the curdling and stomach-twisting need to have this interminable ride over, to find the meeting at the end preordained and unalterable.

Forcing her clenched hand open, Scully unfolded the much-creased paper she held, stained with coffee from one stop in this endless journey and smudged with desperate fingerprints from the last week of horrible indecision. She took a deep breath, and re-read the words that she had committed to memory on first reading, because the reading of them provided much more comfort even than the memory.

>>"I don't know if this is the best course of action for us now, but I know that I will not change your mind. I do not even know if I could, if I have the strength to do so now, having come, finally and forcefully, face to face with the powerful force that masters all my thoughts and better judgment.

>>"My aunt Salianiqua has inherited a motel on sixth street; the only one in that section of town. She says she will rent me the 'presidential suite', a room with a remarkably appropriate number. The place could stand to repair the family's fortunes, and though it is not much, I wish you could see it. The grand opening is on the 25th through the 26th, and I will have to leave town on business the next day.

>>"If you truly believe this is the best course of action, I will follow it. Two has always been better than one, especially as it involves him. I must now commit you to the care of the Boys; they will help take care of the details, as they have for me. Know that whatever happens, I will always be somewhere out there, waiting."


(Amor Fati, pt.2: "Missive")

Scully sat staring at the crumpled bit of paper for long minutes, reading and re-reading the central paragraph and the last over and over as though the instructions contained therein were not already emblazoned onto her brain like a brand. Running her fingers over the last line like a caress, she finally broke her gaze to fold the missive briskly and replace it in her pocket. Her head turned then as if drawn by a gargantuan magnet, and her eyes fell on the cherubic face of ten-month old William, sleeping peacefully in his carrier. Three days until he would meet his father again, for the first time since the days following his birth. The things Mulder had missed...she needed him to know their child, and she needed him for her own reasons, reasons that compelled her beyond any other needs, beyond simple selfish desire. Her very existence was wrapped up in that of these two beings, and she would do what was necessary to be whole again. She knew Mulder felt the same, knew it the way one knows the deepest and most instinctive truths of one's spirit.

Her mind hearkened back to the first e-mail since their disastrous attempt in September, the unexpectedness of it. Two weeks ago, on a night like a hundred others alone in the apartment that had once been her refuge and Mulder's, and was now a fearful place where every word and movement was a matter of public record by those unscrupulous characters that kept them painfully, desperately apart.

One of a hundred such horrible nights, waiting for any word, wondering if Mulder was still alive out there somewhere, wondering when her son would show another facet of his strange new 'talents, waiting to see if he began to develop a telltale lump on the back of his neck... She had just put William down and was sitting on her couch looking out of her living room window at the rain and the darkness, wondering who was watching her now, and what, if at all in her life remained private. Interrupting her uneasy reverie had come a knock on her door. On her back door.

Rising quickly, she crossed the apartment, socks sliding pleasantly on the kitchen tiles, and looked through her peephole to see Byers of all people standing at attention on her stoop. Opening the door with alacrity, she held it for him in silent invitation before asking, "Its past eleven, Byers; is something wrong?"

"Well, that depends on what you mean by that word," Byers replied precisely, concentrating fiercely on the buttons of his soaking trenchcoat so as to avoid her eyes. He made no move to remove it. An awkward moment passed in silence while he dripped on the mat before he cleared his throat and looked up, finally, his eyes darting around the room in pointed fashion. He tilted his head back towards the door, and Scully's heart skipped a beat. --Was there news?-- she wondered in a sudden agony of suspense.

"Just let me get William," she whispered, and quickly crossed the apartment to the crib. She hated the necessity of waking him up again; he would be cranky in the morning, but she had to do what was necessary, and nothing of import could ever be said here in this apartment again. "I just put him down," she explained over her shoulder to the dripping Byers, hands busy with the task of bundling her son into his small blue jumper, fingers fumbling with the infant-sized snaps. William woke and gurgled inquisitively, tiny forehead crumpled and red with sleep and confusion as he tried to understand this abrupt disturbance of his nightly routine. "Shhhh, sweet William, Uncle Byers is here!" Scully soothed, trying to quell the incipient tears as she hurriedly strapped his 'Snugli' to her chest and prepared to lift him into it. She glanced back into the crib, hoping there would be no outburst.

"Gah!" William commented finally, and shoved four of his fingers into his mouth, his forehead smoothing as he decided that the situation did not warrant tears. Scully smiled at her son with a sad radiance, and reached out to lift him from his crib. William's hazel eyes reflected the cerulean blue of his jumper and twinkled back at her with curiosity and good humour as he held out his small arms to be picked up. She fitted him into the Snugli, and he laid his downy beanie-clad head against her chest with a contented sigh, closing his eyes once again. Crossing to the kitchen door with a remote look on her face, Scully wrapped her trenchcoat around them both and snagged umbrella and waterproof diaper bag from the stand. Once one had a baby, one went nowhere without a well-stocked diaper bag.

Byers smiled reflectively, watching her prepare to go out into the night. Motherhood had added a new radiance to the already radiant and prepossessing Dana Scully, and the male response to her was automatic. But it was the ever-present hint of impotent pain and yearning just below the surface that gave her visage its astounding depth. Byers thought, looking into her distracted eyes, that she had never been more beautiful. He cleared his throat again as she returned to the present and stood ready, and tried to push away the sudden contraction in his throat that came whenever he saw the mature pain that lived behind Agent Scully's eyes.

Scully stepped through the door Byers held for her, and turned to lock it behind them. Byers set off through the drizzle in the alley and across the damply quiet Georgetown streets, their beautiful 19th century architecture passing unnoticed as Scully followed in his wake, umbrella at attention. A few minutes later they reached a small park nearby just as the drizzle began to fade, and stepped out into a large open area far away from any trees or structures. Byers turned to face Scully so swiftly that she was taken aback for a moment, and William stirred against her chest before settling back into what she called his 'travel doze'.

"Where are Frohike and Langly?" She asked to break the silence, her voice pitched low so as not to carry on the damp April air.

"We decided that one of us would be less conspicuous than all three at once. I volunteered to bring you this," he answered, and pulled a folded piece of paper from his dry inside breast pocket.

Scully stared at the paper, frozen. Somewhere inside her head, alarms were going off as if to announce some desperate tidings, but she impatiently pushed down the lump in her throat and asked in what she hoped was a steady voice, "What is it, Byers?"

Byers looked at her penetratingly for a moment before answering. "We picked it up through one of our routine scans of our system. Someone knew how to put it there where we would find it, knew how often we scanned and how we rotated our schedule to catch the really nasty spooks." He cleared his throat nervously before adding, "Here. Look at the address. We assumed, rightly I think, that it is meant for your perusal."

He watched Scully's eyes flicker in terrible hesitation before she reached out and snatched the folded white missive from him like a lost vet snatching up letters from home. She held folded paper to her chest for a moment next to William's head, and he saw her take a deep breath and steel herself, fog from her last exhalation floating up into the cloud-studded midnight skies like a ghost.

Scully forced her shaking hands into some semblance of order, marshalling neurons to fire and motor skills to turn to the task at hand. She could almost feel them firing in that peculiar awareness of the workings of her body that she had known in these suspended moments since her cancer had made her aware of the terrible beauty of human mortality five and a half years ago. Synapses jerked and shuddered in reaction to the flood of conflicting messages in her brain as she hurriedly opened the note and glanced at the address printed at the top of the page.

It was EmRenard@goMail.com.


(Amor Fati, pt.3: "Core: Visible")

>>"I was afraid to do this, after the disaster that befell our last attempt," the e-mail read. "But I need to know that you are okay; you and he. I keep an eye out, and I know generally that you are well, but it is not the same as hearing it from you directly. I have to know that you're all right if I am to continue on this path. That it is worth the sacrifice that we are making. You said this to me once before, in your journal, but I did not fully understand at the time. I do now. I need to hear so many things. What he is doing now, what he has learned, who he looks like. I need to hear your voice, but that is not possible, nor is it safe for you to respond to these questions. There is no time."

>>"This is a one-shot-deal." She could almost hear the unspoken 'Dana' at the end of this phrase. "I can continue as long as you are able to answer, and I know that you are going on as I am. Please tell me this is worth the things we will never share. For if it is not, I do not know if I can continue."

>>"Whatever happens, know that I am closer than I feel, that I am in your heart each time you think of me." xxx

Scully stood stricken in the creeping shadows of the park. --Alive. He was alive-- She had hoped, she had suspected...but since her encounter with the rogue agent and the cult in Canada she had lived with the awful sinking feeling that she had sent Mulder away to evade death only to lose him anyway, for the second time. Now to finally have word, and to know that 'Josepho' was telling the truth, that Mulder was indeed still out there somewhere... Time had ceased flowing as she read the e-mail, and now she began to breathe again. Byers broke the silence self-consciously.

"We didn't pick up on the reference right away. But once we read it, we realized to whom it belonged. I volunteered to bring it." His eyes were liquid with sympathetic feeling. He knew about bonds stretched beyond the edges of immediate space and emotion. He cleared his throat savagely for about the third time. "I want you to know that we would never have read it, if we had known. But we got it to you as soon as we were able."

Scully nodded automatically, and her hand fell to William's head pressed between her breasts, while her other held the printout in a death grip. William nuzzled briefly before falling back into his doze, and Scully looked up, eyes glistening and face twisted with the effort to hold back her tears. Byers turned slightly to one side with an embarrassed cough, unsettled by that glimpse into Agent Scully's most vulnerable place, her expression like raw flesh exposed to cold winds and shattered glass. He gave her time to compose herself. When he turned back, she was moving normally again, brushing at the corners of her eyes impatiently as she resettled her mask, determination vying with a bittersweet smile on her face.

He was wrong, Byers thought. She had never been more beautiful than now. His heart wept for these two that he loved as dear friends. He and the other Gunmen had talked long into the night a few times since they had been asked to spirit Mulder away. Scully had been right there; calm, confident, with steel in her voice and eyes while Mulder had railed against the necessity; but they had all known how this would tear these two apart, day by terrible day. Mulder had charged them with aiding Scully in any way they were able, and they had discharged that solemn duty as if oath bound.

Scully's face had changed as he watched her. Her expression was now suddenly one of fierce decision, and Byers was taken aback by the implications of what he read in there. "Agent Scully," he queried tentatively, "what are you planning to do?"


(Amor Fati, pt.4: "Resolve")

Scully looked up at him, her piercing gaze causing him to shuffle his feet in the wet grass. Her glance was sardonic, her mask now well up and all shields once again in place. She was the imperious and noble Agent Scully again, and her eyes seemed to mock him gently from where she stood a few feet away.

"I think you know the answer to that, Byers," she stated crisply. "You knew before you came to give this to me. You've seen Their recent attempts, you know what my choices are. The question is, will you help me; you and Langly and Frohike? Will you do for me what you did for Mulder? I wouldn't ask if there was any other way."

He started at her words. "Yes, yes I know that. We know that, I mean. And of course, we'll do whatever you ask." He paused for a moment, hesitant to voice his main concern; but it was necessary...necessary that Agent Scully consider the risks inherent in the action she was now proposing. He had promised Mulder to do everything in his power to keep her safe, and he would do that, so help him God. He started again, voice a little stronger in his newly reinforced convictions. "I...we just need to know, Agent Scully; are you aware of what you are proposing? Should the deal go sour as it did the last time, there will be no other chance. And your William will pay the consequences." He wished he had not said that at the look on her face. But he barreled on, afraid to stop before everything that needed to be said, was. "We just need to be sure that you have considered every possibility before you make your decision. That's our job. Our sworn duty."

Scully swung her head forward for a moment, shaking it as she smiled at him from under the curtain of her now shoulder-length titian locks. "Byers, you three amaze me sometimes. Only you could say something like that and have it come off sounding serious." She raised her head and turned her smile full on him then. The tears were back in her eyes, but the amusement in her voice was underscored with firm determination and taut with expectation.

"I have considered; I consider the possibilities you speak of every day, and every night. And the answer is yes, Byers. I know what I have to do, now; for me... and for William." Her hand rose unconsciously to trail over the baby's head where it lay inside the collar of her trenchcoat. "With Them watching my every move, They could come after him at any time--I'm still not sure why They haven't tried again since the last time. But William is no safer here than he would be wherever Mulder is; in fact probably less so. He needs both of us...and I cannot, I will not do this alone anymore." Her voice rose to steel again in that instant, and her eyes flashed as she looked into the distance. Byers nodded, slightly alarmed by the sudden changes in her countenance. In the months after the near miss with the train she had seemed so...listless. Now it was as if someone had lit a fire within her. He supposed he knew who that someone was. He and the other Gunmen had seen that fire before; they knew their choices were either to help her or to get out of the way. Byers chose to help. He knew that's what the other guys would choose, too. He knew that's what Mulder would want; if they could not talk her out of it, to assist in any way that they were able. This was something they could do to honour him.

"Ah, I'll tell Langly and Frohike. We'll get the ball rolling. You'll have to let us know once you've got everything set. Then we'll iron out the details." Scully nodded at him, and absently shrugged to adjust the Snugli's position against her chest, eyes once again riveted on some distant point beyond vision. Byers looked down, fumbled for words, and finally seized upon something less than idiotic when he saw her shiver slightly in the gloom. He narrowed his eyes at her. "C'mon, Agent Scully; its chilly out here, and William doesn't need to be soaked. I'll walk you back to your apartment, and then I'll roust the guys out of bed and we'll get to work." Scully acquiesced to his escort, and he left her safely ensconced in her kitchen and closed the door, wondering indeed how safe she really was there, especially now that this thing that her watchers wanted was so nearly in their grasp. He returned to 'The Magic Bullet' and recounted the meeting with his wakeful companions, wondering all the time what they could possibly do to fix it if this turned out to be another trap.


(Amor Fati, pt.5: "Decision")

Dana Scully Apartment
Georgetown, MD.
April 13, 2002
Early Morning

Scully could not sleep that night. After returning William to his bed she had sat up late at the dining room table, staring at nothing as all the variables raced through her mind, chased by snippets of conversation. In her mind's eye she could see again the alarm in Byers' face as she had made her decision; his voice asking her if she had truly considered her course, overlaid with that horrible final instant seven months ago as she had watched Mulder's train speed by, narrowly avoiding the trap that had been set, the knowledge that it may have been a dummy trap all along, that they could simply have been setting her up for this, further trap. After that horrible night, so close and yet so far, she had considered and despaired despite the determination that those events had fostered in her breast. After the most recent attempts to get at William, and after his more recent displays of unique ability, her life had lost all semblance of safety, and she feared even to work for fear that they would one day bust down her mother's door, and she would come home to find that she no longer had the child that she had never thought would be. Her mother watched her every day now, pain in her eyes for her daughter's agony, and Scully could see the struggle in Maggie not to ask her how she was coping.

Scully sighed, and laid her head on the cool oak of the table. She had made the decision months ago; but she had not been able to carry it out until Mulder had contacted her. There would have been no way to arrange it. The emotional roller coaster that began the moment Byers had shown up at her door continued its wild heaving and would not stop, she knew, until she could formulate her reply to Mulder tomorrow.

Scully sat wakeful at her table all night, turning in to her bed to hug one of Mulder's shirts under her chin as the last hours of predawn turned her wealth of red hair ashen, like tears.


(Amor Fati, pt.6: "peTrie"

JAZ'n Java Internet Caf
Georgetown, MD.
April 13, 2002
6:09AM

This particular Internet caf was not exactly teeming with customers this early; it was barely six AM when she walked briskly through the door and moved William's stroller into position next to the kiosk closest to a corner and furthest from any windows. An obviously sleep-deprived young waitress came by with an order pad in her hand, green shirt emblazoned with a busily typing animated coffee cup. Scully looked up from the computer, eyes distant as she logged on to the 'Net. "What can I get for you this morning, ma'am? We're having two dollar espressos and mango-strawberry smoothies for two ninety-nine," the waitress rattled off briskly.

Scully smiled, bemused. "This is the first Internet caf I've ever been to where the service comes to the tables," she commented wryly.

"Yeah, we're pretty popular around here for that reason." She cracked away at a piece of gum before inquiring, "Ya want a smoothie or an espresso, or do ya wanna try one of our amazing chocolate lattes?"

"Coffee," Scully answered, smile even broader now. "Cream, no sugar. And a grape juice for the baby."

"Gotcha," the waitress chirped, and wove her way back to the counter, pad held high as she avoided collision after collision with the computer kiosks. Scully shook her head, and turned back to the monitor before her. She clicked on an icon, then waited for the GoMail page to download. She clicked on 'create account', and typed busily for a moment, falsifying information as she had learned to do off the top of her head without a moment's provocation. GoMail was an instant-account processor, and she should be able to use it in a few minutes. The info page queried her on the name she wished to appear in her address. Scully's smile returned as she typed "Petrie_dish" into the text box and clicked on submit.

"Thank you!" the computer chimed brightly. "Your account is being processed."

Scully watched the screen flicker and the numbers at the base count away; 4%, 16%, 23%. A few minutes passed as Scully contained her impatience before the screen came up again with, "The username, 'Petrie_dish' already exists. Please resubmit your information using the following suggestions."

Scully sighed in annoyance and clicked on suggestion number one, "peTrie_dish1". She lifted one shoulder in a shrug. The more people using the same name as her, the better. The account processed more rapidly this time, and shortly after her coffee arrived and she administered William his juice, the computer informed her that the account, "peTrie_dish1@goMail.com" was now activated. Scully immediately logged on and clicked 'compose'. Then she sat back for a moment to organize her thoughts.

>>"You have no idea what a shock your message was to me. I wasn't sure if you would ever be able to contact me again, or if you were even alive...and the thought made my blood run cold. We are coping. I do not need to tell you how big he is now, or what he is capable of, because you will see him for yourself, soon. Do not argue with me about this. This is something that we must do, now."

>>"They are watching my every move, and they have made several attempts on his life. The apartment is no longer safe, and there is nothing to hold me here anymore. If we want him to remain safe and whole, we are the only ones who can accomplish that task, and we cannot do that if we are apart. I do not do this for my sake or yours, but for his. You do not know how difficult this decision has been, as we both know the risks. But I have considered it for months, and I have come to the unalterable conclusion that this is the only way that we will ever see each other again, the only way that he will ever be safe. He needs both of us...and I need you."


(Amor Fati, pt.7: "Ruminations")

Scully sat before the monitor for several minutes after she had clicked send. She was committed now. There would be no further correspondence on these accounts to waste on hedging...from his end or from hers. She would disable this account as soon as Mulder had had time to read her message. It was the only way to be safe.

A demanding sound from the stroller brought her mind back with a jolt, and she looked down into William's beautiful eyes, young ghosts of another pair of eyes that she knew better than she knew her own reflection; and an awareness of the changing and settling of his features once again come to rest in the vicinity of her heart like a down comforter.

"You look more and more like Mulder every day," Scully murmured, smiling as she admitted in this private moment the thing she could not safely voice to anyone right now. Not if she wanted to keep her son.

William seemed to think her comment mattered very little in comparison to the important business of emptying his bottle of juice, but he spared her a moment of attention. "Ma," he commented indifferently, and returned to the matter at hand.

Scully's smile reached a crescendo of surpassing sweetness. It would be a trial, these days waiting for Mulder's reply, perhaps up to a week on pins and needles wondering if he would refuse despite her exhortations. But her reasoning would prevail over his worries, and he would capitulate--and she would see him before the month was out.

"I promise," Scully told William, running a pensive finger along the backs of his downy baby knuckles. William had grown an amazing thatch of reddish-brown hair in the intervening months, replacing the peach-fuzz he had kept the first four or five months of his life. She often wondered at the action of genes in practice; how Mulder's straight brown hair could vie so successfully against the contentious trend toward curly red-headedness that the babies in her family had been blessed or cursed with. As with her brothers Scully's own hair had toned down to a more muted shade after puberty, and lost its tendency to curl. She hadn't minded losing the curl, but she had never forgiven Melissa for keeping the trademark strawberry Scully locks while she had had to resort to dying hers to combat the darker trend of her mother's contribution to her genes. And now William had the reddish tint, but it was tempered, and had the texture of Mulder's hair. His hazel eyes, though shaped like hers, shifted more often to Mulder's hazel-green than to her hazel-blue. She had often caught her mother gazing into her grandson's face with a bemused expression when she had returned to pick him up in the evenings, and wondered if Maggie Scully had come to the same obvious conclusion. But then, her mother had never felt the texture of Mulder's hair. She wondered how apparent it was becoming to everyone. But for her it was a constant comfort...and a constant source of yearning pain.

"Well, William. Our business is done here. I think we should go for a walk. What do you think?" Scully smiled wistfully at the toddler, then rose from the kiosk stool and kicked off the brake on the stroller. William gurgled cheerfully around the nipple of the bottle as they made their way out of the caf.


(Amor Fati, pt.8: "Waiting Game")

--"I have not written any thoughts here for several months. The truth is I feared letting go of these emotions I keep in such a tenuous hold within--for I knew that were I to release them, with no hope, they would surely destroy me.

--"It is safe now to write these things only because I may soon have an outlet for the emotions that the words will undoubtedly release. For now there is a new hope...and I am waiting. Waiting to hear word. And in waiting I am resolute. This time I will not falter, cannot fail...and so I am able to put my resolve into words. I will see you again. I have made a promise. To him...and to you."

(Dana Scully's Journal, April 14, 2002) xxx

FBI Training Academy,
Quantico, VA.
(and various other locales in the Beltway) April 18, 2002 3:57pm

Nearly a week had passed. Scully was going mad with suspense and anticipation; wondering what he would say. Wondering how she would find him, when the time came.

She had prepared everything, including disabling her GoMail account after the second day, in a welter of worry that Mulder might not have yet had the chance to read her irreplaceable message. Aware of the eyes watching her, she had moved discreetly so as not to alert Them, openly telling her landlord from her doorway that she was going to stay with her mother for a while so that her packing would not seem like too much of a tip-off. She had typed up her letter of resignation, intending to turn it in over a weekend before whenever it was that she left so that she would not show her hand before she was long gone. She would talk to her mother as soon as she heard from Mulder and knew her timeline for sure. Now it was down to a waiting game, hoping that the Lone Gunmen found another and less unexpected e-mail floating around in their system somewhere.

She wondered when John Doggett would call her today. Her erstwhile temporary partner called almost every day to check in on her, and, she suspected, sometimes put Monica Reyes up to the same on his 'off days' to avoid Scully thinking he was stalking her or something. She often wondered at the men in her life who all seemed to take it as some sort of holy duty to watch over her, albeit respectfully, since Mulder's disappearance. Doggett was constantly checking in, Skinner called at least twice a week and came by occasionally, and then there were the Lone Gunmen. She could only shake her head ruefully. Mulder would be pleased even while he was annoyed at the necessity.

The phone warbled at her from the desk in her office. Sure it was Agent Doggett, Scully picked up the phone lazily, one eye still trailing over her computer monitor and the data she was skimming from the term papers in her last class.

"Scully."

"Oooh la la, it's the good doctor herself! Can you come by and give us a house call, pretty lady?" Unexpectedly, it was the gravelly voice of Frohike that Scully heard over the line.

Scully's heart leapt up into her throat. She drew in her breath sharply, held it for a moment, and silently commanded the jitters in her stomach to recede to appropriate levels. "Depends on how bad it is. I have no cure for terminal lust, Frohike," she remarked conversationally, and with remarkable aplomb if she did say so herself.

"Bummer; I was hoping you would be the only one who could help me with my condition. Oh well, one can't give up all one's vices." Frohike's voice settled down to business, urging her to pick up on the clues lying behind his words. "We've come into possession of some further data on that case we referred to you last week. We were wondering if you could come have a look at it..." Frohike's voice suddenly held a grin of sheer triumph... "that is if you have the time."

Scully sat up straight as the tension of the last endless week thrummed up to fever pitch, and she sternly took control over her voice as she answered. "Yeah, sure 'Hickey. I'll stop by as soon as I wrap up here." --Decorum, Dr. Scully; decorum. Don't give Them any reason to suspect anything beyond our usual meetings--

"Great. We always looove to get a visit from the enigmatic Dr. Scully! See ya then!" Frohike signed off, voice tense with meaning and knowledge.

Scully cursed mildly under her breath as she replaced the phone in its cradle. Mulder must have mentioned that 'enigmatic Dr. Scully' thing to the Gunmen during one of their geek-boy, testosterone-laden powwows over the years since they first met the ill-fated Max Fenig. And Frohike had to pick now to rub it in. One thing was sure; those guys could always make her laugh, whether she liked to show it or not. In fact, she would defy anyone not to laugh at seeing their Mutt and Jeff appearance en triad.

Sighing, Scully removed her glasses to pinch the bridge of her nose, then moved to rub her temples. It was going to be virtually impossible for her to finish this day with any semblance of concentration or interest when she had the reply she had been waiting for sitting across town tantalizing her. But then, she had learned to be very accomplished at pretending to be present while her mind was far away over the last two years since Mulder's first disappearance. So far, only Skinner and a few others who knew her very well could tell when she was miles away from the scene of the crime.

She wondered if being the consummate professional was worth it, if she was going to tender her resignation soon anyway. She could always leave early...


(Amor Fati, pt.9: "Impatience")

En route to 'The Magic Bullet'
April 18, 2002
4:23pm

"Yeah, Mom. I just wanted to let you know that I'll be there to pick up William a bit late this evening. No, no; there's nothing wrong. Yes, I remember that Bill's in. Yeah, Mom; I'll visit with him."

Scully groaned inwardly. She should be glad of the opportunity to say goodbye to at least one of her brothers and his family, but part of her just knew that he would figure out exactly what was going on, and would react badly. Not that she was going to announce her going with trumpets, but if there was one thing that Bill Jr. was good at, it was zoning right in on anything that had to do with Mulder. The man enjoyed his nephew all the times he'd seen him, but from the beginning she had caught him looking with narrow suspicion into William's face as if searching for clues with which to scold her over her continued relationship with 'that sorry sonofabitch'. Scully shook her head ruefully. Once a brother, always a brother. Older or younger, it didn't seem to matter much.

"Hey, Mom? I have something that I may need to talk to you about this evening...if you have some time before you go out with Bill and Tara. What? No, I mean, yes of course I was planning on staying for dinner. Yes, I'm aware that Bill only comes home once or twice a year. Yes...yeah, Mom. Yeah. Look, I'm almost to where I'm going. I'll talk to you sometime after six, okay?" She beeped off her cell phone and looked distantly out the window for a minute. "Bye, Mom," she whispered, then swung quickly into the right lane and through the last tollbooth to her exit.


(Amor Fati, pt.10: "Summons")

The Lone Gunmen Headquarters,
April 18, 2002
4:56pm

Scully parked several hundred yards up the familiar and wet, garbage-littered street from the Lone Gunmen's headquarters and walked briskly through the alley to their dented and grungy door. Pausing with her hand upraised in the act of knocking, she steeled herself for answers she might not expect, then allowed her hand to resume its descent to the panel. Three sharp raps, and silence. A long silence. Just when she was about to knock again, wondering if there was a malfunction in the Gunmen's video surveillance equipment, the small slot in their door popped open to reveal Langly's ratty features. Scully jumped. "Jesus, Langly!" She breathed.

Langly gave his approximation of a grin, a strained expression more akin to that of a baby with gas, and murmured, "Sorry." He then turned his head back to the dim recesses of the building and called out to the other two. "She's here! Come on in, Agent Scully," he resumed, turning back to her.

"I will, as soon as you unlock the door," she retorted wryly.

"Oh. Yeah. Sure." Langly's head withdrew like a incongruous blonde turtle's, and she heard the unmistakable sounds of the Lone Gunmen's fifty or so locks being unbolted, turned, and drawn. After a moment's fierce activity, the door popped open to reveal the rest of Langly in one of his ubiquitous rock t-shirts...this one sporting the obscure logo of another band she had never heard of.

"'Honey Tongue'?" She inquired as she passed him in the doorway.

"Uh, yeah," he answered in his characteristically nervous fashion. "A-actually, I just like the name. And, all my other ones are dirty."

"Have I ever pointed out that you three live like prepubescent orphans?" Scully addressed this to the room at large as she continued through the warren to the main electronics den of this cozy little underground hovel now so familiar to her. Frohike, standing near one of the consoles, threw her a gimlet glare, while Byers, sitting on one unmade bed just around the bend in the dimly lit far left corner, looked down and nodded.

"On numerous occasions, Agent Scully," he said, his freshly pressed suit looking out of place as always in this untidy atmosphere. He stood up, but it was Frohike that spoke.

"As you may have suspected from our phone conversation, Mulder's surfaced again. We've found him lurking around like an ill-planted seed in one of our less routine system scans. How the guy is doin' this I don't know, as I don't recall letting him in on all our little gadgets, but I think its definitely him."

Langly must have seen the sudden look of worry on Scully's face, for he broke in quickly at this point. "I was suspicious at first myself," he said nervously, moving around the edge of the table to the monitor where Frohike was stationed. "I mean, Mulder's kung-fu was never quite up to par for this kinda thing; that's why you guys always came to us. But we did leave him loopholes. I think he just finally figured out how to use them. If he's done it once, he can do it again. I mean, he's probably got plenty of time on his hands, right?" At the marked silence from Scully, Langly blushed as he finally realized how tactless this last statement was in the present circumstances. Byers broke in at this rather delicate point in proceedings.

"We found the message embedded fairly deeply in the wires, so to speak, but judging from what you've told us about certain cases in your past, I think the subject on this particular e-mail is a pretty good password." He moved aside to let Scully into the crush around the workstation, and tapped once lightly on the mouse to reveal the message where they had it saved as a document. Scully hesitated, caught in a sudden agony of indecision, of fear. What if he had disagreed; what if he said no? He would go to ground again, and she would have no further chance either to get in touch with him or to convince him of the necessity of her decision until he felt he was able to contact her again. She did not think she could keep William safe that long, and she did not think she could hold up much longer on the unending and unrelenting strain, wondering if he was dead or alive, wondering when They would next come after her son. Taking a deep unobtrusive breath, she forced herself to step in front of the monitor and focus on the message posted there. Byers rattled on as she stared at the screen, absorbed in the answer laid out before her.

"We had to destroy the original message, of course," Byers was saying, somewhere in the distance. "We didn't want Them to be able to trace it. We figured you wouldn't mind if we saved it in this way as we did the last one..." His voice trailed off as he saw that Scully wasn't hearing him. Scully hardly noticed. Her gaze was riveted on the screen, glancing over the password, the entire message blooming in her brain and making her heart contract in sudden relief so complete that it left her breathless.

>>"I don't know if this is the best course of action for us now, but I know that I will not change your mind. I do not even know if I could, if I have the strength to do so now, having come, finally and forcefully, face to face with the powerful force that masters all my thoughts and better judgment."

Scully let out a long ragged breath that she didn't even know she was holding and finished reading the message with eyes that stubbornly blurred as she blinked impatiently. Her limbs were trembling as she finished the final passage.

>>"If you truly believe this is the best course of action, I will follow it. Two has always been better than one, especially as it involves him. I must now commit you to the care of the Boys; they will help take care of the details, as they have for me. Know that whatever happens, I will always be somewhere out there, waiting."

Byers cleared his throat and gently covered her chilled hand with his warm one, bringing her back to the present. She looked up to meet his gaze; his eyes were liquid with sympathy and warmth. How come she had never noticed what beautiful, soulful eyes John Fitzgerald Byers had, she wondered. A tremulous half smile ghosted her lips, acknowledging his concern. Scully cleared her own throat then, and forced words past her aching throat.

"Ei 'Aaneiigoo 'Ahoot'e." She murmured wonderingly.

"Yeah, and how many people know about that?" Langly pointed out triumphantly; or at least what passed for triumphantly in Langly's case.

"At least we got our marching orders loud and clear," Frohike commented under his breath. Seeing Scully's 'look', he rushed ahead.

"We figured out the instructions in the central paragraph," he continued. "The only town we could find called 'Salianiqua' is in Northwest Michigan, on the Upper Peninsula. The directions to the motel are specific enough, and I'm guessin' Mulder expects you to know what the "remarkably appropriate number" of the room is." He paused, obviously expecting to be enlightened.

"Forty-two," Scully answered, a thousand thoughts chasing around with the memories in her head. "His old apartment number."

"Aaaah, yes, of course!" Byers broke in, looking both impressed and a little abashed. "Now why we didn't think of that..."

"It's that ESP they have," Langly returned sarcastically, and walked a few paces away from the workstation with his hands jammed deep in the pockets of his jeans, shoulders hunched in self-denigration.

"So I have to check in there between the twenty-fifth and the twenty-sixth, or..."

"Or he'll have to bail, and then you're out there in the middle of nowhere with your little one, wondering what to do next, and no way to get in touch with him," Frohike finished for her, unshaven face creased with anxiety over the unpleasant possibilities that scenario represented. The scar on his forehead, souvenir of the Gunmen's abortive attempt to spirit William away for her a few months back showed up livid in the greenish light of the monitors and equipment. "Luckily," he continued briskly, "we had almost all the arrangements figured out by Tuesday; all we needed was the final destination to have it all set."

"We've set up the dummy accounts for your finances--a little under each pseudonym-to be activated as you use the ID's. Same thing we did with Mulder's estate. We'll have your tickets and your itinerary for you by tomorrow," Byers broke in. "As soon as you have everything set up and have little Mulder Junior in the saddle, you can be on your way." He hesitated. "That is, if you still really want to go through with this?" xxx

Scully looked straight into Byers' eyes, then into Frohike's--indomitable, and set on her course. Langly turned back toward them expectantly, eyes gleaming in an almost predatory fashion in the gloom.

"I have been living like the hunted in my own home for six months," she stated baldly. "I have been afraid to talk to anyone, to leave my child for one minute, even to go to the bathroom or to sleep. I live in fear each day that I'll come home to pick him up from my mother's and he'll be gone, and I'll never know who took him or why. My job is useless to our ends; it holds no interest for me now. And my only alternative to living like this is to choose to live in under the same conditions, in continuing danger, never seeing my family and friends again, and knowing that unless we manage the impossible, they may never see my son grow up, never know if we are dead or alive. It'd be the same thing as now; but at least I won't be doing it alone. I'd feel a hell of a lot safer if I had someone else to rely on; especially Mulder." She nodded once at Byers and Frohike, voice firm with conviction.

"At least if I take this choice, I'll be hunted on my own terms."

In the long silence that followed, Byers nodded, then Frohike. Langly looked down, embarrassed as always by strong emotion. "That's not the only good reason," Byers added, then cleared his throat again, looking embarrassed.

"Yeah, okay," Frohike quickly stepped into the gap. "So you really wanna do this; we'll take care of the details. Its what Mulder wanted, anyway."

Scully nodded, looking down at the grubby floor. "I..." She looked up, catching all three sets of eyes. "I just wanted to thank you guys for everything that you've done for me, for us, in the last year and before." She paused for a moment, her expression earnest with feeling. "I know we don't say it much, but we really appreciate it. I really appreciate it, and I know Mulder does too."

All three Gunmen looked excessively embarrassed.

"All in a days work." Frohike.

"Its nothing you wouldn't do for us." Byers.

"Ya gotta admit, it's a kick in the pants, anyway." Langly. Scully's smile was heartfelt.

"Yeah, well; I'm going to miss you guys," she told them warmly.

Frohike looked down and shuffled his feet like a schoolboy. Byers gave a little bow. "Likewise, Agent Scully," he murmured. Langly just went lobster-red beneath the curtain of his flyblown hair. Scully laughed. It was the first time she had heard that particular sound come out of her own throat since Mulder left.

"I have to go," she stated, a smile still curving her lips. "Do I get a print-out of this, or what?"

"Of...oh yeah, of course," Byers stammered, and strode quickly to the other end of the workstation to hand her a copy of the message. "We have one too, so we can work our magic with the details. We'll give you a call once everything is arranged."

"Thanks." Scully favoured them all impartially with one last smile, then wove her way quickly between the odds and ends to let herself out. "Don't forget to lock up!" she called through the door as she exited, and left the Lone Gunmen staring at the closed portal, bemused. xxx

Back outside, Scully leaned back against the weather-beaten door, letting her breath out and sagging against the metal, right hand braced on the knob to hold herself upright. She lifted her left hand, the printout held in a white-knuckled grip. She was shaking, she realized. She had not realized until now just how terrified she had been that Mulder would not give the reply she needed, that after all the build-up she would be set down hard and forced to live in this Hell again, for who knew how long and with no other recourse.

After a moment, she summoned her strength and forced herself to her feet, made her way to her car...where she sat motionless for a few long minutes, turning Mulder's message over and over in her mind's eye. She could not look at it again no matter how much she wished to sit and pore over it for days; They were watching, and for all she knew, Their technology was such that They could read the printed page from wherever They sat surveilling her. She knew They had cameras inside her car, her office, everywhere she ever spent more than five minutes a week. She had long since ceased looking at anything or saying a word of any importance to anyone while under a roof, behind walls, or in a vehicle.

Long moments passed before awareness of time returned to Agent Scully, whereupon she started her car and pulled smoothly out onto the garbage-cluttered street, heading for the toll road and Baltimore.


(Amor Fati, pt.11: "Surmise")

Margaret Scully residence
Baltimore, MD
April 18, 2002
6:25pm

Scully entered her mother's home with trepidation, wondering how she was going to manage to say goodbye to her mother without actually giving away any dangerous details. For all that her every move and plan was likely known to those who watched her no matter the precautions she took, and she would act accordingly; still she must act as circumspectly as she was able...in case.

Walking into the foyer, she took off her trench coat and hung it on the stand, setting her umbrella beneath it; it had started raining again while she was en route to Baltimore from the Magic Bullet. She walked past the base of the stairs to the living room and saw her mother sitting on the couch holding William. She couldn't help but smile at this tableau of generational content.

"Willie, look at that; it's your Mama!" Maggie Scully said in a perky grandma voice, bouncing the child on her lap. Will broke out into a huge and sticky grin, and extracted one gooey hand from his mouth to reach out to Scully.

"Ma!" He announced. It looked like he had been eating chocolate pudding. Or mud.

"I told you, Mom; we're calling him William or Will, not Willie," Scully chastised, closing the distance across the rug. "What did you feed him? Potting soil?"

"Mr. Cosby's own Jell-o Pudding Snacks," Maggie grinned wickedly. "It's a grandmother's prerogative to feed her grandchild massive amounts of sugar and then turn him over to his mother to deal with. It is also," she continued in a teasing tone, "a grandmother's prerogative to give her grandchild any nickname she so desires; but in this case I'll honour your wishes and stick to calling him my 'Liam'."

"Thanks," Scully answered wryly as she joined them on the couch. Will leaned crazily toward his mother and stretched out his arms.

"Maaa!" He insisted stridently, then began to whine. "Maaaaa...."

"I think I've been voted out," Maggie smiled good-naturedly, and allowed the baby to wriggle free of her arms and into his mother's lap. Scully picked him up and looked into his small round face, resigned.

"Yes, I missed you too, William! Did you have a nice visit with Nana, sweetie? How much junk food did she give you?"

Ignoring the pristine condition of his mother's dress blouse, William buried his face in Scully's bosom and nuzzled as he did whenever he wanted reassurance. Whatever it was that was on his face transferred itself to the pale pink blouse, and Maggie tsked.

"Oh, I'm sorry Dana. Your blouse! I'll go get the stain-remover." She bustled off briskly. Scully watched her go for a minute, holding William thoughtfully. Maggie was back in a moment with a spray bottle and a package of Handi-Wipes. "Here, Dana; let me scrub him off while you take care of the blouse." She took William deftly and deposited him on her lap. The boy began to squall indignantly as his Nana plied the Handi-Wipes, slapping at Maggie's hand with one pudgy paw and rubbing his eye with another, looking very put upon. "I think someone's sleepy," Maggie said conspiratorially to the room at large.

Scully looked up from where she was swiping ineffectually at the brown stains on her blouse. "It sure sounds that way," she answered.

The task finished, Scully looked up to see her mother watching her.

"Are you okay, Dana?" Maggie asked, concern in her voice.

"Yeah, I'm fine Mom. It's just been a long week," Scully evaded, trying to hide the strain in her voice. "Actually, I was hoping to get the chance to talk to you about something. Where are Bill and Tara?"

"Oh, they went out to pick up a few things; they said they'd be back in a half an hour or so. Why, what do you need to discuss with me?"

Scully took a deep breath. "Mom, do you mind if we go outside for a minute?" She asked. Maggie looked into her daughter's eyes, read the message there, and didn't question it. Holding a still-frustrated William, she stood and held out her hand to Scully, and they walked out of the back door and down to the end of the yard where they sat on the weathered and peeling old bench Charlie had built in his ninth grade shop class. There Maggie turned to Scully and looked at her expectantly, all the while jiggling William absently to distract him from the aftershocks of his small tantrum.

Now that it came right down to it, Scully didn't know where to start. She looked down at her palms, lying limp in her lap, struggling with the words. Another hand appeared in her view, took one of her hands, grasped it, squeezed lightly.

"Whatever it is, Dana, I'm here," Maggie encouraged, and squeezed again. xxx

Scully took a deep breath and looked into William's teary eyes for a second. She couldn't help but smile, seeing his look of red-faced affront, the picture of offended baby dignity. His wounded grey eyes, so like his father's, gave her strength. She was not being selfish. She was doing this for William as well as for herself and Mulder. And it was the right thing to do. She inhaled deeply and looked up to meet her mother's patient, kindly gaze.

"Mom, remember how I told you that I'm being watched?" Maggie nodded, eyes intent on her daughter's face. The first time Scully had warned her mother about this particular detail of her life, Maggie had been incensed and horrified. "Well, there's a reason we had to come out here to talk. They may be watching you too; in fact They're probably surveilling anybody that's connected to Mulder and me, any place he or I ever spent time in." She could see the dawning horror in her mother's eyes as Maggie Scully realized that her home was not a haven, and she rushed on to get it done with before she lost her nerve. "Now, not only does that mean that I am making everyone that I love unsafe, but you may have guessed that William is not particularly safe either..."

"Dana, from all the special instructions and warnings you've given me each time I watched him, I would think I'd have figured that out." Maggie Scully's eyes were hard with anger, but also damp with the full understanding, finally, of how her daughter had been living since her grandson had been born.

Scully nodded, feeling a little foolish. If she hadn't told her mother everything, still she had told her enough, for her own sake as well as for William's. The recent attempts on William she had alluded to only as cautions, though she had repeated the injunctions to her mother almost daily since. She wondered if William had shown any of his unique talents to his Nana. She shivered, and William looked up at them both as if sensing that something unusual was afoot.

Just as Scully was beginning to despair of how she could possibly get this out without tipping her hand to those bastards following her every move, Maggie Scully reached out a hand.

"Its getting too much for you, isn't it Dana." It wasn't a question. At Scully's startled expression, Maggie continued inexorably, the fierce strength that underlay her words very evident. "Don't think you're fooling me, sweetheart. I watch you. I have watched you since Fox left. It's not just that you miss him, is it? It has to do with the reason he left, the reason why we have to be so careful with Will. Those enemies you made in this last decade are watching you, trying to hurt you; you and my grandson. And the strain is wearing on you more every day."

Scully stared at her mother, taken aback. "Mom, I don't know what to say. I had no idea I was that transparent."

"Oh, you're not, sweetheart. But I know my little girl. A mother sees things. You were always very tough, but there are limits to even the strongest person's strength. It's not good for anyone to live like you have been; especially a new mother." Scully looked down, struggling to control the emotions that flooded up at her mother's unexpected insight. But she was truly stunned by Maggie's next assertion. Her mother sighed, looking away over the back fence at the neighbours' house.

"So he's called you, hasn't he; or gotten in touch with you however it is that you two manage things?" She sighed again. "I hated to see you wondering each day, but now you have that light in your eyes again; the light of a woman who has made a decision." Ignoring her daughter's astonishment, Maggie went on. "I have dearly loved watching William his first year; watching him grow and change." She looked down at the baby, who returned her smile serenely. "It has been a blessing." She returned her gaze to her daughter then. "I would have dearly loved to watch him continue to grow; to see him walk, learn to ride a bike, come to family picnics...but I am not so selfish as to ask that you stay here where neither he nor you are safe anymore." Scully was now stunned into absolute stillness, staring at Maggie as her own plans were unfolded before her.

"And even if you were safe, Dana, I would still tell you to go. After last year I never wanted to see you living like that again; frantic with worry every day and sick with grief. You've been alone for so long, Dana, and after seeing how happy you were for those few short weeks when Fox was back--even with the distance that lay between you--to see you in this pain again has been painful for me, as well." She smiled warmly, one woman conferring a cherished secret on another. "Besides. William deserves to know his father, and the opposite applies as well."

Scully broke down then. "Oh, Mom," she said under her breath, and let the pent-up tears fall. "How did you get to be so wise?"

Maggie took her daughter's hand. "Its not wisdom, Dana; its life, and I have had the good fortune to live it. I have also had the good fortune to get to know my grandson while I could. I knew that someday if Fox could not come back to you that you would go to him. I've watched you bearing up under the strain for a while now. I was just wondering when the breaking point would be."

Scully wiped her eyes with the back of her hand, a smile of relief on her face. "Its not just about me and Mulder, Mom. If staying here were still the best way to keep William safe, I would stay. But I can't do this alone anymore; and Mulder agrees, or he wouldn't let me come."

"Oh I know, Dana! I know. I would never believe that of you. But I would also never try to convince you not to go to him. I want you to know that."


(Amor Fati, pt.12: "Avoidance")

At that inopportune moment, Bill Junior's voice could be heard from the house.

"I don't know where she is. MOM?" Came a sailor's bellow, and Bill appeared at the back door. Staring at them for a moment as if sensing a tension in the air, Bill then turned his head back over his shoulder. "Yeah, Tara, they're out here." He came down the hill, eating up the yard in great manly strides, and ended in sweeping Scully up into his arms like a steam train on the loose. "Hey, little big sister! I had all day to get to know William again, but I was wondering if we were ever gonna see you!"

"Hi, Bill," Scully murmured into her brother's chest. She came up to somewhere near his solar plexus it seemed sometimes, and though he generally treated her like porcelain, he also rather engulfed her. She used to wonder how her brothers could be such big men and her sister so tall while she remained far and away the most petite person in her extended family. Charlie had started the family joke--the big little sister.

Above her head, Bill was asking her something about work. "No, Bill, everything is fine," she answered untruthfully, exchanging glances with her mother who was standing catty corner from them holding William with a knowing expression on her face.

"Good," he answered with a self-satisfied sort of approval that she had always hated hearing from him. "I always thought you'd be better off doing what you were trained to do, rather than all of that pointless running around that you were doing the last several years. I told you all along that you would be happier sticking to what you know instead of following that..."

"Can you please drop it, Bill," Scully said with firmly restrained resignation. It was not a question. Bill must have heard the cold warning in her voice, for, wonder of wonders, he did.

"Okay, Dana," he said, releasing her gently. "I just wanna know that you're all right, that you're happy. You know that, don't you?" he reached out, lifted her chin with two fingers. "It's my job to take care of you, you know."

Scully smiled noncommittally. "You always try," she answered with a half-smile, leaving the rest of the sentence unspoken. --Even when you should leave it alone--

Uneasy peace re-established for the moment, Bill took William from their mother with the ease of long practice, and then in his normal take-charge manner escorted and/or herded both mother and sister back toward the house.

Scully no longer bristled at Bill's 'I know what's best for you' attitude, she realized, but she was tired of arguing the point with him. He simply could not see that this was her life, to be lived a she saw fit, and the fact that he constantly questioned her judgment on the matter wearied her beyond belief. But she still loved him, and she knew that this was his way of showing his own love. If he could only learn to let things be, to be less tactless and insensitive...

They entered the house in silence, and Tara came into the kitchen to meet them, holding out her arms to Scully with a glad little cry. Scully, genuinely fond of her sister-in-law, returned the hug though with her customary reserve, and Tara pulled back after a moment to look into her eyes thoughtfully.

"Are you all right, Dana?" she queried, sounding concerned. She glanced up at her husband, looking slightly annoyed. "Has Bill been..."

"Yes, he has," Maggie broke in dryly. "As usual. Dana cut him off sharp, though, and he has since been behaving himself. We'll see how long it lasts."

"Bill, I thought we agreed that you weren't going to do this," Tara scolded. "I thought you wanted to have a nice family reunion without spoiling it with a bunch of drama."

Bill looked defensive at the gang attack. "Okay, okay," he surrendered, holding up his hands. "On my honour, the rest of tonight." He looked down into his sister's eyes, then. "I'm sorry, Dana. I promise, I won't bring it up again."

--Yes, you will-- Scully thought softly as she looked up at him and smiled acceptance of his flag of truce. --When I say goodbye to you, you will-- Mulder had had it easy when he had done this last year; he had had only her and one or two select people to say goodbye to, and most of them had understood without needing the full ceremony. Skinner, for one, who knew the entire situation, knew the stakes they played by. Mulder had been answerable only to himself, to her, and to William. She, on the other hand, had a great many more loyalties, a lot fewer bridges burnt--and therefore a greater task before her than ever Mulder had had to face when he departed. She did not look forward to it. On the first hand, Mulder had been saying goodbye to her and to William, and she was saying goodbye so that she might return to him.

Perhaps she had gotten the better bargain after all. xxx

The dinner went generally without incident, Scully helping Tara and her mother with the food and the girl-chat while Bill and little Matthew set the table and kept an eye on William. Matthew, at four years old quite the big boy, had greeted his auntie with a big sticky hug and kiss before galloping off to continue playing with his toy navy jet. He was a sweet little boy with a massive shock of tow-headed hair from his mother, who groused that she just could not keep it cut.

Remembering a dozen good times and terrible confessions in kitchens like this--Mulder, her infertility, Emily, Scully forced herself to settle in, determined to enjoy the mindless and warm domestic chatter of a kitchen full of people after the oppressive emptiness of her apartment, echoing with the thoughts of the unseen. She rolled her shoulders to relieve the tension, feeling that she could pretend here, for a little while, that the eyes that had taken up permanent residence between her shoulder blades in the last months did not exist, though she knew they were as much in evidence here as anywhere else. Here, in her mother's home. She was not fool enough to believe that she was any less observed in this place than in any other, but yet she felt that she was not being watched as closely, that for a moment she was having what passed for a regular day. It was times like this that illustrated to her fully just how horribly confined and terrifying her life had become, how thick with dread and suspicion the air in her apartment had been since she had been made aware of Their scrutiny.

"Dana, can you carry the salad out please, sweetheart?"

"Yeah, sure Mom." With a shake of her head, Scully released her preoccupation with the past and her present worries and thrust herself fully into this moment.


(Amor Fati, pt.13: "A Conspiracy of Silence")

After dinner, the family moved into the living room and settled in for a get-to-know-you-again session. William began on the floor with Matthew, but after he tried to eat one of the older boy's action figures, he was removed from the scene of abortive conflict and passed from person to person along with the conversation. At one point when Tara was holding him, looking absorbedly into the little boy's face while Bill discussed day-by-day things with his sister, the conversation was interrupted as she looked up and interjected, "I just can't figure out who he looks like, Dana. I mean, as all the features he has that are not from you become more and more obvious, you won't be able to keep your big secret, so you might as well let go of the mystery. You've had your fun."

Everybody turned to Tara who blushed a little, but held staunchly to her question. Scully opened her mouth, at a loss for exactly how to answer as this was exactly the subject that she had hoped to avoid around Bill, but luckily at that moment her mother broke in.

"Well, since we don't have any idea who the options were, it's not likely that we could compare faces anyway, is it?" She asked in her sweet tone of voice, temporising. But the damage was done. Bill broke in with a snort.

"I think it's damn obvious who the father is," he muttered angrily, but surprisingly it was Tara that interrupted him before the tirade could begin.

"I'm sorry I brought it up," she said, blushing more now. "I was just thinking out loud. I'm sorry, Dana," she said, and then turned to her husband, determination in the set of her eyes. "Bill, we don't need to talk about this right now, do we. Especially not when you tend to get so upset about it. Not when the kids are awake to hear it anyway." At this, the choler in Bill Junior's face began slowly to recede, and he nodded.

"Not now," he agreed; but his voice held the promise of future efforts to get to the bottom of the subject.

--I would just like to scream, sometimes-- Scully thought.

After a couple of hours, Matthew began to get cranky, a sure sign of a tired toddler too wound up with unaccustomed stimulation to go to sleep. Tara passed a sleepy William off to his uncle and then picked up her own son gently but firmly and carried him to the foot of the stairs, ignoring his tear-filled protests. "He won't stay in bed or sleep unless I stay with him when he's like this, so I doubt you'll all still be down here by the time he's out," she stated, then smiled at Scully. "Goodnight, Dana. If you're not here in the morning I guess Matthew and I will see you tomorrow sometime."

Scully got up from the couch and approached her sister-in-law, feeling an unexpected surge of emotion. Though she had thought she had had time to get used to the idea, that this was the first goodbye had just now hit her. She hugged Tara goodnight and stroked her fussy nephew's blond head gently, kissed his downy cheek. "Good night, sweet Matthew. May your angel always watch over you." She looked up smiling and met an answering smile from Tara. "He's beautiful," she said, feeling strangely light. "I hope William will be this healthy and happy when he's Matthew's age."

"Oh, he will be, Dana. He will be. God meant us to have our little boys; why else would He have given them to us after so long trying in vain?"

Scully nodded and stepped away, wondering indeed just how much both of these babies had had to do with Miracles. Tara held Matthew out for his daddy to kiss him goodnight, then went up the stairs slowly with him in her arms. "I'll be up soon, Hon," Bill called after her, then looked at his sister shrewdly.

--Here it comes-- Scully thought, bracing herself; but Bill instead turned to their mother and resumed their former conversation. After a while, however, the unspoken began to intrude, and the dialogue faltered. Bill finally handed William over to his mother and reluctantly declared that he was ready to turn in, hugging first she and then his sister goodnight, before mounting the stairs. Scully's goodnight/goodbye hug to him was a little strained, as Scully was not sure why he had not brought up what was obviously on his mind. It wasn't like Bill to be reticent. As he disappeared beyond the landing, Scully turned back to her mother, who was looking at her sadly.

"You don't think you'll be able to see them off, do you Dana?" she asked gently. Her eyes always seemed so knowing, and so calm. Maggie Scully took everything with the same stoicism she had shown for years as a military wife and mother of four unruly children with Irish tempers. Scully smiled.

--I've been smiling more in these past few days than I have in months-- she realized. It was a relief to be able to discuss her secret with at least one other person.

"Mom, I was wondering if I could bring some of my things here; the things I don't have time to worry about? I already told my landlord I was going to stay here for a while."

"Why, sure, Dana, of course you can. And I can take care of all the arrangements that you don't have time for if you need me to." Scully opened her mouth to reply, but at that moment Bill Scully came charging down the stairs, shouting in a low voice.

"So why are you going to stay here with Mom? What is happening with you that you aren't telling me?" Taken by surprise, Scully's answer came in second to her mother's.

"Dana is having some trouble that you don't need to know about, Bill," Maggie intervened smoothly before Scully could answer. "She doesn't feel safe in her apartment right now, and so I invited her to come and stay with me." Scully looked at her mother gratefully. But Bill was not mollified.

"What kind of trouble, Dana?" he demanded. "What did that so-called ex-partner of yours get you mixed up in this time?" Before anyone could get a word in edgewise, he rolled over them, picking up steam. Cold disdain seemed to ripple from his voice. "And where the hell is he now? Skiting off to God knows where and leaving you alone to raise his baby!" At this, Scully flinched, and Bill thrust his chin out pugnaciously. "Don't try to deny it, Dana. You can see it every time you look in Will's face!" The disgust reached a pinnacle in his voice now. "God, how you could have shacked up with that sorry sonofabitch after all he's put this family through..."

"William Scully Junior, you apologize to your sister this instant; and then you apologize to me!" Maggie shouted, incensed. "How dare you speak that way in my house?!"

"I'm sorry, Mom, but I'll speak to her that way because she needs to hear it!" Bill said respectfully, but his hot eyes never left his sister's face.

"Bill, I can't discuss this with you now, here," Scully answered, voice even though inside she was trembling; and not because she feared a confrontation with her brother. If Bill were to guess what she was about to do, he would trumpet it to the skies and whoever was watching tonight, never knowing how many careful plans he would be destroying for a moment of vented spleen. If she could not shut him up now...her eyes begged him to read the need for discretion there; but Bill Junior was not a subtle man, and he did not read subtle cues.

"Dana, what is with you tonight?" he burst out, sounding confused. His voice softened as he worked his way through the puzzle of her actions. "Hugging us all like you're never gonna see us again...you've been acting like a distant observer to Matthew all night long..." Scully could see the moment the realization dawned on his face, and started up, Maggie right behind her, trying in vain to forestall him reaching his final conclusion.

"My God...Dana, you're not going to stay here..." He began, just as Scully grabbed his arm. Maggie broke in stridently at that same moment.

"Bill!" she began, but it was her daughter that finished the thought.

"Bill, I will discuss this with you, but we have to go outside. Please don't argue with me now." Her voice was suddenly Dana Scully steel, and her spine was a ramrod as she thrust all her not inconsiderable will upon her brother, her eyes stony with resolve. After a moment, Bill actually nodded acquiescence, and followed the both of them out of the living room and through the kitchen. On the way Maggie deposited Will in the playpen she and Scully had bought for him when Scully had gone back to work, and pulled it into the kitchen so that it could be seen from the doorway.


(Amor Fati, pt.14: "The Ties That Bind")

"So what the hell was that all about?" Bill blustered once they reached the bench at the end of the yard. "Why the hell couldn't we talk in the house?"

"Well, for one thing, Bill, you can't seem to keep control of yourself when this subject is aired, and the last thing Tara needs is for you to wake Matthew and get him all worked up again," Maggie chided lightly, trying to evade the issue of the surveillance her house was under. He did not need to hear about that at this juncture.

"Okay, sure." Bill had the decency to look abashed for a moment, but then he turned his demanding gaze back on his sister.

"So what the hell is going on here, Dana?" he asked, his demands couched in a lower tone in deference to their proximity to the neighbours' yards. "You're not moving in with Mom, I can tell that from here!"

"Bill; I need you not to ask me too many questions about this right now," Scully answered him firmly. She needed to stick to her guns here, and she knew it. "It's dangerous for you, for everyone involved, but especially for me and William if I tell you everything you want to know at this exact moment." She reached out to clasp her brother's bulky arm, trying to communicate to him with their contact just how important this point was. Her eyes telegraphed the message to him; she could only hope he would listen. "It's going to have to be enough for you to know that I have to go away for a while; I don't know how long. It's just not safe for me and William to be here anymore..."

"My God; I was right," Bill Junior breathed. "You're going to him, aren't you?" His voice once again began to pick up steam and decibels. "Wherever that bastard Mulder went off to, you're going to go haring off after him like some lovesick child, aren't you?" Scully opened her mouth to protest, but as usual, Bill Junior on a roll was at his most overbearing.

"Holy God! How could you do this, Dana? How; when I always thought you to be so sensible? Has working with that guy addled your mind so that you can't see that you're well shut of the bastard? And how in the hell," he continued, infuriated now as he worked up his full gall against Mulder, "could you even think of risking yourself, not to mention Will, in some harebrained scheme to follow that sorry sonofabitch to wherever the hell he's taken himself off to? How could even someone like him ask you to do this? And if this was your idea, how could he let you? When you tell us all time and time again that he knows very well what's at stake?" His face had altered into something dangerous now, something poisonous. His voice reached a crescendo of righteous fury.

"If this Mulder was any kind of man, he wouldn't try to take you away from your family to lead you off onto another one of his wild goose chases--whatever the goddamned fantasy he guilt-tripped you into chasing after this time--he would keep himself and his damn quest as far from you and William as he possibly can! And you! Dana! You always defend him, you never open your eyes up to what he's done, to you, to this family, to your life! Why can't you realize..."

Maggie broke into the middle of this tirade suddenly, eyes suddenly blazing and voice filled with flat and cold motherly disapproval. "William Scully Junior, you apologize to your sister right this instant! How dare you disrespect her like that; and twice in one night? Are you her father? Are you her husband? And even if you had a say in this, your sister is an adult woman, and she has the right to make her own decisions without a lecture from you! Now you sit down here and talk to her without raising your voice, or you may leave my home this instant, and I don't care if you come back until you have something constructive to say! You will be civil in my home, do you hear me?"

Stunned into silence, Bill stared at their mother for a moment, mouth open. "Mom," Scully waved her hand wearily. "It's okay. Not that I don't appreciate your support, but I can fight my own battles." She turned to her brother, her voice harsh with frost and steel.

"Now I want you listen to me, Bill, because I'm only going to tell you this once. I'm not asking for your approval, because I don't need it! You aren't Dad, I don't give a damn what you think of Mulder, and my relationship with him is NONE OF YOUR GODDAMNED BUSINESS!" Her voice rose at the end to an outraged shout as she came up toe to toe with her elder brother.

"The hell its not, Dana!" Bill broke in angrily. They were face-to-face, now, fair skin equally red as they shouted their lungs out, all thoughts of curious neighbours gone to hell along with the peace of the evening. "I'm your family, and..."

"Mulder is my family too! He's been in my life for ten years, and as you so charmingly put it, we have a child. So I'm telling you once and for all, Bill, that you will accept the reality of it right now because it's not going to go away!"

Bill was gaping at her now, hands hanging at his sides as he stared at his little sister in fascination at her red-faced fury. She was always so controlled, he had probably never seen her this openly angry since they were teenagers.

"Now sit down, Bill, and listen to me for a change!" She ordered, pointing at the bench, her voice ice once again in lieu of fire. Bill closed his gaping mouth absently and stumbled swiftly over to take a seat on the bench. He very carefully did not look at his sister as he got his emotions under control. Scully watched until his deep red colour began to fade slowly before she spoke; it gave her time to get her own emotions under wraps. She took a deep breath before she continued in a measured and not quite patient cadence.

"Now, here's how it is, not because I believe that it's any of your business, Bill, but because I want you to know right now so you can stop making these snap judgments about Mulder and his part in my life--because whether you like it or not, he is a part of my life, and that's never going to change. Ever."

Bill seemed disposed to listen, amazingly enough. Scully stared at him for a moment, awaiting further outburst, but there was none. Still wanting to slap him or worse, Scully folded her arms to keep herself from reaching for the gun she was not carrying as she looked him straight in the eye. "Bill, Mulder didn't make this decision; he didn't ask me to come to him. I made the decision, and I wouldn't let him say no.

"How would you feel, Bill, if you had to live the rest of your life without Matt and Tara, knowing that your son was out there somewhere growing up never knowing that you existed? Or worse, tell me how you cheerfully you would live if you were me? Raising Matthew on your own, having no idea where Tara was, not knowing if you or he would ever see her again, wondering just how in the hell you were going to keep her alive in his heart when you could not say if he would ever get to know her, know the security that comes from having both his parents, right there, every day? What would you do, Bill? Would you be able to say no if you could go to her? Would you be able to turn your back on them both, push them away, and go on alone?"

Bill seemed taken aback; he opened his mouth, shut it again, then looked down as if finally stopping to think. It was obvious that he had never tried to apply her situation to his own life. He raised his head, about to reply...and Tara appeared outlined in the yellow light from the kitchen doorway.

"I'd ask what all the yelling's about down here, but I'm pretty sure I already know," she called lightly, gentle voice carrying down from the door as she removed her hand from the frame and walked halfway out into the yard to address the tense scene. Bill looked up, and seeing her, his face softened dramatically. He seemed to be slowly revising many of his preconceived notions right at that moment. Without looking at Scully, without taking his eyes from his wife, he murmured as if thinking out loud.

"I still don't think that it makes him much of a man. He should keep you away, Dana, to keep you both safe." He turned his head up to look at his sister then, demeanor changed to something near humble if that were possible. "But if this is what you really want, what you and William really need...I can't live your life for you." He looked away again. "I just wish our kids could grow up together, know each other rather than living without. I mean, I know that we're in San Diego and you're here, but family's important."

Scully sensed the underlying need in Bill's words, the responsibility he felt to hold the family together, and to protect his only remaining sister from harm. "I hope someday they can, Bill," Scully whispered to him, eyes wanting to fill. She let them, knowing in this moment that it was not important whether or not she shed tears. If anyone was watching now it was too late; her secret was told on the mountain if their surveillance extended further than she had hoped.

Bill was talking again, as if to himself. "From the first time I met that guy, I knew he would end up taking you away from us," Bill muttered softly to his open palms. "I knew it the way Mom knew that I was going to marry Tara when I introduced them. I just didn't want to lose you is all."

He propelled himself up off of the bench then with the air of a man who had made a sudden decision. Taking her delicately boned hand in his warm large one, he spoke directly into her eyes. "I love you, Sis. I love you, Mom loves you, Charlie and Tara and Matthew love you. We all love you, and we'll all be waiting to see you and William again." Then he dropped her hand and turned away to trudge back up to his waiting wife without another word.


(Amor Fati, pt.15: "All The Little Details")

Scully stared after her brother, amazed.

"He's crying," Maggie said from behind her, and placed a hand on her daughter's shoulder. "He doesn't want you to see it...but if I know anything, I know how to tell from behind how a big man looks when he's crying. He loves you, Dana..."

"Oh, God, Mom; I know he does," Scully answered, thick-voiced, and wiped her own eyes with the edge of her palm.

" But I think he needed to hear what you had to say," her mother continued without pause. "I'm glad you finally stood up to him. It's been years."

"Yeah, I guess I still feel guilty about Daddy, and Bill always seems to take on that role..."

"Your father was proud of you, Dana, and I think he would be proud of you now. I know you think that staying with family would be the most important thing to him, but making hard decisions without letting your fear get the better of you was one of the things in this life that he admired most." She sighed. "I often wonder why Bill turned out to be the angriest one of you all; I guess its because he's the oldest son."

"And he's Daddy's namesake," Scully began. Just then, a low squall from the kitchen announced that William had finally woken up. "God, I can't believe he didn't wake up during all that," Scully muttered an aside, and jogged lightly up to the kitchen, needing to engage in some kind of activity to release the tension of the last few moments. When she got to the door, Bill was holding William and patting his rear thoughtfully. In the act of thrusting the tear-streaked little boy toward his mother, he paused to hold the ten-month old up to the light, as if memorizing his face. He stroked William's cheek.

"Hey, it was nice visiting with you, little buddy," he said to the child, and kissed his damp cheek before passing him to his mother. "I don't have to tell you to take good care of him, Dana," he said, looking directly into her eyes over the tousled curve of William's head. "But I want you to tell him I said he'd better take care of you both, or by God I'll find him someday and make sure he suffers." He smiled at her unapologetically. "I may respect your decision, Dana...but that doesn't mean I have to like it...or him," he murmured, then caught Tara's elbow and guided her gently out of the kitchen to the stairs without another word. Tara glanced back at her mother- and sister-in-law with apologetic confusion as they crossed the linoleum to the darkened interior.

"Mom?" Scully called softly over her shoulder as she shifted her son's heavy warmth and patted him absently.

"I'm here, Dana," Maggie answered from the doorway behind her. "Are you and William going to stay the night, sweetheart?"

"I wasn't going to, Mom...but I do have some things here, and William has duplicates of everything." She turned back to her mother. "You don't mind, do you? I didn't mean to cause so much trouble by coming over tonight."

"Dana, you stop that now. What happened tonight was Bill's fault, not yours. He could always stop to listen for a change; I think you taught him a much-needed lesson tonight. And you know that you're always welcome to stay."

"Yeah." Scully looked down. "I know, Mom." She had some toiletries and other sundry items here, as she and Will had stayed at her mother's many times after she had come to pick him up after work. There had been so many nights where Scully had just not felt up to returning to that echoingly empty and oppressive silence where she imagined she could hear the inaudible buzz and whirr of microscopic devices in her walls, appliances, in her bedroom, her bathroom...when the tension became unbearable and there was no feeling of safety to be had there. It seemed she spent a great deal less time in her own apartment since Mulder was abducted and her world had altered forever. During her pregnancy there had been numerous times when she had woken from horrible nightmares of his torture mingled with the half-forgotten memories of her own abduction, and had been unable to rest until she went to his place and slept on his bed or his couch, cradling one of his shirts in her arms as if she could somehow hold him against the terrors that beset their lives.

Scully and Maggie made their goodnights, Maggie kissing William's damp red cheek as she passed them on the way to the stairs. Scully caught her arm as she started up. "Thanks for taking care of all the little details, Mom. I don't know what to say about all this, but you've been more understanding than I think I could ever be."

Maggie smiled a little sadly lay her hand briefly against her daughter's cheek, her eyes filled with empathy and compassion, before she kissed her gently and continued up the stairs. Scully followed slowly and put Will down in the room that Maggie had set aside as a sort of nursery for him, going through her nightly routine slowly in an attempt to wind down from the adrenaline high she had inadvertently gained from her 'exchange' with Bill. Worrying that by volume alone the matter of their disagreement might have been picked up by those watching, she tossed and turned, hoping that nature of their exchange had garbled any details they might glean from the fight-and knowing that despite her caution, they likely already knew she was leaving. She had not told Bill the when's and the where's. It would have to be enough.

It was far too late to worry, but still she did. Was she doing the right thing? Here, their son was a stationary target. Against all odds Mulder had managed to survive by remaining in perpetual motion. Perhaps then that was the only solution to the injustice that pitted so many groups, human and alien, cult and military against the pitiful defences that could be erected by a faithful few around one single, vulnerable child.

In the end she gave up and extracted William from his crib to lay down with him on the small rollaway bed in the room, as if by holding him she could somehow speed her reunion with his father. A week. Seven days. Seven days till she would reach this 'Salianiqua', and look into her own heart again. She feared the end of that time, and she yearned for it. Yearned to feel the comfort and safety that she always felt in Mulder's presence, even in the stomach-clenching horror of many of the moments they had shared. Feared her own overwhelming need to find that whirlwind again; even if it meant facing the storm of emotions that would come when she let go of the iron control that was the only thing that had held her together from flying apart under the strain of these last months. Feared and yearned for it, knowing that the safety was an illusion in the world that they inhabited, but knowing also that there was a safety in their togetherness that could not be had any other way.

Finally asleep, Scully dreamed amorphous, colourless shapes drifting past her sight in frantic motion or in confusing patterns the edges of which her mind grasped, and lost...and then a sudden, startlingly vivid vision of Mulder lying on his back, arms behind his head in some darkened room far away...Mulder tossing and turning alone amidst rumpled sheets as if in tandem with her own restless movements...Mulder sitting on the edge of the bed in jeans and nothing, staring into the dark with his gun dangling between his knees...Mulder holding his head in his hands, frustrated and alone...

In the pale light of predawn Scully awoke with him still in her head, her heart breaking as she acknowledged that this had not been a dream. It had had that flavour of her visions of him during his abduction, her visions of him when he was missing in New Mexico...and though her rational mind said that these dreams were the product of longing and loss, her heart told her that her soul was connected to Mulder's in ways that she did not need to explain to make it real--and in the past few years, Dana Scully had learned to trust her heart.


(Amor Fati, pt.16: "Farewell")

Margaret Scully Residence
Baltimore, MD
April 19, 2002
6:43am

Sipping thoughtfully at a mug of steaming coffee, Scully stared sightlessly out of the dining room window the next day, while the early morning sunlight streamed in to give her slightly mussed hair the appearance of a richly flaming halo as it glanced off of the shoulders of her satin pajamas. Her restless night had told on her; the succession of restless nights. Her face had the look of sleeplessness on it; luckily, she didn't have to do any slicing and dicing today. Maybe she would take a jog around the track between lectures.

A hand settled gently on Scully's shoulder, and she looked up, surprised. It was Maggie. "Good morning, Dana. I thought I'd come down and have a cup of coffee with you, see you off."

Scully smiled into her mug. Her mother was concerned. She would have heard her wakeful rustling around and probably knew she had been up since four.

"I'm fine Mom. I just have a lot to think about."

"Well, don't worry about hurrying back for Will today, sweetie. We'll all go out for lunch, get out of the house and make a day of it. You do whatever you need to do today, and we'll be waiting for you this evening."

Maggie poured herself a cup of coffee from the pot her daughter had brewed, and they sat companionably absorbing caffeine until the time came for Scully to finish getting ready for work. She came back downstairs in her comfortable 'Quantico uniform', reflecting that it was very nice to be able to go to work in more casual clothing after nearly nine years of straight-laced suits. William was lying over her shoulder in the picture of limp baby trust, fingers corked thoughtfully in his mouth. She held him up for a moment and rubbed her face in his terrycloth-clad belly. "You be good for Nana today, sweet William," she admonished gently, kissed him on one chubby cheek, then blew into his belly. "Pppffft! Ooooooh!" She smiled into his grey-blue eyes as he collapsed into a fit of giggles. She walked to the table and handed him over to his grandmother, smiling.

"It's nice to see you smiling, Dana," her mother commented, eyes on her daughter's face as she took her grandson and plopped him into her lap.

"It's a new day, Mom," Scully answered, and let her hand linger over William's silky head for a moment before turning to leave. xxx

FBI Academy
Quantico, VA.
5:16 pm

Scully finished grading the last paper with a snort, and laid it on top of the pile. Someone would find them after her defection was noticed, and another agent, probably Dr. Avondale, would have to take over her load. She regretted leaving her students; they were a promising bunch, but there were more important considerations right now. They were doing fine, would graduate in a couple of weeks. New agents for a new world. She wondered how long the next generation would get to show off their accomplishments.

She stood up, arching her back to relieve the strain of leaning over her desk, and looked around the office slowly, aware that this was her last evening in it. She had really not taken a lot of time to make it her own, for she hadn't really felt that this was her place. Despite the fact that she had a desk and a computer here, good light and a lot of room, Scully still felt that her true office was that 'area' to one side of the desk in the basement she had shared with Mulder for so many years down at headquarters. Now, though, whenever she went down there, a strange feeling of incongruity struck her as she walked through a door that now read 'Agent John Doggett', and 'Agent Monica Reyes'. Not for the first time, Scully wondered why they had never gotten around to putting her name on the door with Mulder's while they were working down there. At first it had been questionable how long she would be assigned to him, and she had felt very much the intruder in Mulder's private domain in that first several months. It had taken her over a year to feel fully comfortable in there, and then they had just gone from day to day without really thinking about it. It had occurred to her occasionally as she gazed at the door, but something had always driven the point from her mind before she could mention it...though she had mentioned the thing with the desk half a dozen times. That had ended up bothering her a lot more than the name on the door, because she felt it meant that Mulder still hadn't quite accepted her presence in his office and his life. Long before her brush with cancer had made Mulder more aware of what she meant to him so that he requisitioned her a small one, the desk issue had stopped really bothering her as more than a bargaining chip. Toward the end, she had understood, and it had stopped being an issue at all. But by then, it had been too late, and Mulder was gone.

Smiling wryly, Scully stepped over to where her soft briefcase hung by its strap over a chair, and pulled out a standard envelope. Carrying it back to the desk, she snagged an interdepartmental mail envelope from her mailbox, then hesitated in the act of slipping the smaller letter into it. Once she put in her resignation, she was committed. After a moment, Scully shook her head and dropped the letter into the larger envelope, closing the flap with the string and addressing it to her superior here at the Academy. She would leave it on his desk. He never came in over the weekend, so her resignation would not be registered in any official channels until Monday, and by that time she would be long gone.

Gathering up her things, Scully took one last glance around the office, leaned over to click 'shut down' on her computer, and then left the Forensics wing of Quantico without a backward glance, dropping the envelope on her supervisor's desk on the way out.


(Amor Fati, pt.17: "Abode")

J. Edgar Hoover FBI Building,
Washington DC
April 19, 2002
6:03pm

Walking these halls was strange after so many months down at Quantico. Scully strode down the echoing hallway that lead from the elevator to her old office door with the surety of someone who had tread the same path more times than living memory could retain; the surety that came of instinctive knowledge. As she reached the end of the hall, turned the corner with the boxes of stacked files to face the door at the end, she smiled, running her fingers over the new names there. She still had her key if Doggett and Reyes had gone home for the day. Knocking softly, she waited for a response before trying the knob. It was locked.

Scully fished out her keys, running her fingers lightly over the bunch as she moved unerringly for the right one. As she extracted it from the bundle, her fingers passed over another key, a piece of adhesive on the butt labelling it 'Mulder'. A soft smile curved the corners of her mouths as she caressed that key lightly, not wondering why she had kept it now that Mulder's apartment was no longer his. That key was a part of her; her invitation into Mulder's life. She remembered the exchange, so long ago.

"If we're going to be partners, we should probably be able to get to each other," Mulder had said one day as they were locking up, his face bent over the doorknob as he manipulated the key in the temperamental lock. They had been working together for about two and a half weeks. He had looked up at her then a little hesitantly, his face still full of that idealism and fire that had so drawn her in the beginning, enraptured her like a moth to a flame. She had been amazed and fascinated in spite of herself by Mulder's passion...something she had needed in her own life, had not felt since that strange emptiness had taken her in the last year of medical school. She had nodded.

"Yes, I was thinking that myself, the other day. If something were to happen to one of us, we would need to be able to get into the each other's apartments, make the necessary arrangements."

"Well, I don't know about you, Scully, but I don't plan on dying anytime soon," Mulder had cracked, giving her that goofy grin of his, eyebrows raised in that challenging fashion he had used in those days to entice her to join in his light-hearted sparring. She had raised one of her own eyebrows coolly in mock reproof and he had sobered, nodding thoughtfully. "So, I, I'll have one made for you. Tonight. I'll get it to you by tomorrow."

"Right," Scully had said, smiling. She had smiled so much with him, in those days. They both had, before things had gotten so serious. They really had been terribly naive then, she reflected. And young. They had been so ridiculously young. "I'll have one made for you, too."

"Great, Scully. See you tomorrow, then?"

"See you tomorrow, Mulder." She had smiled to herself as she watched him walk off, already re-absorbed in whatever case they had been working on at the time. Neither of them had failed, though. They had exchanged keys the next day, solemn as priests, and then had laughed to break up the tension and gone back to work. Neither of them had ever mentioned the awkward moment again.

Smiling now at the memory, Scully lowered the office key to the lock and turned it, opening the door and smelling the familiar, slightly dusty smell of the Basement Office with its perennial lack of housekeeping attention and its overload of paperwork. It had been like a second home down here for so long...

The sense of incongruity was strong here, too, as it was each time Scully saw her 'area' cleared off of all but the occasional box of files, looking deserted in the wake of the new desk that now shared floor space with the Mulder's old desk, in a corner that bled slowly out to the middle of the room. The decor had changed, and the arrangement, it was tidier and yet more cluttered with another full sized desk. She hated to admit it, but Mulder had probably been right five years ago when he had commented sarcastically that it would be great to have two desks in here to take up even more of the available space. For a while there, there had been three separate 'areas'. Her departure had eased the congestion a bit, but she still wondered how Doggett and Reyes were handling staring at each other over the tops of their computers like duelists. It probably would have unnerved her, had she and Mulder set up this way...but it had been the principle of the thing that had bothered her, not the issue of the desk itself. She probably had more room to work in in her various 'areas' than Mulder had had in toto throughout the entire office, anyway.

Doggett had left the trophies atop the cabinets where Mulder's baseball and basketball had been, but the disorder of the littered bulletin boards had been tamed into an organized and professional classification in his corner, and Monica's feminine touches were in evidence everywhere; a sprig of flowers on the old desk, a marine life screensaver. The changes were probably subtle to anyone who was an infrequent visitor down here...but the poster was still on the wall, and that made it the x-files office, no matter how the approaches had changed.

Scully was still looking around, wrapped up in the past, when Doggett's voice rolled in behind her. "Hey, Agent Scully! Well, this is a surprise. What's up?"

Scully turned around to see her former temporary partner standing in the doorway in his light blue pinstriped shirt, tie loosened and hands occupied with a Styrofoam coffee cup and a file folder.

"Working late, Agent Doggett?"

"Yeah, well, Monica and I just got this case involvin' a murderer that apparently doesn't leave any evidence that he or she exists at all; no prints, no smudges, no sweat, no footprints...nothin'." He set his

cup down on the corner desk and lifted a hand to finger one of his police reports silently. "I gotta tell ya, I've never seen anything quite this...slick before in my entire career."

"Maybe you have another case of homicidal telekinesis on your hands, Doggett," Scully replied, interest slightly piqued. "As long as his name isn't Robert Patrick Modell, I don't think you'll have too much trouble with it. Just watch your thoughts, make sure they're yours."

Doggett looked at her for a minute as if unsure if she were teasing or serious. "Yeah, well I think you two pretty well established that that Modell guy and his sistah were dead, so I don't think we need to worry about that. But from what I read in there," he waved his hand vaguely in the general direction of the file cabinets, "telekinesis and telepathy are not always somethin' you find runnin' in tandem."

"They're not," Scully answered wryly. "That's what makes this so fun. Reams of endless variety."

"Yeah, reams is right," Doggett agreed, and moved past her to slap the file down on his desk and take a seat. Lifting his cup from the desk's surface, he put his feet up and leaned back to gaze at her over the rim of his beverage. "So what are you really doin' down here, Agent Scully? I'll bet my shorts you didn't just wanna hear the latest update in the battle of the basement agents versus the most recent weird murderer of the week."

Scully smiled. She couldn't very well tell Doggett that she came down here to say goodbye to the place, and to him. He deserved to know, but the last place to hold a delicate conversation was here in the basement. It was wired from here to kingdom come, and had been under surveillance a lot longer than her apartment had ever been. They had gotten watching this place down to a science by now. She wondered if she ought to draw him out to talk to him now, or if she should wait to tell him privately before she left. Better wait. It simply wasn't safe to talk in this place.

"Where's Agent Reyes?" She asked suddenly, changing the subject. "Not putting in the same overtime as you?"

"She's out pickin' up somethin' to eat. I think she's tryin' to turn me into vegetarian." He saw Scully's confused look and elaborated. "She's been eatin' all this healthy lowfat stuff ever since she started tryin' to quit smokin' again, so that she wouldn't gain weight and alla that. Every time she finds a new snack, she for some reason wants me to try it too. I think she's gonna make me eat salad today."

"Salad's new?"

"Gaaah." Doggett waved his hand at her dismissively, but his disconcerting blue eyes were focused penetratingly on her. "So what's really up, Dana? You gotta have had a reason to come all the way down here. Its kinda outta your way, I mean to pick William up an' all."

Scully nodded. "It is," she answered, stalling for time. --Think, Dana, think. What are you going to tell him?- "I didn't think you would be down here at all this late. Don't you have a home to go to, Agent Doggett?"

Doggett was having none of it. He slipped his feet from the desk with a thump and leaned forward, concern painted all over his face. "Is there somethin' wrong with William, Dana? Somethin' you're not tellin' me? I told ya, I'd help whatever way I could, remembah?"

"Yes, I remember." She did. It had been a few weeks ago, right after Their last attempt.


(Amor Fati, pt.18: "You Say Either")

J. Edgar Hoover FBI Building,
Washington DC
March 13, 2002

The conversation had run around in circles for hours by this time, with all four of them hashing out the details over and over, discarding theories, turning over motivations. Despite their recent falling out, Skinner had joined them and stood just a short distance away, somehow radiating total support for her while yet managing to sound stern and worried all at once. Never had she been more aware of how much she loved and counted on her former superior than in these moments when he ignored his job and his future, and the pressures put on him by their highers-up for the sake of her and her child, and for Mulder as well, before. He was such a wonderful man, a wonderful friend, and a staunch ally.

Doggett was holding forth about his damned supersoldiers again, tapping on Mulder's old desk with a pencil while he thought out loud. Monica had chimed in with some comment about their military informants, and Scully had felt like this was the last straw all of a sudden. Someone had just tried to take her nine month-old baby from her, she had only narrowly gotten him back, and all they had, still, was the same damned story as they had worked the last time, and the time before. No new leads, no new angles; just a mass of dead ends and one very frightened child. Scully had blown up.

"To hell with your informants, Doggett, and to hell with these damned supersoldiers as well! What I want to know, Agent Doggett, is what the hell, exactly, do these people want with my son! And none of this can tell me! We've heard a lot of conflicting stories, but let's face it; we aren't any closer to discovering the real reasons behind all of this than we were the day he was born!" She had leaned forward over the front of his desk to look into his eyes, while every other eye in the room had focused on her in the sudden silence.

"I don't care how many of these government replicants you talk to, Doggett; they're all going to tell you the same story...and its all going to be a lie." She had leaned back then, back ramrod straight as she enunciated her points clearly and concisely, a scientist stating fact based on a well-tested hypothesis. "They've been telling us the same story for a decade, John, and I for one am starting to lose my patience with it."

"Supersoldiers, Agent Scully," Doggett had insisted gently, and leaned back in his chair to put his feet up on the smaller desk, crossed at the ankles. He had loosened his tie, and voice held that deceptively mild drawl that he took on when he was making a point. "Not 'replicants'; they're called supersoldiers."

Scully had wanted to laugh all of a sudden, remembering herself in her first year on the x-files, renaming everything she could in order to keep it manageable and well-ordered so that it could all fit into her version of the world. She felt the horrible tension drain out of her as quickly as it had leapt up, and she had allowed a small smile to tinge the corner of her lips in memory.

"Po-tay-to, Po-tah-to," she had murmured wryly, amused more at herself than at John Doggett.

Doggett had leaned forward abruptly, chair thumping down onto all five wheels. "What the hell is that supposed to mean?" he had demanded, sounding slightly offended.

"It was nothing, John. Private joke," Scully had answered, still smiling slightly to herself. The relief of having Will safe with her had been nearly unbearable; she had felt almost giddy. But Doggett was having none of it.

"If you mean, Agent Scully, that these supersoldiers are alien, that just doesn't hold water. I don't care how many similarities they have to these 'hybrids' of yours; they bleed red blood, and that makes 'em human."

"And Mulder almost became one...and it wasn't from exposure to a government lab," Scully had commented, resigned. If Doggett was going to be able to face the challenges of this office, he had to start accepting the extraterrestrial aspects of the job now, before it was too late. She had doubted, had thought it was only a military conspiracy...and by the time she had seen the Truth, it had been too late to save Mulder from the brain disease that would eventually mark him as an abductee in his own x-files. "Did Mulder show any signs of lifelong genetic manipulation by government forces? Did Billy Miles? The Adams and Eves were born into the project. So, supposedly, were many of your 'supersoldiers'; or at least born-again. Billy and Mulder weren't. And yet Billy became one."

"But Billy Miles was experimented on in secret for yeahs," Doggett had countered, tryin to get things straight between them. "Your report and Muldah's said as much, if not in a lab. The government UFOs had been abductin' him and his classmates and puttin' probes and trackers and all that inside 'em since long before you two evah went down there."

"Mulder never had the chip, Agent Doggett. He was never abducted by those government forces, never had any eugenics experiments done on him before he went to Oregon. Yet, simply due to a few alterations in brain chemistry due to his exposure to that ship piece from Africa, he went through the first stages of the same transformation as Billy Miles, had indications of the same virus in his system; a virus related to all the other viruses we've encountered over the years..." Doggett had broken in then.

"Say you're right, Agent Scully, and these supersoldiers are really 'alien replicants'. What purpose could these alien replicants possibly have? I can see a reason for supersoldiers."

"The purpose of the replicants you're talking about is to counter the Consortium's experimentation with hybrids, and later, their own strains of what you call 'supersoldiers'. Its not a new idea; the government has been doing it for years, both projects in tandem, neither set of technicians knowing about the other. The hybrids have the same characteristics as these supersoldiers, replicants, whatever name you want to call them. They can survive under water, they cannot easily be killed, certainly not by bullets, and they are brought about by a virus. Rebel replicants against what you call supersoldiers...and against Alien Bounty Hunters, Rebels against Colonists...

"The alien Colonists believe in 'Purity control'. They wouldn't have condoned the uncontrolled genetic experimentation that might have compromised their interests in this planet. The only reason they allowed the hybridisation experiments in the first place was to garner slaves, drones that would survive the coming viral apocalypse, and those experimental abductions were performed by people. My abduction, which resulted in my having an unsuccessfully hybrid daughter...she bled green blood, Doggett; the ones that abducted Mulder didn't do these sorts of experiments. They did things to his genes, yes; they introduced the virus that was catalysed by the Smoking Man's butchery causing his illness; but there was no splicing, there were no chimeras. Mulder was taken because he had anomalous brain activity...like Billy Miles. Like that boy Gary, who didn't survive the transformation. They all had the same DNA, the same branching. I didn't have it; I was part of a different set of experiments; a human set. For Billy Miles and for Mulder, it was about activating their alien DNA; the alien DNA we all have. They took Mulder because he was susceptible to the change, because of what they did to him before he can even remember.

"Your supersoldiers, my replicants; they're the same. A reaction to the hidden project of the Consortium. The Colonists had found out that they were making the vaccine as well as the more regular kind of 'supersoldiers' against the advent of colonization, and so They sent the Bounty Hunter as a representative to keep the Syndicate in line. Then the Rebels came in and took over, so They had to start producing the replicants to try to get Their shadow government back into their hands."

She paused, looking her one-time partner in the eye. "The supersoldiers project you are following is a front, Agent Doggett. They gave that up long ago in favour of one with some chance of succeeding. A more organic project."

The question was who was running this new Project now that the Syndicate was defunct...and what those Rebels who had put this new version of the invasion in motion were now going to do to stop it. Executing the Conspiracists was just a stalling tactic. She doubted that these interplanetary revolutionaries had simply scampered off to wherever they had come from after they had torched the Smoking Man's companions.

In the silence that had followed, Reyes had leaned forward from her seat in the back corner to ask, "If that were true, Dana, then why didn't these replicants take William away from you at his birth?" She glanced over at Doggett, then back, eyes intent. "I was there. I remember. 'This baby will be born. That's what she said, Dana, and I believed her."

Scully had nodded. "There are factions, Agent Reyes. If the Colonists have replicants, why can't the Rebels? Or maybe the Colonists are scared of William; of what he is...something new, something They weren't expecting. Something They never had a hand in bringing about. Something They cannot control. That terrifies Them. Krycek said it himself when he was here last, before we went down to Georgia..."

"Krycek!" Doggett had leapt upon that name incredulously. "You trust anything that guy had to say, after all that he did to you and to Muldah?!"

"About ten feet shorter than I could throw him," Scully had replied evenly. No one in this room but Skinner really knew what they meant when they talked about Alex Krycek. Skinner had stiffened suddenly next to her. She did not look at him. "But Krycek knew things that we couldn't. He was a mercenary; he played both sides. People like Michael Kritschgau only knew their own side of the story, only knew their part. Krycek got his information everywhere, from every inside. He was a master infiltrator, and he had information we could never dream of accessing." She had looked at Skinner then. He had not avoided her eyes, and she could see the hurt and worry hidden there. When she had spoken next, it was to Skinner that she directed her words.

"Unfortunately, getting that information from him was far to deadly a prospect. He would never give up his biggest bargaining chip to tell us truly why They want Mulder dead, what They want with my son, leader or liability. He died for the intelligence he'd collected, and never managed to sell an ounce of it. If Alex Krycek was a martyr to anyone, it was to himself. And he took his irreplaceable information with him."

Skinner had looked at her for a moment, then nodded slightly, thanking her. She had reached out to squeeze his hand, her emotions very evident to those who knew her. "Or maybe its really Mulder that They want," she had said softly. Grimly. "Now all we can do is wait." It was not a pleasant prospect.


(Amor Fati: "Abode", coda)
April 19, 2002

Scully smiled now, glad to be shut of that horrible time. Pretty soon she wouldn't have to keep William safe all on her own. A baby was a two-person job in the best of times. In her case, she would just as soon have someone to rely on in the day-by-day. But while she was on her own for the most part, she had had a great support structure. She looked at Doggett with a great deal of fondness. Despite their rocky start, he had turned out to be a true blue friend, and able. The night after he'd been eighty-sixed from the Bureau after that fiasco with the oil company, Mulder had said something about putting a full-on rookie in their old office. He had sounded worried; both for his life's work, and for the rookie. Scully had nodded and answered, "Yes, Mulder, but at least he's a rookie with a heart of gold."

"All the better to get himself killed," Mulder had said, sounding concerned. Scully only hoped that it never came to that. She and Mulder had been terribly naive when they had started, and they had survived, if barely, and in much different incarnations than they had started out. She could only hope the same for Doggett and Reyes. This Basement Office could eat a good team up, if they let it. She smiled, looking around the room, then returned her gaze to Doggett where he still leaned forward, concern written all over his face.

"William's fine, John. I guess I just miss this place, sometimes."

"Yeah, well, you were down here for eight years, Dana. You're bound to get attached to a place aftah that long. I just hope I don't end up livin' down here. I sometimes don't think I'm up to it."

Scully heard Mulder's voice somewhere in the back of her mind. "You've paid your dues down there, Scully. More than paid them." Scully grinned openly at Doggett, feeling suddenly free despite her lingering guilt at leaving these two to fend for themselves. They were smart people, they had good head start and a hellish crash course, and they had Skinner to give them the heads up. They would deal with Kersh. She would like to know exactly what the man was playing at, but... At least if she and William were gone, perhaps these two might even have an easier time of it. Her grin chilled slightly. More than likely she would draw the hounds off after her whether she liked the idea or not.

"You'll do fine, John," she managed finally, and hoped she wasn't lying.

At that moment, Monica Reyes entered the office carrying two cartons from the vegetarian deli down the road. Scully nodded at Reyes. "Both of you will do fine. Just remember that the Truth is out there," Her smile became more pronounced now, "and to trust no one. If you know you can trust each other, you're ahead of the game." She turned to go, resting her hand briefly on Monica's arm on the way out. She remembered a day several months back, right after Mulder had left, when Doggett had tried to get her to take the 'I Want To Believe' poster. He had thought she would want to have it when he gave her all the other stuff he had found around the office that Mulder had forgotten to recover. Scully had looked at the poster in its place under that one ridiculous little window for a moment, thinking of the remarkable history that one modest print had had, in all its incarnations. She couldn't imagine that wall, this basement without it. It was a credo. "No, John; its okay," she had said. "Keep the poster. It belongs in this office, on that wall. Mulder would want it there."

Now, as she walked out of this basement for what might be the last time, Scully paused to point toward the print with her chin. "And remember to pay attention to what that poster says. Having it there helped me to make the leap more times than I can count."

--I'm going to miss this place-- she thought as she left. --At first, I never thought I'd ever get out of there, and now I don't know how to leave--

Doggett and Reyes watched her disappear beyond the door, wondering what to make of that extraordinary visit.


(Amor Fati, pt.19: "Godfather")

Dana Scully Apartment and surrounding area, Georgetown, MD 8:59pm

Scully was sitting in her apartment as the light lowered, wondering if she ought to call Doggett and ask him to come over so that she could say goodbye to him properly...but something stayed her hand every time she reached out to pick up the phone. She needed to say goodbye to Skinner, too, despite their recent disagreements, but she knew that to make that call would be to take the final, irrevocable step. As if the e-mails had not already clinched things.

Despite all that she knew she ought to try to keep the line free in case the Gunmen needed to get in touch with her to change any of the arrangements they had made earlier that evening. They wanted her to be ready by tomorrow morning. She would change her appearance, spend a couple of days hiding out and moving around, and then she would be on her way. She would much rather spend the six days that way than wait around here feeling the time pass like cold molasses in any event. She had already said most of her goodbyes. When she had gone to pick up William after talking to the Boys, her mother had pulled her outside to hug her a little desperately. She had bid farewell to Bill quietly in the yard, and left feeling like a deserter.

--What am I thinking of, taking a child into the hinterlands to chase after something we might never find?--

--On the other hand, what is there here for either of us but even more danger?-- her mind countered sharply.

There was simply no answer...and she was already committed. Finally, Scully gave in and picked up the receiver to dial...and to her surprise, it turned out to be Skinner's number she dialled. She paused for a moment, finger hovering over the phone before punching in the last two digits. It may be dangerous for her to contact him, but...Skinner she could say goodbye to, and he would understand. She would not need to risk saying a whole lot in order for him to know the entire situation. As much as it hurt Doggett to know it, Skinner was much more a part of all this, and he knew the rules of the Game more thoroughly...and the unspoken dangers.

The phone rang only twice before she heard her former superior's voice on the other end. "Yeah, Skinner."

"Hello Sir. It's Scully."

"Dana? What's wrong?" He sounded alarmed. She had not phoned him in a while; not since the latest attempt on William; discretion was the better part of valour when it came to contacting your friends and loved ones in her circumstances.

"No, nothing's wrong, Sir. I'm sorry to bother you so late, but I was just wondering if you could come out here tonight. I have something I need to discuss with you."

"Yeah, sure Dana. I'll be right over." She heard the sound of a book closing just before he hung up. Settling back on the couch, Scully wondered just exactly what she would say to him once she got him out here. They would have to go out to the park...

Getting up, she hurried over to the crib and began bundling William up for another late night walk. xxx

Skinner showed up about twenty minutes later. Scully opened the door holding William all ready to go out. Skinner's shrewd eyes took in the scene for a moment, flickered over her face before he nodded. He put out his hand to hold the door while she sidled past him, diaper bag slung over one shoulder.

"At least its not raining tonight," Skinner commented pithily while she locked the door behind them. "Do you need me to carry anything?"

"If you really want to, you can carry the diaper bag, Sir."

"Don't leave home without it, huh?" Skinner quipped, trying to lighten the mood. She smiled at him gratefully as he took the bag and slung it over his own shoulder. His trenchcoat was open at the neck and gaped as he pulled the diaper bag's shoulder strap over his chest, revealing a light grey muscle shirt stretched tight over an athletic chest. Say what you would about the man; he was nearly fifteen years her senior, but neither that difference nor his years behind a desk had altered the man's well-honed physique. Like herself and Mulder, Skinner seemed to be the type of person whose mind worked best when his body was well-tuned.

Skinner's glasses gleamed in the faint light of the streetlamps as they walked. They reached the park in a few minutes and moved automatically out into the same opening she had used to meet with Byers a week before. Once they were well away from any structures or bushes, Skinner set down the bag and turned to her, grey eyes incisive.

"Okay, what happened? Talk to me, Dana."

Scully shifted William in her grip for a moment, then in sudden decision walked to Skinner and held the baby out. Skinner stared at her for a moment, looking like a rabbit caught in headlights, then down at William, who waved a fist at the Assistant Director and muttered a mushy-sounding comment around his other fist, which was as usual carelessly positioned in his mouth.

Skinner's eyes never left William's as he took the baby from her arms and folded him inexpertly into his own. "Gah!" William announced around his hand, and Skinner started before looking closer at the baby as if inspecting him.

"He looks more and more like Mulder every day," he commented after a moment, not looking at his former Agent. Scully didn't know what to say to that. She was long past the point where she could deny everything.

"I always thought of you as kind of his godparent," Scully told him after a moment's silence. "I'm sure Mulder would agree." She watched his face, trying to gauge his reaction. It wasn't what she would have thought.

"I would be honoured, of course, Dana...but that's not possible now, is it?" He spared a glance for her now, and she could see a look of comprehension in his eyes.

"You're going, aren't you?" At her incriminating silence, he nodded and looked down at William again. "I wondered if maybe that's what it was. I heard you paid a visit down at headquarters this evening, came down to the basement for no particular reason."

"Doggett?" She asked, wondering.

"Kersh, actually. He wanted to know if I knew why you might be coming down there to consult when there was no autopsy ordered. I think he wanted me to warn you off."

Scully shook her head, wondering once and for all exactly what Kersh was playing at, whose side he was on. Things had been a lot less complicated when all they had to worry about was whether Skinner was going to bust their asses about something. "Mission accomplished," she answered him, wondering if he was angry with her for leaving. She couldn't tell by his face. He was still looking at William as if memorizing him. "Sir," she began finally, "can you think of some reason why I shouldn't do this?"

"My name is Walter, Dana. Even Mulder called me that, toward the end." He gave her his full attention, finally. "Only you know what you should do. I for one thought you should never have stayed here alone. The dangers are too many and they're invisible. But I know why you did."

"William was too small, and I...I was just hoping that he could come back someday. But it does none of us any good to have me staying here holding the fort hoping someday Mulder can come home if William is endangered in the process. The whole point was to keep Mulder and the baby safe." Skinner knew that better than anybody. "This was the last resort."

"I know," Skinner replied, voice harsh all of a sudden. "I know you didn't come to this decision lightly. And I'm glad you told me. I know you have just as many reasons not to..."

"You deserve to know, and I trust you. I have to," Scully whispered, knowing that she and Mulder would both be dead long since if it wasn't for this man. She didn't always agree with his methods or know what lay behind all of his motives, but he had saved their lives any number of times that she knew of, and probably a few that she didn't.

Skinner reached out a finger to brush William's cheek, then stepped forward to hand the baby back to her. She took him, murmuring to him to keep him from becoming upset at all the shuffling around. Skinner was looking at them now, his expression unreadable. He cleared his throat.

"I assume that you've put in your resignation?" He nodded as she indicated an affirmative.

It was just too much of a habit to begin calling him 'Walter' at this point. "Yes Sir, I'd rather have just one group with endless resources chasing me right now. A search for a missing agent would complicate matters horribly." Her eyes twinkled wryly at him. Skinner nodded, looking suddenly bashful, and there was a long silence before he spoke again, seemingly having a hard time getting out the words.

"Ah, tell Mulder I said...that I believe in him, that I believe in the both of you. And tell him what I'm telling you right now, Dana, because I mean it. If you ever need anything--information, a favour, anything--you get in touch with me, and I'll make it happen. And I mean no matter what. You got that? And I'll keep an eye on your mother for you, Dana. I promise." His voice was gruff with emotion.

Scully smiled, leaning forward on her tiptoes to kiss Skinner lightly on the lips before stepping back. Skinner looked a little stunned, but he reached out to catch William's free hand where it floated out of his blanket and squeezed it lightly.

"You take care of yourself, William," he said. "Stay out of trouble. You don't have to be too much like your old man." He looked up from the baby to his mother. "And try not to be as much of a heartbreaker as your mother. Its not nice." Every emotion he was feeling showing in his eyes, Skinner smiled and picked up the diaper bag. "Now tell your mother we've got to get you two home; its almost ten o'clock."

Skinner walked her back to her apartment, made sure her door was open and all was well before bending down to hug her, sudden and awkward. "Take care of each other," he whispered into her ear, voice thick with some undisguised emotion, and then he was gone, striding down the hallway with his trenchcoat billowing out behind him with the wind of his passage.

"That was your Uncle Skinner," Scully told William, watching their ally disappear down the hallway.

"Unk!" The baby answered, and shoved his fist back into his gummy mouth.


(Amor Fati, pt.20: "Leave-taking")

Dana Scully's Apartment
Georgetown, MD
April 20, 2002
9:27am

John Doggett strode down the hallway to Scully's apartment, curiosity and concern vying for control in his weather-beaten features. He had gotten a call from her early on a Saturday morning, and in his experience she generally didn't like to bother people on a weekend just for a friendly visit. As he reached the door, it opened before his eyes to reveal the Lone Gunmen, each dragging a couple of bags on those rolling luggage racks.

Doggett narrowed his sun-creased blue eyes at them for a moment before closing the distance to the door.

"What's goin' on, guys?" He asked, feeling a surge of angry suspicion in his guts. Langly answered him without looking up.

"Can't tell you that, Agent Doggett. Better ask Agent Scully." The three of them disappeared down the hallway as he watched. Shaking his head, he stepped up to the door and knocked, wondering what he would see when it opened.

"Just a minute," Scully's voice floated through the panels, and then the door swung wide to reveal her in jeans and a t-shirt, holding William in a travel-jumper. As far as he knew, John Doggett had never seen Agent Scully in jeans or a t-shirt before, much less both, but he spared them little of his attention, instead choosing to focus on small pile of luggage he glimpsed behind her through the open portal.

"I'm glad you could come," Scully told him, avoiding his eyes to step through the door and shut it behind her, but not fast enough to hide the glimpse of the interior, not exactly stripped, but definitely less lived-in. She looked up at him then, her eyes flickering to the end of the hall and back. Doggett took the hint and followed her lead down the passage and into the stairwell, where she turned back around to face him, juggling her son absently as he began to fuss and babble over her shoulder. Her eyes searched his face, waiting.

"You goin' somewhere, Agent Scully?" He asked, swiftly putting two and two together in his mind. Her visit to the office last night, the sudden bustle here today, the new energy that seemed to pervade her frame...and the circumstances. He wondered what had happened to change her mind.

Scully could see the suspicions forming in his eyes, and nodded. "Officially, I'm going to stay with my mother for a while. It makes sense; no one could live in this place for too long without getting edgy, especially knowing what we now know." The rancor in her voice was palpable as she alluded to her present living conditions. Doggett nodded and folded his arms across his chest.

"Officially." She didn't flinch or turn her eyes away, just stood there looking calmly back at him. He nodded, sounding resigned. "So you're goin, huh? Goin' to Muldah, I mean." It wasn't a question.

Scully reached out with her free hand to clasp his arm. "Agent Doggett..." she began, but he interrupted suddenly.

"No, wait, hey; I'm not tryin' to talk you out of it, or anything...I was just makin' sure. I didn't want to come over to talk to you one day and find out that you're 'just gone', like Muldah was."

Scully nodded. "I didn't want to do that to you." She looked up at him, eyes begging understanding. "I don't mean to hurt you, or anyone. Please try to understand; you're safer if you don't know any more about it. And I have to do this. After the last time..."

"Yeah, its not the safest situation for the kid, is it?" Doggett agreed, then leaned forward to fully engage her gaze. "Besides; I was there the last time, rememba? I saw how you were when you were without him before, and you had even less to worry about then. And I saw how you were when he came back." He caught her chin in his callused palm. "You know neither of you are safe here..." he paused, eyes delving into her own, "an' you don't want your son to grow up without his fatha, neitha." He released her chin gently. Scully looked down, avoiding his eye, but did not deny his probing claim. After a moment, she broke the strained silence.

"I have to go..."

Doggett interrupted. "Did you tell Skinnah?"

Scully nodded slightly. "I didn't really need to say anything to him."

Doggett nodded himself, looking thoughtful. "Yeah, I guess you wouldn't." He glanced up in time to see her looking away. "Hey," he said, catching her back with the invisible line of his words, "I'm glad you told me. Its nice to know you finally decided to trust me."

That had hurt him, Scully knew. She could wish he had not misinterpreted... She shook her head, and reached out to touch his arm again. "It was never about my trusting you, John. It was about keeping you safe."

Doggett shook his head in denial. "That's my job, Dana," he said firmly. "I get to decide if I wanna involve myself. And I do." He squared his shoulders. "Now I want you to take care out there, Agent Scully. If I hear you haven't, I'm gonna have to come find you and show you how its done."

Scully smiled in spite of herself. Doggett had learned fast. She hoped his quick reflexes would continue to stand him in good stead. "Thank you, John. For everything." She hesitated. "Maybe I'll see you again."

Doggett followed her back through the heavy fire door and watched from her apartment doorway as she tucked the last few items into her overnight bag, a sight familiar to him from their six months together in the field. As he helped her to get the last pieces of luggage to the door, he looked up at her from where he was bent over the bag and the small overnight suitcase. "Hey, we had some good times, didn't we?" He asked, a smile creasing his mobile face.

"Yes, we did," Scully smiled at him, acknowledging his quiet tribute to their short but fruitful partnership. The Lone Gunmen reappeared outside the door then, and Doggett watched as Scully stood for a moment looking around the apartment as if committing it to memory. He waited until she passed him on the way out of the door to meet the Boys and turned to lock the door, her small frame draped with the diaper bag, her coat, and William bouncing lightly against her chest in his Snugli. As he followed them down the hall to the street carrying the two bags, he leaned over to murmur into her ear, "So, ah, what're you gonna do with Muldah's fish? I saw the aquarium was still in there."

Scully glanced up at him in surprise. "I, ah, was going to leave that up to my mother." She seemed uncomfortable discussing the subject with him here in front of the building, her voice pitched lower even than his.

"I can take 'em if you want, Dana," he murmured again, aware of the need for discretion. "I mean, I fed 'em half the time while we were lookin' for Muldah anyway; I kinda got used to havin' joint custody. I haven't had a pet in a while."

Scully nodded. "I think that would be nice," she agreed, not looking at him until they reached the car. Standing at the door as he gently tossed in her bags, she looked up one last time and caught his hand, glanced down at the baby strapped against her chest. "William; I want you to remember this man; your uncle John." She turned slightly so that the ten-month old baby could see Doggett, and lifted one of his little hands. Doggett reached out to squeeze it gently, smiling.

"Hey, you take care, buddy," he said, shaking the slightly damp little paw. "Say hi to your Dad for me." He looked up from the baby to meet Scully's eyes then, voice a little rough though still pitched low. "Do me a fava," he said flatly. "Don't get hurt. Take care of each otha. And if you need my help, our help with anything, you call. You got that, Dana?"

Scully met his eyes earnestly. "I will."

"Good. I'll see ya," he said, and disengaged himself from the baby to step back, expression unreadable. He watched her get into the car in silence, the Lone Gunmen piling into their taxi behind her, and waved once before jamming his hands into his pockets to watch the two vehicles disappear into the late morning traffic.

"Yeah, I sure hope so," he muttered, and turned away to climb into his own car.


EPILOGUE:

--"And so I am committed, and my arrogance is ended. For better or worse, where I have sent you away, I am now coming to you. Please God, let us be ready for what will surely come."--

(Dana Scully's Journal, April 21, 2002)

End of Part 1, Act I of 'Amor Fati: The Fated Love'



"Amor Fati: The Fated Love"
(A Phile's Conclusion to TXF, the MSW-F Way) Act Two: "The Lost And The Found"

--Prologue--
21) "Journey"
22) "Evocation"
23) "Benison"
24) "Salianiqua"
25) "TrustNo1"
26) "Mulder"
27) "Reunion"
28) "Coming Home"
29) "Warning"
30) "On The Move"
31) "At Ruhe"
32) "Just A Walk In The Park"
33) "Car Rides and Curios"
34) "Neutral"
35) "Confession"
36) "A New Place"
37) "William"
38) "Merciful"
39) "Revelations"
40) "Endgame"
--Epilogue--

Act Two: "The Lost And The Found"
PROLOGUE:

--"It was horrible, you know. Watching you leave for me and for him, and knowing that were it not for circumstances changed now far too late I could join you. Knowing that were it not for this miracle that you have given me I would have followed you no matter the risk, because that way lies wholeness...and yet aware that no matter the cost I could never regret the necessity that forces us to part; could never regret our son. I have hoped you do not regret this necessity either; for I wonder now if you would have allowed me to join you even had he not been here; always you have tried to keep me safe. But Mulder; I do not regret the dangers for which you somehow feel responsible. I would do it all again, no matter the cost, for the Journey has been worth it. And the Fight; and the unlooked-for dividend that is this part of us that will never die, and this part of you that I will never lose.

--"I make my own choices, Mulder, and I now make this one, in full knowledge of both the risks...and the benefits. Not only the benefit to us, the wholeness that would replace this aching void within, the void that I know lives inside you as it does in me...but for him as well. To keep him safe. He needs us both for that. You are my access, and the part of me that is missing in this task...and you are my heart to go on past the fear that now dogs my every step.

--"That, and I have promised myself that I would never again waste the time that we have been given on this Earth. Life changes so quickly, and we have already lost too much time. So yes; I do fear meeting the end of this journey. I fear the consequences of this choice...and I fear the weakness of my own heart. I hope that despite my best efforts I have not allowed myself to risk all for the sake of my own selfish wants...my yearning to feel safe and whole again. But even more than that I fear the response of my own heart at seeing you; for over that I have no control, and never have. Nor have you; but you have always been better than I at relinquishing the illusion of control. And so I come knowing full well what I do, and give myself up once again to the terrible whirlwind that is our togetherness, and to the tides that pull me to a fate that I cannot see, and will not refuse any longer. I am committed, and my arrogance is ended. For better or worse, where I have sent you away, I am now coming to you. And so I count the days until I see you again."

--"Please God, let us be ready for what will surely come."--

(Dana Scully's journal, April 21, 2002) ......................................................................

(Amor Fati, pt.21: "Journey")

Aventon Bus Services
en route to Central City, Nebraska
April 22, 2002
5:53am

Scully fingered the missive in her pocket for a moment, her gaze returning to the cardboard landscape outside. She sat tense and unmoving in the gloom of predawn, staring unblinkingly out of the bus's dew-drenched windows at the preternatural changes in light quality as grey dawn threatened approach on the yet unseen horizon. She would have liked to open the window and feel the crisp predawn winds on her face replacing the rustle and squeak of drying plastic and damp cloth, the snorts and grunts of the sleeping passengers, dispel the sickly and fetid air of the bus comprised of stale cigarette smoke, damp wool, eu de baby and diesel and burnt oil. Pervading and accenting all of her senses, however, was the curdling and stomach-twisting need to have this interminable ride over, to find the meeting at the end preordained and unalterable.

As the pearly light from the still-hidden sun struck Scully's face through the bus window, its fingers showed the silken sweep of her hair to be a gentle chestnut brown. She had dyed the trademark red locks in the motel the first night out, knowing that this colour would be much less traceable. The first twenty-four hours had been nerve-wracking. The Lone Gunmen had seen her to her mother's house, deserted at that hour, where she had left her car with all the non-essential luggage still in it and slipped out into the cab parked around the corner. From there they had taken the beltway to a suburb of Baltimore called Catonsville, where she had gotten a motel room using one of the ID's the Lone Gunmen had supplied for her; she had quite a store of them put aside. She had quickly disposed of the Gideon's Bible in the room in what would become her usual MO before she thanked them for arranging everything. Byers had walked right over Frohike's "De nada," to murmur, "Its worth it just to know that you two are going to be together again." He'd gone red with embarrassment then, and Frohike had grinned and turned away, hand to his mouth to hide his amusement. Scully had been amused too, even while she was touched.

"You really are a romantic, aren't you, Byers?" she had teased, smiling. Byers had defended himself by commenting,

"Frohike is too...he just doesn't want anyone to know it, so he puts on this big pervert display." Frohike had jumped in to defend his honour then.

"That's mister 'big pervert' to you, narc," he had muttered indignantly, then moved forward suddenly to embrace Scully around the waist in a quick bear hug. Scully had decided to give him the thrill of his life, and kissed him gently on the cheek in farewell. He really was a lovable guy, once you got to know him. Frohike had moved off alone, blushing. Langly had contented himself with an introverted nod of the head, hands in pockets.

"You take care of yourself, Agent Scully," he'd piped, and followed Frohike to the parking lot.

"I'm sure we don't have to warn you to take all the necessary precautions?" Byers had admonished, then shook his head, holding out his hand genteelly. "I will miss you, Agent Scully. Tell the Oak we will continue to celebrate his strokes in the world." He had brushed William's small fingers gently, and then turned and walked swiftly away, his ubiquitous trenchcoat flapping at his heels under the early April sunlight.

Inside the motel room that first night, Scully had toned the customarily riotous fire of her hair down to the less noticeable chestnut brown that she had worn briefly back when she and Mulder had first started working together, and then had arranged her remaining luggage and called a cab to move across town to use another ID and leave another motel room Gideonless as she settled in for a few hours of restless sleep. Her bus, fare paid in cash, had departed from Pikesville at 4:30am on the 21st, and she and William had been well on their way to Nebraska and the first leg of her cross-country zigzag by five am the day before.

Now coming on to the second full day of her journey, her head turned as if drawn by a gargantuan magnet, and her eyes fell on the cherubic face of her ten-month-old son, still sleeping peacefully in his carrier. Three days until he would meet his father again, for the first time since the hours following his birth. The things Mulder had missed...she needed him to know their child, and she needed him for her own reasons, reasons that compelled her beyond any other needs, beyond simple selfish desire. Her very existence was wrapped up in that of these two beings, and she would do what was necessary to be whole again. She knew Mulder felt the same, knew it the way one knows the deepest and most instinctive truths of one's spirit.

As if woken by her thoughts, William opened his grey-blue eyes to regard her solemnly. She wondered if he was confused by all the changes taking place in his young life recently, all the travelling and bustle. Will held her gaze thoughtfully for a moment, then grasped his favourite toy from where it lay beside him in the carrier and brought it up to his mouth as if by reflex. It was a small plush UFO with an alien sewn to it, one skinny green arm upraised as if waving. Mulder had gotten it for him the night before he had left. Her mind hearkened back to that night, allowing her mind to dwell, finally, on the pain of those final days as she had not during the long months of their separation. To remember Mulder too often during the last year was to travel the black road of depression, and she had not been able to afford that journey with Will there needing her attention and care. If she had not had the baby, she would not have had any reason to pull herself up and continue. If she had had only herself, it would not have been necessary for her to go on alone. William had changed everything...and not just for her.


(Amor Fati, pt.22: "Evocation")

It had been so very difficult; painful and confusing, those weeks of strain between them after Mulder had been brought back. Scully had not been able to think beyond finding him alive, and later, keeping him that way. His reaction to the changes that had taken place in his absence had been shocking...and all too understandable. What he must have gone through...and she had so naively thought that he would just slip back into his life; into their life as if nothing had happened, that he would accept his changed role in everything, pass over his lost time as if he had had as long to get used to the alterations as she had. Nothing had truly changed for her...yet everything had changed for him. There was Doggett and the x-files, the pregnancy...and the fact that he had seen and felt and...become the proof he had sought for thirty years. The marks of that becoming, though healed of his flesh, had burned their way deep into his heart. If he could have just told her what he was feeling...but Mulder had pulled away because he was confused and hurt, and so she had pulled away because she was confused and hurt, leaving them unsure where they stood with each other in those last three months of her pregnancy. The uneven status quo they settled on before her maternity leave had hovered somewhere between the deep intimacy of the last few years and the painful separation, suspicion and coldness of his first day home. During her leave, however, without the distraction of work and without Doggett as a constant reminder of the changes, they had had time to slowly work their way back to each other, inch by aching inch, settling finally into an uneasy truce shortly before she had given birth.

And then there was William.

It had been strange for her, watching as Mulder had come into the room, hesitant and covering it up with a hint of his old self-depreciating humour, though toned down in deference to the occasion and her feelings. He had looked into the little bundle that was William almost tentatively, though with a barely restrained curiosity; and she had resolutely invited him to hold the baby. Had watched him take their child, awkwardness melting into instinctive acceptance as he took in the sight of the surprisingly heavy little bundle of limp warmth. Then she had observed him, waiting to see what his reaction would be; scrutinized from a distance as if she was somehow outside of the scene...and saw him rapt; saw the fascination, the absorption. And in that moment everything had changed for Mulder--she could see it in his eyes. He could no longer hold himself at a distance after looking into their child's face and realizing that he was very much a part of this; that he was essential to it. She had felt her heart expand in a hopeful way, as if it were made of delicate crystal.

But still she had needed the answers; answers to those damnable questions that he had kept plaguing her with during those last few horribly anxious weeks of her pregnancy--and thinking that he wanted to know them as well, and accepting fully in her heart as she had for it seemed like forever now his need to seek for the Truth in anything that he could not explain, she had reached out to him with,

"I don't understand, Mulder. They came to take him from us...why They didn't." She had become so accustomed to coming to Mulder for the answers that eluded her objective mind, the connections only he could make that she had been stunned to hear him admit,

"I don't quite understand that either...except that maybe he isn't what They thought he was." He had been still absorbed in the baby's face, eyes turned away from her. But as he had looked up to meet her gaze, what she saw there had taken her breath. "But that doesn't make him any less of a Miracle, though, does it?"

Never give up on a Miracle. The words he had said as they had begun the journey that had culminated here and now, in William. They were skirting the chasm, now. Scully had hurried on, smiling with the slight nervousness that this issue brought on. Tentatively but gamely, she had pushed forward, needing to know; both for her peace of mind regarding her infant son, and for the answers to be found within him for them both.

"From the moment I became pregnant, I feared the Truth. About how...and why; and I know that you feared it too." Reaching out to him then, she asked him in the best way she knew how where they stood, under the guise of the unexplained. But Mulder had skipped right over the subtleties.

"I think what we feared were the possibilities," he had said, and her breath had caught. This was the moment. They were no longer even ostensibly talking about the circumstances by which their son had come to be, but about what it and he meant...to them. The possibilities of us... Mulder had looked up from the baby to meet her eyes then, all his former diffidence gone as his grey-green gaze pierced her with no more patience for the game that they had played so successfully, in one form or another, for more years than she cared to remember. "The Truth we both know." As she had frozen to utter stillness, his eyes had challenged her to make the leap, asking her to join him as in the old days, but about THEM, not about some x-file. And Scully, with the tremble in her belly that said, --This is the moment, and I don't know what to do, where I stand-- had gamely met the challenge she saw there, and demanded her own answers.

"Which is what?" --If I'm going to do this with you, I need to know how you feel about all this, where we stand. What are we, now?--

Mulder had answered her with his eyes. --This-- and leaned into her, in a moment that seemed to last forever. She had a lasting impression, one that she would carry in the secret places of her heart until the end of her days, of her lover's face gilded by the mellow light of her bedside lamps as he bent slowly to meet her lips, eyes locked on her own; daring her not to look away or evade. Waiting for him, demanding that he take the first step acknowledging their new union, she had accepted his quiet proclamation with reserve, still outside of herself and analysing, brain still running ahead, searching meanings, cues. His eyes were closed...and slowly, hers had closed in response as she had released her thinking mind, the brain that worked too hard, over-analysed too much, and talked her out of the blinding Truths that came of the heart and not the coldly processing mind...and she had had her answer. Feeling all of that singular drive and disciplined passion focused here and now on her and on them, feeling his commitment in that moment, her hand had risen of its own accord to grasp his elbow, to draw him in and to hold him to her as she, finally and irrevocably, committed herself to this thing that they had become, accepting fully for once and all every implication as she kissed him back and opened herself to him, drawing him into her home and her life for ever.

It had been almost like a marriage for her; adult and beautiful. After all the years of dancing around and avoiding the Truth, denying and evading, they were comfortable, finally, and at peace with how their relationship had evolved; that they were more than just work partners or best friends, that their relationship had transcended such simple boundaries long ago. They were life partners now, Partners with a capital 'P'. In the place where the acceptance of it was deep in their bones, they no longer had to prove something, or deny everything; they could be honest. And that honesty had been their Truth. A Truth found, and lost in one instant when the world that they inhabited had come back to tear them apart once more.

For so very long, it had been too painful for Scully to remember the rest of that 48 hours...the juxtaposition of beauty, comfort, safety, and peace with fear, and loss, and incomprehensible sorrow. Now, looking back fully for the first time on that pain, she could feel the beauty of it deep in her bones...without the sorrow and the anguish that inevitably followed. xxx

Later that night, Mulder had been lying behind her on the bed, spooning: it had seemed naturally to fall that way, holding her, holding Will. He had asked, earlier, "Do you want me to sleep on the couch?" Testing the waters. Finding the borders of their new incarnation. She had given him a knowing look, finally and for once and all stating what she wanted, what she needed, without evasion.

"No, Mulder; I want you right here. William wants you here."

And so they had lain, spooning as they once had so long ago; familiar and yet strange, finding their way back to each other. Mulder had actually volunteered to change Will a few times before he had gone, and to her amazement had seemed to know his way around a diaper. "I had a cousin; she had kids," had been his explanation. Each time, though he played the cocksure renegade as always, there had been wonder in his eyes. She couldn't help the smile that came to her face, watching him.

He had always had nightmares; she had sat through their aftermaths with him hundreds of times throughout their years together, in motel rooms across the country. Their first night together...oh, so long ago, now...she had commented worriedly that she had forgotten to turn on the TV for him, and he had replied as if surprised himself that he had no nightmares when she was there. That he felt safe in her arms as nowhere else had been a balm to her soul in the early days of their relationship, both as lovers and before. Knowing how her abduction had surfaced in nightmares over the years, she had sat up worrying about him often since his return, wondering how he was coping with what would surely be much worse night terrors; but the invisible wall was up between them, and she could not go to him. The night of Will's birth she had kept one ear open.

Mulder had not slept to dream.

Later that day, sitting at the table over coffee amid rays of late afternoon sunlight-God, it had been good to have coffee again-she had asked him point blank.

"Mulder; what's going on?"

He had played dumb, changing the subject in that frustratingly smooth way that he had, genially refusing to answer her demands. And so they had spent the remains of the day together, she and Mulder and the baby; basking the sheer luxury of a moment of respite and recovery for their spent bodies and careworn souls.

In the late evening, lying on the couch as the shadows had lengthened into night outside her living room window, she had turned her head to him slightly, insisting on that honesty that they had shared since the beginning.

"Okay, Mulder. Spill it."

He had sighed, obviously reluctant to disturb the fragile peace of their new life with the details of the old. But by then he knew better than to fight her when she used that tone; and so he had told her of Kersh's warning, and of his counsel.

"He told me late last night, after we got you back and you were resting in the hospital. When I went out to call your mom and take care of a few loose ends."

"Do you believe it?" She had asked. After all that he had done to stall them, hold them back, and stop them, to trust anything that came from Kersh...

"I don't know, Scully; but it's the same thing as Krycek said to me before Skinner shot the bastard." He had grinned with his customary irreverence, and she had never more wanted to slug him than in that moment. "They want me dead, apparently. I wasn't obliging enough to die when I was supposed to, and now I'm a liability." Him and his goddamned Superman attitude! Could he never be serious? His revelation had seized her guts up like lead, had frozen her heart with fear. Her instant reaction had been to pull away from their embrace and stand up, denying with her very body the horror that she faced. "Scully," he had begun, standing himself and reaching out a hand; but she had held hers to her solar plexus, staring at him with haunted eyes.

"Mulder; you died on me once...I can't go through that again. I won't!" Her eyes had reached out to his, filled with fear, blazing with uncertain anger and terror of that black place...and begging him for understanding.

He had dropped his hand then, looking at her with certainty in his eyes. "Don't do this, Scully. I can't live like that again. Not now."

"And I can't live like that anymore! I can't let you die again, not if there's any chance I can stop it! I can't live with losing you again!"

He had fought. She had not backed away; not one inch, though the last thing she had ever wanted to do after their long estrangement was to betray that fragile accord. With her heart sinking, finally knowing this peace only to have it ripped away, she had not faltered. Knowing that he was alive somewhere was far better than living in that fear and horror every day, not knowing...and far far better than knowing without a doubt that she would never see him again. By some miracle, he had been returned to her before. She would not lose him again. Not when human intervention could stop it. Not when she could stop it.

In the midst of their painful argument, he had held up his hands, halting all discussion.

"I can't talk about this, Scully." His eyes had betrayed a pain and exhaustion that wrenched her heart to see. He had been so aged by his ordeal, a driven ghost of his former careless self. But she could not bow to that plea for peace, though she knew he wanted nothing more than to rest for a while. Not when that rest could become a death sentence. She had opened her mouth, only to have her words stifled by his expression.

"I'm not going to fight with you," he said, and walked swiftly to the door, swiping his leather coat from the stand on the way.

"Mulder..." she began, alarmed that he would retreat from her this way. He would never have done so before. Had he changed so much, then? Mulder stopped at her word, one hand on the doorknob, shoulders hunched in denial of this truth, anger and fear etched in the set of his body.

"Don't make me do this, Dana," he had said softly, and was gone, door shutting like the sound of a book closing. She had spent the rest of that night sitting on the couch alternately holding William and looking at the door as if she expected him to return at any moment to finish what they had begun. After she had finally dozed off around three AM he had returned, shutting the door quietly behind him as she started up. He seemed clearer...and more resolute. He gazed at her impassively for a bit, then came over to the couch to stand before her.

"I went for a walk," he said after a moment, and sat down on the couch beside her, the set of his body indicating a need to re-establish their communication. They had stated it each once in their nearly nine years together--to cut off communication between them was to volunteer for hermitage, to make the ultimate statement of ostracism. He had done it once when he turned off his cell phone and refused to talk to her during their parting of ways five years ago, and she had commented once when they were on that freakish case in Pennsylvania that if he had to live without his cell phone for one minute, he would lapse into catatonic schizophrenia. Her fear for him during the first month of his return had been partly due to the fact that he had no longer had a cell phone, effectively cutting her out of his life.

"Long walk," she had commented, needing desperately to break the ice.

"Yeah, well I needed to get some things straight in my head." He turned his head from the absent perusal of his clasped hands to pin her with his gaze. "I can't do it, Scully. I can't leave my life again...not now when there's so much more at stake." A note of panic came into his voice, a note she knew only she could hear. Anyone else would have heard only dogged determination. No one else knew him the way she did. "The last time I was gone, there was hardly anything left when I came back."

"I was here, Mulder. I'll always be here."

He looked down again. "I know," he said candidly. "That's why I'm still alive. For you...and for him. But I can't go back to living the way I used to, Scully; I can't live that way anymore. I've changed. We've changed. He changed all that. I can't do it that way anymore." His eyes were on hers again, demanding her understanding. "I asked you once, when you wanted to leave, and you stayed. I'm asking you again, now. I can't do this alone."

In an agony of foreboding, Scully had reached out and grabbed his hand, looking deeply into his eyes. "It doesn't matter where you are, Mulder; you can still fight the Fight. You always have and you always will. It's your fight!"

Mulder had burst up from the couch again, shaking off her hands. "It does matter, Scully! I can't do this without you! I won't!"

Scully had eyed him calmly from where she sat, voice gentle, but with a core of steel. "Mulder, I need you to do this...for me. You know I'd go with you if I could..."

"But you can't," he had finished for her, bitterly. "You can't come with a newborn..." He'd run his hand through his thick brown hair with uncharacteristic impatience, his desperation shown to her alone where to all others only a calm bland exterior shone forth. His eyes had flickered to where William lay dozing in the white wicker crib and away again. They had never had to deal with this before. They had never faced a time when she could not follow where he lead, when his staying endangered a life that they both treasured above even their own...and each other's. She had seized his hand and gripped it hard, trying to impress upon him her own feeling of dread. She may never admit it, might have once tried to talk herself out of it, but she had intuition...and she had learned to follow where it lead.

"Mulder, if you can't do it for me, do it for him. Do it for your son. Or he faces growing up without a father, faces losing you before he ever gets a chance to know you."

"And what if it doesn't work, Scully?" He retorted angrily. "What then? He may never see me again." He paused...and his voice went soft with pain. His hand rose as if of its own accord to settle against her jaw, moulded to her face like the caress of an angel's wing. "You may never see me again, and I may never see you," he whispered, his face bleak with quiet agony. Scully's head tilted as she leaned into his palm, closing her eyes at his touch, knowing that she must convince him...and that this might be the last time she felt his hand on her skin for only God knew how long.

"I can live knowing you are out there somewhere," she had murmured, softly resolute, "but I can't live knowing you are dead again." At his set look of denial she had broken the caress to lean forward, intense. "You were ready to send me away before, Mulder, and damn what it meant to us. When you thought I was in danger of being abducted again, when you knew that I would die if I was taken a second time." She seized his hovering hand for the second time, gentle but immovable all the same. "Can you honestly say, now, that you would let me stay if you had seen me die once? If you had had to spend three months with me gone and another three knowing without a shadow of a doubt that I was dead, that you would never see me again? Like Samantha? Could you do that?" She had known how much that challenge would hurt him, but she had to do it. She could not face another lifetime like the last year. It simply was not possible. This would hurt...but it would be far better.

She had seen the defeat in his eyes then, and knew she had won, though she was not sure of the victory in it.

They had spent the rest of the night on the couch, holding each other against the hideous coming of the day. xxx

The next morning after a sleepless night they had called the Lone Gunmen over to arrange the details. With the unlikely trio sitting around the dining room table blinking in surprise, Scully had gone over the situation crisply and emotionlessly while Mulder paced the tiles. They had the five of them set up the particulars of his exile and his return when that would be possible, and arranged for Scully to have access to Mulder's estate ("Call it child support," he'd quipped in a way that had nearly broken her heart). It was the Gunmen that had suggested the dummy e-mail accounts. Then Mulder had gone with his conscripts to pack up his apartment. Anyone watching would think he was moving in with her. She had not let herself wish that it could be so.

They brought the fish tank by with the first load, then returned several times in the span of the day with the rest of his things. In deference to the circumstances, Frohike had been remarkably less than jubilant about inheriting Mulder's entertainment centre and video collection. "Remember, Frohike; you're just borrowing them," Mulder had joked, but his eyes had settled on hers with a promise in them. "I'll be back to collect before you know it." Scully suspected that he had packed a few of the keepers in the unlikely corners of his suitcases.

Late in the afternoon, Skinner had paid a visit at her request. He had not been surprised when he saw the bags that were piling up in the living room; but then, he had been in on that little tte--tte with Krycek the other night. He had shaken Mulder's hand, and said farewell to them both with sympathy in his eyes as he took his leave. Then Mulder had departed again, and had not returned until late that night.


(Amor Fati, pt.23: "Benison")

They had spent the last night in her bed, the three of them, just trying to simply be in each other's presence. Late in the night she had awoken to feel him and William gone, the blankets behind her cold, and driving down the cold fist of fear in her heart, she gotten up to investigate. Mulder had been there on the couch, sitting with his head bent over something in the dark. Peering around the edge of the doorway, she heard him talking, heard the catch in his voice. Talking to himself, alone in the night? Then she saw him shifting Will in his lap. The things he was saying to their son...

"Yeah, buddy, I like cars too. You have to remember to always look in the red ones; they usually have the hottest chicks in 'em. And don't forget to watch the stars. There are secrets in the sky at night, William." Scully felt her heart breaking as she listened to Mulder trying to cram months into a few short hours of bonding.

"And don't worry if a woman makes you feel like an idiot in one minute and Superman the next. If she can do that, she's one of the good ones." His voice had held a note of wry self-castigation, and she had had to restrain a sound of dismay as his words tore her apart. Knowing that he could feel her there, she had quietly returned to bed then, leaving them alone, and lay there for the rest of the night until exhaustion claimed her in the grey gloom of predawn, one phrase echoing in her head. --This has to be worth it. It has to be!-- xxx

The next morning had been terrible; its unalterable conclusion hanging over their heads to kill any joy they might feel in one another's presence. After a shower, Mulder had come out and dressed in a comfortable pair of jeans and his usual grey T-shirt. His suits he left on the top shelf of her closet; she would use them for more nights than she could count in the next year as a balm to her bleeding soul. In the last moments as the early morning sun had sparkled brightly through the windows to give the lie to their pain and they felt the iron doors closing in two hearts, Mulder had leaned over the crib to grin doggedly into William's eyes.

"Hey, I gotcha something yesterday, buddy," he had said, eyes never leaving the crib. From the bag at his feet he had pulled a box, which he opened to produce a tiny orange stethoscope...and a black and red plush saucer with green sequins for lights, stringy green alien sewn to its side and waving, black plastic eyes blank. Mulder had met her gaze then. "This way, you can decide who you're gonna take after, William; your mom or me." He set the rubber stethoscope down on the glass table behind the couch. "Since you're too young to play with this without strangling yourself, looks like I win," he had said, and placed the stuffed saucer into the crib with their tiny son. He'd looked back up to her again, eyes as red-rimmed as hers were., and his expression had been that of a man who believed he would never again set eyes on either his child...or the mother of that child. "Maybe he can be a medical doctor who chases UFOs on the side; whaddya think?" he'd murmured ruefully.

"Oh, God, Mulder..." she whispered, stricken. Mulder had shaken his head. There was nothing more to say; nothing that would make it any easier...and no reassurances that would not sound contrived.

In that final moment they had both stood, staring hungrily into each other's eyes, knowing that this was the final moment, the moment of truth, and that if things did not go right, they might never see it again. Not needing to meet each other's gaze to know that their hearts were ripping out simultaneously in that most terrible of moments, yet still they had...unable to turn away and take that final, irrevocable step. They had looked into each other's souls, as they always had. Mulder had grabbed her arm urgently there at the last. "While...while I'm gone, Scully, you have to...you have to stay out of it as much as you can. William can't afford what might happen if you continued our work. I'll...keep an eye out and do what I can to influence things from wherever I am. Maybe I can draw Them off and try to keep the two of you safe." His eyes begged her not to deny him at least that much.

She had struggled with the conflicting emotions; the need to honour him, to continue to support his work before all detractors vying with the pragmatic side of her that said this way was best; she had a child now, and it was imperative that she keep him safe. That was the most important thing, now...even more important than their own feelings. She had tried to do as he had requested. It was safer that way, and she knew that he would never have left her unprotected if he thought she wouldn't be at least actively attempt to avoid the dangers.

Always they had spoken of work and of safety rather than saying the things they had really needed to say.

As if to emphasize that point Mulder turned away suddenly and started for the door where his luggage lay, unable to say the word they have never said, on the phone, in their hearts.

--Goodbye--

Something inside of Scully had torn in that moment, and her hand had flown out in front of her involuntarily, reaching.

"Mulder, wait!"

Mulder froze at the door, his shoulders hunched. "Scully, I can't do this. If I don't go now..." He looked up as if against his will, drawn by his need to see her face. His lover, his best friend; his life, being torn away from him in this one horrible instant. He had been unable to look, yet he must, if the moment destroyed him.

Scully's arms were behind her neck, unclasping her necklace, the necklace she was never without. Her gold cross. Her link with faith, with her Truth, with something greater than herself. Meaning so much more to her, now, in the end, after a long and rocky struggle between the twin vises of belief and science. Symbol of both her personal growth and of their Journey together through waters that had tried their souls, and had brought them finally together in one flash of brilliant light called hope.

"No, Scully; don't. I can't take this."

He took one involuntary step forward, hand up to forestall her this gesture. If she gave him her cross, it meant that this was real, that he was really leaving. Somewhere inside Mulder's mind, an inner child was screaming, "NOOOO! Noooo! This is NOT happening!"

Scully stepped forward herself, leaving the couch behind to meet Mulder before the door, holding out the cross like an offering to a vengeful god that would separate two halves of a whole for the sin of Oneness that excludes all Gods, sciences, and phenomena, a thing nothing could ever explain, and that needed no explanation. A Truth that went beyond all truths, and could be known only in the deepest places of being. She had held up the fine gold chain, cross winking in the early morning sunlight--a benison, a sign.

--Everything will be all right if he takes this. My touch will be always with him, and I WILL see him again--

Time had slowed to a crawl as she rose to her tiptoes, raising her arms to place the glittering token over his head, the little talisman sliding over Mulder's brown hair. Scully's bright head had bowed as the tears dropped to the floor between them.

Near panic, Mulder had raised his arms to intercept hers, holding her frozen in the act of blessing.

"No, Scully, I can't." His face was stone, but inside his heart had been breaking. If he broke down now...

"Take it, Mulder," Scully said firmly, and then, "This way, you can feel me close to you; and I'll know that you are safe." As she whispered, her eyes had glazed over with the tears she was desperately trying to hold back. She had known that if she cried then, Mulder would have broken down, and neither of them would be able to handle that. If they had held each other in that moment, he would never be able to leave...and she would never have been able to let him go.

Mulder's head had bowed slowly. If he continued to look into her eyes then, he would have completely lost control, something he could not afford to do. Saying no with eyes that did not meet her own, he released her wrists to grab her hands, wrapping his warm fingers around hers to hold the tiny cross there, in the centre of her palm. Wrapping his palms around hers, then, he murmured, "Keep it for me. Keep him safe...and you."

"Mulder..."

"I'll never wear this again, Scully, as long as I know that you're alive. If you're wearing it, it means you're safe."

Remembering their reunion after her abduction so long ago, remembering his care in rescuing the token from the ship that had taken her after the bee had stung her, she allowed him to place the fine gold chain over her head once more. She must give him this; she had already won the important argument this night...and the tiny cross settled over her heart again like a benison. Like a benison. Warmed from the heat of their intertwined hands, their indistinguishable hearts, warm with the heat of the one who loved her more than his own life, more than his Quest and his Truth. For she was his Truth, she knew, and his humanity. He would give his life for one more day with her...and he must not, for her.

Mulder's hand had floated slowly upwards, in this bubble in time moving like grains of sand dropping one by one to mark its inexorable passage, like fine crystal dissolving in the streaming sunlight from outside; from windows where he had stood with her and looked out over the darkened city with its muted buzz, and up to the stars that had guided his path, their path, for so long. Where they had once held each other, naked, and watched the sun rise not as two people on disparate roads, but as one heart, one mind, one body, searching for and finding the meaning of life on a Journey that had made them inextricable. They had known then, as they knew now, that no matter the distance between them physically, nothing could ever part them again as they had passed the obstacles of misunderstanding and pain, and emerged together burned free of their human impurities, white hot with the flame of Truth, and bound together as one flesh. But neither had ever thought that any separation would ever be as painful as their former distances; not when they could feel each other from miles away, and beyond the grave itself.

Mulder's hand had swum to the sunlight, catching the small and perfect hand of their flesh become one in the Miracle of the life that they shared. Grasping that tiny appendage like a man searching for strength in a sea of confusion and loss, found it in a child's infant smile, in the knowledge that this, here, was worth any pain...and any love. He had turned to go then, and was gone, the suitcases as evidence of his passage swept up with him like the passing of a hurricane...leaving behind only hollow wreckage and the keening, swirling devastation that follows the loss of something more precious than life itself.

Scully had stood staring at the door, her face twisting with the anguish that she could not contain within herself. Fumbling behind her for William's hand, the last thing that Mulder had touched in this place that had been their home for a few short weeks, she grasped the tiny limb from where it waved within the depths of the crib beside the couch. William, sensing his mother's pain, had begun to cry for the third time that day; the aching sobs of a child lost and alone. Knees buckling, Scully had sunk to the carpet beneath her child, the only link she now had with the man who had left them to disappear like a ghost in the world beyond--and wept. And wept. And her heart had dissolved, and her world had gone black. It was only the twin necessities of child and life that brought her back to William's side, to nurse him murmuring, eyes red-rimmed and far away, "It'll be all right, baby. It'll be all right." More to him, or to herself? For how long would she be half a person, alone? xxx

Back on the bus as it crossed the endless miles of nothingness, Scully watched the rising sun turning the rippling landscape red and black with the stippling of light and dark that heralded a new day. Knowing now, as she had then, that to see Mulder again would be to be regain the comfort and safety that they had never found apart, shared only when they were together despite the challenges. That to be beside him again was to be whole;; to reabsorb that other half of herself that he had become, as she had for him, in the years of their trials together. To chance meeting your perfect Other, your perfect Opposite...and then to know its loss not once but twice in a lifetime...

Her gaze arrowed down to meet that of her precious, unusual child. --My son, do not fail or falter to seize it, as I have for so long. There is no time in life for fear...and little enough time for Truth--

--Or Love--
X X X

(Amor Fati, pt.24: "Salianiqua")

Amtrak Train number 3562
en route to Iron River, Michigan
April 24, 2002
11:59pm

The train they were on now was heading pretty much directly north, cutting straight through the criss-cross they had made of the Midwestern part of the continent over the last couple of days. Central City had been the worst; a dusty ghost town on the fringes where she had taken up residence in a motel in the vicinity of the bus depot. From there, after a full day's rest and an absolutely gorgeous shower in the dinky facilities of the run-down premises, they had boarded another anonymous bus bound for South Dakota, and from there a train passing southeast to Myerton, Missouri. This train was the last leg of that unending, anxious journey.

Scully had been playing a word game with William, trying to get him into the habit of repeating her words on cue. She had not been actively encouraging him to speed up his speech acquisition before; she had hoped deep inside that Mulder would somehow be able to get back to them before their son had passed too many milestones. But now that William had begun to talk, she needed to be able to somehow acknowledge Mulder's place in the baby's life, and this was the quickest way to let William know who his people were. Hopefully, William wouldn't move on to full phrases before he had learned to say one very important word in association to one very important person.

"Can you say 'dada', sweet William?" She asked with the enthusiastic tone that parents generally picked up without trying, engaging the baby's interest by shaking his little fist in hers and smiling at him.

"Guh! Nanananananana...na!" William vocalized in a singsong, seemingly amusing himself quite well without her help.

"That's right! Keep talking, William. Can you say 'dada'? 'Da-da?'"

"Mamamamamama!" She wasn't making any progress. --That's okay-she reflected, resigned for now. Maggie had informed the first-time mother back when Will had first said 'Mama' that she was doing good getting anything that made sense at nine months, and to give it time. Phrases at eleven months, walking at fifteen, generally, and toilet training at two. She hoped.

Still juggling the baby's hand while he burbled happily to himself, Scully reflected on how her life had changed. In the beginning, her passions had all revolved around accomplishing. Valedictorian. Medicine. Doctorate. Always something intensely studious, always intensely comforting in their bases in facts and figures, chartable and observable phenomena that could be programmed, categorized, and easily referenced. And then those chartable and observable phenomena, those facts, figures, that passion for well-ordered science had failed her...she had to admit to herself now, long before she had ever met Fox Mulder. Medicine no longer held her passion; her unrest had unsettled her and then had driven her to find a place where she could feel that passion again; feel that she could truly make a difference. What she had been searching for and could not find when she joined the FBI, she knew now, was an answer to why her science and her medicine did not fill her up, make her whole, answer all her doubts. For no matter how she had tried to cover it, hide it with a show of formidable certainty in those facts and figures, it had been becoming more and more apparent somewhere deep in her psyche that they were not enough; that there were questions that science could not answer, voids that dry facts could not fill. And so her passion had failed to rematerialize, even as she changed her career to forensics, joined the FBI. Yes, there had been moments of content and comfort in those dry facts that she had lived with and that shaped her universe; but there had always been an emptiness just beyond the periphery of her existence.

And then she had met Mulder. And in his presence she had experienced for the first time the furious energy lent by consuming passion. And despite the fact that the basis of that passion was as foreign and anathema to her as sheer fantasy, that passion had fascinated her out of her dry clinical detachment, had drawn her like a moth to a flame. Unable to find that passion in her own life, she had drawn close to Mulder's search, fed off of the energy of his passion, his drive. In that one horrible year after Mulder had faked his death, when everything had turned upside down and his idealism had become jaded with the knowledge that it was all a government plot, that there was no giant overarching mystery, rather than being glad to see him falling out of what she had long ago termed his 'dangerous fantasy', she had been let down by his lack of faith, left treading water in the face of his black anger and depression. Left with nothing to believe in, Mulder had only had revenge to drive him. Left without Mulder's passionate resolve, Scully had had to find her own faith in the unknown despite her fear.

It had been a necessary transition, drawing them closer to understanding, and it had opened Scully up to faith and belief, even while it had tempered Mulder's zeal with caution. And when they had found the ship in the Antarctic--and no matter how stridently she might deny it to his face what she had seen, she knew the Truth-and the search had returned to that overarching mystery, she had found herself missing that idealism she had once seen in his eyes. The conflict had aged him; had aged them both. Her own idealism had never been the same, her faith in what could be seen marred by the haunting ghosts of what could not be quantified. And now her passions revolved around keeping their son safe and well, and around ending this horrible stalemate in her life...and in Mulder's. If that meant helping to fulfill some horrible destiny for her child, she would have to deal with that when it came.

"Dah!" William announced loudly from the carrier, breaking into her reverie.

"Oh! That's right, William! Say that for Mommy again!" She wondered if she was confusing her son terribly, giving him a word with nothing to point to as yet. But she had to get this one into his vocabulary before they reached Michigan, before...

"Dah!" William insisted, this time much louder, and she looked down in time to realize that his favourite toy, the toy Mulder had given him that last day, had fallen or been thrown aside into the aisle. Will was leaning forward, fussing mightily with his hands stretched out vainly before him. About ten feet ahead, the little stuffed saucer-and-alien began to tremble, and then to slide toward them. The baby's cries reached a new pitch of frustrated demand, and the toy began to pick up speed. The train was running level; there was no way the thing could be sliding down the carpeted walkway toward their seat on its own.

Alarmed, Scully stumbled into the aisle and snatched the toy from the floor before its unique travel could be noticed by any of the car's other passengers. Sitting back down next to Will, insides quivering with reaction, she set the stuffed UFO in the distressed child's lap, and William's cries shut off as if he were a faucet. He wrapped his tiny arms around the toy and threw her an accusing look as if to say, "What did you expect? You weren't listening to me!"

Now trembling all over and feeling as if she could vomit at any moment, Scully pressed her hands to her middle and looked around haltingly, hoping no one had noticed the unexplained event. No one was looking their way. All around them passengers were asleep or reading; luckily a baby's cry was a common occurrence in transit. She glanced back at Will, who had given over his grudge and was chewing industriously on the alien's upraised hand, angry plum colour slowly receding from his fair features. A normal happy baby again, she thought, wondering at the awful fate that had dictated that for the second time, her own child would become an x-file. xxx

Salianiqua, Michigan
April 25, 2002
5:19pm

The bus from Iron River to Salianiqua Michigan had been dirty, unkempt, and smelled vaguely of urine. That, combined with the fact that it was finally the twenty-fifth and that this was the final leg of their journey had Scully quite literally fidgeting for hours, all muscles locked and tense as they approached the lake coast. Now disembarking from the fetid stink of the vehicle, she held Will's carrier and the diaper and overnight bags as she waited with outward calm and inward impatience to get her other luggage as it was dumped unceremoniously onto the platform. Those bags had seen a lot of bad handling in the past week, moving from bus to bus and bus to train. She had paid a pretty penny every trip to convince the porters and the bus companies to take all her luggage on. Passengers were normally limited to one bag, not two or three; but it was amazing how quickly a little cash and some overly-generous tips for the drivers could change such things when the passenger manifests were not really full and the porters were underpaid.

Seeing her brown suitcases hit the oil-stained concrete beside the bus from where she stood in the queue, she hurried forward, hampered by her bags and child, to claim them. --As if they would forget who the things belonged to-- Scully snorted to herself as she claimed the luggage. Tips or no tips, nothing would make the drivers of these buses overly cheerful about hoiking the things around. Her luggage was generally treated with annoyance. But it came; that was the important part. Anything of her old life that she had not consigned to her mother's care was in those bags. She hoped none of it was bugged or tracked, though she and the Gunmen had gone through all of it with a fine-toothed comb that final morning.

Dragging the load on her portable luggage rack, Scully trundled away from the stomach-churning diesel stink as swiftly as she was able. No sense stopping to see the sights out here in the open. Anything could happen; stolen bags...or worse. She looked fearfully down into Will's face as she paused for a quick rearranging of her load. He had been awakened by the noise and confusion, but had apparently gotten well enough used to these infrequent stops that they no longer caused him to kick up a racket. He really was a very good baby, Scully thought; when he wasn't being...spooky. "Trust Mulder to have a spooky son," she murmured wryly, pursing her lips. She doubted Mulder would find the sentiment amusing. She wondered how much he might have guessed by now of the nature of their son's uniqueness. She wasn't looking forward to telling him the details. On the day when Will had shown his particular little gift for the first time, only hours after Mulder's departure, she had wanted nothing more than to have him back at her side to hold her and give her some wonderfully ridiculous, arcane theory about the situation that would have given her some perspective...and to have him tell her that there was nothing that they could not face together, as they always had.

Shaking her head, Scully circled the station to the lockers with the heavy stack of luggage trailing behind, and began plugging quarters into the slots. Once all the infernal baggage had been stored away in the courtesy locker Scully leaned gasping against the scarred metal panels with their orange rubber keys and lifted her head to get a look at this Salianiqua. Lake Superior was an endless, grey-wrinkled vista; no view of the Canada border from here. Salianiqua itself seemed to be a small fishing/industrial town; hatcheries over there on the beach, some warehouses and what looked to be canneries. She wondered just exactly what they were fishing for out there.

Encumbered now only with William, the diaper bag, and the overnight bag that had travelled so many miles with her on her various adventures, Scully drew in a deep breath of the slightly sooty, slightly fishy, very lake-like atmosphere of Salianiqua and walked back around to the front of the depot, wondering why the air here smelled so familiar. Of course! Okabogee. It was either Okabogee or Heuvelman's Lake where that damned alligator had eaten her dog Queequeg. It seemed so long ago. Reminiscent smile fading as she stepped off the edge of the platform, Scully approached the verge of the road where three odd, unmatched cabs parked indolently beside the bus station. As she approached, two of the cabs roared off with their passengers, narrowing her choices down to one; a dented blue and white checkered Ford that had seen better days since it rolled off the line in the seventies. She leaned over toward the window and addressed the bored-looking driver.

"Excuse me; do you know the name of the motel on Sixth Street? I've been told to try it."

The cabby took in her dishevelled and slightly harried appearance for a moment before answering in a bemused sort of way, "Ye-ah. Only one motel on Sixth Street, ma'am, and that's the St. Ives."

"The St. Ives?" Scully repeated, incredulous.

"Ye-ah, wa'al, its not very high class, not really...but we like to name things like we's proud of 'em, hereabouts." The man seemed to take her reaction in stride, but she apologised anyway.

"I'm sorry, I didn't mean to sound like I was insulting your town; I was just surprised."

"Get lots of that," the cabby replied good-naturedly. "Ya getting' in, or what, ma'am?" xxx

As the cab sluggishly approached the far end of Sixth Street in a run-down area of the town and began to slow, Scully looked up to see one building looming slightly above the others. Pink with paint-peeling gables on the eaves and peeling white pillars, the quadrangle of the Motel St. Ives looked like a dilapidated whorehouse from a cheesy Western. "You've got to be kidding me," she muttered under her breath.

"Wa'al, here we are," the cabby drawled, pulling the aging vehicle up to the warped boardwalk in front of the building and killing the motor. "Ya need some help getting in there with that baby, ma'am?"

Scully's stomach fluttered like a drunken butterfly. "No thanks. I'll manage." --If he only knew how much luggage I've been dragging around all week, he'd never ask-Scully thought, and handed him his six bucks.

As she passed the front of the cab on her way inside, though, she stopped to look back at the cabby, who was busy trying to re-start his chugging motor. "So, how old is the Motel St. Ives, exactly?" Scully asked, curious.

"Mmmmm, wa'al, ma'am, I b'lieve they built it directly after the War. North and South, you know. 'Twas a kittle-hoosie, before the World Wars and all that. Right popular place, I hear."

Thanking the man, now bemused herself, Scully stepped up to the boardwalk. Behind her, the vintage Ford roared to life, accompanied by a loud, "That's it, you old bag!" from the driver.

"Isn't it just like your father to shack up in the only whorehouse in town?" She murmured to William as she entered the historic edifice. "Figures."

Coming up to the desk, Scully pulled out her fifth ID and set it on the table. A balding man with a dark fringe...and spectacles --of course-- Scully thought, now more than amused despite the antics of her stomach...emerged from the small room behind the counter and asked if he could help her.

"Yes, is room 42 available, by any chance?" The man blinked at her, expression slightly startled. He obviously wasn't used to people coming up and requesting a certain room number...or maybe someone had done just that, recently. Scully felt her stomach do another flip-flop. "I'm superstitious," she elaborated, giving him her best winsome smile. She maybe couldn't pull it off as well now as she could when she was thirty, but she still knew how to ingratiate herself toward small balding men. She tried to choke down the sudden fear that someone else had snatched 42 before she could, that she would miss Mulder and the whole thing would blow up in her face.

The concierge shook his head. "Sorry ma'am. There's already a gentleman in 42."

The fear leaped up into Scully's throat in a sudden lump. She pushed it down angrily. Of course Mulder would snag room 42, fearing someone else might take it if he did not. It had to be him. --And what if it wasn't?-- her inner voice jabbered inanely. --What if didn't make it in time? Then what?--

"Ah, how about room seven?" the little concierge was asking helpfully. "The number seven's s'posed to be good for superstitious folks." He leaned forward conspiratorially. "I happen to be a little superstitious myself," he hinted. "Keep Number Seven up nicer'n all the rest. Just in case it helps my luck, ya know."

Scully drew in a deep breath, settling her leaping stomach, and shook her head. "No, I just like the forties; how about number 41 or 43?"

"Forty-one is open; hope ya don't mind; it's got a connecting door to 42. They're locked," he assured her hurriedly, "but what with the history of this place, there're a lot of adjoining doors."

Scully propped up an eyebrow. "Where do you need me to sign?" xxx

Heading up the stairs, Scully glanced quickly down at William before returning to her perusal of the hall above. Forty-one and forty-two were supposed to be right in the middle of the quadrangle's inner wall, behind the front faade. Holding the key with its wooden ring in her palm, she passed 38, 39, 40...41. Taking a deep breath, she set William's carrier gently on the green plastic 'grass' at her feet and pulled her gun out unobtrusively to hold it before her in one hand as she inserted the key into the lock. The door creaked open, and Scully stood looking into the dim interior, heart thumping painfully in her chest. This was it.

--Dana, use your head-- she upbraided herself, tightening her jaw. --How many motel rooms have you been in with Mulder, all over this country? The only thing that makes this one different is...--

"The only thing that makes this one different is that you don't know if Mulder is even here, or if you'll ever get to see him, now that you're this close," she answered herself under her breath, annoyed at her timidity. Reaching down with the other to pick up Will's carrier, stepped into the room sideways, gun extended before her, eyes searching for any traps.

After a moment's quick perusal, Scully set down the bags and carrier with an outrush of held breath, and flicked on the light switch. A small lamp by the bed ticked to life, revealing pale green walls and a beige-and-toffee bedspread. Making a face, Scully closed the door and locked it behind her, then glanced up at the connecting door, breath once again sealing itself into her lungs. On the other side of this thin wall might be a stranger...or it might be Mulder. If it were Mulder, he would hear the sounds of herself and the baby and would signal her. Behind her on the floor, William began to fret softly in his carrier. Still holding her gun, Scully made a quick search of the room to get rid of the ubiquitous Bible and to pinpoint any other extraneous devices before she bent to pick up the baby carrier and set it on the bed. "Ssssh, sweet William," she murmured, slightly louder than usual, and continued staring at the door while her son played with the fingers of her free hand. If he were there, he would hear that. If he were in the adjoining room...

Scully's eyes never left the connecting door.


(Amor Fati, pt.25: "TrustNo1")

Motel St. Ives
Salianiqua, Michigan
April 25, 2002
6:23pm

Time had settled to a steady ticking away at about negative thirty miles per hour. Keeping one eye and her gun on the door, Scully checked and rechecked Will's diaper, made sure his bottle was full. The silence dragged on for years. There came a knock at the connecting door. With a gasp, Scully jerked sharply upright, feeling as if someone had just jammed ice crystals down her spine. The gun rose steadily, safety clicked off, though her heart was pounding like a drum kit. Another knock, then a pause. Getting up slowly, weapon held before her, Scully sidled to the door, and reaching up one sternly controlled hand, rapped once sharply. --Moment of truth-she thought, wondering faintly that her brain was still functioning on its cold level, observing, cataloguing, and taking careful notes while her heart did its impression of the Kentucky Derby behind her ribs.

From the other side of the connecting door, a complicated sequence of long and short knocks. T...R...U...S...T...N...O...1...pause. Mulder. Or...

Taking a deep breath, Scully raised her fist again, and her knuckles tapped out her own sequence. O...B...F...U...S...C...A...T...E...pause. She turned the lock on the door and stepped back.

Holding her gun at the ready, she listened to the muffled sounds as the door on the far side opening slightly...then a little more. It creaked. She held her position, not sparing a glance at Will behind her on the bed.

Another breathless moment, and she was watching her knob turn, ever so slowly. The moments seemed to drag along as if the motel were under water. The suspense was dreadful enough on its own, knowing that Mulder was on the other side of that door, that she would see him again in a moment, after the near miss so long ago, after the e-mails and rogue Agent's lies, the frantic worry, sickening grief, and the longing; that she would feel his arms encircling her again after the months of painful, desperate separation and fear of final, unalterable and unproven death. But there was also the chance that someone might have gotten to him first; that They might have gotten wind of their careful preparations...that this could be a trap to get to William; or to all of them at once. Her mind conjured up pictures of Mulder being held at gunpoint, forced to go through with their liaison, used as bait to get to Will. Her imagination showed her the awful scene; her going into the adjoining room with the baby, to find him there with a gun at his back...

--Deep breath, Agent Scully-- she told herself grimly. --Mulder would never let that happen; he'd abort, he'd alter the signal or tell me with his eyes if it was a trap--

Then the door on her side was opening slowly, very slowly...the time warp extended as Scully slowly raised up her other hand to support her gun at heart level, pointed straight at the slowly altering portal...as if it would be any help if there were any of those damned alien replacements waiting in there.

The barrel of a gun came first, poking shyly through, questing. Her internal timer counted off the seconds before she would see the arms, and then the head...then there were the arms, familiar arms...then the head, the hair she knew, then the face, the eyes...Mulder's eyes...

With an outrush of breath she didn't know she was holding Scully lowered her gun...and stood for a moment stark still, staring hungrily into his eyes--his grey-green eyes, dark in the dimness and gone from hard and cold to warm around the edges of his wariness in an instant. Neither breathed...then Mulder's eyes flickered the "all clear". She read the message in them; after years coordinating their movements, backing each other up, she could read his gaze and demeanour, read the signals embedded there instantly and without fail...and she knew he could do the same with her. They could try to use Mulder as bait to get to Will; but Mulder would tell her with his eyes...and right now his eyes said that there was nobody in the room but him.

He moved to come in then, slowly, gun lowered and safety on. She hurriedly thumbed the safety over on her weapon, then stared at him as he stared back, neither twitching a muscle for a moment. As if shaking off a spell, Mulder's gaze went penetrating and wary once again, and his glance flickered around the room before settling back on hers. He tilted his head back toward his room, then leaned forward suddenly to snag the handles of both her overnight and the diaper bag, backing up with them as she followed with Will in his carrier.


(Amor Fati, pt.26: "Mulder")

Inside room 42, Scully carefully locked the door behind her and set Will down before she looked up. When she did, it was with trepidation. Mulder stood just inside the dim interior, gun still held loosely in one hand. He set her overnight and the diaper bag carefully in the closest chair, seeming absorbed in the action. When he looked up, his eyes flicked briefly toward the baby carrier, then back at her face hungrily...like a man looking at a stream after ten months alone in the Sahara. She was sure her eyes betrayed the same look as she took him in.

He looked so good...so good to just rest her eyes on him again, to feel the reassuring presence of his lithe form and compact, tightly wound energy in the room. Despite appearances in the old days, he dominated any room he was in by sheer presence. The tightly controlled passion of him, the impression of instantaneous, decisive force held only barely in check...he was like a lit firecracker; unobtrusive but yet everywhere.

She had always been as aware of him in any room they inhabited together as she would a lit fuse or a hornet at rest...in the early days not sure what he was capable of, what he might do. Then, almost from one day to the next she had fallen into that comfortable knowledge of him, and knew, as she had told the doctors when he was ill, that he was not a danger to her. Never to her. She had often wondered at the foolishness of those who had underestimated him, though; in the FBI, in the so-called 'Consortium'. Familiarity absolutely did not breed contempt with Fox Mulder.

She need not fear being around him, for he had shown her a side of himself that she was sure no one else had ever seen; a hurt and wounded little boy that she almost instinctively tried to give comfort and surcease from the very beginning. That he had accepted this solace from her as he had from no other being had contributed almost immediately to bringing forth that strange intimacy that they had always had between them. But neither was she fooled by his little show of, "Don't mind me, I'm a harmless crackpot," that he had often put off to their superiors and detractors. Intelligent; yes. Without a doubt. Driven; yes. Almost wholly so. Foolish? Never in a hundred years; though he may have looked that way to others, may have even fostered that impression to aid him in his work.

He did not look foolish to her now; nor yet dangerous. He looked...good. Oh, God; he looked good. Dishevelled and unshaven in what she privately termed 'his off-duty uniform'; jeans, white T-shirt, bare feet. Without the familiarity bred by daily intimacy he was taller than she remembered, and for the first time in years she was struck anew by the difference in their heights. For some reason it was comforting as well as unnerving. He was wearing that padded grey vest that he liked to take on their infrequent 'camping trips,' and his hair was shaggy and uncut, looking disquietingly like it had when they had found him in that field after the ship...

Quickly Scully repressed that thought, the memories of his dead face looking accusingly back at her with their blue scars and rot. Needing suddenly to feel him solid and alive in her arms after so long living with his ghost, she yet stood stock-still, seemingly unable to move while the yearning pulled at the both of them. Afraid, or unable to move? She would never after know or care who stirred first, as all of a sudden they were in each other's arms. Clinging desperately to his reassuringly solid body, Scully struggled with sudden sobs as she pressed her face into his chest and felt his body shake in return, his trembling arms grasping her so tightly to him that it hurt, heard his own sobs as he buried his face in her hair. Gasping with inexpressible anguish bottled up for a year, pain so used to being held that it could not find expression now that the moment would not destroy them both, with the balm for the inconsolable pain present and tangible.

"Oh God, Scully," she heard him gasp then, voice harsh like a man wheezing for breath in an airless void.

"Mulder," she murmured in response, and then they held each other desperately for an endless moment--like the time in when he returned from Russia...like when he awoke in the hospital returned from Death itself--and like they could not when he went away.

Tearing herself from his embrace with eyes wet and stinging, Scully grabbed his arm urgently and pulled him to where their son lay gurgling in his carrier. She could feel him trembling as they approached, and looked up into his damp eyes to see his soul struggling just below the surface. So close. Her vision blurred as Mulder's arm left her grasp slowly. He hunkered down before the carrier like a man moving through deep water, like a man afraid of what he might find yet lacking the will to hold back. There were no words. Crouching swiftly beside him with the skirts of her coat brushing the thin rug beneath, Scully took Mulder's hand where it lay frozen white-knuckled on the plastic edge of the carrier and pulled it toward their son. From the depths, Will's tiny hazel eyes glanced from his mother to his father inquisitively, reading the tensions and emotions there while the flecks of colour shifted from her grey-blue to his grey-green. Mulder stared riveted, and Scully was hypnotised by the sight she had imagined so long and wondered if she would ever see. Two sets of the same eyes mirrored on in the other, one curious, one entranced and breathless.

Mulder moved finally, reverently, and almost as if he were afraid; reached out his hand slowly to touch his son's baby knuckles. Will looked thoughtfully at Mulder for a moment, then took the invitation, wrapping his miniature fingers around his father's ring and pinkie fingers as he had not done with anyone since he was about six months old.

In that one moment, it was all worth it. All the terror and the indecision and the pain. All the months she had feared that she was doing more harm than good for William, choosing perhaps selfishly to keep her son in the dangerous world in which they lived on just the off-chance that he would someday know the both of them. To know his blood, his legacy and his destiny...and that Mulder might get the chance to know his son, and finally have the family of which he had been robbed so young. The price had been worth it to have had this very moment. To be able to give it to Mulder; to William and to herself. To know, for the first time in her life and after missing for so long either one or the other part of herself, what it felt like to be completely whole. To know it for herself...and to see it in Mulder's beloved eyes now wet with emotion.

"William," Scully murmured, unable to wrench her eyes from this tableau, her heart shredding with the bittersweet joy of the moment, "this is your Dada," and watched as Mulder's chin lowered slowly to his chest as he wept silently by the carrier. His shoulders heaved. Scully reached out and gently removed his gun from his limp grasp and set it between them on the floor, then remained beside him, gripping his other hand.


(Amor Fati, pt.27: "Reunion")

Finally the storm of weeping passed, and Scully looked at Mulder, still not facing her from his sentinel position before the carrier. Bending over his arm where it lined the carrier's edge, she reached in to unhook the belt that restrained their son and silently picked him up. Rising beside her, Mulder hesitated, then reached out with one hand. She wondered just what exactly he was feeling in that moment. From the cradle of her arms, William looked consideringly at his father, then surprisingly held out both plump little arms as if come to a sudden decision.

Mulder trembled visibly as he took the not-quite toddler from her arms, marvelling at his weight and size. "When I last held you, you were so small..." he whispered. They were the first fully formed words that had yet been spoken. It seemed fitting.

Moving automatically toward the highest concentration of light, Mulder stumbled past the sparse, threadbare furniture, past the closed shades and the unlit lamp to stand over by the far wall in the contradictory dim brightness of early evening. She followed, and pulled aside the shade to let in the late afternoon light for him as he gazed into their son's face, wondering briefly just how many hours or days he had spent sitting in the dark of this room, ignoring the lengthening shadows as he had so often done in his apartment. The TV wasn't even on, as if he had left the diversion alone for fear of missing their coming. William, for his part, seemed equally enthralled in gazing at his father, and did not squirm or demand release even after so long confined in his carrier.

It was like having a fist she had forgotten was there loose its hideous grip on her heart.

After an eternity, a moment, an hour, after William had fallen asleep in Mulder's arms, she spoke, a soft murmur in the twilight.

"The toy you gave him is his favourite." She reached out to grasp one dangling little hand, wondering anew at the pearly clarity and unbelievable softness of baby skin, seeing William as Mulder must see him now, unoccluded by familiarity. "I think he's decided to leave the doctor thing until he's older. So I guess you won."

Mulder could not seem to tear his eyes away. The wonder in them was unbound before her whom he trusted, and it took her breath.

"What...was his first word?" he asked, and she told him. He asked and asked, hungry for the details, augmenting the pictures his mind had created for him during their long separation with the unyielding facts of growth and development. Once again, everything had changed for Mulder; passed by while his life lingered in solitary silence. She wondered afresh what this concession to her had cost him; but now was not the time for regret. And yet she felt it. Her eyes betrayed her once again as she told him of her hopes, her attempts at keeping the moments for him.

"I...I made sure he didn't...I didn't want him to do too much before you could see him. He crawls...he hasn't started walking yet. I think it will be any day now, even though Mom says it will probably be a couple more months. He doesn't talk much; he doesn't need to. He..." she trailed off, the uneasiness returning. How to tell him? How much had Mulder already guessed?

Mulder had raised his head to look at her, caught by the note of uncertainty in her voice. His eyes were gentle, but there was no questioning the demand in them. --Tell me--

"He can do things, Mulder. Like Gibson Praise. Like you could when you were sick." She shivered. "I didn't know what to do, and I was afraid to tell you. Afraid you'd come back...and They would find you."

His eyes remained unreadable on hers; no sign of whether or not he was unnerved. Grasping her arm gently with the tips of his fingers, he shepherded all three of them to the edge of the bed. As they sat, he inquired softly, "What kind of things?" Again, the implicit demand. The need to know all the facts, to marshal all the details, to form a cohesive picture, a plan of action. After so many months unable to affect the course of events, she could almost feel the pulsing need in him to grab life in his hands and wrangle with it, to grapple with fate and wrest life from the bonds of Necessity.

And so she told him. Every detail; from the mobile right after he had left and the display of raw power over the fragment of the alien craft to the last incident on the train. Finally after a moment's fraught silence, Mulder moved slowly, reluctantly, to hook the carrier over with his foot and place William back in its comfortable folds. He turned to her then, and grabbed her hands, needing as much as she to have that physical contact between them, that proof that this was really happening, that they were both really here, that the whole thing would not evaporate into a dream leaving them holding nothing but dark emptiness.

"Is he a telepath?" he asked, quietly. She wanted to laugh suddenly at his deference. Time was, he would state with certainty what the particulars of a situation were, and on as little information. Now he was asking her to classify the phenomena?

"Oh, God, Mulder; I don't know. Do I know what he wants because I've learned to interpret his signals, or because he's somehow impressing his wants on my brain? I haven't subjected him to an EKG, if that's what you mean. His paediatrician gives him a clean bill of health, though." She paused, let the tremble show in her voice. She did not need to be superwoman, with him. The sudden release of that constraint was like the being broken free from stifling concrete. "He's never been sick, Mulder. Not even the usual infant infections. Dr. Zevan says he's stronger by gross motor standards than any baby he's ever observed, and he's developing the fine motor skills much earlier..." She paused and shook her head. "I've just tried to count my blessings."

"And They say he's..." Mulder began. She could see the wheels turning in his head, the facts click into place in one of the myriad templates of paranormal phenomena he kept in the labyrinthine passages of his brain, saw the Byzantine logic of his incredible mind work its course...and felt herself shiver. She wasn't sure she wanted to hear his conclusion.

"They say he's 'a perfect human being'. A 'supersoldier'...like Krycek tried to get us to believe. Mulder, I'm not quite sure I know what side those things are on, but they're not supersoldiers the way Doggett thinks they are. They might not even be wholly alien. They might be constructs, or...but Mulder, I do know our son, and he's human. He might even be a little too human..."

"He's ours," Mulder interrupted decisively; once again as always cutting right to the core of what really mattered. His warm fingers squeezed her chilled ones, massaging life back into her. "No one can ever take that away...no matter what the particulars are." His voice hardened with conviction. "They're afraid of him because They don't understand how he could exist. We can never be afraid, Scully," his voice dropped to a low current of reassurance, "because we know how he came to be. And there is nothing to fear in the face of that Truth."

She bowed her head over their clasped hands, wanting it to be her turn to weep now. The sheer relief of knowing that she no longer had to bear the burden alone, that the other half of her soul was now there to lend her strength where before the absence of the same had drained all resilience away...

"Hey," Mulder smiled, and lifted her chin with one finger. "Anybody miss me?"

"Oh, God," and she laughed through her tears. He had said the same to her when he had woken up from that horrible coma...eons ago after the antivirals had worked their medical magic with him. Her response had been the same, then. She shook her head.

"Skinner told me to give you a message." At his look of interest, she continued, raising her head to meet his eyes. "He said to tell you he believes in you. In all of us. That he'd help if we ever needed it. Doggett said the same."

Mulder nodded, looking thoughtful. After a moment, she went on, his half-smile encouraging her to continue. "My mother sent you this," she pulled his head down to kiss his cheek gently, "and sent along a message for you when I went by to pick up Will the last night. She said to 'Tell Fox I know he'll take care of my grandson and my baby girl...and tell him I am very glad that I have a grandson."

At that, Mulder's eyes widened. "Score one with the in-laws," he murmured irreverently, but she could see that he was touched. He had always liked and respected her mother, and vice-versa, a fact that had offered her a great deal of comfort when she had been unsure of what to make of their friendship all those years ago, afraid of its power...and of what her loved ones would think. She grinned.

"And Bill told me to tell you that if you don't take care of us he'll find you and make sure you suffer." At that, Mulder laughed out loud.

"Oh, God, Scully; your brother was there?" He shook his head, wheezing. "He'd probably kick my ass on sheer principle." His grin returned, irrepressible as he went back to his allegory of the scoreboard. "One point down with the in-laws."

"Bill's harmless," Scully answered him, unable to repress her own grin. If she could see her own eyes, she would not be surprised to see them dancing with devilment. Mulder noticed. His hand tightened over hers as she continued. "I told him to mind his own damn business, and for once in his life he shut up and listened to me like a human being."

"I don't care how he talks to you, Scully; the guy hates me. Probably always will. I guess I' better start watching my back. He might send some of his sailor goons out to put a hit on me."

"We have enough military following us around without throwing Bill into it, Mulder," she answered, sobering a little. "Besides; I told him there was a difference between my making you leave and you 'skipping out', as he put it." She watched his eyes, saw the shadow cross his face.

"I wonder whether he hates me more for the fact that we got together, or the fact that I left after?" he murmured, still smiling slightly. "The guy can't seem to make up his mind."

"Yes, well, I also told him there's a difference between you making me come to you and my deciding it whether you wanted me to come or not. I just hope he picked up on the distinction. As he saw it, it didn't matter who decided this, it was too dangerous. He didn't know how dangerous my life was getting in DC, how dangerous it was getting for his nephew."

Mulder was looking at her soberly. "I considered that myself, Scully, but..." He looked down at their clasped hands for a moment, choosing his words. "I keep telling myself I couldn't stop you once you'd made up your mind, that I'd be fool to try. God knows I've tried enough to have learned my lesson there. I told myself that you were far more qualified to weigh the risks than I was. That we would all be safer; that despite the horrors of taking a child on the run, that Will would be much safer, this way." He looked up then, meeting her eyes with an intensity and a naked longing of the soul that took her breath even as it matched hers. "But in the end, what it comes down to is that I just couldn't say no. Even if it was the worst possible thing, even if it means drawing Them out after us, sending us on the run; at least we can go down fighting." His hands clenched around hers, knuckles going white with the strain though she took no notice, attending his words. "I couldn't live any more sitting around waiting for Them like a mouse waiting for the trap to snap shut. Not moving, waiting for something to happen; and all of it bad. Not after you said you were coming, that it would be better than the other way. If you had told me everything was fine, that you needed me to keep it up, I would have tried..."

She put her hand over his mouth, gently shushing him. He didn't need to explain to her, of all people. "I know, Mulder. Neither could I." She smiled. "I told Bill to shove it." She smiled at him, continued smiling as his face slowly descended over hers; smiled through the tears of sheer relieved joy as she felt his mouth alive under her own. She was back in that glory of their Truth. Nothing would ever take him away from her again.


(Amor Fati, pt.28: "Coming Home")

Motel St. Ives
Salianiqua, Michigan
April 25th, 2002
11:43pm

It had been like coming home for the both of them. It had been nearly two years since they had been together in this way, and after so long, it was strange to have it be so simple. She had thought it would be awkward; he had feared that sheer desperation would betray them. So much had changed since they last were One, so much time had elapsed; the emotional and physical rigours telling on them both and altering forever the way they held each other in the dark. But it had not been strange, awkward, or desperate. Every touch, every murmured word cherished, their souls echoing with the new maturity of their bond, it had had the inevitable feeling of an event predestined; as if every movement and moment in their lives had been plotted long ago to bring them inexorably to this time when all pieces fell together and made Oneness a reality, no longer a misunderstood dream.

She slept like the dead before him as he gazed at her from his vantage, eyes travelling over the shining, mussed curve of her mane to the delicate features of her beloved face; vulnerable to him now in repose and with all her cares, for this bare moment, set aside in his presence. She had delicate blue smudges beneath her eyes; mute witness to a year of interrupted sleep that had more to do with fear and stress than the demands of single-motherhood. She had, he noticed with a start, dimmed the glorious beacon of her hair to a mellow chestnut, reminding him of the similar colour she had worn long ago in the first year of their partnership when they had gone to Ellens Air Force Base in Idaho to chase triangular ships. He wondered that they had been so brash in those days, running after clues with no earthly idea what they were getting into. He wouldn't give back a day of it.

For Mulder it had been a Hell. Not the self-imposed hell of his nights alone throughout the years; not even the hell of that night after the hoax so long ago, with its utter despair. For then there had still been truths to find, and monsters to slay. This last year had been worse even than the nightmarish horror of his abduction, and after, because throughout that pain and fear he had always known that Scully was out there searching, would never give up on him...he could feel her out there, seeking, fighting for him. After, alone with his nightmares and the memories, and with no chance that she might come over to soothe him back into sleep as she once did all those years in motel rooms across the country; that had been worse in its way even than the abduction itself. The distance between them had been a physical pain...but never had being alone been like this.

He knew the reason. For a brief moment, he had felt as far from alone as he had ever felt in his life, as close to peace and security--and he had had a taste of what life could give him if he let it.

He gazed at her sleeping form, though he knew the necessity that caused her to do it missing the red glow of her hair; like a torch, a beacon to his soul. Her presence to him had always been like that of a burning brand, filling any room with life and energy and shining clearly through the darkness of his brooding soul...always there with the thrilling challenge of her perspective, like a breath of fresh air amid the consuming chaos of his existence. It was unbelievable to him, surreal after the last year of resisting and weakening, desperate contact and fearful withdrawal to his hermit-like existence, to have her here in the same room with him. To touch her, and know that she truly existed; that this was not another confused dream, full of longing and empty loss.

He raised a hand to caress the air above her skin, warm with sleep and lovemaking, and ran it lightly over the aura of her shoulder, her arm, her face, gaze tender with disbelief that she was finally here again to salve and save his soul. For as much as he had ever believed in UFOs, aliens, or unexplained phenomena, Fox Mulder believed in what he and Dana Scully shared. Even when he had believed in nothing else, when all his hard-won theories and beliefs had been stripped from him by the hoax and the revelations of the ensuing year, he had had Scully to Believe in; Scully who Believed in him and who stood by him--and their bond. He may not understand it, exactly; but he had never had a problem accepting the unexplained. Sometimes he couldn't quite figure out just what she was doing with him, but he didn't question it. He knew as she did the force of what they were together; knew it in the deepest depths of his soul, and he therefore had no doubts, as secure in it as she must be to have come here, forsaking everything. No doubts: there could be none when there was a Truth this all-encompassing.

Observing her, he understood her need to sleep, finally. The pain soothed by sure knowledge that this was not a dream, and after the unending fear...for though the fear was twice as horrible for him now that there was something to lose--gut-hollowing fear for the kid, and the abject horror and absolute loss...well, there were no words for what he would feel if he ever lost Scully. Despite the terror and the responsibility, he wouldn't send them back for the world--even if their cover had not been blown by this sudden, perhaps ill-advised move. At least now he could know that they were safe, every day. He was no longer that consummate, self-absorbed bachelor who could blithely stroll through dangers dragging everyone near him along in his wake. His life had changed, and he could not go back to the way he used to live. The unexpected dimensions he had had to face...

He had never been aware of his loneliness before, though he knew now why he had clung to Scully's presence in his life for all those years, her vibrancy filling up the empty places he did not yet recognise save in those few instances when they had been apart; like that time she had found a case of her own while on vacation, and he had called her several times as he sharpened pencils for hours in the Basement Office. He had just been beginning, then, to realize just how at a loss he was without her presence. Once he had felt the difference for a brief instant, it had changed everything. Now he recognized loneliness...and he had feared the entire time, impotent because Scully and the baby were in danger and there was nothing he could do to help, because anything he could try to do would only serve to put them in greater danger.

Mulder clenched his fists as the feeling of impotent rage washed over him again. He had never felt so helpless as in the last year...not since Scully had lain in the hospital dying of cancer, or the three months she had spent missing and then dying after her abduction...there was no action that he could take, no x-file to find; he couldn't use a gun, didn't have a badge, could not even come near enough to know the particulars without distracting Scully from the all-important effort of keeping their child safe. And even as he had worked behind the scenes as well as he was able, trying to help, trying to move things along from the shadows where he now lived, that had been a further torture. To come so close, and yet be so far...

Now at least he could be there; to see, to act, to have some control.

Unable to lie still, Mulder rolled gently out of the bed so as to not wake Scully and padded quietly over to the foot of the bed where the baby carrier lay, making sure as he passed that his gun and Scully's lay on the nightstand, near to hand. William had been very good about sleeping while his parents were otherwise occupied. He deserved to get out of that compulsory cradle now...and Mulder needed suddenly to look on that little face again, to observe the changes, to touch and hold that little warm body and to know that he was real. His mental picture of the child, absorbed and impressed forcibly on his mind that last night at Scully's apartment, was still one of a newborn. Seeing the changes, feeling the increased weight and the independent movements of the hearty little being had been startling to say the least. He had just begun to get to know this little person before he had been torn away, just begun to explore the unfamiliar filial feelings the little guy inspired in him.

He had wondered from the beginning when Scully had first asked him to be the...donor during her IVF attempts just exactly how he would manage being a father, in whatever capacity Scully wanted him to serve should the attempts have proved successful. The doubts had wormed their way into his brain in the interim, while she had been going through the hormone treatments, all the preparatory stuff, and had affected his drug-induced dreaming while he lay on that operating table after his brain was affected by that virus. He had dreamed of himself in a different role--with children, a wife, a house--and while his very being had objected to the context, he had felt a strange longing for the tenuous and unexercised emotions that the prospect had brought. He would never live behind a white picket fence. He knew that as well as Scully did, had known it for longer. It had been hard for her to give up that dream, whether she had really wanted it or not. He, Fox Mulder, had never wanted it. Voluntary hermitage, maybe, but never the picket fence. When the IVF treatments had failed, finally, Mulder had been surprised to find himself a little disappointed that he would not have the chance to see how he might fare companioning Scully through those unique moments. She may have thought it her last chance; he knew it was his. There had been little likelihood ever in his life that he would pass on his genes...and he had become remotely intrigued to see the results of that arrangement. And while Scully had learned to be happy with William and whatever bits of normalcy they could snatch during the breathers between battles, he had found himself yearning to be a part of those moments himself. He had done well with her daughter Emily during that brief time, surprising both of them. Now, he wondered, feeling a hollow flutter of inadequacy in his guts, how would he fare being not a co-parent but a full on father...and still fight the Fight that he and Scully had been born to wage. And now knowing how their son fit into that war--for obviously he was a part of it... What a momentous fate to be born into. And Mulder thought that he had pressure.

Still getting used to the idea that he was a father in the first place, that he had a SON, pondering the enigma of fathers and sons, Mulder crouched beside the carrier to stare thoughtfully at the little sleeping bundle, feeling the amazing heat of an infant beating up from the miniature bed. Unbuckling the tiny plastic clasp, he brushed the nylon belt aside and gently lifted the limp little form, holding his breath and hoping that the little guy wouldn't wake up and yell or something, rouse Scully from a couple hours much-needed rest.

--God, he was heavy-- Inert, with that strange laxity and complete surrender possessed by a sleeping infant. Mulder wished he could sleep with that complete lack of regard for the outside world, that complete deficit of experience that leads one to fear. He gazed wonderingly at the little bundle--well, not so little anymore, and not much of an infant. The fascinating intricacy of the miniature features and digits had amazed him in that forty-eight hours so long ago. Now less delicate and more evolved, those same features and digits fascinated him no less. Again as he had that first night, Mulder found himself awed. Again, as before, his mind muttered wonderingly, --This little person came from me?--

It must be so. Those tiny, red-rumpled features of the infant he had known, the picture he had kept unchanging in his mind, had resolved themselves in the interim, settling and shifting in some strange fashion peculiar to human development, and the child though still roundly baby-faced was beginning to take on features reminiscent of a certain idealistic UFO-nut. Mulder grinned with embarrassment and shock and not a small measure of awe as he ran a wondering finger over one sticky, downy cheek, tracing the signs of that development. He was well formed, strong. That much Mulder could tell from the feisty insistent grip the kid had used when he'd fastened himself to his Dad's shirt while he'd held him, earlier. William's hair was reddish, but darker than that of the Scully children he had seen in the photos on the mantle at Maggie Scully's home. It was more...mahogany, and thick and unruly, like his. Straight, too; no Scully curls. Absorbed in the game, he ran his fingers over the tiny eyebrows, like silk. Those were Scully's, definitely. He couldn't tell with the lips. They were full. That could do for either of them. The miniature ears were hard to judge as well, but the chin was like his, less pointed than Scully's. The nose was more like hers though, thank God. The little hands were long-fingered like hers, but the tips were blunter. His. Strange, seeing the characteristics blend like that. The tiny eyelids and eyes were the same shape as Scully's--he knew the shape of Scully's eyes better than he knew the colour of his own-but he remembered seeing their clear grey shift to his more greenish tone with the amazing facility of the hazel-eyed when he had first met his little offspring's gaze. That gaze had been unnervingly intelligent and knowing, as well. Mulder had no doubt that any child of his and Scully's would be smart as hell, judging from his parents, but he wondered idly just how many 'talents' this little person would develop. It would really be a bummer if the kid ended up reading his parents' minds. He wasn't sure he wanted some tactless midget telling Scully everything his Dad was thinking when he looked at her. No. That could be very bad.

Mulder shook his head dubiously, instinctively holding the awkward body a little less gingerly as it did not seem disposed to either screaming or dissolving. He had no vast experience with babies, though his cousin had let him--or required him, he wasn't sure which--to change a diaper or two when he was about sixteen. He spared little thought for exactly where that cousin and her brood had got to. Another life, another time. That had probably been the last time he'd held a baby, though, before Scully had handed Will to him that night. No vast experience, maybe, but he knew a beautiful kid when he saw one. William was beautiful.

--And he came from us-- Mulder mused. He wished he knew what night it had been. Not that it was necessary that he know...but it would certainly help him to wrap his mind around the idea if he knew exactly how the little guy had gotten started. He wondered if Scully knew. She must. In his book, women knew stuff like that; especially when they were doctors.

"Only takes one night, huh? Let that be a lesson to you, little buddy," Mulder murmured to the sleeping baby. With his track record, it was amazing that he could have a kid. Not that he and Scully had been taking any precautions. She was supposed to be barren, and it wasn't like either of them had ever slept around a lot.

It had been strange for him to think of Scully as a woman at first, though impossible not to once their relationship had changed. He had had so little social confidence around women that he had just felt safer having them as partners, where he didn't have to think of her as a beautiful woman who could get him all confused and shy. Shutting off that response to her by their second week together, he had refused to think of her that way again, and hence had respected her as an intelligent, resilient partner and an equal right from the get go. A challenging, loyal, tough-as-nails partner that would never let him down, she had been more fulfilling to him than any other relationship he had ever been in, and he had managed to shove to the back of his mind the emotions that her abduction had brought up in him. And so they had settled into their patterns, and so it had remained until...well, he wasn't exactly sure when it had happened, but that moment in his hall, just before that damned bee had stung her, he had been forced by desperate panic to say anything and everything that he felt, even the things he didn't consciously know that he felt, to get her to understand, to stay...because to have her leave him was to have his whole world fall apart. That Scully would ever choose to leave him...she, the one constant in his life, the one thing he could count on--that he might lose her, the most unspoiled, unadulterated, precious thing in his life--he had been right to panic. And the idea that she had thought she was just an annoyance to him...that had to be corrected immediately, before she could think he actually believed it.

That moment had been an eye-opener for them both. It had been said, out in the open...and while Scully over-rationalized everything, Mulder just went with what he felt, as always. And so while she had had to gloss over that moment in order to go on with their working relationship, he had admitted to himself what he was feeling for her, and he could not go back. He had respected her and their friendship too much to push the issue when she obviously wanted to skirt around it, though, and had honoured her preferences, the sheer complexity of their relationship, for so long in the next year that by the time she had asked him to help her with the IVF he had settled into a pattern of forgetfulness. And then there had been that other moment in the hallway, when he had called her his constant, his touchstone; and he had meant every word. As the in-vitro attempts had brought them closer and closer together, he had had to deal with the fact that he had been silently loving her for years. Showing that to her when he'd kissed her during that little millennium-ball thing had been taking a great risk...but he would never have thought that she would turn to him as she had shortly after. The way their relationship had altered...

And then he had been taken, and everything had changed. He had come back from the dead to find that guy Doggett on the x-files, to find Scully hadn't remained a constant for him while he was gone, that her life had changed...and the pregnancy; that had been a shock. He had been dying, and had come back from that death knowing that there were definitely aliens, that he was an unknown quantity to everyone who knew him, that he was some kind of tool...and that that proof didn't mean a damn thing to anyone but a select few who would use that information to control the fate of the world. And the one thing that he had counted on to remain the same had changed, pulling his life out from under him and leaving him jobless, directionless and alone as he had thought he would never be again.

If he could have just told Scully what he was feeling...but he had been confused and hurt by all of the changes, by the way she had seemed to move on with her life while he had been tortured and left for dead, by the fact that she hadn't even asked him about his abduction...he knew now because she still thought that he didn't remember, and because she feared the memories of her own abduction that would be stirred, perforce, by his recounting. And so he had pulled away from her by reflex, hiding his pain and his alienation behind a sardonic grin and a closed heart...and Scully had pulled away because she was confused and hurt herself. He could look back now and remember the shock in her eyes as he had casually blown off his part in her pregnancy... Mulder shook his head ruefully. --The inner asshole strikes again-- Here he had thought he had left that part of himself behind as their relationship had moved into its more mature stage after her cancer had forced him to think beyond himself. His only excuse was that he had still been in shock from the trauma. God, he hated hurting her--she was his conscience, his soul.

He had continued to feel unsure of where he stood with her in her new life as the pregnancy had dragged through its final stages...until she had finally blown up at him one night in her living room. He remembered the way she had looked that evening, her red hair flying as she shook her head in frustrated annoyance, looking magnificent in her rage as she berated him for his self-imposed exile.

"Dammit, Mulder; look at me! How dare you ignore what's happening here? Come here! Feel this! Put your hands right here and feel what we have made!" She had thrust her finger insistently at her bulging belly, ignoring his look of wild-eyed panic. "Now, Mulder." Her voice had had that quality of steel in it, and he had obeyed as if in a dream, moving to place his hand on her protruding abdomen, feeling the taut skin there, the strange warmth of a pregnant woman. His mind had been oddly aware at that moment of tiny details about her that he had noticed subconsciously but never identified in his brain before that moment. She had smelled different than he remembered, though she moved with the same fierce grace as before, punctuated by her belly as it preceded her into every room, a statement of authority.

Wakened from the glory of fetal slumber by his mother's stress, little no-name had stirred sharply in protest from the womb, warping the already straining skin of her abdomen and thumping Mulder solidly in the palm. His fingers had tingled with astonishment at this undeniable evidence of their union--so long ago and yet so immediate--and his eyes had met hers in shock and wonder, all distance forgotten.

Scully had apparently felt satisfied with that acknowledgement, and she had said little about it again until the night of William's birth. While he had hastily repaired his shields, the shock had breached them enough that their relationship had settled into a sort of strange unspoken truce during her maternity leave, and they had begun to find their way back to that place where all that mattered was the faith that they had in each other. On that night, they had known only that they were still the most important thing in each other's lives, that they had tested their bond in the most painful fashion to learn that nothing could ever change that deepest of Truths; but they had not known where they stood with...everything else.

And then there was William.

And in that moment when he had come into her room to see their son, trying to keep himself remote, knowing that nothing was settled and everything was in chaos all around them, that her apartment would only be an island in the dangerous currents for so long...and knowing further that he had no idea, now when it counted, exactly what to do with his new position in the unfamiliar ground that their relationship had become. Until that moment, Mulder had only let himself care about the baby for her sake, had not allowed himself to care about the pregnancy on its own, much less for what it meant to him and to them. Not knowing where he stood; with her, with the entire situation, he therefore didn't know exactly what part she wanted him to play...and she had stopped expecting him to play a bigger part, he knew, after he had pushed her away on his first day home.

And then Mulder had held William for the first time, marvelling in spite of himself at the surprisingly compact bundle, at its dense weight, so much heavier than expected, warm and moving with aimless independence...and all his carefully constructed remoteness had dissolved into sheer awe. The awe of --I helped make this little person-he knew it showed in his face, betrayed by the sudden fascination, the absorption. And in that moment everything had changed for him. He could no longer hold himself at a distance after looking into their child's face and realizing that he was very much a part of this; that he was essential to it. In that moment, looking raptly into that little person's engaging, seeking gaze, knowing that there was this third being now that was an expression of that which lay between his parents and yet was distinct from it, and them, Mulder had decided once and for all that he was not going to be on the edges of the situation anymore; that he wanted to be there to see this Miracle evolve, to help define what it would become.

And so in that moment he had cut straight through the bullshit of the 'how, and why'--because in that moment, none of that was as important anymore to him. He had needed to figure out the x-file in the whole state of affairs because doing so gave him some connection to the situation, gave him a part to play in the pregnancy, something familiar and that made sense to him, but yet didn't require him to get too close. It could be about the pregnancy itself, but yet he could avoid the whole subject of the implications of what it meant to their relationship. And all of a sudden he was part of it. William had grabbed hold of his heart...and all that mattered to him in that moment was that he make Scully realize that he was not going to be on the outside anymore, that he wanted to truly be a part of this Miracle that they had given up on and yet gotten anyway.

"I think what we feared were the possibilities," he had told her, but he was no longer talking about the possibilities of the pregnancy itself, but about the possibilities inherent in their relationship. "The Truth we both know." --We both know what's going on here, and I for one am not going to lie about it or evade the issue anymore-- He had been making the leap, asking her to join him as in the old days, but about them, not about some x-file. He had seen in Scully's eyes the rapid assimilation, the need to know, for sure, that this thing between them would be bourne out. He could only hope that she would forgive him for making her wait for so long while he came to the place where he could accept it first.

"Which is what?" she had asked him aloud, but really she had been saying, --What are we, now?-- Mulder had answered her with his eyes. -This-- he had said, and kissed her, in that moment accepting the entire package and demanding his part in it; in what they had been, in what they had become, and what they were meant to be. Challenging her to deny and run...or to accept and become--and she had decided, finally and for once and all, to accept all the implications when she kissed him back, when she leaned into it. After all the years of dancing around and avoiding the Truth like a couple of confused and gun-shy teenagers, they were finally admitting to everything, denying nothing...and it had felt very good to finally be so honest. For two very reserved people, it had been like a quiet commitment, a marriage both of soul and of purpose. Nothing to prove, nothing to hide; nothing to fear but the Truth.

--For two people who have dedicated their lives to seeking Truth, we sure are good at lying to ourselves-- Mulder thought wryly. They had been just beginning to open up, to cast off their reserve, their introverted, tightly bound shells...and then he had had to leave. He still wondered just exactly what he had missed during those ten months...and what it had been like for Scully, abandoned in that apartment with the baby, feeling hunted and alone. He certainly knew what it had been like for him, wandering here and there, alone in the dark of various motels. But he had been there before when Scully made up her mind, and he knew nothing he could say would change it...so he had finally acceded to fate.

--Raw, flawed humanity, bound together by fate and the sheer power of this unspoken connection.-- Mulder shook his head. --Late nights wax philosophical-- he thought, replacing the sleeping baby delicately in the makeshift crib that was his carrier. William's crumb-covered, rosebud mouth opened in a soundless yawp before he collapsed back into his exhausted slumber. --Poor kid's just as worn out from the journey as his mom--

Pondering the fate that made his and Scully's real human confusion about life and the meaning of what lay between them mirror so unerringly their search for Truth in their Quest, Mulder slowly picked his way over the luggage and slid back into his place behind her on the bed, sliding his arms gently back into position around her welcoming warmth. --Two flawed humans just trying to make sense of destiny and grappling with things that cannot be quantified, and must be accepted on faith alone...and human bonds and emotions are just as unquantifiable as any x-file. The problem for me isn't accepting that it is unquantifiable, but what exactly am I supposed to do with it now that I have it?--

One thing was sure, and could never be denied, no matter what else he and Scully had managed to avoid over the years. Whether its work or...play, they were the perfect team, and necessary to each other's lives. He was blind energy; she, direction. A duality never functioned properly when it was sundered. In every Taoist text he had ever read it was generally asserted that should one element of a duality ever be separated from the other it would spin out of control and destroy everything in its wake. He doubted that he could destroy the Universe if he had to live without Scully, but he had done a pretty good job of destroying himself in those rare times that they had been apart, and he knew life hadn't been a great ball of joy for her either this past year. His arms tightened involuntarily at the thought, and Scully turned sleepily in his embrace to slide a hand up along his jawline, ghosting along his cheek to settle into the hollow of his nape like a silent blessing. Her face came to rest against his chest as if long used to having him in her bed, though it had been...oh, eons since those two short months when they had become accustomed to holding one another in sleep. He breathed again as she burrowed determinedly back into sleep, putting aside the ghost of that old alertness to slide back into the depths of welcome unconsciousness.

Lowering his head to rest his cheek against the smooth, slightly mussed silk of her hair, Fox Mulder lay with his eyes open as the night ticked by, resisting sleep for fear that this dream would dissolve in the harsh light of day.


(Amor Fati, pt.29: "Warning")

Motel St. Ives
Salianiqua, Michigan
April 26th, 2002
12:40 am

Later, as night dragged on into the wee hours, Scully sat on top of the rumpled sheets listening to the quiet sounds of Mulder's breathing. He slept like a person who had not slept in a year, and she rather suspected that, like her, he had not. She sighed, feeling more relaxed than she had felt in the last ten months. She had not realized how much strain there was, how constantly keyed up she had been watching for any sign of danger toward William, waiting for news, knowing that there was no back-up to rely on, no one but herself care for their child. To have a moment without that strain was to recognise it, finally, and then to let it sleep for a time. Rolling her head on her neck, she allowed the infernal tension to drain, slowly, from her shoulders, stretched like a contented feline, then laid her cheek on her knees and turned her head to watch Mulder sleep, eyes tracing the contours of his face and body from where lay half exposed under the single sheet demurely draped over his hips. He slept neatly, as always, curled up on his side with one arm under his head and a half-smile curving his full lips. Scully smiled in response; if she could have seen her face, she would have seen the surety and content of a woman who is where she needs and wants to be, a woman finally in control of her life.

As if her regard had drawn him out of his slumber, he woke without movement, pale eyes slowly opening to meet hers, smile deepening to a lazy grin.

"Hi," she mouthed silently, eyes intent on his.

"Hi," he answered, and rolled over onto his back to gaze up at her with his arms behind his head. The frankness in his stare made her feel shy, as if she should somehow feel guilty for finally letting go with him...but she knew he didn't feel that anymore that she did. Wondering what to do next, she contented herself with simply looking.

Mulder broke the awkward moment by patting the bed beside him.

"C'mon, Scully; it's still April, and it's chilly. Snuggle up."

Laughing suddenly at his tone, Scully slithered back down in the bedclothes feeling relieved. How did Mulder always know how to alleviate the tension in a moment? He always managed to do it, no matter how weird the situation. Dead guys with tails, angry cops with warrants, awkward moments in bed...he always managed to come up with a quip to save the moment. Witty. That was the word. She settled her head back into his shoulder, and he put his arm around her companionably. It seemed to belong there.

"It's okay, Scully," he said after a minute. "We're bound to have a little trouble with this; it's been almost two years."

She resettled her head in the hollow of his arm. "I never was any good at pillow talk."

"God, do you think I am, Scully?" he asked, laughter in his voice. "Besides; what do you talk about when you already know everything about a person?"

"We could try to catch up," she said, smiling in spite of herself. "I forgot to give you the Lone Gunmen's messages, for starters."

"Oh please; do we have to bring those guys to bed with us?" He was laughing again. She continued doggedly, ignoring his attitude.

"They told me they wondered how you did it. How you got the e-mails into their system that way. Something about your 'kung-fu'."

Mulder smiled. "Yeah, well, my kung-fu has improved since they last talked to me." Looking up at him, she saw a shadow cross his eyes briefly. "I've had time to work on it."

She nodded softly to herself. "When they said it, I started to worry that it might be a trap, that it wasn't really you, that you were dead--They'd tried to tell me so many times that you were dead--or that if you were alive, They had somehow forced you to contact me...even though I know you would never go along with it. I was still worried about it when you opened the door." She didn't need to tell him how that moment had strung her out. He would have had his own fears in that moment, and his own eternity to wait it out. She wanted to know how his life had been, wanted him to be able to tell her...and she wanted to never think about those fear-filled, anxious months again.

"I know. I saw your eyes when I came in, looking behind me. I knew you'd be worried about that." He grinned. "No dice, Scully. What you see is what you get; there ain't nobody else in here but me."

"Thank God!" Scully laughed a little for the second time. God, it felt good to laugh. "The last thing I want is to have someone watching us again." She dug her chin into his ribs teasingly. "I know you think taping sex is fine, Mulder, but I for one wouldn't want to be on camera for it."

"If you're dogging my collection again, Scully, you can just stop it right now. Besides, they weren't all..."

"Adult entertainment?" she suggested delicately.

"Yeah. Some of them were of sightings. Important stuff. Stuff for work."

"Yes, and you got just as excited about those as you did about the other ones." The smile in her voice was palpable...as was the barb. "I don't know about the other women in the world, but I don't want to have to compete with Bigfoot, thank you very much."

Mulder groaned. "Who's Bigfoot?" He sounded aggrieved. Scully ignored him.

"At least they've gone to somebody who needs them," she commented, settling in deeper against his chest in a possessive sort of way. She was disturbed as Mulder sat up abruptly in a flurry of blankets.

"Scully! You didn't tell that little rat Melvin that he could keep those videos, did you? He was only borrowing them from me until I could come back!"

Scully glared at him in mock annoyance. "Lie down, Mulder, and relax," she said dryly. "I didn't tell him anything. He's decided for himself. I think he's giving you two more months before he decides your statute of limitations is up and he can start collecting interest."

Muttering to himself, Mulder subsided back into their former position, his hand slipping down in a fleeting caress to settle into its place at the small of her back under the sheet. Her skin tingled and relaxed at the familiar touch as his right hand stroked her mane, absently fingering the longer ends. "What did that bum Frohike think of your hair?" he asked finally.

Shaking her head slightly against his hand, she murmured, "I did it after they dropped me off at the motel. I thought maybe it would make us less conspicuous."

"Good thinking. How long before you think its safe to go back?"

She smiled into his chest. "I think you're just going to have to get used to it for a while, Mulder. My usual shade is a tad too noticeable for us right now. I'm just glad most people at work don't remember when I had this colour before."

Mulder nodded. "It was a long time ago." The silence stretched.

After a moment, she nudged him with her chin. "Do you miss work?"

He didn't answer for a moment. "I miss the challenge, and the variety. Always something different. But if they wouldn't let me do it anymore, there was no point, right? I wasn't really losing anything by leaving; the job wasn't worth it to me anymore anyway. This thing has gotten bigger than the x-files anyway. We don't really need them to find the Truth anymore." She could hear him willing himself to believe that, and she moved in quickly to back him up.

"It finds us," she agreed, and they were silent once more.

At that moment, they heard a thump and a grunt of effort from the floor near the foot of the bed. They sat up in unison to see William launching himself determinedly forward out of the toppled carrier to begin an exploration of the hotel room floor. They hadn't even heard him wake.

"How did he get out of that thing?" Scully asked rhetorically, scrubbing a hand through her now shoulder-length tresses. "He's never managed that before. If he can undo that buckle, I don't even want to imagine what he'll be getting into next." She sounded resigned. She looked up at Mulder in time to see an embarrassed expression move across his face.

"That would be my bad, Scully. I...went to see him earlier. I guess I forgot to buckle him back in." He looked at her candidly. "I don't know how well I'm going to do at this."

She laid her hand on his arm reassuringly, but her head had turned back to her perusal of their son. "It's no wonder he wants to get out and have a look around. I shouldn't have left him strapped in there for so long. He's been so good this week, but I couldn't really let him crawl around very much except when we were in the motels." She sounded guilty. "I hope this floor is cleaner than most motel room floors."

"You were distracted," Mulder commiserated wryly. As she turned to look at him with eyebrow raised, he avoided her eyes and pointed toward the baby as if to pull her attention away from his remark. They sat watching William bustle around on the hardwood floors for a while in companionable silence.

Idly, Scully remembered other times, other motels. How many times in the secret darkness of confessions and confidences, how many times when she heard Mulder in the throes of nightmare and gone to his room to hold his aching, sweating head in the dark and murmur soft inanities to him until he could sleep again...how many times could this have happened, but didn't? Remembering another time when it did, she smiled to herself--a secretive, female grin. She wondered if Skinner had ever been aware of what his two agents had gotten up to in that posh hotel in Hollywood after the premiere of that ridiculous movie. He'd given them a Bureau credit card for dinner, though, and she doubted that he would have cared. They had all been 'off duty', as it were; and if she remembered correctly, he had been very involved in attending to the affections of that simpering blonde he'd picked up from among the 'associate producers' bevy.

Mulder's voice broke into her reverie. "Damn; is that what he does when he's trying to walk?" As she looked up, startled, he shook himself into action. "I'll get him. He can crawl around on the bed. It's safer than trying to drop a chair on himself." That, in fact, was exactly what it looked like William was trying to do. He had scooched up close to one of the rickety-looking chairs at the table and was trying desperately to pull himself up against it, a skill he hadn't quite mastered on his own yet. He was making determined little grunting noises, paying absolutely no heed to his parents on the bed. Consequently he looked slightly confused when Mulder swooped down and pulled him away from the chair to set him on the foot of the bed.

"I can't get over how big he's gotten," Mulder commented as he pulled back the sheets preparatory to climbing back into bed. Scully broke in, halting him.

"Careful, Mulder; he'll just slide off and go back..." she began, but the baby looked at them both from the end of the bed and blinked for a moment as if surprised at his sudden change of station. Sitting up, he put his fingers in his mouth, looking as if he were trying to decide whether or not to be offended. He stuck his little lip out, made a fussy face, then thought the better of it and rolled back on all fours to begin the traverse up the sheets to where his mother lay against the headboard.

"Ma!" he exclaimed, and bounced on her knees, holding his hands up. Mulder, sliding back into place next to her, grinned for about the tenth time that night.

"Looks like he knows what side his bread's buttered on," he commented. Scully threw him a dirty look.

"Get me a diaper out of the bag, Mulder; you're closest."

Mulder obeyed, rummaging around in the bag beside the carrier, then came up with the required item, looking triumphant. "Here you go."

"Your turn, Mulder. I'll be right back." She grinned at his stunned look and left him with the baby while she circled the bed to the bathroom door.

On her way back, she stopped to watch him wrestle with their son, who really wasn't used to being changed by anyone else but her mother and herself. She hadn't often let anyone else take care of him; she'd been too afraid she would come back and find him gone. After a moment she started back across the room, passing the table with its rickety chairs on the way. In passing her eye caught a glimpse of one of Mulder's longhand journals laying open on the nicked and stained surface of the table where he'd been working on it when she and William had arrived. She leaned over to get a closer look. It was his handwriting of course, and it looked slow and reflective.

--"My advocate, my believer. While I Believed in other phenomena, She Believed in me. Without her subtle strength, I would have perished long since; guttered out like a candle burnt too quickly and with no fuel remaining to stoke the flames."--

Over on the bed, Mulder was keeping up a running commentary. "Man, you're strong. Hey, Scully; we're gonna have to teach this guy how to play baseball..." He glanced up, saw what she was looking at, and his face went absolutely blank the way it did when he was panicked or embarrassed. She raised her eyes to meet his, hoping he didn't see the moisture in them.

"I didn't know you kept a journal for anything but work, Mulder."

He looked down. "You have one," he countered defensively. When she didn't comment, he went on. "I didn't expect you to read that. It's just thoughts, thoughts to keep me company..."

--While he was waiting in an agony of suspense and fear like her, unable to distract himself with the TV for fear of missing their coming-- She smiled, coming back to the bed. "Yes, well I didn't expect you to read mine, either, but you did, so now we're even." She sat down on the edge, looking at him frankly. He was still avoiding her eyes.

"Hey Mulder, it's okay," she began, and reached out to cover one of his hands with her own. "I won't tell anybody." That got a smile.

"You know," he said hesitantly, raising his eyes to meet hers, "I looked for the Truth for thirty years, Scully; the meaning of my life. I searched for those answers on other planes of existence and in phenomena that I could not explain on my own. And in the end, I learned that I had been looking in the wrong place the entire time." At her surprised look of attention, he continued in measured tones. "All I had to do was look into your eyes to see my Truth mirrored there. To look into my own heart, and see the reflection of me you hold there; a reflection of my soul as you see it--as it can be, not as it is." Scully opened her mouth, to protest or demur she was not sure, but he ran smoothly over her unvoiced words, needing to say what was in his heart. "Each time that I was alone, I went into that dark place your sister warned me about. This last year I realized that without you I was a beast, huddled in the dark with my anger and my fear and my bitterness."

He turned to her then, face twisted with a sudden anguish. "You are my angel, Scully; my humanity. You, and William. My link with the concerns of this world. If I ever lost you..."

Reaching over to grip his hand fiercely in her long fingers, she met his burning gaze. "You never will." He looked down at their clasped hands, and she followed his gaze, watching the blood pumping between them in that link, feeling again that strange awareness of the workings of her body that came on her in these timeless moments; feeling the workings of his almost as an extension of her own.

"I know what you mean," she said finally, voice low and soft with communion. "I looked for those same answers in science--in the unalterable facts and figures of my faith-only to find that the order I so strongly believed in did not exist, and that the things that I believed impossible were symptoms of a Truth I could not begin to contemplate. Neither my well-ordered science nor my well-ordered God could fill up the emptiness...until you showed me what faith really is, and how to trust my heart above all else." As he raised his eyes from their linked hands to gaze into her own, she smiled a little tremulously, but with firm conviction. "Now when I look into your eyes, when I look into my own heart reflected there, I see something that I never thought I would see in myself--the strength to Believe.

"Mulder, you are my Faith."

With the keen sense of bad timing that only small children possess, William chose that inopportune moment to break away from his father's inattendant hands and crawl back up to his mother with a petulant expression on his face. Settling on her knees again, he grabbed the edge of the sheet she had trapped under her arms and began to tug insistently, mewling. "Maaaa! Mamamamamamamama! Ba!" Scully looked quizzically at him for a moment, then lifted her eyes to Mulder's in sudden alarm.

"God, Mulder; what time is it?"

He looked at his watch. "Five to one. What's up?" He watched in confusion as she set Will abruptly in his lap and erupted from the bed to rummage through the diaper bag.

"Jesus, Mulder; it's been almost eight hours since his last feeding, on the bus! Where's the bottle?"

"He's had a few of those bottles, hasn't he? There were two in that carseat-thing with him." Scully threw him an exasperated look, still rummaging in the bag.

"Mulder, he eats solid food now. Dammit! Where did I put those jars?"

"There were a couple of cookies too; I saw them," he offered, looking a little bewildered by the sudden flurry. In his lap, William had begun to cry; the annoyed half-sobs of a baby who was giving fair warning. "Besides; aren't babies his age sleeping through the night by now?"

"Yes, and he does, but not for eight hours, never! I need to feed him, now! There it is!" With a small noise of triumph she straightened with the bottle and snagged William away from Mulder, settling on the bed with him and offering the bottle hastily. "It's not warm, but it's not too cold, either. Here you go, sweetie. Momma will get you some food really soon. Mulder, check my overnight and see if you can find the carrots." She sighed as she cradled the little boy, laying her cheek against his fluffy head. "I'm surprised he hasn't been crankier. He's been up almost as long as I have; he had to have been exhausted." Mouth plugged effectively by the requested item, William had sagged contentedly back against his mother's chest, momentarily pacified. Coming up with a couple of jars of food, Mulder watched his son holding the bottle in both hands.

"It's a good thing he slept himself out, then," he said, grinning roguishly as he proffered the jars. At her suspicious glare he widened his eyes in a deliberate show of innocence. "His days and nights are probably all screwed up."

"Yeah, well, he's not the only one." She rested her head on the baby's, eyes closed for a moment in the bonded closeness that he would have to work very hard to replicate with his son. After a few minutes interested observation, Mulder decided he was feeling a little too vulnerable. The time was ripe to essay another comment.

"It's too bad you had to work. I remember watching him nurse. I bet he misses it." Mulder looked up at her, that impish grin back on his face. "I know I miss watching."

"Don't be an idiot, Mulder," Scully scolded, raising her head abruptly. "Here." She held out her hand imperiously.

Just as he set the jars in her hand, William let the bottle fall from his mouth and looked to the front door, an uneasy sound coming from his damp rosebud mouth. As if the child's gaze tugged at him, Mulder turned his head slowly toward the door. Shoulders suddenly tense, he pushed the blanket aside to rise silently with the instinctive furtiveness of the hunted animal he had become in the last ten harrowing months.

"Mulder, what..." Scully began, but Mulder cut her off with an emphatic motion and stalked quietly to the door, snagging his gun from the nightstand as he passed. At the door he took up a ready stance, waiting with the preternatural stillness of a stalking feline. Still holding the baby, Scully rose, waiting breathlessly. After a moment, the scrape of a shoe sounded outside their door, loud as a gunshot to their over sensitised ears and squashing the mood in the room like a bucket of cold water. Mulder turned his head back to her briefly and nodded. Nodding back unnecessarily, Scully hurriedly snatched her own gun from the nightstand and slid the rest of the way to the floor to lay the baby in his carrier and crouch over it with her gun, safety off and arms resting full-length on the bed, ready to offer covering fire over the rumpled sheets.

Watching the set of Mulder's body, she could feel the count begin. He hardly moved to signal it, but she didn't need much more than a twitch of the head. --One...two...three!-- Opening the door fierce and sudden, Mulder swung his arms out, gun extended, and stated in an intense, low voice, "Whoever you are, the jig is up. Get the hell out here where I can see you."

From behind the door a squat man with coarse and ratty shoulder-length black hair and rodenty eyes emerged, rubbing his bulbous, pockmarked nose and bristling with annoyance. The nose was bleeding profusely. Doctor or no, Scully made no move to help, keeping her covering position over the precious bundle on the floor beneath her.

"What the hell, man! Whoa, there; what's with the gun? You gonna shoot me?" He sounded incredulous, and very put out...but his eyes shifted to glitter coldly under his beetled brows as he took in the room behind them.

"I might. What are you doing hanging around outside our door? Who are you?" Mulder's voice had that dreadfully flat quality that said he was very dangerous at the moment. Pock-mark took a step back, looking a little less sure of himself.

"I was just passin' through, man; honest. Couldja point that thing somewhere else?"

Mulder seemed to consider it, then shook his head. "No. If you're 'just passing through', why did you stop at our door?" He shook his head, and his voice went cold and hard again. "You go tell Them I said 'not a chance'. And if you really are 'just passing through', you can get the hell away from our door and think twice before you decide to start peeping again." He gestured with the gun, eyes narrowing dangerously at their visitor. "Did you not hear me right? LEAVE."

Pock-mark put his free hand up, still dabbing at his fresheting nose. "Okay, man, I'm goin'! Just get that thing offa me!" With one last glance into the room that held not an ounce of curiousity but a great deal of unwelcome surmise, Pock-mark turned to leave, mumbling to himself. Mulder leaned back to glance along the walkway, checking the approaches. Ahead of him, Pock-mark stopped and turned around. "Hey, why don't you put on some clothes, man? No one needs to see you shining them out your motel room. Damn!" He disappeared around the inside corner of the walk.

"I sleep naked!" Mulder called out after him, and with a last quick glance both ways, pulled the door shut and turned the deadbolt. As he swung his head back toward Scully, adrenaline visibly pulsing through his system, he thumbed the safety over on his gun. He did not look amused. In fact, his face bore that awful look of deep concentration she knew so well as he stared into and beyond her.

Scully straightened up, easing the safety over on her own gun. "Do you think he was really pinpointing us?" she asked, standing slowly. They both knew it wasn't that big of a stretch, and it was better to be a little paranoid and alive than blas and dead--or worse. "If he were a replacement he would have just come in and killed us and taken William. Or killed him too." Her mind shuddered away from that thought even as her skin shuddered away from the cool draft from the recently open door after the warm closeness of the room.

"I don't know, Scully; but I'll lay odds he wasn't just out for a midnight stroll." Mulder seemed to dismiss the thought that the man was anything more than a human spook...or maybe he didn't want to think about the possibility any more than Scully did. It put too many new odds on the game; if the man wasn't from the government, then he was from someone else--whoever that might be. Neither of them wanted to find the Game more complicated than it already was, but the very fact that their caller had not tried to harm any of them attested to the possibility that there was more going on behind the scenes than even they knew.

The idea that someone might be on their side out there was too much to hope for however; it was better to be safe than sorry. Mulder used the tip of his gun to lift the curtain slightly and peered out into the night, preoccupied. "We've got to get out of this room."

Not even questioning the wisdom of such conspicuous activity as leaving a motel room in the middle of the night, Scully stepped around the edge of the bed and leaned over to rummage around on the floor. Coming up with Mulder's jeans, she tossed them to him. He caught them by reflex. "Thanks," he threw her one of his rueful half-grins and began to struggle into them one-handed, gun still at the alert.

"So you won't be in danger of 'shining' anybody else tonight." She half-smiled herself, despite the tension in the room.

Head down and engaged in buttoning his pants, Mulder returned the volley good-naturedly. "You didn't seem to mind," he commented.

"I've seen it." She bent to pick up the baby, who, crisis over, had returned to his single-minded quest for the bottom of the bottle. Moving over to the table with him, she brushed aside her hair reflectively and sat down in one of the rickety chairs. "I have to feed him before we go anywhere, Mulder. He can't eat on the run like us."

"I don't suppose it can wait?" Confronted with 'the brow', Mulder sighed and nodded once. "You're really going to put a crimp in my style, kid."

Watching him at the door, body at the ready, Scully spoke softly, "Things are going to be different with him, Mulder. That's part of the package." Her gaze was frank on the smooth curve of his shoulder where it gleamed in the lamplight. He nodded, though he didn't spare a glance.

"I know. I don't know how you did it on your own for this long." He bent over suddenly and snagged his shirt off of the floor, tossing it to her. "I don't know where yours went."

"Thanks," Scully echoed wryly, and set William before her on the table so that she could retrieve the fallen garment from the rungs of the chair and slip into it one-handed. In passing she noticed that this was the first time in a long time that her body had felt so loose, so gloriously used. It was nice. Switching the hand that held her son steady on the tabletop, she slipped the other arm in and settled into the white t-shirt, Mulder's familiar smell surrounding her. As his scent had slowly faded from his work shirts over the last ten months, Scully had hoarded them on the top shelf of her closet, hoping to keep them from being impregnated with the scents of her own home so that she might still have one or two to sleep with on the nights the nightmares took her. She wondered briefly what her mother would do with all those buttoned down shirts.

"Mulder, do you think William really sensed that guy coming?" Mulder looked back at her, surprised. After a moment's consideration, he returned to his deliberate perusal of the outside walkway.

"Yeah, well, something got his attention. If he does pick up on thoughts the way Gibson Praise did, he wouldn't pick up on something innocuous. That guy obviously had something planned for us."

Scully sized him up for a moment, taken aback. "Mulder, don't tell me you want to start using our son as some kind of early warning system!"

He divided his gaze again to look at her, voice grim. "I'll take whatever works, Scully. At this point we need all the help we can get. Besides," and he gestured vaguely in their direction, a small smile tugging at the corners of his mouth, "if he's going to be a member of this team, he's gotta start pulling his weight; right Slugger?"

Scully shook her head and opened one of the jars of baby food just as William threw the bottle to the floor with an unsatisfied, "Gah!"

"It's coming, sweet William, it's coming," she reassured him, one eye on the door and Mulder, who had begun to scrabble around on the floor with one hand, picking up various articles preparatory to repacking what little of their belongings they had taken out. Watching him toss a handful of laundry on the bed while he kept his gun trained on the window, it came to her mind that she desperately wanted a shower. It hadn't seemed to matter much a few hours ago, but now that it came down to a sudden flight, she realized that it had been since three o'clock the evening before the bus that she'd last been in a motel room. She could forego the shower if she needed to, unlike Will's feeding--but she longed to scrub off that sticky travel-feeling. A thought occurred to her as she shoved a plastic spoonful of carrots into William's mouth, and she looked up sharply, remembering the three dented and aging cabs outside the bus depot.

"Mulder; we can't just pick up in the middle of the night and start hiking down the boulevard. No town this size has a 24 hour taxi service."

Mulder's eyes met hers, surprised. Then realization crossed them, and he cursed.

"Damn. What time do you think they start moving again?"

"I doubt we'll get anybody before five." She looked uneasily at the connecting door, wondering who might be in there, listening. She had locked it, hadn't she? Mind scrabbling for pebbles of surety in the stress of the moment, she couldn't remember, and she couldn't tell here in the dimness. --I must have-- she reassured herself grimly. Absently, she spooned the last lump of baby-sized soft carrots into her son's waiting maw and started in on the second jar. --Thank God 'Chewables' are portable-- she thought, listening to her own stomach rumbling. She and Mulder could pick something up on the way out of town.

Mulder was had divided his attention again, and was watching the two of them with a look of interest as she finished the second jar. She raised her eyebrow questioningly, and his smile turned sardonic with knowing.

"Go hop in the shower, Scully. Will and I'll do the guy thing and watch out till you get done."

--How in the hell does he do that?-- Scully wondered as she picked up their son and redeposited him on the bed. "William could use a shower too, couldn't you, Sweetie?"

"He's a boy; he's supposed to get dirty. Let him catch the next one; we need to get out of here ASAP."

Scully bent to rummage in her overnight for a change, then started toward the bathroom. There wasn't a lot of time to waste; if someone were to come back while she was in the shower, Mulder would have to hold them off and protect the baby all on his own. Looking doubtfully from father to son, she debated strapping the child back into his carrier where he would be out of plain view and could be moved in a hurry.

"Don't worry, Scully," Mulder said in the coy wheedling tone he only used when he was amused by her actions. "I can handle him for ten minutes. If I know you, that shower's the only thing you can think about right now."

She threw him a dirty look, but he was already peering back out the window again, half an eye spared for their son. "Are you sure, Mulder?" she asked quietly.

"Nine minutes, Agent Scully."

She hurried into the bathroom, unable to tame the smile that curved her own lips. Despite the constancy of that fear, now gratefully halved by support, and despite all the unalterable changes, it was good to be back.


(Amor Fati, pt.30: "On The Move")

Prince William's Court Day Hostel and Stopping Inn Vancouver, British Colombia, Canada May 2, 2002
10:13am

Mulder was haggling with the tall, skinny guy behind the counter, trying to bring him down a little from his sky-high price for the 'stopping in' option. They didn't want to take out a lease anywhere since there was no telling how long they could stay in any one location, but they didn't need to be paying the ridiculous rates most motels and hotels would ask for longer than a week. Things were cheaper in Canada, but not that much cheaper.

They had found this 'Stopping Inn' quite by accident, having decided on the spur of the moment to use the last of their precious ID's to cross from Washington to Vancouver, Canada. They might be a little farther away from the action for a bit, but at the moment that was probably a good thing. Besides, in these days of the 'global village' there was nothing that couldn't be monitored as long as one had access to a modem. They needed to lie low for a bit, but that didn't mean they had to be out of the loop.

They had had to make up new ID's, though, before they left Washington state. Mulder had apparently learned the ropes while watching the Gunmen and had put the new skill to use several times in the last ten-plus months. The Internet cafe where he had hacked them had been deserted at three o'clock in the afternoon; she had been entranced watching him bent over the keyboard, once again the fanboy techno-geek who hung around with permanent adolescents like the Lone Gunmen. Arms crossed and leaning back against the late spring warmth of the sunlit window, she had eyed him critically while she contemplated the things that changed, and the things that remained the same.

There was no bar to them showing the signs of affection in public anymore, especially as the assumption would be that they were a couple with William as evidence--but it just wasn't them. Even were they in the habit of doing so after all the years of being circumspect to the point of well-deserved paranoia, the reserve was a part of their unspoken rapport. They had suppressed their emotions due to the nature of their work, and their relationship had suffered for years in consequence...until the silent understanding that they shared had won out over stubborn withdrawal. She was uncomfortably aware that the casual touching that they had engaged in during the early days of their association had become taboo that last year, overcorrected in the strain of discretion, and she found herself wanting to go back to the ease of their former relations. The touching of the past had not been entirely innocent, but the restraint had been less pronounced before the unsaid had been said, the easy camaraderie torn between the frictions of unwilling but inexorable pull and belatedly guarded distance. Idly she had wondered just how many of their former colleagues believed that they had been sleeping together since day one. The popularity of that betting pool that had flourished down at headquarters during her pregnancy, the sheer enthusiasm of the speculation was evidence enough that most assumed as much--though a surprising number had apparently believed that William was Skinner's...or Doggett's for that matter, with only a small minority putting in for an unknown.

Part of the problem, she knew, was that even very close work partners did not generally touch each other in the intimate and tender way that she and Mulder had always done from the beginning...but everyone had gotten so used to seeing it that she wondered sometimes if it was the sudden cessation of touch that had lent credence to the rumours. God knew she and Mulder were bad actors, both of them. Just because with the aid of a little wilful ignorance on their parts they had managed to lie to themselves and to each other for six and a half years, didn't mean they had been fooling anybody else.

Scully had sat watching Mulder fake them new identities, wondering what he had been doing while learning the skills of the hacker during his hiatus from their lives. There was something he knew that he wasn't telling her...but that wasn't anything new, and she felt confident that she could get whatever it was out of him when the time came. In the meantime she was determined simply to enjoy the few moments of relative peace that life threw their way on this cross-country dash. She had brushed his hair with her fingers, half-rough, half-caress, and he had lifted his head from the monitor to gaze at her knowingly, unfocused eyes coming back to the present. "You need a haircut, Mulder," she had said dismissively, covering, and watched him grin with unrepentant mischief and an upraised eyebrow before he had returned to the task at hand.

Now standing to one side of the lobby with Will and the bags, Scully covertly observed Mulder with the same contented fascination. The return of healing Oneness still new, it was good just to be in the same room, to watch him move with his unconscious grace, to listen to his peculiar and intelligent conversation and to know it as completely familiar...and comforting to know that she could touch him and find him really there. There was no need to prove it to herself until the nights, when she remembered the anxiousness of those twenty-two months of abduction and the separation--it was then that she needed desperately to feel the bones under his skin, to burrow into him and know that he was real; to take into her own being the pent-up passion of him always there like a faint hum in the room, just below hearing. His presence was like a stimulant, keeping her mind alert and striving to meet his with each word, even the most careless comment reverberating with meaning. There was nothing wasted about Fox Mulder.

Watching him, Scully suddenly and for no particular reason remembered Jack Willis. She hadn't realized it when she was filling Mulder in on her affair with her former instructor all those years ago, but it was apparent that she had a strange attraction to 'intense, relentlessly determined men who couldn't relax'. She wondered if it was their minds, their intensity, or a combination of both that drew her. With Mulder she knew it was both. His beautiful, unique mind had always fascinated her; it worked so differently than her own.

"That's it," Mulder said with faux peppiness from the air above her left shoulder. Scully gasped and jumped, jolted out of her reverie.

"Jesus, Mulder."

"Sorry." He didn't look the least bit repentant. "Lets go see this overly expensive studio we just rented." He tugged on Will's waving hand absently, muttering to himself. "I told the guy we didn't want to buy the thing, but he would only come down twenty. This would have been a lot easier if we could've just stayed at your place." He grinned. "I was just getting used to it there."

As they started up the stairs, Scully contemplated telling him what They had done to her place, why it could never be safe, probably hadn't been for years. It might not be important anymore if they ended up never going back to DC, but he needed to know which details those peeping tom bastards might have picked up from them over the last God knew how many years. "They were watching us, Mulder. My place is wired from here to kingdom come, and probably yours too."

He turned to her in surprise. "We checked for that, Scully. Every other week since we found that pen and the bug in my apartment when we went to go look for that EBE the first time. I saw you do the same sweeps I did. We did them together. The office, both our places..."

"I don't know how They were doing it, but I heard enough to know They were doing it, Mulder." Outrage suddenly coloured her voice again, remembering, and her clear eyes flashed. "They were watching the first night. The night after I...asked you to stay. The guy who chased you through the quarry ...Mulder, he knew everything."

They had stopped on the stairs at this point. She watched the expressions cross his face as he assimilated her revelation: annoyance, shock, chagrin, and finally a resigned cynicism. "Well, I hope I looked good on tape, then," he joked weakly. "I hate to think my performance that night or any other night might be broadcast on cable someday."

"I don't think its funny, Mulder," Scully snapped angrily. He put a conciliatory hand on her arm, eyes intent on hers.

"How do you know he wasn't just blowing smoke up your ass, Scully? They're pretty good at keeping us off-balance with little hints like this; and let's face it--it didn't take a major surveillance to know that things had changed between us. He might just have taken a potshot and got you to confirm."

The tension sang in her voice like a wire. "He knew things, Mulder. Too many things. And there was another couple...that worked for him. The guy said he was NSA, but they knew too much; and his wife said her baby was...like William. He said they used...'various forms of technology'; things we wouldn't know how to look for." She shuddered. "When I went to meet that replicant, whatever he was, he said he was just as surprised as I was. I could tell by the way he talked about it that he saw everything." It more than rankled that the voyeuristic bastard didn't even have the decency to stop watching once he saw what was happening. Was there not a moment of privacy left in their lives, not one event precious enough to warrant at least a polite turning away of the eyes?

Mulder was looking at her consideringly, obviously diverted. "Were you surprised?" he asked unexpectedly, and he wasn't talking about discovering the surveillance. "I mean, I know I was, after everything; but I wasn't the one who started it, remember?"

She favoured him with a candid look. "After all those years, yes; I was surprised. I thought it was well past the time anything would happen if it was going to." Trying to turn him off this line of inquiry, she slid a dig in edgewise. "I guess my only excuse was that I wasn't myself that night."

Mulder was grinning openly at her discomfiture, unable to resist gently razzing her for the confusion she had put them both through after the fact. "Well, Scully, for a person who was surprised, you sure handled it well. You seemed to have it all figured out by the morning after."

"It was all a front, Mulder," she said, and quickly changed the subject. "Look, the point is that we can't be sure they won't pick us up again any time we sit still for too long. We have to start trying to remember everything we might have said in our apartments, the office, just about anywhere but out in the open that might have given Them the opportunity to get a step ahead of us."

Shaking his head, Mulder resumed the ascent, absently tugging the suitcases up the to the next landing. "That would be just about anything, Scully. We thought we had the surveillance thing covered. Jesus, doesn't this dive have an elevator?" She followed him with the baby and the overnights, stopping to rest beside him on the last landing before they made the final leg of the journey. Mulder turned to her, eyes arrowing directly into her own. "We'll just have to hope we've thrown Them with no e-mails to track, and assume that wherever we are, They're probably already aware of us." She shivered. The intensity in his eyes always took her off guard, and the subject matter wasn't the most relaxing, either.

As they finished their breather and returned to the ascent, Scully wondered just how much They actually knew. Mulder had a good point. Until the 'big brother' technology hit its peak, their periodic 'sweeps' of the apartments and other haunts probably kept the scrutiny down to short segments. It was a moot point when They might have made the jump to continuous, uninterrupted surveillance, though; she knew for sure a point when They had been, and she could safely assume that Their technology was far enough in advance of public knowledge to have been at it for at least a year before then, if not more. xxx

In the early days though the potential hidden behind their coy flirting had caused prickling butterflies and a vague sense of danger held discreetly in check, that had faded by the time Mulder's unexpected gentleness and regard had surprised her with its depth when her father died. By the they had gone after the EBE they had come very close to being partners in the true sense of the word, and during second time they had gone after Eugene Tooms they had found it safe to admit to their attraction because they had moved on to that comfortable respect, their 'relationship of equals'--where they had remained through all the changes until...

Well, for her it had been when she had seen him talking closely with Diana Fowley, the woman she had learned was once Mulder's lover. As the sight had stunned her she had examined the hurt and the insecurity it had caused...and had to admit to herself that it had been more than curiosity, more even than a proprietary concern for her partner's safety that had caused her to do a little bit of extra research on the woman. Had been forced to admit, finally, that it was more even than sheer enraged jealousy, though she had definitely felt the green-eyed monster rear his ugly head. She'd had to admit to herself once and for all that she loved him...and there wasn't a damned thing she could do about it unless she wanted to alter their relationship for good. And that was a thing she feared more than anything else because she had gone down that road before, and had sworn to herself that it would never happen again...and because she knew on some level that Mulder's regard for her was more than that of a dear friend. For all that he had still been a jerk in the first couple of years of their partnership, there had been that side of him only she had been permitted to see, the part that was tender and caring; the inner life of a very private person. The confidence had resonated with her because she herself was a very private person, and so she had begun to let him into her own private self, albeit unconsciously. To the rest of their world he was a cardboard cut-out; Spooky Mulder, the butt of jokes, or a desperate, dangerous man to be watched. To her he was a man of fascinating passion and stunning contradictions. Self-involved and yet self-denigrating, wholly absorbed in his Crusade, and yet in a moment of silence the most endearing, supportive, and understanding of friends. This slightly goofy, awesomely driven, wounded and oddly caring man that she knew so well and yet not at all, his gentleness and regard as she had seen it in the beginning had bloomed during his disillusion after the hoax and her cancer. It had hurt to see that idealism she had so admired in him turn to the jaded cynicism she saw so often in him now...but yet in that year they had learned to count on one another in ways that no work partners had ever done. Even when all their hard-won and fast-held truths had failed and life itself began to falter, they had had the Truth of what lay between them, their one constant in a universe of fear and chaos where no rules applied but the loyalties of the heart. It had been a revelation to her too.

Bound tighter together than they had ever been before and becoming one as their respect for each other grew and their views began slowly to merge in the centre of the spectrum of their disparate beliefs, their newfound loyalty had given Mulder's gentleness and regard a new aspect of maturity as he comforted and stood by her during her cancer...and Emily. It was then that she realized how much she depended on him; for though she could take care of herself, she could no longer hide in the belief that she was sufficient unto herself without any other human being to depend on. Always she had kept others at arm's length, until him. No one had managed to nudge in under her firm wall before Mulder had entered her life with his quiet charm and understated complexity and caring. She still wasn't sure how he had done it, for he had had his own walls, and she knew that he had not been trying to breach hers; for he respected the privacy of the mind in an unlikely kindred soul.

Confronted by the choices and fears of her own heart in the wake of Diana Fowley, Scully told herself that it was for the better, that it was none of her business...but that hadn't stopped her from calling him away, back to his proper hearth and the life they had made together. She had felt guilty about that for years until she had finally confessed it to him one night after they had come together in that last year--and he had been amused, of all things!

All this had been in the back of her mind when she had tried to leave during their official censure and separation after the fiasco with the bomb in Dallas. Though it had hurt more than she had ever believed it could to tear herself away, though it had caused her indecision the likes of which she had never before felt and though she tried to convince herself that she was only trying to remove the obstacle of herself from his path, she had been unable to crush that cruel and awful voice within labelling her deserter. Yet still she had resolved to go through with her decision, all the while knowing in the depths of her heart that far from aiding him by removing the stifling weight of her presence, she was running away from her own feelings and fears, running from what she and Mulder could become...and in the process divesting him of his only champion and support, a collaboration that far from holding him back had helped him to move forward in ways he might never have done alone and strengthened him when all passion had failed. It had been a painful release of that self-accusation for her to hear him say that he needed her as well, for deep down she had still felt that she was a burden to him. That he said she was more important to him in that moment than his life's work had been a far more than a shock...and God knows what would have happened between them that night had not that damned bee stung her. She had spent the next year ferociously back-pedalling...but each time she looked into his eyes the moment had been there staring her in the face, looking into the cowardly places in her soul and knowing. Much as she tried to deny it, they both knew what had passed between them in his hall that night. Mulder might allow her ignore it, but he let her know with small hints every day that he had not forgotten.

It was shortly after the events in that hangar had ended the Elders' domination of the Syndicate that she had finally gotten up the guts to ask him to be the father of her child, suddenly aware of her own mortality in the midst of that horror. She had framed it as a choice--she could always use an anonymous donor...but she wanted him whom she trusted and admired as she did no other. And to her shock he had agreed to help her achieve that goal she had never known she had until she had met her daughter. That gentleness and regard had surfaced again, each time closer and closer to the surface as he stood by her once more while she prepared for the IVF attempts, a tower of strength and emotional support as she had spent the several months readying her mind and body for this test...and then he had taken sick with that undiagnosable brain disease, and she had dropped everything to run to West Africa where the ship lay with his cure in its sleeping bosom, unable to avoid finally the Truth lying there, but overlooking it in her quest to see him whole and at her side once again. For all that she could not bear to lose him, still she could not bear to face the changes that were necessary as the years altered the subtle balances of relationship and personality. She knew him to be her constant in this life by that time, but despite such admissions she had thought that they had moved past that dangerous and pivotal moment...until he had kissed her as the ball dropped in the New Year...and the world hadn't ended. It was a revelation for her, another subtle shift in her view of him and them, of how she saw him...a realignment of what they meant. All that lay behind and between them as the months had gone by, as the first in vitro attempt had failed, as his mother died and as approaching mortality had forever changed him from within. Something could have happened any of these times, but it had been one night hideously alone after she had had to choose, finally, give up on her chance for a child that she had called him over; her best and deepest friend, her confidante, the other half of her soul, needing to share her pain. She had turned to him in the haze of that pain, wanting only a carnal forgetfulness in the familiar arms of one she trusted more than she trusted herself; a comfort that she would never lose...

Her body's response to his hesitant, tender lovemaking that first night had surprised her, and meeting his gaze for the first time in months she had seen what it had meant to him. Looking at her with his soul shining out of his eyes he had forced her to remember what lay between them that made this more than just a response to a deep need to feel alive, and the intensity of that question had driven her back into retreat once again as the unforgiving light of day had cast its candid demand upon the previous night's indiscretions. She had asked him for time, appealing to his link with her to give her that space to align and to decide what was to be and what she must change, for the shifts that must take place to do their work within her soul.

The next few months she had gone back to the old ways with him, though the question had always been there in his gaze. He would wait patiently for her answer...but he would not forget. For all that there had been surprisingly little strain, though it seemed he had taken great delight in teasing her with small reminders of what had taken place; in his easy mimicry of her usual question --'Mulder, why are we here?'-- and in the blatant challenge as he had made sure she noticed his eyes following 'Jade Blue Afterglow' out of that police station in California.

She could feel him close by and waiting...always waiting, for the time when she would choose. He had been waiting for her to make a decision for so long that it seemed that but for the small reminders he threw her way occasionally he might have begun to forget that there was yet a decision to be made. But deciding not to decide was a decision in itself, and perhaps he had sensed that. And it had hurt him...God knows she had never wanted to do that. To wound him in that deep place that he had exposed to only her in their years together, baring his heart and his soul to she whom he trusted, though he knew that she had been unable yet to give that back to him...a terrible risk for a man who already hurt so deeply, and a little boy who wept each night inside. But he had never forgotten completely, and terrified of her own responsibility in the matter she had she had fended off his little reminders with the comforting familiarity of their established banter until her confrontation with the Smoking Man and a visitation from her past had challenged her to face that hanging question and to decide, once and for all, what she really wanted. To accept the fate that had led them to each other, and with it to accept all the implications and the risks in order to follow her own heart. To live and to risk the pain of communion in order face the tests of life and to grow...or to shrink and forget all that they were for the sake of maintaining the unchanging, static demons she knew. It had been the ultimate test of her faith, both in herself and in the strength of that indefinable thing that she and Mulder shared, but in that night, awake in the darkness and silence of Mulder's couch in the spartan living room she knew so well she had reflected, and knew finally that there was nothing to fear there--knew that nothing that would ever shake the unassailable foundations of that bond. Knew with a certainty that took her breath and left her speechless with surety what she needed and wanted, what she must seize with both hands--and that to do so was not to relinquish her power but to claim it, for once and all.

So decided she had risen to go to him in the deepest part of the night, moving before the strength to follow the certainties of her heart faltered before the insecure counsels of her thinking mind. She had stood for a time in his room unobserved as the shadows moved slowly across the walls, knowing that to disturb his sleep was to take that final irrevocable step...and that to use his rest as an excuse to turn away was to close the door and to put the padlock on faith and heart forever.

He had rescued her from that horrible moment then, awakening as if pulled from the depths of slumber to meet the questing tendrils of her thought, and his eyes had looked upon her with solicitous concern.

"What is it, Scully?"

"I...just wanted to be close," she had said, and watched the shape of his eyes change as he consciously avoided any assumptions and lifted the blanket in invitation.

Turned inward and fitted together like pieces of a puzzle that had sought completion for so long that it remained unrecognised in its final moments and awaiting only a single magic word to bring it together; an admission, a sign... Mulder had brushed her hair gently off of her cheek with one hand, the movement of his arm and the slight shifting of his head against hers asking the question that she had come to him to answer if she dared. She had turned her head to meet his then, silent as she asked that he accede without the need for words or explanations, hoping that their conversation the previous evening would show him that she did not make this move without due process. She felt rather than saw him hesitate, wanting to know for sure that she was here for better and for worse, and not only for a night...for now that he was able he would give his All, he would not risk his heart again for a one night stand. What he wanted was all or nothing; and what she was daring was to give it to him, and to herself. A moment passed in fierce and silent communion as she, finally and for the first time in months bravely raised her eyes to meet his, to meet the gentle veil that he had spread over his emotions; to push that veil aside and face the need there, and the longing. The longing to be whole.

He had avoided this issue as much as she and for as long, until healed of Samantha and the long search that had consumed him he could give the All of himself to her without reservation, could release that pain that he had hoarded so close to his soul for so long that it had become a part of him. No longer did he have any reason to push emotional attachments away or to keep her and them at arm's length, to ignore what it was that had grown up between them. He no longer feared to lose the significant person in his life...for he had learned that he had never lost those people and he never would. He could treasure her without wrapping himself in that fear that had kept him alone and lonely for so long that he had known no other way to live until she had come into his life and slowly wormed her way into his heart and soul without trying. Healed, he was finally able to open his emotional self to her and to them where before he had been closed as a defense against the fearful world in which they dwelt...and that she understood as no one else had, for she had done the same in her own life, and for her own reasons. Never before had they imposed upon one another's private lives until recently...until he was free to let her importance to him override that of the x-files, and the Fight. For the Fight had been what he had needed, and lost, though his sister in whatever form had been found...but what he had won had repaid him for his long vigilance. Scully and her unconditional love, the complete acceptance that they had for one another and the respect, the fulfillment of that bond was what he had gained, what they had both gained; unexpected and yet more precious than any hollow victory that they might have won or any small proof they might have garnered in nearly eight years of fighting for the Truth. And now that promise must be embraced...if she could but join him there.

And now that he could and had opened up enough to let Scully in all the way he wanted more...and she had not been ready and retreated in sudden fear at the change in the status quo. After that first night she asked him wordlessly for the time to adjust; to catch up to him. And he had given her that time, as generous with her feelings and as solicitous of her needs as ever he was, a consideration he made for no other; for no other had demanded nor gained the respect from him that she had. And so now as she lay in his arms and bravely faced the thing she feared most in this life; to let someone in, all the way, she saw the veils slowly part before her gaze to reveal the Mulder that only she knew...the tender, sensitive Mulder that she loved--yes, loved--as deeply as she had ever loved science or family or home or any other high ideal, but in an intense way that had no comparison or definition...and in those eyes she saw him still waiting. Waiting for her to make the first move, take that first irrevocable step...before he would move himself to take from her what he wanted and to give it back with the fullness of the love they shared, unspoken but as true as any other of the thousand Truths they had searched out over the years since they had first met.

Closing her eyes for a moment as if to steel herself, Scully had opened them finally to meet his gaze with determination, leaning her head in against his forehead once in silent embrace before she turned her head to meet his mouth with her own. She had chosen. She could and would do this; now. xxx

And so she had given him her answer, finally and irrevocably committing herself to the thing that they had become together--and in accepting it he had been gracious in his utter lack of gloating as her body responded to his, moving with her in the silent ballet as it began; slowly, sure and yet unsure, and conscious for the first time now that no haze of pain obscured her thoughts and allowed her to act without feeling. He looked at her knowingly and suddenly she could do nothing but lie still as he took his gentle revenge on her body.

But that was not what he wanted from her. It would be together, or it would not be at all; and in letting him take the lead she was not facing her struggle. There were tears in her eyes as she finally came face to face with her fear, and he stopped to rise over her on one elbow, his face a study in understanding. Sometimes she felt that he understood her better than she understood herself, but now the tenderness in his voice as he spoke nearly undid her completely, striking as it did into the heart of that terror that she held tight to deep within.

"Let it go, Scully", he had whispered to her, silently caressing her cheek with one finger. A smile of devilish encouragement crossed his face as he lightened the moment as he did so well. "Just here, right now; with me. I won't tell anybody."

The tears welled up, highlighting the vulnerability she had avoided for so long. "I can't," she had answered him painfully, eyes closed while the tears rolled unnoticed down her face. "You have to help me." And as his fingers slid beneath her jaw and forced her to look up she opened her eyes again...and saw the understanding in his face, in his eyes that made her close her own again in disappointment at her handicap of fear. In all the times before, with every other lover... It had always been someone in a position of authority, someone who had power over her; a professor, an instructor. Never before had Never before had she allowed herself the luxury, the power and the self-determination to be with a partner, an equal. Always she had let another take control of this part of her life, and that had been the only way she had been able to let go--she had never been able to give up that control without relinquishing it fully into the control of another, and losing a part of herself in the process. Now Mulder was asking her to take back that control, to take the reins in her own right, and she was terrified to be responsible for her own wants and needs. Mulder wanted it to be together, and she had no idea what to do with that. But it was the secret that she had sought and never found, until she had been so burned in the seeking that she had sought no further, and closed herself down to all possibilities worth searching. Until him. Until Mulder, who...who would not let her run away. Who spoke now demanding only that she did not retreat from her own power and what they could make.

"No," he said to her, and would not let her turn away. Would not let her escape his gaze...and his need to have her there with him, fully and completely. And looking deep into her eyes and delving into her soul...so knowingly, he had murmured, "Scully, this time it's your turn."

She knew what he was saying. She had to open herself to him, give it all up. Ego, shield, mask and shell...not to relinquish that control to him as she had done before with other lovers, and not to keep it wholly unto herself. She had to share it. That was the secret...and she did not know how. Mulder had tried to show her the way by giving; by sharing his All with her in that fateful encounter; not demanding but simply holding out his gift and expecting only that she do the same. Now, in this meeting gentle loverly encouragement shone out of his eyes, full of confidence as always that she had the strength and the wherewithal to follow where he led or to carve her own path through the tangled jungles of Fate, destiny, emotion and fear to meet him where they both needed to go to find the Truth.

So finally she had taken responsibility for her half of the work; as she had always done, would always do. Rising to meet him halfway she slid her hand to rest it on the small of his back and joined him in the rhythm of life. It was as if the floodgates had opened, all that she had held back for years...and suddenly it was that easy. It hadn't taken long. As the final moment of triumph had taken them both and made them One she had opened her eyes and her self to him, and watched him as he came to her, in possession finally of his secrets and of her own. The tenderness and the triumph she read there in his eyes had taken her breath, for tears escaped his eyes as the exquisite pain of need slowly and suddenly unclenched itself until all his emotions were finally subsumed in the same kind of release as he had given her--for he too in that night had let go of all the barriers and released the floodgates, giving his All to her. All that she...all that they both had held back for years finally coming to fruition; the true meaning of consummation. It was there now, unabashed and unashamed, and no longer ever to be denied. He belonged to her, and she to him; never more than in this moment.

She had never come with any of her lovers before. The physical release had been as massive as the psychological one, something that they had both needed to move on, to grow; she could tell that it had been momentous for him as well. Crying out to him now as her own triumph had met his, the moment and the incontrovertible fact of that release had made them One, without reservation.

He had held her after, forehead against hers. She had never felt so relaxed after sex before in her life; as if an enormous weight had been lifted from her that was more than simply the relaxation of a long self-imposed celibacy. She did not know how to live anymore in this new flesh...but at that particular moment she did not care. Wanting to see him she had pulled back to look down upon him with a diagnostician's eye. He lay against her as if asleep in the moment between the timelessness they had forged together and the insistent re-starting of the clock that heralded consciousness...the moment that the philosophers had called 'the little death'. It had been good for him too. He looked, for once, calm, at peace with himself and the situation...and without that constant air of hunger that he had always betrayed in her presence and outside of it...that need to find something that made him, a hollow man, whole. He had struck out like a wounded animal in the times that he thought he might lose that, lose her...and then he had tasted the edges of that wholeness for a minute with her that first night so many months ago, and had been fighting to keep it ever since, however patiently. And she realized, looking at him now curled trustingly against her, looking healed and so much younger with the cares of their lives washed away for a time suspended, that he must have made love to her in his head a thousand times since that first night.

Before then, neither of them had dared such trespass, had in fact turned it away before it could bloom. He had felt that it would in fact be some sort of betrayal of their partnership, their friendship to think of her in that way behind her back...but after their encounter in February he could do so without that sense of the overstepping of their unspoken boundaries. She could not lie and say she had not thought of him as well, for though she had not been able to admit it she had been unable to stop herself wanting that wholeness that only he could give her as only she could give it to him; for as she was his human credential, he was her strength to continue believing. It was for that reason that the tenderness in his lovemaking in that time and this had almost destroyed her; but even amidst the tumult of her emotions she had rejoiced in the fact that

Mulder had allowed her to finally give up her iron control, that event horizon that had so frightened her at first, the reason she had been unable to give into this thing that lay between them for so long. She had feared, oh, she had feared losing that control. But now... After this night it had been easier and easier for her to let go of that control; to leave it behind as unnecessary in her new life...and the letting go was better than she had ever let herself hope it would be in a lifetime of unacknowledged need.

Mulder's eyes had opened, and he'd smiled at her and stretched. Grinned. The male smugness hidden behind that grin should have galled her as it had with other men, The male smugness hidden behind that grin should have galled her as it had with other men, but for some reason this time it did not; perhaps because the smugness this time did not follow a conquest, but simply marked a moment of unexpected personal revelation. There was triumph in his voice and mien to accent the love that had always been there, but she knew that he did not feel smug at possessing her, for he had no wish to possess her anymore than she wished to possess him. He simply wanted her, wanted to be whole, and gave himself to her in return. And because of this she had been able to give herself up to what they were together in that moment; a contract and a vow. No more hiding, no more retreating, and no more pretending. She was not halving nor diminishing herself in that giving, for she had become more than she had been, greater than she was. Her boundaries had been extended to include this other part of herself, this greater whole. An amalgamation; and for the first time in her life she was replete.

"Get over here, Scully," Mulder murmured with a smile in his voice, and pulled her in again as she willingly came to cuddle with him, feeling suddenly free to show any part of herself tonight, to him. Mulder had lowered his forehead to hers. "Was that so bad?" he'd asked, and kissed her teasingly; a kiss that had altered abruptly from tantalizing to passionate. As he had gone back to his work she had not answered in words.

In the dark of predawn she had left him sleeping, sprawled across the bed in an extravagant display of exhausted fulfillment, noting with pleasure as she dressed and walked to the door how loose she felt. It had been a very long time for her; a long time since her body had felt so gloriously used. At the door to his room she had paused and looked on him, feeling an absurd peace in the moment and hoping that he would not think she was regretting or retreating after what they had shared--and wondering what this would mean to their daily lives together, their professional relationship. She had no fears about the personal. That had always been alright, could never be wrong again. She could never regret what had happened, for if she had she would never have been able to meet his eyes again. She was too honest a person for that kind of evasion--and she was done with hiding herself from him. But though Mulder had wakened in that night to find her gone, he had not been afraid. He knew her, and he knew she needed to process...and like him, she processed better alone. She would shower, dress, and meet him at work...on neutral ground.

When he had gotten to work she had been there, waiting. As he nudged open the unlocked door he had found her sitting at his desk with her legs crossed and propped on its overloaded and perpetually messy surface. He was not surprised, but he was a little uncertain. Stopping in the doorway he had smiled, then shut the door and moved across the small room to hand her the second Styrofoam cup of coffee he held. He knew she would be there early. She always had liked getting the jump on him. In the early years of their working relationship she had begun a subtle competition, arriving sometimes before even his eager appearance to keep him on his toes. This morning she had taken the steaming cup and looked up at him, the faintest hint of a smile on her lips as she waited for him to make the first move; even as she had done with him the night before. He had nodded warily, acknowledging that they needed to re-establish their working relationship. What indeed would they do with that?

"Good morning," he had said finally, grinning cockily to hide his unsure stance, and sat down in the chair she normally occupied on the far side of his desk. She apparently intended on coming out on top today...an arrangement to which he was perfectly amenable. She had been on his ground last night. Today she wanted to set the rules.

"Good morning," she had answered him softly, neutrally...but her voice was warm and there was a smile in her eyes that was for him only...and there was no hint of avoidance in her steady gaze. There was, however, a challenge. What, her eyes asked him, would he choose to do? Would they push this under the rug, or rather under a shuffling of files and throat clearing silence or changes of subject as they had done in their first encounter? Mulder had smiled and shook his head no. This was for keeps, for both of them, though they could not discuss it here.

They had managed to work it out, and even their banter had survived unscathed. She doubted that anyone had suspected anything, save perhaps Skinner...but very little of their interaction had changed at all. Even the strained silences that had existed since their encounter a few months ago had melted in the steady warm regard of their new understanding; replaced with a comfortable new ease that seemed to permeate all their dealings with each other. Respecting in each of them the need to have some time alone they had worked out a way to spend a few nights a week together having dinner, a couple of quiet drinks, the occasional interlude--save of course when they were in the field, where by unspoken agreement they had abided by the rules of professional conduct for which they had long since lost any credence. No need to give the ones they fought any further leverage...but with the lifelong search for Samantha ended and the Conspiracy in limbo, their thoughts had turned to other considerations.

Standing now inside the echoingly empty dining room of their newest temporary abode with its sparse furnishings and bare wood floors, stark and unadorned white walls, and palely curtained windows, Scully thought back to what that night had meant, so long ago. They complemented each other...without any need for words, for definitions. To forge that kind of bond with somebody, and then to lose it...to be finally whole, for the first time in either of their lives, to be complete and to be completely One, and then to be half a person again was untenable. And so after two years of pain and torment beyond exile and death they had returned to each other, made whole moreover by the living evidence of their union that travelled with them; a tiny spark of life, yet mighty. They were One, more now than ever before. And they were a force of nature and of human evolution. A step forward...and they would never be beaten. For they had found the Secret, and the Truth. And the Truth was that Love was stronger than all things that moved upon the Earth or travelled the stars, and stronger than any fear.

Still, knowing what they faced, she couldn't help but wonder what life held for them now that nothing and everything had changed.


(Amor Fati, pt.31: "At Ruhe")

Prince William's Court Day Hostel and Stopping Inn Vancouver, British Colombia, Canada May 2, 2002
10:35am

"I still think your sense of humour is off, Mulder," Scully commented, glancing around the echoingly empty studio. "I know its good cover to be 'married', and we've done it before; but why in God's name did you have to choose the names you did?" She glanced over her shoulder at him then, a little quizzically. "'Petrie' was out; we'd used it in a case, but 'Lesky'?"

"It was convenient," he grunted as he set down the suitcases next to her load. "I doubt any of those guys read Jose Chung."

Scully half-smiled to herself, pushing her hair out of her face as she surveyed the bare quarters with vague approval. Nothing hiding in the corners; there weren't enough corners. "Very twenty-first century of 'Rey' to take 'Dara's' name, though. I'll admit I liked that touch, Mulder."

"Yeah, well, it's a whole new world out there Scully. Besides," and as he bent over the suitcases he made no effort to hide the mischief in his grin, "we all know who wears the pants in this family." He ducked as she made a sudden feint at his head, then reached out shift Will's carrier nearer to the suitcases prior to standing and coming to her side. "'Reynard' is good for Canada; they'll think I'm French."

"I hate to burst your bubble, Mulder, but no one would ever believe that you're French," she interrupted dryly. He ignored her to continue.

"And 'Dara's' close enough that if I ever slip we could just pass it off."

"Mulder, you've called me by my first name exactly seven times; and three of those were back when we were still getting to know each other. I don't think we're in much danger there."

"Well, we can't go around calling each other 'Mulder' and 'Scully' outside this place; we're going to have to get used to using 'Rey' and 'Dara'." He had known better than to put 'Diana Lesky' on her ID. Mulder didn't usually go out of his way to be tactful, but by unspoken consent he knew better than to mention the name Diana too often, and discretion was the better part of valour when it came to keeping the peace.

"I was thinking of something while we were in Washington the other day," he commented offhandedly after a moment. "If we're gonna pull this off and we don't want to be stuck wearing gloves for the rest of the summer, we'd better start doing more than just using the names. We managed it in that San Diego case, and we can afford even less to blow our cover this time around."

"What are you talking about, Mulder?" she asked, well used to the task of rounding his tangential thought processes up and forcing him to come to a point she could respond to. She'd been doing it for almost ten years; now she did it without thinking.

"We're supposed to be married, 'Dara'," he grinned, and pulled a box out of his pocket. "But don't worry; I have our solution right here. Luckily I had my parent's estates at my disposal; I want it to look authentic." He opened the box. Inside were two rings unadorned save for a single glowing ruby on each.

Staring first at the box and then at him, Scully searched vainly for some phrase that might fit the occasion; maybe 'Oh Holy God' might do. --He could have warned me instead of springing it on me like this-- she groused to herself. She was not expecting this, had forgotten that there were roles that went with the ID's.

"They were my parents'," he said quietly, following her gaze into the box. "I kept them because I couldn't see hocking them last year. They'll do the job, though." His tone betrayed a slight edge inaudible to anyone who did not know him well, she put a hand to his arm in sudden sympathy. His parents may have been separated for more than twenty years, but they had loved each other once long ago, before Samantha was taken. Mulder's feelings had to be mixed as he decided whether to keep the symbols of their vows.

He looked up, shaking off the moment. When he spoke his voice was brisk and unnaturally light, and she resisted removing her hand from his arm until she saw the flicker of reassurance in his eyes that said he would be all right.

"Well, we've tried this once before and it didn't 'work out'; maybe it will this time," he said jauntily, and while she stared with shocked amusement at his outrageousness, he knelt, a look of mock solemnity on his face.

"Mulder..." she said faintly, unsure whether to be horrified or touched by his gauche play-acting. He grinned broadly at her from the vicinity of her navel, daring her with his eyes to say anything as he spoke in a voice that hovered between his usual sardonic glee and outright laughter; but there was an undercurrent of tenderness beneath the words indicating that though he was acknowledging the awkwardness of the situation, neither did he take their feelings lightly.

"'Dara Lesky of the Annapolis Lesky's; won't you marry me?"

Scully shook her head, unable to decide whether to be amused or annoyed. She settled on amused.

"I truly don't know what to say, Mulder," she began.

"Call me Rey," he answered jauntily. She resisted the urge to slap him and held out her left hand, eyebrow cocked and in full possession of her skepticism.

After slipping the ring onto the appropriate finger, Mulder held her hand for a moment, looking into her eyes. There was a moment of silent communion. He wasn't making fun of her...but the wall was a little lower than usual. This was hitting too close to home in the area of the things that would probably never be. She wasn't sure if she would ever want them to, but the echoes were awkward where they struck unexpected edges of their unique situation.

Her confusion lasted exactly long enough for him to stand abruptly, raise his own eyebrow in challenge and thrust out his own hand. "Well?" he demanded...but his eyes were absolutely twinkling with glee at the uncompromising position he had put her in. What could she do? Shaking her head, she slipped his father's ring onto his finger, then waited to see what he would come up with next. One thing about Mulder; she could never say he didn't keep her on her toes.

As if he'd passed some kind of trial, Mulder put on a relieved face and heaved a dramatic sigh. "Well, that's over. Lets go get some beer and pretzels and celebrate this thing right."

"You got them sized?" She was still slightly amazed that he'd taken care of all this without letting her in on a word of it.

"Night before last; while you were passed out in the Motel 6."

She gave him a dirty look. "I was not 'passed out', Mulder. I was resting my eyes."

"Whatever. There was a place around the corner. Will and I got out and had a little 'guy-time'. I swore him to secrecy."

Scully was silent for a minute. "This is weird, Mulder," she commented finally.

"The name's Rey, Dara. Rey Lesky. Don't wear it out. And don't expect me to take out the garbage, either. And I watch all the games on Sundays." His eyes were twinkling at her, filled with playful challenge.

"I wouldn't doubt it for a minute, 'Rey'," she answered, that uninvited smile curving her lips. Then Will made an interrogatory noise from the floor, and the tableau broke as they set about releasing him from his plastic prison and putting their things away. If there was one thing that their son was good at, it was giving them excuses to studiously avoid the issue of their uncertain classification...despite the fact that he was at the heart of it.

End of Part 1 of Act II of 'Amor Fati: The Fated Love'



Later, as the evening wore on into the first night in their newest short-term abode, Scully lay back on the nest of blankets they had made on the floor of the bedroom. The bed they had dismissed outright after Mulder had nearly fallen right through the sagging centre of it. Hard and uncomfortable was less dangerous, and they had both seen worse accommodations than a hardwood floor. It had seemed the better option to snuggle up on a pallet and have done with it. She watched in amusement as Mulder changed Will's diaper a little more effortlessly than he had the first few days of their reacquaintance. He may be more familiar with the task; that didn't make her any less amused at his muttering, nor lessen her slightly disjointed feeling at seeing him perform such a task. The two had formed an instant bond, and Mulder had been working very hard in the last week to familiarize himself with Will and his needs...but he was still Fox Mulder, and he was not what would first come to mind when one was thinking of the quintessential family man.

The object of her perusal was alternately joking around with the subject of the operation and muttering imprecations to himself. She was jerked back to attention as he broke into her reverie to ask suddenly, "How old do you think he has to be before we can potty-train him?"

"You think that's bad, try doing it for a year straight," she retorted amiably, perfectly content to let Mulder wrestle with the task for a while now that he had the chance. Especially since she now knew for sure that Mulder was hiding something from her. He was manfully ignoring her enquiring silences, her long looks...and that alone deserved a little revenge. Neither of them had really need more than the unspoken to know that the other was perturbed. "Think of it as making up for lost time. They have to be past-masters at walking first, and anyway my mom told me not to hope for much until we passed the eighteen-month mark." They were still learning to live together. That might have something to do with it.

Mulder returned to their makeshift bower with his passenger and settled down on the pallet beside her. Scully leaned over to joggle Will's little arm. "What do you think, sweet William? Is Daddy doing a decent job so far?"

"Don't listen to her, Buddy; you don't have to answer that. You can plead the fifth," Mulder muttered conspiratorially; but he was grinning. "Give it up, Scully; he won't talk. Us guys gotta stick together, even when one of us really doesn't know what the heck he's doing."

"You only think you two have an understanding, Mulder," she countered. "I have more to blackmail him with. All I have to do is play the word-game with him and he'll spill his guts before you know it. He knows I'm the Mommy."

"Hey, that's not fair!" Mulder protested, shifting William in his arms as if to hold him safely away from his mother's depredations. Scully spared him a glance and returned to her gently joggling of their small son's plump little arm.

"William, can you say 'bottle'?"

"Ba!" William returned promptly.

"Looks like he knows that one pretty well," Mulder commented a little wryly. "Good job, Slugger." He raised his eyes to Scully's inquiringly. "What's next!"

Scully had been working on William's lexicon when Mulder wasn't around, still trying to get him in the habit of repeating anything she said fairly swiftly when they played this game. She was sure she would probably be sorry she had taught him to do so later, but for now, it was rather important to her. "Very good, William!" she encouraged, then directed her words to Mulder. "We work our way through his known vocabulary for a while before we move on to the new words," she informed him, eyes on their son. "Say 'Mama', William. Say 'Mama'!"

William knew this game by rote, now. "Ma!" he exclaimed, sounding quite pleased with himself.

"Good, sweet William! Good boy! Now, how about..."

"'JFK', William; can you say 'JFK'?" Mulder interjected. He sounded doubtful of the entire enterprise, and Scully threw him an annoyed look.

"'JFK' is not on his list, Mulder," she shushed him sternly.

"Well, he's gotta know some of the important words, Scully!" Mulder insisted, only half in jest. "Did you teach him 'UFO'? 'EBE'? 'Roswell'? Something?" At Scully's uninformative head shaking, Mulder subsided, muttering. "Guess what they say is right, Slugger. The education system has gone to hell." Scully ignored him, returning to the rote list.

"William, can you say 'Nana'?"

William fixed his eyes on hers for a moment, shoved his free hand into his mouth in contemplation, then surprisingly turned his head to look around the room before he returned his gaze to his mother's face. "Nana?" he said doubtfully.

"Now you're just confusing him, Scully. He knows who his Nana is, and she's not here." Scully was staring at their son in surprise.

"Well, I guess they can't say that babies are just repeating things by trial and error," she observed after a moment. "He obviously does know what 'Nana' means, anyway. And 'bottle'."

"Course he does. What's the next word? Make it something he can relate to," Mulder chided, trying to take charge, as usual. Scully gave him a dirty look and decided to shut him up by skipping the rest of the list to cut straight to the main event.

"William, that was very good. I've only got one more for you tonight." She glanced quickly up at Mulder before jiggling the small fist to catch the baby's attention once more. "Can you say 'Dada' for us, sweetheart? 'Dada'?"

She felt rather than saw Mulder freeze. All attention was focused on the baby. William looked at her consideringly for a moment, as if trying to decide whether to humour his mother on this particular occasion. After a moment's silence, Mulder turned the baby in his arms so that he could face both his parents equally. He took up the chant.

"Yeah, Slugger; can you say 'Dada'? 'Dada'? That's my title, in case you were wondering." At the sound of his father's voice, Will broke into a baby smile and rolled his head back as if trying to meet Mulder's gaze: the two of them had developed an almost instant rapport. "That's right, Will; you're looking at the right guy. 'Dada'." He raised his eyes to meet Scully's over the downy mahogany curve of the baby's head. "I don't know why I'm involved in this at all," he commented, trying to break the tension of the moment. "I mean, for all I know he might still be the pizza guy's kid; the last thing I should want is to be saddled with 'Dada'! I'm supposed to be a bachelor."

Scully raised an eyebrow at him, and Mulder subsided with alacrity, picking up quickly enough that the pizza guy thing had worn out its welcome. Turning her gaze away from Mulder's dismissively, Scully returned to her conversation with the baby. "Don't listen to him, William." She pointed at Mulder firmly. "C'mon Sweetie. Say 'Dada' for us. 'Dada'."

A look of fierce contemplation took over William's tiny features as he looked first at his mother and then his father, ducking his head as if sensing that this was somehow more important than the other words he'd said that night. He sucked meditatively on the fingers of his free hand for a minute, wrinkled his little brow...then wriggled his rear decisively in Mulder's grasp.

"DADA!" he shouted triumphantly, and promptly buried his face in Mulder's t-shirted chest. Mulder's eyes rose to meet Scully's over the baby's head. The wonder was back, all cynicism washed away.

"Oh, Mulder," she murmured, knowing and yet wondering just exactly what this meant to him. She knew what it meant to her. She waited a little breathlessly to see his response.

A sweet, reflective smile crossed Mulder's face, seemingly without his being aware of its passage. "Well, that settles that," he quipped quietly. "Guess I'm stuck with the job now; hope I don't screw it up."

A moment of awkward silence passed before Scully remembered and quickly turned William so that she could praise him properly. He needed to know that that was a good word to keep using. While she was fussing over him enthusiastically, Mulder remained reflective.

"When do you think it was?" he asked unexpectedly. "When we...when he was conceived, I mean. I never even knew the timetable."

Scully looked up from the baby to regard him with some surprise, but after a moment her features melted into that quiet look that she took on when they were discussing something close to their hearts. Before she could reply, Mulder continued, filling the silence a little apprehensively.

"I've been trying to work it out in my head; I guess I just never got around to asking you. I know that it had to be pretty close to when I was abducted, but I don't have a clue..." He met her surprised gaze again. "I guess the hotel in LA was too far back, and I know it doesn't really matter, but I still want to know for some reason."

Pulling in her stunned faculties, Scully mustered up a reply. "It never occurred to me that you'd want to know. I would have told you months ago." At his quiet penetrating gaze, she nodded and took up the narrative briskly.

"You're right; the hotel was too far back. I was about two weeks along when I got those dizzy spells in Bellefleur, so that gives me a specific week to work with." She met his gaze a little shyly. The constraint they had felt during his return had prevented them from discussing this subject before his departure, and the time that had passed since that year had put such remarkable distance between the now and those events that... Only twenty-two months. An eternity. She smiled at him. "We didn't have much time during the week in question, Mulder. I'm pretty sure it was that night I came over for dinner after work. When we watched the movie."

Mulder was grinning, suddenly. He looked a little smug.

"My place, huh?" Confronted with 'the brow' for about the fifth time that night, his grin widened irrepressibly. "Hmmmmmm. Give her a couple of beers... And Scully, as a scientist do you think there's some active ingredient in manicotti?" Scully eyed him patiently, used to the way he deflected 'moments' with banter. She didn't have any problem playing along, though.

"Mulder, scientifically one's diet has very little to do with the process unless starvation is a factor, which we both know it wasn't. Hate to tell you this, but it looks like you just got lucky."

Mulder leaned forward a little so that his face filled her field of vision. His beautiful lips were curved in a gentle smile as he reached up to cup her face gently.

"Every day," he murmured, and bent to kiss her before she had the chance to register his intent.

The kiss lasted a long moment before they broke it off to gaze into each other's eyes in perfect understanding. Mulder grinned and hefted William suddenly. "Time to go to bed, Champ," he said, heartily businesslike, and turned the baby to face his Mama. "Kiss your mother goodnight."

Scully allowed a bemused smile as she leaned forward to touch Will's forehead gently with her own in the formal family greeting. "Goodnight sweetie," she murmured, and kissed the warm downy cheek. Will popped his fingers out of his mouth and blew her a bubble before breaking into a grin so much like his father's that neither of them could help embarrassed smiles of delight. After a moment, Mulder ended the interview.

"Okay, here we go," he said, and swung the heavy little bundle up over himself, rolling onto his back to lay the infant in the pool of throw pillows and blankets that marked the far border of the makeshift bed. The baby took the change with equanimity, laying his little head down on his pillow and gazing through his long lashes at his parents. Mulder turned back to Scully, gaze intent as if waiting to see what she would do next. She lifted her hand lightly to his face, tracing his jaw, running her thumb over his lips as she had done once, long ago when they had finally professed their love to each other in terms that only applied to them. Mulder slowly sank into her gaze...and pulled up sharply just before their lips met to glance behind him at the baby, who was staring curiously them and sucking his hand meditatively.

"I don't think I can do this with him watching," he admitted a little uncomfortably. Scully grinned at this evidence of his discomposure and pushed herself up on one elbow to look over Mulder's shoulder to where the baby lay in his nest of pillows.

"Go to sleep, Sweet William," she said softly. Her voice, slightly husky from the activity of the last few moments held no small measure of amusement, but there was also a note of command that William had learned never to question. Obediently, his little eyes closed and his damp fingers fell slowly from his pursed rosebud mouth as he settled into the deep sighs of infant sleep.

Mulder, glancing back over his shoulder, shook his head in awe at this new manifestation of Scully's authority. "I wish I knew how in hell you do that," he muttered in an aggrieved tone--a question that Scully ignored as she took his face in her hands again and pulled him toward her decisively.

They were both aware of the interactions of luck and fate. She still wasn't sure if it was real, but...every moment was one more than they ever thought they could have. Unquestionably, both Dana Scully and Fox Mulder had finished with wasting time.


(Amor Fati, pt.32: "Just A Walk In The Park")

Downtown Vancouver, BC, Canada
May 3, 2002
9:14am

The next morning found them out in the community, walking in the slightly damp-smelling morning air with the dual intent of gleaning supplies and information.

"We just had to pick another rainy place to stop in, didn't we, 'Rey'," Scully commented, pushing the stroller she had recently freed from its captivity in one of the suitcases. These collapsible stroller-carseat-carrier combos were the greatest thing since sliced bread in her book. There was also room underneath the stroller for both their umbrellas, which was helpful considering the Vancouver climate.

"Stick with what you know," he replied offhand, his eyes canvassing the town in case of 'spooks'. He spared her a mischievous glance, grin breaking out like the sun from behind cloud-cover. "There's also a lot of good woodland around here, 'Dara', in case you ever get the yen to revisit the good old days and run around with a flashlight and a can of spray paint with me."

"I'll let you know," she returned good-naturedly, then jabbed him with her elbow. "There we go; 'Kitchens and Linens.' Once we have silverware and a couple of pots and pans, we can go grocery shopping." Her glance returned to Mulder's face just in time to watch as his visage glazed over with complete, if polite, disinterest. "I'm being practical, Mulder. William can't live on TV dinners."

"I'll tell you what. I'll be in there," he pointed at an Internet cafe across the street from her chosen venue. "Doing some 'research'. Meet me when you're done." With a quick squeeze of the arm, he disengaged himself to jog swiftly over to the aforementioned cafe. "Call me if you need me!" he tossed back over his shoulder as he disappeared into the dim interior.

"Deserter!" she called after him, amused, then turned the stroller with it's various encumbrances and shoved it gamely into the slightly better lit interior of her chosen venue. "Don't ever ask your father to change his stripes, William. I really wouldn't have him any other way; but even if I did, it would be a losing battle."

Catching on to the most pertinent-sounding word in this stream of information, William chimed in right on cue. "Ba?"

Scully smiled. "Here you go, baby," she agreed, and dug out a grape juice for him. At that moment a pleasant looking clerk accosted her helpfully. "Time to pick up some boring domestic stuff." xxx

With her new acquisitions hanging from the handles of the stroller, Scully wheeled her son into the Internet cafe, wondering at the signs over the doors. 'No personal cheques', one read. Shaking her head, she spotted Mulder in one corner and moved in to stand beside him. "You know, 'Rey'; this place seems strangely familiar. Some of it looks so much like home that I get surprised every time I see a sign like that one." She pointed at another 'no cheques accepted' placard near his elbow.

Mulder grunted. "Look at this, 'Dara'. We might have crossed the border just in time."

Scully glanced down at the page he had pulled up. It was the Georgetown Herald from a week and a half ago. A third page headline read, 'Local G-Woman Missing, No Clues Forthcoming At Residence.' The address was hers, and the second line mentioned that she had 'resigned mysteriously, possibly under duress.' 'FBI officials state that the search for the missing agent is 'well in hand'. "It is quite unlike Dr. Scully to just simply disappear with no warning; she was always the most conscientious of all the agents in our forensic pathology department. I can see no reason why she would do so unless forced by unforeseen circumstances."' Her supervisor at Quantico. Scully's lips compressed themselves into a thin line.

"You never know they care until it's too late," she commented under her breath. "This is not good, Mul...Rey. I resigned because I didn't want a search for a missing agent to complicate matters, and I thought they would keep the story under wraps so the FBI wouldn't look bad, leave it up to our silent friends."

"Stories help these people, Dara. Gets the average uninvolved citizen into the act."

Scully shook her head. "Well, hopefully it stays there and we're okay. I doubt the 'average uninvolved citizen' will be looking all the way across the continent, much less in Canada." She leaned forward over his shoulder to read the rest of the article.

'Special Agent John Doggett, Dr. Scully's former partner in the FBI, offered nothing informative when asked if he knew anything about her disappearance. "Agent Scully kept pretty much to herself," he reported to this source. "If she was going anywhere, I don't know a thing about it. She hasn't been my partner for more than a year." Other agents at the FBI offered opinions ranging from nervous breakdown to clandestine activity with another former partner, since dismissed from the Bureau and viewed with disdain by many of their colleagues. Dr. Scully's former superiors in the FBI declined to comment on either her disappearance or her possible connections with this former partner. The search for the missing pathologist is ongoing.'

Scully leaned down a bit further to murmur into Mulder's ear. "Wonder what Kersh thinks."

Mulder dismissed Kersh with a jerk of the head, instead zeroing in on Doggett's quote. "Nice to know the new boy can keep his mouth shut," he commented grimly.

"C'mon, 'Rey'; he's given us no reason not to trust him," she scolded quietly. "Did you find anything else yet, or is this it?"

"Don't ask for miracles, Dara," he deadpanned. "I'm only one man."

"You've had almost forty minutes, Rey. I've already picked up enough to stock our entire kitchen, and all you've found is one lousy headline."

"You probably picked ugly pans," he retorted, then shook his head. "If there's anything to find here, I doubt we'll find it without at least an hour more looking. You wanna grab a console and give me a hand, or are you just gonna stand around watching me do all the work?"

Twenty minutes later, Scully leaned back to catch Mulder's attention from where he was pecking away beside her. "Got something." He stood up and came over to peer past her shoulder.

"St. Louis Times? What did you use for the search topic?"

"News. FBI agents. We usually make a splash in local papers when we butt in." They were silent for a moment as they read the article.

'May 2, 2002.' 'Local Murder Leaves Officials Baffled. FBI Called In To Shed Light.' 'After five days of exhaustive police work, local officials are still stymied in the murder case of Bill Weis, father of two, the investment banker from the suburb of Sauget who was murdered in unexplained fashion late last week. Lacking motive or clues, Sauget police were facing a dead end and solicited aid from the local FBI field office. Somewhat unexpectedly, two agents, Special Agent John Doggett and Special Agent Monica Reyes came all the way from Washington DC to lend a hand. The agents declined to state why they felt it necessary to make the trip rather than leaving the case up to the Bureau's St. Louis field office.'

"Way to go Rookie," Mulder murmured approvingly. "Betcha they don't print anything worth reading about what they found."

"Keep reading, Rey." Scully nodded at the page.

'The Special Agents appeared to have information unavailable to local authorities, however, and after only three hours in the city they had traced a phone call made to a doctor at the Rose Anderson Memorial Fertility Clinic in Carondelet, recently raided of all its supplies and records in what officials had thought was an unrelated case. Information gleaned from the Rose Anderson Clinic case led the Agents to place Bill Weis at this location in the last hours before he was found in the landfill. Shortly after, a link was found between the victim and an unnamed suspect who worked at the clinic. According to our source, Special Agents Doggett and Reyes surprised the suspect breaking into the clinic after hours and led the pursuit into an alley behind the Ellis Mall, where the suspect was apprehended and taken in for questioning. Sauget Police Chief Van Dien has refused to comment on whether the suspect is in any way related either to the Bill Weis murder investigation or the Rose Anderson Clinic case. Both investigations are listed as ongoing.'

"Dammit!" Mulder reacted, straightening sharply. "So what does that tell us? That They're still cleaning out the clinics?" He looked as if he wanted to hit something. "God, I wish we could just dial up the office and ask them for the details."

"Maybe if we used a land line..." Scully began, thinking out loud. Before Mulder could demur, though, she was shaking her head. "We can't afford to give away our location. Do you think we could slip something to the Boys?"

"I don't know if that would be any safer at this point, Sc...Dara. One way or the other They could trace us to this general area, and that doesn't help us at all right now."

"But we can't stay out of the loop forever, Rey. If...John and Monica are down there, that means the case has something to do with those other clinics, and we can't afford to be ignorant on that subject. It has direct bearing on what They're up to with...with our son."

"I'm well aware of that," Mulder answered grimly. "I'll have to try to seed something in the grapevine, maybe make a special trip to throw them off. Make the contact from a couple of towns away." He leaned over her arm then, and punched the exit commands. The Internet window shrank immediately. Scully made a sound of protest, and Mulder shook his head again. "We're not going to find anything more today. I don't think we get more than one bone every twenty-four hours on our allowance. Let's get out of here. We can come back tomorrow and check on their progress. Maybe there'll be something worth following in the next edition." xxx

Back outside in the crystalline air of Vancouver, Mulder aimed them pointedly for the park across the street and leaned over to poke around in the bags hanging from the stroller's handlebars. "Blue pans?"

"You don't get any say, 'Rey'; you bailed on us to play on the computers, remember?"

"Sure. Fine. Whatever." He did not look at her, but they neither of them could avoid smiling at this echo of the distant past.

They crossed to the park swiftly in quiet discussion of the two articles they had just read. As they walked, Mulder reached out absently to help push the stroller across the grass. Glancing at their hands side by side on the handles, Scully found herself staring at the ring on her finger. It had felt strange and...dangerous the first time, in the Kline case in San Diego; this time it felt strange and...well, just strange. Like they were making fun of something, but in a quite serious way, though they both knew that the rings were for the benefit of their cover only.

As they stopped in front of a large tree out in the open, Mulder saw her glancing down at his left hand. "Don't get any ideas, 'Dara'," he cautioned. "We're a team, but this thing doesn't cut off the flow of blood to my brain, and it doesn't change personalities either."

"Did I ask it to?" she asked a little sharply, annoyed that he would be so defensive. "If you're so threatened by all this, M...Rey, you shouldn't have chosen to make the ID's you did. It was your idea, remember?"

Mulder retreated a step, taken aback. "Hey, I didn't mean anything," he said, throwing up his hands in an instinctive gesture of surrender. He looked surprised that she would take offense at his jesting. "This is just as weird for me as it is for you."

Scully took a couple of deep breaths to clear away the annoyance. They were both still negotiating the boundaries of their new incarnation. Becoming irrational about it wouldn't make it any easier. "This is only going to work if we can talk about it, 'Rey'," she said softly but intensely. "Bantering and joking aren't going to cut it anymore."

He nodded. "Old habits die hard," he said, then stepped forward to cup her face for a moment before dropping his hand again. "I didn't mean to piss you off. I'm still used to avoiding the issue is all." She nodded acceptance of that admission, and the moment passed without further incident.

They parked William in the shade next to the bench, but neither took a seat. Mulder leaned back against the tree and caught her hand to draw her to him. Scully allowed herself to be pulled back into his embrace, and they stood together for a moment, his cheek resting lightly on the top of her head as they let their unspoken communion heal the breach that words had laid between them. After a moment Mulder turned her around a little roughly and stooped to rest his forehead against hers, the need to show what he was feeling shining out of his soulful gaze. She could feel the tension in his shoulders as he gripped her upper arms, and raised her hands to hold his own arms in understanding. The constant tension that sung in his lithe frame was translating itself to her body, and for a minute she thought he would kiss her, right out here in the open. The thought filled her with something very near panic, and she opened her eyes to stare into his. The question hung between them, and Mulder's hand slowly rose to cup her face for the second time; not amorously, but filled with the strain of words unsaid.

Just as his palm settled along her jaw the low drone of a bee broke the stillness of the park. xxx

Mulder and Scully broke apart instantly, faces twin mirrors of shock. Scully backed up against the tree trunk, mouth suddenly dry with irrational fear. Mulder's face, however, betrayed a sudden rage as he pushed himself away from the tree to lunge after the intruding insect, growling. "Oh, no! Not this time, you little bastard!" he muttered, swatting ineffectually at the air. In the end, however, he had to settle for shooing the little beast away. After a moment of this the invading bee seemed to lose interest and disappeared in search of less frantic environs.

Mulder returned to the shade of the tree, looking piqued and sweaty. "Goddamn bees," he growled, and slapped his fist against the trunk beside her head.

"You okay, Mu...Rey? It didn't get either of us." The shock was beginning to wear off. She had forgotten how much she hated and feared bees after all that they had learned about them in the last few years.

"No, it didn't; that doesn't make it okay." He still sounded more than a little outraged. "This has got to be a conspiracy!" At her candid look his grin reappeared, and he finally allowed the frustration to drain from his face as he turned to place his other hand on the opposite side of her. Thus bracketed, Scully looked up at him with a bemused expression. She had rarely seen him look more ready to prove a point. Mulder's voice dropped back to the softer register. "Are we going to let another bee get away with that, 'Dara'?" he whispered challengingly, and to her everlasting surprise leaned in slowly until he had approximated their former position. There was a recklessness in his gaze born of frustration and the endless relief of their still-new reunion that for a moment effected the sudden lifting of the threat that had hung constantly over their lives for so long. They had become so accustomed to it that the lack thereof was a glaring and noticeable omission; one to be feared for its softening of the edges of readiness.

"What are you doing, Rey?" she teased gently, trying to laugh off the moment, but his eyes bored into hers as if daring her to deflect him. Caught breathless as his face descended, she stared into those eyes, feeling like a bug pinned to a card. With the notable exception of that New Year's kiss he had never done this in public before. The unaccustomed feel of it gave her a slight thrill of apprehension. She could avoid him, but for some reason she didn't want to, couldn't seem to move.

He moved slowly, giving her time to escape if she wanted. She didn't try. The kiss was gentle, but it was no less a point proven. Their eyes met, and Scully found herself smiling slightly.

"Feel better now?"

"Yeah. Goddamn bees."

William let out a complaining whine at that moment, obviously feeling ignored. Mulder shook his head ruefully before he grabbed her hand and pulled her away from the tree. "You're right; that was weird. I feel like people are watching."

"They probably are, 'Rey'; you looked like you were doing some kind of 'rain dance' out there for a minute." He shot her a dirty look, then walked over to William, patently ignoring her.

"I have my reasons," he muttered, then bent over the stroller. "Hey Champ; I have a feeling it's lunchtime; whaddya think?" He set aside the act to glance up at Scully from the corner of his eyes. "Greek? The guy in the cafe said it was decent."

"Sounds good." They crossed the park again to enter the restaurant beside Mulder's Internet caf. The food was decent. Will, however, did not appear to care for Greek; apparently it gave him gas. As they exited the premises to stand blinking on the sidewalk, Scully raised her hand to shade her eyes, attention caught by a subtle movement on the other side of the street in the shadows between the 'Kitchens and Linens' and the music store beside it. As the imperceptible movements began to solidify themselves and to make solid connections in her brain, Scully grabbed Mulder's arm urgently to draw his attention away from his discussion of the St. Louis case.

"What?" he asked quietly, instantly alert.

Scully flicked her eyes to his and then pointedly back across the street. Mulder followed her gaze in time to see two men lounging in the shade of the music store awning, both seemingly absorbed in their newspapers...and both looking right at them. As if aware that they had been spotted, the spooks simultaneously folded their papers and stepped off the sidewalk in a straight-line approach, looking for all the world like synchronized swimmers...or marauding sharks. Their nondescript dress and blank expressions radiated deadly purpose. Mulder jabbed her with his elbow and pointed sharply with his chin at two more, approaching from the far end of the block. Another menacing couple appeared at the head of the intersection.

"Guess that blows this town," Mulder quipped grimly under his breath. "What do you think? We'll have to bail on the kid's gear."

"We go through the restaurant," Scully answered decisively, and bent to unhook the carrier from the stroller frame, hurried but not panicked. Two quick snaps and the twist of a clasp and she had the baby carrier dangling from her hand.

"Leave the pots," Mulder said unnecessarily, and grasped her elbow preparatory to turning them back into the edifice they had just vacated. They both knew there was little chance they might escape, but at least in a public space there was little their assailants could do to them. Mulder's right hand was twitching. She knew he was longing to pull out his gun...but having a licensed firearm in the States was one thing. The last thing they needed was to wave their guns around on a populated Canadian street. It had been hard enough smuggling the things through the Border.

Just as they turned to disappear back into the restaurant, a dark grey sedan roared up from nowhere. Without pause all six of their watchers broke into a run, scattering surprised consumers from the sidewalks in their headlong rush. The next few moments became a blur as the driver's side door of the sedan swung open and a harried face popped out, flushed with urgency.

"Get in!" he roared.

They hesitated for a moment at this fresh assault. It could be a trap to get them out of the open...

"We don't have time for this!" the driver growled intensely. "Either get in, or let them take you! All of you!"

There was little else to be done; no time to make a run for it now. Mulder shoved Scully and the baby roughly into the car and shouted, "Go!" The driver didn't wait for the command, however, and the sedan peeled off wildly leaving their pursuers to stand in a crush in their wake, Mulder's legs dangling out of the door before he could slide the rest of the way in and pull the gaping portal shut.


(Amor Fati, Pt.33: "Car rides and Curios")

Prostrate on the seat beside Scully and the baby, Mulder slowly lifted his dishevelled face from the oiled-smelling cushions and thrust his hand back along his leg until his fingers found the cool comforting metal of his gun where it lay hidden in its ankle holster. -Good-- he thought as he popped open the holster and tugged the weapon snugly into his palm. It was still there. He was afraid he had lost it out the door in the wild career out of their downtown trap.

As he struggled to a sitting position he realized that he oughtn't to have worried; Scully already had her pistol out and trained on the back of their 'rescuer's head. --Go girl!-- he thought grimly to himself and sat up the rest of the way, making sure of the door with his gun-laden right hand while yet dividing his gaze equally between William, Scully, and the grey-haired driver. The loaded silence dragged on for a moment as the sedan purred quietly toward whatever destination the driver had in mind. It was an uncomfortable thought that they had absolutely no idea where nor any real control over what that destination might be unless they shot their informant...and that was a quick ticket to the far opposite of anonymity.

"Who are you?" Scully demanded with a sharp gesture of her gun. "How did you find us, and whom do you represent?"

The driver replied in a rather oily tone as he drove, looking neither to the left nor to the right. "Those are questions. There are others, of course. Perhaps you are wondering why I aided you?" After a moment of silence in which neither Mulder nor Scully answered, he continued undaunted. "I represent certain curious parties, certain...neutral interests, as it were, Ms. Scully, Mr. Mulder, who are keeping a close eye on the goings on of this planet..." he paused dramatically, his voice full of knowledge and the smugness of one who felt he held the royal flush, "but perhaps Mr. Mulder has already guessed as much."

Mulder was wearing his poker face, what he often called his 'panicked expression'. He felt rather than saw Scully flick her eyes at him briefly before she jerked the tip of her gun at the man again. "Where are we going? I will blow your head off if you mean any harm to my baby; that's a promise, not a threat." They could see the driver's cheek twitch as he smiled smugly, but he offered neither assent nor denial. As the silence stretched taut, Mulder spared a glance out the tinted windows...and recognised the street they were on. They were nearing the Prince William's Court Stopping Inn. He didn't bother to ask how the man knew where they had set up camp, but he lowered one shoulder slightly in signal to Scully; she read the message and relaxed noticeably though her pose remained tense and alert as she kept her bead on the driver's slightly shaggy iron-grey skull.

A moment later their rescuer pulled the car to a stop in front of the Day Hostel, and put the vehicle in park. Without turning, he commented, "The left, in the doorway. The right, second storey. Centre, in the office where you signed that ridiculous month-long lease." Neither Mulder nor Scully turned their heads, though their eyes flickered past the windows long enough to confirm the furtive movements and the occasional shadow standing at a corner reading a newspaper or 'waiting for a bus'. Mulder shook his head.

"And what makes you think they're here for us?" he said with a hint of his old deadpan sarcasm. "There could be some local gang hit going on."

"Oh, come now, Mr. Mulder; you must be joking. If you have truly begun to believe only what you wish, you will not last long." He chuckled, a horribly humourless sound. "They are watching, waiting till nightfall. You have remained in this place for too long. You will be lucky if they stop to fight amongst themselves, and leave you time to escape."

Mulder snorted. "If one day is too long then we might as well give up now." Beside him Scully had gone rigid with denial of that statement.

"Answer my questions!" she demanded, gun thrusting grimly into the back of the informant's neck. "Who are you, who do you represent, and why are you helping us? Now."

"You have both gotten far too used to having only each other to depend upon," the driver rebuked them obliquely. "You have forgotten that there are more than two sides to this particular war."

"From our point of view, whatever the sides, they are all dangerous to us," Scully responded flatly. "Points of view like ours tend to keep people alive and running."

"Ah, yes--but there are more factions in this Game than you are currently aware of, Ms. Scully. You could ask your...ah, 'partner' for the details," he remarked, glancing at Mulder in his rear-view mirror. "You do know what I am speaking of, don't you, Mr. Mulder?" His voice was insufferable, as if knowing he was sowing the seeds of dissent. Scully darted a quick glance at her partner. Mulder, staring straight ahead, did not return her glance, but his face was very blank. She turned back on the man, gun at the ready. She did not ask, knowing that it was not the time; but she was shaken, and Mulder could feel it. He wanted to curse, wanted to pull his own gun and shut the bastard up. But Scully had the situation well in hand.

"You'll have to do better than that," she said coldly, the steel in her voice undisturbed by the shards of doubt the man had so casually planted. "Give me a reason not to give in to my suspicious nature."

"Oh, Mr. Mulder knows much more than he is saying about the current state of affairs. Isn't that right, Mr. Mulder?" The driver replied indirectly, now openly needling. --Would he never let it go?-- Mulder raged inwardly. But the man would not shut the hell up.

"Ask him, Ms. Scully. Ask him what he has learned during the long cold nights when you were apart." At the cynical, knowing sneer in his voice, Scully stared at the back of his head, momentarily torn between rage and cold reason. -Now is not the time to let baseless accusations divide us-- she thought...but she wanted to meet Mulder's eyes, to reassure herself that there was little to this man's claims. There would be time. Later. On edge, Scully's resisted her impulse to pistol-whip the man. There would be a time for that, too.

Stepping in to halt the incipient violence as if by instinct, William chose that opportune moment to break the dangerous silence with a querulous hiccough, the beginnings of a sob threatening as he reacted to the tense environment. The driver's cheek moved as the smug smile crossed his face again.

"How long are you going to keep holding that gun on me, Ms. Scully? We have been sitting here in this car for far too long. I am in danger just speaking with you, and I don't care to risk myself for either you or your questions."

Scully's eyes were sharp as knives. "Then why are you?"

"Your baby, Ms. Scully. Surely you might have guessed that?" Silence again, broken in the end by a low, confidential tone as the driver continued inexorably. "You are very lucky to have him, you know." The threat veiled in this statement hung obvious and ominous in the thick air of the sedan. "To have the distinction and the shield of being the ones who will mould him to the task for which he was born. It gives you a certain grace; for the two of you have been shown to be surprisingly...adept at keeping him from Their hands, and so we must inform you so that he will be in the right place at the right time, and with the right knowledge. There is no price on such knowledge and placement; nothing is worth more." Scully struggled to maintain her mask as the swift parade of realizations strode over her features. But the Driving Man apparently missed little. He turned his head slightly toward Mulder again. "She has no idea how important the child is to us, does she, Mr. Mulder? I wonder, do you even?" he began, but it was Mulder who broke in, voice harsh with a sudden surge of anger and fear surprising in its intensity and so strong it threatened to drown every ounce of his careful control. Before now that rage had only ever come upon him when Scully was in danger, when he felt helpless to control the tides of their singular destiny. His uncontrollable reaction to this new presentiment of horror could not be contained, and he burst forth suddenly, his own gun now levered at the base of his heckler's skull.

"Our son doesn't belong to any of your 'interests'," he snapped, hoarse with provocation...but fell silent as Scully broke in.

"Let's go, Mulder. We're not going to get anything worthwhile out of him." The steel in her voice was if possible harder now, and the register of frost had gone down to the subzero of the mother of a threatened child. She lifted the handle behind her and slid out with the carrier, gun yet rock steady in its bead on the Driving Man's temple. Mulder followed her lead, sliding out onto the street with his weapon never leaving the man's head and eyes darting along the front of the edifice as he kept their other watchers in view. As he joined Scully on the sidewalk, both of their guns held discreetly in the crook of an arm or under the baby carrier respectively, the smoked glass of the passenger side window slid down with a whisper and the driver leaned out to give his final message, grey hair blowing slightly in the breeze off the Georgia Straight.

"Right now we are simply curious. I have done my part to warn you against the time when we shall be more. Remember it." With that the window cycled back up and the dark grey sedan pulled away from the curb with alacrity to disappear into the sluggish traffic outside their inn. Without a word Mulder turned to usher his family inside where they might prepare for the next assault.


(Amor Fati, pt.34: "Neutral")

Once past the gauntlet and inside the building, Mulder dropped his hand from Scully's lower back to pluck the baby carrier gently from her hand. Avoiding her searching gaze, he murmured, "I think he's wet," and trotted ahead of her up the stairs to their room. From the depths of the carrier William was making the choked sniffles that presaged the full-fledged sobs to come. By the time Scully reached the head of the stairs Mulder had already unlocked the door and had set down his gun to spread their son out on a blanket on the small foldout table in the kitchen. His shoulders were hunched in an effective wall as he shut out communication, pretending to concentrate fiercely on the task at hand. Still holding her gun in the crook of her arm, Scully sighed and turned the deadbolt on the door before standing before it, arms crossed in exasperated silence. She let the tension in the air settle on them both for a moment before she spoke.

"Okay; spill it Mulder. What are you not telling me?" Mulder, caught up in the process, didn't answer, and the steel returned to her voice as she was thwarted. "What the hell was all about? You totally blew off that thing with the fertility clinic in St. Louis; what did you find out while you were gone?" At his continued silence she lowered her voice to that intense level that she knew demanded respect. "I have a right to know, Mulder."

Mulder finished the changing and set the baby back in the carrier for safekeeping before sighing and squaring his shoulders. He replied without turning to face her.

"How many 'factions' do we know about, Scully? From the information we have gleaned so painstakingly over the last decade of our lives together, how many, and which ends do they serve, which sides to we suspect each one will fall on in the coming war? For it is a war now, where before it was simply a genetic coup." He turned to face her then, soft eyes intense with that hard penetrating stare she knew so well, the stare that gave her shivers and challenged her to join him on the mental tightrope that he had walked every day that she had known him. Unthinking, their conversation fell into the pattern they had followed for so long that the give and take was now instinctive and unconscious, the exchange of thought and idea automatic and efficient; two opposite approaches tracing all possible avenues as they moved toward to the same goal. "How many, Scully?"

Scully took a deep breath, facing the challenge in his eyes with a challenge of her own, the battle of wits they both knew as well as or better than they knew each other's bodies, the challenge by which they had learned the labyrinthine paths of one another's souls. "Well, there's the Colonists with their Bounty Hunters and any other shapeshifters they have up their sleeves...and the replicants. There's what's left of the Syndicate. Then there are the Rebel shapeshifters working for us here, like Jeremiah Smith, and the Syndicate scientists who might be on humanity's side...and then there are these 'supersoldiers', whoever is making them; these organic replicants...and then there are the Rebels themselves..."

"They found me when I was running, Scully," he broke in quietly. At her startled look, suddenly frightened for him in retrospect, he nodded patiently; and his eyes were grim. She had wanted to know what he had done while he was gone--now she would, and damn the torpedoes. "I ran into some of our new friends...or rather a couple of Their narcs caught me in New Mexico. I lost them, but they must have let somebody know where I was, because about a week later they were back." His voice was distant, held remote from the terror of the memory, but his expression, if possible, became a little grimmer. "This time they brought a tame supersoldier with them, so I knew it was one of ours, if you want to call them that."

"How..." Scully paused, all her uneasy ire gone in an instant at this new and terrifying revelation. He could have been retaken! He could have been made into... But if he had been, she would have known it by now. "How did you get away?"

He looked down, as if ashamed that he'd had to put others in danger to keep out of sight. "I was hanging out with a few of Albert Hosteen's buddies from the reservation; they know what's up better than most. I think they have some kind of Underground Railroad going; in any case, they were hiding me. One of his kids; I think it was the grandson that helped me find that buried boxcar back in '95, walked in on our meeting carrying a gun. I tried to tell him it wouldn't work, but he didn't even pause to see what They wanted. He just shot. I don't know how they knew, but I found out later that they already knew about the weakness. These underground guys on the reservations have apparently begun to turn out magnetite bullets."

Scully opened her mouth, but Mulder kept talking right over the top of her, seemingly without seeing her face. His eyes were far away, and they were liquid with past trauma...and a fear that only she knew how to read. "After the replicant...dissolved, we managed to tackle the two narcs and get them locked up somewhere; I don't know what the tribe did with them, and I don't want to know as long as we're all safe. But just before the kid took him out, the supersoldier said something interesting, Scully, and it peaked my interest." His eyes seemed suddenly to recall her, boring in as if he could thereby read the text of her mind.

"What?" She was glad to notice that her voice remained steady.

"He told me that I had it wrong this time. That They were disappointed in me; that I'd failed in my mission to oppose the Colonisation."

Scully stared at him, her mind whirling as she tried to put together the implications of that. It was a survival skill, being able to plug new information into the matrix of their painstakingly elaborate mental model of the alien colonisation plan...but this one somehow evaded her. "Because you hadn't managed to stop it? It's amazing we've managed to do as much as we have! And why would a supersoldier care if you failed..."

Mulder was looking off into the middle distance again. "What I'd failed in, Scully, was in realizing that it's not the alien Colonists that are in control of our government anymore. The Rebels have taken over; they saw their shot and they took it after they torched the Conspiracy." His eyes were back delving into hers. "The ones that are churning out these supersoldiers are the Rebels, Scully, and they want us on their side. They think we shouldn't be fighting them at all. They tried to get the Syndicate on their side before, and when They didn't decide to join up, They were executed for Their complicity."

Scully was still trying to assimilate this startling new information. "But these people have been trying to kill you, Mulder; They've been trying to kill our son. What possible reason could the Rebels have for trying to kill you, or him...or anyone, for that matter, that could become a weapon in Their war?"

Mulder smiled that bloodhound smile of his, but his expression was full of self-castigation. "All this time I had thought that the Rebels' only goal in burning out the Syndicate was to stall the colonisation; to give them time to muster up some kind of alien political solution. I was wrong, just as I was wrong that it was still the Colonists that were in charge of things up top." He shook his head and turned away again, standing with his back to her to stare out the window. "I had thought that without the middlemen that the Syndicate represented, that the alien Colonists would have to work from outside; floating around in Their colony ships effecting Their last minute adjustments to the Project from somewhere outside. That They had resorted to engineering these replacements to serve to serve as overseers and flunky enforcers since the Conspirators were no longer available. And better so than any hybrid slave army because these replacements were made directly by the Colonists and seem to have no will of their own to rebel with. That must have happened on dozens of other worlds before this; or else how did the revolution become strong enough to penetrate here?" His shoulders were tense with revelation. "They make the perfect enforcers because they seem to have some kind of hive mind that can only receive, not transmit, and that relinquishes any individual will to follow commands without fail. But when they're not under command, they can still access their human memories. The perfect mole in the perfect disguise; unstoppable, indestructible, and already in the final placement needed to set things in motion when the time came." He looked back over his shoulder at her, his face a caricature of his normal cocky grin. "It's like Stratego, Scully, or one of Gibson Praise's chess games. Infiltrate, find out what the enemy is up to and take countermeasures;

get all your guys in place and then...strike.

"So I figured that They planted these perfect replacements within the government and the military, to continue to keep the databases and to decide which of the old test subjects, and normal humans like Gibson who had the misfortune to be throwbacks to an earlier genetic pattern, were prepared for the next replication batch--people that had already been tracked and prepared from earlier experiments with alien DNA and were now ripe for replacement; using the old Adam and Eve hybrid project from the Cold War as a base of operations."

Scully nodded, beginning to see it all in a bigger picture. "That's why we had decided we weren't seeing any Bounty Hunters anymore after the ones that took you. I always wondered why They had stopped, until we figured that They had replaced enough people within the military and the secret service to begin their own replication processes using the leftover technology from the Old Project." She frowned, trying to readjust her thinking. "So you're saying that's not what happened?"

Mulder shook his head again, turning back to watch her reactions. "Our driving friend just confirmed it." He smiled a little sourly.

Scully raised her head to look up at him. "So, at first all the Rebels had counted on was slowing the timetable of Colonisation down; a setback..."

"A hearty setback...."

"By divesting the Colonists of their middlemen." She took a deep breath, challenging herself to follow the thread of illogical logic he had presented to her as she had done in that doppelganger case their last year working together. "That may have been their entire plan until they saw an opportunity to do more; an opportunity to take over."

Mulder's expression became exalted as he watched her, and his eyes sparkled. "A way to put a much bigger monkey-wrench in things than they had ever before foreseen." He smiled vindictively. "I think that shortly after they'd gotten rid of the Conspiracy, they realized that there was a power vacuum that needed to be filled; and that if they could get in there first, they could become a huge roadblock to the Colonisation--and maybe even stop it before it got too late to do anything." His smile abruptly became a frown. "That's what Krycek was trying to tell us, what the Smoking Man was trying to tell you when he stole the technology of that chip to save himself...and when he tried to recover that ship in Oregon. He wanted to buy his way back into the Process by creating a new Conspiracy along old lines; to reserve a spot in the wheel of immortality when the Colonisation comes. He was weak; he needed a right hand man that he could trust more than Krycek, which is why he sent Krycek and Marina to ask us to go find the ship. He wanted me to revive the Conspiracy and join his cause, and he knew that I had nearly decided to throw in with Them to save you and myself before, when the Rebels came." His eyes became remote again. "CGB Spender always tried to save himself first. That guy was always as good at spotting a bargain as Krycek ever was.

"They were right that I'd failed," he continued, and his voice suddenly rang with angry conviction. "I thought I had it all figured out so perfectly--and I had you and Skinner and everyone else but maybe your friend Doggett convinced that I had it right. I put us all in needless danger by keeping us at odds with the Rebels long ago...by not realising that the status quo had changed in our last year at work." To her surprise he laughed, speaking with bitter sarcasm. "All this time we've been working at cross-purposes to our saviours. No matter how hard an idea that is to stomach, allying ourselves with beings that don't really care about us..." He looked over at the small table and their son waving his arms in distress at their anger and fear from his carrier. "Beings that would be willing to sacrifice untold numbers of civilians and to destroy a small child to win Their larger war."

Horrified at this reconstruction of her view of events, Scully flashed a quick instinctive glance at their preternaturally silent son; the child that she had always hoped would be nothing more than a normal boy. That hope now seemed so distant as to be ludicrous in the light of this terrifying new day; even had he not begun to move things around telekinetically. But that hope had been shattered for good on the day that They had sent someone to kill her son...

"But Mulder, that doesn't make sense! If this is true it would mean that there are factions even amid these replacements." Mulder swivelled from his purview of the table to stare at her intently, and she resisted biting her lip as she looked again at their son. "Some of the supersoldiers we encountered when I was pregnant, when I was giving birth; some of them seemed to want to help us get you away and keep William safe, and still others seemed to want to take him...or kill him. Why would they want to kill him if he were really what they wanted him to be? And if he's not, if he's...something else, then why would those replacements we ran into in Georgia leave him alone after gathering to witness his birth?"

Mulder nodded. "I couldn't figure out why Doggett's buddy Rohrer and Agent Crane were helping us, when the drone Billy Miles was trying to kill you. Things had gotten so much more complicated, and I was just starting to figure out that there had to be some kind of interior divisions. So did you, and that's why we figured that the Rebels were making replacements as well, and they were running interference with the Colonist supersoldiers while we sat back and tried to figure out what to do next. But we had it all wrong, Scully, which ones were where. It was the Rebels that were in charge of things by then! I mean, it makes sense. Why bother with the abduct-and-dump M.O. when you could make replacements in a government lab...unless those labs were no longer available to you? And if there were others being made in the labs...they had to be the result of a different set of experiments running along the same lines. A smoother experiment, and one that cold move on to a more organic stage. Krycek was trying to tell us that when he said that the guys he had most recently been working for feared our son, because they had realized that he might not be the result of their New Project; but an unforeseen holdover from the Old."

Scully looked away. "I thought They didn't take me when They were collecting abductees for replication because...because it would be better that way." She had never wanted to admit it out loud; for to admit that she was being saved for something meant to admit that her son was not what she had hoped he would be.

"Because you were part of a different, new Project," Mulder finished for her mercilessly. "Hoping to get even better version of supersoldier from you than earlier models like Rohrer; and a better version than you or I could ever be. I considered that too, and I thought that was also why They didn't take him when he was born; because They were no longer trying for a hybrid. Because he was no longer useful to them. I thought that it meant he was safe; if I was the one They wanted to kill, then the heat was off him and that was fine with me. I knew why I had to draw that heat away, Scully, no matter how much I would rather have done anything else. But I thought it would be better that way; that if I wasn't there They would protect you because They were hoping you'd given birth to a 'supersoldier'."

He was avoiding her eyes. A lie of omission was still a lie, and he had known how much she had feared the truth when their son had been born. "But if I'm right, if what that Driving Man says is true, then it means that it was the Colonists that you met out there in Georgia. And if They didn't try to take him, it must be because They realised before the Rebels that he was not a replicant but a hybrid, and They were protecting him because he was what They needed to get Their advantage back. To clone a back-up slave race much more quickly than They could produce enough replacements to suit. That once Billy Miles and the Colonists realized that he was the one thing They needed to start the Process early and to get Their timetable back on track, it was They that ran interference with the supersoldiers to protect you. And that by corollary it was the Rebels in charge of our government and our military that were trying to kill him. Because they would rather lose him as a weapon than give him up to the other side."

Scully felt something cold shudder down her spine to settle into the pit of her belly like a rock. To have to be grateful to those alien bastards that had plagued her life for so long... She didn't want to have to contemplate choosing between her child and the rest of the world; but to support the Colonists was unthinkable. "And so the government watched me," she said heavily, "waiting to see any sign that our son was anything but a supersoldier. And the minute he started exhibiting signs of psychic ability and telekinesis," she couldn't believe she was saying these things, "They sent someone to kill him." She looked down, her mouth moving of its own accord despite her wooden reactions. "I didn't know what was going on Mulder, and for a while there I even thought that he might be safer anywhere else but with me." If this was true, and they were all on their own between two such titanic and unscrupulous forces, then maybe William would still be safer...anywhere else but with them. xxx

To her surprise, Mulder strode back across the room to take her arm in one hand, and his eyes sought out hers intently, as if he had the key to that conundrum; a way to keep their son safe. "There's one question that you're forgetting to ask, Scully."

Scully met his gaze resolutely. "What did the Driving Man mean when he said 'neutral interests'." It was not a question. Mulder released her arm and turned away again, unsettled and, to her knowing eyes, as worried as she had ever seen him.

"We were forgetting one faction, Scully," Mulder he told her patiently. "One faction among all the Colonists, Rebels, replacements and supersoldiers, bounty hunters and clones; one faction that may have the power to decide this thing once and for all."

She stared at him for a moment. "What are you talking about, Mulder?" She had seen the signs before, of Fox Mulder winding up to go on a roll. She steeled herself and waited for him to tell her all that was on his mind; for now that with the help of today's untoward events she had finally got him to talk, she knew she was going to get a flood of theories and facts...only some of which she would understand in the same way that Mulder did. Enough, though, to rally her own thoughts and contribute her understanding of events to better purpose...and enough to know what they would have to do next. She resisted the urge to go pick up her son as Mulder turned his blazing eyes back to hers.

"The neutral Greys, Scully! A faction invisible to us because the have never before taken a hand. The Greys that have been quietly overseeing all of this from the beginning. We saw them at work in that zoo in Fairfield, Idaho: do you remember Sophie? The Native Americans knew about them, the Africans knew; all the aboriginal cultures of the world spoke of the 'ancient aliens' that came to observe and then disappeared. Anasazi, Annunaki, Aztlan, Atlantis..." As her look of disbelief faded into that humouring expression she wore so often when he was expounding, he leaned forward, trying with his very being to impress upon her his seriousness, his patient lecturing tone raised into the fervent exposition that demanded she join him on his intuitive leaps, demanded she join him in making the connections they so desperately needed to make. "Where did all the original stories come from, Scully?"

"We already know the answer to this, Mulder," Scully answered just as patiently, arms crossed over her breasts and face stern in reasoned counterpoint to his zeal...but adrenaline had leapt back up in her system as the familiar battle of wits ensued. God, she had missed this exchange. "We've known for years. The Conspiracy manufactured those stories and used them as a smokescreen..."

"No Scully; no," Mulder broke in. "Listen. There were sightings and alien visitation stories in the human psyche long before our government got a hold of them. They have been there since the beginning of time, because our ancestors remembered what we have since forgotten; that there have always been otherworldly visitors on this planet. If they had been bent on colonisation they could have done the job long before we obtained the technology to fight them off. Remember, the sightings went crazy right after we first started testing the A-bomb and brought ourselves to their attention. They said it themselves; the Syndicate took advantage of a pre-existing thread in the human psyche and turned it around to their own ends. If there was no story to capitalise upon, the Roswell thing would never have taken hold as it had. But the original stories were all of sightings and meetings and remote, distant, uninvolved beings. The Syndicate created the abduction scenario; that much we know. The aliens may have got the idea from them, or vice-versa; that we don't know. But it doesn't matter. The question is; where did the original stories come from?"

His voice was picking up steam now as it always did in the heat of his surety; and his eyes burned with challenge, blazing into her own as she stared into his soul. "In all the ancient texts Scully, up until the present day, they were there. Edgar Cayce the Sleeping Prophet, Von Daniken and Sitchin, our own aboriginal extraterrestrial stories, even that 'hippie space brothers' bullshit of the sixties--they catalogued the antecedents of this war, the conclusion of which we are now facing. You've heard me mention Reticulans, you've heard of the Pleiades star cult..."

"More times than I care to remember, Mulder," Scully broke in, bringing him back down to earth where she could see what he was getting at. But Mulder had no patience for niceties when he was pursuing an idea, unfolding a theory, and he picked up speed again without heed, expecting, never doubting that she had the brains and the guts to follow him where he led. She always had, and he had always admired and loved her for her willingness, her strength and her quick mind.

"Then you know that each one of these stories, these antecedents, characterizes two opposing forces in the galaxy, whether they be factions or races. One bent on Colonisation--the mercenaries, the commercial, the industrial; bent on using the planets they encountered to their own ends. And one fervently against meddling with the genetic structure and evolution of each planet, species, and ecosystem. Humanity was an accident in this ancient schism of beliefs, Scully, the human race itself an anomaly; a stew of happenstance in a war to which we have only been a side project until now, if even that. An accidental cataclysm of genes which caused the rise of every life on this planet, and which in the end, perhaps inevitably, resulted in the very beings that they now wish to colonise, to remove the interstellar threat we have become; for we alone may tip the scales in this holy war of attrition.

"But there was another group, Scully. Never forget that. Another mentality so far removed from that of the Colonists as to be virtually a separate race, though they shared a common genetic string--the diplomats and the pacifists; the insular, the conservative. With their greater resources and technology, with the weight of an entire planetary culture behind them. And they are now, as they have always been, undecided." His eyes bored into hers, forcing her to see the horrible insight reflected there. "It is the final moment of Truth, Scully," he said softly. "For thousands of years if not millions, perhaps since we were first brought to their attention, an accident becoming a significant variable in the ongoing war between the two belief systems...for thousands of years they have watched us, looked in at us evolving, growing, learning; assessing our strengths, our possible uses in the rapidly approaching struggle. Perhaps they felt a certain responsibility for our very being, and nurtured our civilizations, moved our accomplishments up in time that we might in time; that we might be the very variable that they needed us to be. And this quiet interference may have hastened the event horizon of our destruction. For we are now a roadblock and an obstacle where once we were a mere political sticking point and a stumbling block to progress on either side.

"Now that it has come time for them to choose, Scully; which side will they choose? Which side will these ancient diplomats fall on to tip the balance forever in our favour or against it, in this war that means our very existence to us, but in which to Them we are only a means to a political end. And to which end?"


(Amor Fati, pt.35: "Confession")

Horror now painted Scully's face, eyes darkening with comprehension of the surmise he had guided her to, the realization she had eluded for so long. "Why didn't you tell me this before, Mulder?" she gasped finally, struggling to control the incredulous dismay in her voice. Mulder relaxed not at all as he watched the realization settle in on her. "You never said that to stop this thing we would have to recruit the help of some distant...neutral faction that we haven't heard anything about before this last couple of months."

Mulder looked down, but his voice was held on a tight leash that concealed nothing of his wild, almost despairing tone in the face of such an overwhelming set of odds. "What can we do about it, Scully? What can we possibly do? We have no connection anymore; no information and no access. The Syndicate may have been hastening our end, but as a reflection in our world of the goings-on beyond our sphere of existence they offered us clues, and their activities showed us the tides and currents of this war. Now that barometer is gone from us, and we have no way now of influencing the turning of events, or even of knowing what the timetable is, and what has changed. With all we managed to accomplish in the last decade..."

"Exactly, Mulder!" Scully broke in fervently, now the believer while he was the resigned. "Look at all we've managed to accomplish!"

Mulder's body seemed to quiver, filled with that intense, vibrant tension that she knew so well. "With all that we have managed to accomplish we may have damned ourselves and the whole human race! Scully, our only hope of survival, no matter how bad a taste it may leave in our mouths, depended upon the knowledge to which we are no longer privy. The Syndicate was our window into the alien plots, the human reflection of an alien plan, and that window is now lost to us. And though we have dealt a massive blow to a force the full scope of which we cannot even begin to comprehend; though we have, the two of us alone, brought down the central branch of an all-powerful Conspiracy of worldwide proportions, our greatest achievement may be lying here in this carrier." He pointed at William, who was waving his small arms in quiet protest of the tension from his nest on the table. "Because he alone, Scully, and the others like him, have a chance to survive the coming apocalypse."

Sudden fear and rage twisted Scully's mouth as she was driven to face the deepest of her internal fears, one she had never allowed to see the light of day before now. With what they knew... "Survive to be what, Mulder?" she demanded roughly, voice rigid and yet shaken. "A weapon? A tool? Or a slave? A drone for the Colonists like the clones of your sister?" Immediately she wished the words back, expecting him to wince with pain--but though she knew how they would affect him now, knew the guilt and pain that would resurface at that cutting reminder, she yet lashed out with it anyway because she was afraid...and hurt, and angry beyond reason at the horrors constantly besetting her child.

But Mulder did not wince, did not falter. He simply looked at her in that intense way, eyes showing only that penetrating regard and that familiar patience as he waited for her to assimilate all the facts. Feeling that she had to break the silence, Scully sighed and dropped her shoulders, in the process lowering the gun with which she had been gesticulating wildly as she spoke. "You should have told me," she rebuked sadly after a moment. "I above anyone else have a right to know. I thought we both knew that, that we weren't going to try to spare each other the Truth anymore." She met his eyes squarely, demanding that he give ground. "Or didn't you trust me to come, knowing this?" Mulder didn't answer for a moment.

"I knew you would come anyway, Scully...and I concede that if you were going to risk your life and his, you had the right to know. I knew that as well as I knew that you wouldn't leave once you did know." His eyes bored into hers, reaching out for understanding. "But I was still afraid, Scully. I didn't want to worry you about an eventuality that we can do nothing about..." and as he paused his eyes went suddenly soft, letting her into his soul with all its pain, "and I didn't want to waste any of the time we had left."

Shoulders slumped suddenly in defeat Mulder turned away from her to lean over the carrier. Staring after him with a combination of exasperation and tenderness, Scully lowered her head and took a deep breath as she had so often done in the past, willing the tension out of her body and her mind. Going to him finally, she glanced into the carrier fearfully and stilled the trembling of her hand by sheer force of will before placing it gently on Mulder's shoulder. Right now he needed her to be his strength; his constant. It worried her to hear such defeat in his voice. He had never been the same since the abduction; it had been as if They had taken some essential portion of his vitality away from him before returning his body to her...and now she knew that his pain was due in part to the revelations no one should ever have to face. For a man like her partner, who even before the advent of their son had made this fight so much more personal, having to face such defeat after years of crusading would seem to him to be the uttermost depths of failure and despite.

"Mulder," she began, not sure what to say to ease him, to let him know that she would always be there, that she did not think he had failed her or their son or his own mission...and to her surprise he turned at her touch to bury his head in her neck, arms around her waist clinging with desperate strength.

"There's nothing we can do to stop it, Scully," he said brokenly, his voice muffled by the folds of her sweater, by the heavy curtain of her hair. "I would stand in front of you and Will until They struck me down; I would fight Them to the death before I'd let Them take him to be a pawn in Their war or a slave in the aftermath--but there is nothing I can do, nothing I can get a hold of; nothing I can see or grasp or contend with to give me hope that we can win this thing." His hands moved desperately on her back as he, finally and irrevocably, released the horrible pain he felt at what she knew he perceived as his failure. Knowing how much he took on himself, knowing above all how much of that responsibility came of his own feeling of centrality as well as the inarguable facts of their existence, Scully simply held him, allowing him to confess to her as he had never done in even their deepest confidences. He would never let go like this again if she interrupted him, and so she waited until the trembling in his arms ceased before she murmured into his shoulder with the certainty she felt now, born of the truths of spirit.

"I know you Mulder, and you can't give up on this any more than I can. Not especially now, when we have so much more to lose. There is always something we can do while we still have breath; while we still have life. You gave me that faith." Still holding her, Mulder made no reply, and his grasp did not ease. Turning her head into his own hair, grown out in the interim, she continued, voice ringing with fortitude in the quiet. "You told me once, Mulder, to never give up on a Miracle, and I won't. As long as we are together, we are stronger than any other force or faction on this planet or any other. We will find a way--we always have. Together." As he moved his head restlessly in her hair, she reassured him with all that she was, radiating for him the confidence that would steel them both for the battles to come. In then end, as always, words were not enough and unnecessary, and their voices died down to murmurs in the bare quiet of a room that was a sanctuary for a little while longer. For a little while.


(Amor Fati, pt.36: "A New Place")

Randeau's Chateau Lodges
Vancouver, BC, Canada
May 5, 2002
10:26am

They were on the move again, trying to fool the watchers of the ways with a new strategy. "They obviously expect us to go across country again like we do every time they flush us out; why don't we throw 'em for a loop and just go to the other side of town? We should stay in an urban area so we can blend in, anyway." Mulder had grinned at her irrepressibly, all evidence of his former defeat gone in the light of new challenges. No matter the stakes, the moves of the Game had always engaged him, and wiped away even the deepest demoralization. "Besides; if they're just going to find us in a day or two, there's no point in spending our entire 'nest egg' running around the country trying to evade a foregone conclusion."

"If that was the case, Mulder, we could just go home right now," Scully had returned dryly.

He had shaken his head decisively. "DC is way too hot for us right now. At least out here the network is a little thinner. They had us mapped out like bugs in a spider web all over the East Coast."

Scully had looked off into the distance a little sadly. "Mulder, do you think it will ever be safe for us to go home?" At his concerned glance she had shaken her head briskly, clearing away the regrets. "Never mind; it's a pointless exercise to worry about that right now--even if They hadn't destroyed any peace of mind we could have had there long before we left."

She hadn't expected a reply to her rhetorical question, and therefore she had been surprised to say the least, by Mulder's quiet reply. "I've learned something in the past few years, Scully. Home is wherever you are. You, and now Will." Before she could marshal words to respond to this startling admission, Mulder had ignored her surprise to stride up to the phone book in the kiosk on the nearby corner without a backward glance. She had followed him with her eyes as he thumbed through the directory, wondering again exactly how much he had changed in the last year, how much she really knew this man that she had dedicated her life to following. It did not matter. She would walk beside him on this Journey no matter what had altered in him. She had already paid the price a thousand times over...and so had he. They deserved what little happiness could be snatched from the jaws of fate.

Now, out on the grass now before one of 'Randeau's small waterfront cottages, Scully murmured appreciatively to Mulder where he stood next to her holding the baby carrier. Their larger bags were stored in a nearby depot in what had become their usual 'modus operandi'; ditch the luggage, check in, grab the luggage, scout out new places to ditch the luggage. It was as close to a decent system as they could come up with on short notice. Mulder had been doing it since he had left last year.

"It looks like that old beach house you said your family used to rent. Quonachataug; whatever it was called--and that other place out there where I found you after that idiot doctor drilled his holes in your head. Chepachet." The indignation in her voice faded into thoughtfulness as he looked at her with amusement. "You know, 'Rob'; its weird how much some of this area looks like home."

"Hope it doesn't bring up any rotten memories from your days as a military brat, 'Laura'," he answered, grinning mischievously, and again she resisted the urge to deck him. How many times had she avoided that urge? --Maybe I should actually do it one of these days-- she thought acidly. She refrained from pointing out that if the cottages were to prompt bad memories for anyone, it would probably be Mulder that would have them. He had obviously thought of that already, which was probably why he brought it up in the first place. The guy could be so...stoic, damn him. There was so much in his mannerisms that were there for her alone, small moments he showed to no one else...and knowing that he would unveil the most vulnerable parts of himself to her, however subtly, endeared him to her even more. They would deal with the memories tonight.

Scully kept up her end of the gentle banter, letting him know that she understood. "For your information, most naval bases don't give dependents a sea-side view. They save that for the officers' windows. As long as it's not shaped like base housing or made of red brick, I think I'll be okay."

Mulder shook his head. "Touchy." He tsked at her lightly, then raised one shoulder in a half-shrug. "So, Laura honey, are you waiting for me to carry you across the threshold, or what? Last time I offered, you just gave me one of those patented dirty looks."

She raised her eyebrow obediently, knowing that that was what he expected. He seemed to enjoy her dry moments. What had he said once? He'd told her that he'd once described her as 'rigid in a wonderful way'. If he wanted dry, she'd give him dry. "Here's another one, 'Rob'," she returned with mock disdain. "I'm going to have a look inside."

The cottages were just as quaint and homey on the inside as they were on the outside. Scully hoped that the memories wouldn't be too bad for him; it was a nice place. Far nicer than that 'stopping inn'. Holding him through his nightmares came with the territory, but that didn't mean she enjoyed the necessity.

The cottage also came with the added perk of a fully equipped kitchen--but there was nothing to cook in it as yet.

"Looks like the Luder family eats out again tonight," Mulder commented in a chipper tone from behind her as he set down the bags with a thump and came to join her with the baby.

"Italian?"

Mulder grinned. "I don't know, 'Laura'; remember what happened the last time we had Italian?" he teased, and jerked his chin at William. Scully refused to rise to the bait.

The Italian ristorante down the road proved to be fairly good, livened as it was by a spirited discussion about intuition and 'extreme hunches'. "Oh, yeah? Well who figured out that the bellhop was the killer before he got to Clyde Bruckman? That was a pretty extreme hunch!" was Mulder's contention, to which Scully could offer no demur. The banter was a healthy and accustomed way for them to forget for a moment the overwhelming triad of forces arrayed against them, though Scully had a hard time ignoring the threat hanging over their heads...over their son's. A hard time forgetting Mulder's words of a few days before vied with those of Krycek a year ago at FBI headquarters. --'They're afraid of its implications. That it could somehow be greater than them. Something...more human than human.' And the Rebels...in charge of our government and our military...trying to kill our son, because the Colonists knew he was the one thing They needed to start the Process...get their timetable back on track... William; the key to the Invasion? And if Krycek was to be believed, more than a hybrid, more than human-- Oh God...

Mulder's hand covered hers, and his eyes were understanding as he jerked his head toward the highchair where their sauce-spotted and well-fed son was falling asleep. He didn't say anything, but she knew he wanted her to believe that they could hold their own. Looking away and down at her plate, Scully tried not to think about their Catch 22, and instead applied herself to the pasta going cold before her while she had attended to the dining needs of her child. She managed to eat a large portion of her meal quickly and neatly before moving to fold the sleeping little boy back into his makeshift bed in the booth beside them. Looking up from the corner of her eye as she straightened from that task, she noticed Mulder watching her with a ghost of a smile twitching at the corner of his mouth.

"What's so funny?"

With the exception of the suspect twinkle in his eye not changing expression in the slightest, Mulder leaned forward to gently wipe the corner of her mouth with his thumb. Scully's eyes filled with memory as she returned his smile. The small breach that his silence had laid between them the other day had not lasted long. It could not when that unnameable thing that lay between them drew them back together like two particles of opposite charge in the convoluted dance of a mystery that could not be defined.

Mulder was the first to break the silence, the soft light of memory very near the surface in his eyes as well. "With sauce like this, it's a wonder there's more than one Italian restaurant in town," he said with that infectious grin, and she blushed a little. They had really touched each other far too much back then...but it hadn't seemed out of place at all, and it could never feel wrong. She did wonder though why she had never acknowledged until the end that they had taken every excuse to hold a hand, brush a cheek, nudge a shoulder...and how many thousands of meals they had spent just looking while they had discussed the cases, their childhoods...any safe topic but the one they both knew lay there under the surface.

And now that they were aware of the need to do so, to speak openly about the reality of their bond, would they manage it properly with so little practice? God knew they were practiced at brushing it under the rug, at leaving the words unsaid. Now that the stress of their tenuous existence threatened that bond every day, they would need that communication to hold them together. Would it be like this every time they started over...or would the despair of yesterday creep up slowly to destroy the joy they had in each other?


(Amor Fati, pt.37: "William")

Chateau Lodges, Bungalow #13
Vancouver, BC, Canada
May 10, 2002
8:17am

Mulder had tried to help feed Will the other night. It had been something between a disaster and a joy to watch. This morning, Scully opted to feed him herself, and after the messy parts were over, she set him on a blanket on the carpet with a little plate full of baby cookies and a couple of toys, wondering if she might attempt to get some work done. Mulder had gone out to nose around. Scully worried when he got these sudden 'hunches' as they usually ended in getting them in trouble or worse, but they needed information, and they had found nothing of further interest online since their adventures on the third.

Sitting in the armchair where she could keep one eye on their very mobile son, Scully opened her journal and began to write immediately, needing to get her thoughts out on paper.

--"I have been writing these journal entries to you, my son, although I do not know if I will ever have you read them. They are more for me right now, to help me to come to terms, within myself, with the remarkable, intimate, and unforeseen qualities and...choices my life has taken on, choices for which I had never prepared nor envisioned.

--"There is a type of organism known to science as a symbiote. An organism which has evolved in a relationship with another to such an extent that neither of the two organisms can survive without the other, although both on their own often show surprisingly contradictory tendencies in their adaptations to their separate niches.

--"I have no illusions that I could not survive on my own, nor do I fear that I could not live satisfactorily for the both of us should necessity so require. I have done it, and I know my strengths. I also know the struggle, and the needless anguish of pride and stubborn self-reliance for its own sake. But to live that way, a half of a whole alone when one has the ability to live complete is untenable, illogical, and foolish. For science says that one must seek the likeliest prospect of survival or be expunged from the template of life as energy wasted...and God says to seek the Truth of one's soul and know it, unafraid."--

Looking up from the journal to rest her eyes thoughtfully on the eleven-month-old infant before her, Scully pursed her lips and bent her head to put final emphasis on the passage.

--"That is what we're trying to do, Sweet William. I hope that someday you will be able to understand what we are about in this. For your sake, as well as for our own."--

Pen hovering over the page for a moment longer, Scully shook her head and closed the longhand volume decisively. Some things just could not be put into words, any more than they could be programmed, categorized, or easily referenced. A tiny smile crossed her lips, and she slid the journal off of her lap so she could move over to where the baby sat munching on his cookies with one hand while he played with his UFO in a desultory fashion with the other.

"What do you have, Sweetheart?"

Will spared her a glance. "Ship," he said quite clearly, and Scully leaned back, startled. No. Startled didn't quite cover it.

"That's my buddy!" Mulder called from the doorway, and removed his hand from the jamb to enter as Scully glanced back at him in surprise.

"That was quick! Mulder, did you hear him?"

"I heard." He was grinning as he came over to the spot on the carpet where his son had set up camp. "That's right, William; that's a ship, isn't it?"

"Ship," Will agreed, sparing his father just about as much of a glance as he had given his mother a moment before.

"I wonder where he picked that one up," Scully murmured to herself wonderingly. "I never tried to teach it to him. William, has your Dada been giving you language lessons behind my back?" She glanced at Mulder a little suspiciously. Mulder, crouched beside her on the edge of the blanket, shook his head.

"I suspect he picked it up out of our heads, Scully," he answered softly, reflectively, and Scully blanched.

"Mulder, if he could do that, why isn't he showing more signs of it?" she retorted...more because she didn't want to believe it than for form's sake.

Mulder looked at her for a moment without answering, then sat down at the edge of the blanket and leaned forward to catch Will's attention. "Let's test the hypothesis. Isn't that what scientists do?" he teased lightly, and she frowned, sitting down beside him.

"Scientists don't experiment on their own children. Not since Pavlov and Freud, anyway--and psychologists are more up your alley than mine."

"Sigmund Freud was a bona fide wacko, Scully," Mulder answered quietly. "His patients checked themselves into asylums to get away from him; and if you know anything about what asylums were like in the late nineteenth century, you'd have a real good idea just how crazy he was. I'm not Freud." He grinned at her. "As a Jungian, I only experiment on myself. This comes under the heading of 'need-to-know'." Before she could reply, he reached out to joggle his son's hand. "William," he said softly, and the baby looked up obediently, as if he were humouring his father. Mulder stared into his son's eyes without words, fingers gently rubbing the back of the baby's hand to keep his attention. For his part William seemed entranced, and he returned his father's look with his own stare. Scully stared at them both as the air grew fraught with a feeling of...communication.

A look of confusion crossed William's features. Mulder made a soothing noise without really thinking about it, and after a moment of intense silence the little face broke into a broad, cheerful smile.

"Dada! Mama!" He turned and pointed at Scully, a look of baby triumph on his face. "No Ship! Sma'!" He turned back to his father, pointed. "Ship. Toy." Mulder sat back on his heels, staring at the torrent with combined look of disbelief and rueful acceptance.

"We're gonna have to watch what we think around this kid from now on, Scully," he murmured softly. "He can't pick up on the subtleties yet, but he's going to get it pretty fast."

"Mulder, what did you do?" Scully wasn't sure she wanted to know, but it was necessary that she diid. Distantly, she wondered why she wasn't shaking at that little display.

"I asked him if he thought people could fit in his ship. I pictured you. He didn't understand right away; I don't think he's ever seen a real ship before...has he?" She shook her head and mouthed, 'Once'. Mulder nodded, continuing. "Anyway, after a minute I think he got it, because that's when he pointed at you and said 'small'. He knows it's a toy too, and that it's different from the real ships I was picturing." He shook his head. "I think this is going to be the best way to communicate with him if we need him to understand something important. Words only represent ideas. He understands the ideas; it's the words that are getting in the way for him."

"Mulder, that's..." She couldn't say it. It was ludicrous...and very, very possible. "Mulder, what did They do? To you, to him...to all of us?" Very plausible.

Mulder shook his head. "Whatever They did to me, it's long in the past and I'll probably never remember. But my name was on that folder before Samantha's, remember, and I've been exposed to the Black Oil and the vaccine, just like you were." His gaze bore into hers. "It stands to reason, Scully; the IVF didn't take because They weren't really trying to make it work. I don't know what They thought They were doing with you, but They must have been surprised when They realized that you were no longer barren; not that They would let you know that. You would leave, and They would have lost the perfect test subject. You had already been 'prepared' during your last 'harvesting'."

As the look of pain flickered across her face he reached out to take her hand. "I know they were even more surprised when you became pregnant...because they weren't trying to help you become so," he began.

"They were 'tinkering' with me," she admitted it finally, "because they were trying to make a 'supersoldier' out of William." She looked away; anywhere but at her partner or her son. "A government-funded Rebel replicant." And deep inside she was still afraid that they had succeeded.

Mulder nodded, but to her surprise his eyes were encouraging. "But 'supersoldiers' can't levitate objects, and if they're telepathic at all they don't seem to manifest any other psychic talents; precognition, the ability to single out a mind among dozens, to focus on a thought--or they would never have had to resort to technology to surveill you while I was gone. Not to mention he hasn't developed that spinal deformity. No; we can rest assured that they didn't succeed with Will...no matter how hard they tried to lead you to believe that they had. He's something unexpected, unforeseen; a true Miracle. Krycek was right: they never saw him coming."

She must not have looked entirely reassured at that, for he reached out to grasp her upper arm in a tight, convincing grip. So very real. "They could try all they wanted, Scully; but what they didn't know was that we would succeed where they had failed. Our son was meant to be as he is, not as a result of their experiments. They fear what William may become because he is the result of something that they never thought would be.

"They never expected to be successful with me. I was an accident, my altered genes never to be passed on...and then you were fertile again, and before they could stop us we went and accomplished the very thing that the Rebel scientists did not want to happen." Mulder continued inexorably, grey-green eyes intent on hers as the concise phrases poured forth in a relentless flood of unwelcome information. "William. The first all-natural, home-grown and fully adjusted hybrid, born of two humans who happened to have their recessive alien DNA switched on at the right moment. As that woman Lizzie Gill told you; 'One could only hope to create that in a lab; a perfect human child, but without any human weaknesses.' He's as indestructible as a supersoldier, but without the weakness of the aliens and their clones; and without any of ours. They have no idea what he might be capable of, but he has the potential to be a weapon for either side. Both sides want him, and we can't let either of them win."

Scully was staring at Mulder, the pit of her stomach long gone with dread. What he was saying...she had suspected some of it, but to have it said and out in the open... --More than a hybrid; more than human...-- what she was feeling was far worse than terror. Still, she forced herself to speak; to get it all straight so she could keep fighting. --If we quit now, They win-- "You say that the Rebels want our son dead, Mulder, because he's the green-light to the Colonists--and the Colonists want him alive because he is the missing link they have been searching for." --And where does that put us?-- She avoided that thought, instead sorting the data and coming to the kind of conclusion that years working with Fox Mulder had taught her to draw. "That the shadow government begun by the Rebel shapeshifters exists to hold off the incursion of the Colonists; and that their supersoldier Project is working toward the creation of the perfect soldier from the human genome with which to accomplish exactly that. And that's why Billy Miles destroyed all those clinics; why they're still destroying them--because he's a Colonist replicant rather than a 'supersoldier'."

Mulder nodded encouragingly. "That's why the Colonists' replicants were ready to take Will when was born, Scully, and why they did not once they realized what he was. They thought the Rebels had succeeded to an untoward degree with him--and instead they found that he was the one thing for which they had been hoping, and they want him alive. Gibson Praise was an anomaly they did not expect, a more stable form of what I became for a while during my illness, and able to withstand the speed of his own mental workings. If the Colonists could have taken him, they could have figured out how he happened, what in his make-up made him the key to their success." His voice took on a note of urgency, a ring of discovery.

"They've had it all wrong all these years, Scully, driving along with their artificial hybridisation Project! Not experimentation, but forced evolution is the key; both to their Project and our survival...for we must evolve, must become what we seek or be destroyed. And now even Gibson Praise is nowhere near what our son has been since the beginning--for he is what we may all become. They would take him at all costs...and the Rebel replicants will kill him at any cost. Or me...because of how we'll raise him, and because while he is an unknown quantity that may turn out to be useful, I am simply a mistake; a miscalculation. Together we have the facility to produce such miracles, they know that as long as I am alive, you, Dana Scully, stand to bear more examples of the future of the human race as we must be in the end, to survive."


(Amor Fati, pt.38: "Merciful")

Chateau Lodges, Bungalow #13
Vancouver, BC, Canada
May 11, 2002
10:03am

The rest of that day had been tense, to say the least. Mulder had finally taken both of them to the couch and held them, trying with the comfort of his body and the warm circle of his arms to erase the uncertainty that their conversation had brought into the cottage. After Will had fallen asleep that evening, Mulder broke the daylong tension by suggesting they watch a movie.

"I picked a couple up while I was out this morning," he admitted as he set two videos on the coffee table. Scully snatched the top one up suspiciously, obviously expecting it to be another 'guy movie'. She had stared at the spine of the case for a moment, dumbfounded, before glancing back at him in surprise.

"Mulder, this is 'Steel Magnolias'," she stated, looking at him with something akin to disbelief.

"Yeah, sometimes I even surprise myself. I usually hold up my end of a bargain though, don't I, Scully? Even if it takes me almost two years to cough up my share?"

Scully had just shaken her head with wonder and shoved the cassette into the VCR. "I was just joking, Mulder. I never meant to hold you to this."

"Yeah, well, you were a good sport sitting through 'Caddyshack' with me; but if you'd rather watch something scaaaaaary, I also brought 'Carrie'. I've gathered over the years that you have a poorly hidden weakness for tacky, big-budget horror," he grinned provocatively at her, "and I'll be glad to feed the need."

"You just want to get out of watching the chick flick--that's it, isn't it Mulder!" Amiably, she settled back into his embrace on the couch, glad that they could hold each other now where once they had had to sit back stiffly, heads together as they studied one x-file or another in the time when putting an arm around one another was a risk.

"Ssssssh, Scully; the movie's about to start," Mulder had deadpanned, refusing to give her the satisfaction. For the first time in a long time they had fallen asleep tangled together on the couch.

The next morning found them taking Will for a walk along the beach, the entire enterprise largely free of encumbrances. The new stroller attachment wouldn't have made it far amongst the sand and stones of the coast, and Mulder had surprised her by volunteering to wear the Snugli himself. William was bouncing happily against his father's chest like a small armed basketball, gabbling loquaciously to himself as he took in the cacophony of the seabirds and the sounds and smells of his new environment--while his parents strode side by side in companionable silence, hands linked. Mulder had captured Scully's hand as they set out as if he wanted to support her after the revelations of the previous day, and he seemed unlikely to relinquish it anytime soon--an arrangement to which Scully had no real objection.

Gazing across the beachhead but seeing instead another expanse of water in her mind's eye, Scully could not help thinking once again that if they were home they would be walking with William through Potomac Park. Not that she didn't enjoy the beach-but each time she realized that the place that had been her home for most of her adult life might never be familiar to her son it gave her a jolt of quiet dismay, a tiny tug of regret. --Don't be silly, Agent Scully-- she chastised herself impatiently. --If we were home we'd be huddled in the apartment wishing to be anywhere else, while Mulder eked out his existence here in the rest of the world without us-- Intellectually she knew that this was far better. But on an emotional level it did not help much.

Beside her, Mulder pointed suddenly with his chin. "Look at that, S...Laura. God, I miss those days sometimes. Sun, sand, and nothing much to worry about but getting home in time for dinner." Scully followed his gaze out to the salt flats ahead and glimpsed a sort of beach-sandlot game in progress. About eight kids were out there tossing a baseball back and forth as if warming up for a real match-up. A large dog, probably a golden lab mix, was lolloping gaily from one child to the next, following the zigzag path of the horsehide with single-minded intensity.

Strange; the last time she'd heard Mulder in fond reminiscence over sandlot games, she had just begun to yearn unexpectedly for a child. Now she had that child, against all odds...and here they were watching another such game in progress.

Mulder usually followed her train of thought with unerring accuracy, but today he had apparently picked up his own ride. "Someday we'll have to get this guy a dog," he murmured, absently patting William's head--then he grinned suddenly with unholy glee. "A real dog; not a little yappy thing like that mop you had." Just as suddenly as he had switched from nostalgia to mockery, he turned reflective. "No kid should grow up without a big, dumb dog to run around with."

Though she never usually had this difficult a time following Mulder's tangential conversation, he was a deal more disjointed today than was the norm even for him. Scully knew as well as he did that their son would probably never have a life that settled. She was not the only one reflecting on the unwelcome circumstances of their life today. Fearing his possible descent into that quiet despair of last week, she shook her head and redirected the conversation in her customary flat tone. "M...Rob, the day we're in one place long enough to have anything bigger than a goldfish is the day I'll stop recognising you." The tools of a foil that she had developed over the years did come in handy once in a while, as did their habit of light-hearted ribbing. This time redirection seemed to work. In another abrupt change of mood, Mulder raised his eyes to her, filled with the light of sudden memory.

"That reminds me, S...Laura; who did you give my fish to? Please don't tell me you gave them to...Walter; that guy couldn't remember to feed a housefly."

Wondering how he would take the news, Scully's answer was a little reserved. "I don't know if you're going to be too happy with this, Rob, but 'John' wanted to take them. He helped to feed them during...while you were gone before, and I guess he kind of got used to having them around. Or at least that's what he said." At his startled look she gazed away over the ocean. "He did a decent job."

Mulder sighed. Knowing that he missed his home as much as she missed hers, she held her peace, and they finished their walk in silence.

Back at the cottage, Mulder turned on the TV by rote, not really expecting to hear anything relevant to their situation. It came as something of a shock to them both when they heard the details of the newscast that came through as if by pure serendipity.

"Again, John Doe; blonde Caucasian, approximately 78 kilos, approximately 180 centimetres in height, was found emaciated and comatose near Grouse Mountain outside of North Vancouver. Jane Doe; Asian, approximately 54 kilos, approximately 158 centimetres, flown in from in similar condition from a field outside Kamloops. Police are still unable to identify these two unknown victims, now listed in critical condition at Vancouver General, and ask that anyone who has any information on this case contact their local law-enforcement precinct or this television station." xxx

Scully came out of the kitchen to join Mulder in staring incredulously at the TV. This was far too provident...but it was too chance to be a trap. Scully felt her stomach churn back into its familiar knots as she became aware of the terrible choice ahead of them. As the newscast moved on to other events, Mulder leaned forward to quietly click off the set. Their eyes met for a loaded instant; one pair shining with quiet intensity and horrible, personal knowledge, one filled with equal parts fortitude, concern, and unwelcome surmise as they went into work mode.

Scully spoke first, voice firmly resolute. "If they're replicants, Mulder, we have to stop them making the full metamorphosis. We can't sentence anyone to live like that, even if we could afford two more of those things out there."

Mulder stared at her as if she had gone insane. "Its not the abducted replicants that are a danger to us now, Scully," he disagreed tersely after a moment as he shook his head. "Or at least they aren't the ones trying to kill our son."

"Exactly, Mulder. They may want him, but to get him they'll have to come through us. I don't know about you, but to me having him taken away from us is just as bad as having him killed...and I'm not too big a fan on being killed trying to protect him."

Mulder's unwavering green gaze turned considering as he took up the role of devil's advocate. "Even if you think we can bluff our way in there, Scully, we run the almost certain risk of giving away our position. We've been doing pretty good staying in one place for a week; how much longer do you think we could stay here if we pulled something like that?"

"That alone convinces me that They already know where we are, Mulder," Scully broke in heatedly, "but even if They don't, that doesn't change the simple facts. I took an oath to preserve human life! Putting aside the personal, that's the main reason I'm in this game at all. If I ignore that consideration now for selfish reasons I am negating the force that gives me purpose in this war."

"They're not going to be human long enough to be saved," Mulder contended brusquely before his eyes turned intense with communication. "Look at me, Scully. Is this worth risking William? To stop Them hatching two more replicants when for all we know They could have hundreds out there? The invasion has already begun; the war is being fought right under our noses. Stopping two transformations won't make that much difference."

"I know that, Mulder," she answered patiently, "but in the long run this is William's war; his and those others like him. We're just fighting it for him until he's ready; and right now we're not doing a damn bit of good sitting here on our asses gleaning tiny details off of the Internet." She caught his arm, the urgency within her translating itself to him through touch. "What it comes down to, Mulder, is whether we're on the offensive or the defensive. We might learn something important; and we'll be contributing a lot more to the Game than we will hiding out here hoping They won't stumble onto us." At his stubborn look of negation she punctuated her speech with a squeeze of her fingers. "You told me last week that the only way we can know what They're up to is to be involved." She forced a smile, knowing that she needed to break the stubborn set of his resolve. "Hey; we've always landed on our feet before. If we quit now, without a fight, They win."

Mulder shook his head at their role reversal and refrained from mentioning that the last time they had ignored the risks he had been abducted, and the time before that she had lost her sister. The time before that....but she did have a point.

"Okay, Scully; let's think this thing through. Assuming that They already know where we are and that They're just waiting around for us to get sloppy, I guess going on the offensive would be the one thing They wouldn't expect. And I'll concede that we need answers badly. But if this puts us back on the run..."

"Exactly, Mulder. One way or the other we'll be running again soon enough. The difference now is do we do something to further our cause before we run, or do we let them gain another victory? A small victory that will build upon the larger until we are completely subsumed without a murmur of protest?" Her voice turned grim. "We can't keep running forever; and we can't afford to be kept in the dark. We've been thrown a bone here." Her eyes bored into his challengingly. "Do we pick it up or ignore it? Throw away the Quest for the sake of safety, or fight the Fight and take the risk for the sake of the Future? What would the old Fox Mulder do?"

Mulder glared at her, stung. "The old Fox Mulder had nothing to lose! He didn't have a son, didn't stop to think about how his actions affected the people he loved," he grated harshly. "The old Fox Mulder got his partner's sister killed, got his partner abducted and turned into a breeding cow for the Consortium, and wreaked havoc in God knows how many more lives...all for the sake of tiny victories. Do you really want the old Fox Mulder back?" His green pools of his eyes had gone steel-grey and bleak with remembered pain.

Scully knew Mulder had changed--he was no longer quite as brash as he had been in the old days. But he was still Fox Mulder...and deep inside he knew what she wished she did not. They could not afford to hide.

"No," she answered quietly but firmly. "The Fox Mulder I fell in love with is standing right in front of me. If you have changed then so have I." Mulder stared at her as she voiced the words that she had never before spoken, and she bore on determinedly, ignoring both the surprise and the gratification in his face. "Not only would the old Fox Mulder have never had a child with me, but the old Dana Scully would never have allowed it...and the old Dana Scully would never have taken the leap of faith necessary to fight this Fight as is needed now." She reached out to him in a gesture of peace, took his rigid hand in her own, voice now soft with soothing persuasion. "But Mulder, you know as well as I do that tiny victories are often the only things that may lead us to the end goal. We built our entire current theory on small victories, tiny pieces of the puzzle. Now that we've lost the access to those casefiles, we need to seize the opportunities whenever they present themselves to build that ladder. We've been in tougher situations before and come out on top; always a little ahead of where we were, and always together. If we don't try, we might as well give up now." xxx

Vancouver General Hospital
Vancouver, BC, Canada
May 11, 2002
1:14pm

It had been a long time since they had broken into a hospital. Doing so brought back a certain clandestine thrill...like a feeling forgotten on the edges of experience.

They had also never before attempted to do so while carrying a baby. However, knowing that leaving William with an unknown personage or a day-care while they took care of business was not an option, they had discussed the logistics of the situation and decided to wing it. If nothing else, he would be good cover. It was just a good thing they hadn't tried this back when he had first left. No newborn, Teflon or no, could handle the dangers they would now have to put this toddler through in order to survive.

Mulder held the smoked glass door for Scully and the baby as they entered the largely deserted lobby of the Vancouver General Hospital, his free hand settling into its accustomed place in the small of her back as a matter of course. She had smuggled a gun in here as he had, and he could feel its reassuring cool presence against his palm where it nestled in the waistband of her slacks. All business, Scully slipped off the Snugli without warning and passed the baby to him as they as they approached the nurses' station. Mulder caught him by reflex. "Here. Keep the nurse busy," she said in an intense whisper, then angled abruptly off to one side, leaving Mulder to continue to the desk alone.

Put on the spot at the station without back-up, Mulder ad-libbed outrageously to the courteous attendant. "Yes, I'm here to see a Denise Williams. She should be in a recovery room. Head trauma." He tapped his skull and gave her an ingratiating smile, trying his best to look innocuous. Having the baby strapped to him probably helped; women generally found a guy with a kid fairly unthreatening. He had read somewhere that men carrying babies got hit on nearly twice as much as the obviously single types. He grinned to himself at the thought, enjoying the return of optimism, and of that old feeling that always came with his illicit adventures with Scully. God, he had missed this kind of thing; going in headfirst, taking the initiative. The adrenaline of the hunted left a much worse taste in the mouth.

The nurse blinked at him for a moment, then turned to call the data up on her screen. While she was otherwise occupied, Mulder glanced up surreptitiously to see if he could spot Scully before she disappeared into the warren behind the nurses' station. He caught a glimpse of her mane, newly chestnut from the dye applied to the roots two evenings before, and then she was gone down a side hallway. He had no doubt that she knew what she was doing; Scully knew her way around a hospital.

Finding himself still missing the bright beacon of her red hair, he returned his attention to the nurse, the painfully familiar effects of adrenaline beginning to speed up his respiration and heart-rate as he avoided thinking about what might happen should they be found out. He could no longer see Scully. The nurse was replying to his query in a long-suffering tone, and he jerked his attention back to her words. "I'm sorry sir--we have no Denise Williams listed in recovery."

Stalling for time, Mulder packed a little more boyish charm into his smile. "Well did you try the whole directory? Maybe she was moved. I sure would appreciate it if you could find her for me." After a moment's consideration the nurse nodded and returned to her perusal of the screen, and Mulder returned to his anxious surveillance of the area behind the lobby. --C'mon, Scully; hurry up!-- He couldn't keep this up forever, unless by some miracle he happened to have picked a name out of the air that actually existed in the hospital directory. He doubted even Alex Krycek could give him the odds on that.

After a short time the nurse met his eyes again, looking a little less than patient. "I'm sorry, sir, but we have no Denise Williams listed in any centre of this facility. Are you sure you have the right hospital?" At that exact moment Scully reappeared in the hall behind the nurses' station, the set of her shoulders indicating triumph. She had found them. Holding back a sigh of relief, Mulder shook his head.

"No, ah--thanks. I might have the wrong place after all. Is this Lion's Gate?" He tried his best to sound bewildered and the nurse snorted at him, equanimity returned and a slight tone of derision in her voice that said that anyone who couldn't tell the difference between a general hospital and a private one was a sad individual indeed.

"No, this is Vancouver General. You'll have to go across town to get to Lions." At that moment another petitioner appeared behind Mulder's left shoulder. "If I could help this next gentleman?"

Murmuring apologies to both parties, Mulder made his escape, counting his blessings that someone else had appeared to take the nurse's attention so he could slip away toward the back of the lobby. Making sure the nurse was no longer paying any attention to him, Mulder sidled away from the counter and circled the room in a wide berth to make his rendezvous with Scully at the far end. "What did you find out?" he asked her in a low tone, keeping one eye on the nurse's back to make sure she hadn't noticed that he wasn't heading out the front door.

Scully spoke with her head down in the same intense half-whisper. "They're in ICU. We'll have to bluff our way in." Her face was literally oozing with conflicting emotions as she struggled, he knew, with the fact that she could no longer use her credentials as a doctor in her new incarnation, not even to save a life should she have the opportunity to do so. For a doctor not to be able to act as a doctor... The realization had probably just occurred to her, and it was not welcome; but very few of her new identities carried that degree. Watching the frustration and disgust chase each other across her finely-drawn, beloved features, Mulder resolved to try to hack her some sort of medical credentials the next time around. It could come in handy, anyway.

"Yeah, its too bad, 'Laura'; you could just skip the espionage and muscle in like you always do," he teased gently, trying to relieve the tension of the moment. It worked.

"I didn't 'muscle in,' 'Rob', I offered my professional opinion," she retorted a little sharply. He grinned at her discomfiture.

"Is that what we're calling it?" he needled quietly, unable to conceal the amusement in his tone. But apparently Scully was not in the mood to join in the game.

"Yes, well, if I hadn't 'muscled in' you'd be dead ten times over by now."

Mulder turned to face her in the mouth of the hall, the passage of nurses and other straggling visitors ignored as their eyes focused on each other to the exclusion of all else. He looked into her face, pale in the harsh glare of the fluorescents. "I'm well aware of that fact, Doctor," he whispered earnestly. Hearing both the admiration in his voice and seeing the understanding shining out of his eyes, Scully relaxed visibly.

"Well, there's no time like the present," she returned a little briskly, a hint of self-castigation in her voice, and the corner of her mouth twitched. She was laughing at herself. Shaking his head, Mulder took her arm and turned them toward the lime-green maw of the hospital's interior --Why are hospitals always painted such godawful colours?-- Mulder wondered in passing--and the bank of elevators awaiting them there. They took the second lift, and Scully punched them through to the sixth floor. As they exited the elevator into a hall sparsely peopled with orderlies and the occasional nurse, Scully nodded to their left. "Second door," she directed quietly, and they caught the locking door before it closed behind an orderly busy redepositing his keycard in the pocket of his scrubs. Once in the passage behind the door, they were assaulted by the anxious smell of life on the edge of death, combining uneasily with the subtle stink of antiseptic and the beeping of heart monitors. Falling in with of a group of worried-looking relatives, Scully ducked past the nurse's station with Mulder and William following inconspicuously in her wake. Getting in was the easier part. Getting out...

Their grieving escort dispersed into one of the rooms on the right, leaving Mulder and Scully to finish the traverse of the hall alone. Scully stalked purposefully ahead, stopping finally before door 619. "Here we go," she breathed to him as he caught up to her before the unit, and they slipped silently through the open doorway. xxx

Once inside their target intensive care unit, William made a snuffling noise from the vicinity of his father's sternum and began to root around ineffectually as if unsettled by his surroundings and protesting his confinement. Could he sense the proximity of the change that would soon make replicants of these two unidentifiable people? Once again Mulder wondered just how much this kid was able to pick up about their tormentors. Could he read them as well as his father had been able to do when he was ill with the brain-fever that had brought him to the brink of death and resurrection? Was it instinct, or a more concrete thought process? There was so much they needed to know about how Will functioned...and none of it would be easy to discover.

The two beds containing the John and Jane Doe they had come here to release from their sentence worse than death lay wheezing on life support, the curtain between them drawn back as if the nurse last with them had been called away suddenly. They likely had very little time. Scully glanced at their charts perfunctorily, turned to Mulder and nodded once. He returned her nod. These two were indeed what they had come here to find. He took a deep breath. After the next move, they were committed. --I hope you know what you're doing, Scully-- he thought grimly, then shifted the baby to one side to delve into his pocket while Scully glanced over the charts a little more thoroughly, taking up her station before the second bed. He handed her a slip of paper from the small notebook in his pocket, and took one for himself. Simultaneously bending to use the footboards as makeshift tables, the two former agents scrawled the word 'antivirals' on the three-by-five sheets and set the insignificant-seeming indicators on the two victims' chests. Mulder took another deep breath and nodded once back at his partner. Now came the hard part. After they disconnected these two from life support, they would have about half a second to make themselves scarce before the nurses and orderlies descended on the unit and cut off their escape.

Hand hovering over his Jane Doe, Mulder glanced down at the ruined face before him...and wished he had not. Almost immediately he felt his face go pale and clammy as the memories sprang up--the alien Bounty Hunters slowly resolving themselves from the dark all around him, the pain, the rods in his arms and legs, melded to the bone like steel pins in the spine of an accident victim, the laser drill burrowing its way into his soft palate with its subsonic scream...

Shaking his head viciously to dispel the more-than-unsettling recollections, Mulder stretched out his hand decisively over the trailing cords and tubes of the life-support system, looked up to coordinate the timing with Scully...only to find her watching him with something akin to quiet horror as she realized that he remembered some of his...experiences. Damn. Had his face been that transparent? She had run her fingers lightly over the minimal scarring on his arms, legs and chest after their first night back in Salianiqua, silently begging the question--did he remember? Was he able to talk about it? He had lied outright, turning her against him so that she fitted in the curve of his body, and had rested his chin on the crown of her head amid the soft cushion of her locks, avoiding every evidence of her questions. He had lied...and she had believed him because she wanted to. Because she did not want to believe that he remembered the horrors that were inflicted upon him. --Is that what I looked like? A corpse?--

Now that she knew... Shaking his head sharply, he compressed his lips in a thin line. --Now is not the time-- his eyes telegraphed the message to her; and the corner of her mouth twitched once in unwelcome acceptance. She would give him hell later for it, he knew. Right now they had business to take care of.

--One...two-- the silent count rang in both of their heads as they reached out in perfect synchronisation to grasp the lines and cords before them. Time stretched like a rubber band, and suspense reached a crescendo as the partners stopped breathing on cue.

--Three!-- Without hesitation the slim, competent arm and the larger, but no less determined one swept away from the beeping machines in a large arc...and both monitors let out simultaneous electronic screeches of alarm. From somewhere outside the room an answering electronic alarm sounded, and the other end of the hall erupted into ordered confusion. Mulder and Scully were already moving, dodging through the door and around the jamb into the next unit, Mulder cradling Will's downy head instinctively in his palm as they slipped around the frame. They heard the patter several pairs of soft-soled tennis shoes on the linoleum as the team dashed down the corridor and into the room they had just vacated. A step behind him, Scully had ducked into the next room just in time. Waiting breathlessly for the outcry that said they had been spotted, the two former agents held their breaths for several endless seconds while the ordered bustle on the other side of the wall resolved itself with the advent of the on-call doctor. "Oh, dear God. Okay, people, I want a transfer, stat! Let's get these two on an IV and someone find me that goddamn virologist--what's his name? Detton? Get him in here now! And call security!"

Mulder could feel Scully relax behind his right shoulder. "Good," she breathed to no one in particular. "She checked the readouts."

Mulder nodded, preoccupied. "Do you think they'll be in time?"

"That's up to their team now...Rob. Right now we've got to concentrate on getting out of here before security thinks to check the neighbouring units for the 'saboteurs'."

A quick glance around the edge of jamb confirmed that there was no escape the way they had come in...at least, not for awhile. Tapping his foot in deep thought, Mulder's let his eyes rove around the trap their refuge had become...until they settled on the dropped ceiling above their heads. "Hey, 'Laura'; feel a yen to go cat burglar?" Scully followed his gaze reluctantly.

"I guess you'll have to hand the baby up to me," she agreed, and lifted one of the hard fibreglass chairs over to the centre of the room with a commendable economy of motion. "Ladies first?" she asked him, eyebrow raised. Mulder nodded impatiently, and she stepped up onto the seat and poked the edge of the pressboard up to peer into the gloom above their heads. "All clear." She lifted one foot, and he made a saddle of his hands and boosted her up into the concealing dimness.


(Amor Fati, pt. 39; 'Revelations')

It was next to impossible to worm around in these dusty crawlspaces when one had a baby strapped to one's chest. For a moment the surreal quality of this adventure caught up with Mulder, and he stifled an incredulous laugh. --What the hell are we doing running around like this with a baby on board, for Chrissakes?-- he mused rhetorically. This had been exactly why Scully hadn't been able to come with him when he'd had to leave DC last year. It would have been too dangerous for the baby, ridiculous in fact...and yet...

Swaying in the shadows below his father's dusty face, William made a small interrogatory noise, but he didn't sneeze at the dust or cry at the unexpected change in environments. For about the tenth time in as many days, Mulder wondered how much the kid could really pick up on from among their more urgent thoughts. If he had figured out from their public minds that now was a good time to remain silent...well, so much the better. --Better get used to this kind of thing, kid-- he thought. --This is gonna be your life for a while. Blame it on your breeding-- Mulder snorted to himself. And he had thought his childhood had been strange.

About two feet ahead and pulling away, Scully had arced around toward the far side of their temporary domain, avoiding the roof above the room the team was working in. He could just barely see her in the gloaming, dodging the cable-like wires from which the ceiling depended as she placed her knees carefully on the aluminium rods with the air of one who did this sort of thing with distressing regularity. How many dropped ceilings had they negotiated over the years?

Once she had oriented their party over the rooms on the far side of the hall she swivelled to the left and made a beeline for what must be the wall of the elevator shaft. The stainless steel glimmered fitfully in the backwash of the fluorescents as they crossed the imaginary line that marked the doorway through which they had entered the ICU, and Scully once again hared off to the right to circle the public elevator shafts, coming in behind them above what had to be the freight elevator in the maintenance hall behind the main complex. She halted to wait for the rest of her party, gasping slightly in the dust. Mulder stifled a cough as he joined her, amused at the thought that she crawled better than their son.

"Do we come out here?" he asked, deferring to her more consummate knowledge of hospital workings.

Nodding confirmation, Scully absently stroked the baby's head from where it protruded beyond Mulder's collarbone. The Snugli had inched its way up in the interim, and William had lodged his small hands successfully in his father's shaggy brown hair. Dropping his head back to eye his mother quizzically, he made a noise that sounded something like "Grml? Ma!"

"It's okay, baby," Scully whispered to him. "We're going down now."

"Shouldn't we wait for a minute until things die down?" Mulder asked quietly. "We're in a good spot--they're not likely to be looking for us here--and the anthill will take a few minutes to calm down from the kick we just gave it."

"Everyone who was going to go into the ICU will have already arrived," she reassured him, and after a quick glance through a raised panel, swung round to drop lightly to the floor below. "Hand William down to me," she whispered, and Mulder wasted no time in complying, nervous that the baby might begin crying or coughing at any moment. Just as he had released the Velcro straps preparatory to tugging the Snugli off of his sore shoulders --Man you're getting heavy-- he thought in passing, Scully hissed sharply from below. Poking his head through the hole, Mulder saw what she saw: the metal knob rattling on a service door near the end of the maintenance hall. Acting without thought, Mulder pulled back into the hole turtle-like and set William to one side on the panel beyond his head.

"Stay," he directed shortly, and left his son rocking ineffectually beside him in an attempt to turn over like an encumbered beetle in the trappings of the Snugli and ducked back through the opening to thrust his arms down at Scully waiting below him. "Grab my hands," he whispered urgently, and caught her wrists as she thrust her own arms up at him.

With a surge of superhuman strength he did not know he possessed and motivated by an unexpected surge of adrenaline, Mulder gave a mighty heave and Scully's petite figure abruptly broke contact with the floor below. The hanging ceiling that was his foundation creaked alarmingly, cables singing around him, and the dangling Dana Scully slithered up through the hole in an undignified manner, Docker-clad legs kicking as she propelled herself upward into his arms. He rolled, bearing them both over in a chaotic jumble, her nether limbs rejoining them in their refuge as she landed full on his chest with a ceiling-shaking 'whumph'.

Hearts pounding in unison, Mulder and Scully lay entangled as they had fallen, trembling with reaction. After a moment Scully lifted her head from his collarbone and shoved the white panel back into the hole it had so recently vacated. In the hall below their makeshift sanctuary, the distinct sound of a man pushing a cart swelled and faded, the door of the freight elevator sliding shut with a muted whoosh directly beneath them.

Shaking her head, Scully began to rise, her face set in what Mulder privately termed her 'take charge' expression.

"This is not going to be easy, Mulder."

He grinned challengingly. "We've had worse."

"Well, if you have any suggestions, I'm open to them. We've got to figure out how to get out of here before William decides to tell the whole hospital that he's hungry, or wet..." She rose to her knees as she spoke...and in an unfortunate concatenation of limbs one knee came down crushingly in a most inopportune area.

Face suddenly pale, Mulder rolled away from her with a choking wheeze and curled himself into a comma like a stepped-on bug. "Jesus, Scully!" he gasped in pained rejoinder, eyes scrunched shut.

"Are you okay Mulder?" she asked, sounding concerned, and tried to pry him out of his fetal position long enough to assess his condition. Absorbed mightily in conserving breath, Mulder refrained from replying, and after a moment of watching him rock on the panel next to her cradling himself protectively, Scully sat back, a note of amusement sneaking into her voice.

"Medically speaking, Mulder, you should be all right in a few minutes. The shock will wear off quickly." Her voice was very dry, but it held a hint of her annoyingly gentle 'bedside manner'.

"Scully," Mulder groaned impatiently.

"Yes?"

"Shut up. You have no idea what this feels like."

His vision was beginning to clear. Fighting off the burning nausea, Mulder experimentally cracked an eye to behold Scully looming over him in a neat role reversal. She ran a gentle finger over his cheek, brushed his lips with her thumb.

"I'll make it up to you later," she murmured, and her own lips curled in a tender, lightly teasing smile. Mulder drew a deep breath.

"I don't know if I want to risk it," he interjected, still a little miffed. The haze of pain had receded sufficiently for him to see the humour their little mishap had injected into the tense moment. "I thought I told you; you have manos de piedra." Scully snorted dismissively.

Behind them, William had been patiently ignoring this exchange, still absorbed in trying to turn over despite the encumbering Snugli. He had managed to lunge to his hands and knees by this time, and was raising one small fist to grasp the cable nearest him when he suddenly froze and let out a thin wail of terror. An all-too-knowing caterwauling ensued, and both his parents glanced over at him, alarmed.

"We've got to shut him up," Mulder began grimly, and rolled over onto his own knees. And in that instant the world dissolved into chaos as the panel beneath him was ripped viciously away and a burly hand thrust up into the crawlspace to grab the fragile collar of his grey t-shirt and drag him down through the opening to land on the hard linoleum below with a sickening thud. xxx

Mulder swam back to the surface of consciousness to the detriment of his ringing head, fighting off the threatened blackout and labouring to convince his stunned diaphragm to begin its work again. Struggling vainly to catch his breath for the second time in three minutes, he slowly opened his eyes to behold...

Despite an absolute lack of oxygen, Mulder let loose the same thin sound of terror his son had made a moment before, and scrambled across the unforgiving surface to back against the wall as the emotionless visage of the alien Bounty Hunter swam into his view. In that moment it all the memories rushed back at him in full assault like front linemen at the line of scrimmage, and he felt the frantic beginnings of panic nibbling at the remaining vestiges of coherent thought. The pitiless faces; They were all around him...waiting in the dark, enjoying his pain, his terror; watching as he hurt, watching as he bled, as he...

Gazing at him with that complete lack of human expression, the square-jawed monster raised one massive arm slowly and twitched a thumb. With that familiar and spine-tingling -snick-, the shapeshifter stiletto appeared from the centre of the ham-like fist, and the Bounty Hunter took one step toward Mulder, radiating deadly menace.

"One clean shot to the back of the neck, isn't it? I may not kill you, but I sure can put you down, you son of a bitch," Scully's voice rang out cold and deadly from behind the Bounty Hunter. It rose from its stoop to twist toward her, half its attention still on its prey. Below on the floor, Mulder beheld the inspiring sight of his Scully standing at the ready with her pistol couched in both palms, unshaking bead drawn at the base of the Bounty Hunter's skull. Without the slightest change of expression, she shifted her grip briefly to rack the slide and tilted her head just the slightest bit. "You okay, Mulder?"

"I'll live." He took the opportunity to scramble awkwardly to his feet, breathing gingerly and rubbing the back of his head. He wavered and thrust a hand against the wall to keep himself vertical. "I think I may have a concussion, though."

"Good thing you don't wear ties anymore or you might have choked to death," she commented wryly, but her cold eyes never left the alien as she glared at their tormentor. "Stand back away from him," she snapped to the Bounty Hunter without pause. The alien gazed at her emotionlessly, Its eyes unnerving in their dead calm.

"Where is the child?" It asked as if the gun pointed at Its neck did not exist. Scully's expression became, if possible, a touch more dangerous, but before she could speak, Mulder broke in harshly.

"What do you care?" he demanded, voice crackling with strain. "You aren't the ones that want him dead. You should be going after those Rebels of yours, but you can't seem to let go of your precious 'Project' long enough, can you?"

The Bounty Hunter turned to regard Mulder steadily, ignoring his question. "Why did you terminate our replacements?" It asked. There was a faint note of curiosity in Its voice. "It is the replicants of your own government that wish to destroy your offspring."

"Which is a sure sign that the Colonisation has already begun!" Mulder jumped on the alien's statement with something akin to triumph in his voice. Behind the Bounty Hunter's back, Scully started, staring at him. Mulder ploughed on, building momentum, his voice accusing. "It has already begun, but not in the way you had envisioned, because your almighty 'Project' has been tampered with, and you don't have any idea what to do about events you never planned for. And you don't like it at all that your 'slaves' upset the timetable and your Rebels destroyed the Consortium that would begin the countdown for you by seeding the human race. Why should we fear you or fight you any less, just because our son is the event horizon you've been waiting for, or because humanity's only hope of salvation lies in the actions of those that would destroy him?"

The Bounty Hunter nodded once, curtly; and though its expression of course did not change, it seemed now to put off a faintly resigned air. "The Rebels were an unforeseen variable. Their experiments are counterproductive to the ends of the Project. In the advent of their success we were forced to take drastic measures."

"And so you made the replicants, to fight off their 'supersoldiers'. Replicants versus 'supersoldiers', hybrids versus Colonists, Rebels versus bounty hunters..." Mulder grinned suddenly; a cold grin, eyes as hard as Scully's. "And now the Elders of your race who have always been neutral before now may decide to take a more personal interest in your 'Project'...and the technology you gave humanity to speed its progress before they could decide to intervene now threatens its success. How's it feel to be unsure of your own fate, you sadistic bastard?"

The alien showed no reaction. "The Bureaucrats will not aid the Rebels any more than they will they aid in our enterprise. They do not act; they talk...and if they do act, their concessions are small. They have rescued many species of this planet, but they do not seem to share that interest with your species. Do not look to them for succour, human."

"You only hope they remain undecided as they always have," Mulder grated. "It's the only way your Project will succeed." The Bounty Hunter made no reply.

Scully had found her voice. "Why do you want to kill this man?" she asked angrily, gun barrel unwavering in its aim. "What don't we know?" The Bounty Hunter did not take Its eyes from Mulder, but It acknowledged the question flatly.

"This one was a mistake, caused by the ignorant tampering of the human slaves, and he represents imperfection. Mistakes and imperfections must be cleansed from the template before progress can continue." It looked at Mulder with something akin to disgust in its eyes. "You should not be allowed to taint the Project with your attempts to rebut our efforts, nor raise your offspring to do the same--and your existence clouds the issue when there is a threat to be dealt with. We could not allow the human slaves to delay the Project, but we did not expect them to be unavailable to us when the time came to release Purity upon this planet. The Rebels will be put down before they can spread any further corruption, and you will be destroyed, for you are no longer necessary to our ends." Once again ignoring the fact that there was a gun pointed at the back of Its neck It made another demand. "But first I will have the child. That is necessary to our ends. You will give it to me now."

Mulder's voice shook with barely suppressed fury as he cut the air with the flat of his palm in denial. "If you don't like that the hybrids are immune, then you shouldn't have allowed them to be made in the first place, not even for the sake of the slave race you wish to build in the advent of your victory. Your own greed will be your undoing." His voice rose to fever pitch. "But our son will not be tucked away on some ship somewhere to be experimented on like a guinea pig, cloned a thousand times while we perish from your 'Purity'! He will live to know the Truth! He will know the war that must be fought, and his part in it--and you will never get your filthy hands on him or his DNA!" As the Bounty Hunter regarded him in silence, Mulder shook his head, anger subsiding as suddenly as it had risen.

"You were patient with all the Syndicate's little side-projects, but our son surprised you, didn't he?" and Mulder's voice rang out in that moment with conviction and discovery. "Because you have no idea what he is or what he may become. Because he was something you didn't expect, and if there's one thing you bastards can't stand, it's the things you cannot pre-programme or control..."

Completely unexpected in the tense air of the corridor, they heard the rattle of the door at the end of the service hall. All three points of the tableau turned as one to stare as an unassuming orderly opened the door and stepped in, looking behind him as if fearing pursuit and pulling an unauthorised cigarette from his hip pocket as if escaping for a short clandestine smoke break. Raising his head as the door closed behind him, the orderly took one good look at the gun in Scully's hand and blanched.

"Hey, what the hell is going on back here?" He looked trapped somewhere between bravado and terror, and his voice rattled a little as he blustered, "I'm gonna call security!"

Mulder stared at the intruder with exasperation, then bent to tug his own gun from its ankle holster. "Believe me, you don't want to do that," he said in a flat tone as he hefted his weapon suggestively. Confronted with a second gun, the orderly went from blustery to panicked and tried to bolt for the door.

"Don't!" Mulder shouted desperately. "You're not leaving, and you can't call security in here. This guy is dangerous; he's trying to kill us and take our baby. If you mess with something you don't understand, you're going to be leaving an orphan with a murderer."

The orderly glared at him with open scorn. "Yeah, well, I don't see any baby," he said sarcastically, "and the way it looks to me, buddy, you're the ones holding the guns on him."

"You don't know what's going on here!" Scully snapped suddenly, out of patience in the stress of the moment. "Don't open that door, don't move, and keep your mouth shut!"

The Bounty Hunter broke in at that moment, completely unconcerned by the side drama unfolding in the hall. "This human has no part in our discussion," It commented unconcernedly, and shifted Its grip on the stiletto as if impatient to continue the business at hand. The alien weapon in its ham-like paw gleamed in the light of the fluorescents, and the orderly made a sound of dismay and plastered himself against the door, belatedly realizing that the situation he had stumbled into was much more complex than he had thought. The Bounty Hunter paid him no mind.

"The child is an unknown quantity, but it is not an abomination as are the experiments of the Rebels and the human slaves. It will be allowed to grow, and we shall see what use it may have after the Project has been fulfilled. You will release it to me now."

"Why do you want him, why in the hell do your people keep trying to take him?" Scully's voice was as harsh as Mulder's with anger and fear. "To clone him? Don't you have enough clones on your farms to suffice?"

"Those clones weren't fully successful. William is. It'll be easier to 'observe' him if he's a lab rat, Scully," Mulder broke in flatly, fury and fear once again buried beneath a benign exterior, though she knew he would pop once the crisis was over. "He might not survive their 'observations', but there would be a thousand copies of him supporting our conquerors in the aftermath of the war."

Scully's lips flattened to a thin line. "Mulder, get William," she ordered, voice gone to ice once again. "I'll keep this sonofabitch right here." Mulder didn't waste any time arguing, and immediately jumped up to catch the edge of the hole through which he had been dragged a few moments before. He still felt a little woozy and the bruised and straining muscles in his back and ribs protested painfully...but there would be time to worry about that with that later. He was just lucky to have a doctor in the house. A moment after he disappeared into the hole he dropped back down with William in his arms. The baby had buried his little face trustingly in his father's shoulder, but he raised it as they landed. His miniature gaze fell on the Bounty Hunter, and he squawked angrily, small face beet red with rage. Straining suddenly in Mulder's arms, the baby made a -growf- of rage and lunged twice, sharply, in the alien's direction. "NahnahnahnahNAH!" he shouted stridently, and tiny tears coursed down his downy cheeks.

The Bounty Hunter eyed the child with what might be termed fascination if It had had any expression. Locked in a battle of wills, little William scrunched up his reddened face in sudden concentration, his infant fury palpable in the close air of the service corridor. Everyone but the Bounty Hunter jumped as the stiletto blade suddenly disappeared back into its sheath...without its customary 'snick'. William buried his face once more in Mulder's collarbone with a choked sob. The alien glanced at the weapon in its hand, then lowered the arm slowly as it stared at the baby, an expression crossing its face for the first time. Surprise. Surprise...and the beginnings of fear. It was obvious that it had not been the one to sheathe the weapon. Scully's eyes met Mulder's, wide with shocked worry.

Behind them the forgotten orderly was rattling the knob of the door, trying to escape the scene while no one was watching. Mulder nodded once at Scully and stepped back toward the freight elevator, cradling their precious child in his arms with the straps of the Snugli dangling around his jean-clad thighs. Scully followed, circling the Bounty Hunter slowly with her gun trained on the base of its skull. Punching the doors open, Mulder held them for Scully and jerked his chin at the now-frantic orderly. "You. As soon as we get into the elevator, you open that door and run like hell. And don't tell anybody to come up here if you want them to live. This guy doesn't care who he kills." The orderly's gaze darted from the small family in the elevator doorway to the menacing being in the hall, and he nodded speechlessly, swallowing, then went back to scrabbling at the knob with senseless fingers. The Bounty Hunter had not moved, though his eyes followed the baby in Mulder's arms with quiet avidity. It wanted their child...and It would do anything to get him.

In a fluke of careful timing, the orderly made his escape just as Scully, Mulder and William backed into the freight car and punched the doors shut. The Bounty Hunter turned to stride relentlessly toward them, emotionless face implacable as it neared the swiftly closing portal. The doors jammed shut just as it reached them, leaving the last nightmare glimpse of its remorseless face seared into their minds' eyes as the elevator began its slow rumbling descent.


(Amor Fati, pt.40: "Endgame")

As they exited the hospital the bright sun blinded them, moving briefly from behind the perpetual cloud cover as if to herald their escape. Scully drew a deep breath, grateful to be alive. Behind her she felt Mulder do the same, and they stood dumbfounded and blinking for an indeterminate time, assimilating all of the Bounty Hunter's unwelcome revelations while the sprinkling of pedestrian traffic parted around them on the sidewalk. After a moment Mulder shook his head to bring them back to the present.

"C'mon," he muttered. "We've got to get out of here before that thing comes out after us." They turned as one to melt into the human traffic of the city...and beheld the same grey sedan as they had seen during their last close escape idling in the unloading zone in front of the hospital.

"Did It tell you we were yet undecided?" the grey-haired driver called almost cheerfully from where he leaned out of the open window. His eyes were shuttered against the glare as he nodded. "Well, that's as may be. What they do not believe is that those I represent are on the edge of making the most momentous decision in the history of this galaxy. I would like to inform you...if you should feel it safe to join me again?" As he gestured grandly at the car his smug grimace did little to ease their minds. Knowing that Scully could feel his temptation from where she stood three feet away, Mulder shook his head.

"No, I don't think so, my friend," he replied a little grimly. "We've had all the risks we can handle for one day."

"Ah, yes; you do look a little dishevelled, Mr. Mulder. I thought perhaps...but no." With a false air of regret he made as if to return to the wheel and pull away, and Mulder forestalled him quickly, torn.

"You thought perhaps what? C'mon buddy, don't be shy. I don't take hints very well."

The Driving Man grinned like a death's head. "I thought perhaps if you were made aware of the identities of some of my...associates in the past that you might be more inclined to trust me, but should you wish to turn down my offer...we shall only go as far as you wish to go. I give you my word as a gentleman." His smug smile turned caustic. "You may even hold me at gunpoint again if that amuses you." The overstretched grin did not alter in the slightest in the face of Mulder's open skepticism.

"Okay, I'll bite," Scully asked from behind Mulder's elbow. He hadn't even felt her move up, and he concealed a start of surprise. "Who do you know?" After the string of shocks they had had that day she sounded resigned.

"I believe you know him as well, Ms. Scully; a certain gentleman of British breeding, always impeccably dressed, who happened to be involved in a certain Project some years ago? Oh, and there is a fellow I believe you both know quite well, though I daresay you hold no love for him. A bit younger than yourself, Mr. Mulder, and of Russian derivation? He expressed no small interest in your progress in the last year, as I recall." Mulder went rigid with shocked denial. Behind him he heard a sharp intake of breath as Scully stiffened in response to the news. It couldn't be. He'd seen Skinner shoot the little rat-bastard! There was no way...

"Clones," Scully breathed for his ear alone. It was entirely plausible...and it left a horrid taste in the mouth. If their enemies and even their erstwhile compatriots could be duplicated so, there would never be any possibility of evening the odds.

"What do you want from us?" Mulder growled, ignoring the implications. It was simply too much to consider at the moment.

"Just step into the vehicle, Mr. Mulder, Ms. Scully, with that lovely child of yours, and we shall go for a little ride." He paused significantly. "That is of course unless you would rather tarry here on the sidewalk until our friendly neighbourhood Bounty Hunter can exit the hospital and take your son from you?" Both agents glanced back in reflex. The shapeshifter was not yet in evidence, but he might join them at any moment. Mulder tugged Scully gently aside and looked into her eyes, debating the question. Her gaze was as anxious as his own, but he saw the decision in them.

"We can always keep the guns on him again, Mulder," she murmured, her blue eyes crinkled with worry. "He let us go the last time, and according to what we've discovered he shouldn't have any reason to want us harmed in any way. Nor William, as long as we keep him safe." Mulder held her gaze for a moment longer, then nodded and stepped off the curb to hold the door for her, handing in the baby and snagging her gun from the waistband of her trousers as she passed him. Concealing it between his body and the car door, he stepped into the vehicle and pulled the door shut before lifting the weapon to bear on the driver's head from behind the opaque shield of tinted glass. Scully leaned over to pull his own gun from the ankle holster and lifted it to track alongside his. The driver's cheek pulsed with another mocking smile. The guy was like a mandroid; one expression for all occasions.

As he drew his elbow into the car and pulled away from the curb, the Driving Man spoke immediately as if there was little time to be had. "The Rebellion that you have found yourself both cheering on and yet working against faces odds much greater than that faced in such trite fiction as 'Star Wars'. They have but one hope...and it is the same hope as that to which all humanity now must cling--the hope that the greater portion of the undecided will fall in with the forces of the idealistic, as hideously overmatched as they are, and just as doomed as the pawns they now fight over. For the government that I represent, it might be considered fair gain to allow the mercenaries to consolidate their hold on this planet; for it is far from the hub of their concerns, and their interests here would serve to satisfy their rapacious demands, keep them from stirring up unrest and causing more trouble for the Bureaucrats from within the central structure of their society." He grinned like a skull once more. "Allow detractors to spoil the milk and to cause civil disquiet, or give them their own little island to squabble over, far remote from those that would rather not be bothered?"

Scully was staring at the back of the man's head, appalled. "Are you saying that it is all political to them?" she asked incredulously. "Don't they care at all about the lives that will be lost? The delicate balance of an ecology fatally disrupted on a planetary scale?"

"Far more lives will be lost should it come down to interplanetary warfare, Doctor Scully," the driver returned grimly. "Their lives, not ours. And humanity has not exactly shone as the custodians of this planetary ecology. Those that I serve see little difference between devastation of interior or exterior origin. Should it come down to sacrificing our lives in remonstrance...or to throwing their own away in a war the dimensions and ramifications of which we cannot even begin to imagine, then I am afraid they would not hesitate to leave us to our fate."

"Then why help us at all?" Scully demanded before Mulder could. "If we are just a nuisance to them and the Rebels' struggle inconsequential..."

"No, Ms. Scully," the driver said sternly. "Do not ever mistake this war as inconsequential to them. For though the decision may seem to be purely political, for the leaders of their race there is no question more pressing. This is a war of sheer principle, nothing less--and we all know how fervently wars of principle may be fought, and how lasting they are in comparison to wars fought for the sake of simple survival. I believe Mr. Mulder knows firsthand how driving a war of principle can be," he sneered. Both Mulder and Scully ignored the dig, and after a moment the man continued his enlightening conversation.

"You have no idea how principle and tradition drives this race. It is the bedrock upon which their society was founded, in an age-old moralistic battle...one debated in the circles of their society for so long that our minds cannot fathom the expanse of time passed. It is the one thing they have ever fought for, and they fear a return of that war as they fear nothing else...for the devastation brought about by their last confrontation of morals reached proportions that this frail species simply cannot comprehend, though the human race and owes its evolution and ascendancy to it. Since the more conservative group has been in power after their last victory, their adherence to this strict code of morals has driven their detractors--who exist in terrifying numbers, mind you--to the fringes of their society, to wander among the stars seeking profit and dreaming of conquest. Your 'Colonists' see the Bureaucrats as hidebound fools clinging to a past that serves only to delay their progress. So you see that there is not an ounce of mercy in these shapeshifters against whom you have pitted yourselves with all your idealism and...commendable fidelity, Mr. Mulder, Ms. Scully. In them there is nothing but self-interest, and implacable greed for power and right. And they will stop at nothing to get it."

Mulder nodded. "And the Rebels?" he queried, sarcasm rampant in his voice. "I suppose they are simply the interplanetary equivalent of Greenpeace, devoted to the ideals of their society, who have decided to take rash action? If so then I guess we're doomed--groups like that are always in the minority."

"Yes; well, Mr. Mulder, should you wish to look at the situation so cynically, I suppose you may view their actions with some disdain; but to them it is just as heartfelt a cause as it is to us with whom they have thrown in their lot, the consequences just as dire. For they too face annihilation if their government should fail to take their part, and so it is a desperate gamble that the Colonists will fail to succeed--for they knew from the beginning that they could not necessarily count on the Bureaucracy to back them. All that is on their side is idealism...and the weight of countless aeons of culture, which may in the end through sheer popular opinion force even the most conservative government to move in their behalf. They wait only for their Elders to weigh the costs. A political decision, yes...but one of greatest moment, and the one foremost in their minds. But for all that it is still a decision to be ratified and unanimously voted upon, a procedure that has so far taken them decades, while events on this planet move apace. And while they debate, the lives of every man, woman, and child of this lonely little world hangs upon the result of their public opinion poll."

Mulder shook his head as if to clear an obstruction from his ears. "And we wondered why they found negotiating the murkier aspects of our political system so familiar and easy," he muttered grimly. "It must've felt just like home to them."

The car pulled slowly up to a sidewalk on their end of town, and the driver put the vehicle in park and turned to face them, all traces of his former smug mockery gone from his countenance. "May I suggest, Mr. Mulder, Ms. Scully, that you do not discount the many directions in which this political current might yet drag our fate as the fronts of this war define themselves? What today may be your Achilles heel may tomorrow be your only saving grace. Should the Rebels find some way to use your child's unique gifts while yet keeping him safe from the depredations of their enemies, you might suddenly find them your greatest allies in your struggle to survive." He sighed. "Or they may indeed continue in their attempts to destroy him. His immunity is of no moment to them; in fact at this time it is a detriment to their ultimate goal. He is the most successful of the few organic hybrids...and he is the last." Tossing off that chilling statement as if it meant nothing, he eyed them and leaned over the back of the seat with the air of a man about to confer a precious secret. "This war may yet drag on for decades, though it has already begun. There will be no fireworks to announce its progression, for it is not yet a war in which superior weaponry shall win the day. You must keep your child safe, and allow him to grow into his full potential. Once they see that he is their one hope of gaining the backing of the Bureaucracy, the Rebels will fall in behind you like tin soldiers and bear your child up before them as a glorious standard of war. He was an accident...but now he is the key to their survival; and ours, and a catalyst to their cause."

"And you," Mulder demanded. "How do we know you're not a shapeshifter yourself, if you're here as a spy for that Bureaucracy? What is our son's significance to you?"

The Driving Man nodded. "Ah yes. Well, for now you must content yourself with the knowledge that I am an agent for them here. I have seen what I need to see. Your son can be a sticking point for the Bureaucrats. If they should be convinced to truly look at him, they shall see that far from being an abomination he is the natural evolution of both our species...and therefore he represents their future as well as ours. Should they be made to see that, they will have no choice but to join us in our fight, to save themselves. They are a fading race, my friends, one faction bound to tradition unto death, and the other struggling desperately for life and progress no matter what it costs the universe. And now I would ask that you step out of the vehicle."

Mulder and Scully exchanged glances, then scrambled awkwardly out of the car and into the gloaming. Strapping William's Snugli back over her shoulders with the sharp motions of a person on the edge of maternal violence, Scully spit the words at their informant like an angry cat where he leaned through the open driver's side window.

"You're just going to let us go? After all that you said about our son you're just going to throw him to the lions? If he's so precious to your cause, if you're so hell-bent on keeping him safe until he might be useful, why don't you try to take him like all the others are trying to do? Tuck him away in some cage until you have a chance to show him off to your Bureaucrats?" Her voice was harsh with disbelief.

The driver shook his head. "May I suggest that you find a new place to dwell?" he asked as if he had not heard a word Scully had uttered. "You are found out here, and not just by us." At her infuriated look he glanced downward, not the slightest trace left of the mockery that he had once thrown in their faces.

"I would put you, and especially him, under our protection if I were able, but I do not yet have official sanction to do so. There are some...renegades who might take that chance, but the political situation is far too unstable for me to take the initiative at this time." He looked up then, mockery back in his voice. "I shall contact you again, Ms. Scully, Mr. Mulder. I remain most interested in your child's progress. A most fortuitous accident; he can make or break us. I would like to see the former happen, and not the latter." While the two former agents stared stunned at him, he rolled up the opaque window of the sedan and the car melded immediately into the mid-afternoon traffic, chrome twinkling in the half-light of the Vancouver afternoon. xxx

Scully stared at the grey sedan as it disappeared in the distance, head spinning with the global implications of the Driving Man's revelations. Beside her Mulder was struck just as dumb.

"Did you know, Mulder?" she asked finally, on one level stunned that her voice did not tremble like a truck on a washboard road. "Did you know it went as deep as that?"

"I had some suspicions, Scully," he replied, sounding a little awed. "I don't think I ever had the entire picture laid out to me like that before." They both fell silent then, standing like statues in the shade of the elms behind them. After a moment Scully shook her head.

"So we keep moving," she said grimly. "So we keep running every day, while They twiddle their thumbs for another decade, or another thirty years, and while our son who is supposedly Their only hope gets quietly picked off by a faction that is not yet ready to recognise his potential." She sounded almost lifeless in her quiet rage, and Mulder stared at her. This was the Scully that had convinced him to fight the Future until there was nothing left?

Mulder grabbed Scully's arms and pulled her to him roughly, holding her head to his chest while the baby rustled and made protesting noised between them.

"There's nothing we can do, is there?" she said into his shirt, the vibrant determination in her voice dimmed in the face of the realization, of the sheer scope of the struggle they had unwittingly placed themselves in the middle of so many years ago. Mulder couldn't think of anything to say. He, the guy who always had the lines; all he knew was that he had to have Scully with him, or he might as well give up now. She had been strong for him when the chips were down; now it was his turn to inject them with the vain hope of today's revelations.

"Hey, don't you dare give up on me now, Scully! We were going to be okay a couple of days ago; nothing's changed since then except that now we have all the information. We're going to be fine, as long as we've got us." He lifted her face with two fingers so that he could look into her eyes. "We've made it this far, haven't we? Nothing can be any harder than the last year. As long as we have each other to rely on, to make the connections..." He squeezed her shoulders, desperately trying to transfer that nervous energy that was running through his frame into her body, to reenergize her as he knew only he could do. "And we've got Will. No one else in the entire universe has him. Kinda makes us the holders of the trump card." He grinned at her, hoping she would respond to his hopeful demeanour. "Besides; look what he can already do. In a year or two he'll be able to protect himself; and then he won't even need his old Dad and Mom anymore." That got him a smile. It was enough. He pulled her back into his arms, and she allowed herself to be enfolded. Sharing strength, sharing life. It flowed between them, made them whole. There was no greater Truth.

"Da!" William stated suddenly, pointing upward between them. As one, Mulder and Scully turned their faces to the sky. Above their corner of the world, the sun had come out of the clouds.


EPILOGUE:

--"Where do we go from here? When all bets are off, and no one holds the cards? Where is there anywhere safe enough and quiet enough to raise a child to fight a Future that is already upon us? Can it even be done?

--I want to believe."

(Dana Scully's Journal, May 14, 2002)

End of Part 2 of Act II of 'Amor Fati: The Fated Love'


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