Hard to believe this boy was only eleven years old. An eleven-year-old ghost is what he might have been, if his chaperone's old boyfriend had had his way once. The boy didn't know this, didn't know who his real parents were or what they were fighting for. He might not believe it if he were told.
He sat silently in the backseat of the car, staring out the window, not really watching the flat land as it raced past. *He looks so much like his father*, mused his chaperone. Like his father, except for the eyes. The eyes were his mother's. Ice cold and steely, untrusting.
The woman driving the car, a late-model blue Chevy, remembered those eyes all too well. How they wouldn't give in, wouldn't believe, even when the evidence was right in front of her. He was his mother's son, without question.
"Where are we going?" he'd asked point blank. No games, his voice said. I'm no kid.
"I don't know yet. Away." Her answer was vague, but not out of a desire to deceive. She really didn't know. She had come to get him because he was safer with her, but even she had nowhere to go anymore.
He had surveyed her, his gaze penetrating and mature. His arms had been crossed, his stance closed. His brown hair flopped into his face when he nodded. He believed her.
She drove on through the flat Kansas landscape, not sure if she should speak or let him come out of his shell on his own. She had no idea what kind of little boy he actually was. Was he another Gibson Praise? Or had Jeffrey really worked his magic and saved his nephew from that awful fate?
He looked up once at the rearview mirror, trying to decide if he was doing the right thing. He wasn't very old, as his father had always seen fit to remind him, but he was pretty smart. He made good grades; he always knew the answers in class. He was no dummy.
The woman wasn't paying attention to him. He relaxed, just a little. It had been a long day.
The fire had started long after he'd gone to bed. When the smell of smoke finally woke him up, he ran to his bedroom door and foolishly grabbed the handle. Last week's lesson on fire safety came rushing back to him as soon as the heat registered in his mind. Through the crack at the floor, he'd seen the angry reddish orange light flickering at him, and smoke was rising steadily in his room. He'd coughed once, twice, then passed out.
He'd woken up outside. No firefighters, no policemen or ambulances were in sight. He was in the field behind the house.
He'd sat up so quickly that his head spun. The house was a burnt, smoking skeleton. The sun was shining low in the eastern sky, and dew was soaking through his pajama pants.
Far from where he sat, a fire truck pulled away from the house and drove down the road. He watched it go, not quite wondering why he wasn't on it or some ambulance.
He started. He didn't know that voice.
"William, drink this. It's just water."
He turned toward the voice. A woman, tall and blonde, a stranger. "I don't know you," he tried to say, but it came out as a series of coughs.
"You inhaled a lot of smoke before I was able to get you out. Please, take a drink." She handed him a small thermos.
He looked at her warily, but sipped anyway. His throat hurt.
"Mom?" he croaked when he was finished.
The woman shook her head.
William sighed. "Dad?"
Again, she shook her head, and averted her gaze.
William closed his eyes. He was eleven years old, but he was no dummy and he was certainly no sissy. He didn't cry.
At last, she broke the silence. "We have to go, William."
He opened his eyes. "Why?"
"They'll come for you."
It was her turn to close her eyes. "Don't you know?"
He did. He felt his throat tighten, remembering the long-ago conversation he'd overheard between his parents.
- they'll come for him one day, won't they? -
- for chrissakes, judith, what are you talking about? -
- them. -
- his real parents? she gave him up, judith. she wouldn't... -
- no. i'm talking about *them* -
"Them", of course, had to be those freaks that called and hung up, the ones who would from time to time follow his dad in a black car. The ones he saw at school once, in black suits and ties, and another time had followed him on a field trip. The ones his mother denied existed when he asked, the ones that made her cry in her room with the television up loud so that William wouldn't hear.
And now they were coming for him.
"How do I know I can trust you?" he asked. He felt oddly responsible, like being a kid was over and this was whatever came next. But that came in spite of feeling like he wanted his mommy.
The woman pressed her lips together and turned her head. She stood up, brushing the Kansas earth off her knees, and held out her hand.
The morning sun rose still higher in the sky, and William walked away from the ruins of his childhood with a woman he didn't know.
William was still looking out the window when the woman pulled into a gas station.
"Do you want anything?" she asked as she slid her seatbelt off.
William turned his head. "What's your name?" he asked, as though he hadn't heard her.
The woman paused, almost as if she hadn't been asked that in so long that she had forgotten the answer.
"Marita, could I have a Coke?"
She smiled, or at least tried to. "Sure."
She got out of the car, making sure she had the keys, and locked the doors. She wasn't worried about William wandering off, but she was downright panicked that someone would try to take him off her hands. Marita hadn't planned this far beyond getting him out of the house, and she certainly hadn't expected them to beat her there. She was lucky William was alive at all.
Marita paid for a twenty ounce Coke and a bottle of Evian. It was good to stretch her legs; Emporia to Wichita on I-35 wasn't the worst stretch of road or even the longest, but it had been a long night. She hadn't bothered with cruise control, instead pushing the car to eighty whenever there was a break in traffic. It was possible, even likely, that she had been followed. Ideally, Marita wanted to turn south and head for Mexico, but for now she would stick to heading west as planned. In fact, she needed to buy a map, and added one to her purchases.
Running to Mexico like a common criminal hiding from the feds. She suppressed a bitter laugh. It wouldn't be the first time she had had to hide, change identities.
She looked out the window as the cashier counted her change. From where she stood, if she squinted, William looked like Mulder. He had looked that way when she found him, and she thought it had to be the smoke and her irritated eyes playing tricks on her. He looked like Mulder must have when his sister was abducted, and that thought made Marita sick to her stomach. Someone in this game got a twisted pleasure from permanently scarring the Mulder men.
"Anything else for ya?" The cashier handed her two dollars and eight cents in change.
"No, thank you." She turned to leave, almost knocking over the man who stood in line behind her.
As she opened the door, the man paid his bill.
"That all?" said the cashier.
"Not quite," said the man. "A pack of Morleys."
It was all Marita could do not to run back to the car.
The last time she'd smelled Morley cigarette smoke had been in a bar not far from Capitol Hill in D.C., about five years before. Jeffrey had asked to meet there; he had information for her, and just plain needed to see her.
"I think I've found William, Marita."
She had looked at him coolly, the news not affecting her one way or the other outwardly. Her heart jumped. She gave him a deliberately cool look, as if the news didn't affect her one way or the other. On one hand, this was good news. On the other hand, if Jeffrey could find William, it wouldn't be long before they did, if they hadn't already.
"His adoptive parents were initially located in Wyoming, and I've managed to track them to a place in Kansas. A farm, looks like, though the mailing address is a P.O. box in Emporia."
"Eastern Kansas, then." She stirred her drink, a cherry vodka sour.
She watched Jeffrey, his gaze darting about as if avoiding her, his stance relaxed as though he were not wholly a part of his surroundings. She watched him play with his own drink, lust jolting her already alert senses. She wondered if it had been as long for him as it had been for her.
"Yeah. Junction of interstates 35 and 70."
They sat silent for a few moments, trading heady glances and trying to focus on the conversation at hand.
"Do you think we'll actually have to get him, at some point?" Jeffrey tossed back the last of his gin and tonic.
Marita sighed. Things had changed since Mulder and Scully left. There was no one opposing those bastards head-on any longer. Doggett and that woman he was partnered with had vanished not long after the fiasco in the desert, and Kersh had filled the X-files office with rookies. They were competent, but they were no-
"...Mulder and Scully."
Marita hadn't realized she'd said that last part out loud.
"I was just thinking. Things are different now. There won't be anyone to trust if they decide to go after William. If they decide to use him to draw Mulder and Scully out of hiding."
"Do you think..."
"Yeah, Jeffrey. I think we have to go get him."
A man sat down at a table near them, ordered a bourbon "straight, got it, toots?" and Jeffrey let the conversation drop. They sat there facing each other but not looking at each other.
The man at the next table flicked a lighter, and Jeffrey stiffened at the sound.
The smell of Morley cigarette smoke jolted Marita out of her reverie. Her gaze locked with Jeffrey's. She stood up first.
"Your place or mine?" Her voice took on a sultry tone, as she tried to play a convincing bar pick-up.
"I can't wait that long." Jeffrey offered his arm, the crowning touch on their little charade. Played so often, it was second-nature to them both. Marita didn't expect the extra jolt of arousal that accompanied Jeffrey's touch on her arm. It had been longer than she thought.
They left the bar and grabbed separate taxis. Marita didn't have to stand for long at her door before Jeffrey arrived.
Sex, she thought as his mouth met hers, is comfort for survivors.
"Is your seat belt on?" she asked breathlessly as she all but threw herself in the car and put the key in the ignition.
"Good. Hold on." She sped out of the parking lot at an appalling illegal speed, not fully cognizant of her actions.
Marita looked around for the sun in the sky, confirming that they were now heading north. North, to try and throw their pursuers off the scent. Then her eyes fell on the gas gauge.
"Fuck." William's ears perked up at the sound of a forbidden word.
"What is it?"
"Gas. I forgot."
"Oh." He sat back. "Where are we going?"
Marita sighed and pushed a strand of hair off her face. "I don't know. A gas station first, soon as we come to one."
"Was that them back there? Did you run into one of them?"
She frowned. "I don't know. But I'm not taking any chances."
William nodded, satisfied for the moment. That had been his dad's reasoning for moving to Kansas. William had been six at the time, and his father hadn't given a real reason for the move. - i'm not taking any chances -
It wasn't long before that when William had his first encounter with them.
Marita and William flew down the highway at a speed William didn't want to imagine, Marita looking around desperately for a gas station on this seemingly endless road of grass and wildflowers. The sun was low in the sky, setting on the first day William had spent as a fugitive. He imagined himself as
a young superhero, rescued by someone who knew his secret, going into hiding.
It was an old game.
At six years of age, William had been a year ahead of the other students in his school. He was ready for kindergarten at four, and the teachers saw no reason to hold him back. He was lucky; he was small, but quick-witted and fast on his feet. The older, bigger kids never gave him trouble.
He had been on a field trip. A petting zoo, about an hour from the school, one with plenty of goats and sheep and baby ducks.
He stood listening to a overalls-clad man with a beard and several Band-Aids on his fingers talk about how baby ducks were born. There were two newly hatched ducklings in the incubator, and William was listening intently, trying to ignore the "awww" and "can I hold one?" chants from the girls around him.
"Sure thing, sweetie pie. Here, take this washcloth, hold out your hands...yeah, just like that...."
William didn't think that Sara Jenkins should be allowed to hold the duckling. She was always acting up, causing their teacher to yell and give out extra reading assignments in an attempt to quiet the classroom. He turned away, deciding to go look at some other animals so he'd be out of Sara's way when she threw a tantrum.
The goats looked interesting. Two other boys from his class were standing there, so William walked over.
The three of them stood petting the goats, carefully feeding them from the feed baskets they'd been given when they'd arrived. A fresh-faced, matronly woman stood behind the little fence, watching the goats and the boys and giving instructions here and there. William thought she looked like a grandmother.
The other boys grew tired of the goats and eventually walked on. But William stayed. The other kids were getting rowdy, and he really wanted to know about these animals. They were here to learn, weren't they? He looked up to ask the woman a question and found she too had gone.
In her place was a tall, dark-haired man in a long black trench coat.
"Is your name William, son?"
William stood, frozen. He didn't say anything.
"Cat got your tongue, son? You should answer when asked a question. Parents never teach you manners, eh?" He stooped down, leaned toward William. William took a step back and tripped on his shoelace.
"Excuse me! Excuse me - sir! Are you with Wilson Elementary?"
William looked up. The grandmother-woman was back, and she looked mad. Mad as hell, his daddy would say.
"Sir!" The man stepped over the fence, just missing William. He walked quickly and soon disappeared.
"Are you okay, young man?"
William nodded, standing up. The grandmother-woman brushed him off and handed him his feed basket.
"Did you know him? Did he come with your class on the bus?"
"Well." She patted the goat's head. "I think you should go find your teacher and stay with her. Or stay with the other kids." She led William back to the man with the ducklings, and walked over to William's teacher. She spoke quickly and quietly with the younger woman, whose eyes widened. She looked scared.
It was the first time William had seen a grown-up look scared, and it bothered him. Grown-ups weren't supposed to get scared.
The field trip was cut short. The teacher and the bus driver did the head count five times, and called roll twice. When they reached the school, the teacher held William back.
"William, did you know that man who spoke to you at the petting zoo?" His teacher didn't look as scared as she had, not until William told her no.
"Are you sure?"
At home that night, William figured his teacher had told his folks. His mother was pacing, his father shaking his head. William was told to go to bed. He went upstairs and changed into pajamas, turned off his light, and crept to the landing to see what he could hear.
"Judith, I don't like this."
"I don't either. Randy, those phone calls...."
"I know. I don't understand."
His mother's voice floated up to William in broken sobs. The sound of it made William want to cry.
"They'll come for him one day, won't they?"
"For chrissakes, Judith, what are you talking about?"
"His real parents? She gave him up, Judith. She wouldn't..."
"No. I'm talking about *them*."
His dad took a deep breath. William almost was crying by this point. "Real" parents? What were they talking about? He curled his hand into a fist and stuck his thumb in his mouth,
something he hadn't done in his conscious memory.
"We were warned, Randy. We were warned. It's not his parents. It's *them*, and you know it."
"They'll find us."
"We'll go where they won't look. Judith, don't worry. I'm not taking any chances."
William got up and went to his bedroom, thumb still stuck in his mouth, huge tears spilling down his face. He laid down on top of his Superman sheets, and wished he was Clark Kent. He wish someone would find him, rescue him, and then he'd grow up to be Superman and save the world. He could live with his own Martha and Jonathan and they'd hide him, keep his secret safe. The only thing that could hurt him would be kryptonite.
Yeah. He'd be a superhero, instead of a sissy having to hide from men in black. He pulled his thumb out of his mouth, and it was the last time William cried while awake. Two months
later, the family settled into a farmhouse just outside of Emporia, Kansas.
Five years later, he was in the backseat of a blue Chevy, pulling into a gas station just as the sun set on the Kansas plains. Running, again, from them.
"All set?" Full tank, Marita thought. Should last us the night at least.
"Yeah. Uh, well, no. Can I sit up front?"
Marita hesitated just a moment. "How tall are you?"
"I don't know for sure. Dad always let me ride shotgun in the pick-up."
"Okay. You can ride up here." She sounded tired, punchy.
The forgotten Coke and Evian lay in the seat, so William put them in the cup holders and settled in. The map he handed to Marita; she threw it on top of the dashboard.
They left, more slowly and cautiously than they had from the other station. It was getting dark, and Marita was getting tired. She didn't want to stop on the main highway, so she
made a sudden choice to turn to the west, planning to stop in the first town they came to.
"Why are you helping me?" William took a big swig of his Coke, having gone awhile without anything to drink.
Marita adjusted the mirror as a semi pulled behind them and prepared to pass. "I knew your parents."
William narrowed his eyes. "Mom and Dad? No, you didn't. You're too...classy."
She laughed. "Classy?"
"Yeah. Mom's friends never wore designer jeans like yours. And Dad was a farmer. He didn't have women friends, didn't even stop to talk to the ladies at church. His woman friend was Mom."
Marita nodded. "You're a sharp kid, you know that?"
"Yeah, so they tell me."
"But I am telling you the truth, William. Are you trying to deny that truth?"
"Maybe. Maybe I don't want to believe it."
"Did they ever tell you the truth, William?" Marita didn't want to be the one to tell him. Dear God, she hoped she didn't have to tell him.
William drank from his Coke. "They told me. I was adopted. The woman, my birth mom, didn't want me. She gave me up. Randy and Judith Van de Kamp wanted me, and they were my parents." He grimaced. "They didn't tell me lots of things, but I demanded to know that much. When I was nine, I got up the courage."
"How did you guess?"
"I didn't. When I was six, the first time I found out they were after me, my parents let it slip. Kinda like finding out Santa isn't real. You catch 'em in the act, but you don't say anything
until you realize they won't stop playing at it."
Marita whistled, low. This really was a sharp kid.
"It's almost true, you know. William, you should know she did want you. Your biological mom, I mean." Marita winced. Biological mom. It sounded cold and hospital-sterile.
"Did she? I don't know. Maybe she was sick of them. Maybe she didn't want to be stalked anymore, or cry herself to sleep anymore." He chugged half the Coke in anger and belched.
"Maybe you're right, William. I didn't...don't...know her well enough to be sure about those things. I know she wanted you, though, because she went through hell to have you." Boy, did she. Marita remembered Mulder's abduction like it was yesterday, and the night nearly seven months later when Skinner killed Alex just to keep Scully safe. Scully had William in a shack, or so the story went, with those damn clones and replicants and God knew what else right outside the door. And Alex had died alone and cold in a fucking parking garage.
William stopped his silent fuming for a moment. "Marita?"
"Are you her? Are you...my birth mom?"
Marita felt the tears gather behind her eyes, her throat clenching.
"No, Will. I'm not."
"Are you taking me to her?"
She shook her head. "No."
William sighed. "I didn't think so. But I had to ask."
Silence prevailed as they drove on, and Marita felt the day catch up to her as her adrenaline began to seep away. "Got any of that Coke left?"
"D'ya mind?" She held out her hand.
"Go ahead. You paid for it."
A bitter laugh escaped her. "Yeah. That I did."
Three years earlier, Jeffrey had found Marita sobbing in the bathroom.
"Not what you wanted to hear, huh?"
She didn't look up, and pressed her folded hands together harder, her knuckles turning white.
He went to her, took her hands and drew her arms around him.
"Miracles like that, Marita, are the wrong kind to pray for."
She let go a broken sigh, and let him hold her.
The world was slowly coming to an end around them, at least the world as they knew it. The X-files had finally been shut down for good, and even Skinner had trouble reaching Mulder these days. Abductions had ceased, but the rate of return was increasing, and no one save Marita and Jeffrey had any idea what that could mean. Human replacements. What they had tried with Mulder, what they had succeeded in with Billy Miles, Knowle Rohrer and others.
Marita no longer worked for the government, and Jeffrey was living under yet another assumed name. They had access to the underground, however, and Marita still knew some of
Alex's old contacts. Information could be gotten, and the price depended on what that information was.
But Marita was sick of it, and Jeffrey didn't try to argue with her. They had lived these non-lives far too long. So when she decided she wanted to get pregnant, he didn't argue with that, either.
How could he have known? Why didn't he guess it?
One of them wasn't right, maybe both of them. It had never come up, and now he felt ill equipped to deal with the consequences.
"They took everything from us, didn't they, Jeffrey?"
He nodded, face in her hair.
"Why us? Why not Scully, or Mulder? Why just us, and Alex, and Diana? What did we do wrong?"
Jeffrey thought he knew.
"We played the game. We knew everything, but we were expendable. Mulder and Scully paid their price, too, Marita. Mulder *died*, Scully had a baby that wasn't human..."
"You fixed William. You told me so."
Jeffrey pulled back, still holding her hands. "Yeah, I did fix him, but she still had to give him up, and he isn't safe even now. They'll use him, remember? That's why we're still here. To stop them from exploiting one more life."
She squeezed her eyes shut and Jeffrey pressed a kiss to her temple.
"Someone should find out what happened to him, Jeffrey. He's out there, and he won't know. He won't even see it coming."
It was a long time before either of them fell asleep that night.
"William. Wake up." She shook him once, lightly, as though she was afraid to touch him. She supposed she was.
Luckily for her, William was a light sleeper.
"Where are we?"
"A Wal-Mart. The town's called Marquette, I think. Time to get us some new clothes."
William didn't argue, but followed Marita willingly inside. She picked out T-shirts and wildly printed button-downs, handed him a pair of blue jeans to try on.
They fit. She was good at this.
When he came out of the dressing room, Marita handed him a Colorado Rockies ball cap. He frowned at it, turning it over in his hand.
"No Yankees caps?"
She laughed a little, marveling at the idiosyncrasies of boys.
"Nope. That'll have to do."
Marita paid for his clothes and a couple of dresses for herself in cash. William didn't question this; Marita undoubtedly had her resources.
Instead of getting back on the road, Marita drove them to a motel. After paying cash for a double to a surly desk clerk, Marita collapsed on the bed nearest the door without even discussing it with him.
William had hauled in the Wal-Mart bags from the car, and he placed them in front of the scratched and beaten dresser. The lighting in the room was horrible - small fluorescent
lights blinking and buzzing above the night table - but it was enough so that William could tell Marita was asleep.
He was tired, too, but he figured someone had to stay up, keep watch. They might have been followed here. Just because Marita wasn't leaving much of a paper trail didn't mean they couldn't find this motel room.
And light fire to it, like they had his home.
William sat down heavily on the other bed, the old mattress sinking beneath him and springs squeaking loudly, breaking up the monotonous cricket chirping and the occasional distant
roar of highway traffic. Marita didn't even stir.
He was thinking about the fire. Had it been only last night that he was awakened by the smell of smoke, the crackle of flames destroying everything he knew?
He wondered, briefly, about his parents. Had they been awakened, like he was, only to find out it was too late? Or was the fire started in their room, and they had died sleeping?
William shook his head, the vivid imagery too much for his tired mind.
He flopped onto the pillow, narrowly missing the wooden slab that served as a headboard.
Marita snorted and rolled over. William wondered if he would be able to stay awake the whole night, or if he should wake Marita and they should work out a watch schedule. He felt like a movie character, like none of this was really happening.
Well, what if none of it was? What if all of this was a dream?
What if he just laid his head on the pillow and fell asleep, so that when he awoke he'd be at home, in bed, and none of this would have happened?
The sound of chirping birds and the glare of early-morning sun woke Marita out of a sound sleep. She moaned, her hand flailing on one side of the bed to find Jeffrey.
Her hand hit nothing but the comforter on the bed.
She blinked several times, trying to get her bearings. She was in a motel room. There, on the floor in front of the bed, was a pile of Wal-Mart bags. She sat up, looked around. A sleeping
boy took up the other bed in the room.
She moaned into the pillow. Sleep had come so quickly to her, and she'd slept so hard. What if something had happened? What if someone had come for him in the night?
But no one had. William snored lightly, his face buried into a pillow. He was safe, and for a little while, he was still a little boy.
Marita hated to wake him, but she didn't feel safe leaving him asleep while she cleaned up. Besides, they had to get on the road soon.
"William." She shook him, this time less timidly than she had the night before.
He snorted. "Ma, I don't wanna."
Marita felt lucky that her mind was still too asleep to dwell on that. "William, wake up."
He blinked once, twice. "Oh damn."
Marita laughed at him. "Watch your mouth."
"It wasn't a dream after all."
"Nope. Wake up. We have to get an early start. I'm going to go clean up. And then it'll be your turn."
He made a show of sniffing his armpits. "I don't smell, do I?" He grinned at her.
"Just keep an eye out. I won't be long."
She stepped into the bathroom and turned on the shower. She hated having to wash her hair with motel-shampoo, but it did serve to remind her that she'd been through tougher times.
God, when she remembered what she'd looked like the night Jeffrey and Alex had shown up at Fort Marlene....
But she didn't want to think of Fort Marlene, or Alex for that matter.
Instead she ran her fingers through her hair, wetting it with lukewarm shower water. The shampoo smelled lightly floral. The soap was a tiny bar of Dial. She felt something like
gratitude for these small things.
"Marita?" William's voice interrupted her train of thought, grounding her.
He mumbled something. It sounded like mumbling to Marita in any case; the water rushing and splashing on the plastic tub lining was nearly deafening.
"Wait just a minute, I'll be out real quick."
She rinsed her hair and shut the water off. William was quiet.
"Marita, we have to leave."
She took a towel off the small shelf. It smelled vaguely of mold. "I know that; one second." She dried her legs, toweled her hair.
"No, we...they're coming."
Marita froze. Yesterday she'd wondered if William was anything like the fabled Gibson Praise.
"How do you know?" Diana's story came to her. He just knew, and Diana woke up in the hospital with a gunshot wound to the chest.
"I...see them. I just know. Please Marita, we have to get out of here."
She pulled on her jeans, which still smelled like smoke, and fastened her bra. "How long do we have?"
"I don't know. It doesn't work like that. Please, Marita."
He was starting to plead, a petulant boy's voice.
Marita walked out of the bathroom, in jeans and a bra. She looked around for William. He was next to the dresser, between it and the bathroom door. His eyes were shut tight.
Marita pulled on a green sundress she'd bought the night before. She pulled her jeans off, threw them in the bag. She shoved her feet into her sneakers, not bothering with socks.
"Get up, William. Come on, we're going. Grab those," she said, pointing to the Wal-Mart bags.
William obeyed. Marita grabbed her purse, reached inside and pulled out a Sig Sauer. She hated the feel of it, the sight of it. She'd wanted to be done with violence.
She shook her head to clear it and opened the driver side door. "I have to turn in the key. Do I have time, William?"
He nodded. "Just hurry."
She turned in the key and checked them out of the room. The doe-eyed brunette working the counter tried to make conversation. Marita rudely turned and left the clerk gaping.
"Where to?" Marita said as she got in the car.
"West. To the mountains."
She shook her head. "South first. Backtrack."
William sighed. "Yeah. You're the grown-up."
Marita floored it, fishtailing a little as she turned out onto the highway. She tossed the map back to William.
"Can you read maps?"
Marita couldn't see whether he nodded or not, so she asked again.
"Get me to I-thirty-five. We have to go where there will be lots of wit...people." She swallowed hard, realizing she'd almost said 'witnesses'.
On they drove, back through the monotonous Kansas landscape. A black sedan passed them going in the opposite direction, and Marita's felt her throat tighten.
"The turn to get back on 35 should be right...."
He was interrupted as the back window exploded and bullets flew toward them. Marita shouted at William to duck. Behind them, another nondescript SUV gained and finally pulled up beside them.
Marita swerved, trying to get out of their direct line of sight. A gun was pointed at them, pointed at her.
"Hold on!" she screamed, pulling the car around and narrowly missing the SUV, which swerved to avoid the Chevy. William was on the floor, clutching the seat and gasping for air.
The SUV gave chase, and Marita pulled off the road into a field. The SUV was too cumbersome to make the same maneuver; it flipped and rolled, and finally burst into flames. Marita pulled back onto the road and hit the gas. "William, into your seat! Seat belt!"
He obliged, tears running down his face.
"Where do I turn once I'm on the highway again?"
William fumbled the map right side up. "On your right. State highway fifty-six."
"We need a different car."
William sat staring out the window in response.
"How do we know this is for real?" Jeffrey had been pacing the small apartment steadily for fifteen minutes. He was giving Marita motion sickness.
"I don't see how we can distrust it this time. There have been too many warnings in the past year." Walter Skinner sat on the cracked leather couch that passed for furniture in Jeffrey's
apartment. Marita sat on the coffee table, listening to them talk it all out. She sat and picked at the closest tear in the couch.
"I don't want her to go." Jeffrey finally stopped pacing and looked Skinner in the eyes.
"Oh, so you should go in her place? Jeff, listen to yourself. She's the only one of us who can anymore." Skinner gestured at all three of them. "They'll expect me, and as soon as you
leave D.C. they'll know it. Marita can fall under the radar."
She laughed, a wild note creeping into her voice.
"We knew this day was going to come, Jeffrey. We knew it when we found out they'd moved."
"I know that." His fingers twitched as he brought his hand up to his face, as if they should have been holding something. A Morley, perhaps. Marita shuddered.
"We have to keep William out of their hands for as long as possible. Not just for Scully and Mulder."
"This is an old argument, Skinner. We've been over it."
Skinner continued as if Jeffrey hadn't spoken. Marita recognized this trait; it was how Alex would have treated Jeffrey in Skinner's place. Nobody ever wanted to listen to Jeffrey. "If they get William, it all starts again. The abductions, the tests. They'll use what they find in him to terrorize us all again."
Marita knew all this. Alex had died for this. Jeffrey almost had.
She suddenly wondered why Skinner was bothering at all.
"You never wanted to help before."
"I never believed before."
It was settled. Marita was going to be the one, because she could blend. And Skinner had been right; Marita would fall under their radar. She'd played the double agent for so long, and it still fooled so many.
Jeffrey looked as if he'd swallowed one of dear old dad's cigarettes.
Skinner pulled out a gun. Marita recognized it, or thought she did. It was a standard issue Sig Sauer.
"Mine," he said, as if reading her thoughts. "I have others, but this one's in my name. If you have to shoot, it'll come back to me. I take responsibility. Emergencies only, and don't let him know you have it."
It didn't make sense to Marita. But Jeffrey nodded grimly.
"No one would trace it to you, Marita. Mata Hari you're not, and they won't connect you to Skinner. Not as anything but his enemy."
Marita looked at the weapon and it occurred to her to ask if this thing had killed Alex. She bit the inside of her cheek and looked up at Skinner, who said nothing and simply met her gaze.
She blinked back tears and swallowed hard. "I won't shoot if I don't have to."
"All right." Skinner handed her the gun.
She wondered if Alex felt that final shot.
"I'll leave in the morning."
"Don't tell us more than that."
"I'm driving. I don't know where we'll go."
"That's all we need to know, Marita."
She nodded. Skinner got up, ready to leave.
"Do you think he knows?" Her question stopped him.
He turned and just looked at her for a moment, and left.
They stopped at a used car dealership in a nameless town off the main highway. The dealer smelled like sweat and cigarette smoke. Marita made her trade quickly, desperate enough to leave with nothing better than a beat-up Ford pickup. At least we'll blend better, she thought.
The steady speed of the pickup was nothing compared to what the car had been capable of, but nonetheless Marita felt safer. She'd spent so much of her life fading into her surroundings; she wondered if William was now doomed to that life as well.
"I think we're being followed."
Marita's face blanched.
"Marita, do you see it? A black SUV, behind us...." William's voice trailed off. "Oh, wait. It has Kansas plates, and...that's a woman in the passenger seat." The SUV caught up to them,
passed them. William slid across the seat for a better look.
"A family. On vacation."
Marita sighed heavily. William knew how she felt.
"Is it always like this?"
"Is what always like what?"
"Your life. I mean, this is what you do, right?" His voice took on an amused tone, like his father might have sounded when he didn't take adults seriously. "You run from them. All the time."
Marita shook her head. "I don't know about that. Sometimes, I've chased them." She stopped, unsure of what she should reveal to William. Unsure of what he could figure out on his own.
Oh, what the hell. "Can you read minds?"
He was quiet for nearly five minutes. Marita was about to ask again, or maybe change the subject when he spoke up.
"What about earlier today, in the motel? You knew they were coming."
"Yeah. So." A challenging note colored his boy's voice. Marita was having trouble remembering that. A boy. William was just a boy.
"Yeah, so, has that happened before? Something like it?"
William didn't say anything.
"William, I'm only here to help you. And if you know things, or can find out things that can help me, I need to know. We have no guarantee that we're going to live through this." She
bit the inside of her cheek. She shouldn't have said that.
Only a boy.
"I can see things. Sometimes."
"Can you read minds?" she asked again, not caring if it was rude or if she was pushing him. This she had to know.
"No. I just see stuff." He sounded more confident, more open with each statement. "Like deja vu, I guess. I can see things before they happen, but I don't know the details. Like, I knew
they were coming. I couldn't have told you when or what their names were. Just men, coming for us, dressed in black and with evil purposes."
He said this last in a dramatic Orson Welles intonation. Marita thought it was spooky, but she didn't say so. Instead she offered a nervous laugh. "Read a lot of comics, do you?"
"Kinda. I like Superman, and sometimes Batman."
"You sound like a kid I'd want to know."
"Do I?" William sounded sad. "I don't know if I'd want to know me."
The first time it had happened, William didn't tell a soul.
His seat buddy on the school bus was a boy named Jarvis. William had always wondered what kind of parents would name their kid Jarvis, but he never asked. In fact, he and Jarvis didn't talk very much. William was a brain, Jarvis was a troublemaker. They ran in different circles. They just happened to fall together alphabetically.
William woke up one morning in a feverish sweat, panting. His mother noticed it when he came down for breakfast.
"Will, honey, are you feeling all right?" She felt his forehead, his back and chest under his nightshirt.
"I'm fine, Mom."
"You sure?" She squinted and leaned into his face. She smelled like his dad's shaving cream.
"I'm fine." He was being stoic, however. He even knew the word for it, thanks to this week's vocabulary test. He tried to concentrate on the word, its spelling, its meaning. Maybe he'd
feel okay about lying to his mom if he could just think straight.
William had had a nightmare just before he woke up, and in fact he was certain that it had actually woken him up.
An accident. Jarvis, throwing snowballs in the street, getting hit by a car in front of the bus stop. There was blood, and screaming, and Jarvis on the side of the road like a possum or
You're loony, Van de Kamp, he thought as he munched on the oatmeal his mom had set before him. It was just a dream.
But even that thought disturbed him. He trekked back upstairs to put on his clothes, grab his books. He'd showered the night before. Everyday things, and yet he couldn't get the image of Jarvis' body flying through the air out of his mind.
Was it possible? Did he...want...Jarvis to get hurt? To die, even?
Twenty minutes later he was trudging through the February snow to the bus stop. This was good snow, fresh and clean, ripe for snowball fights.
Sure enough, at the bus stop, three or four boys were busy ganging up on unsuspecting girls, who were shrieking and throwing their best go-to-hell looks at the boys.
One of the girls, Mandy Johnson, wasn't as "girly" as the others. The shrieking was giving William a headache, and he thought Mandy might be able to stop all this. She rolled together an enormous snowball and whistled through her fingers.
"Jarvis! Hey Jarvis!"
Jarvis turned around after smashing another snowball in a perky, giggling redhead's hair.
"Take this!" Mandy launched the snowball, which hit Jarvis square between the eyes. Everybody laughed, even William. Jarvis' face turned beet red and his nostrils flared. He looked like a bull targeting a matador.
"You're going to get it for that!" He charged Mandy, who took off in the opposite direction, across the street.
Everyone was laughing when Jarvis tripped on the icy pavement.
Mandy stuck her tongue out. "Have a nice trip, Jarhead?"
It only took seconds for the laughing to turn to screaming.
A red pick-up without chains on its tires (later William would remember this and shake his head at the grown-ups who forgot something as simple as chains on tires in icy, snowy weather) skidded down the road, plowing Jarvis down even as he struggled to stand up.
Jarvis on the side of the road like a possum or a squirrel.
William threw up, sending the girls standing closest to him scurrying as they screamed.
Marita rubbed the bridge of her nose. "Is our turn-off coming up soon, Will?"
He checked the map. "Yeah."
"Are you hungry?"
His stomach growled in response. Marita smiled.
"Okay. Food first. Drive-through okay by you?"
"Yeah. I don't want to stop until we have to."
Marita marveled at how cool William was. He didn't seem fazed by anything that had happened in the last forty-eight hours. He took everything as a matter of course.
So she had to ask.
"William, did you 'see' any of this?"
He sighed. "No. I don't see everything. I only see some things. Like it's a secret power or something. It comes and it goes. Sometimes I see more than I want to, other times I don't see enough."
"Like this morning."
"Yeah." He sighed again. "There's a McDonald's up there."
"I see it." Her stomach turned slightly at the thought of all that greasy food, but she would just get chicken or something. Something that at least tried to pass as healthy.
She pulled through the drive-through, ordering a quarter-pounder with cheese for William ("And fries," he'd said. "Can't forget the fries.") and a McChicken for herself. They drove on, southwest on 56. It was a busy road, thankfully free of black SUVs and one-manned sedans.
"Marita?" William spoke up, through bites of hamburger.
"Mmm?" The chicken was as bad as she'd expected, but she chewed like the good trooper she'd always been.
"What's your last name?"
She swallowed. "Covarrubias."
She laughed. "Its Spanish. Don't worry, you won't be asked to spell it."
"Or say it, I hope."
She laughed again. "Ok, Will. What's yours?" She knew, of course. This was a can of worms, but she had to know what else he knew.
"Van de Kamp. But it's not my real last name. 'Course, I don't know who my real dad is, either, so Van de Kamp it is."
Marita said nothing.
"You know, though, don't you?"
She nodded, not trusting her voice.
"Are they still alive?" The little boy was back.
"Oh." She didn't know what to tell him. She wasn't sure of anything herself, it had been so long since anyone had made contact with them. "They've been gone, William. For a long time."
"Gone where? Why?" So many questions.
"Fighting them. They fought for a long time, and then they had you. When they had to give you up, there was only one option left." There. That seemed good enough, vague enough. She didn't want to be the one to tell him these things. She didn't want to share the things that could only hurt him in the end. Like who Grandpa was, and how he'd orchestrated the entire thing so that Mulder's abduction coincided with Scully's pregnancy, how he'd dangled the truth in front of them for so long only to cover it up in the end.
"Fighting." William seemed to consider this. "It makes sense. Why else would they be after me, Marita? They must know who my parents are, and I'm gonna be bait or something if they catch me. Right?" There was a pleading note in his voice; he didn't want the whole truth, not right now, not while on the run and holding a McDonald's hamburger.
"I..." She didn't have the chance to answer. William cut her off.
"That's it. I'm just bait. To bring them out into the open. And you were sent to stop that from happening, weren't you?"
"William, there is a lot that none of us understand. We're not completely sure why they want you. Not even your parents were ever sure of that. And we don't know what they would do with you if they managed to get you." Marita wondered vaguely if he would accept this.
"No, that's bullshit," he whispered, and Marita was shocked. "They want me dead."
"Maybe. Some of them probably do. There are different groups, with different agendas. You could serve one and find yourself at the mercy of another." She gave up on pretense. William
didn't seem to notice.
"So my parents are dead because of someone who wanted me dead. They wouldn't have died if I hadn't...if my real mom hadn't...." He was silent. Marita knew that if she looked at him, she'd see tears running down his face.
It was nearly midnight when they found a place to stay the night. Marita had driven in loops and circles on back roads, avoiding the highway and trying to decide exactly where to go next. William's intuition had kept them from leaving the state; he'd told Marita he thought they could get lost here.
Looking out into the starry night, with nothing to hide them except a brick building proclaiming "LOTS VACANT, SEE CLERK", Marita was not so sure.
They had no camping equipment to speak of, so Marita spread clothes out in the bed of the pick-up and let William have the cab. The panicked adrenaline rush that had begun the day was ebbing into an edgy calm - Marita wanted to sleep, but couldn't close her eyes.
Stars punctured the moonless sky, faraway suns for unseen planets. Marita counted them at first, soon giving up and rolling onto her side. It was late, it had to be well into the middle of the night, and she needed to sleep.
She might have been close to it when she heard footsteps.
They were light footsteps, easily mistaken for those of a tentative passer-by. Marita knew better. She reached into the bag serving as her pillow, trying not to make any noise while she searched for her stiletto and her syringe of magnetite.
The footsteps came closer, picked up in speed and possibly in number. When Marita's hand finally closed on her weapons, she hesitated only a second. A second to decide whether to sit up quickly and surprise her nighttime visitor, or to lay low and wait.
A second that cost her dearly.
The loud crack that resounded in her ears was a fist landing on her skull, knocking her back down and out cold.
When she opened her eyes, only one star shone in the sky, and she was alone.
William was gone.
William couldn't sleep. The middle seatbelt was sticking into his back, and he wasn't used to sleeping all curled up like this. He preferred to stretch out his legs, lay on his back.
He was done crying, that was for sure.
He hadn't known his real parents. Marita had. He wanted to climb out of the truck and ask her more questions. Did he look like his dad or his mom? Was his dad a baseball fan? Did his mom make chocolate chip cookies or apple pie?
Did his mom cry when she gave him up?
William rolled over and sighed, burying his face into scratchy fabric. He coughed and rolled back over; the seat smelled like cat pee and cigarette smoke.
They wanted him dead, and he didn't know why. He thought maybe that they were afraid of him, of what he could see. Of what he could do.
It wasn't the footsteps that alerted William, but that old intuition. While Marita tossed and turned in the bed, counting stars and thinking of Jeffrey, William saw the faces of the men who had come for him. They were familiar faces, blank faces.
They didn't kill William.
But he would come to wish they had.