TITLE: 7 Days in May
AUTHOR: prufrock's love
GENRE: X-file, MSR, Post season 7, Sequel to The 13th Sign.
DISCLIAMER: Fox Network owns The X-Files. No copyright infringement is intended and no money is being made from the use of these characters.
ARCHIVE: Gossamer, Mimic, & AO3 only.
SUMMARY: It might be the end of the world. Fox Mulder had a psychic vampire on the loose, a six-year-old son in tow, a ton of emotional baggage, and an FBI budget, but at least he wasn't dead. Mulder felt things were looking up - romantically and apocalyptically.
Day 1: Romance is dead; Hallmark and Disney acquired it in a hostile takeover.
Past or present tense, Mulder wanted Dana Scully by his side in a game of Scrabble, any planned or accidental exposure to hallucinogens, or an alien apocalypse. She didn't split infinitives, suffer fools, or shoot to wound unless she meant to. She wasn't a field agent anymore, but she remained an FBI agent and a medical doctor. If she only winged someone, she'd planned to. A small, beautiful woman, she over-compensated linguistically, and Mulder thought she'd never met a Latin compound word she didn't like. In the last twenty-four hours, he'd heard her use “prosopagnosia,” “zombify,” “Dickensian,” and “cryokinesis” in casual conversation.
“Zombify” earned 76 Scrabble points, before any double-word or triple letter spaces. And she wore little lace panties and soft sweaters and she smelled like amber and rain and William's No More Tears shampoo. And Mulder kind of, maybe - in a way - still loved her.
Dana Scully talked at him so she didn't have to talk with him. She used intellect and reason as body armor. Since "An Inconvenient Truth" came out, she treated sex with Mulder like it benefitted the environment: reduce, reuse, and recycle. As if she thought letting a perfectly good erection go to waste was socially irresponsible.
He didn't think she knew he knew that.
Serial killers and monsters in the dark? He had a big gun and a fancy degree from Oxford. Aliens, mutants, zombies, super soldiers? Not a problem. A global conspiracy against innocent citizens? He called in the Gunmen, picked up a fire ax, and took no prisoners. One aesthetically-pleasing former partner who didn't know what the hell she wanted? Despite being forty-five years old and Mr. Big Shot with the Investigative Support Unit, Mulder might as well Google 'How can I tell if a girl likes me?'
Thanks to her, he knew different kinds of suture stitches existed. He recognized the simple interrupted stitch, the horizontal mattress stitch, and - her specialty - the fuck-just-make-it-stop-bleeding stitch. In the last decade and a half, he'd received all three.
Thanks to her, he wasn't still dead.
Thanks to her, he had a son who’d observed his spelling words for the week were all onomatopoeia. Meow. Chirp. Hiss. Scully had passed on her predilection for super-sized words to their six-year-old progeny. When William had repeated Frohike's joke – if a sheep and a pig made a baby, it said "boink" - to the teacher, Dana blamed Mulder's genetics.
Last night, Mulder rented the second Pirates of the Caribbean movie on pay-per-view at the Disney hotel to hear her parse its scientific inaccuracies while wearing prim cotton pajamas and drinking mini-bar rum and cokes.
Dana had no idea who he was, only who she thought he was.
The scar - the one on his left shoulder where she winged him during Clinton's first term in office - twinged again.
When William was a baby, Mulder remembered lazing in bed with her as she examined each of Mulder’s scars, trying to match them to the case files she'd been reading. After her abduction in 2001, they'd spent the summer on the Vineyard, letting her get to know her son - and her son's father. Waiting for her memories to return. Mulder remembered taking his turn at the name the scar game and telling her Federal Blue Cross/Blue Shield had subsidized a fair amount of their foreplay. He remembered how her laughter sounded, and how the sun played across her bare white skin and auburn hair.
Six years had passed since that summer.
Dana said he treated her like she was a child.
Mulder begged to differ.
He wanted his Scully back, and he suspected she did know that.
"Don't look at me like you know me, Mulder!" she'd ordered him this morning, while he was still naked in the king-sized bed in her hotel room. It seemed cosmically wrong - making love to a woman in a room with hidden Mickey Mouse icons on the duvet cover. In the scheme of world domination, the Disney Empire made the Syndicate look benign. Only The Dark Side held the 2007 conference on criminal psychology at Disneyland, and noted available child care in the brochure.
And we can't go to Disneyland without Scully, Daddy.
Mulder didn't know how the hell she wanted him to look at her, but he did know her. He knew her through cancer and Emily and in vitro and William. Through budget meetings and Black Oil and far too many funerals. Through lots and lots and lots of files. Through the Temple of the Seven Stars and the Church of the 13th Sign and the Mystic Pizza Hut. Through Robert Modell and Duane Barry and Donnie Pfaster. Through the mid-west, the east coast, every ER in Maryland and Virginia, and the Arctic and Antarctic. Through a thousand stakeouts and lonely motels, a hundred summer days on Martha's Vineyard, and one endless March night in the year the world didn't end, he damn sure knew her.
She was the one who didn't know her these days.
If Dana Scully got a tattoo, it meant trouble. Tattoos equaled stormy seas, dangerous waters, and big 'keep out Mulder' signs. The pretty little patch of ink was always about him, though she always said it wasn't.
Mulder rolled his sore shoulder a few times and reminded William not to forget his new Mickey backpack. Using his badge as his photo ID, Special Agent Mulder followed William's mother past the gate agent and onto the plane bound for Oregon.
And back to where they started.
Mulder thought of asking Dana if the airport or the Lariat rental counter seemed familiar, but he didn't, since it wouldn't. She still had a hard stop in her memory between 1992 and 2001. She'd disappeared from a Virginia cult's compound in January, shortly after William's birth, and woke in April in an Allentown hospital room to an FBI profiler she didn't know holding an infant son she didn't recognize.
At first, Mulder marveled at the effort she put into piecing together her life. She memorized their old reports and the surviving case-files. She'd quote them to him, as if he hadn't been there. She studied photographs and video tapes, her old checkbooks and journals and medical records and expense reports. When they lived together, he found timelines she'd made, trying to recreate what happened when. When her father died, when her sister died. What shade of red her hair was that autumn. She knew what Dana Scully wore, ate, investigated, spent, and thought - or at least, committed to paper - the entire time they were partners.
She hated the phrase “You don’t remember,” particularly if Mulder said it.
She knew on a Saturday in late April 2000 she rented a movie and ordered a pizza delivered to her apartment at eight o'clock at night. She picked up her dry cleaning in the morning and paid her credit card bill in full on-line.
She didn't know she'd spent afternoon at the batting cages with him, and Mulder went home to shower and change clothes. She didn't know he appeared at her door with a bottle of red wine to go with the pizza. She didn't remember them holding hands, or embracing, or her - about a month pregnant - falling asleep against his shoulder. She didn't remember waking in the small hours of the morning, while the DVD menu of "Bull Durham" replayed on its thirty-second loop, to find he still held her as he dozed. She didn't know he teased her about being a lousy date; he brought a thirty-dollar bottle of wine, and she didn't even put out. She took his hand, mumbled something about the ERA and the Penthouse forum, and led him to her bed, where they'd slept straight through till morning.
He would have told her those things happened, but she didn't want to ask him.
Eventually, it dawned on him her effort was less because she needed to recreate Dana Scully for her, and more because she wanted to recreate Dana Scully for him.
He was the FBI profiler, after all.
As Mulder drove toward Bellefleur, Oregon, he slowed the rented Taurus, looking for the orange X he spray-painted on the road during their first case together. No landmarks existed on the long, straight stretch of asphalt through the forest, and the road was patched and repaved in places. After miles and miles of scenic, Pacific Northwest nothing, Mulder started thinking the X was gone, but comfortingly, he saw it.
He wanted to tell his son this was where Daddy first fell in love with Mommy.
He looked in the rear-view mirror. William was engrossed in Mulder's new phone.
"No more new programs, Williams. Applications. Whatever," Mulder said.
In the rental car behind them - because she wanted her own rental car - Dana held up her hands questioningly, as if wanting to know why he'd stopped in the middle of the road.
Mulder salvaged the case file after their office fire, but the file didn't mention his Krylon X. In the official report, nothing noted their conversation in the motel room the next night, or before his abduction, years later. Those things, she couldn't recreate from files and receipts. Those moments, those details put flesh on bones and made them the people they were. Or at least, the people they had been, the day she'd marched into his old basement office wearing a suit belonging on a secondhand Lazy Boy and certain every one of his bizarre cases had some rational scientific explanation.
Yeah - the first case, fourteen years ago - he'd loved her.
A little boy’s voice said, "Daddy, Scully wants to know what the hell you're doing."
William held up the iPhone to show him the text message on the screen. Having no memory of the Internet revolution, Dana texted and e-mailed in full sentences, with capital letters and proper punctuation. Mulder didn't know if it pissed him off or turned him on or both.
"Nothing, buddy," Mulder answered, and put his foot on the gas pedal again.
Like super-soldiers and true love, old habits died hard and returned when least expected.
Mulder felt odd not having Billy Miles or Billy’s father greet them, though both deputies were declared dead years ago. The FBI had Portland agents in Bellefleur, but Mulder assumed they were out interviewing the victims' friends and families. In the station, an old metal ceiling fan still hung from the low ceiling, the blades stationary. A collection of potted plants still thirsted for light in the two front windows. At one of the rear desks, a young, dark-haired female deputy glanced up as they entered, but returned her attention to her computer screen. A middle-aged deputy paused his telephone conversation. Mulder didn't know either of them.
The set felt unsettlingly the same; only the actors had changed.
The one person Mulder recognized in the little station was the Native American woman who held the combined position of dispatcher and secretary. She cradled the telephone against her shoulder as they entered, writing a message with one hand and rooting for something on her desk with the other. Her long black hair had white streaks at each temple, and reading glasses sat low on her nose. In 1992, he'd placed her at about his age. However improbably, photographs of her grandchildren decorated her desk.
She spotted them, put the telephone caller on hold, and left three other lines to blink and beep impatiently.
"Agent Mulder," she said, sounding tiredly cheerful. "When your secretary called, I asked her to repeat your name three times. It's good to see you again."
"Mrs. Bahe, you're still holding down the fort. It's good to see some things haven't changed," he answered. As he spoke, he touched Scully's shoulder blade lightly with his fingertips. It was their old signal, and one he hadn't used in several years; this person knew Dana, but Dana wouldn't remember them.
Scully's head nodded almost imperceptibly.
The secretary looked the two of them over, and her eyes settled on William. She looked at the boy’s tall, slim build, the wavy brown hair, the angular features, and at Mulder. She noted the blue eyes and fair skin and looked at Dana. With casual precision, she checked both of their hands for wedding bands, did the mental math for a six-year-old child, and in about three seconds, Mulder knew she had their number.
She gave them a knowing smile and, in the calm, even cadence unique to Native Americans, said, "You must think our little town has the worst luck in the entire nation, Agent Mulder."
"Per paranormal occurrence per capita, I'd say you're running head to head with the rough side of Philadelphia, but still a far distant second to Chaney, Texas."
"What happened in Chaney, Texas?"
"Entire town of vampires," he answered.
Dana cringed and covered her face with her hand, as if she hadn't read the report.
"Hard to top that," Mrs. Bahe responded, whether she thought he was joking or not. As she opened her center desk drawer, she said, "I knew Claude Johnson, the third person they found. I went to school with him. He started running with a bad crowd, didn't graduate. He spent most of the 80's in either jail or the state mental hospital."
"Our records indicate he was last hospitalized in 2004," Mulder said. "After 2004, he fell off the grid."
"For a while, he lived in a tent off an old logging road north of town," she told them, looking from him to Dana and back again. "If Deputy Hoese or Deputy Miles went out, I used to ask them to look in on him." She paused, as if weighing her words. "No one expected Claude's story to have a happy ending, but he was someone's son."
"We're sorry for your loss. Unfortunately, we can't undo the crimes committed," Dana said, speaking for the first time since they entered the station. "But if we can discover what's happening and why - who's doing this - we can prevent it from happening to anyone else."
Mrs. Bahe nodded, being as polite as Dana, and smiled as if comforted by the pat answer.
An awkward silence followed. Dana hadn't said anything wrong. Mulder had recited those same phrases to a thousand victim's relatives over the years. The FBI taught new agents to be professional but sympathetic to victim's families, and Dana had repeated the textbook paragraph word for word.
Behind the reception area, the station held four battered metal desks, one for each deputy. Files and half-empty Styrofoam coffee cups littered a table on one wall. A series of laptops were plugged into a surge protector connected to an orange extension cord. Mulder presumed the area was the Portland FBI agents' makeshift office space. Each deputy's desk had a chair beside it, and folded metal chairs in a corner had masking tape labels indicating they'd been borrowed from the VFW building next door. A map of the area was tacked up on the far wall, thirty feet behind Mrs. Bahe's desk. Plastic push-pins marked points in the forest around the town, each with a Post-it flag with a name. The flag due east of Bellefleur read 'C. Johnson.'
"Karen West worked with my daughter at the hospital. They went to nursing school together," Mrs. Bahe added, and blinked quickly before her polite expression returned.
Mulder recognized the name, though he hadn't seen a file yet. Searchers found a fifth body yesterday afternoon, and so a fifth plastic tack and Post-it flag went up on the map.
Murder wasn't anonymous in a small down.
"Something lives as long as the last person who remembers it, so these people live on through you and your family," Mulder told her, and this time her sad smile seemed more genuine.
"It's a comforting thought, Agent Mulder, but that's a Navajo proverb and I'm not Navajo."
"A wise old Navajo man told it to me. Recite one comforting Jewish proverb," he challenged. She conceded she couldn't, and he said, "Exactly. Because there aren't any. If Jews made Hallmark cards, every one would say 'Such a tragedy, but it could be worse. Have some soup.'"
"The coyote is always out there, and the coyote is always hungry," Ms. Bahe countered. "Also Navajo."
"Trust memory over history," Mulder told her, still quoting Albert Holstein. "Memory, like fire, is radiant and immutable." He adjusted a framed school picture of a prepubescent girl on her desk, as if it that gave the universe some order. "Some people's stories don't have happy endings, but we'll do everything we can to catch this coyote. You know that."
"I know you will, and we appreciate it.” More brightly, she said, “I saved rooms for you at the motel. They're a hot commodity." As she handed the room keys up to Mulder, she added apologetically, "Two rooms. I didn't know..."
"That's fine," Dana told her easily.
Mulder looked down at the blue plastic tags attached to the keys, and looked again. They stayed in the same rooms in 1992, before the fire, and, after the motel was rebuilt, again in 2000. The town still had ten motel rooms, but he found it statistically unlikely they'd get the same two rooms three times running.
"You have a few hours before the next briefing, if you want to get settled in and have a late lunch."
On her desk phone, four lines blinked red SOS signals, but she let them wait. The national media descended along with the FBI. Mulder planned to offer what assistance he could and get back to DC before William missed any more school. He'd do his job, as ordered, but the less time they spent in Bellefleur, Oregon, the better. A dull little knife started to twist inside his gut, making it hurt to take a deep breath.
"Meatloaf today at the diner." Mrs. Bahe paused again. "We're glad to see you. Both of you."
"I wish I could say I was glad to be back," Mulder told her, and Dana said nothing.
"Coconut cream is the pie of the day," she responded. "Susie makes them fresh each morning. Get it before it's gone."
He put his hand on William's head, toying with the boy's hair. "That's worth coming back to Oregon for."
"Ayden J. has two mommies," his son informed him in aisle four of the Bellefleur drug store.
"He does," Mulder agreed absently. And both mommies were hot.
"So does Denver Bowles-Chang. Barbara Marie has two daddies. Two daddies who love each other, not a daddy and a step-dad," the boy clarified. "They're homosexual, and that's fine." As if in afterthought, William added, "Uncle Langly is definitely not homosexual."
"Buddy, Langly isn't your uncle. Uncle Bill and Uncle Charlie are your uncles," Mulder explained. "They're Mommy's brothers. My sister Samantha would be your aunt, and my Aunt Miriam and Aunt Rebecca are your great aunts."
As if Mulder hadn't spoken, William continued, "Maya has a daddy and a step-daddy and an old step-daddy. None of them love each other."
Mulder added a travel-sized tube of toothpaste to his shopping basket. He'd packed his carry-on bag for a three-day trip to California, and the extension to Oregon meant the supplies needed restocked.
Dana, with whatever new age quirk compelled her to eat bee pollen, drink green tea, and take Bikram yoga classes, voted for a private school in Alexandria, Virginia so liberal Mulder got a scornful note from the teacher after sending William's lunch packed in zip-lock plastic bags rather than reusable cloth baggies. He'd turned the note over and written, “Dear Miss Janet: According to the FBI database, your parents live in an apartment building once occupied by a hibernating, human-liver-eating mutant we apprehended. We arrested three sex offenders in your neighborhood and we are tracking a serial killer, a child pornography ring, and possibly, a demonic shape-shifter in your area. Please let me know whether you'd like me to focus on continuing to keep our world safe or on how my son's pretzels are packed. Sincerely, Special Agent Fox Mulder.”
He didn't get anymore haughty hippy notes from Miss Janet, but Dana got the invitations to parent-teacher conferences.
"Ayden M. has a mommy and a daddy. They're married," William added. In the shopping basket, a three ounce can of shaving cream joined three ounces of shampoo and the miniature tube of toothpaste. Miss Janet would have been appalled, but even Mr. Big Shot with the ISU had to fit all his carry-on liquids into one clear, quart-sized plastic bag before they'd let him on the plane home. "They're married to each other."
"How conventional of them," Mulder commented.
As they made their way to the front of the store, he let William toss a pirate coloring book, a box of crayons, and a little candy bar into the basket. While they waited at the register, and while William looked the other way, Mulder started to reach for a box of condoms, but lowered his hand again.
Before last night, he hadn't been with Dana in months, and years before that, but he'd never given STD's a thought. Pregnancy wasn't an issue; the tests after her second abduction revealed the same absence of ova puzzling the doctors after her first abduction. Mulder didn't think of himself as monastic, but between work and William and battling Armageddon... In truth the last woman he'd been to bed with besides Dana Scully was his ex-wife, years ago.
As Mulder considered it, 'monastic' was a correct term. 'Choosy' would also apply, or 'focused.' So would 'unrequited,' which earned more Scrabble points than 'sad.'
Last night, at Disneyland, Dana's offer to accompany Mulder to Oregon temporarily offset his dread, as did somehow ending up in her bed. Mulder had no idea how they got from reviewing old autopsy reports to naked in front of a hand towel folded to look like Dumbo. He blamed alien mind control rays and missing time. He did remember seeing, on the soft skin of Scully's abdomen, not far from the old gunshot wound scar, a small tattoo of a monarch butterfly.
He was a trained observer; the tattoo hadn't been there in February. "What's this?" he'd asked her in the quiet darkness. The Mickey Mouse duvet slid to the floor, along with their clothing. Forming a coherent question took effort. One touch and his whole body craved hers, like a drug addict who thought he kicked the habit.
"What do you think it is?" she responded last night.
He looked at the pretty yellow and orange tattoo again, and too many thoughts crowded into his addled brain.
"I dunno," he mumbled, the truth at the time.
Mulder remembered her warm fingertips touching his stubbly cheeks. "You have scars."
She said it like he should understand. Like this was the Verbal section of the SAT. Of course he had scars. She had scars. ‘Scar’ is to ‘tattoo’ as ‘Love’ is to... Something.
Mulder ran his thumb over the tattoo again. She kissed him, and his higher brain functions sputtered to a halt. The next time he could think, dawn had broken in The Happiest Place on Earth. William stirred in the adjoining hotel room. Coffee brewed, birds chirped, and Mulder woke alone in her bed. On her dresser, the Dumbo made of a hand towel looked shocked by this turn of events. The steam from the bathroom smelled of her fancy organic shampoo, and he heard Dana brushing her teeth efficiently; in the bedroom, Mulder had stared at the ceiling in disbelief and realized any worries about protecting himself from sexually transmitted diseases were belated.
"Don't look at me like you know me," she'd ordered Mulder a minute later, gesturing with her clean toothbrush for emphasis.
Just once, he'd like her to have an identity crisis without letting some man stick his penis or tattoo needle in her.
Apparently, ‘Scar’ was to ‘Tattoo’ as ‘Love’ was to ‘Unrequited.’ Or ‘Sad.’
"Why aren't you and Scully married?" William's voice asked, bringing Mulder's attention back to the present.
The overhead lights in the drugstore seemed too bright, and Mulder blinked a few times. He emptied the basket onto the checkout counter and, reaching for his wallet, answered, "It didn't work out, son."
"It just didn't."
After a long, wonderful summer on Martha's Vineyard, they'd returned to her apartment and the real world. She started work at Quantico part-time, and he grudgingly agreed to a desk and some office hours at the ISU. They resumed their former lives as if they'd never been assigned to the X-files; they were still Agent Mulder the profiler and Dr. Scully the forensic pathologist.
She taught and spent two days a week doing autopsies. The Bureau sent Mulder on cases in Arizona, Maine, and North Dakota. Skinner approached him about running the ISU, swearing it somehow involved fewer hours, less travel, and no actual supervising. Skinner turned out to be a big fat liar, and Mulder's sixteen hours a week increased to four long days, plus endless e-mails and phone calls he'd handled from home with a toddler underfoot.
Before long, Dana would be busy with William as Mulder left for work on Monday. Mulder was in bed by the time she got home on Thursday. They saw less of each other and communicated more via e-mail and notes on her kitchen counter.
His flashbacks and nightmares started again.
He hadn't told her, and in retrospect, he should have. He pushed people away when he needed them the most - that was the marriage counselor's opinion the one time he went with Diana. He should have told Dana, but he hadn't known where to begin. Dana baked bread from scratch and took William to Kindermusik and, while Mulder was on a case in Manhattan, faxed him a shopping list for the new Whole Foods store. He had to put the profile on hold to buy whole-grain pasta somehow more organic than the organic pasta in DC. Dana met her mother for lunch and went to the beach with her family. She visited her sister's grave every week and mourned her father and became close friends with Agent Reyes. She still read every scientific and medical journal on the planet, and twice a week she taught a few classes and cut up dead people for the FBI.
Mulder didn't know how to explain to her after being infected with an alien virus, shot a couple times, abducted by a UFO, and tortured to death, his biggest concern wasn't reducing his carbon footprint.
No Rosetta stone bridged the gap between what he'd experienced and what Dana had read about. She was smart and beautiful and funny, and she wanted her boyfriend - the title he'd settled on - to stop for diapers on the way home and remember to take out the trash, not to be afraid of an alien boogeyman.
He had a dresser drawer in her bedroom and a shelf in the medicine cabinet. His suits hung in her closet, but his books and furniture stayed in Alexandria. When they had to start wading through the piles of baby sundries, he let the lease on his apartment go and bought a house closer to Quantico. In retrospect, no, she hadn't specifically agreed to the house, but she'd looked at it and it was a nice house and it wasn't an hour drive from work.
That fall, as William approached his second birthday, Mulder gradually moved into the new house, and Dana didn't. She came over. She had clothes and makeup and a blow dryer there, and spent the night, for a while, but she never moved into his house anymore than he ever moved into her apartment.
They never had a fight. No 'we need to talk' or 'I made us an appointment with a marriage counselor,' conversation. They slowly, in the most adult, friendly manner imaginable, drifted out of being lovers and back to being friends, with a child in common. One weekend, she worked on a research paper and couldn't come over. Mulder kept William and let her work. The next weekend, she had the baby while Mulder hung out with The Gunmen; Mulder didn't invite her to come along because she didn't particularly like The Gunmen.
He and Dana saw each other because of William, but soon a month passed without them spending a night together, and a season, and eventually all they had in common were a preschooler and working for the FBI. Sometimes meeting for lunch if he wanted her opinion on a case. And, in the last few months, if the moon was right, the occasional passionate roll in the hay.
They'd achieved a post-modern, passive-aggressive split to do their old partnership proud.
"Don't you love Scully?" William asked as they left the drugstore.
"Of course I love Scully," Mulder answered, which was the truth. "But I also know Scully, and I know you'd better eat the candy bar before we get back to the motel."
In the dense forest around Bellefleur, Oregon, citizens and search parties had found five bodies. At least two more bodies awaited discovery, according to the pattern. The corpses were completely unmarked, and none of the victims had a clear cause of death, though the M.E. guessed exposure. The same thing happened in Arizona last year, in the spring of 2006: seven bodies, with the estimated times of death spanning a week. The remote Hopi tribe in Oriabi Village, Arizona, hadn't cooperated with the local authorities, so details from the first deaths were sketchy. The theme was the same, though. At least seven victims died during seven days in May.
The victims weren't alien abductees. No abductions had occurred in years. Mulder never heard whispers of Alex Krycek or CGB Spender or the alien-human hybridization experiments. No super-soldiers. People still reported the odd UFO sighting, and a handful of doomsday cults persisted, but Agents Doggett and Reyes spent most of their time on poltergeists and mutants while the X-files in the 'Syndicate' and 'Purity' sections gathered dust. Agent Reyes worked part-time these days, and spent the rest of her week chasing a two-year-old girl who bore a striking resemblance to her partner Agent Doggett.
Skinner had asked Mulder if the drinking fountain outside the basement office in the Hoover building could have fertility drugs in the water.
Mulder watched the photographs of the Oregon crime scenes flash onto the wall of the deputies' cramped headquarters. Each photo showed a nude, gray body sprawled peacefully on the new green grass of spring. In the metal chairs, six FBI agents and three deputies listened and took notes as the SAC briefed them, telling them what they already knew.
The FBI had no clue what was happening. Or why. Or how to prevent it from happening again. If they didn't figure it out and the pattern continued, the next opportunity would be May 2008, when the bodies started appearing someplace else.
While the Bellefleur team brought Mulder up to date, Dana had William at the motel. After the briefing they'd trade; he'd take their son while she went to the morgue for a few hours to examine the victims.
At Quantico, Mulder preferred Dana do the autopsies in the cases he profiled, and had her review old autopsy reports or the incomprehensible jargon the forensic labs spit out. His secretary - a 24-year-old, gum-chewing, magenta-haired fount of romantic wisdom - poked her pierced nose in and shared her opinion of his requests. Secretary Diane could roll her eyes and sigh all she liked; Mulder valued Dana's expertise. Dana might not remember being Agent Scully, but she still thought like her. Except regarding the paranormal. If Mulder mentioned zombies or ghosts in Dana's autopsy bay, the scientific scorn could blister in seconds.
They hadn't worked a case together in the field since before her second abduction. Since before William's birth. Dana didn't do field work; she didn't even carry a weapon. When Skinner called him about this case, Mulder suggested Dana and William spend another day at Disneyworld and fly back to DC. Dana offered to accompany him to Oregon, though Mulder didn't see the necessity. William had school, and any corpse Mulder wanted Dana to examine could be shipped back to Quantico.
"It will be like old times," she countered last night, after her second rum and coke and about nine minutes before she started stripping off his clothing.
Right. Like those old times she didn't remember.
The iPhone in Mulder’s pocket vibrated and began to play Blondie's "Call Me" loudly. He scrambled to silence it, still not sure how to operate a phone with one button. Heads turned, and SAC Boyle stopped speaking. Letting William play with the settings on the new phone was unwise.
The text on the screen read "time out 4 fib bout candy bar rapper not fare in trap ment help"
Mulder frowned and texted back, with the phone automatically correcting his spelling. "Don't lie and stop using Mommy's phone or you're in more trouble"
He made sure the volume was turned off, but as he started to put the phone away, its screen brightened again.
"Evry 1 out 2 get me :( "
Mulder typed back, "Some days seem that way, buddy," and resumed watching the white cinderblock wall. The SAC showed the group a projected photo of a woman's nude corpse lying face down, as if sleeping. It looked like a painting, or artsy porn. Her body was perfect in every way, except for being dead.
Friends or family had identified all the bodies. Some, like Mr. Johnson, were easy victims at the fringe of the community: alcoholics, drifters, prostitutes. Karen West worked as an RN and competed in triathlons, though. She disappeared four days ago while running alone in the forest a few miles from her home. The fourth victim last year, a solo male backpacker, was a well-known author. The file listed another Oriabi Village victim as a local, successful Navajo artist.
Mulder knew the victims: where they'd lived, what they'd eaten the day they died, and whether or not their neighbors and co-workers liked them. Bank account balances, cell phone records, sexual proclivities, mental and medical health histories. The unnaturally dead didn't get to keep secrets. He knew who had scabies or hemorrhoids or herpes, and who'd ingested Prozac or alcohol or opiates in their final hours. He knew the pretty woman on the screen died with semen from two men in her vagina and no trace of hormonal contraceptives in her body. Her day planner had noted the date of her last period. Mulder knew Karen West had been unlikely to get pregnant, but still willing to take the risk. She'd been with her ex-husband, a surgeon, as well as her boyfriend, an executive at the hospital where she worked. Both men said the sexual encounters were consensual and swore they loved her.
The Portland FBI agent who conducted the interviews that afternoon believed both men told the truth.
Ten minutes later, Mulder's pocket vibrated again. This time, the text message was, "What did you feed this child? Crack cocaine? Will swears his math homework is done and you have it. Your son called me 'harsh' because I won't let him watch 'Stargate.'"
"Subject sugared up & AFAIK unreliable," Mulder texted back, grinning. "Secure your cell. Withhold SciFi until visual on math. Got your back & I'll be there ASAP. AML"
The screen brightened again a few seconds later. "AML?"
He hesitated, but typed, "Ask me later"
If Dana looked it up, that would be somewhere on the list of what AML meant.
"Is everything okay, Agent Mulder?" the SAC asked. Mulder realized the briefing had come to a halt. Every eye in the room focused on him again.
Mulder nodded, turned the screen off, and slid the fancy phone back in his pocket for good.
Right. Like old times.
William was Her Baby in the original plan, and Mulder had respected Scully's wishes. After one "wild and passionate and perhaps ill-considered" night, Mulder's contribution to paternity ended. At least it ended in Scully's view, and Mulder didn't get a vote. If people asked - and everyone from Melvin Frohike to Walter Skinner cornered him and asked the moment Mulder returned from the land of the only mostly dead - Mulder didn't answer.
Even after Scully's abduction, he took care of Her Baby as her friend and former partner. Except for the pediatrician's office. He couldn't hedge on consent forms. Either Mulder signed the forms as William's father and the baby got vaccinated and checked out by the doctor, or Mulder took an infant home and tried to keep everyone from coughing on him until the spaceship returned Mommy. He signed the forms.
Mulder never, directly or obliquely, to any person or at any time, denied he was William's biological father. When creating Her Baby had involved a Petri dish and a turkey baster, he'd stipulated one thing. He'd be the silent partner, but out of love for her and to protect her child. She'd be an excellent mother, but if Her Baby ever needed His Father, Mulder would be there.
He'd like that noted in the transcript of their relationship.
William was nine months old when they returned from the Vineyard. Mulder had dropped by his old apartment one morning to collect his mail and check on his lone surviving fish. He noticed his neighbor, Mr. Pao, had left a cardboard box on the coffee table, along with a summer's worth of junk mail. The box was addressed to Special Agent Fox Mulder, with a return address in Bellefleur, Oregon. The box felt surprisingly lightweight, and since it didn't tick or drip blood or Purity, he gave William a cracker to slobber on, pointed the baby toward the kitchen, and opened the box.
It had been full of baby clothes and toys and accoutrements, and Mulder's first reaction was fear. He put monsters behind bars; he didn't want an Internet search of his name producing William's photograph and home address. Some digging in the box turned up a thank-you note from Teresa Nemman Hoese and pictures of her with her little girl, and Mulder relaxed.
About every six months, another box of hand-me-downs arrived. The ballerina outfit wasn't much use, but Teresa sent L.L. Bean snowsuits and books and wooden puzzles. Her daughter outgrew a cowboy hat and a surprising number of flannel shirts and overalls, even for a little girl growing up in rural Oregon.
Last year, Dana came to pick William up on a Sunday night, and asked why their five-year-old son wore kelly green snow boots and a lime green winter coat. "His are wet and these were dry," Mulder had told her.
Now, Teresa Hoese sat on the front porch of her father's house, as if waiting for Mulder and William. She looked much like she did the last time he saw her, with long, dark hair and brown eyes far more expressive than the rest of her face.
On a tire swing in the yard, beneath a long swirl of tangled chestnut hair, a little girl spun wildly. As they approached, the girl stopped twirling and watched them. She leaned back from one side of the tire while her legs dangled from the other.
"I was hoping you'd come by," Teresa said. She stood and came to the edge of the porch. "Special Agent Mulder."
As they shook hands, her grip seemed delicate, but everything about her seemed delicate. He wondered if he'd be delicate, too, if he'd been abducted a half-dozen times and had the love of his life come back as a super-soldier.
"This is Mrs. Hoese, William," Mulder responded. He put his hand on William's shoulder. "She's an old friend of mine."
Teresa smiled, and William smiled enigmatically, the way his mother did. "We brought you a thank-you present," his son said, producing a plastic shopping bag from behind his back. "Thank you for the toys and clothes, Mrs. Hoese."
They'd practiced the manners on the walk from the motel. William got his smart mouth honestly, and he got it from both sides.
"Stella," Teresa said, motioning for her daughter to come over. "This is Special Agent Mulder and his son William. Special Agent Mulder knew your daddy."
"What makes you special?" her daughter asked, not seeming to notice the present.
"No one's ever said. Being forty-five with no gut and a full head of hair?" Mulder answered, nullifying William's politeness.
"You're tall," the girl told him. "My daddy was tall."
"He was," Mulder assured her, though he didn't remember Deputy Ray Hoese being particularly tall.
She appeared to like Mulder’s answer, and invited William to play. William didn't hesitate. He'd been cooped up on the airplane, a rental car, and the motel with boring adults for playmates. Like Mulder, regardless of the carrot or the stick, William's best behavior was a limited time offer. The plastic shopping bag hit the sidewalk with a thud.
"We came by to give you-" Mulder started, but William headed for the tire swing and Teresa gestured for Mulder to sit down. Dana was at the local morgue, examining the bodies with Teresa's father, Dr. Nemman, who remained the county medical examiner and a Grade A asshole. They wouldn't be done for several hours, and Dana would be fuming for at least half an hour afterward. "We can't stay long," he said instead.
"The case, I know. When I heard- When my father told me about what was happening in the forest, I wondered if you'd come," Teresa said awkwardly.
He offered her the bag William dropped. "I don't know who or what a Hanna Montana is," Mulder said, showing her the new karaoke machine, "but the lady at the Disney store assured me I couldn't go wrong buying it for a seven-year-old girl. Hopefully, it comes with earplugs and isn't easily breakable."
"She'll love it. Thank you. Thank you both so much. Please, sit down."
She resumed her place on one end of the porch swing, and he sat on the other end. Her feet were bare, and her toes brushed against the painted boards as they swayed. She'd painted her toenails the palest shade of pink.
"My father said he was meeting with Agent Scully this evening," she told him, as they watched the kids play. "Do, do they know what's happening yet? Who's doing this?"
"No," he admitted.
She wore a long-sleeved sweater, and she pulled the cuffs own over her hands and held them in place with her fists, the way a child would. "You don't think these are abductees being returned?"
"No," Mulder assured her.
The swing swayed for a while as the sun set and the air cooled. The moon rose, silvery and three-quarters full over the forest.
"He's so handsome," she said next, watching William. "Your son."
"He's very aware of that," Mulder responded.
"I thought your and Agent Scully's baby might be a boy. I hoped, at least."
He shifted in the swing, turning toward her. "How did you know about him?"
"My court hearing - after I was returned, the hearing to get my daughter back - when you testified over the telephone, I could hear a baby crying in the background. I, I remembered you watching Agent Scully holding Stella, before you and I were taken. I remembered you on the ship, how you fought Them and struggled to stay alive. I remembered Agent Scully in the compound after I was returned, searching for you. Finding you. Your body," she amended.
He looked away, watching William closely and Teresa not at all. The nightmares still came, on occasion, if he was tired and had something on his mind. He still had scars, if he looked closely. On occasion, he still looked in the mirror and momentarily saw a dead man looking back.
"On the Internet," she continued, "on the abductee message boards, people talked about your return, and her abduction. Before it was deleted, I saw a thread about Agent Scully being pregnant. I heard a baby crying while you were trying to talk with the judge, and the baby's mother didn't come to take it, I- I knew." She released her sleeves and picked at her skirt, seeming uncomfortable. "Do you think I'm a crazy stalker girl?"
"No," he said honestly. "Resourceful, though."
"Agent Scully is an instructor at the FBI academy," Teresa said stiltedly. "Neither of you are assigned to the X-files division anymore."
"The Internet again?"
"The FBI website," she confessed. "I looked up your names."
The tree leaves rustled, the chains on the porch swing squeaked, and her naked feet scuffed against the floor. A thirty-something year-old woman, she still lived in her father's house. She never remarried, despite being a passably pretty female in a town full of single men. Teresa probably didn't know Mulder knew, but her father had co-guardianship of her daughter. Teresa spent time in a mental hospital two years ago. Mulder had talked with that judge too before the hospital agreed to release her.
"No, someone else answers the phone in the X-files office these days," he answered eventually. "Two pretty competent someones."
"Do they ever hear anything about Ray? Is he..." She stopped, composed herself, and said, "I like to pretend, sometimes, I'll open the front door and see him again."
"If you ever see him again, what you see won't be your Ray," he cautioned her. "He'll look like himself, but he won't be."
"If I ever see him again, I won't care," she said. Despite her death wish, he envied the certainty in her voice.
The stars came out, each a little beacon in the dark sky. Mulder thought he saw Venus, and Aldebaran - the brightest star in Taurus. He made out the beginning of Orion, the hunter, in the west. In the east, Ophiuchus still lurked below the horizon, and the thought still made him shiver.
In the yard, in the gathering darkness, William and Stella took turns on the tire swing, pretending they were on a pirate ship, swinging from the rigging. One pushed while the other spun through the air and held on for dear life, their laughter like bells. It reminded Mulder of himself and Samantha playing, way back when the world was innocent and new.
These children - the miracle children of a generation of abductees for whom the next experiment might come at any time - whatever the cost, he wanted them to be fearless.
The creature Ray Hoese became still lived, as far as Mulder knew, as did Billy Miles. The super-soldiers were undying, unstoppable killing machines, and if Scully hadn't intervened, Mulder would have become one of them. The universe waited for something: a signal, a date - he wasn't sure. One day, though, when They realized Mulder eliminated all other options, the super-soldiers might come for William again. Or for Scully. Or for Mulder.
The times he'd tried to explain his fears to Dana, she offered to write him a prescription for anti-psychotic medication.
"I hated her," Teresa said, as if telling a secret. "Agent Scully. For a long time I hated her. Agent Scully could save you, get you back, but there was no one to save Ray."
Scully hadn't gotten him back, Mulder wanted to tell her. Scully hadn't gotten her Mulder back any more than he got his Scully back. His Scully didn't even come to him in dreams anymore. His Scully was gone, the way Teresa's Ray Hoese was gone. Like Mulder’s sister and father and six months of his life, his Scully was something else They took from him.
Mulder answered instead, "She did everything she could. Everyone did. Some things are irreparable."
"I know," she said, but her eyes looked lost.
They stayed longer than Mulder intended, and about one minute longer than he should have.
He'd brought a jacket for William, but the night was cool and sliding toward cold. In his shirt sleeves, Mulder needed to move quickly in order to stay warm. Unfortunately, as they walked back to the motel, William found a good stick and showed off his pirate moves, stopping to challenge every fence post they passed to a duel. If he found a stump or a railing, William had to scramble up on it and announce, "A second lamp in the belfry burns!" Since their trip to Boston in April and a dose of living history, Mulder couldn't convince his son Paul Revere was a patriot, not a pirate. Either the tri-corner hat and knickers threw him, or, like his mother, William made up his mind and chose to ignore the facts right in front of his eyes.
"Do you like Mrs. Hoese?" William asked, after slaying a pine tree.
"I've known her a long time. She's a nice lady. It was nice of her to send you all of those things: the clothes, the toys. Do you like Stella?"
"Are you going to marry Mrs. Hoese?"
"No," Mulder said in surprise. He put his hands in his pockets. "No, I'm not going to marry her."
The moon loomed over the trees, following them curiously.
The stick became a club and helped an aluminum can keep up with them. William announced, "You kissed her. On the lips."
Also, like his mother, the kid seldom missed a trick.
"She kissed me," Mulder stipulated. "But she shouldn't have, and I won't let her do it again. She's, she's had some bad things happen to her, and she's fragile, William. I didn't want to hurt her feelings, but I don't want her kissing me, either."
"You kissed Miss Stephanie last week. The pretty running lady," William observed. "On the lips. For a long time. I saw you."
William nodded knowingly.
Since there didn't seem to be any way to plead innocent, Mulder answered, "Mommy runs, too. Just not as far and as fast as Miss Stephanie."
"Do you want Scully to kiss you?"
"All this talk of kissing - How many girls have you kissed?" Mulder asked, sidestepping the question.
"Two. The same as you."
"Two?" He sounded shocked. "Two? Which two?" he demanded. "Barbara Marie? Did you kiss Barbara Marie?"
"I'm not telling. Uncle Frohike says a gentleman doesn't tell."
William missed the can with his stick, so Mulder gave it a kick to move it along. He considered asking William if Mommy had been kissing anyone, but Dana was smart enough to remember their son could see the school parking lot from his classroom window.
"Uncle Frohike wants Scully to kiss him," William informed him.
Mulder chuckled. "Uncle Frohike wants any woman to kiss him," he responded, and thankfully, William declared battle on a telephone pole and let the topic drop.
On Monday, normally Mulder had William. That wasn't carved in stone, though. Often, both of them 'had' William at T-Ball or a checkup or something for school. The schedule fluctuated if Mulder worked on a case out of town, but friction was rare. Dana tolerated Mulder being at her apartment, and, in turn, Mulder nodded submissively as she droned on about the scientific research on junk food and too much TV and neural development - and he got William a DVD and McNuggets on the way home.
If William was happy and healthy, the adults would work it out.
"Who says we don't communicate? We don't need seminars," he teased Dana a few years ago. She'd looked at him blankly.
He could have explained, but there would have been friction.
Several times - Christmas, birthdays - Mulder spent the night at Scully's apartment or her mother's house, sleeping on the couch. Dana stayed at Mulder's house several days last fall, while both Mulder and William had the stomach flu. He'd liked having her there again, even with all the puking.
"Marry her," Langly had advised him. "You'd save on income taxes, and it's not like you could have any less sex."
Last February, the mother of all snowstorms hit DC while a serial killer hitchhiked his way across sunny LA, leaving a trail of women's bodies behind him. Mulder got William and Dana home safely, and waited in vain for a flight out of Dulles or BWI. He couldn't get a hotel room or get home, and Dana offered her sofa. He hadn't reached her apartment until midnight. He was cold, wet, tired, and pissed off at Mother Nature, US Airways, and life in general.
Dana had, to his complete surprise and in the nicest way imaginable, invited Mulder in and made it better. Much, much better. Toe-curlingly, back-archingly gaspingly orgasmically better.
In the morning, as all three of them ate organic Cheerios at her kitchen table, he'd wondered if the chip in her head was trying to get her pregnant again. The snow and ice closed the airports and made the streets impassable. Mulder, William, and Dana spent the day making a lopsided snow army, eating toasted marshmallows, and defending a pillow fort in case aliens or Darth Vader invaded Scully's living room. William's fort included pretend surveillance cameras and motion detectors, and his mother requested, yet again, their son stop spending so much time with "those Gunmen people."
Mulder read William to sleep while Dana did dishes by candlelight. Afterward, all she had to do was take Mulder by the hand and say, "Come to bed," and that night was a double-feature. Her body constituted the Bermuda Triangle for his better judgment and moral resolve. Someone should open an X-file. He hadn't gotten much sleep, but he hadn't much cared at the time, either.
Sunday, BWI opened and Mulder was in the air by dawn, headed for LA. Dana never acknowledged either night by the light of day. Mulder never decided if she still loved him, wanted him, merely wanted to get laid, or if she'd been bored because the cable went out.
Mulder told himself he was too old for this push-me, pull-me bullshit, and managed to work up a fair amount of self-righteous annoyance with her - until the previous night in Disneyland. But no more. What happened at Disney stayed at Disney.
He and Dana had a good working relationship - at Quantico and as parents. It was good for Mulder, good for William. He and Dana Scully worked well as partners. Including as partners in bed.
But the past was water under the bridge. Mulder wouldn't risk going down in flames to scratch an itch.
He told himself in the motel’s bathroom mirror. No more. He'd made up his mind and armed himself with cautionary figures of speech.
Since the calendar read Monday, William slept in Mulder's motel room, sprawled across the bed in his Star Wars pajamas. The meeting to go over the case was in Scully's room, next door.
Mulder brushed his teeth because dental hygiene was important, and he rinsed off and changed clothes to be more comfortable.
He did not shave.
Absolutely not, he told the man in the mirror. Not again.
Even his reflection thought he was full of shit.
"Hook me up and turn me on, Doctor Scully," Mulder said as she opened the door. He held up the receiver for the old baby monitor.
"Gee, you're getting old. I remember being able to charge you up and have you go for hours," she said. "Why don't you come in while you think up a snappy comeback?"
"You're not funny, Dana."
"I thought I was pretty funny." She gestured to the table beside the window. "There's a free outlet there. I had my laptop plugged in earlier. Is Will asleep?"
"Our little pirate Paul Revere is down for the count."
Mulder plugged in the monitor and switched it on so he could hear William's slow breathing over the soft static.
Dana had changed into pajama bottoms and a loose FBI sweatshirt he thought used to be his. She wore her hair longer and kept it a darker auburn. Tonight, she had it twisted up and clipped on top of her head. She'd been working. Photos littered her bed, a collage of death. He saw her notes on the dresser, and it looked like she'd been comparing them with the Oregon and Arizona autopsy reports.
"Anything?" he asked hopefully. He sank into a chair. "Please, tell me you have something, before I run out of clean underwear."
"I've concluded your assessment of Dr. Nemman is correct. He's a Grade A jackass."
"Well, our cases go better once you start agreeing with me, so we'll call this progress." Mulder toed off his running shoes. "Did you discover anything about our victims?"
"He may be a jackass, but Dr. Nemman's autopsy findings, so far, are the same as mine. Each of those bodies should still be alive."
"There was nothing?" He opened a file. "No cause of death?”
She sat Indian-style on the edge of the bed. "Obviously, there was some cause of death. I sent samples back to the lab, but it will be a few days. Some tests take time to run. I'm sure there's some toxin-"
"A toxin killing without harming the body at all? Are you sure the victims are dead?"
She gave him a scornful look. "I autopsied one of them and saw slides of tissue from the others' dissected hearts and brains."
"And you find that conclusive?"
Her scornful look became withering. "This was our partnership?"
"Not all the time. Sometimes, one of us was in a coma."
He got a smile - the kind still making his stomach flip-flop.
Your powers have no effect here, he told her silently.
"As best as I can determine, with the facilities available to me in Nowhere, Oregon... There are no contusions or edema or needle marks or signs of a struggle," she recited clinically. "Nothing unexplained about their internal organs. No commonly known poison in their systems. They weren't drugged or smothered or garroted with a soft cord or drowned. They weren't even dragged through the forest. I've reviewed the autopsies on the Arizona victims, too, and I can't give you a cause of death for any of them. It looks like those men and women walked into the forest or the desert of their own volition, laid down, and God turned off their life."
He nodded. "Okay. And either they or God took off their clothes."
"Now that's not funny, Mulder."
"I wasn't trying to be funny, Dana."
She gave him a prickly look.
Rather than debate the point with her, he requested, "Tell me what you know about the number seven. Aside from being Mickey Mantle's uniform number. I've concluded that's not relevant to this case."
"I'm not saying there's no cause of death," she argued.
"Funny, it sounds like it's exactly what you're saying."
She repeated, as if he hadn't heard her the first time, "I'm waiting on lab results."
"Fine. If your labs turn up anything, let me know. Fifteen years Dana, and if you say there's no cause of death, I'm going with it."
"Going where?" she shot back. "Into the great beyond? Into 'The Twilight Zone?'"
"Yeah." He paused. "No fang marks, no bite marks?"
"You think vampires are doing this?"
"Traditional sanguinarian vampires? I don't think it's likely," Mulder conceded. He propped his feet up on the edge of the bed, next to her. "Seven. They found seven bodies in Arizona. If it is seven bodies, why seven? The seven deadly sins, the seven days of creation. Hindus have the seven chakras, Islam has seven levels of heaven. It's highly symbolic in the Torah, too. To the Japanese, there are seven lucky gods. Pick any culture, any age, and seven will hold some special meaning. You couldn't find another number holding so much symbolism."
"Mammals have seven cervical vertebrae. There are the seven sisters of the Pleiades," she supplied. "There are seven planets visible to the naked eye."
"There are seven days in a week, each named for the seven classical planets. Are they all visible right now?"
"All the planets are visible 24 percent of the time from somewhere on Earth - but not to the same observer and certainly not to the naked eye. The last time all seven were visible to a single observer was in 1982."
"Hence, John Belushi's death and the third Rocky movie's still-unexplained success."
She shook her head, and a long piece of auburn hair escaped the plastic clip. "Doesn't 'The Wrath of Khan' redeem the year for you?"
"Not fully," he said blandly. "Nor did 'Blues Brothers 2000.' What about a planetary alignment? A syzygy?"
She sighed. "I know there was supposed to be a tight seven-planet alignment in 1994, but also it was the first one in 300 years."
There wasn't ‘supposed to be’ an alignment; there had been. He remembered sitting on the hood of their rental car, watching as she pointed at the night sky over the Nevada Desert. Between two and five hundred billion stars in the Milky Way alone, and by chance, the two of them happened to live on a Class M planet near one of them. The conversation happened right after her first abduction, and he remembered thanking whatever god might be out there she'd come back.
Mulder remembered Scully informing him 'Class M planet' was a term from Star Trek, not NASA.
A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, he reminded himself. He wasn't the droid she was looking for.
"Seven bodies, seven days, all in May," he said aloud, but more to himself than her. "May is rebirth, renewal, fertility. The seventh month of the calendar with 31 days. The seventh child after six daughters will be a werewolf. The seventh son of a seventh son will be a healer or a seer. Or a vampire, in certain cultures."
"I think it's safe to rule out werewolves and vampires, Mulder."
She put her hand on top of his sock-covered foot, resting it there affectionately. He could have moved his foot, but he didn't.
Of all the random thoughts, Mulder realized he hadn't called Stephanie to tell her he couldn't meet her in the morning. Usually, on Tuesday morning, he took William to school and met Steph for a run, after she dropped off her son. They didn't have extra-curricular activities off the field - no horizontal ones, at least. Stephanie ran fast enough to keep up with him, had the morning free, and he liked she'd end a ten-mile run with a trip to Dunkin' Donuts. And, as William noted, she was easy on the eye.
Come seven-fifteen AM, Stephanie would be waiting in the school parking lot in Virginia, and Mulder would still be in Oregon.
He looked at his watch. Virginia was on Eastern Standard Time. Three hours earlier than Oregon; he'd be calling Steph at dinner time. He'd send a text. Later. Right now, he and Scully were working on a case.
Mulder flipped through the file, comparing pictures of one body to the next. Aside from being within a fifty-mile radius of each other when they'd died, the victims had no common denominator. They hadn't known the same people, had the same hobbies, or shared the same vices. They hadn't even all been from the same community.
A car pulled into the parking lot, shining its headlights into the room. He heard the echo of the engine over the baby monitor a half-second after the ignition turned off.
"Scientifically, seven is equally significant," Dana told him. "Pick a branch. It's a neutral Ph. The atomic number of nitrogen. There are seven basic types of viruses. Seven units of measurement, seven colors of the rainbow. It's a prime number: a Mersenne prime, a double Mersenne prime, a Woodall prime, a factorial prime, and a safe prime. And a happy prime number," she added.
"What makes it happy?"
"On 'Doctor Who,' the number 379 helped keep them from being hurled into a star. That probably made it happy."
Mulder put down the file. "Dana, you're way hotter than either of Ayden J's mommies."
Over the monitor, he heard William shift in bed, and both of them waited a moment, listening. William was their common denominator; if not for their son, Dana wouldn't be in Bellefleur. She wouldn't have been part of Mulder's life at all, except as an old partner and friend she knew she had but didn't remember.
"We were good together," she said casually. "As partners."
She held his feet to the fire, gave him a place to stand. He'd said she completed him, pointed him toward true north; she'd said Mulder made her feel like she was perpetually falling.
"Are you staying here tonight?" she asked, toying with the sole of his foot. "In case there is a vampire out there?"
"You're scared of vampires?"
"No. But I thought you might be."
Once more, Mulder told himself. If William didn't wake up and the world didn't end.
"Fire," he told her, and moved his foot from the rough bedspread to her warm lap. "I'm afraid of fire."
If Mulder had it to do over again, he would have kept his mouth shut and eaten the burnt bacon.
His X-files partner Scully could order takeout with the same skill Julia Child could whip up beef bourguignon, but the woman who came back to him could cook.
Technically, they both cooked. Mulder could read directions and add water as necessary and bake until golden brown. During his various convalescences, Scully made him peach pancakes and lasagna and chicken soup. She’d stayed home right after William's birth, and something often simmered on the stove. Clearly, she could cook, but it would be more correct to say Dana Scully 2.0 did cook. She could make fancy French pastries and chicken cordon bleu and gazpacho and things he'd thought magically appeared in restaurants.
"It's simple chemistry," she'd inform him.
Mulder gained six pounds the summer on Martha's Vineyard, thanks to her simple chemistry.
He'd fed William while she attended Mass, but Mulder's breakfast consisted of two cups of coffee. Getting the baby's cereal off of Scully's kitchen floor, the high chair, the window, the wall, and the two of them was the next step, so he and his son took a two-for-one shower. When Mulder exited the bathroom in her apartment with William and smelled bacon frying, his belly did a happy little flip-flop. Mulder had barely seen her during daylight hours in the past week, and a long Sunday brunch sounded wonderful.
"You are the reason I'm getting a gut, woman," he accused her as he carried William into the kitchen. He'd put on jeans and a T-shirt, but no socks. Winter loomed, but the apartment was warm, so he left the chub scout in a diaper and a onesie. William had started walking, so padding on the backside was the most important thing.
Mulder didn't ask her about Mass, because then she'd tell him about Mass. Scully 2.0 didn't share her predecessor's broadmindedness regarding Catholicism. If the church doors opened, Dana went, and if Mulder opened his mouth about it - even to comment - he courted trouble.
She put her hand on his stomach as he collected a belated good-morning kiss. "You can go for a run after breakfast."
He liked watching her in the kitchen; she worked with the same precision she did in the lab: slicing and dicing and coming up with something tasty rather than a cause of death. That morning, she had French toast going on one burner and bacon on the other.
"Do you wanna come?" he asked. He shifted William to his other arm and picked through the plate of hot bacon on the counter. "Bundle up the baby and take the jogging stroller?"
"It's so motivating when you lap me, Mulder."
"If you want lapped, we can stay here and do that after breakfast," he teased. "Sex is also aerobic."
"I have a date with Mom at the market. I haven't seen her all week."
Mulder had looked out her kitchen window and didn't comment. The November day was cold, with a gray sky and wet sidewalks and a steady drizzle raining down on the brown piles of leaves.
He shrugged his shoulder. "Your loss. Dana, did you fry the entire package of bacon?"
"I'm expecting leftovers, if that's what you're asking." She turned the first slices of French toast over, and they sizzled in the pan.
The empty package in the kitchen trash indicated the bacon came from organic, local, happy pigs - right up until someone shot them and cured their corpses with applewood smoke and sea salt. It sounded delicious, and Mulder picked through the pile of bacon again, trying not to burn his fingers while he looked for a good slice. She fished the last pieces out of the skillet, all of them evenly brown, and moved the skillet off the burner.
"This is all there is?" he asked, trying not to sound disappointed. He didn't remember the last time he ate bacon, and he'd dedicated a little pool of slobber in his mouth to pricy pig slices.
"It's all really done."
She rested the spatula against the edge of the pan and turned her attention toward him. "Is it burnt?"
"No, just done." He picked up a promising piece, noted the brown edge, and put it back on the plate with its dark brothers and sisters.
"What's wrong with it?"
"I like rare bacon. But I'll eat this," he'd said, trying to back-peddle. "It's fine."
"There's no such thing as rare bacon. Who likes undercooked bacon?" she wanted to know.
"Me. My father. My grandfather. And there are probably three or four others among the six billion people out there. Usually, you pull out a few slices for me early on and fry yours to a crisp. You lecture me about trichinosis, if that makes you feel better."
"Since always," he said before he thought. "You've watched me hassle waitresses about this for years. You don't remem-"
He looked up. She watched him with the same expression she had as he’d driven her home from the hospital the past spring, after her abduction. The 'who is this man' expression.
Dana Scully possessed the most expressive eyes of any woman in the world, and he read fear and anger and hurt in them. Mulder stood in her kitchen on a lazy Sunday morning. His running shoes were beside the front door, and his NICAP coffee mug rested in the dish drain. He held a child - their child - who had started to walk. Dana Scully knew his Social Security number and blood type and shoe size, but she didn't know Mulder. She tried, and he tried, but the common bond, forged in fire after years as partners, wasn't there.
Mulder kept telling himself she was still Scully: brilliant, loyal, beautiful. But gentler, less batted around by life. He knew she struggled to figure out this life she woke up to, without her sister or father and with a baby and an apartment and scars she didn't remember. With a man she didn't remember - and never would have chosen.
In truth, he never would have chosen this woman, either, and he'd started feeling like he betrayed Scully every time he touched her.
"I didn't know."
"It's just bacon," he assured her.
"I didn't know," she'd repeated.
"It's okay," he said again. "It's just bacon, and I didn't need to be eating it anyway."
She went back to overseeing the French toast. Mulder stood there for a while, holding the baby and watching the back of her head. He couldn't fix it for her, he couldn't change it for her, and he couldn't convince her it didn't matter. He could pretend, but he couldn't convince himself it didn't matter, either.
What they had was lost in time, like tears in the rain. He'd blown his cover, and she'd known.
Mulder couldn't be the man she wanted, and he never should have tried.
Years later, on a frigid February night - in the same apartment and after they'd shared the same bed - she confessed. The problem, she'd said, hadn't been she couldn't live with Mulder, but she couldn't live with perpetually disappointing him.
Mulder should have eaten the burnt bacon.
Instead, he left.
Mulder decided to join a twelve-step program. Step number one involved not ending up hip-deep in his former partner.
First thing in the morning.
He sighed and curled up to Scully's warm body in the darkness. The motel blanket felt as scratchy as the bedspread, so he pushed it down and pulled the sheet higher.
This was insanity, but Mulder had been insane before. Compared to being dead or at a Wiggles concert, insanity was like a cakewalk.
He ran his hand up the slope of her hip, down the valley to her waist, and up and around her shoulders, pulling her close. Her eyes were closed, and her face looked flushed in the moonlight.
"We can't keep doing this, Dana," he told her quietly.
The old baby monitor crackled like rustling crinoline, and her hair felt silky against his bare chest. She was either asleep and she hadn't heard him, or she wasn't going to answer him. He bet the latter.
And she accused him of not communicating.
He exhaled and brought his hand up to her breast, drawing lazy circles with his fingertips across her chest. He passed his fingers down the side of her right breast, paused, and did it again, less lazily.
Mulder propped his head up on one hand, watching her as she slept. He slid his fingers down the outer edge of her breast again, where the roundness ended and the lymph nodes began. He felt something, like a little grape a half-inch beneath her skin.
"Scully," he said nervously. "Dana, wake up. What is this?"
"My right mammary gland," she mumbled.
"There's a lump, Scully."
"I know," she said, her eyes still closed. "It's okay."
He sat up, his stomach tight. "It's not okay. What do you mean you know? Have you seen a doctor?"
"A benign tumor?"
"A benign cyst. I found it last month. I had a needle biopsy and an ultrasound, and it's fine. It should resolve on its own. It's highly unlikely surgery will be necessary."
"What kind of surgery?" He'd seen photos of women after mastectomies. He remembered her during chemo. She got rail thin and so pale her skin seemed transparent. He remembered dry toast and water making her vomit and the lightest touch to her skin hurting.
Damn it, Mulder should have known the chip in her neck had acted up. Otherwise she wouldn't be going to bed with him again after all these years.
"What kind of surgery?" he demanded in the darkness.
"It's highly unlikely," she explained, sounding annoyed. "But if the cyst doesn't resolve and it becomes uncomfortable, it can be removed surgically."
"The cyst can be removed or your breast can be removed?"
"The cyst, Mulder."
Before she could answer, Mulder heard William stir over the baby monitor. William rolled around for a few seconds, and it sounded like he got out of bed.
"Daddy?" a confused voice said over the static.
Mulder found his boxers and blue jeans beside the bed. He slid them on, and zipped up as he dashed for the door of Scully's motel room. Behind him, she rooted around in the dark as well, looking for her clothes. By the time he reached the porch, William opened the door to Mulder's room, looking for him.
"I'm over here, buddy," Mulder whispered. "In Mommy's room."
William looked at him, bleary-eyed and partially awake.
"Do you need to go to the bathroom?"
"My stomach hurts."
"Where does it hurt?" Scully's voice asked from behind Mulder. "Come here, baby; let me see."
William went to her, pulling up his Yoda pajama top to show her his belly - or lack thereof. Their roly-poly baby and hulk of a toddler sprouted up a couple of years ago, steadily gaining inches, though not yet pounds. He had to work to push out what stomach he had, but he gave it his all.
Mulder followed William inside and closed her door behind him, sliding the deadbolt into place.
Dana forgot two things: first, their brilliant, imaginative son could lie convincingly, and second, being hurt or sick guaranteed Dr. Scully's attention.
She gave William the once-over, checking his forehead and throat while Mulder hovered. William rarely got sick, and Mulder could have handled this, but there was no use in arguing - or even in offering an opinion. Eventually, Dr. Scully rooted around in her suitcase and produced a bottle of children's Mylanta. Mulder offered a little plastic cup of water as a chaser.
"Does anything else hurt?" he asked.
William shook his head, his lower lip still pushed out unhappily.
"You wanna go back to sleep?"
The little boy nodded.
Dana tilted her head, wanting William in her bed, so Mulder steered him there. After he lay down, Dana pressed gently, low on his abdomen, asking if it hurt.
William said it didn't.
Mulder lay down beside him, still in his jeans, and put what he hoped was a warm hand on his son's stomach.
"Um-hum," William mumbled, probably as appeased by the attention as the treatment.
Dana lay down on the other side of William, glancing over him one more time as he started to fall back to sleep.
"It's all the candy you let him eat," she accused Mulder quietly, a few minutes later.
"Right - it's one miniature candy bar. If he has a stomachache at all, it couldn't possibly be due to breakfast at the airport, lunch on a three-hour flight, two hours in a car, or waking up and finding me not there," Mulder shot back in an unhappy whisper.
"Are you still letting him sleep with you? At home, I mean?"
"No," he snapped. "Not since last year, after you took him to the Bodies exhibit and he had nightmares for a week."
"Those nightmares couldn't possibly have been attributed to you and those Gunmen people letting him watch Star Wars. Darth Vader, Mulder? Really? For a five-year-old?"
"Plasticized partially-dissected bodies, Dana? Really? For a five-year-old?" he argued, imitating her condescending whisper. "I like how you think to check our son for appendicitis if he has a tummy ache, but you didn't think to mention it to me when you found that lump."
She looked at him like he was crazy. "Why would I tell you?"
"Because I was there when you had cancer. I loved you and I watched you almost die. You not remembering doesn't mean it didn't happen."
Dana pulled the covers over William and adjusted her pillow angrily. She'd put on the first thing she found: the oversized T-shirt she'd been wearing under his old FBI sweatshirt earlier. The T-shirt was ancient, with 'University of Oxford' across the front of it.
"Did you take half my wardrobe with you when you left?" he asked, still whispering and keeping his hand on William's belly. "Virginia isn't a joint property state; I know this from experience."
"Neither is Maryland."
"It's so comforting you thought to check," he shot back. This argument was stupid, he knew. He'd stop arguing if he could think of anything else to say to her.
The baby monitor still hissed. The heater beneath her window clicked on, exhaling an angry hot breath.
"I didn't leave, Mulder," she told him quietly.
You damn sure did, he accused her silently. You left both of us.
"Water under the bridge," he told her aloud. He took a deep breath and exhaled slowly. "I think you should see your oncologist. Get checked out."
"I'll see my oncologist in January. Every January."
"Make a special appointment," he urged.
In the light from the parking lot, Mulder saw her eyebrows come together at an unhappy angle. "Raise your hand if you're a medical doctor and it's your breast."
Her hand went up before returning to rest on William's shoulder.
Putting the argument on pause, he requested, "Trade me sides; my hand's getting cold."
Like a Chinese fire drill, he got up and walked around to the other side of the bed. Dana maneuvered over William and curled up against the boy with her back to the window. Mulder found an extra blanket in the bottom dresser drawer and unfolded it over them before he lay down again.
"The lump is benign?" he asked, putting his right hand on William's stomach.
Her voice sounded kinder as she answered, "I promise you it's benign. A cyst is fluid, not a tumor. It's not cancer."
"Okay," he said.
William kicked the blanket off, rubbed his face with his fist, shifted, and relaxed and slept on between his parents.
"It shouldn't have to be so damn hard, Scully," Mulder said tiredly.
To his surprise, she answered, "No, it shouldn't," and he really couldn't think of anything to say to her.