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phantom weights

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He was supposed to be dead right now.

That was the whole plan . He would die for the man who said he was his father, for all the people he'd hurt, for the future he'd never have. For his parents, who they buried without him months ago, who died because of him. He would die in place of Mulder and give his birth mother the chance to start over. (What the fuck would she do if it had really been Mulder and she was stuck with Jackson, great disaster that he is? What would happen to Sarah, to Bri, to anyone else he tries to connect with? What would happen to him?)

But he didn't die. He took a bullet straight to the forehead and sunk deep into the brackish, salty water, salt and copper at the back of his throat, but he didn't die.

He heard the man who shot him—the man he'd thought was his birth father—get shot himself, multiple times. He fell into the water feet away from where Jackson was drifting, his blood in the water, and Jackson was still waiting for death when he felt something like a release . Like something snapped loose in his head, a taut wire breaking, something set free. A weight gone, and something coming in to replace it. A rush of emotions from a man Jackson had never, ever felt before; the grief of the man standing up on the dock, like a crash overwhelming his brain. It hurt, almost worse than the bullet in his head.

As Jackson drifted, waiting for death, he understood suddenly. It all became clear. Mulder wasn't making it up when he said he was his father; he wasn't ignorant to everything that had happened. He was telling the truth.

It was too much to take, and Jackson didn't want to think, and he didn't die. He drifted far away from the docks, the harbor, before rising out of the water like the newly baptized.

---

Mulder and Scully told their story to the police again and again on that dock in Norfolk. Scully was quiet and numb, teary, her head bent forward as she answered questions in a murmur. Mulder would barely answer their questions, tense and nervous and furious. He asked about Skinner several times before he got an answer, his voice rising towards a yell before they finally told him that Skinner was alive and had been taken to the hospital for surgery. Scully sniffled behind her hand, her eyes squeezed shut, swaying slightly in place.

The police gave up and told them that they could go. There was no sign of Spender's body, of course, and no sign of Jackson's, either. If Mulder knew how this works, he suspected that they'd never find the bodies. (He flinched at thinking of his son as the body , as a lifeless corpse somewhere out there in the deep. It felt like a betrayal. It stung, the casualness of it. He couldn't believe he was gone.)

They got into their car, but Mulder didn't move to start it. He had a headache, his skull pounding, tears building at the back of his throat. He was as shellshocked as Scully, his stomach rolling with nausea, his muscles tense with protest. It wasn't supposed to happen this way. He leaned forward abruptly, burying his face in his hands as his eyes welled with tears. It wasn't fucking supposed to happen this way, goddamnit, it was supposed to go differently, and he wanted to shout with the unfairness of it. He wanted to scream until his throat was raw, he wanted to pull this dock apart board by board. He wanted his son back. He wanted his son back.

He'd been hallucinating a little since all of it; he'd had flashes of currents, of freezing cold and salty wetness and the taste of blood in his mouth. Of his son's face, still in the black-green water, a trickle of blood across his forehead. His eyes shutting, he saw it again: William's pale face in the depths of the murky saltwater.

He shuddered, biting back a scream of protest—he didn't want to upset Scully further, sitting quiet in the passenger seat with a hand pressed over her mouth and her eyes wet with tears. He pressed his face harder against his fingers, his palms intended to muffle the sound, and sobbed.

---

They drove to a hotel. Mulder was quiet the whole time, his eyes red, his face pale and streaked with tears. Scully thought, absently, that he was probably mad at her. Maybe he resented her for the things she said, or the things she didn't. Maybe for sending their son away all those years ago.

She didn't have the headspace to process any of this. She was shaking. She was shivering, wrapped up in her coat in the passenger seat, her chin trembling like she was going to weep again. She had a hand instinctively over her belly, but she was mostly not thinking of the baby; she was mostly thinking of him, of her first baby. Her William. And she was also thinking about nothing at all, her mind blank. She was so cold, her jaw quivering, her cheeks wet and salty. She felt scraped raw, stinging; she couldn't breathe.

They drove in silence. A sharp pain began at the center of her forehead and spread, jarring her as it rattled against her skull. When she shut her eyes, she saw water lapping at murky sand, cars and headlights on the highway. She gritted her teeth and shook her head until the pain subsided. A hot tear escaped from under her eyelid, trickling down her cheek.

It wasn't until they got to the hotel, until they entered the room and slid to opposite sides of the bed and Mulder flipped off the light and did not reach for her that she realized what was happening. She was in shock. That was the only explanation for it. She was in shock. She couldn't explain the things she said, the words spilling out of her mouth on that dock, but she knew she did not mean them. She knew almost as soon as she said them that she didn't mean them. She was in shock and she couldn't get warm; she was shaking, huddled under the thin hotel comforter. She felt so nauseous, the pillowcase cool and uncomforting under her cheek; the room was spinning. She wanted her baby. She wanted her son back.

She suspected that Mulder—Mulder, lying on the other side of the bed with so much space between them and a hand pressed to his temple like he had a headache, his eyes squeezed shut—was in shock, too. After everything, she didn't see how he couldn't be. He had killed his own father just a few moments after seeing his son get shot. His son. His baby, who he had only seen twice since the day he was born. His son , who he could not save, who neither of them could save.

Scully made a sharp, keening sound and buried her face into the pillow, clutching it hard. It wasn't supposed to happen this way. They were supposed to be safe, both of them. She'd been terrified all this time that she would lose Mulder all over again, that he wouldn't come back like last time and she would never get to tell him about the baby or do all the things that she was supposed to do with him, but somehow she never really thought she would lose William. Not again. She thought she'd be able to save them.

She kept seeing her baby with a bullet in his head, hearing Mulder's primal shout. She felt the loss of him in a way she hadn't felt in years, aside from the horrific few hours when she'd thought he might be dead before realizing that he wasn't: she was thinking of the weight of William as an infant in her arms, his soft skin and downy hair. A phantom weight she hadn't quite felt since she'd given him up for adoption, yet one she'd still carried with her for years. She couldn't believe the things she said on that dock. That he wasn't their son, that he was an experiment and she was never his mother. The words didn't feel like they were coming out of her mouth. The shock of the things Skinner told her, and William asking her to let him go, and Mulder telling her that he was dead, had manifested into that, but she didn't mean it. She didn't know what she was saying, a betrayal to everything she felt and everyone she loves. She didn't want to tell Mulder about the baby this way.

Her teeth chattered involuntarily as another wave of cold washed over her. She curled into a tight ball, her hand back over her belly before she realized what she was doing and pulled it away. Was it a betrayal, she wondered, to love this child after everything that has happened to her first two? She wanted her son back. She wanted to tell him she was sorry; she wanted it more than anything in the world. She pulled the edge of the comforter tighter around her and wiped tears away, just as another piercing headache hit her.

Scully gritted her teeth to keep from crying out. She was dizzy, her head spinning, but she didn't realize what was happening until she saw it: the darkened road, the headlights blurring like starlight. The coldness, the wetness, the roar of cars echoing in her ears, the sound of wet shoes squelching on the pavement. And a voice, hard and angry and sad: Just so you know. Okay?

She realized all at once what was happening, and the shock of it nearly made her shoot up in bed. “Jackson,” she whispered, gripping the covers desperately, realizing too late that she'd spoken out loud. Beside her, Mulder made a pained, wordless sound and turned over. She pressed a hand to her mouth and tried, I'm so sorry. But she had no idea if he heard.

She needed to tell Mulder. She closed her eyes and crawled closer to the warm mass of Mulder's body. He was tense and rigid, but when she burrowed under the tent of his arm, he didn't pull away. She pressed her nose to his side and whispered, “Mulder.”

He grunted in response, his eyes squeezed shut.

She pressed a hand to his chest, swallowed back her tears, said, “Mulder, I think William is alive.”

He opened his eyes, dark and wet, and looks down at her. “You can see him?” he whispered tremulously. She nodded.

His eyes slid back shut, and he shook his head hard. “Jesus Christ, I thought I was imagining it,” he murmured, gathering her up in his arms, bundling her against him. She rested her cheek against his chest, sniffling and dizzy.

“I-I thought I was going insane. I… I think I've been seeing him, too,” Mulder whispered to her in broken disbelief, and she blinked with surprise. “But I didn't know… I've never seen him before… how is this happening, Scully? I saw him fall, I…” His voice broke; he squeezed her tighter, choking out another sob against her scalp.

“I don't know. I don't know how,” she said, her voice shaking. She was crying again, tears sliding down her face. “I just… I can feel him. He's safe.” She didn't quite understand how Mulder could see William now, and she could barely believe it herself, but she didn't want to question it. He was alive, and if Mulder saw him, too, that made it real. He was alive , and that was all that mattered. Her baby was still alive.

“Thank God ,” Mulder breathed, stroking the back of her head. “I didn't believe it when I… I didn't want to believe it in case it wasn't true. I-I am so glad that you feel it, too.” He pressed his lips to Scully's forehead, shaking in her embrace, tears falling on her hair.

She felt a sudden, desperate need to apologize for everything she said to him on the docks. He was the one who met their son, who hugged him, who saw him twice with a bullet in his head (twice, twice now, goddamnit). He was the one who never got to be with him as a baby, who didn't get to hear that his son wanted to know him better. (He had to be William's father. He had to be. She did a test when William was a baby, and she thought that Mulder might've done one again when they were in Norfolk, but she knew she was going to do another one as soon as she got a chance. First fucking thing. But somehow, the fact that Mulder could suddenly, miraculously hear Jackson was comforting to her, was enough to convince her that he was William's father. It had to mean something, didn't it? She held onto that hope tightly.)

She didn't mean what she said, not one bit of it. She was in shock. She didn't mean it. She felt like she was going to throw up. She had already thrown up once tonight, retching over a trash can by the water while Mulder whispered her name helplessly and rubbed her back, and she didn't think it was because of the baby. She heard the gunshots Mulder fired into the smoker's chest, every single one; she'd felt them deep in her bones.

She wasn't going to tell Mulder what Skinner said—especially now that she was nearly sure that Mulder was Jackson's father—but she needed to apologize. She needed to tell him she didn't mean what she said. She needed to tell him right now.

“Mulder, I didn't mean what I said,” she blurted, and his arms went stiff around her. She sniffled, burying her face in his neck. “I didn't,” she murmured, balling a hand in his shirt. “I was scared. I was in shock. But I didn't mean it, Mulder. He's our son. He'll always, always be our son.” She had to believe that, she had to.

His fingers brushed over his spine. “Are you saying this because you know he's alive now?” he asked quietly, and she knew that everything she'd said had hit him hard.

Wincing, she shook her head, frantic and immensely sorry, digging her fingernails into his shoulders. “No,” she said quickly, nearly stammering. “No, Mulder, no, he's our son. For God's sake, he's our son. He's our son .” She was crying again, near hiccupping, clinging to him like he's a life raft. “He's my son,” she whispered hollowly. “He's my baby, and I just… he asked us to let him go. I didn't know what to do. I… I couldn't lose him again.”

“Shhh,” Mulder was saying, his voice trembling. He was still crying. He was stroking her hair again, her back, her neck. “Shhhh, Scully, it's okay. It's okay.”

“I'm his mother,” she said. She was remembering the cold feeling of fear, of surprise and uncertainty just a few days ago, when she took the pregnancy tests and saw the results, sitting on the grimy tiles of a bathroom floor inside the handicapped stall. Of guilt, even. She didn't know how to do this again and it scared the shit out of her. She thought that she might want to do this again, be somebody's mother, but she had no idea how. She was Jackson's mother, even if he would never think of her that way, and now she was a mother all over again.

Mulder clung to her and she clung to him and they cried. She held onto the image of William—of Jackson —walking in the rain, huddling for warmth under a bridge. I'm here, she thought desperately towards her son as she started to drift off. I'll always be here, if you need me. Always.

---

They had breakfast next morning, at the continental breakfast in the lobby. Scully didn't exactly feel like eating, but she made herself. She was thinking about the baby, about proper diets and protein and three good meals a day, when she got a spoonful of scrambled eggs, three strips of limp bacon, a cup of yogurt with berries. She ate gingerly, thinking of the pregnancy tests that she lined up along the toilet paper holder, the rush of emotions that she'd felt when she saw that they were all positives. Her baby. She was going to have a baby.

She could feel Mulder's eyes on her, watching her as gingerly as she was eating. “Honey…” he said softly. He reached out to touch her shoulder, his fingers hovering, before he lowered them to touch her stomach.

She reached down and covered his hand with hers. “I know,” she said. “It's a lot to take.”

“It's… it's wonderful news,” he began, before something like guilt passed over his face and he shook his head. “I mean, I'm not sure how it's… how—how do you feel about this, Scully?”

She looked down at her plate, at their hands together. She curled her fingers around his. “I… I don't know,” she whispered. “It's… it's not what I would've chosen for myself. Not now. Maybe years ago… but… I don't know, Mulder.” She squeezed his hand. She lifted her head to meet his eyes. “I… I think I might want this. I do. I can't not . Mulder, I can't lose another child. I can't.”

“I know,” he said softly, and she knew that he did. They had both lost so many people. They had lost their son again and again, seen him dead far too many times. Neither of them could endure another loss.

He rubbed a gentle thumb over her abdomen, where it was slightly rounding, and she felt like crying all over again. She sniffled, wiping a tear away. “I suppose…” she said in a tremulous voice, “that I should ask you how you feel about this. If… if this is something you want.” She'd considered every possible response when she was trying to figure out how to tell him, and she had tried to focus on the ones where he was happy, but she kept coming back to the ones where he wasn't.

His eyes widened, his thumb moving over her stomach again. “Scully, of course,” he whispered. “Of course it is.” He lifted her hand in a fluid motion to kiss the back of it, and she sniffled again, her eyes shutting.

“I… it's scary,” he admitted, his voice breaking. “The prospect of another child… I think we're both a little apprehensive. But I want this as long as you want this. I've always wanted this with you.”

Her eyes filled abruptly, and she jerked forward in her seat towards him. He had his arms around her immediately, her chin on his shoulder. She made a shaky sobbing sound, one hand over her mouth and the other pressed hard into his shoulder. He put a hand to the back of her head, whispered soothing things into her ear. She knew that people were staring, but she didn't care. She held him tightly, nearly in his lap.

“I-I think we should go to the doctor,” she whispered in his ear. “Right away. To make sure everything is okay.” They both knew all the things that could go wrong, all the possibilities that they wouldn't be able to see this through. She didn't want to say the possibilities out loud; all she wanted was to know that everything was okay.

“Yeah. Yeah, we'll go right away.” He kissed the side of her head. “Everything's going to be okay, honey,” he whispered. “I promise.”

You don't know that, she wanted to say, but she didn't. She just held onto him harder and nodded. It was all too much, too much to process; all she wanted was for them to be okay, for everyone to be okay.

When they'd finally pulled away, when Scully was wiping her eyes with a napkin and taking another tentative bite of yogurt, Mulder spoke again. Spoke in a hesitant voice, as if he was unsure of what her reaction would be. “Scully,” he said, carefully, “do you… do you think we'll ever see him again?”

Her jaw clenched automatically. She looked back down at her plate. All she really wanted right now, she thought, was to go home. To get into their bed together, slip back into that sweatshirt of his and crawl under the covers and sleep for a week. She wanted her son safe and at home, and she wanted her baby to be okay. She wanted her family to be safe and together.

“I don't know, Mulder,” she whispered. “But I hope so. I really do.”

---

Jackson never really wanted to kill anyone.

He kept trying to tell himself that in the wake of his fucked up rap sheet: that he never really wanted to kill anyone. He put on a tough persona—he had to at that stupid school they sent him to—but half of the stuff he'd done was just a stupid prank that went too far. The car accident, the tantrums that exploded (sometimes literally) into chaos, the stupid fucking prank on Bri and Sarah that gutted him to the core. Fucked up pranks, horrible pranks, but just pranks, pranks he would always regret right after he did them.

But he had killed people now. His parents, if only indirectly, and those fucking lackeys who came after him. He killed them; that was him. It was under his control.

He could tell himself all he wanted that his parents’ deaths were not his fault, but he knew they were. They came looking for him, the bastards who shot his mom and dad; if his parents had adopted another baby, they'd be alive and well and probably happy right now. (With a normal kid who didn't play shitty, horrible pranks and destroy half their house, who didn't pout and act sullen, and who told them how much he loved them.) He knew that people blamed him for his parents’ deaths, that people thought he was a murderer. (He had gone to his grandmother's house in Wyoming after a week on the run, and she had slammed the door on his face. She acted like she didn't know him. She accused him of murdering her son, and he'd cried like a baby on her porch before running away in a panic.)

He used to tell himself that he wasn't a murderer, no matter what people thought of him. He might've been something of a monster, but at least he wasn't a murderer. And then he killed those people before they could kill him.

Now he tried to tell himself it was all in self defense. But it didn't work. He still woke up screaming most nights, images of blood and gore and his parents in body bags on either side of him imprinted on his eyelids.

He didn't know where to go. He thought about calling Sarah, that first night sleeping under a bridge, but he couldn't bring himself to pull her into this. Not again. He was going to put her in more danger if he did that. Aside from that, she was probably pissed as hell he didn't meet her, if she didn't think he was dead all over again.

How many people thought he was dead at this point? He knew his birth mother didn't. Scully, Ginger, whatever her name was. He'd showed her he wasn't dead. He thought that he might've showed that guy Mulder, too, if inadvertently. (He didn't entirely understand what the hell was happening with his birth father, but he thought it went something like this: the creepy smoker fucker had put some kind of telepathic block in his mind to keep him from connecting to the Mulder guy. To make Jackson think that he was his birth father. And when he died, it stopped working. He didn't even want to dig too far into that fucking mess, but he was pretty fucking glad that the smoker wasn't his birth father, as far as he knew now.)

He didn't know where to go, so he headed west again. Stole a car from a Walmart parking lot and just fucking drove. Maybe he should head north, go to Canada, he thought at one point. Maybe get out of the country completely. Maybe settle down and get a damn job before he ran out of money. But truthfully, he had no idea where the fuck he should go.

There was a small, traitorous part of him that offered, You could go stay with them. Mulder and Scully, his weird-ass birth parents who called each other by their last names. Who apparently loved him a lot. Who fucking gave him up and never came looking for him, who had no rights as his parents. They gave that right up, and they were not his parents.

No, he told himself furiously. Absolutely not. Only as a last resort. Never. He could not do that to his parents.

So he drove, moving into the Midwest. The furthest he got last time was Wyoming, back to his childhood home, before he turned around and slunk back to Virginia with his tail between his legs. This time, he told himself, he was going to go further. All the way to the fucking Pacific.

---

A few days after Mulder and Scully got home, they went to the hospital to meet with one of Scully's old friends from the hospital to confirm the pregnancy. Just to make sure. Mulder held her hand while the blood was drawn, staying right at her side, whispered in her ear that it would be okay no matter what. Grateful for his presence, she tried her best to believe that.

While they were waiting for the results, Scully slipped downstairs, found another friend and asked her to run William's DNA against Mulder's. She had to know, she had to know for sure. The fact that Mulder could hear Jackson now coupled with the DNA test he ran against both of them back in Norfolk gave her some comfort, but she was still uncertain enough that she needed to check. She had to know for sure. Just to reassure herself.

She hadn't told Mulder about it, and she wouldn't if she didn't need to. The entire idea made her nauseous, made her want to find the smoker’s corpse and put ten more bullets in his skull. It couldn't be true. It couldn't be true. It wasn't true, not until it was proven. She had refused to believe in so much, and she would refuse to believe in this until it was anything more than a rumor. And she wouldn't burden Mulder with it if she didn't have to.

She made the request, spent the next few minutes in a bathroom, forehead pressed into the metal of the stall, breathing uneasily. She went downstairs to find out if she was going to be a mother again.

The pregnancy was confirmed. She was over three months along, the doctor estimated with a cheery smile. Behind her, Scully heard Mulder's sharp intake of breath, felt his hand clamp hard around hers. Her heart was beating too fast.

She insisted immediately on doing an ultrasound to make sure that everything was okay, and it seemed that everything was. The doctor reassured her as she moved the wand over her abdomen, telling her that everything looked good, everyone looked healthy  She could see the image of the baby on the screen ( her baby), could hear the pulsing whump-whump of the heartbeat, and she couldn't help the rush of tears. She couldn't believe this was really happening. Looking at the screen, she felt a powerful rush of love pulsing through her. This was all happening so fast she could barely process it, but she knew she loved this baby already, without being able to help it. She loved it more than words.

Mulder wiped away her tears, wrapping his hand around hers; he was crying, too, she could hear him. He asked where the baby was, pointing to the screen, and she showed him. She showed him their baby, and she felt his lips press gently to her hair.

---

When everything was done with, she slipped back downstairs to get the results of the DNA test.

It was what she wanted to hear, to her great relief; William was hers and Mulder's. He had always been hers and Mulder's. It was the best news she could've gotten, and she nearly sobbed with the relief of it all. Crumpled the results in her hand, trembling from head to toe. It wasn’t true. It was a lie, a horrible lie, but Jackson was their son. She cursed the smoker in his watery grave, but she felt a little lighter now, the weight of Skinner's confession off of her shoulders.  It wasn’t true. William was theirs, and Mulder would never know there was another possibility.

She found Mulder down in the lobby, lingering by the gift shop with a plastic bag clutched in one hand, looking at something on his phone. He looked up at her with soft, relieved eyes when she approached, said, “Hey,” in a gentle voice, and held up the bag. “I, uh… I bought you something. From the gift shop.” Surprised, she took the bag as he explained. “I was poking around in there, and—yeah, that, check it out.” She pulled a small cardboard box out, and he nodded eagerly. “That's the brand you drank before, right?” he asked. “When you were—with William? The caffeine-free tea?”

Scully nodded, stunned, turning the box over and over in her hands. “You remembered?” she whispered in astonishment, although she should not be astonished. Mulder remembered things like that, held onto the memories like they were something precious. She could remember the first time she'd drank it in front of him—wearing his sweatshirt on her couch, him sitting beside where she was sprawled, his hand on her knee as she'd drank from a Georgia On My Mind mug—but she had no idea he did.

“Yeah.” He smiled again, reaching out to touch her elbow. “I couldn't believe they had it. I grabbed three boxes of that, and, uh, something else I thought was kinda cute…” She rummaged to the bottom of the bag and found a small stuffed cat, tiny enough to be tucked into the corner of a crib. “For the, uh, baby. I dunno if you like it,” he continued, “but, uh…”

She cut him off, moving forward to hug him hard. She seized his face in her hands and kissed him thankfully. She was nearly shaking with the weight of it all, of this baby and of their son, out there somewhere, and of every single thing that he missed out on last time. “I do like it,” she whispered, smiling, her face hidden against his neck. “Thank you. Thank you so, so much.”

---

Jackson used to want to travel all the time. He hated Virginia, he'd whined, and he wanted to go somewhere else, somewhere exciting. And then they'd sent him to that school, and it had been anything but exciting, and he'd felt even more trapped than before. He wanted to go places, he wanted to be free and not have to answer to anyone and do anything he wanted to whenever he wanted it.

Now he had that. He was alone, he had no one telling him what to do or where to go, and his future could be whatever he wanted it to be, barring the fact that people were actively trying to kill him and that a lot of people thought he was a murderer. And he hated it. He wanted his parents back more than anything in the world. He kept expecting them to be there, telling him what to do: No, Jackson, don't do that. Don't be stupid, son. Be careful, be smart, be safe. He wanted to ask their advice on things, wanted them to be with him. The one time in his life he wished he was Haley Joel Osment. (In Sixth Sense, not in that stupid Pay It Forward movie.) He'd give anything to be haunted by his parents at this point. He'd give anything to have them back.

He made it all the way to California without any major hitches. It was uneventful; miles of driving on empty roads, stopping to see sights, eating fast food in the driver's seat of his car and sleeping curled up in the backseat in parking lots until some cop told him to keep moving. In Arizona, he considered going covert, dying his hair and getting a bunch of piercings, doing something besides just projecting so he looked like someone else, but the most he did was give himself a haircut because his hair was getting too long. A horrible, horrible haircut that he could practically see his mom cringing at. It looked like he was attacked by a lawnmower. He bought a baseball cap at the next visitor center and pulled it low over his head.

He made it to California. He went to San Diego for no particular reason, and found himself in a cemetery for no particular reason, and that was about when he realized that there was probably a reason he was here. He mulled around the gravestones for a long moment before arriving at a small, shiny one that read Emily Sim. Died when she was three years old, a week after her parents did.

Jackson winced, leaning forward to put his palm on top of the stone. As he did, a rush of images swept over him, images that made him sick with nausea, dizziness. Emily Sim, a little girl sucking her thumb before a bathroom floor streaked with watery blood; Emily on the floor of a children's home, a much younger Mulder and Scully knelt beside her; Emily Sim in a hospital bed, eyes screwed shut, face coated in sweat. Dying.

Jackson staggered back from the headstone, his heart in his throat, coated in sweat despite the relatively cool temperature. He was breathing hard. He knew immediately what this was. He'd had a sister. He'd had a sister who somehow wasn't Scully's, either, and she'd been an experiment like him, and she had died. No wonder Ginger seemed so protective of him, so panicky at the thought of his death; it wasn't just because she was his birth mother, it was because she'd gone through it before. He'd had a sister, an experiment who suffered her whole life and lost both her parents and died before he was even born. He swayed on his feet, fell to his knees in the graveyard. He was crying, and he didn't know why, but it made him furious, that he'd had a sister who was dead now because of these bastards who had murdered his parents. He'd always wanted a sister as a kid. A little sister he could protect, or a big sister who would stick up for him.

Her name was Emily. Emily Christine Sim. He resolved to remember that as he climbed to his feet, brushed dirt off of his jeans. Half his family gone, her entire family gone. A sister he would never know. Emily Sim. He pressed his palm to the stone and thought, I'm so sorry. I'm so sorry that this happened to you. I'm so sorry I'll never get to know you.

After that, he didn't want to stay in California. He was getting flashes of other things, of a dark-haired girl that looked like that Mulder guy in pain, running, dying. Bad things had happened here. He looked out over the Pacific, at the great westward spread of the ocean, and then he got into his car and drove back east.

Chapter Text

Mulder and Scully had been put on suspension almost immediately after everything that happened in Norfolk. Two weeks later, they were called back into Kersh's office and told that it was over. The X-Files, all of it. They were officially being dismissed from the FBI.

Scully was quiet, slumped in her chair beside him like a kid called to the principal's office. When Kersh mentioned the story she had leaked on the Internet—accusing Mulder of it first before she softly clarified that she had done it—Mulder looked over at her in a sort of proud astonishment. She said nothing; she had offered him a small shrug and nothing more.

She kept glancing over at Mulder, as if expecting him to lose his mind, to get angry at the prospect of losing the Files, but for the first time in his long, recurring career, Mulder didn't care. He didn't have the energy to keep up the Files anymore; he didn't need them. He knew the truth now, and it was enough to almost make him wish he'd never gone looking. His sister was gone, and he knew there was no use in looking for Jackson—it’s harder to find someone who doesn't want to be found. And he lived with Scully; he didn't have to work with her. They were together and they were alive and they were having a baby, and he was just done. He'd loved his years on the X Files, but he'd also lost so much because of them. He was ready to let them go.

When they got home, they crawled into the couch, her curling into his side, him pulling an afghan over them. “Are you okay,” she murmured, her nose brushing the side of his neck.

He nodded, kissing the top of her head. “It was a long time coming, honey,” he said. “Really. I'm ready to move on.”

She hummed low in her throat, wrapping an arm around his waist. “Never thought I'd see the day,” she muttered dryly, and he chuckled quietly. “I think you're right. I think it's time.”

“I can't believe you leaked some bogus story on the Internet,” he whispered teasingly, his lips to her hair. “That is very unlike you, Dana Scully.”

“It was the only thing I could see to do,” she said stubbornly. “For you and Jackson and… I didn't know what else to do. I wanted to warn people."

“I know. I know. I think you did the right thing.” He squeezed her close, slid a hand down to rest over her hip, her abdomen. She was starting to show, just a little; he stroked his thumb up and down her side. “I'm sorry,” he added softly. He'd said it before and he would say it again; they both had guilt cloaking them heavily, following them like a dark cloud. “I'm so sorry, Scully… for the way that everything went down.” He'd do anything to change it. Anything in the world.

(He missed their son horribly, as bad as he had missed him in the years after they first lost him. The mournful ache in his chest had begun the first time he walked away and hadn't really ended ever since; it had only numbed a bit, and now it was back. He wanted to see his son so badly. He knew that Scully felt the same way. He'd wake up sometimes to hear her crying out, or mumbling their son's name in her sleep, and he would always wonder if she could see where he was. He never asked her, though; he didn't want to put that on her. Sometimes, in a surreal moment that usually began and ended in an headache, he thought that he saw him, but he could never quite tell if it was real or just wishful thinking. He'd seen a thousand different impossible things in his life, and believed in almost all of them, but he didn't know what it felt like to connect with his son. And besides that, he wasn't sure that Jackson even wanted him to see, anyway.)

Scully pressed her face into his shoulder, her hand clutching at his shirt. She mumbled that she loved him. He tugged her close until she was mostly in his lap, her head tucked under his chin, and held tight. “What are we going to do with ourselves now?” he joked. “Now that we don't have our jobs.”

She lifted her head and gave him a soft look, a small smile. Small, but not insincere. “We'll think of something,” she said, the same way she had in that hotel room in Henrico County. He leaned down to kiss her forehead.

---

Scully was sick in the mornings the first few weeks after Norfolk; half the time, he'd wake up to her retching in the other room. They spent a lot of time in bed. She slept leaning against his shoulder, her forehead warm, her sleep restless. She had nightmares often, sometimes about Jackson and sometimes about Mulder and sometimes about the baby—she woke up in tears one time, clinging to him desperately as he wiped her tears away, and she choked out, “I really thought I was going to lose you, Mulder.” She was inconsolable and frantic, still locked firmly in the dream, and he held her tight, emotional and on the edge of tears himself. They were both a mess, at the beginning, the hope they'd felt at that first doctor's appointment largely masked by the grief they'd been feeling since the dock, since the Van de Kamps’ house in Norfolk, since the day that Mulder had walked away from their son and never seen him again.

He did the best he could for her. He made her tea, brought her food, read aloud to her, went into the bathroom when he heard her throwing up and rubbed her back and offered her cold glasses of water. They had nowhere to be and a part of him was relieved. He wanted to be here with her. He held her while she slept and was grateful he had her, if nothing else. She'd always been enough, and he missed their son like crazy, but he still had her. And the baby. He did have the baby.

He hadn't thought about it much, the prospect of another chance at fatherhood. Thinking about it honestly scared the shit out him; he was at the age of retirement, and he was about to be a new parent—up every night when he was already tired, a jungle gym for a toddler when his back and knees already felt like they were constantly about to give out, having to pay for a college fund without actually having a job. And he was equally scared about what it meant for Scully: the reality of carrying a child at her age, the high risk of the pregnancy, the possibility that he would lose them both in the process, Scully and the baby.

But every time his mind went to the dark place, to the worst possible things that could happen, it never stayed there. He couldn't stay there. He couldn't help himself. Despite everything, everything he was afraid of, he already loved this kid with everything in him. More than he could put into words. And despite all of this, everything they had been through, a part of him had wanted this ever since Scully first asked him to be the father of her child, and wanted it still. He loved the baby; of course he loved the baby. He'd loved it from the moment that Scully had taken his hand and put it on her belly. He loved the baby, and he wanted to be a father to it. He'd be a good father, he promised himself. He would be. And he knew that Scully would be an amazing mother. That first day after the doctor, as soon as they'd gotten home, she'd taken out the ultrasound photo and pinned it up on the fridge with a magnet. The way he imagined she'd had pictures of William up years ago, the way that parents had pictures up of their children. She was going to be such a good mother.

One morning, when they were lying in bed together, Scully tucked into his side, her head on his shoulder and her feet intertwined with his, she said, “I want to fix up both rooms.”

“What's that?” he asked lazily, his eyes half-closed, his fingers in her hair.

“Both rooms,” she said, lifting her head. “Both of the guest rooms. For the baby and for Jackson.”

He opened his eyes and looked at her. They were nose to nose, her eyes bright, crystal blue and full of emotion. “In… in case he comes back,” she added softly.

He leaned forward to kiss the tip of her nose, stroking the back of her head. “I think that's a great idea,” he said softly.

She smiled, just a little, the corners of her mouth upturning softly. “Nothing too elaborate,” she said. “I don't know… what he'd like, but… I want to have something ready.”

He rested his cheek against the top of her head, squeezing her tight. “I do, too,” he replied. “I do, too.”

---

It was well into April, over a month after the ordeal in Norfolk, when Jackson realized that no one had came for him yet.

Ever since he first set out on his own, months and months ago, he'd been running. Each time he thought he had evaded them, every time he thought he might be safe, he found himself nearly getting caught again, having to run or hide and fearing the danger of what would happen if he did get caught. More of what had happened when he was a child, when he stayed in that hospital for nearly six months and experienced experimentation, poking and prodding, until his parents had finally sprung him loose and moved across the damn country in an attempt to get away. He had been followed all his life by this, and it had been even worse since they took his parents. He never really thought it would end . That was why he couldn't be with Bri or Sarah, that was why he gave up on finding any more family after his grandmother shut him out, that was why he couldn't go with Scully and Mulder even if he had wanted to (which he didn't). It was too dangerous for them. People would never stop coming for him and he didn't want to get anyone else killed.

But it was nearly the end of April, and he hadn't seen a single one of those fucking conspiracy drones coming after them. He hadn't had to run for his life yet, or use his weird-ass powers very much. By the end of April, it seemed like nobody was coming for him, at least not to kill him. (Additionally, it seemed like his birth parents probably weren't coming for him, either, a relief in its own sense.)

It was also at the end of April that Jackson began to want to stop running. He never thought he would want to stop living like this, but the shiny newness and excitement had worn off immediately. (What little there had been considering his parents had been murdered, that is.) He was tired of it, of all of it: the fear, the dirtiness, the exhaustion. The loneliness. He couldn't stand it anymore. He couldn't stand it anymore, but he had no way to stop running. He didn't have enough money to stop running. He wasn't even seventeen yet, and he didn't know where he would go if he stopped running. He couldn't afford a house or an apartment. He could get a job, but he didn't know what place would hire a sixteen year old with no work experience. And even if he got a job, he still probably wouldn't be able to afford a place for a while. Not on a minimum wage job with barely any money saved up. He could keep sleeping in his car, he could keep playing the lottery, but he was sick of that kind of instability. He wanted somewhere permanent to stay.

It was impractical, he told himself again and again, but he couldn't let the idea go. He never thought he would be so homesick, but he found himself longing for the security of four square walls. He wished for his bedroom, for his old house, nearly every single night, but he knew that wasn't possible. But he was thinking about what might be possible, and his mind kept lingering over the idea of getting an apartment. He'd be seventeen in about a month, and he thought he could probably get a good fake ID made. All he would really need is a job, and the money to put down an apartment.

The idea stuck solidly in his mind, until it became clear that he was going to do this one way or another. All he had to do was decide where . Norfolk wouldn't work, but he still thought he might like to be close to Sarah.

It was a couple of days before he remembered that Sarah rode the bus to Richmond on weekends for music lessons. An avenue where he could hopefully grab a few hours without her parents or sister getting in the way. That seemed to settle it for him.

Jackson went to Richmond. He looked for affordable apartments on the edge of town and found one he thought would actually work. The landlord believed him when he said he was nineteen, and didn't ask too many questions. It seemed perfect, aside from the large security deposit and rent for the first month. He didn't see how he could afford that and food until he got a steady paycheck (he'd need to get a job first), aside from either stealing it or winning the lottery again, and there's only so many times you can win the lottery before attracting attention.

He couldn't think of any solution aside from the obvious one. There were two people who would probably be perfectly willing to give him enough money to rent a place of his own. He was guessing they'd prefer he just move in with them instead, but he was sure if he played his cards right, he could get the money. He figured they'd be jumping at the opportunity to help him, considering all the grief and guilt he'd seen in them.

But a part of him was still stubborn, recoiling at the idea of having any contact with his birth parents. He knew that the smoking fucker wasn't his birth father, which was honestly a relief, but that didn't matter in the long run. No matter how much they clearly cared for him, he couldn't engage with these people. It was a betrayal to his parents, his entire family. He'd told Ginger that he wished he could know her better, but he wanted to take it back now. He couldn't deal with the expectations, the grief, the guilt over his parents, wondering what they'd think if they knew he was interacting with his birth parents. He didn't need them, he told himself. He would be perfectly fine without them.

Jackson told himself this over and over again, but the decision didn't stick. It was one more night slept curled up in a ball in his car, freezing cold, that made the decision for him. He had to get his own place, and this was the best way he could see to make money.

He'd just ask them for money, he told himself. Nothing more. Nothing more. Just money, and then he would be done with them.

---

Jackson drove to Farrs Corner the next day. He knew how to find them without giving them any idea he was coming. (He knew Mulder could hear him some now, which was a weird experience; he was used to only Ginger being able to hear him. But whatever the case, he didn't want them to know he was coming. That'd only make things harder.)

It was an hour and a half drive, and he spent most of that drive with anxiety compressing his chest, his ribs. How the hell was he going to do this? What if they saw through the charm, the manipulation? Would they even do anything about it? What if they wanted him to stay? Of course they'd want him to stay, but how the hell was he going to say no? He knew what Mulder was like—the guy had hugged him right off the bat, for fuck's sake—but he didn't know much about Dana Scully. Didn't know much beside the things he had been seeing from her his whole life.

What the hell was he even supposed to call them? Was he supposed to refer to them by their last names? (Well, they did do it to each other. He sure as hell wasn't calling Mulder “Fox," that was for certain. And maybe if he used their last names, it'd be like drawing a line in the sand. We may share genetics, and a weird X-Men mind connection, but I am not your son. Not anymore. )

He was thinking about the time when he was five. They'd had to draw a picture of their family and talk about what they'd gotten from their family. Who they looked like, or who they acted like. It was a screwed-up assignment, but Jackson hadn't known that then. All he'd known was that he didn't look like anyone in his family, and he probably didn't act like them, either. Because he was adopted. He'd never know where he came from. But he knew, at the time, that he wanted to.

He was dreaming about Ginger sometimes (although he didn't call her that yet), a pretty woman with red hair who made him feel warm and safe inside. The way his own mother made him feel. He wanted to know who she was. He maybe even wanted to find her.

So that night, he'd walked into the living room and climbed into his mom's lap, put his head on her shoulder and said, “I want to look for my real parents.”

In retrospect, he was possibly more tactless as a five year old than he was now. (Although maybe not.) At the time, he hadn't seen anything wrong with what he said. But his mom's face had paled, her eyes wide as saucers. Jackson understood now: her son had uttered the words that are every adoptive parents’ worst nightmare.

“Y-you mean your birth parents, honey,” she'd said, more gently than he probably deserved.

Jackson had nodded. “My teacher says we gotta talk about our family in class.”

“Jackson, sweetie…” His mom rubbed nervous circles on his back. “ We're your family. Remember? We talked about this. Just because we didn't give birth to you, or don't share any genetics with you, doesn't make you any less our son.”

“Uh-huh,” he said. “But I'm someone else's son, too.”

His mother had taken a trembling breath, as if trying to compose herself. “Not exactly, honey. Your birth parents are not your parents, not like Dad and me. They might've given you up because they couldn't take care of you, or to give you a better life…”

“Or not!” Jackson said stubbornly. “Maybe they gave me up because it's super dangerous, and they didn't want me to get hurt, but they're still coming back for me someday.” He didn't want to believe that the woman from his dreams would give him up because she didn't want him. He wanted her to come for him and give him a big hug and tell him how much she loved him, just like his mom did all the time.

His mom sighed. “I think that's unlikely, Jackson. Now, sweetie, listen… I know this is a difficult subject for you to discuss… but it's unlikely you're ever going to get to meet your birth parents. Now, I'm sorry about that…”

“I could if we looked for her!” Jackson nearly shouted, slipping up. He didn't mean to refer to the woman, to Ginger, directly. He'd never told his mom and dad about her. He liked to think he had a birth father out there, too, someone else who loved him and missed him, but all he knew about for sure was Ginger.

His mom was still talking. “... know it's difficult, but you know how much your dad and I love you…”

“But they're my parents !” Jackson yelled.

“No, they're not ,” his mother said, nearly wailing or screaming, or maybe in a quiet slip of a whisper. Jackson couldn't quite remember. He didn't think he wanted to.

He did scream. He remembered that. He screamed at the top of his lungs, and the room seemed to shake the way it always did when he got mad. The window by the couch had given a sickening crack, a spider's web of cracks forming on the glass. His mother had begun to cry, slipping off of the couch and out of the living room. Jackson had felt sick to his stomach. He hated making his mom cry.

Later, when she came to apologize for losing her temper, he apologized first, clambering up to hug her around the neck and whisper, “I'm sorry, Mommy. You're my real mommy.” He didn't stop thinking of Ginger as his other mom until years later, but he almost never brought her up around his parents after that. And he never called his birth parents his real parents again.

His mom and his dad were his real parents. He was a Van de Kamp. He'd grown up with them. He was his parents’ only child. They'd named him Jackson after his dad's father, his grandfather, who died when he was four. He'd spent his entire life with them. They were his family. (But remembering the way his grandmother slammed the door in his face made him feel like they weren't. Like he'd been booted out as soon as his parents died. It made his stomach roll with nausea.)

Mulder and Scully's driveway was long as shit. He had to get out of his car to drag the gate open, and then back closed again. Halfway up the driveway, he had to stop. His head fell forward, pressing into the steering wheel. He felt like he was going to cry. He didn't know if he could do this, but he had to. He had to. He needed this apartment, this security. He had to do it, but the guilt was choking him, his throat tightening. He pressed his forehead into the steering wheel and whispered, “I'm sorry, Mom. I'm so, so sorry.”

His mom did not answer, because he was not Haley Joel Osment, and he couldn't see dead people. But if they were watching him somewhere, somehow, he wanted them to know. “You're always going to be my real parents,” he said firmly. He sat up, his eyes squeezed shut, and gripped the wheel with both hands. “Always. Okay? But I have to do this. I have to.”

He rubbed a face over his face, as if to scrub away his tears. He took a deep breath and threw the car back into Drive.

---

Jackson stood on their doorstep, his hands tucked in his pockets, the doorbell still ringing in his ears. He heard footsteps inside, and it was enough to make him almost bolt. But he forced himself to stand still, took a deep breath.

The footsteps stopped on the other side of the door, the knob turning. It opened to reveal Scully on the other side, looking small in an oversized, frayed sweatshirt that read Oxford on the front. Her eyes went wide when she saw him, her mouth hanging open, shocked. She didn't move.

He offered her a sheepish shrug, his hands balled into fists in his pockets. “Um, hi,” he said. “Scully. Erm, Dana. Hi.” Ginger, he added silently. She looked the way she had in the dreams he'd tried to forget.

Scully made a choked sound in the back of her throat and stepped forward, throwing her arms around him. She squeezed him tight, a hand rubbing his back (the way his mom had years and years ago, when they were talking about his birth mother). She was shorter than him, his birth mother, and it was startling. “William,” she whispered in a trembling voice, and he bit back a flinch.

He was thinking of being five again, thinking about the woman he dreamed about, about whether or not she was his mother. And here she was, hugging him and rubbing his back like a mother would. But that wasn't his name. “You and that Mulder guy… you sure like to hug,” he said, his arms still at his side. Scully didn't move, didn't loosen her embrace.

Mulder appeared at the door, his eyes wide and teary. He choked out his name—Jackson, he called him Jackson, at least—and threw his arms around both of them, a hand on the back of Jackson's head.

Jackson stood there awkwardly, tense. He thought about his parents again, and had to bite back a sob. “I, uh,” he said tightly. “I'm okay, you know. I'm fine. I promise.” The least he could do, he guessed, was reassure them.

Scully sniffled loudly and let go, stepping back with Mulder. He had a hand at her back, and they were both looking at him with the softest fucking eyes. He had to look away. “You're… you're okay?” Scully repeated, her voice full of worry.

“Yeah,” he said, running a hand frustratedly through his choppy hair. That was what he got for cutting his own goddamn hair, an embarrassing haircut. “Yeah, yeah, I healed. I'm okay.”

“I saw you… get shot,” Mulder said cautiously.

He shrugged again. “I dunno what to say.”

Scully cleared her throat, wiping her hands on her jeans. “Do you… do you want to come in?”

“That'd be great,” Jackson said, which was true. “I've been sleeping in my car for two weeks, and the AC is very broken.”

Mulder and Scully exchanged a quick, guilty look, as if they didn't know what to say that. They stepped back into the house and Jackson followed them, standing awkwardly in the threshold. The three of them stared dumbly at each other for a long moment.

He started because he didn't really want them to start. Didn't want to hear how much they missed him or loved him. He said, “I, uh, I came here because I wanted you to know I was all right.” He didn't know whether or not it was a lie. He really didn't. “And I had a favor to ask of you,” he added.

They exchanged another look, Mulder's hand on Scully's shoulder. “A favor?” Scully repeated.

“Yeah.” Jackson rubbed at the back of his neck. He offered them a forced grin, a pathetic effort to be friendly. He figured he owed them that. “Things have slowed down a lot since last month, and no one's really chasing me anymore. And so, uh, I'm gonna get a job in Richmond. I want to be close to Sarah, but her parents don't like me, so I can't live in Norfolk.” He swallowed hard. He felt like he was rambling. “So I'm gonna get a job and an apartment in Richmond, and I'll see her when she takes the bus on the weekends to her music lessons. But see, uh, I have to put a security deposit down on the place I want to rent. And I don't have enough money…”

“So you want us to help you with the security deposit,” said Scully. Her face was unreadable. He couldn't tell if he'd hurt her feelings or not. Mulder was giving him a wary look, but neither of them looked mad. He couldn't tell what they were thinking. He didn't know that he wanted to know.

“Yeah,” he said. “If that's okay.”

Neither of them said anything. They were both just looking at him. He couldn't tell what they were thinking.

“Richmond isn't far from here,” Jackson added, a little desperately. “We could… see each other every now and then. Remember I said, I want to know you better?”

He felt bad even as he said it. He felt manipulative and small. But he didn't know how else to do this. He didn't want to stay with them. But he felt bad doing this. He felt their anguish both nights they thought he was dead, he knew how much they cared, even if he couldn't return it. He was torn, on the verge of taking back what he said and reassuring himself that he couldn't, that he didn't want to get too close. He had no idea what they were thinking, and he was considering an apology, when Scully suddenly said, “Okay.”

Jackson blinked with surprise. “Really?”

She shrugged, looking up at Mulder. “If… if that's what you want, sweetie… we want to help you,” she said. Her voice trembled only a little bit.

Mulder nodded. “It's the least we can do,” he added quietly.

Jackson gulped. He thought that a part of him hadn't really expected them to say yes. He thought a part of him might've been expecting them to insist that he stay there with them. He was shocked and grateful all at once. “Okay,” he said. “Uh, thank you. Thanks a lot.” He offered them another smile, the closest to a real smile he could give.

---

Their son was in their living room. He was watching TV on their couch, draped lazily over one arm. His eyes had lit up, just a little, when Daggoo had come running in, and so now Daggoo was sitting on the couch with him. He was watching some sitcom, and hearing the sound of his laugh every few minutes was a sort of relief, a reprieve. Mulder kept looking at Scully when Jackson laughed, as if his laugh reminded him of her.

It was the first time Scully had really seen him—not on camera or in photos, not in hazy visions, but him. And he looked like Mulder. He looked just like Mulder.

They were making sandwiches in the kitchen when Mulder pulled Scully aside into the hall, and whispered in her ear, “Are you sure about this, honey?”

“No,” she said with a sigh, her shoulders slumping. “No, I'm not. But what are we supposed to do, Mulder? Tell him no?”

He sighed, too, and shook his head, pressing a kiss to the top of her head. “You're right,” he whispered.

“If we refuse to do this, we've basically alienated him,” Scully whispered. “This may be the way we can connect with him. Even if it… involves buying him an apartment an hour and a half away.” She wasn't blind. She knew that everything Jackson had said was blatant manipulation, but she couldn't bring herself to care. She was going to be able to see her son, talk to him, maybe even spend time with him. See him after today. She could hold onto the hope that he might be a part of her life, a part of the baby's life. His little sibling.

Mulder wrapped his arms around her, his hands wet from washing the tomatoes. “I think this is going to work out,” he whispered. “I… I hope this is going to work out.”

“I hope so, too.” She kissed his cheek and squeezed tight before letting go. “I hope so, too.”

Back in the kitchen, she cobbled together a sandwich for Jackson, layering meat, cheese, lettuce, and tomatoes, cut it in half, and carried it out into the living room. Jackson was bent over Daggoo, scratching his stomach and whispering to him. But he straightened immediately when Scully entered, his face turning a little red. “Hi,” he said sheepishly. “Uh, thanks.” He motioned to the plate.

“Oh, of course,” she said, handing him the plate. She gave him a smile that she hoped was warm and sat down in the chair across from him. Jackson was eating ravenously, as if he was very hungry, and the sight of it made her hurt inside, wondering what he'd been eating, if he'd been eating enough. She hated that he'd been alone out there for so long.

“I was thinking, Jackson,” she added, as Mulder came out of the kitchen to join them, sitting in another chair. “We have some… furniture in storage. A couch, some chairs, a table. A bed, even." All the things from her old house that they hadn't had space for. She hoped Jackson wouldn't ask about the furniture, because she didn't feel like explaining the breakup. She continued, "If you wanted to have those things for your apartment…”

“Yeah,” Jackson said, nearly blurting. “Yeah, that'd be great. I don't remember the last time I slept on a real bed.” He laughed nervously.

A lump was building in Scully's throat. She swallowed it back and said, “We’re glad to.”

“We can rent a U-Haul, drive down tomorrow,” Mulder added. “Talk to the landlord. Maybe we should give him a call later.”

Jackson's head hung forward loosely, his eyes downcast. “We could… go today,” he offered. “If we could get a U-Haul today. I think the landlord and I have something of an understanding that I'm getting that apartment."

Scully bit back a flinch. She didn't expect this to happen so soon. “If you're… ready,” Mulder said uncertainly.

“I think I am,” said Jackson immediately. Like he couldn't wait to get out of their house. He was scratching Daggoo's belly, his tail thumping against the side of the couch happily. “You know. The sooner, the better.”

Scully took a shaky breath and said, “Okay.” She forced another smile, getting to her feet. “I'll call the storage unit,” she said. “See if we can pick up the stuff today.”

“Okay,” Jackson said, nodding.

She felt Mulder's hand on her wrist, like a reassurance. She went into the kitchen to get her cell phone, passing the fridge, where they still had the picture of the ultrasound, pinned up next to a new picture. One of herself and Mulder and William— Jackson —asleep on her bed, the night they'd brought him home. The sight of it made her want to cry. She wondered if Jackson had see the photo, either of them. She didn't know if he knew about the baby, and she didn't want to be the one to tell him. She picked up her phone and dialed the number of the storage unit.

---

They somehow made it to Richmond and had Jackson all moved in by that night. It happened so fast Mulder could hardly believe it. Trip to Bethesda to get the furniture and the U-Haul, drive to Richmond, paying the landlord, lugging Scully's old furniture up the stairs to Jackson's dinky little apartment. It hurt Mulder a bit, to see that furniture; it was the sign of another member of his family living somewhere without him. He and Jackson carried the furniture up, and he refused to let Scully help, giving her a stern look that made her shake her head and smile ruefully. Jackson didn't seem to notice.

As painful as the entire day was, a part of it was magical. They were spending time with their son. He drove up separately from them, but he was with them during the move, and they managed a few awkward exchanges of conversation. He kept seeing things in the kid that reminded him of Scully. He looked a little bit like Mulder's mother, a little bit like Samantha, but he kept doing things that reminded Mulder of Scully. It made him ache. Every moment seemed precious. Sitting on Scully's dusty old couch that only smelled a little like smoke, drinking cans of Coke in a companionable silence with his wife on one side and his son on the other, Mulder never wanted to leave.

He wanted, more than once, to blurt everything out, to tell their son how much they loved him and how sorry he was for leaving and how they'd never forgotten him. To apologize again and again and again. He could tell by the look in Scully's eyes that she wanted to do the same thing. But they both held back. They didn't want to push too hard. That's why they were doing this, helping their son get an apartment an hour and a half away instead of asking him to stay at their house.

Jackson gave his name as William. He signed the lease William with a random last name tacked on, covering his tracks, but also likely trying to appeal to them. Mulder saw the look on Scully's face when he signed the lease; she was feeling the same way he was. He'd do anything for another chance with him, no matter how much this particular thing hurt.

It was late when they were finally finished with everything, the spring skies dark outside Jackson's dirty window. Mulder took one look at the empty refrigerator tucked into the corner of the kitchen, and said, “Let us buy you dinner, Jackson. We'll get you some takeout.”

“I second that,” Scully added. She'd bought three containers of Clorox wipes and was working on the dusty kitchen counter with one of them. “I'm starving, myself, and I know you must be hungry, too.”

Jackson looked between the three of them like he was considering arguing, and then shrugged. “That sounds great,” he said. “Amazing. Thank you.”

Mulder felt a little bit like one half of a divorced couple trying to bribe the kid, but he told himself it didn't matter. They could be the fun birth parents for a day. He and Jackson hooked up a dinky thrift-store TV across from the couch while Scully called in an order to a nearby Thai place. He paid, of course. They ate in a circle at Scully's old table, mostly quiet. They asked Jackson questions about his life, avoiding the sensitive subjects as best they could—although every subject felt sensitive. Scully asked about school, about friends, about books and movies he liked. Mulder asked about baseball, thinking of the photograph he still had somewhere at home of a young Jackson peering up from under a baseball cap. He had a million different things to ask him, his boy, but baseball was the first thing that came to mind.

Jackson answered the questions, albeit awkwardly, and didn't really ask any questions of his own. Mulder tried not to let it bother him.

Eventually, the quiet became too strained. They'd helped him moved into an apartment without speaking on a single important subject. Scully said, “I guess we better go,” twisting the car keys in her hand and looking as if she didn't want to. Jackson nodded, stiffly, looking down at the newly mopped floor.

“Hey, kiddo,” Mulder said lightly, because nothing else felt right. When Jackson turned to him, he took three hundreds out of his wallet and handed it to him. “Here,” he said. “Consider it a loan til you find a job.”

Jackson gave him a brief, grateful grin. “Thanks, man,” he said, taking the money. “I appreciate that.”

“You call us,” Scully added, her voice suddenly fierce, “if you need anything , okay? Anything. We'll be here.”

Jackson looked a little surprised, possibly by the raw emotion. “Okay,” he said. “I will. I promise.”

Scully squeezed the car keys tight; he could tell she really didn't want to leave, and neither did he. He put a hand to her back and nodded at his son. “Good night,” he said. “Be safe, all right?”

Something strange passed over Jackson's face, something like grief. He nodded.

Scully gave him a wobbly smile, and then they turned, walking to the door. The click of the door behind them felt like a condemnation.

As they walked towards the elevator, Mulder tried to remind himself that they would probably see their son again. If only to come down and check on him. Make sure he was okay. He was sure they would see him again.

Chapter Text

The days were entirely too empty.

Scully hadn't gone without a job so long in years. Even when they were on the run, she worked as a waitress or cashier whenever they stayed in one place for long enough. She'd always been driven a little crazy by not working, ever since she was in her twenties; she thought that she and Mulder had similarly restless souls. Now, they had no jobs, nothing to do besides sit around the house all day.

Scully was fairly sure that she could get her job at the hospital back (or at a new hospital), provided that no one found out about the things she had leaked on the Internet. But Mulder had convinced her to wait until a few months after the baby was born, and considering it was a high risk pregnancy anyways, Scully couldn't argue much with that. She needed the rest. They'd already more or less determined that Mulder could just stay home with the baby once it came along—they’d talked about a teaching position at Quantico, but they weren't sure that the FBI had any goodwill left for the two of them. And besides that, he seemed to be okay with the idea of staying home. “I'm getting old, Scully,” he joked at one point. “I'll be a stay-at-home dad, take care of the kid. Maybe I can even get some writing done.” (He used to talk about writing, years ago, but he'd never gotten around to it. The idea of him taking up writing again made her incredibly happy.)

It wasn't really the lack of jobs that was the issue. It was the emptiness of the days, all the space to think about where their son was. If he was okay, if he was hurt or getting into trouble, if they'd ever talk to him again. It was enough to drive her crazy.

She tried not to linger on it. She told herself that knowing he was in Richmond was better than knowing nothing. She told herself they couldn't push, or he'd pull away. She told herself that she would have to just wait. And Mulder was saying the same things.

It was nearly agonizing, but they found little ways to fill the day. They read a lot. They found movies to watch or TV shows to binge. They lay in bed half the day, or made slow, lazy love in the middle of the afternoon. Mulder had off-kilter ideas for novels or short stories that he scribbled down on scraps of paper. He painted the baby's room while she advised on color from the hallway, not wanting to be affected by the fumes. They did every single thing they'd ever wanted to do, and things they'd never known they wanted to do. They tried, as best they could, to keep their mind occupied. Sometimes they succeeded. Sometimes they didn't.

They talked about the baby a lot, whenever they could. They speculated on gender sometimes; Mulder thought it was a girl. When she asked how he was so sure, he would just smile and shrug. “I just know,” he said mysteriously. He had name suggestions; she made a couple of her own.

He was in love with the baby already. He slept curled at her back, his hand often straying down to cover her belly. He'd talk to the baby sometimes, tell her stories or read to her from whatever book they were halfway through with. (It ended up being some book of accounts on the Loch Ness Monster, or a book on scientific theories or medical discoveries.) He loved fixing up the baby's room, even though the whole thing seemed a little premature. He was doing all the things he didn't get to do the last time, and she loved it. It was overwhelming as it was scary, the fact that they were doing this again, and she couldn't believe she was experiencing with him. She'd missed him so much with William, missed all the things he'd never gotten to do. She burst into tears at one point, unable to hold back the rush of grateful emotions.

The first time the baby kicked, they were both on the couch reading, Scully growing tired enough that the words were starting to swim around on the page, and she was about to suggest they go upstairs to bed when she felt a strange fluttering in her abdomen. She dismissed it as indigestion at first, until it happened again. And again. And that was when she realized what was happening, when she remembered this feeling from years ago.

Excitement suddenly sprung loose, in the pit of her belly, and she let the book fall to the couch, pressing her hand to the spot. She felt a little phantom foot push back against her palm. She smiled, unable to help it; that was their child in there. Their baby. Despite her guilt over what happened the last time she had a child, despite her fear that she would lose this baby, despite her regret that it had happened this late in life, she couldn't help but love this child tremendously. Couldn't help but be excited, just a little excited.

And Mulder. Mulder was here this time. She was alone the first time William kicked. The first time William kicked had been the night before Mulder’s funeral. She'd been crumpled in the corner of the couch, trying to think of what she could do next (how she was going to keep on without him), and then she felt it, the little flutter inside of her. She'd dismissed it at first until she felt it again and again. She ended up crying, almost as hard as the night she found Mulder dead, her hand pressed to her stomach as if she could tether herself to the baby, make him feel her presence. That was the first time in a long time that she hadn't felt alone. The last time this happened, Mulder was dead , and now he was here, he was with her, and the combination of grief and gratefulness bubbling up inside her made her want to cry.

“Mulder,” she said softly, hand still over the baby.

“Mmm.” He was still absorbed in his book, some new release about Bigfoot theories that he'd probably read to the baby at some point.

She resisted the urge to roll her eyes and nudged his shoulder. “Mulder, you have to feel this,” she said.

He looked up from his book, startled, his eyes immediately shifting to her abdomen. “Feel… is it… is the baby kicking?”

She nodded, with a little smile, and his eyes lit up. He reached out to touch her stomach, hand landing on the wrong spot, and she reached out to guide it to the right one. She could feel the baby kicking at his hand, and she really did want to cry now. The smile spreading across his face meant everything in the world to her.

“Oh my god,” he said softly. He leaned down and kissed the round swell, stroked the spot. She laughed a little, unable to help it. He laughed too, both hands there now. “She's kicking so much,” he said with awe. “Are they supposed to kick this much?”

Scully sifted her fingers through her hair, loving the feeling of his hands on her stomach. Years ago, she'd craved his presence madly, and now he was just unquestionably there. “It's perfectly normal,” she said, her voice warm with affection. “Although you might be disappointed when she turns out to love soccer instead of basketball or baseball.”

“I can learn to love soccer,” Mulder said, kissing the spot again. “Hi, baby,” he whispered, and she felt the flutter of movement again. “How you doing in there?” The baby kicked again in answer.

Scully grinned a little, rubbed her hand over her stomach. Mulder wrapped his arms tight around her waist, cheek against her belly. “I love you,” he murmured, and Scully stroked the top of his head again.

“Which one of us are you talking to?” she asked, amused.

He looked up at her, his eyes dark. “Both of you,” he said. “I love you both so much.”

She seized a handful of his t-shirt and pulled him up until they were nose to nose. Kissed him sweetly. “C’mon,” she said, pushing hair off of his forehead. “Let's go to bed.”

“I think I'm right, you know,” he said, getting up off the couch and extending a hand to help her up.

She took it. “About whether or not it's a girl?” she asked as he pulled her to her feet.

“Mm-hmm.” He smiled peacefully, wrapping an arm around her waist. “And you're coming around, too. You called her she, you know.”

She rolled her eyes. “You're delirious, Mulder,” she said, elbowing him in the side. “We're both exhausted. Let's go to bed, okay?”

“Skeptic,” he said happily, starting towards the stairs. “You did call her she .”

“Only because you did.”

“Sure.” He kissed the top of her head. “I'm working harder on convincing you on something, every single day. Someday, it's going to happen, and you're going to tell me I was right."

“Okay, Mulder,” she said patiently. “Okay.” She leaned over to kiss his cheek.

He rubbed a hand over her side, the two of them stilled on the bottom step, and whispered, “I hope she looks just like you.”

---

A couple of days later, they had a doctor's appointment. They went together, Mulder sticking to Scully's side the entire time, holding her hand. Scully's heart gave a little flutter of relief when the doctor reassured her that everything looked good, the same way it did every time. It was incredibly reassuring to hear.

They got home in the early afternoon, a nap already sounding appealing to Scully. She let Daggoo out in the backyard, dropping her keys on the counter and filling a glass with water as Mulder slipped back into his office, saying something about doing some research. She leaned absently against the fridge; it was early May, and already hot as hell. She put a wayward hand to her stomach and thought about the long, hot months ahead.

Mulder's voice emitted suddenly from his office. “Hey, Scully?” he called gingerly, as if he was concerned about her reaction to whatever he wanted to show her. “C'mere for a second, would you?”

She went, her brow automatically furrowing with worry, wondering why his voice sounded so strained. But he didn't look upset when she entered the office. He was standing over the answering machine, connected to the landline he'd never taken out, despite the both of them having cell phones. He turned to her and gestured her over. “Someone,” he said quietly, “sent us a message today.”

He jabbed at the button with one finger, and the machine clicked. The sound of their son's voice filled the room. “Uh, hi. This is Scully and Mulder's phone, right? This is, uh, Jackson. Jackson Van de Kamp.”

Scully made a little gasping sound, a hand over her mouth. Mulder was leaned a little closer to the machine, as if he wanted to be near the sound. The message kept playing. “I wanted to call, and, uh, let you know I was okay,” Jackson continued. “So you'd know… Oh, and I got a job. Two jobs, actually. Burger King night shifts and a day shift at a warehouse.” He laughed like he was nervous. “Um, anyways. I guess I missed you, but I hope you get this message. Hope you guys are doing okay.” He cleared his throat, the machine crackling. “Uh, bye.”

The machine beeped loudly, jarring Scully. She'd felt a little lost in the sound of her son's voice. She turned to Mulder, her nose stinging as if she was about to cry. “He called us,” she said thickly. She'd tried to be optimistic after everything, but part of her had thought that after buying the apartment, they would never see Jackson again.

“He did,” Mulder whispered, and he turned to wrap his arms around her.

She rested her chin on his shoulder, looking at the answering machine and trying not to cry. “He's okay,” she said muffedly, pressing her lips to his chest. “He wanted us to know he's okay.”

Mulder nodded, his hand cradling the back of her head, rocking her a bit, back and forth. She sniffled, wiping her eyes, and held him tight. He had called. He had called, and surely that meant he would call again. They didn't have him back, but they hadn't lost him either, and they had the potential to see him again. The possibility of it was more than enough.

She squeezed Mulder tight and let go, reaching out to press the button on the answering machine again. To hear their son's voice again.

---

Life was going remarkably okay for Jackson, considering that a few months ago, he had thought he'd be dead any day now.

His jobs kind of sucked, but it was nice to have something to focus on. And he needed the money. He'd made a couple of friends in both places; they were the type who knew where you could get weed and booze, which was helpful. Half the free nights he had, he spent with them, but he spent the rest at his home, sleeping on the couch more often than the bed and watching the Roku he'd bought with the money Mulder had given him. (He didn't need cable, but he obviously needed WiFi.) He relied on takeout a lot at first, but he was pretty sick of fast food after months on the road. So he went grocery shopping, pushing a cart around Food Lion and feeling like a parody of an adult. He could remember grocery shopping with his mom as a kid, looking at all the brand names and begging his mom to buy him the unhealthiest stuff imaginable. Whining that he was bored when she took too long to pick out fruit. Balancing on the end of the cart while his mom pushed until she asked him to please get down. He was tempted to do what he used to when his mom would let him push the cart, which was take one foot off the ground and propel the cart forward with the other, but he figured he looked suspicious enough without bringing that much attention to himself, acting like a dumb little kid. Sometimes he'd change the way others saw his face just for the fun of it.

He called Mulder and Scully exactly once, feeling a little bit of obligation. He knew they didn't want to push him away, so he probably could've gotten away with not calling. But he also knew that Scully kind of expected him not to ever talk to them again, and that made him want to call them just to prove that he wasn't a total ass. So he did it almost out of smugness. (And, if he was telling the truth, a little bit out of curiosity.) But at the same time, a strong part of him didn't want to do it, was scared to do it. The same way he had felt right before talking to them the first time. It took forever to get up the courage to dial the phone (a cell phone, also bought with Mulder's money), and once he finally did, he was relieved when they didn't answer. He left a message, and knew it was going to their landline—he could've called their cells, but there was a greater chance they'd answer, and he honestly didn't want to pick which one to call.

That should've been the end of it. He called, and left a message. It wouldn't be an issue unless they called back. But Jackson couldn't stop thinking about it. The message over the answering machine was old—he’d known that as soon as he heard it—and the sound of the voice on the other end was strange. It'd been her voice, saying, This is Fox Mulder and Dana Scully. Leave us a message, and we'll get back to you. But it was an old message. Her voice sounded different. But he knew they'd been living separately at one point—that was why he had this furniture… So why did they have a joint message that was at least five years old? And why had it never been changed?

It shouldn't have bothered him that much, but he couldn't let it go. It was niggling stubbornly at the back of his mind. As was some other things he'd truthfully been thinking about since last December, since the first time he saw them. He hadn't known much about Ginger (or his birth father) previous to that. In those couple days, he'd figured out a few things. They were in the FBI. They'd named him William. (They'd never stopped thinking about him. They'd loved him.) But there was a lot he still didn't know, a lot he was curious about. He hated to admit it, but he was. He was curious.

He got off of work past midnight that night, and went home to his couch, unable to sleep. He tried texting Sarah (who no doubt was asleep, and didn't always text him back anyways), tried flipping on the TV, but his mind kept wandering. He was restless, and so he picked up his phone and googled Mulder and Scully , halfway expecting nothing to pop up.

The first thing that did was a movie with a suspiciously low score on Rotten Tomatoes. It was called The Lazarus Bowl, and the cover featured actors dressed up like FBI agents, the woman wearing a red bob. Jackson snorted loudly, biting back chuckles, and made a mental note to check that out later. He switched to the News section, and was surprised to see several articles pop up. Some organ-harvesting cult, some witch in Connecticut. Some more cases that made him raise his eyebrows in interest. He should've known they investigated weird shit, considering they got called in on his case, but he never knew it was such overtly weird stuff. He found an entire archive of cases, going back to the 90’s, that they apparently solved. The X-Files. Scrolling through all these cases, Jackson wondered how the hell he'd never seen this part of their lives before.

He stayed up for nearly three hours, reading about cases that sounded vaguely interesting, before he realized what he was doing. He blushed instinctively, his face hot, and closed out of the tab immediately. He couldn't be doing things like this. He couldn't be. It went against every single silent promise he'd made to his parents. The promises he absolutely could not break. He couldn't want to know about them because it was a betrayal to his entire childhood.

He halfway expected Mulder and Scully to call back after the message— Hey, we're so sorry we missed you, please talk to us! —but they didn't. He didn't hear from them for the next few days.

---

Jackson's seventeenth birthday was on a Sunday that year. He had the day off from work, incredibly, and he'd been looking forward to it at first, but now he hated the idea. He couldn't stand the idea of all that empty space, all the time to think about everyone who wasn't there. None of his new friends knew his birthday, so he didn't hear from any of them. Sarah was planning to stay up in Richmond an extra day that she'd spend with him, but he got a text from her that Saturday night saying she was sorry but she couldn't stay, that her parents were way too suspicious already. He told her it was fine. He couldn't let himself wallow. He felt pathetic even being sad about it; he was seventeen years old, and he still got mopey about his birthday like a little kid. He told himself that it didn't matter, it didn't fucking matter.

His mom and dad had given him a great birthday, every single birthday, no matter how much of an ass he was being. Thrown him a party, every year. They'd get him a cake and they'd eat it for breakfast, sometimes in his bed. This year, Jackson bought a cake at the store, but he couldn't find the brand they liked, and the replacement didn't taste nearly as good. Eating cake on the couch alone while watching Netflix wasn't exactly the same of years and years of cake with his parents, and he suddenly found it hard not to cry. He wiped his eyes, pushing his plate away. He felt very small. He realized he couldn't remember the last time he thanked his parents on his birthday, and he was suddenly disgusted by himself. He lay down on his couch, his cheek against the cushion, curled into a ball.

They'd done the cake thing every year for as long as he could remember. There was even a picture of him on his first birthday, smeared with chocolate in his brand new high chair. He'd been adopted at about nine months old, so his parents had spent every birthday with him except for the very, very first one. The one where he was born. The one he'd always been the most curious about his whole life.

Jackson winced, shutting his eyes and rolling over so he was lying facedown. He was thinking about Mulder and Scully now, if only inadvertently. Wondering what that first birthday was like. Wondering how they would've celebrated, if they would've celebrated, if he'd never been given up for adoption. He didn't want to think about it, but now that he was, he couldn't stop. He hated himself for it. He missed his parents so much.

He thought, more than once, about calling and seeing of any of his friends were available. But every time he almost reached for the phone, he chickened out. He still felt insecure around them, he barely knew them. He wanted to be with the people he loved, but he didn't know if he had any of those left. So he lay on the couch, eating cake and pizza and watching Netflix. It wasn't the worst birthday he'd ever had, all things considered—he had been bitten in the eye by a tarantula on his sixth birthday, and spent months in the hospital getting experimented on afterwards—but it sure as hell wasn't one of the best.

Towards the end of the day, Jackson was stretched out across the couch lazily, thinking about ordering some Chinese, when his phone rang. He scooped it up, halfway hoping to see Sarah's name, but that wasn't what was there. Instead, he saw an unfamiliar number that he recognized immediately. It was Mulder or Scully, on one of their cell phones. He knew it as soon as he touched the phone.

He could've declined the call, but he didn't want to. He was astonished to discover that, sitting there holding the phone: he didn't want to decline. He hadn't talked to anyone all day.

He answered the phone quickly, without thinking. "Hello?"

He heard Mulder's voice on the other end, overeager and cheerful and nervous. "Hey, Jackson! It's, uh, it's good to talk to you, buddy."

"It's, uh, it's Dana and Mulder," Scully added, and he could suddenly see them on the other end of the phone, crowded around it to talk to him. He wasn't picturing it; he could see it.

"Oh, yeah, I know," Jackson said, flushing red. He wondered if he should start calling her Dana instead of Scully. (Or Ginger. He thought of her like that absently, without even thinking about it too hard; it was what he'd done for sixteen years before he knew her name.) "Hi."

"Hi," Scully said, her voice soft.

Mulder cleared his throat, and added, "We, uh, we just wanted to call and wish you a happy birthday." He said it almost apologetically, like he needed to justify their calling.

"You know when my birthday is?" Jackson said, without thinking. He grimaced as soon as he said it, because it sounded dumb to his own ears, but it had felt like a valid question. They'd given him up; they'd never celebrated a birthday with him. Maybe they'd forgotten it. Maybe they didn't care.

But no, they hadn't forgotten. Of course they hadn't. He should've known that, remembering everything they'd said to him since the first time they met. The way they always acted around him, it should've been obvious they wouldn't forget. He felt embarrassed for even asking.

"Oh," Scully said in the softest voice, "sweetie, of course . Of course we do."

"Seventeen, that's a big year," Mulder added. "You can get into R-rated movies."

Jackson laughed automatically. "I can get into those anyway, you know," he said. "I can make myself look like anybody else, remember?"

Mulder laughed, too. "I guess so," he said. "But now you can do it without worrying you'll be found out."

"Yeah, guess so," Jackson said. He was smiling a little without noticing it. It was incredibly relieving to hear another person's voice, wishing him a happy birthday.

"We got your message," Scully added. "A couple weeks back. Thank you for calling."

"Oh, yeah." He caught himself smiling, and instantly felt ashamed. His head hung forward loosely. He chewed at the inside of his cheek. "You're welcome," he said quietly. He was looking at the cake on the coffee table and thinking that he wished his parents were here. His mom, who always sung Happy Birthday in a tone-deaf voice, and his dad, who would always have noisemakers and a party hat on even at six a.m. And then he was thinking about Mulder and Scully (or Dana), and how they would have celebrated his birthday.

He didn't want to think about it, but of course, you always think of the things you don't want to think about. He was wondering about his birthday, and then he thought about the first one. An image flashed through his mind, uncontrollably, of a younger Ginger screaming with the pain of labor, splitting cries, an infant being placed in her arms. Him, that was him.

Jackson shook his head hard to rid himself of the images, gritting his teeth. Mulder was asking him something, and he had to concentrate hard to hear him. "—how your jobs were going?" he was saying.

"Uh, yeah, yeah," said Jackson in a rush. "They're good, they're good. People can be real asses sometimes, but you know." He buried his face in his free hand, his eyes squeezed shut. He was seeing Ginger again, lying on the shell of a brass bed with him cradled in her arms, whispering to him; flashes of her and Mulder on what seemed like a helicopter, Ginger still holding the baby ( him ) and Mulder holding her, his arms around her and his palm cupping the baby's head… Was that what they were thinking of?

Mulder was saying something about working in fast food, and he was holding the phone too tight. He screwed his eyes shut tighter and thought furiously of his fourth birthday, of his mom holding him and his stuffed bear, bouncing him on her lap while the family sang Happy Birthday . He hoped they could see it. He was thinking, This is what you missed out on. He was overwhelmed by the memories they were showing him. If you were so happy when I was born, he wanted to ask, then why the hell did you give me up? Why could you not spend one single birthday with me?

"I-I should probably go," he said suddenly, and he realized he couldn't remember the last thing either of them had said. He wondered if they'd seen the memory, heard what he was thinking. He flushed red, feeling like an ass. They remembered his birthday, and they'd called him, and they'd cried the day he was born, but they'd given him up, and this was the first birthday they were here for, and they weren't even physically here.

But they probably wouldn't be here even if they wanted to be. Because they thought he didn't want them to be. He bit his lip hard.

"Oh," Scully said, and he could hear the hitch in her voice that alluded to what he'd tried to show them. She had seen it. "Okay. Well, it's good to talk to you."

"Happy birthday," Mulder added.

"Thank you," Jackson mumbled. He felt like such an ass. He missed his parents. "Thank you for calling," he blurted in a rush, and hung up the phone quickly. He dropped it on the coffee table like it was a live, red-hot thing.

Another thing fucked up, he thought to himself. More people to drive away. More things to ruin. He clearly didn't know how the hell to handle anything. Couldn't stay away from his birth parents like he promised himself he would, couldn't be around them without hurting them. Maybe, he thought to himself, this was a signal to stop trying. He should just fucking forget it.

He called in an order of Chinese takeout. He ate another piece of cake. He dug some beer he stashed out of the fridge and started drinking.

Later that night, he was mostly drunk and mostly asleep, sprawled out on the bed in the bedroom for one of the first time since he moved in. He turned over with effort in bed, pressing his face into the mattress, and that was when he felt the prickly feeling on the back of his neck. The feeling of another mind melding with his. She was trying to show him something.

It was a hospital room, considerably nicer than whatever place he had seen before. He was there, wrapped up in a blanket with a little blue beanie on his head. His eyes were blue instead of brown, and he had absolutely no hair. And she was cradling him in her arms, just lying there with her eyes half closed and humming a little under her breath. Rocking him back and forth, so slightly you could barely even tell.

The emotion in the scene hit him like a freight train, an immense amount of it. He quivered slightly on the mattress with the weight of it; he wouldn't say what emotion it was, wouldn't acknowledge it, but he could feel its power.

He heard her voice, the voice he always wished he could hear as a kid. I'm so sorry for everything, Jackson, she told him. But I wanted you to know… seventeen years ago, the day you were born, was one of the best days of my life.

---

The days grew longer and hotter cyclically. They were still working on fixing up the bedrooms. The guest rooms, they had always called them; there was one that Maggie used to stay in when she visited, and another that Bill and Tara had slept in exactly once, on a pullout couch. They'd moved the couch down to Mulder's office, intending for that guest room to be the baby's room. Mulder had painted the room a muted green that reminded Scully a bit of the sea the month before. They'd ordered a crib that Mulder set up when it arrived, as well as a bookshelf and a changing table. Stuffed animals. A blanket that Tara had sent.

Scully pointed out that they were still several months out from her due date, considering it was only June, but Mulder told her it was better to be prepared earlier than later. (She agreed with that sentiment to a point, but she was still worried, just a little bit, that she wouldn't make it to term. She tried to put those fears at bay, reassured herself that everything was going well, that she and the baby were both healthy, but the fears still lingered at the back of her mind. She was terrified that something would go wrong. But she tried to focus on the hope that it wouldn't. Every time she felt the baby move, it was a reassurance.)

They worked on the other room too. It didn't need much, considering it already had a bed and they had no real idea what Jackson would want, but she wanted to put in some effort to personalize it. They bought a little TV to put into the room, as well as some books. Some DVDs. They didn't know what he might like, so they guessed, feeling guilty nearly every time they guessed. They wanted to have it ready for him.

They hadn't talked to their son since the night of his birthday. He called, several times, and left a message when they were out, which made Scully suspect that he was trying to call when they weren't home. He always called the landline, never their cells, and the messages were almost always the same. Wanted to let you I'm okay. Hope you're doing okay. It seemed so calibrated, so planned, that Scully was legitimately beginning to think that they might never talk to him personally again. She appreciated Jackson checking in with them, appreciated the amount of caring put into that—she had halfway expected him to never call at all—but she couldn't shake her sense of hurt that he was trying so desperately to avoid them. She wouldn't push the subject, but she wished desperately, at times, for a moment with her son.

Her wish came true, in a way, one day when Mulder drove into the city for a talk someone was giving. "Research," he called it, "for that novel I'll get around to writing someday." He'd invited her to come along, and offered to stay back when she opted out, but she reassured him that she would be fine. She'd lay around the house, relax, enjoy the quiet. He kissed her goodbye at the door, hugging her tight and told her to call him if she needed anything. She promised she would.

She spent the morning taking Daggoo for a walk around the property. He was eager, jumping at her legs, running for long stretches when she let him off the leash. When they returned, she went into Mulder's office and lay down on the pull out couch with her book. Secretly, she loved to be in Mulder's office when she was alone; it was a nice room to sit in, surrounded by his books and papers and pictures tacked up among newspaper clippings. (He'd cleaned it up a bit since she moved out and back in, but it still reflected the hectic nature of Mulder's office. It still felt like his own place.) There were pictures of the two of them, pictures of Samantha and of himself and Samantha with his mother, a picture of William as a baby, and the picture Mulder had taken from Jackson's room, the one where he was playing baseball. She felt right at home.

Scully was engrossed deep into her book when the phone rang, sitting on the desk. She jolted in place, startled, before she realized it was just the landline. And then something clicked together in her head: nobody called the landline anymore, besides Jackson. Besides Jackson.

Scully dropped the book and got to her feet as quickly as she could. She rushed to the desk and picked up the phone, saying, "Hello?" in a rush.

She was breathless until she heard her son's voice on the other end, his deep, serious voice. "Hi, Dana," he said. From the sound of his voice, he'd known that she was going to pick up.

Scully smiled unconsciously. The baby kicked furiously as she sunk wearily into Mulder's desk chair. "Hi, Jackson," she said. "It's so good to hear from you."

"Uh, it's good to hear from you, too," he said on the other end. He was nervous; she could hear the hitch in his voice. She could remember the conversation they'd had on his birthday, the tension there. "How, um, how are you doing?"

"I'm good," she said, leaning back a bit in the chair. "Uh, your fa—Mulder is at a lecture in DC, so I'm just lying around the house."

"Oh. That's cool," he offered. "You enjoying all the quiet?"

"As best I can," she replied, amused. "What about you? How are you doing?" In any other situation, she might've loathed the trite pleasantries, but she was so happy to be talking to her son in any form that she'd take this. Turning the desk chair a bit, her eyes fell on the picture of William as a baby, and she had to bite back the influx of tears. She honestly wasn't sure if they were happy or sad tears.

There was a bit of a pause before Jackson said, "I'm okay." He cleared his throat. "I, uh, have the day off work, and I've been killing time by watching TV."

Scully was still looking at the picture. She remembered the day she had taken it, the day that William crawled for the first time. He'd giggled with delight that first time, grabbing at her carpet and anything else he could reach with his little hands, grabbed his bunny and mouthed at its worn ears. She still had that bunny, upstairs somewhere in a box; she'd slept with it on and off for the first year since she gave him up. She wondered if Jackson could see what she was thinking about.

She blurted suddenly, without thinking about it, "Let me take you to lunch."

Jackson was silent on the other end, pausing with an air of surprise. "Lunch?" he repeated, with an astounded air.

"Yeah," said Scully, feeling impulsive. She suddenly thought of Mulder, wondering if he would mind, but she didn't want to take it back. She wanted to see her son. "I'll drive up, meet you wherever you want. Your choice. What do you think?"

"Oh, uh…" She could feel his hesitance on the other end, practically see his sheepish shrug. "Okay. Sure," he said. "That might be… fun."

Excitement rose in her stomach, rolling with the movements of the baby. She sniffled, trying her hardest not to cry audibly on the line. "Okay. Great," she said softly. "I… I'm looking forward to it. Just text me where you wanna go, and I'll meet you there."

---

She called Mulder as soon as she could, on her way out to the car with her purse hanging off of one shoulder and her keys looped around her fingers. She leaned against the car as she talked to him, the heat of the car biting through the fabric of her shirt, her heart pounding. She was apologetic and guilty—the last thing she wanted was to leave Mulder out of this process, especially after everything he had missed out on—but he reassured her immediately. "Don't be ridiculous, Scully," he said gently when she tried to apologize. "You deserve this. You deserve time with your son, alone. You don't need to apologize to me."

"I don't want to take away opportunities for you to see him," she whispered, clutching the phone too hard.

"You're not taking anything away," Mulder said gently. "Go have a good time, honey. Drive carefully."

So she went, her guilt melting away into nervousness the closer she got to the city. Mulder's support had reassured her greatly, but she was still apprehensive about spending time with Jackson. Especially considering that she'd been the one to suggest it. He had agreed to it, but how much of it had been out of a sense of obligation? But he'd called when she was at home, and he didn't seem surprised when she picked up, which meant he'd probably called intentionally while she was home, which meant he probably wanted to talk to her. Or maybe it meant nothing of the sort. She turned the subject over and over in her mind until it felt old and tough and she wanted to forget it. She told herself that he could've made up some excuse if he didn't want to come.

At the restaurant in Richmond, she sat in the car, jumpy with nervous energy. She couldn't tell if he was there yet, and she didn't want to go in, for fear that he wouldn't show. But she didn't want to leave either. She stayed in the car, jittery, her knee bouncing and the baby moving restlessly, until a car pulled into the parking lot and she gave a little sigh of relief, her shoulders sagging. She knew immediately that it was him, even before she saw the make and model of the car.

Once he had parked, she got out of the car and crossed the parking lot to meet him. He seemed to see her as he climbed out of his own car, shielding his eyes with his hands, and he lifted one hand in a wave. She could see the exact moment he noticed her pregnancy; he squinted, as if he hadn't seen right, and then his eyes widened with astonishment. She touched her stomach self-consciously, suddenly embarrassed. She'd been afraid for weeks, months, that Jackson would be hurt when he found out about the baby. If he'd think she was trying to replace him. She couldn't get a read on him, couldn't tell what he was thinking. He smiled at her when she approached, although it was a tight smile, and shrugged. "Hi, Dana," he said quietly.

"Hi, Jackson. Thank you for meeting me," she said. She realized she still had her hand on her stomach, and removed it immediately. "Do you want to go in?"

---

Inside the restaurant, Jackson ordered a tremendous amount of food. A couple of appetizers, a large entree, dessert. Scully honestly didn't know if it was out of typical teenage boy hunger or so he would have leftovers to take home, but she was starving herself. They ate horrible, greasy food that she normally would have rejected, but that she made an exception for. She'd been having strange cravings lately, and Mulder indulged her with an affectionate and devoted amusement.

It was a struggle to find things to talk about, at first. But then halfway through their order of chili cheese fries, Jackson set down his glass and said solemnly, "So I googled you guys."

Scully burst out laughing. She couldn't help it. It was exactly what she would've expected out of Mulder's son. She laughed so hard her stomach hurt, and when she could finally breathe again, she wiped her eyes with the corner of her napkin and said, "I'm afraid to ask what came up."

Jackson, who'd looked a little concerned up until this point, seemed to relax with relief. He said, "Yeah, um, what the hell is up with that Lazarus Bowl movie? Is that some sort of coincidence?"

So Scully told him the story, of Skinner's friend whose name she couldn't remember, and Sister Spooky and the Lazarus Bowl, and teaching Tea Leoni to run in high heels. That gave way to several more stories, mostly prompted by questions Jackson had about files he had found online, since Skinner had archived the entirety of the X-Files. (Scully wasn't sure whether to be upset with him or thank him, but this encounter pointed to the latter.) Telling stories about her and Mulder's heyday was extraordinarily easy, as long as she avoided the harder periods of time in her life, the deaths and the illnesses and the danger and the injuries. But there were plenty of good stories as well.

They talked for longer than she ever expected, Jackson asking questions about the X-Files and Scully answering as best she could. She felt guilty all over again that Mulder wasn't with them; he would've loved this. ("You'll have to hear Mulder's side of things someday," she told him more than once. "I'm sure his version is different than mine.")

They talked for so long, through lunch and past dessert, that they somehow got off on the subject of her family. She was telling a story about a prank that she and Charlie had played once, and she was talking about how Bill was involved when Jackson sat up straighter, interested. "Your brother's name was Bill?" he asked. "Like, as in William?"

"Oh." She was caught off guard. Miraculously, she'd gotten semi-used to thinking of her son as Jackson, and hadn't expected him to bring up his birth name. "Yes," she said, fiddling with her napkin. "He was named after my father."

"Seriously?" Jackson laughed, a crow of disbelief. "So… I'm guessing you named me William after them , right?"

"Yes," she said again. "And after Mulder's father. He was named William, too."

Jackson laughed incredulously again, yanking his fingers through his hair. "What the fuck? You both had fathers named William? And also a brother?"

"We thought it was appropriate, considering," said Scully with a small smile.

"Goddamn." Jackson rested his forehead in his palm, shaking his head with a sheepish grin. "That's so weird. That means I was named after three different grandfathers."

Scully blinked. In the moment, she'd completely forgotten that Jackson had another family. "Your adop—your parents named you after a grandfather?" she asked, clumsily skating over her mistake ( adoptive parents ) and hoping he didn't notice.

From the slight flinch, she guessed that he had. "Yeah," he said. "Jackson Harwell Van de Kamp, but everybody called him Jack. Which is why, uh, nobody calls me Jack." He rubbed at the back of his neck nervously. It was a Mulder gesture all the way, and the sight of it made Scully's chest hurt. "He died while I was a kid."

"Oh," said Scully, thinking of her own father, the grandfathers who Jackson would never meet. If she understood anything, she understood losing someone. "I'm so sorry."

Jackson shrugged, his face hardening a little. After a silent moment, he motioned to Scully's stomach. "So who are you gonna name the, uh, the kid after?" he said in a stilted voice.

"Oh." Self-conscious, Scully looked away. "I don't think we're going to name the baby after anyone in particular," she said. "Although we've been discussing some ideas…"

"Right." Jackson's knee bumped against the table leg. "I didn't, uh," he said with a nervous laugh, "I didn't know you and Mulder wanted kids."

Her face grew hot, hurt rising in her throat thickly. "I've wanted kids for a very long time," she blurted, before she could think about it. It might not have been the best thing to say, all things considered, but she needed him to know. "Mulder and I… we both did. We both wanted kids."

It was definitely the wrong thing to say. She could tell what Jackson was thinking even without the connection they sometimes had: Then why did you give me up? "Oh," he said.

Scully looked away again, down at the table where someone had written their name in jagged pen marks. The baby kicked again, a little foot, and she put her hand over the spot. "This one was a surprise," she said quietly. "We… we didn't plan for it. But we're happy about it."

Jackson cleared his throat. "Yeah," he said stiffly. "Kids are cool."

"They are." Scully stared at the pen marks at the table, at her neatly folded napkin. She suddenly wished, desperately, that Mulder was here with her, to ground her.

Jackson cleared his throat again, started to say some sort of pleasantry, but she cut him off. "I never wanted to give you up," she said, feeling like it might've been the wrong thing to say again, but not willing to not say it. "I-I didn't think I had any other choice. I thought you were in danger, and that sending you away was the only way to protect you, and it would be selfish to do otherwise. But I hated every minute of it. I hated myself. And I—" Her voice broke a little. "I have missed you every single day since."

Jackson blinked, as if he didn't know what to say. Scully cleared her throat, dragged a fingertip underneath her eyes. "I'm sorry," she said quietly. "I just… wanted you to know."

Jackson sighed, his head falling forward into his hands. "Thank you," he mumbled. He got to his feet, not meeting her eyes. "Thank you for lunch, Dana… I've got to go. Say hi to Mulder for me, okay?"

"Okay," she whispered.

He was already walking away; he looked over his shoulder and called, "See you later." And then he was gone.

Scully had folded her hands on the table at some point during their discussion. She looked down at them now and noticed the quiver of her fingers. Everything had been going so well.

She tried to tell herself that his response hadn't been the worse one in the world. That he hopefully knew now how much she'd regretted losing him, if he believed her. But it felt like little comfort. She knew that this wouldn't be easy, but she hadn't expected it to be so hard.

She sat there, her hands shaking, until the waitress brought the check. She paid the bill and left, pulling out her phone to call Mulder on the way out to the car.

---

Jackson couldn't believe it. Even back in his apartment, he couldn't believe it. Couldn't believe he'd agreed to go to lunch. Couldn't believe that he'd actually had a good time . Couldn't believe the things he said at the end, couldn't believe her response. Couldn't believe that he hadn't known about the baby already. She was clearly months and months along; how had he not seen it?

The really fucked up part was how much he had always wanted a little brother or sister. For years and years. His parents had tried to adopt a couple times—once when he was three, and once again when he was eight—but it had always fallen through. He'd always wished it'd worked out, though; he'd always wanted to be an older brother.

Chapter Text

Things may have slowed down in Jackson's life, may have seemingly stopped being dangerous, but he still found himself jumpy and paranoid. Still found himself worried about the few people in his life, that they were in danger. He checked the news in and around Farrs Corner every now and then, searching for any crimes popping up near or around where Mulder and Scully lived—they were definitely great for money and things like that, no matter how awkward his encounters with them were, but usefulness wasn't worth getting them or the kid killed. He kept an eye on the nationwide news, looking for any activity similar to the activity of the assassins they'd sent after him, or activity of kids like him. (He'd thought about the little grave in San Diego a lot, the little girl named Emily, wondering if he had more siblings out there like her. The idea frankly made him furious, of more kids like him subject to exploitation, more exploitation of Dana.) He got extraordinarily nervous when there was a series of break-ins two buildings down from him, until it was revealed to be a disgruntled handyman. He used fake names a lot when he was out with friends and played it off as a stupid prank, and he was very careful when meeting Sarah, on the rare times that they met.

His relationship with Sarah was messy, messier than it had been before—which seemed unreal, considering what an asshole he had been. Sometimes, she would say she was too busy to meet him with a rushed text, offering excuses about her pissed-off parents and her suspicious little sister. And she seemed pissed off herself when he insisted on trying to hide. "I want a normal boyfriend," she'd say irritably, "not some fucking shadow who spends all his time hiding." And he would have to struggle not to snap at her, to tell her that he had never been normal. He didn't want to hurt her feelings, to hurt her anymore than he already had. (He was still wracked with guilt over the incident on the Chimera, not to mention the fact that he cheated on her and Bri both. He still felt horrible about all of it, and equally horrible about ghosting Brianna, but her parents were even stricter than Sarah's, if that was possible, and he couldn't stay with them both. He felt guilty for even staying with Sarah, after everything, but he felt like he didn't have a choice. She was one of his last links to his old life, and he couldn't let that go. He was terrified of being alone.)

Sarah seemed constantly pissed off at him now, and not just about the aliases. She seemed on edge the few times they talked on the phone; she was dodging his texts, to the point where he stopped calling and texting. He didn't want to be the jerk anymore. He tried to just enjoy the time that he got with her. But he could sense the tremors in their already fragile relationship, could sense what was coming before it happened, almost like shockwaves in an earthquake. When he got a call from her one day in July, her contact photo a picture of the two of them last New Year's making goofy faces into the camera, it sent a wave of dread through him that probably wasn't supposed to accompany a call from your girlfriend.

He answered anyway. "Hey, babe," he said, trying his hardest to sound cheerful. "What's up?"

She was silent on the other end. He could hear her breathing, uncertain and awkward. And then she said, "Jackson, we have to talk."

He leaned forward, his forehead against the wall of his shitty kitchen. It was totally pathetic, but he suddenly wanted to beg her not to do it, tell her that he needed her to keep him grounded. But he didn't say that. He said in that same falsely cheerful voice, "What it is?"

Sarah took a deep breath. "Look, babe, it's…" There was some clattering, a voice on the other end, and then the sound of her yelling: "It's just someone from school, Mom!" Jackson grimaced at the cacophonous sound. "Sorry," Sarah said softly into the phone. "It's just been crazy since the break-in, we're all crammed into a tiny fucking hotel room, and I'm sitting in the fucking bathtub right now…"

His head shot up, nearly hitting the side of the fridge. "Wait-wait-wait," he blurted, waving a hand like he was scrubbing at the air, trying to scrub away the awful words. "There was a break-in ? Somebody broke into your house ?"

"Yes," said Sarah, annoyed. "Last weekend, some jackass completely ransacked the place…"

"W-why?" he stammered, cold sweat breaking out on his hands. Goddamnit, he'd been so careful, and it still wasn't enough. How the hell could he do this, not take preventative measures to protect Sarah? "What were they looking for, what did they steal?"

"That doesn't matter, Jackson. Listen…"

"Was it someone looking for me? W-were they coming for you, because of…"

"Jesus, Jackson, no! Not everything is about you," she hissed, trying to be quiet and clearly failing. "Look, I think it's time for us to end this, okay? After the break-in, my parents can't afford to send me to Richmond for expensive music lessons anymore, so there's no way for us to see each other, anyway."

He was dumbfounded, speechless, torn between trying to talk her out of it and supporting it simply for her own protection. What if the burglars had been looking for her, what if they'd only stolen things to cover their tracks? He didn't want to lose anyone else, but if he held on, he might really lose her. And he couldn't force her to stay with him if she didn't want to. "Babe…" he began in a soft voice.

"Look, Jackson, this is the right thing to do. We've both felt it coming. Don't try to tell me you haven't, okay? We've been growing apart for months." He could picture her on the other end, sitting in the tub with her socked feet up on the lip, twirling a curl around one finger as she talked. "It's not fair for us to hold each other back, not when there's other people out there. I hope we can still be friends…"

"Babe, did they catch the guy he robbed your apartment?" he asked, because he was still thinking about it. Even after dumping him, they still might come for her.

Sarah sighed with exasperation. "Seriously? We can't even have a mature conversation?"

"This isn't immature, Sarah!" he snapped, finally losing his composure. "They killed my parents, you know they killed my parents! And they could kill you, too, if they think you're my girlfriend."

"Well, I'm not," she said in a sharp voice. "I'm not your girlfriend anymore."

He winced, his head falling forward again. It was for the best, but he couldn't stand it, he couldn't stand it. "Please," he said softly, "please just tell me if they caught the guy, Sarah, please…"

"They didn't, okay?" she said, and she sounded like she was crying. "I'm sorry about your parents, Jackson. I'm sorry about… all of it. But you can't worry about me anymore. I'm not your concern."

He thumped his head against the wall lightly: once, twice. "Okay," he mumbled.

"I'm sorry," she said again. "Take care of yourself, okay?"

"You be careful, " he told her, suddenly stern. "Be careful, and be safe, and…"

She hung up abruptly, leaving him sitting alone in the dark and the quiet. He let the phone drop on the tile with a clunk. That was it, he thought. Everything from his old life gone, and maybe for the better. Maybe for the better.

He didn't know if he could have contact with anyone now, get close to anyone. And a new thought was building up in the back of his mind: what if they came for the baby? If the baby was around him… what if they came for the baby? What if they came for all three of them, because of him?

(If the baby turned out to be like him, then there might be no protecting the three of them. But he couldn't let anything happen to them and it be his fault. He couldn't risk it. He didn't know what he could do about it, but he knew he couldn't risk it.)

---

Jackson had it decided by the next morning. He would distance himself from his new friends as much as he possibly could, to protect them. And he'd distance himself from Mulder and Scully. It wouldn't be hard, considering what a distance there was between them already, considering how his last encounter with Scully had gone. He would just have to start dodging their calls and making up excuses, to let them down easy, as hard as that would be.

In theory, he could keep them at arm's length, and tell himself determinedly that they were not his parents (because they weren't ), but in practice, it was much harder. He was connected to them in a way he never had been to anyone else, and he could always feel the waves of their emotion when he talked to them: their guilt, their grief, their caring, their earnest hope. It was hard to turn that away. He thought that it might've been easier if they were assholes, but they didn't seem to be assholes. They seemed to genuinely care.

But he knew that he had to start being more careful, for everyone's own safety if nothing else. It was decided the night Sarah dumped him; he had to do this, and so he was going to do it, and do it right. He was going to start first thing the next day.

Within a few days of barely talking to his friends and not talking to his birth parents, though, there was already a hitch in that plan. Jackson's landlord showed up at his door and informed him that the apartment building was being fumigated this week. "We have an infestation of cockroaches on your floor, and we don't know how extensive it is," he said. "Do you have anywhere else to stay this weekend, William?"

Jackson winced automatically when the landlord called him that. It'd been dumb to sign the lease William, both because it was kind of an asshole move towards Mulder and Scully, and because he could barely stand to be called it. (He flinched every time the landlord called him that, to the point where he suggested a nickname. "Do you go by Will? Bill? Billy?" he'd asked, and that'd only made things worse, because it made Jackson think about that blog entry he'd written a while back where he called himself Billy. At the time, he'd done it just to distance himself from one of the stranger episodes in his shitty life, make it feel like it happened to someone else; he'd had no idea his name used to be William.) "Uh, I guess I can find somewhere," he said. "I have to be gone the whole weekend?"

"Just Friday to Sunday," said the landlord. "I'm sorry for the inconvenience. You think you'll be okay with somewhere to stay?"

Jackson rubbed at the back of his neck. "Yeah, I'll be good," he said, which might've been a lie. He couldn't stay with Mulder and Scully for obvious reasons, and he didn't want to risk staying with any of his friends. He could probably get a hotel, albeit a cheap one. "Thanks for letting me know."

---

Jackson had to work several shifts right on top of each other the next couple days, to the point where he actually forgot to book a hotel. By the time he got off at the warehouse, he was ready to just find a hotel room and watch mindless cable for hours. Maybe order a pizza. He was sitting in his car with a hastily packed bag in the backseat, googling cheap hotels, when he got the phone call. It was Scully's cell number, put in his phone as Dana , despite the fact that he only ever called the house phone.

Jackson stared at the phone mutely for a moment, helpless in not knowing what to do. He knew he shouldn't pick up, but he didn't want to alienate them suddenly without any word, as tempting as that was. They'd done a lot of nice things for him. They didn't deserve that. But he couldn't talk to them and give them the expectation that there'd be more, not when he swore he would leave them out of it. For their sake and for the kid's.

The phone lay like a lifeless thing in his hand as it rang, the blank gray square he had instead of a contact photo taunting him. He was ready to hang up, but somehow, he lifted the phone and answered it instead. "Hello?"

"Jackson?" she said on the other end. "Hi, it's Dana."

"I know," he said without thinking, and was surprised to hear her uproarious laugh on the other end. A corner of his mouth turned up unconsciously. "What's up?" he asked quickly, hoping to get the conversation to go along quickly.

"Oh, I just wanted to call and check in," she said. "See how you were doing. We haven't talked in a while."

"I guess we haven't," said Jackson. There was a long, lengthy silence before he added lamely, "I'm all right. I'm… I'm headed to a hotel, I think. My apartment is being fumigated."

"Really? A fumigation? Did they say why?"

"Roaches," he offered.

Scully made a sound of disgust on the other end. "Remind me and I'll tell you someday about a case Mulder and I had with cockroaches," she said. "Have you paid for your hotel yet?"

Taken aback, he said, "Uh, no, not yet." He didn't realize what she was going to suggest until the words left his mouth, and he immediately winced. He should've lied and said he had. He shouldn't have brought up the goddamn fumigation at all.

"Sweetie, there's no point in you getting a hotel… why don't you just come stay with us for the weekend? Do you have work?"

"No." He was beginning to regret taking the phone call. What the hell was he supposed to do now?

"Why don't you come down? There's no point in you spending all that money on a hotel," she said gently.

He was going to say no. He told himself he had to say no. He didn't think he could stand an entire weekend with them, considering the way their past interactions had gone. And he was still afraid that people were still looking for him, that they'd hurt Mulder and Scully and the kid if they found him. He had to say no. He would go to a hotel, like he said he would originally.

But he started thinking about the money. He didn't have an abundance of it in the first place to spend on a hotel and meals. And he was thinking about lunch with Dana, her face when he said that he didn't know they wanted kids. Thinking about the money they'd given him, the furniture. Thinking about what an ass they must see him as, trying to wriggle out of seeing them, spending time with them. He couldn't stay in their lives, but he couldn't cut them off completely. Not without a word.

(If they were in danger, wasn't it better that he know for sure? He could look for signs. And besides, if the kid was anything like him, than they might be in danger already. It might not matter what he did.)

"Jackson?" Scully's voice was gentle, and maybe a little worried, on the other end. "You okay?"

He cleared his throat, thumping his forehead against the steering wheel. "Um, yeah," he said with a sigh. "Yeah, I'll come down."

He was just doing it because he didn't want to sit in a shitty hotel all week. That was it. That was it. That would be the end of it.

---

Mulder had been out at the store when Scully made the phone call to their son, and when he returned, she explained what had happened, that Jackson was heading their way. "Scully, that's great!" he said, seizing her hands in his and squeezing. She managed a wobbly smile of her own, and he recognized her apprehension immediately. "Are you still worried about what happened last time?" he added gently.

"Maybe a little bit," she said softly. "I just don't want things to go badly. I don't want to hurt him again."

"I know." He leaned forward to press a kiss to her forehead. "Look at it this way," he said softly. "I don't think he'd agree to come here for the weekend if things were really bad."

She sighed, leaning her head on his shoulder, a hand on her stomach. "Or he's coming so he can get more money out of us," she mumbled. "There's always that."

He shrugged. He rested his chin on the top of her head. "Whatever the reason," he told her gently, "he is coming here. And that's something, no matter what."

She smiled, just a little, her eyes fluttering closed. Their hands were still together between them, his knuckles against her stomach, and he could feel the light, light  movements happening beneath the surface. "How's she doing in there?" he whispered.

She shook her head a little in disapproval, but he could see that she was still smiling. "You don't know it's a she," she told him firmly, but she squeezed his hands again. "Active. Restless. I know it's your child just because she won't relax. "

"You say that as if it's a trait she's just inherited from me," he said teasingly, and she looked at him squintingly. He rubbed a hand over her lower back, which was frequently aching nowadays. "You're as bad as I am, honey. This kid is never going to relax."

"Mmm," she said in a soft, sleepy voice. She leaned into him again; he dug his fingers against her back, and she made a small sound of appreciation. "We should get some pizza," she added in a husky voice. "For Jackson."

He smiled. "You're right," he said softly. "We should."

---

Jackson arrived long after dark, the screened door swinging open with his arrival. He scanned the room in a nervous animal sort of manner before landing upon where they were sitting on the couch, Scully asleep on Mulder's shoulder. "Uh, hi," he said with a sheepish sort of smile.

Mulder smiled, too, a broad, involuntary one. He hadn't really realized how much he had missed his son until just now. He had just remembered that he hadn't seen Jackson in person since they helped him move in. "Hey, Jackson," he said softly. "It's good to see you. There's pizza in the oven if you're hungry."

"Thanks," Jackson said with a nervous little laugh. "I, uh, I ate something on the way here, but I'm already hungry again."

Mulder laughed at that. "Help yourself," he said, rubbing a hand over Scully's arm. He was debating whether or not to just wake her up, or to try and move without waking her up.

Jackson walked past them towards the kitchen, freezing a little in his tracks near the couch. "She's okay, right?" he asked, motioning to Scully.

Mulder startled a little, looking down at his wife and then back at their son. "Yeah, s-she's fine," he said quickly. "Sleepy. The pregnancy has been kind of rough on her." He winced a little that; he hadn't meant to mention it.

"I can, uh, imagine," Jackson said quickly, his hands in his pockets. He cleared his throat loudly before continuing to the kitchen.

Mulder cleared his own throat and leaned down, brushing his fingers over Scully's cheek. "Scully," he whispered. The oven door opened and closed. "Jackson's here."

She stirred gingerly, her eyes opening foggily. "Jackson?" she whispered, and he nodded. She sat up with effort, his hand on her back as he helped her, and turned to Jackson as he reentered the room, a droopy slice of pizza in hand. "Hey," she said warmly, a small smile tugging at her lips.

"Hi, Dana." He offered an awkward little wave with the pizza-free hand. "Thank you for offering me a place to stay."

"Of course, sweetie." She rubbed at her eyes sleepily as she got to her feet. "You're always welcome here."

"Do you want anything to drink?" Mulder added, heading for the kitchen himself to get Scully a glass of water. "We've got some soda, some juice… water…"

His eyebrows raised a bit. "Soda would be good," he said with a stifled yawn. "I'm pretty exhausted, actually. Long day. Long drive."

"Do you want us to show you the guest room?" Scully asked gently, with a yawn of her own. "You should make yourself at home."

He shrugged sleepily, opening the fridge and taking out a can of Dr. Pepper. "Yeah, sure. I've gotten into the habit of sleeping on the couch, I need to work on breaking it."

Mulder felt, rather than heard, Scully's intake of breath, and knew she was thinking of him years and years ago. He'd been thinking of that himself. He gave a little laugh and said, "I've been in that habit, kid. Not a bad one to break."

"For sure." He rubbed at the back of his neck, taking a sip of his soda.

Scully cleared her throat, taking the water cup Mulder offered. "The room's upstairs, whenever you're ready," she said, taking a sip, bumping her arm against Mulder's in thanks.

"We can go right now." Jackson retrieved a plate from the cabinet as if he'd been living there for years, piling a couple slices on and grabbing the soda can before turning to them expectantly. It wasn't the healthiest bedtime snack, but Mulder didn't feel as if he had the paternal authority to say anything. (And he knew his eating habits weren't much better anyway.)

Scully led the two of them upstairs, up the book-laden stairs and down the hall. Over his shoulder, Mulder saw Jackson taking everything out in interest, and realized suddenly that he had never been upstairs before. Only in the downstairs. They went past the baby's room, which Jackson glanced at with a hint of apprehension, and into the room they'd been putting together for him.

Scully flipped on the light when they entered, and Daggoo, who had pretty strange habits for a dog and loved to sleep in there, rose from his favorite perch on the bed and yipped excitedly. Jackson grinned.

"Sorry about him," Scully said with an absent wave. "He loves it in here, but you can kick him out if you want."

"No, no, that's cool. I love dogs." Jackson flopped down on the bed and scratched Daggoo's head as he wriggled and whimpered with excitement. "My mom was allergic," he said wistfully, "so we weren't ever able to have a dog."

Scully smiled, too. Mulder offered, "Scully here has always been a big fan of dogs. She actually stole this one."

Scully chuckled low in her throat and shook her head disapprovingly. Jackson looked up in surprise. " Seriously ?"

"We were on a case," Scully explained in a deadpan. "I caught a serial killer who worked in an animal shelter. I just fell in love with Daggoo, and the whole place was in disarray. I didn't think we had time to stay in town so I could go through the adoption process."

"That's what she wants you to think," Mulder told Jackson. "Secretly, I think she's just a ruthless dog thief."

He snorted with quiet laughter as Scully elbowed him lightly in the side. Daggoo, perhaps sensing he was the subject of discussion, came over to greet Scully. Jackson began to survey the room, his eyes lingering over the books and movies on the shelf, the little TV adjacent to the bed. To the dresser, where they paused on a floppy stuffed bunny sitting on the dresser. Mulder froze a little when he saw it himself; he recognized that bunny. He hadn't known that they'd still had that bunny. He hadn't known that Scully had put it in here.  

"What's that?" Jackson asked, his voice sounding purposefully light. "Something for the kid?"

Scully took a deep, gentle breath. "Actually, it was yours."

Jackson jolted, just a little, his shoulders tight. "Really?" he said quietly.

"Really," she said. "My mother—your grandmother—she bought it for you. You loved it; you wanted to take it everywhere." She laughed softly, fondly. "You loved to chew on its ears," she added. "You slept with it every night."

Her words hit Mulder square in the chest; he hadn't seen any of that, and it still ached to this day. He had missed out on so much. He'd seen Scully sleep with the rabbit curled under one arm when they were on the run, desperate and grieving, but he had never seen it with their son. And now here it was again, when Jackson was too old for anything like that and clearly didn't have any interest in it. He forced a smile, pretending that his chest wasn't tight with grief.

Jackson was still looking at the blue rabbit, his face unreadable. "That's cool," he said in a husky voice. "Cool bunny." He looked over at them, halfway curious. "W-where does your mom live? Do you see her a lot?"

Scully smiled sadly. "No, unfortunately she passed away a couple years ago."

"Oh. I'm really sorry," he said immediately, solemnly. He looked down at his hands, at Daggoo on the bed, looking between them with interest. Mulder wasn't sure what to do, to say.

"Thank you," Scully said softly, her voice faltering a little. "She… I miss her a lot, but she lived a good life."

Jackson nodded, stiffly. He yawned again, in a purposeful manner, and said, "I, uh, I think I'm going to bed."

"Okay," Mulder said, offering what was meant to be a reassuring shrug. "There's food in the fridge, and the bathroom is at the bottom of the stairs. First door to the left in the downstairs hall."

"We can take Daggoo if you want," Scully offered.

"Nah, he can stay." Jackson reached out to scratch the underside of Daggoo's belly, who panted happily. "The room looks good, by the way," he added. "Really cool." As if he'd known that they fixed it up for him—which, Mulder realized, he probably had.

"We're glad you like it," Scully replied. Her hand was against Mulder's wrist, as if she wanted to take his hand, but didn't want to do so in front of Jackson. "Good night," she added warmly.

"We'll be down the hall if you need us," Mulder added, as if he was a small child who might have nightmares. As if it was a normal night, and they were tucking him into bed, and they'd see him in the morning. (And they would; they would see him in the morning, unless he snuck out during the night for some reason.)

"Okay." Jackson was focused on the dog, semi-wrestling with him. He didn't look up as they exited, but he called up a muted, "Thanks."

Back in their bedroom, Mulder suddenly felt weak, limp and small, and he pulled Scully to him in a fierce hug. Her arms went around him immediately, unable to envelop him completely, but still holding tightly, clutching at the back of his shirt. "Hey," she whispered softly. "You okay?"

He nodded, his throat thick. He had missed out on so much. He had missed out on so much, and here was an opportunity to not miss out on things, but he would still never get that time with William. He had left them, and he had lost so much.

He was saying it before he could really even think about it: "I'm so sorry I left."

Scully shook her head immediately. She let go of him and stepped back, tipping up his chin slightly so he'd meet her eyes. "Mulder," she whispered gently, "you didn't have a choice. It was the only way to save yourself."

They'd fought about this a thousand times, each taking different perspectives and going back and forth on different things, but Mulder was sure in this moment that it was his fault and solely his fault. He tried to apologize again, and Scully shook her head. "Mulder, we have to stop living in the past and digging up these old issues," she said. "What's done is done. We can't do anything about it now." She reached up to touch the side of his face gently. "He's here now," she whispered. "We have a chance to get to know him. It's not exactly starting over, but it is something."

He nodded, his eyes growing wet. He engulfed her in his arms again, kissing the top of her head. "You're right," he said softly. "It's just… hard not to linger over the things I've done wrong. My regrets."

"Believe me, I know." She kissed the underside of his jaw. "It's going to be okay," she told him, and she sounded a little uncertain, but he could feel the reassurance in her voice.

He nodded against the top of her head. He felt the baby kicking and smiled absently. "You think you'll be able to sleep with the kiddo being restless in there?" he joked.

She poked him firmly in the arm. "I do it every night, Mulder." She kissed him softly, giving his elbow a small tug. "C'mon," she said with a yawn, "let's go to bed, okay?"

They climbed into bed together, her curling at his front so he could provide some support for her back. He put his lips to the back of her head, his hand to her belly, and tried to relax. But his mind kept returning to their son, in the bedroom down the hall. Wondering if he was okay, if he had nightmares the way they did. He heard footsteps on the stairs, he heard the bathroom door creak. He hoped that he would still be there when they woke up. He wanted more than anything to get to know his son.

---

Jackson slept until noon on Saturday. Not even on purpose, or as an avoidance tactic; he was exhausted. He hadn't been getting many chances to sleep in until noon lately, what with work and being on the run. He slept like a rock, after admittedly staying up half the night watching cable, and when he woke up to sunlight streaming into the unfamiliar room, he briefly forgot where he was.

He panicked, briefly, kicking at the covers as he instinctively bolted up in bed, but his eyes fell on the blue rabbit on the dresser as they jerked frantically around the room, and that snapped him out of it. He let out a heavy sigh, flopping limply back on the bed.

After a few minutes (and after he realized both what time it was and how hungry it was), it seemed silly to just lie here and pretend he was anywhere else. It's not like he could do that all weekend, hide upstairs and only come out at night like some bastardized vampire. If he was going to do this, and make this the last time, he had to do it right.

So he forced himself out of bed and staggered downstairs, realizing just as he hit the bottom stair that he'd forgotten to pack anything sensible, like a hairbrush or a toothbrush or a change of clothes. Dana was on the couch, a book in hand, but she had looked up when she heard him coming down. "Good morning," she said with a calm sort of pleasantness. "Did you sleep okay?"

"Uh huh," Jackson said, his voice wavering a little bit. His eyes jerked around the room, from the couch to the kitchen table, where Mulder was sitting with a laptop, to the front door, where he had kicked off his sneakers the night before. "I'm, uh, I'm going for a run," he said. He needed to breathe for a moment, needed to clear his head. He went for the door and yanked them on, pulling open the door and blinking in the bright sunlight. He inhale deeply and took off, dust road from the driveway stirred up by his shoes.

The run felt good. His birth parents lived out in the middle of fucking nowhere, and it was the perfect place to just run . He ran harder, harder than he probably should, until his chest ached with the strain of running and he was gasping for air.

Running did clear his head. It gave him time to think. Reminded him what he needed to do, the reason why it was good that Sarah dumped him. People might still be looking for him. People might come for Mulder and Scully and their kid. He'd told himself that he was going to try and last the weekend, but being alone out in the country made him too tense, gave him too much time to get paranoid about all the shitty stuff that could happen. He tensed up every time a car went by.

He was honestly ready to leave just on the basis of it seeming too dangerous for him to be there (and also, honestly, because it was awkward as hell, and he didn't want to be in that house, surrounded by reminders of the childhood he didn't have and the family that wasn't his). But when he got back to the house, he was out of breath and coated in sweat. He felt a little like collapsing on the spot. He thought to himself, vaguely, as he leaned against a pillar on the porch, Okay, so I won't leave this exact second.

When he staggered through the door, he found Mulder and Scully on the couch, watching some movie. It sounded sci-fi esque, with lots of hissing sounds and canned screams coming from the television. Something Jackson might've liked years ago. When Mulder saw him come in, he tossed him a water bottle, damp with condensation from the freezer. "I'm guessing you'll need this," he said.

Jackson caught it, a little stunned and not sure why. "Thanks," he said.

"Don't drink too fast," Dana offered mildly, and it was then that Jackson remembered that she was a doctor. It was the thing he had known about her before he'd known almost anything else: Ginger was a doctor. It'd been strangely comforting as a child, in that dinky little hospital where he'd essentially been kept prisoner as a child; he had lain in bed, curled up under the covers, sucking his thumb like a baby for comfort, and he'd closed his eyes and seen her. Ginger, helping children like him, being kind and caring and everything the doctors there weren't, and he'd thought, She wouldn't do this to me. She'd take care of me for real. She'd get me out of here.

(His own mom had been the one to get him out. He'd been in for six months, and they'd been unable to tell his parents what was even wrong with him. He was scared to tell his parents what the doctors were doing to him; one of the nurses whispered that if he wasn't good and didn't kept things a secret, he might not ever get to go home. When the doctors tried to stop his mom and dad from visiting, that was the final straw. His mom had gotten lawyers and threatened a lawsuit, and gotten him out, and they'd moved to the East Coast, far away from the people who had done this to him. Ginger had never come, no matter how much he hoped she would.)

"Okay," Jackson mumbled, unscrewing the lid and taking several grateful gulps. He flopped down in a chair, exhausted, turning his face vaguely towards the TV. It was some kind of monster movie, incredibly cheesy-looking.

He didn't mean to stay and watch it, but he did. He just did. He didn't move from the chair, and the three of them watched three movies without even thinking about it.

Towards the end of the third movie, Jackson went into the kitchen to retrieve a soda. Almost as soon as he stood up, he was thinking about leaving. Wondering if he was wondering out of time to save them all. Wondering if he was being overly paranoid, jumpy and ridiculous. Wondering about the kid, if it didn't matter what he did because they'd come for the kid if they didn't come for him. Wondering if there was even anyone out there to come for either of them.

On the front of the fridge, there was an ultrasound picture. The same one that was there last night. Beside it, one he hadn't noticed: a younger Mulder and Scully, lying sprawled out on a bed asleep. A baby between them, cradled on Mulder's chest, Scully's hand on his back, fingers in his mouth, wearing a little blue onesie. Him, he realized, and bit his lip. He yanked open the fridge too hard and grabbed a Coke. As the door closed back, he caught a glimpse of the ultrasound all over again. My sibling , he thought involuntarily, and was stunned to feel something at the back of his mind. A little push, a presence.

"Find everything okay?" Scully asked when he re-entered. They were trying so hard to be casual—she was pretending to watch the TV, but she was watching him. He could tell.

"Yeah," he said, clearing his throat awkwardly and flopping back in his chair. It was an impulse, what he said next; he was thinking about the little push he'd felt, and the picture, and the conversation he and Dana had last time, and he just said it. "You guys got any name ideas for the kid?"

They both looked up in surprise, like it was the last thing they expected him to say. On the screen, a werewolf growled ominously.

Mulder was the first to recover. "We don't know," he said. "We've had some ideas, but nothing feels right."

"Do you, uh…" Jackson cleared his throat awkwardly. "Do you know the sex yet?"

"Not yet," said Ginger, and she had a small, absent smile on her face. "Mulder insists it's a girl, though." Mulder shrugged sheepishly.

Jackson swallowed awkwardly. "Well, either way, you can't go wrong with Fox, right?" he joked, trying to keep his voice light.

It worked. Mulder and Scully both burst into laughter at that, Scully laughing so hard he could hardly believe it. "Low blow, kid," Mulder said, wrapping an arm around Scully's shoulders. "Low blow. But thanks for the suggestion."

Jackson gave a little chuckle of his own. He felt a rush of relief, at just not saying something wrong for once. "Or Lily," he offered, speaking before he could think again. "Lily's cool. If you're digging for options."

He didn't know why he said that. He didn't know why he said that, except for that it was the name he and his mother had liked when his parents were trying to adopt when he was eight. His mom had suggested it, and it'd been his favorite option for a girl, insisting on it even after they'd moved onto other names. But he didn't know why he'd said that now. He hadn't thought about having a little sister named Lily in years, and he didn't know why he was suggesting it now. It felt like his parents' name to use, not theirs. But he had said it, for whatever reason.

Mulder and Scully exchanged a look, a loaded look. "That's pretty," Scully offered. "I like it."

"Yeah," Jackson said, flopping back in his chair. He'd intended to make some more name suggestions, more jokes, but he found he couldn't. He popped open his soda, turned his attention back to the TV. "Fox might be the better option, though," he threw out gingerly. They chuckled from behind him, again, but he could barely hear it. He watched the werewolf tear through the woods, claws drawn.

---

After dinner, Jackson retreated out to the porch. He seemed jittery while they ate, which was more than expected, but the speedy retreat still stung a little. Scully bit her lip when the door shut hard behind him; Mulder saw it, even across the table.

"We could go out with him," Mulder offered as they loaded the dishwasher. It was a nice night, not too hot, the sky streaked pink and orange from the setting sun.  

Scully shook her head, her hands buried in soapy water. "I don't want to put pressure on him," she said, which he knew she'd been trying hard not to do all day. "I want to leave him be. We've had time with him today."

He slipped a plate into the bottom drawer, stepped behind her and engulfed her in his arms. He felt the baby moving under his fingers. "I love you," he said into the back of her neck.

She slipped her sudsy hands down to intertwine her fingers with his. "I love you," she whispered, and he squeezed her tight. She rubbed the back of his left hand with her damp thumb. "We're gonna be okay," she said quietly. They'd been saying that a lot since this all ended, but this was possibly the most confident he'd heard her about it. She turned in his arms and kissed him, her wet palms on his cheeks. They stood together in the midst of their kitchen, pressed together before the sink and the sinking sun.

Later, after Scully had gone upstairs to bed, Jackson was still outside. Mulder could hear the creak of the porch swing through the open windows. He'd been planning to have a beer inside, at the table, but in the split second of hearing that swing creak, he changed his mind. He wanted a few minutes alone with his son. And besides, he did usually have a beer outside rather than in, so he had a good excuse if Jackson asked.

(He considered, briefly, taking a beer out for Jackson, but then decided that it would be nothing but a blatant bribe, and probably not a very paternal move. And Scully would be furious, anyway.)

He took his beer bottle and went outside, towards one of the chairs adjacent to the swing. "Mind if I join you?" he asked his son, who shrugged and continued moving the swing with the toe of his ratty tennis shoes. Mulder sunk into a chair, popping the bottle open. He saw Jackson eyeing the beer wistfully, and pretended he didn't notice, taking a long sip. The swing rocked back and forth.

"Nice night," Mulder said after a few moments. He could hear the crickets chirping in the dusk, feel a slight breeze blowing. It was the kind of night he used to love to sit outside with Scully during, the kind of night he hoped he could look forward to for the rest of his life.

"It is," Jackson said softly, pushing off the porch again. He took a deep breath. "I've missed quiet nights like this. When I was little, we used to live on a farm in Wyoming. I don't remember it too well, but I remember I liked it. And I loved going to visit my grandmother."

"Not a lot of quiet nights in Norfolk?"

"Definitely not." He sighed quietly, leaning back on the slatted swing. "It's nice out here," he said quietly.

Mulder watched him in the dimming light. He couldn't help it. Every moment with him felt like a blessing. Scully kept saying that Jackson looked like him, but he couldn't see it. Looking at Jackson, he just saw his own family, his mother and his sister and Scully. It was hard to look away, to not linger over all of the things they had missed out on. He could imagine a multitude of nights like this with his son, instead of acknowledging that this was the first one. But it might not be the last. He took a swig of his beer and sighed himself, looking out over the fields instead of at his son. "We're glad you're here," he said quietly. "Your mother… Dana and I… we're both so glad you're here, and that you're safe." They'd been so close to losing him; he remembered his horror clearly, his grief, when he thought they'd lost him. He chewed at his lower lip, unsure of what to say, but knowing that he couldn't not say it. It was the same reason Scully told him how much she'd missed him and regretted giving him up every time she saw him: he needed him to know.

The swing squeaked abruptly, harshly to a stop. "Right," Jackson said in a strangled voice.

Mulder tipped the bottle up with a clammy palm and looked at his son. His head was dipped forward, his hair hanging in his face. He couldn't read his expression in the dimming light. "Mulder?" he said softly, rubbing at his mouth hard with one hand.

It threw Mulder off; he couldn't remember if his son had ever addressed him directly. It was overwhelming to hear Jackson say his name, as much as he wished he'd said Dad instead. "Yeah?" he replied, biting back the urge to tack son on the end.

"Do you… do you think…" He broke off mid-sentence. "Those people, the ones chasing me… they came after your family, right?"

The question took Mulder aback, but it wasn't necessarily unexpected. He wasn't surprised that Jackson was shaken after his months on the run, after being pursued for months and having his parents murdered and being shot in the goddamn head. He should've expected Jackson to have questions about where this bullshit originated. "I… yes," he said quietly. "They… they were involved with my father. The one who raised me, not the smoker. They made a deal to take my sister when she was eight years old." He bit the inside of his cheek hard; no matter how many years it had been, the memories still hurt. And the hurt was not lessened any by the fact that his son had suffered from similar things, the fact that he looked a little bit like Samantha. "They killed my father," he added. "They came after Scully, and after me…" After you, he added silently.

Jackson was quiet. The swing moved back and forth. "When did they stop?" he whispered.

Mulder didn't have a good answer to that. He'd come so close to losing Jackson, and though he mostly thought that all of this was over, a part of him thought that they would never stop coming. It was one of his greatest fears with the baby, although he would never leave her or lose her for anything in the world. But it'd been months since anything had happened, months since he'd noticed any kind of Syndicate activity. He and Scully were trying their best to believe that it had ended, that they were safe.

He went with the optimistic answer. "I suppose a few months ago," he said. "I don't know exactly… what happened… but I'm inclined to believe this is all over."

He looked at Jackson, who wasn't looking back at him. He had his forehead balanced in his palm, his head still bent forward. "Why do you ask?" Mulder added tentatively, halfway pressing for an answer, and halfway hoping he wouldn't get it. He wanted to know if Jackson was still being pursued, but he was praying that this wasn't the case.

Jackson sighed heavily, and sat up straight. "No reason," he said, and Mulder bit back an exhale of relief. Before he could ask another question, Jackson got to his feet and turned to the door. "I'm going up," he said bluntly, reaching for the handle.

"Oh," Mulder said, a little surprised, but knowing better than to say anything. "Okay. Goodnight, Jackson. Scully and I will be down the hall if you need anything."

It was probably a babyish thing to say to a seventeen-year-old, but if Jackson minded, he didn't let Mulder know. He didn't say anything at all; he just grabbed the screen door and whipped it open. It slammed hard behind him as he went inside.

---

Early the next morning, Jackson left. He slipped out before it got light, while Mulder and Scully and even the dog were still asleep. He didn't want to have to go through the motions of saying goodbye, and he felt as if leaving was the only thing he had left to do. The only right thing to do.

He couldn't do this anymore. He couldn't be around them. He didn't know if these people would ever stop coming.

And besides that, they weren't his family anymore. Once upon a time, they'd raised him and named him and napped with him and given him a little blue stuffed bunny that he carried everywhere, but then they gave him up. They weren't his family, and he couldn't be theirs. He couldn't be a brother to a little baby if he'd only be putting her in danger.

He had to leave. He didn't have a choice.

Chapter Text

It hurt like hell to wake up and find their son gone that morning in July. Scully would be lying if she said it didn't. He'd had the courtesy to leave a note, at least, but it was brief and left little comfort. They'd both been shocked by the abruptness of it; when he'd seen the note, Mulder had recoiled from it like he'd been hit.  

Scully tried not to let it bother her. Tried to tell herself she should expect things like this. Of course he was distant, she told herself; he had every right to be, considering what she had done. He needed space, and she was determined to give it to him. (They waited a week and a half to call him, nervous and shooting each other questioning looks. He didn't answer. They left a brief message, trying to sound cheerful and nonchalant. Mulder reached for her hand when they hung up, squeezing it reassuringly. She couldn't look him in the eye.)

She tried to distract herself. She checked more books out of the library. She researched a scientific article she'd wanted to write ever since her research into the so-called Spartan Virus that hopefully would never make an appearance. She read over the scraps of novel Mulder had written, scribbled notes in the margins. She took Daggoo for walks around the property, Mulder joining her as often as he could. They fell asleep on top of the comforter, Mulder holding her close. (He liked to whisper about the baby in her ear, his hand tangled in her hair. He thought the baby would look like her, just like you, Scully . He was going to love her so much.)

The days grew longer and hotter. They only called Jackson once every two weeks. They told each other that they could limit themselves to that.

Finally, somewhere in the middle of August, Mulder had the idea to take a vacation. Drive to the coast for a few days. "I think we could both use some time to relax," he said gently, coaxing.

"Isn't that what we've been doing?"  Scully snapped. She was irritable and disliked that she was irritable, hating the mood swings of the third trimester. "Relaxing? Or trying to?"

"A change of scenery might help with that," said Mulder. "We won't be rattling around this house with reminders of Jackson, and the baby…"

"What if the baby comes while we're gone ? What if I go into early labor? What then?" She was eight months along, and terrified of the baby coming prematurely. She didn't know what her chances were if she came this early.

"We could get a place near a hospital. And besides that, your due date is still several weeks out."

She was quiet. She could feel the baby turning over, moving restlessly, and she let her eyes slide shut. She'd been so worried the whole time, ever since she took those pregnancy tests—she was still worried. She worried nearly every day. She knew at the beginning of this all that it'd be hard to lose another baby, but she didn't realize how hard until she got to know her child. Felt her moving inside of her, and realized that it was all real.

(Not that she thought she was going to lose the baby. But it was a possibility that loomed over her like a black cloud, a possibility that frightened her more than anything. Losing Mulder or Jackson or her baby.)

But she realized as Mulder slipped his arms around her that she did want to go. It was impractical, but not necessarily dangerous, and she wanted to go. She hadn't taken a vacation with Mulder in so long. She thought of him by the ocean, on the island where they'd gone after he'd been exonerated. She thought of a few days away from home, not surrounded by reminders, as Mulder had said, that their son was a sporadic and reluctant presence in their life, and they were about to be new parents again at the age of retirement. She kept her eyes shut as Mulder kissed the back of her head. "Honey… if you don't want to…" he whispered into her hair. "It was just a thought, but I completely understand if it's too much…"

"No," she whispered, shaking her head. She opened her eyes and turned to look at him. He pushed her hair, growing gradually longer, away from her face with gentle fingers. She sniffled a little, giving him a stern look. "I want to be cautious," she said. "I want to plan things out, and be ready if there's an emergency."

"Of course, of course." He put a reassuring hand to her cheek. "Are you sure?" he said softly. "We don't have to go…"

"I want to go," she whispered. She leaned into him, her back aching, her eyes shutting again. "We need to be careful, but I want to go. I think you're right. I need this."

"What was that, Scully?" he teased in a soft voice. "I was what ?"

She rolled her eyes. "C'mon, Mulder," she said, pulling back to look him in the eye. "You did promise me a vacation back in March, remember?" And he had, right around the time she'd moved back in.

"I did," he said, remembering. He cupped the side of her head, fingers in her hair, smoothing her cheek. "You'll be okay," he whispered. "The both of you. I promise you that."

---

Within the week, they were driving into Delaware. Mulder had found a little house on the coast that was miraculously for rent, which was within a couple hours of home and not far from a hospital. The best possible scenario. It was a nice house, a nice view, a sprawling screened-in porch that looked out over the ocean. Scully loved it on first sight. "Be nice to the owner," she told him sternly that first night, tucked into his side on the porch swing, listening to the crash of the waves. "If he likes us, he might let us come back in the future."

"Hmm," Mulder said, half asleep. "I'll bring you here every year if you want."

"I'm going to hold you to that," she whispered. She was imagining their baby (their daughter) on that beach, running in and out of the water, and halfway thinking it was a bad idea, but fully not wanting to stop. She watched the churning waves meld with the blackening sky.

The house had a huge bathtub, which may have been Scully's favorite part of the house. She and Mulder climbed in together, him behind her, lathering her hair with gentle fingers. He pressed his face into her wet neck and held her tight. She nearly fell asleep in his arms, the baby turning and flipping as if going for a swim. They left the window open so they could hear the ocean, feel the night breeze. It was perhaps the most relaxed she had felt in months. "This was a nice idea," she whispered, hoping desperately that nothing would go long, hoping that they could just stay here for a week and relax and that nothing would go wrong.

---

In the morning, Scully woke long before Mulder—the baby's restless movements kept her up more often than she liked. As the sun rose over the ocean, she slipped downstairs and took Daggoo out into the yard. He puttered around the square of grass, sniffing before peeing on a tree. Scully placed a hand over her stomach and gazed out towards the ocean. There was a nice breeze, cool for the middle of August, nudging at her hair, her face. She couldn't wait for Mulder to get up. She thought that she never wanted to leave here.

The waves crashed, the sound dim because of her distance from them. Behind her, Daggoo burst into frantic, excited barks. She heard a car engine, and turned around just time to see a car rolling up the gravelly driveway. Jackson's car. She knew before she saw him; she could feel him.

Daggoo whimpered, pawing at her leg. When the car door opened, he went running to meet him.

Scully smiled before she even realized she was doing it. Even though she and Mulder had come up to spend some time alone, she was incredibly happy to see him. Her son. "Hi, Jackson," she said.

Jackson cleared his throat, leaning down to greet Daggoo, scratch the top of his head. "Hi, Dana." Daggoo licked his hand, and he grinned a little. He scooped up the wriggling dog and cradled him like a baby. He met Scully's eyes skittishly, like a stray cat. "I, uh," he said, "was wondering if I could stay a couple days."

Scully didn't need to ask how he had found them. She already knew. She still had a hand on her stomach; she took it away in order to motion towards the door. "Come on in," she said.

---

Jackson hadn't intended to go back. He'd intended for the weekend at their house to be the last time, at least for a while. If not forever. He hadn't meant to come back, for their sakes as much as his own. He wanted the night they watched movies together to be the end of it. And he thought it probably would've been, if he hadn't run out of money.

The warehouse job had fired him. About a week ago, they'd fired him. He didn't really know why. Maybe it was his shitty attitude, maybe it was the weed he had in his car. Maybe they'd figured out that his name and age were fake. Who knew at this point. He wasn't sure that he wanted to know. But he'd lost one of his two jobs, and he was running out of money at a rapid pace. Spending recklessly. He was going to have to cut off some of the streaming services, and maybe the WiFi, if he didn't get smart. He was worried about food, worried about making rent and car insurance and all of it. (The warehouse paid substantially more than Burger King.) He didn't know what the hell he was going to do. Even after he'd had the insane idea to go on fucking vacation with them.

He'd sworn he wasn't going to do this anymore. But he was running out of money, and he knew they'd give it. And a few days at the beach was a few days he didn't have to pay for food, even with the heightened gas costs. (And besides that, he kind of wanted to stay somewhere besides his crummy apartment. Kind of wanted to spend a few goddamn days at the beach. He missed the coast. He wanted a break.)

He'd just stay a little while. Charm them out of some money. Give them one last good memory, and maybe not sneak out in the middle of the damn night this time. That was the idea. That was what drove him to Delaware, windows rolled down, following the road map he could see in Ginger's mind.

At least the dog was happy to see him, if nothing else. At least he had that.

(Not that he necessarily thought Dana wasn't happy to see him. But. He knew that she and Mulder had both been hurt when he'd run off in the middle of the night. He'd felt it, and he didn't like thinking about it. It made him feel small and tangled-up inside. It made him not want to come back.)

Inside the beach house, Scully immediately went to the kitchen, offering food. "Mulder's still asleep, but I can make you some breakfast…" she started.

"You don't need to cook," said Jackson. (He was feeling small and embarrassed and he didn't feel like he could ask for that. He could ask for a few hundred dollars, but he wouldn't ask her to make breakfast.) "I can feed myself."

"I don't mind," she said, scooping coffee grounds into the coffeemaker.

"Seriously, let me do it," he insisted, pushing past her towards the refrigerator. "I've already intruded on your vacation. Might as well make my own breakfast." He pulled a packet of bacon out of the fridge and slapped them on a paper towel, and then on a paper plate. He usually made bacon in the microwave because it was quick, and because he hated bending over the crackling pan and risking a grease burn.

"Help yourself to anything," Dana said gently, sinking into a chair at the kitchen table. "Coffee should be ready soon."

"Thank you." He stuck the bacon in the microwave with another slab of paper towel over top before going for the loaf of bread to make toast. He was still avoiding Scully's eyes as he popped slices of bread into the toaster.

Past the kitchen, he heard stairs creaking with footsteps. Daggoo yipped excitedly, prancing out of the kitchen to go and who was presumably Mulder. "Hello, mutt," Jackson heard Mulder say with a dry sort of affection. Scully gave a small chuckle. Jackson didn't turn around, his neck flushed and hot.

More footsteps, and then an abrupt stop in the doorway. A few awkward seconds passed before Mulder said, "Hey, Jackson. Wh-when did you get here?"

He cleared his throat, turning around and offering a sheepish smile. "Just a few minutes ago," he said. "Sorry to intrude." The microwave beeped loudly.

"It's not an intrusion," said Mulder, although he was shooting Scully a questioning look and trying to look like he wasn't. He offered Jackson a broad grin. "You're welcome any time."

"Of course you are," Dana added warmly, and Jackson could practically feel the combination of hope and nerves radiating off of both of them. Hoping that he'd come because he wanted to, and that he'd stay, nervous that he'd run off again. This was why he hadn't wanted to come. He gave a thankful nod, turned towards the microwave and pulled out his plate of bacon. It had nearly burned.

"There's an extra bedroom upstairs. You make yourself at home," Mulder said.

"Thank you, I will," Jackson said. And he would. He would try his best, partially because he wouldn't ask for money right away, unprecedented, but also because he owed them that, at least. Owed them a few nice days where he wasn't being a total ass, especially if this was the last time he'd see them. (And he did intend that, for their sake and for the kid's. He honestly wasn't sure if the danger still existed—all the quiet over the past few months had halfway convinced him it didn't exist—but he didn't want to risk it. Even staying for these few days was stressing him out. Only the fact that he hadn't seen any danger in the past couple months had convinced him that these few days would be okay. This had to be the end.)

Jackson sat down at the table, adjacent to Scully. She and Mulder were discussing breakfast, but he wasn't really listening. He bit off a corner of a slice of toast and looked absently out the window. He saw the house next door, saw the overgrown yard. Saw the two people in sunglasses, standing close together, looking at the beach house and whispering.

---

Jackson stayed quiet. The moody, brooding quiet Mulder recognized from his own teenage years. (Thinking about it, he supposed that he and his son were a lot alike at this stage of their lives. They'd lost a family member, or members, they'd both faded into themselves and the depth of their grief. They'd both had a bad attitude and a martyr complex.) They didn't push him. They wanted to give him space.

(Mulder wasn't upset that Jackson had shown up. He wasn't. He would've loved for him to come along in the first place. The family vacations he'd always wanted to take. But he'd had the idea as a solution to Scully's stress. To give her a chance to relax, take some time for the two of them to rest before their lives were thrown into upheaval. And he was overjoyed to see their son, but he didn't want things to go like last time. It had crushed Scully to find him gone, crushed them both, and he didn't want them to go through that again. He wanted his son to come home and come home for good, wanted the assurance that he would be there every morning.)

They ended up on the beach, the three of them, Jackson sprawled out on a towel with a book on black holes that they'd both smiled a little at. He had sunglasses pushed up on his forehead, and he squinted at the book in the bright sunlight. He didn't look away from the book when he said, "So, how's the kid?"

"Fine," Scully replied. "Restless. I think we'll both be relieved when she gets here."

Jackson was still looking at the book when he said, "It's a girl?" But there was a hint of curiosity in his voice, a hint enough that Mulder caught.

"We think so," he said. "We're not sure yet."

"That's cool." Jackson flipped a page, still not looking at them.

Scully offered, "So, how are your jobs going?"

This made Jackson snap the book closed; he set it on the towel next to him. "Um," he said. "Okay, I guess. I got fired at one."

"Really?" Scully asked, and he nodded, as best as he could nod while lying on the ground. "Oh my god. What happened?"

He shrugged. "Don't think they liked me. Or I wasn't a good employee. Some shit like that."

"Are… are you okay?" Mulder asked, his voice husky with guilt over his initial reaction to Jackson showing up. Of course he'd come; he'd just lost a job, he probably needed help. "Do you need money?"

Jackson bit his lip. "Yeah," he said softly. "Yeah, if it's not too much trouble, I think so."

They didn't even have to look at each other; they both knew they were going to agree before they opened their mouths. "Yes, of course," Scully said quietly, her voice full of a melancholy affection. (They'd both been devastated when he left.) "Whatever you need, sweetie," she said, and he could hear the sincerity. There wasn't a hint of condescension; she meant every word.

"Thank you," Jackson mumbled. He sounded embarrassed. He picked up his book off of the towel and opened it again.

Scully reached for Mulder's hand blindly, found it on the arm of his chair and squeezed it. He squeezed wordlessly back.

After a few moments, the waves pounding the sand and Scully and Jackson turning pages, Jackson asked in the most casual voice possible, "So, you ever had a case about a black hole?"

Mulder grinned. "Not really," he said. "But we met this guy once who thought the secret to alien contact was black holes. He thought it served as some kind of teleportation created by the aliens so that the two cultures could meet without extensive, unrealistic travel times."

Jackson snorted, sitting up on the towel so fast that his sunglasses slipped down and hit the bridge of his nose, his book tumbling into his lap. "Well, that doesn't seem very plausible."

" Thank you," Scully said with a relieved, amused sigh. She was suddenly animated, pushing back the Knicks cap she'd stolen from Mulder and leaning forward to talk to Jackson. "You should've heard the explanations he came up with. It was ridiculous…"

Mulder leaned back, content not to argue very hard. He'd let them gang up on him every day if it meant they could have this.

---

They went inside, later, Jackson and Mulder shouldering the equipment without a word. As they tramped up the path to the beach, Jackson saw the same people from before in the yard next door, leaning together, whispering and pointing. Maybe it was a coincidence, he told himself. He wondered why the goddamn FBI agents hadn't noticed yet, that their neighbors might be watching them.

He tried not to let it phase him. It was probably a coincidence.

After a sparse lunch, Scully promptly fell asleep stretched out on the couch, one arm over her stomach and the other over her eyes. Mulder covered her up with an afghan, tucking it around her. Jackson tried not to watch. He felt awkward around them, like he was intruding.

Mulder smoothed hair off of Dana's forehead and turned to Jackson. "Make yourself at home, kiddo," he said. "Seriously. You want to watch a movie or something?"

"Uh, sure," he said. "Sure, sure. What did you have in mind?"

Mulder shrugged. "I found Back to the Future on the shelf over there. Want to do that?"

Jackson nodded. He used to love those movies; he used to watch them at sleepovers.

When he was little, he used to think that maybe he didn't have a dad, because he never saw him, and because his mom said that single moms were more likely to give up children. He figured he was just gone, that he had left and maybe that was why Ginger had given him up. He'd thought about Ginger more, because he'd been able to feel her, guess that maybe she used to love him, but he used to wonder about his dad. He used to imagine him as a sort of dark romantic hero, someone who loved his mother and him dearly, but had to leave because he had to do something more important. Or maybe to protect them. And he missed them both desperately, but could not risk coming home to find them. But he never knew why he couldn't see him.

Later, he would get visions of that other man, the one who had been manipulating him, and he'd wanted to forget about the idea of a father. He held onto the idea of Ginger right up until the end, but he'd wanted to forget about a birth father.

And then he'd learned the truth. He'd met Mulder. And as much as he didn't want to think of Mulder and Scully as his parents, he was glad that Mulder was his birth father instead of that smoking fucker.

The funniest part of it all seemed to be that the stupid little childhood fantasy seemed to be true, as far as he could tell. He didn't know if Mulder was necessarily a romantic hero or any of that bullshit, but it was clear he'd loved them both, him and Ginger. And he'd left to protect them. Fucking ironic.

Mulder sat at the end of the couch, Scully's feet in his lap. Jackson sprawled out on the floor. The movie was as good as he remembered, but he found it hard to concentrate. He kept thinking about time travel, what he wouldn't give for a DeLorean time machine. He wouldn't go back in time for anything other than saving his parents. And he would give anything for that opportunity. Anything at all.

Midway through the movie, Mulder got up to make popcorn. "Butter?" he asked, and Jackson nodded. He chuckled, pouring kernels into a pot. "You know, your mom believes in time travel," he said.  

It took Jackson a minute to make the connection, but when he did, he was genuinely shocked. From what he'd seen about the two of them, he'd figured Dana was usually the skeptical one. " Really ?" he said in response.

"Yeah. Well. The theoretical possibility of it." He grinned absently. "She wrote about it in her senior thesis."

"Wow." Jackson propped himself up on the couch, eyes back on the TV. "Didn't know Dana had it in her."

"She believes in more than you'd expect," he said. "Or that she herself would admit."

"Hmm." Jackson flopped back against the carpet, watching Marty McFly skateboarding through the streets. He could hear Dana breathing sleepily behind him, and it was still strange, strange as hell: to hear her there when she'd only existed in his head for so long.

Mulder walked back over to the couch, his feet squeaking on the floorboards. "She really loves you, you know," he said quietly. "Dana. She loves you so much."

Jackson swallowed hard. Part of him was a little relieved to know these things, that they cared about him, but part of him wished they wouldn't say these things every single time. Part of him wished they didn't have to. "I know," he whispered, though he didn't. He hadn't been sure for a long time.

He couldn't remember the first time he'd seen her, it'd been happening so long. He usually saw her when he was scared or in pain. When he seized. After nightmares. When he was in the hospital, hooked up to machines or choking on gas, curled up in a ball behind a couch in the main room; he'd see her helping children, being the type of doctor that he never ever had, a good doctor instead of an evil one. It had been comforting. He'd held onto that image for so long: Ginger's a good doctor, Ginger would never do this to me. Sometimes, when he was feeling particularly imaginative and hopeless: Ginger will come and save me. Ginger will take me home. And she never did. But it was an emotion that he held onto for so long that when he saw her when he was seizing, almost two years ago—when he saw the future, the pandemic and everyone dying and Ginger saying that she needed to find him—he'd thought that maybe it was true. Maybe she could save him, and his parents. That was why he'd sent her dreams after what happened with Bri and Sarah; he'd been hoping that she could help him. Be the Ginger he always saw in his dreams.

She'd let him down in that regard; she hadn't been able to save him or his parents. It had taken ages for him to forgive her for that. But she wasn't necessarily different from the woman he had seen all his life. Not really.

He remembered seeing her once when he was about three or four, asleep, curled into a protective sort of ball around a small, ratty stuffed animal. At the time, he'd thought it was strange for an adult to sleep with a toy the way that he did, but now he understood why. It was his, that rabbit they'd shown him the last time. She had been missing him, so she'd held onto his rabbit to create some kind of connection with him. She'd missed him, the way he'd always hoped she had.

That was how he knew that Mulder was telling the truth. He thought a part of him might've always known. He just wasn't sure whether or not to believe it.

He lay flat on the carpet, eating the popcorn Mulder made and watching Marty McFly manipulate his parents together, trying not to imagine a universe where his entire life went differently.

---

After Scully woke up, she and Mulder played several games of Scrabble at the table while Jackson read his book on the couch, Daggoo's head resting on his thigh. He was tense for reasons he couldn't exactly explain, jumping at sharp noises, eyes darting over to the window or door constantly. He thought it might've had something to do with the people he'd spotted watching them twice today, but he told himself he was being ridiculous. They were probably just nosy neighbors. Mulder and Scully didn't seem worried at all; they were teasing each other, and bickering over what qualified as a word or not, and they didn't seem to be on edge.

Jackson was probably just imagining it. He told himself again and again that he was just imagining it.

Later that afternoon, Mulder offered to go and pick up some food for dinner. "So neither of us have to cook and you don't have to bother with going out," he said to Scully, smoothing hair away from her face.

"You're sweet," she said in a dry voice that landed somewhere between authenticity and sarcasm. "But you don't have to go pick something up, Mulder…"

"Don't be ridiculous. I know you've been craving crab since before we got here." He leaned down to kiss her on the forehead, and she made a face at him. "You sit tight, I'll be back in a little bit," he said, before turning to Jackson, who'd been trying very hard to ignore them on the other side of the room. It was even more uncomfortable than usual to be around them when they were being like this. His parents had loved each other and everything, but they'd never been so overtly fucking affectionate.

"Jack? You want to ride along?" Mulder asked, his face a mask of casualness.

He weighed his options—going with Mulder or staying back with Dana—and decided that Mulder was actively the better choice. "Sure," he said, getting to his feet and grabbing his phone.

"Make sure to get some calamari," said Dana, unphased, picking her book up off the couch. "Drive safe."

"Says the horrible driver," Mulder said, kissing the top of her head. "Be back in a few."

Jackson, already halfway towards the door, felt as if he should say something, at least. He turned around and offered an awkward little wave. "Bye, Dana."

She gave him a huge smile over the top of his book that made him feel guilty and like a five-year-old all over again. Trying not to squirm, he gave her a trembly smile back. He wasn't sure how sincere it was; he felt like he owed it for her, but he also felt a little bit like he meant it.

---

The drive was mostly uneventful. Jackson looked up the menu of the restaurant on his phone so he could pick out his order. Mulder asked him questions about sports teams, basketball and baseball, and this was an easy topic; Jackson could talk about meaningless things like sports for hours. It was easy to fall into these kinds of conversations, as long as it didn't get too emotional.

It wasn't until they got home that the feeling of unease settled back into Jackson's gut. He saw the neighbors again, huddled at the fence between the two houses, their phones raised like they were taking photos of the house.

His heart was beating too fast, a lump in his throat, and he clutched the bags of takeout so hard they left red imprints on his palm. He stared at the neighbors, a man and a woman, until one of them turned towards him. The distance and the dark lenses of the sunglasses they were wearing made it difficult to discern their expression, but Jackson knew he was looking at him.

"Mulder," he said quietly, not wanting to break eye contact, but when Mulder didn't respond, he turned towards the car and said, " Mulder, " more pointedly.

Mulder, who'd been rummaging through the glove compartment, stood up straight. "Sorry, I just realized I forgot napkins, and I wanted to see if we had any stashed in here," he said. "What's up?"

"D-do you see those people over there?" Jackson said in a rush, turning in that direction. "The people in the next ya—" But when he turned, he only saw an empty fence. They were gone.

Mulder squinted in that direction, his hand shielding his eyes. "I don't see anyone," he said. "Why?"

Jackson gritted his teeth together. He was scared, and he didn't know what to do, and he didn't want to go, and he was afraid that these people were exactly what he thought. And he needed the money, and he didn't want to leave, didn't want to hurt them unnecessarily, but he had seen these people all day. They were watching the house. They weren't dressed like assassins, like the people who had killed his parents or came after him, but maybe they'd improved in covertness. Maybe they were trying to lull the goddamn FBI agents into a false sense of security. They were after him, and he was putting them in danger, and he didn't think they'd gone after Scully yet, if they were only taking pictures of the house, but Jesus Christ, what if they had? What if they were going to come later? What the hell could he do? He couldn't let this happen again.

"Jackson?" Mulder asked. His hand landed gently on Jackson's shoulder, probably meant to comfort or to get his attention, but Jackson still jumped a mile. Mulder snatched his hand away, but he didn't move away; his eyes were still full of worry. "Are you okay?"

He bit down on his lip so hard it bled. "Fine," he said, nearly spitting. "Fine, fine. I…" He put the takeout bags down on the seat abruptly. "I'm going for a run." Let them come after me, he thought. Fucking chase me if they want. But not them. Not the kid.

"R-right now?" Mulder said with a nervous little laugh. "What about your food?"

"Whatever, I'll eat later." His heart was thumping too fast; he felt like he was going to vomit.

Mulder's eyes were wide and full of worry; he reached out to touch his shoulder, but drew back immediately. "Buddy, why don't you come inside?" he said softly. "If something's wrong… we can talk about it."

"No," he snapped. Couldn't go in, couldn't lead the assassins there, couldn't find out whether or not Ginger was already hurt or dead… He had to believe she was fine, that they wouldn't have made a move when he wasn't there. "I gotta go, I gotta go," he said, and then he turned and took off running. Went towards the beach, even though he knew it'd be a pain in the ass to run on, because he figured that if they were going to try to kill him, he should try to fight them off somewhere semi-private. So that nobody else would get hurt, not the people who were uninvolved and didn't deserve to get tangled up in the middle.

Mulder called his name, his voice full of concern, but Jackson didn't look back.

---

He ran for nearly half an hour before he figured out they weren't pursuing him. He fell to the sand with exhaustion, blood pulsing through him, panting and gasping for air. It took forever for him to catch his breath. He lay on the cool sand, eyes shut, the waves crashing behind him.

He might question why the assassins hadn't come after him already, but then again, he might think of the fact that the assassins could have gone in the house, that they could have Mulder and Scully and were holding them captive to lure him back. Maybe he shouldn't have left so hastily. Maybe that wouldn't help a damn thing.

The thing was that he had to protect him. They weren't his parents, but they were his parents, and he couldn't let anything happen to them. Them or the baby, which might be a girl, and he'd already lost a sister that he'd never known he had. Dana had already lost two children, even if one was of her own doing. He couldn't let anything happen to them. Not for money, not for selfish reasons, not for anything.

The thing was that he'd made a promise, once, to protect his parents. As a child, he'd wanted to be protected, but he wanted to protect his family, too. When his mom and dad had gotten him out of the hospital, before they moved to Norfolk, they'd slept all in one bed because Jackson hated being alone then, he was so, so scared. They didn't think the doctors would come and get him back—"If they did," his dad had growled under his breath, "I'd sue the fucking pants off that place"—but Jackson had been afraid they would. He'd lain in the middle of his parents' bed, one of his favorite places in the whole wide world, and he'd curled into his mom and was so relieved not to be back in that place, where they'd hurt him, and he said in a small voice, "Thanks for saving me."

His mom kissed the top of his head. "Of course, honey. Of course," she whispered. "I never ever ever would've left you in there. Never. We're family, and we look out for each other."

"You protect me, I protect you?" he asked meekly.

His dad laughed a little, tousling his hair. "Sure, buddy. Sure. Although we don't want you to worry about protecting us just yet. That's our job."

But despite his father's words, Jackson had taken it seriously. He'd made a silent promise to protect his parents, all those years ago, and he'd included Ginger, the small, comforting presence at the back of his skull, in that promise. As a child, he really thought he could do it; he wanted to believe he could do it. And he'd forgotten about that promise, even though as he grew stronger and more in control,, it really was something he could do.

But he'd failed. He'd failed his parents, he'd broken his promise, even if it had been a childhood promise, and now they were dead. He could've prevented it if he'd seen the assassins coming, if he'd been ready, but he hadn't. He hadn't. And now they were gone. He couldn't break that promise again.

The longer he lay on the beach, thinking of that promise and of his parents, dead in an ambulance beside him, and of Mulder and Dana and his little sister, who deserved to have a life, the more he knew he had to go back. Not permanently. Not permanently. Only to make sure that they were okay, that they weren't being held captive. And then he had to end it, end it for good this time. Had to make sure he couldn't go back for money, or for nostalgia, or because they missed him. It was too dangerous, too risky. He couldn't have that option there because he would use it, and he would put them in danger all over again. He had to burn his bridges, had to make sure they wouldn't come after him. Had to break their hearts.

---

Scully hadn't touched her food yet. She'd been hungry all day, but she'd found herself unable to eat when Mulder had come in alone, his face split with worry. When he explained that Jackson was upset for some reason, and that he'd run off.

She had insisted on trying to go after him, but Mulder had talked her down. We have no idea where he's gone or how far ahead of us he is, he'd said. And he left because he wants time to himself. I know how scary it is to have him gone, but he doesn't need us to be there every second. He'll probably come back because his car is here, he can't get far without his car or wallet or… She could hear the worry in his voice, and knew that he was trying to reassure himself just as much as her. And she knew it probably wasn't a good idea to run around out there at eight months pregnant, and she knew Mulder wouldn't leave her. Knew that he was right about Jackson needing space. And so they waited, shoulder to shoulder together on the couch like parents waiting for a child who skipped curfew. Mulder held her hand in his, and the food went untouched where it sat on the counter.

The sky was streaked with purple darkness when Jackson finally came back, after what seemed like hours had passed. He burst through the door in an angry sort of way, hunched down and not meeting their eyes. His hair was mussed and he was covered in sand. His entire posture betrayed his emotions: strong, dark, upset.

"Jackson?" Mulder asked, his voice hopeful. He got no answer. Jackson headed straight to the counter, passing the food piled up and heading for the keys he'd left on the counter this morning.

"Jackson, sweetie?" Scully asked, her voice breaking. "Are you… is everything okay?"

"Yeah." His voice was rough, furious. "Yeah, sure, fine."

Scully swallowed hard, and felt Mulder squeeze her hand. "We… we were so worried—"

She was cut off by her son's harsh, mocking laughter. "Really?" he said, throwing his hands out in disbelief, his keys jangling.  He grabbed his wallet and shoved it in his pocket. "You were worried? Worried about the son you threw away? Well, that's fucking rich."

If he'd intended to leave her speechless, it had worked. Scully was frozen on the couch, her fingers tangled limply in Mulder's. She had no idea what to say to that; it wasn't exactly untrue. "Jackson… we didn't…" Mulder started uncertainly.

"Oh, you didn't? I'm not sure about that. The way I see it, it seems like you kept me around for about nine months before you got tired of me and gave me up for adoption. And then, you never came looking for me, not once, until it was convenient for you. Until you needed me to make some fucking antidote."

This time, Mulder seemed to be rendered speechless. Scully still couldn't speak; her throat was thick with the onslaught of incoming tears. She had so many things to apologize for, but she couldn't jar the words loose.

Jackson laughed, his voice breaking. "I-I spent six goddamn months in a hospital being poked and prodded and treated like a lab rat… I got saddled with powers I never asked for or understood for some fucked up reason… they murdered my parents, and they tried to kill me for months, and it all fucking started from the moment you gave me up. You wanna pretend we can play house, and be some happy goddamn family? Bullshit. You're only keeping me around in case the world ends, and you need a little lab rat to make your life easier."

That wasn't true. Scully felt a sudden rush of adrenaline, a sudden need to make things right. "That's not true," she said, and began to sit up, thinking that she would get to her feet and go to her baby and tell him she was sorry and that she loved him and she'd do anything in the world for him, thinking it would all be okay…

But Jackson was still talking. "And I'd hate to see what you're going to do to this new kid. I wonder how long you'll keep her around before disaster strikes. You gonna throw her away, too, when things get tough? What do you think will happen when somebody comes to make her a lab rat?" Mulder made a hurt, defensive sound, and Scully fell back against the couch, weak. All the fight beat out of her. She muffled a sob behind her palm as Jackson finished: "You should just give the kid to me, because as fucked up as I am, I'd probably do a better fucking job at raising it than you two."

Scully shut her eyes. Every single word was one that she deserved, but it still hurt so badly to hear it. It was all of her fears, her guilt, spilled out onto the floor. She should've known that he would say these things eventually, but it still gutted her to the core.

She heard a whimper next to her, and knew that Mulder was crying. She opened her eyes, wiping them with her thumb, just as Jackson said, "I've got to go. I'm leaving now." He had his keys in his hand, and that was when Scully realized he hadn't actually brought in anything from his car. He'd been here less than twenty-four hours; it was like he hadn't even wanted to stay.

He'd turned towards the door, his movements those of an unstoppable freight train, but it didn't stop Scully from trying to stop him. "Jackson..." she whispered, just before the door slammed shut, and she realized then that she didn't know what she would say. She could say I'm sorry, but she'd already said that so many times.

She heard a sniffle from beside her, and then Mulder was wrapping his arms around her, his head leaning on her shoulder. She could feel his tears soaking into her shirt. She bit back tears of her own and wrapped her hands around his, their arms aligned. She held on tight. They sat there for a long time.

---

"It's not going to go that way," he told her later, his arms around her. They were in bed now, him wrapped around her, his chin on her shoulder. She sniffled and said nothing. He kissed her hair. "It's not," he murmured. "We… we're going to do better this time. We're going to be good parents for her."

She didn't have the strength to reply, so she just nodded. She could feel the baby moving under her hand.

"And all those things he said…" he started hesitantly. "You know they're not—"

"No, I know that they are," she whispered. "All of it. All of it was true except the intent."

He didn't seem to know what to say to that. He squeezed her tight, his face buried in her shoulder blade. She could feel his heartbeat against her back. They lay still.

"He told me something," she said after a while, "before… before Spender died. He told me that he knew I love him. And I… I thought he was you. I asked how he could know that. And tonight…" She bit back a shudder. "It just makes me wonder if he really knows, if he'll ever really know. Or understand. If… if any of my children will ever know." She was thinking about Emily, as she often had over the course of this pregnancy, and about William, and about her baby, and she didn't know if she could do this again. She loved them all so much but she didn't know how to do this. How to not fuck it up again.

"You know," Mulder whispered in her ear, "he told me the same thing. Today. While you were napping. I told him you loved him, and he said he knew."

She flinched a little at that; she was wondering what had changed. She'd been thinking that a lot, all day: they'd been having what seemed like a pleasant time, if not a little awkward, he had come to spend time at a beach house with them, and then something had changed in him, and then this. And then the horribleness of this.

"I hope that he knows," she said, because that seemed to be all there was to say. If she had nothing else with him, she could hopefully have that. Even if he resented her, she wanted him to know how much she loved him, and how terribly, terribly sorry she was. "I want him to—" she began, and her voice broke. She couldn't finish.

She could feel the tests welling up, and she pressed her face into Mulder's forearm. "Shhhh," he whispered, nose in her hair, hugging her tight. "It's okay. It's okay. He knows that you love him. And so will she. I… I don't see how they couldn't."

---

The next morning, Scully woke up long before Mulder again, even though she'd fallen asleep very late last night to the gentle sound of Mulder's reassurances. She had to pee, and so she got up to do that, repeating to herself the reassurances Mulder had given her last night. They'd stay the rest of the week, provided she felt well. They deserved some time to themselves. The baby would come in a few weeks, and she would be perfect. They already had the room ready, and everything else ready, and they loved her so much. And maybe someday Jackson would come back. Maybe.

It was cold comfort, all things considered, and she wanted to get her mind off of it. Think about something else. She could hear Daggoo's toenails at the front door, and so she went down to let him out, standing on the front step while he puttered around the yard. Shielding her eyes from the sunrise, she scanned the horizon until her eyes fell on two people standing on the sidewalk behind their house. People she recognized from yesterday; she'd seen them in the yard next door when they were coming back in from the beach. They were looking at her expectantly, like they wanted her to do something, sunglasses pushed up on their heads.

Unsettled, she crossed her arms over herself and called out, "Can I help you?" They didn't seem particularly dangerous, but she didn't want to risk it.

Something like excitement passed over their faces. The woman cupped her hands around her mouth and yelled back, "Are you Dana Scully? From Tad O'Malley's show?"

Annoyance prickled at Scully's spine. She could be grateful to Tad O'Malley for getting her back on the X-Files, or for spreading the rumor of the pandemic, but she sure as hell wasn't grateful for the multiple times he'd referred to her by name. Even if he'd left her out of it the last time, though she probably should've been cited there over Mulder. Despite the favors O'Malley had done for her, she was still a bit disgusted at his ridiculous show. She wasn't sure the last time she'd been mentioned on the show, but she figured it had been a long time ago, and she had no idea why these people remembered it. Nor did she particularly want to spend time in their company.

"Your husband is Fox Mulder?" the man was yelling. "He knows about conspiracies? A global conta—"

"I'm not who you think I am," Scully shouted back irritably, not in the mood for any of this. "Now please get off my property."

Daggoo clambered up on the doorstep beside her and she shooed him inside, shutting the door firmly behind her.

Chapter Text

Mulder barely left Scully's side after the trip to the beach. They were both hyper aware of her approaching due date, and she knew how deeply Mulder had been wounded by what Jackson said. Knew how terrified he was of not being there for her, of missing the birth of his child again. He was nervous, and she was nervous, and while the constant attention felt a little stifling at times, she felt a bit relieved because of it. She wanted him to be there; she didn't know if she could do this without him. Every day felt like a tick on the clock, getting closer and closer to the day they'd be parents again. It was terrifying and exciting all at once. 

(They didn't hear from Jackson after they got home. They hadn't expected to, but it still hurt. Every single minute of it hurt.)

There was nothing left to do, it seemed, in the baby's room, but Scully still felt like it was unfinished. She still spent a lot of time in there, when she had the energy, checking through the things they'd bought, the security of the crib, or folding and refolding the clothes and the baby blanket Tara had mailed from Germany. She felt restless, impatient and ready for the next part to begin. She wanted the baby to be here and be safe; she couldn't stand the fear that something bad would come from all of this. That the baby wouldn't be okay. She was uncomfortable and sick of pregnancy, of course, but she also just wanted a guarantee that this wouldn't end badly. She wanted to meet her daughter (because she really did think it might be a daughter), and she wanted to do it right now. 

Mulder kept urging her to relax, to lie down. Kept offering to fold things for her, or get her things. She kept refusing. It wasn't about getting it done, it was about distractions. She sensed he was thinking similarly. He fussed over her most of the time, and when she waved him off, he turned to books, to extensive research on some cryptid or another, to outlining his novel (which he'd written in odd, well written chunks since they'd been fired). But he always turned back to fussing with a mix of determined love and worry. It was annoying and endearing all at once, and she loved him desperately for it. It was hard not to burst into tears every time she remembered the first pregnancy, and how little he'd been there, and how devoted he was now. (It was hard not to burst into tears when remembering William at all.) 

Despite everything, despite the hurtful but completely justifiable things that Jackson had said, she still missed him desperately. Missed her son, her angry, furious son. Her grieving son who read books about black holes and created fictional monsters, who could create images with his mind and had killed men in self defense, who had lunch with her and asked questions about their past and made jokes with them, who asked about his sibling in perhaps the gentlest voice she'd heard from him. He was her baby, and she loved getting to know him, loved their odd little interactions (awkward as they may have been), and she missed him. Even though she was upset with him for the things he'd said to Mulder. (She deserved all of those things, but not Mulder. It was her fault, not his; he hadn't wanted to leave.) She missed him and she wanted him to come back. She'd told herself about a million times that teenagers were supposed to fight with their parents, supposed to say cruel and angry things—God knows that she had. She wasn't resentful. She wanted him to come home, and she was terrified that he never would. 

And so she found distractions. It wasn't hard to get lost in other worries on top of the ones about Jackson's, with her due date so soon. She had weekly doctor appointments to check on her progress, and everything had been good so far. Aside from the expected discomforts and pains that came from the third trimester, she felt fine; no signs that made her nerves and anxiety worse. But that didn't do much to reassure her. She was still terrified. 

They had a C-section scheduled. It wasn't exactly Scully's favorite option, considering the recovery, but considering the alternatives and risks involved, it seemed to be the safest option. And considering how the last birth had gone, she liked the reassurance that she would give birth in a hospital, with anesthesia and doctors and no cultists come to watch her give birth or threaten to take the baby. (She'd had many nightmares about that.) And Mulder, who'd sworn again and again that he wouldn't leave them. (He still felt so guilty about that. He'd apologized a thousand times, starting with the night William had been born, the three of them sitting together on the helicopter. He had promised multiple times that he would be with her, stay with her, wouldn't leave her side.) They had things planned, and she knew no matter what that she'd be in a hospital and Mulder would be with her ("You're getting to a hospital if I have to fight my way through a horde of zombies or something," he'd joked earlier, and she said, "Let's not plan on that, please"), but the scheduled part was unpredictable. As a doctor, she knew that better than anyone. She also knew the risks of the baby coming earlier. 

Two weeks out from her due date, she started to feel contractions. She assumed at first that they were just Braxton Hicks, but they didn't go away. It wasn't a surprise when her water finally broke; she had known that the baby was coming soon for a few days. She had felt her coming, known she was ready. 

---

Mulder was nervous on the way out to the car and trying his damndest not to show it. Scully had seen the panic flash across his eyes when she announced, in a voice so steady that it scared her (How the hell could she be calm at a time like this? Was she in shock?), that she was in labor. Panic that had morphed into something like gentle excitement, but panic that hadn't quite faded. He'd gone to her first, engulfing her in his arms, and then to the packed bag, and then to the car keys, fumbling with the both of them in one hand so he could keep the other on her back. He dropped the keys three times on the way to the car, apologizing every time. He kissed her forehead several times as he helped her into the car seat, smoothing her hair away from her face. "It's going to be okay," he told her, and she wasn't sure whether or not he believed it. But still, he smiled at her softly before rounding the car to get into the driver's seat. 

She gasped as another contraction hit, breathing the way they had practiced in Lamaze through her teeth. "It's okay," Mulder said again as he started the car, and she shut her eyes and hoped that it would be. She didn't feel calm anymore. 

"Mulder," she whispered as they began the long drive up the driveway, "is it too soon? Do you think it's too soon?"

She didn't think he knew the answer, but he reached for her hand anyway and let her squeeze tight. "I think it'll be okay," he said softly. "I-I think that she just couldn't wait to meet you."

She gasped out a brief little laugh, her eyes squeezing shut as she huffed out breaths. She could feel her heart pounding. As Mulder stopped the car to open the gate, she put a hand to her stomach and thought fiercely, It's going to be okay, baby. It's going to be okay. 

---

The hospital was a short drive, luckily, and so they got there in good time, though Mulder felt as if it lasted forever. He was terrified and trying not to let Scully see it, remembering the trauma of the last time, the dank house in Georgia, Scully's franticness and refusal to let anyone touch William, everything he'd missed. He wanted more than anything to meet the baby, for her to be here, but he was terrified of losing them, Scully or the baby or both of them. He couldn't shake the fear. 

Scully seized his arm as soon as he came around to get her out of the car, fingers clenched tight, and didn't let go. Not when they got into the emergency room, not when she lowered herself into a wheelchair, him trying to steady her as she went. She let go only briefly, while she changed into a hospital gown and climbed into the hospital bed, and then she grasped for him again. He took her hand, didn't complain when she squeezed so hard that the bones ached. He hated that he wasn't there before to let her crush his hand, hated that he would ever think of leaving her and his son alone like that. He loathed himself for it nearly every day. 

“Don't leave us,” Scully hissed like she'd read his mind, her voice breaking off in a whimper, and Mulder rubbed a quivering thumb over the top of her hand, kissed the back of it. “I won't, I won't,” he promised, pressing his cheek to the side of her head, and he meant it. He would never. Not for a second. 

She turned her head, pressing her face into his arm, and he held tight. “I love you,” she whispered. “I love you so much, Mulder. No matter what happens…”

“I know  I love you, too,” he whispered back, stroking her hair with the flat of his thumb, his arms around her shoulders. He wouldn't let anything happen to her, to either of them. “It's gonna be okay, Scully," he whispered, and she nodded, jaw clenched to keep her chin from trembling. He wouldn't leave her. He stood beside the bed and held her hand in his. 

---

The doctor, the same friend of Scully's who'd originally confirmed the pregnancy, seemed optimistic. "There are still risks involved, of course, but I see no reason why things shouldn't run smoothly, and the two of you shouldn't be perfectly healthy," she said reassuringly. "I think, considering how far along you are, that it'd be better to go with a natural birth rather than a C-section."

Scully, breathing through clenched teeth, nodded. "How far along am I?" 

"About seven centimeters, and moving quickly," said the doctor. 

She nodded in understanding. She was still clutching tight to Mulder's hand. Mulder, who was sitting beside her, his face white with nervousness. "I… I want my husband with me," she said, stern even through her pained breaths. "The whole time."

The doctor looked surprised. "Of course, Dana."

She shut her eyes with relief. She felt Mulder lift her hand and kiss her knuckles. 

She didn't know that she could do this. She'd done it before, but she didn't know that she could do it again. She kept thinking about how things went last time, giving birth without Mulder, with all those people there, and she'd lost them both and found them again, but she was so scared it would happen again. 

But then there was Mulder's voice in her ear, telling her it was going to be okay. He was talking about their daughter, telling Scully that she was coming, and she was going to be perfect, and he couldn't wait to meet her. And the doctor seemed optimistic—not overly optimistic, but still optimistic, and Scully trusted her. She trusted her judgement. 

And then there was her daughter. Her baby, who she already felt like she knew. She could feel her, she knew she was ready. And she had the tiniest feeling—a lingering hope strengthening gradually—that it was all going to be okay. She already knew that her daughter was a fighter. 

---

Jackson had been having nightmares, irregularly but frequently, since that night at the beach house. 

It wasn't an abnormal thing to happen, certainly—he had been having nightmares for months now—but they were always a little bit different now. He usually dreamed of the gunshots and his parents' blank eyes, his mother's last desperate scream. Of the people he'd killed, and the people he couldn't save, and the fucking bullet landing right between his eyes. Now it was all of that, but it was mixed with the screen door slamming behind him at that house in Delaware and hearing Mulder and Dana trying not to cry. It was seeing that shock and hurt on their faces. It was hearing a gunshot and finding them , bloody and limp on the floor of that kitchen beside his parents, their eyes staring accusingly at him, and he knew it was his fault, and that they thought he hated him. It was dreaming that, after everything, they did take the baby. 

He didn't hate Mulder and Scully. He didn't. But he also hadn't been exactly lying when he said all of those things. A part of him meant it. He hadn't planned to say it that way—it was the kind of thing that you never, ever say out loud; even an asshole like him knew that—but it wasn't as if it had come out of nowhere. It was the things he'd been thinking since he was a kid, since he had that seizure and those shared visions when he was fifteen, since he found out Dana was pregnant again. It was every hurt feeling and resentful thought he'd ever had towards Ginger spilling over his lips, and he hadn't, he hadn't meant to hurt them. Not like that. It was every fight he'd ever had with his parents but worse, and he'd done it to save them, but what if it didn't work? What if it didn't fucking work? He had nightmares about them dead on the living room floor and woke up shaking. 

It didn't help that he had almost no distractions. He'd cut off the streaming services and the WiFi in an attempt to be practical, and without cable, all he had to watch were mindless DVDs. He could go to the library and use the free WiFi, but he felt too paranoid in public, his skin crawling, constantly glancing over his shoulder. He started taking out books from the library—in big stacks, the way he'd done when he was a kid—but that didn't work, either. It was too quiet to read; the silence was deafening and shook him to the core. He didn't have any real friends; he'd distanced himself from his weed-smoking buddies, and he knew there wasn't much substance in those relationships, anyway. They didn't know a thing about him, and they didn't care to find out. And he couldn't get close; he couldn't expose them to the danger that Mulder and Dana were in. (Had been in. He didn't know anymore.) He didn't have Sarah, and he didn't have anyone else. Not his parents, not his other family. Not even his awkward birth parents. All he could do was disappear into himself, and his suffocating memories and nightmares. 

Weirdly enough, driving was one of the things that helped. It wasn't magic or some shit like that, but it was monotonous and focused enough that Jackson could be in a state of unthinking. And so he drove, as much as he could afford it. Circled Richmond and back again. Drove up and down the East Coast when he had a few days off. Ran when he couldn't drive, but it wasn't quite the same. There was something freeing about driving, taking the road back piece by piece. Running without actually running, having the power to get away. He drove like he did in the months after leaving Norfolk, pedal to the metal, gazing over his shoulder with a lazy defiance. 

He got a record four days off one weekend in September, and by way of celebration, he took off to the north, tearing through the giant-ass state of Virginia, speeding past DC, and heading up to New England. Part of him wanted to see how far he could go, and part of him just wanted to stay on the road as long as possible. It was still hot as hell, too hot for fucking September , and he kept the windows down, the air blowing through the car and mussing his unbrushed hair. He needed a haircut. He could still his mother's soft voice, her lilting Midwest accent in his head: You need a haircut, honey. Chiding, tugging at his bangs gently. Kissing him on the head when he wouldn't swat her away. He wished he had never, ever swatted her away, and it hurt to remember, and he tried not to. But they kept slipping in, his parents. Everyone did: he saw signs for New York and thought of the trip there that he and Sarah wanted to take after graduation, saw signs for Atlantic City and remembered the stupidly soft t-shirt Bri bought him when she went on vacation there. Thought of his Aunt Ursula in Pennsylvania, where she lived, and his family's trip to Cape Cod one summer. Heard his father critique his driving, heard his mother sing along to songs on the radio. 

Mulder and Ginger were at the back of his mind, too. He didn't look for them anymore, didn't try to hear them—he hadn't let himself since that night, no sense in driving the knife in fucking harder , Jesus Christ—but sometimes he got scraps. Little involuntary scraps of thought, of their voices in his head: Mulder humming while he cooked dinner, or Scully folding baby clothes in quivering hands, or Mulder's hand feeling the baby kick, or Scully in his room in the middle of the night, holding that bunny with a tentative sort of embarrassment… 

He always, always pushed it away. He had to, he was done, it was for their own good, and if he felt too guilty, he might go back… 

But he couldn't control when it came. That was one thing he couldn't do. 

That was why he heard it, that night. The night he was parked out in some sprawling field in Maine, lying on the hood of his car and looking at the stars. He was hovering on the edge of sleep and thinking he was fucking insane if he fell asleep out here, when he felt it wash over him like a wave, overtaking him. Fear. And it wasn't his. 

It was so strong, it made him shoot up, slipping awkwardly down the slope of the car hood, his heart pounding. It was fear, and it wasn't his, but it was someone close to him, and so he reached out, because he had to know what it was. 

The words bulleted through his brain, so hard he slipped and fell off the car, landing on his butt in the grass. Mulder's voice, tight and desperate: Please, please, please don't do this. 

"Mulder?" Jackson blurted involuntarily, before he remembered that Mulder couldn't hear him. His chest was tight, his heart pounding; his head ached like someone was driving a fucking spike through it. (What was it, what the fuck was happening, had they come for Mulder? Had what he'd said done fucking nothing to protect them?) He blinked, spots across his vision, his forehead throbbing, and tried again silently: Mulder? 

He could feel the fear, could practically feel the pounding of Mulder's heart. Could feel the tears in Mulder's eyes, or maybe that was his own; the emotions were pouring through him, so powerful it nearly pinned him to the ground. His head felt like it was splitting in two. He heard a wrenched, muted, Oh, god. 

Mulder! Jackson thought, desperately, his fingers digging hard into the grass and dirt. He couldn't breathe, his chest was weighed down, he was gasping like a fish. Mulder, it's Jackson. It's… it's your son. Shit. Fucking hell. He shut his eyes. 

Who are they what are they doing here… what if they're here for her what if it goes like last time, fuck, I can't do this, I can't lose her… 

Was it Dana? Jackson was biting his lip, and he didn't know it until he felt the tang of blood in his mouth, and he gasped. What is it, what's wrong with Dana? he tried, but Mulder couldn't hear. 

The thoughts came flooding through, in a muddled mess: She's in pain and I can't help her, oh god I can't help, Scully I'm so sorry, I'm going to stay right with you the whole time I swear but what if it's not enough… Fuck fuck I can't do this, what if something goes wrong, but I don't want her to know I'm upset, but Jesus Christ if I lose them… I love them so much… who are they are they nurses… if anyone lays a fucking hand on my wife or my daughter… oh god is she okay is she okay Scully please please don't leave me… 

A sharp pain hit Jackson, and he rolled abruptly on his side. " Fuck, " he hissed out through his teeth, and he was reaching out again: Mulder? Mulder? Dana, are you there? Tears were wet on his face, and he couldn't breathe. The baby was coming, he knew that immediately. But what the fuck was going on? Were they in danger, was someone coming for them or the baby? Was Dana dying, was the baby dying? Were they okay? Were they okay, were they okay? Had he fucking failed again? He didn't meant to hurt them this way, but he had, and oh god, if they died now, they'd never know… 

He dug his fingers into the ground and tried again, his silent voice pleading as tears dried on his face. Dana? Mulder? Are you there? Are you there? His head fell forward, his cheek against the grass. Ginger? he tried, and he felt like a child again. It's… it's William. Jackson  Are you there?  

Silence. Only silence. He reached and couldn't find them. Couldn't find his sister. Maybe it was a coincidence, a fluke, he couldn't always find people. But maybe it wasn't. 

---

Their daughter was born in a heartbeat moment. One second she wasn't there, and the next she was. 

Scully didn't remember much from the moments after—fatigued and feeling faint with pain—but there was one thing she'd never forget: the sound of her daughter's first healthy cry. The image of the tiny baby being held up before her. She would hold onto it for as long as she lived.

"It's a girl," the nurse said cheerfully. You were right, Mulder, Scully tried to say, but her lips were numb. Her head was lolled back against the pillow, but she didn't take her eyes off her daughter. She lifted her arms, limp, to reach for her. 

The nurse lay her, her wriggling daughter, onto Scully's chest. The weight was welcome. She was so small, and Scully loved her immediately. 

"Oh, honey," Mulder whispered, his voice breaking. He reached down with a trembling hand to cup the back of their daughter's head. "Honey."

Scully had a gentle hand on her daughter's back. She leaned down to press her lips to her dark, downy head, whispering, "Hi. Hi, baby." 

The baby was wailing, her tiny hands grasping for purchase, her eyes big and blue, like her mother's, like Missy's. Like Emily's, and like William's when he'd been little. She met her daughter's eyes as she stroked the top of her head, and she could feel the weight of it bearing on her chest, cinching it tight. She kissed her baby's hair again and whispered, "Hi, Lily." 

She hadn't dared to call her that out loud yet, but she'd known for a while now. Ever since Jackson had suggested it. That had been her silent name for a long time now.

Mulder was crouched beside them, his hand on Scully's shoulder and his eyes on Lily. Scully raised her chin to look at him, and he nodded immediately, in total, silent agreement. He smiled, shaky through his tears. 

He'd been crying since her labor started, in fear or in empathy or probably both. He'd clutched at her hand almost as hard as she'd clutched his. He'd tensed every time someone new entered the room, his arms protective around her shoulder. At one point, she'd heard him whisper, "Please, Scully, please… " when she'd cried out. He was as afraid as she'd been. 

Now, he accepted the nurse's offer to cut the cord with shaking hands. Scully lay woozily back against the pillows as the nurses gave Lily to her father, swallowed up in his arms. The thought came to her involuntarily: Mulder holding William for the first time. That same look of awe on his face. Her eyes filled with tears. She reached for them and felt Lily's little hand curl around her finger. 

---

Jackson woke up curled up on the field. No long limp or in pain, the energy leaking back into him. He felt hungover, but awake. Awake and sure of what he had to do. 

He stumbled jelly-like, almost without thinking about it, to the door of his car and yanked it open. Climbed in immediately and started it. 

He had to get to Farrs Corner. He had to make sure they were okay, if he wasn't already too late.

---

The day before, he'd been so fucking scared . So scared he honestly couldn't believe it now, with his daughter nestled cozily in his arms and his wife sleeping beside him. But he had been. Seeing Scully in pain like that, remembering how badly it had gone before and the potential for it to go badly now… Every cry of pain had cut him to the core, made him feel helpless; every nurse coming in and out of the room had seemed like someone sent to hurt them, to take Scully and Lily away from him. He hadn't known what to do, how to help, how to make sure he'd never have to live a day without either of them. He knew now that the fears were irrational, but it had all seemed so real. After everything with William, he couldn't imagine going through that again. 

But Scully was okay. She was exhausted, and still in pain, but she was okay, and she was going to be okay. She was asleep now, propped up on pillows, her hair spread across the pillow. And he was holding their daughter, curled up against his chest. Skin to skin, the nurses had suggested. He was keeping her warm. 

She was tiny with a shock of dark hair and the lightest dusting of freckles. Mulder thought she looked like Samantha when she was born, the same dark hair and the shape of her nose. But her eyes were as blue as Scully's, and she had her mother's freckles, and she was here, and whole, and she and Scully were both fine. They were both fine, and Mulder officially wanted to never leave either of them ever again.

He held their daughter, his hand cupping her small head. She yawned, a quiet sound, and he stroked her forehead with one finger, gently. He ran the finger down her arm, and she grabbed onto it with her entire hand, her own tiny fingers. Tears welled involuntarily in his eyes, and he leaned forward to press a light kiss to her forehead. “Hey, kiddo,” he whispered, so only she could hear. “Hey, baby. You made it. You're here.”

Lily looked up at him with a touch of—he swore it—curiosity in her eyes, and he grinned. “I'm your dad,” he said softly. "I'm your dad."

---

They headed home with the baby by the next night. Scully knew she could've stayed at least an extra day, but the birth had gone smoothly, considering the risks. She and the baby were in good health. And besides that, she had stayed in the hospital way too many times for her own liking; she was content not to stay as a patient a minute longer than she needed to. There was the argument that she and Mulder could rest while the baby was taken care of, but she knew that they were both nervous about the possibility of people coming for her. They'd feel better if they were the ones taking care of her, if they could keep her in sight; neither of them preferred letting strangers take care of her. It seemed exceedingly better to just head back home. 

The act of it was a little overwhelming for them both, Scully could tell. Last time, it had just been her and her mother, flying back from Georgia, her anxiety heightened and fueling into a refusal to let William out of her sight. She'd missed Mulder horribly throughout the whole trip, her only comfort being his promise that he would come and see them as soon as they'd gotten home. He hadn't been there to bring William home for the first time. 

Now they were both here, and it wasn't as scary as it had been before—she had to keep reminding herself that everything was fine to their knowledge, that they encountered anyone dangerous so far—but it still felt monumental. Mulder drove as carefully as he had on the way to the hospital, his hands steadier on the wheel, looking over his shoulder in increments at the baby. Scully was sitting in the back with Lily, an absent hand on the edge of the car seat. She couldn't take her eyes off of her, didn't want to. She thought she could spend the rest of her life like this, just sitting with her daughter.

She was so small and quiet; Scully knew it had only been a day, but she thought that Lily might be the quietest baby she had ever seen. She didn't look much like William did when he was this age, and the thought didn't hurt Scully as much as it once would have. She had hair, for one thing, dark downy hair, and she was littler than William had been. She was restless, kicking at the blanket Mulder wrapped her in with her little socked feet. Scully thought she looked a little like the old black and white pictures she’d seen of her mother as an infant, but Mulder insisted she looked like Samantha. (They'd been bickering mildly about who Lily looked like since yesterday; they were both saying she looked like the other. But it was easy to see the face of loved ones in their daughter; she understood the impulse as well as anything. They'd both lost so many people. But she did look like Mulder. Scully could see him in her face.) 

Lily was quiet on the drive home, focused on trying to jam her fist in her mouth. "She's almost got it," Mulder said with a sort of quiet, amused affection, looking at them in the rearview mirror. 

Scully chuckled. "This one is on you," she told him seriously, nudging Lily's fist open with the tip of one finger. "All these years of sticking random evidence in your mouth…"

Lily yawned, kicking her feet again. "I'll tell her not to eat the random white specks on the ground," Mulder said, looking over his shoulder as they stopped at a light and smiling. 

Mulder was in love with the baby as much as she was, maybe even to a greater extent. He'd kept his promise: he hadn't left their side in the hospital, either of theirs. While Scully slept in the hospital, exhausted, he had crept to the nursery to look at their daughter through the window before bringing her back to the room to do skin-to-skin at the nurse's direction. “I didn't want to leave her alone,” he'd said as they left the hospital. “I didn't want to leave either of you alone.” The sight of the two of them together was enough to make Scully cry, remembering what little time they'd all spent together the first time. She could still see him in the back of her mind, seventeen years younger and trying to rock William back to sleep. 

(Thinking of William— Jackson —made her wince, involuntarily, because the things he'd said were still solidly lodged in her mind. You kept me around for about nine months before you got tired of me and gave me up for adoption. You never came looking for me. It stung, made her chest tighten and clench like a vice. She missed him so much, and she wanted to tell him she was sorry, but the memories still hurt like hell. She felt the need to reassure Lily and promise her that she would never, ever do that to her, but she felt like it was a betrayal of her son. She blinked back tears rapidly and leaned down to press a kiss to her daughter's forehead.)

Mulder carried Lily into the house. Scully insisted; she wanted him to experience every single moment he had missed out on. 

--- 

Jackson drove all day to get back to Farrs Corner. He bought a supply of Monster energy drinks and snacks that he piled in the passenger seat so he could drive through without stopping. He had to get there, he had to get there. He pissed on the side of the road to save time, blinked blearily at the road and held onto the steering wheel hard. There wasn't any choice. All he could hope for was that he wouldn't be too late this time, that he wouldn't be such a fuck-up. That he could give his sister the life he never had. 

New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut. New York, New Jersey, Philadelphia. He kept reaching out, searching for Dana and Mulder, and finding nothing. His mind was racing with insane scenarios, with the images from his nightmares. He kept seeing his parents, hearing the rustle of the body bags as they were zipped up, and seeing Mulder and Scully in their face, and it was too hard. He pounded the steering wheel with his palms, he blasted the radio at full volume, he screamed under the pounding sound of the radio. He was so fucking frustrated, he should've bought a plane ticket but he had no money. He drove and drove and drove. Maryland, and finally Virginia. The sun had sunk low below the horizon, and Jackson felt half-dead. But he couldn't stop. He could not stop. 

 He kept hearing Mulder's frightened voice in his head. Kept replaying that night in the beach, the way Mulder had yanked back like he had slapped him, the way Scully had insisted, "That's not true." They'd both been crying when he'd left, and now they'd never know… He'd had a fight with his parents the day before they died, and they'd been okay right before, he didn't think his parents were still mad at him when it happened. But he'd always hate himself for not apologizing. He'd said a lot of horrible things to them, told him he hated them, and he hadn't, he hadn't, but he'd never be able to tell them. And he didn't know what the hell he wanted to tell them, but he wanted the chance to do it. He couldn't let them die or get hurt because of him. He had a sister, he had two sisters, and one of them was gone, but he might have the chance to help one of them. He might still be able to save his baby sister. 

He drove, foot hard on the gas. He drove to their house, because he wasn't sure where else they would be. If nothing else, it was a place to start, a place to possibly reestablish a connection so he could find them somewhere else. 

It took longer than he would've liked to reach their stupid little country house, following those winding, remote roads. Or maybe it was just because he'd been driving all day. He hated their gate, hated that he had to get out and drag it out of the way, and the fact that it was closed sent a flurry of questions through his mind. (Were there assassins just kind enough to close the gate after themselves so that no one would guess they'd been here? This indicated that Mulder and Dana maybe hadn't left in a hurry. But he still didn't know whether or not there was danger from assassins or abductors, or just from a medical issue; they could've gone to the hospital and been followed there. He still had no idea.) He followed the driveway to the end, where he found their car parked neatly adjacent to the porch. 

Jackson's breath faltered as it whooshed out of him, as he stepped on the brake and threw the car into Park. What the fuck? What the fuck was going on? He could feel the energy, the fight leaching out of him in one fell swoop; he was exhausted, but he couldn't stop now. He fumbled for the door handle and found it, stumbled outside, his feet slipping on the grass. As he shut the door behind him, he heard a baby crying. 

He ran up the steps before faltering at the door, his mind racing. Had he been wrong? Was nothing wrong at all, were they perfectly okay? He wasn't sure anymore, but he knew he had to know, and so he reached for the door handle and yanked it open. 

Dana was sitting on the couch, cradling what kinda looked like a bundle of blankets, rocking back and forth and shushing quietly. But when Jackson shoved the screen open and it hit the opposite wall with a cacophonous bang, she tensed, her head shooting him and one hand pressing protectively over the bundle. No, not a fucking bundle; the baby. His sister, still crying, possibly startled at the loud sound. Dana's eyes were wide, like she was afraid, but she seemed to relax at the sight of him, only a little bit. "Jackson?" she asked, and her voice was full of disbelief. 

He nodded. He was stiff and frozen, taking the situation in. Dana looked fine. She was pale and clearly tired, bags under her eyes, but she looked just fine. She'd loosened her grip on the baby, stopped shielding her head, and Jackson could see her a little better. The baby looked fine, too, red-faced and wailing with a shock of dark hair. Dana's eyes darted down to her, and she began rocking back and forth again, shushing her. "I'm sorry…" she said to Jackson, not looking at him. "We're still a work in progress here."

Jackson's mind was still faltering; he wasn't exactly sure what the hell was going on. His heart was thudding dully, he couldn't catch his breath. He could still hear the echoes of Mulder's panic bouncing around his skull, but now he was wondering if maybe he'd heard wrong. People had gotten in his head before and manipulated him, that smoking fucker had for most of his life… Was it really possible that they could both be okay?

"This is Lily," Dana said suddenly. The baby's wails had subsided a bit, turned mostly to sniffling, and Dana held her close. "Your sister," she added quietly, like she might regret it. 

It hit him suddenly, almost took his breath away: they'd used his name. The name he suggested. His sister.

He was trembling, and he took a step inside the house, letting the screen door whap shut behind him. He bunched his hands into fists, took a breath and blurted, "You're okay? Y-you and the baby, you're…" He couldn't finish. He was still seeing the nightmare images, he still didn't know what had happened. 

"We're just fine," Ginger said, and she smiled absently when she said it. Lily had gone quiet, chewing on her hand with her head lolling against her mother's shoulder. "It was an easier birth than I expected… She's a little early, but she's a strong one. She's gonna be fine."

"A-and Mulder?" he managed. "Mulder's okay?"

She nodded, her forehead furrowing with confusion. "He's just fine… Sweetie, are you okay?" she asked, and then winced, as if she hadn't meant to say that. 

Jackson nodded. He was suddenly exhausted, almost faint. "I… I drove a lot today," he said pathetically. 

Worry immediately passed over her face, and she said, "Sit down. Get some rest, okay?" He went for the chair, sinking into it like a rock in water. "I… If you don't mind holding the baby, I can get you something to drink…"

"No," he said quickly, and he didn't know if it was because he didn't want to hold the baby or because he didn't think that Dana should be doing a damn thing for him, considering. "No, you… don't need to get anything for me. I'm okay." He admittedly didn't know shit about giving birth, or anything remotely related, but he at least knew that it hurt like hell. Dana probably needed to rest. 

She looked like she didn't believe him, but the baby started to fuss again, and she started to shush her again, rocking her. "It's okay," she whispered, and the words hit Jackson like a ton of bricks. He wasn't sure he believed her, but she still said it again, soothing the baby: "It's okay."

Jackson heard a familiar clomping on the stairs, and Mulder was appearing with a blanket and a plastic tube of something. "I've got the—" he began, and then stopped in his tracks when he saw Jackson. Silent for a moment, and then he was saying, "Hi, Jack," somehow too quickly and too slow all at once. 

"Hi, Mulder," Jackson replied huskily, looking down at his dirty sneakers. He was suddenly horrible embarrassed, feeling like a fucking idiot. He'd come running all this way for nothing, when he was probably the last person they wanted to see, and he could be putting them in more fucking danger by being here. The baby, too. Lily. And all because he'd misheard some of Mulder's anxiety or something. Had Mulder even known that he could hear him? Had he wanted him to come? He didn't know how to ask these things. 

"I—" Mulder faltered, his breath shaky. "It's really good to see you, Jackson," he said, his voice breaking a little. "Really good."

They hadn't thought he would come back, he realized. And he hadn't meant to.

Dana broke the silence. "I think someone needs a change," she said, breaking off into a yawn. 

"Here, I've got her." Jackson looked up in time to see Mulder scooping up Lily, whispering, "There's my girl." The baby was still crying, her little face turning red. "You should go get some sleep, honey," he said softly, holding the baby against his shoulder. "You're exhausted."

Dana yawned, getting to her feet. "I'm sure I'll be up in a couple of hours," she said softly. "I… I'm sorry things are so hectic, Jackson… It might be kind of noisy tonight, but, uh, make yourself comfortable… I think there's some lasagna left on the kitchen…" She picked up the plastic tube and the blanket that Mulder had left on the table. 

"That's okay," Jackson said, wishing he was anywhere else at the moment. "Uh, sleep well."

Dana retreated to the stairs, Mulder on her tail, whispering and humming to the baby. His sister. Fuck. 

Jackson let his head fall forward into his hands. He had no idea what the hell to do next; he barely even knew how to move. 

---

Everything since they’d left Jackson in the living room seemed foggy. Scully could barely remembering walking upstairs, showering, changing clothes. She’d fed Lily in bed, exhaustion tugging at her like a tether, and now she and Mulder were lying with Lily on a blanket between them. She was asleep, her fist in her mouth, lying on her back. Scully knew she should probably be in her own crib, but she felt the same need that Mulder did to keep her close. She wanted them to be together. She was so sleepy, but she caught Lily’s wayward foot in her hand and held it gently. “We should probably put her down in a minute,” she murmured.

“Okay,” Mulder whispered. His hand was on Lily’s stomach, feeling the rise and fall; he couldn’t take his eyes off of her. “I’ll put her down in a minute.”

Scully shut her eyes, rubbing a thumb over the fine top of the baby’s foot, feeling each of her toes. Ten years doing work in the pediatric ward, and she was still marveling over her baby, the fact that she'd brought a real person into the world. She kissed the top of Lily's foot, and a memory came unbidden of her doing the very same thing, with William. 

“And maybe… maybe we should go check on Jackson,” she mumbled, unable to forget their son, the erratic way he’d acted when he’d arrived, the way he’d said he’d driven a lot. She was worried about him. She'd been worried for months.

“I’ll take care of it, honey,” Mulder whispered, reaching out to cup the side of his face.  His palms were pleasantly warm. “You sleep.”

She murmured her assent and felt his thumb moving against her cheek. She stroked the bottom of Lily’s foot through her sock. She was thinking about the moment that Jackson had burst through the door, the emotions swirling in his eyes—something like fear. She was remembering the moment she’d slipped up and called him sweetie, the way she’d mentally chided herself: Don’t, don’t push him, he doesn’t see you as his mother, you’re not really his mother… But a part of her always would be. She was replaying their conversation in her head, and all of a sudden, she just knew. She said, “He’s not going to be there in the morning, is he.” It wasn't a question. She knew it would happen; she was trying to find a way to make peace with it.

Mulder took an unsteady breath in time with the baby. “I don’t know,” he said softly. “I wish I did.”

Her hand moved to rest over Mulder’s, on top of Lily’s stomach, soothed by the rise and fall, and she took a sharp breath of her own. “I… I’ve missed him so much,” she whispered. “So, so much.”

“I know.” Mulder leaned forward, just a little, and she could feel him kiss her forehead. “So have I.”

There didn’t seem to be any more to say after that. She was really so tired, and she didn’t know if her son would be there in the morning, and she didn’t want him to leave, but she couldn’t ask him to stay. Mulder took her hand and squeezed it close before letting go, and she could hear him getting to his feet. She managed to open her eyes long enough to kiss her daughter good night—whispered I love you so much —and then she was out, sleeping like the dead until the baby’s cries would wake her up again.

---

Jackson fell asleep without really meaning to. He’d just gone to the kitchen to get some of the lasagna that Dana had mentioned and gone upstairs for some privacy. The next thing he knew, he was waking up on top of the covers with a greasy fork stuck to the comforter and leaving bright orange stains behind. It was dark outside, very early in the morning. He had a phantom memory of the baby crying, but the house was silent now.

He sat up immediately, gathering his bowl and his fork and leaving them on the bedside table. One thing was apparent, and that was that he needed to go right now. Now, while they were asleep, and no later. He had no idea what the hell he’d heard from Mulder, but he figured that it must’ve been a misunderstanding, or an overreaction, or maybe both. But they didn’t seem to be in danger. And there was always the possibility that he himself was putting them in danger by being here. Mulder and Dana and the kid. He’d figure it all out later, but at the moment, he needed to go. He needed space to think, to breathe. 

He stepped on the floor, realizing that he still had his shoes on, and found his keys in his pocket. For a brief moment, it seemed as if his phone was missing, but he found that tangled in the comforter where he’d mussed it up. He grabbed it and shoved it in his pocket. After a brief mental checklist, he figured he didn’t have anything in the house. He slipped out of the room, his shoes creaking softly on the floorboards, and headed for the stairs. 

His foot had just hit the top step when he felt it: the tiniest little nudge in his mind. A push, the push back of another mind. It was a bit of an unfamiliar feeling, but recognizable; he’d felt it before with Ginger, when he could hear her, when she could hear him back. He didn't feel that a lot. And that was when he knew.

Jackson turned away from the stairs, drawing closer to a door. Mulder and Dana’s bedroom. It was as if the force was drawing him in, like a magnetic field he was following, and he didn’t completely understand it, but he would follow it anyway. He went to the door and paused, just outside. Directly adjacent to the door was the crib, close to what seemed to be Dana’s side of the bed. The baby—his sister—was awake, and surprisingly silent. She lay on her back, limbs askew, and she seemed to be looking up at him. 

He could hear Mulder and Dana's steady, sleeping breaths, and he felt weird enough standing in their room while they were asleep; he didn't want to wake them up. And so he tried it silently, wanting to know whether or not she could hear: Hey, kid. 

She made no physical indications that she heard; she kind of looked like a living potato at the moment. A cute potato, but still a potato. But Jackson felt the push again, like she had no words to respond, but the presence was still there. 

He smiled, almost involuntarily. I guess… I'm your brother, he added silently. I'm Jackson. 

The baby blinked slowly, like she understood. She had Dana's eyes, a brilliant blue. Jackson didn't know how to feel about that. 

I'm sorry, kid, he was thinking before he could stop himself. I'm really sorry. I… I'm going to try to make life easier for you than it was for me, but I can't make any promises. I'm sorry about that. 

She kicked her feet absently, up and down in the air. He reached down to touch her little fist, and she grabbed his finger. Stronger than he would've expected. He grinned again, without even thinking about it. He always wanted a little sister. 

I've got to go now, he told her silently. I do. But… I'll be back someday. He meant that. He did. He didn't know when or how, but he'd come back. And in the meantime, he added, you're in a pretty good place. They're good people. They… they'll take care of you. He knew that was true, too. Lily's fingers tightened around his. He whispered, unthinking, "They'll take good care of you."

He didn't know if they could hear. He didn't know whether or not he wanted them to. 

He touched the back of Lily's hand before slipping his finger out. Night, kid, he thought, and exited the room as quietly as he could manage. 

When he stepped into the hall, he heard a long creak, and looked behind him to see the door swinging mostly closed. It could've been the wind, or hinges, or even a ghost, if he was being indulgent. But he suspected that someone else was to blame for it. 

He slipped downstairs, keys in hand, ready to bolt for the door. But something made him pause. Pause, in the messy kitchen, and go for a notepad on the kitchen counter. He'd been such a fucking asshole he could hardly believe it; the least he could do was leave a goddamn note. He didn't owe his birth parents much, but he owed them this. Just this. Reassurance that he was okay.

He wrote in a scribbled, messy hand and left the note on the kitchen table before slipping out the door.

Hey,

I had to go. I have things I have to do, and besides, you deserve this time with the kid. I hope you guys have a good time together. She's a sweet kid. 

I'm sorry I dropped in like that, and I'm sorry to leave while you're asleep. I'm sorry for everything else, too. I really am. Thanks for all you've done for me. 

I'll try to come by soon. 

— Jackson

Chapter Text

On an evening nearly three weeks after Lily was born, Mulder was sitting out on the porch with her and watching the sun set. Scully was inside, asleep on the couch; her sleeping schedule had grown sporadic and spotty in recent days, and she tried to sleep when the baby was sleeping, but those periods didn't always overlap, and Mulder hated to wake her up, even if it was an odd time to nap. Anytime she could sleep for more than twenty minutes before being woken up seemed like a blessing to him. 

Lily was staring at Mulder with a focused sort of look, like she was concentrating hard, when he saw a car rolling down the driveway, Jackson at the wheel. His son's face illuminated by the orange light of the sinking sun, his expression unreadable. Mulder was overjoyed and nervous to see him all at once. 

"There's your big brother," he whispered to Lily, who grabbed at his nose determinedly. He chuckled and moved her down to the crook of one arm as he stood, lifting his opposite hand in a wave. He absently wondered how long Jackson would be here this time. 

Jackson gathered a bundle of plastic bags from the car and jogged up to the porch. "Hey," he said as he mounted the stairs, breathing hard. "I-I brought you guys some takeout. Japanese. Figured you wouldn't want to cook, right?"

Surprised, Mulder said, "Right." He didn't mind cooking, of course, and even Scully tried to take a turn or two when he himself was asleep, but it would be nice not to have to cook or drive into town for food. (Delivery only went so far out, and they seemed to be past the realm of reasonable delivery. And no one liked to deal with the damned gate.) The baby started to fuss and he shushed her, rocking back and forth awkwardly. 

"Hey, kid," Jackson said, addressing Lily. She continued to whimper, her face half-turned into Mulder's shirt. "She's happy to see me," he said dryly. "Is she hungry?"

"Probably." Mulder held her against his chest, whispering soothing things against her downy head. He should probably go wake up Scully; Lily needed to eat, and she'd want to see Jackson. "D-do you wanna come in, Jackson?" he asked, hoping desperately his voice was welcoming. He was happy to see him, incredibly so, and he hated the little bit of hesitance inside of him. He smiled at his son, bouncing his daughter up and down gently, but the smile felt a little thin, and he hated that. He tried to smile harder. 

He couldn't tell if Jackson noticed. He nodded eagerly, heading for the door. "Yeah, that… that'd be great, thanks."

---

It was Sarah's break-in that had done it, really. Had convinced him that nothing was happening, that it was all in his head. 

Jackson had been back and forth on the whole issue since Lily's birth. It was clear that he had misinterpreted the situation; he could see the whole situation a little clearer now, after the whole thing was over, and when he'd gotten home to Richmond and saw that Mulder's panic was a result of fear and past trauma. He hadn't been there when Jackson had been born and found it hard to see Dana in pain, he'd had to fight his way through a crowd of strangers in a strange place to get to them after the birth. It was no wonder he was scared and suspicious of everyone who came into Dana's hospital room, especially considering the increased risk of having a child at her age. The realization that they'd both had an overreaction made Jackson feel a little foolish, but it was also sort of relieving, knowing they hadn't been in danger. (The fact that no one had come for the baby was very reassuring. Jackson still got flashes of his birth sometimes, of that strange, dusty place, strangers packed around the bed, staring at him, Dana screaming, "This is my baby! You can't have him!" He'd been terrified that it would happen to his sister—and considering Mulder's panic, he hadn't been the only one.)

The fear hadn't dissipated; when he'd ran, he had been worried that they were still coming for him. But the false alarm had left Jackson wary, wary of his paranoia. He'd overreacted as much as Mulder, and the things that had set him off in the past seemed arbitrary in comparison. Both times he'd feared they were targeting people to get to him—the break-in at Sarah's house, and the people watching Mulder and Dana at the beach—nothing seemed to come of the threats. He checked in on Sarah every now and then, just to see that she was okay, and she was always fine. No more break-ins, that he could see, and no attempts to take her, no one following her… Of course, he didn't see everything, it felt wrong to be in his ex-girlfriend's head after everything, but from what he saw, it seemed okay. She seemed okay, seemed happy. And he checked in on Bri, every now and then, and saw more of the same. Normality. They'd left him behind, and he knew it was for the best. 

Nobody was going after Bri or Sarah, and nobody seemed to be going after his family—he'd checked in with his grandmother, the one who hated him now, and his Aunt Ursula, and his uncle who was some hunter up in Alaska or whatever. And no one after Mulder and Dana, either, and they seemed like the obvious choice. They were the ones mixed up in all of this. They were the ones bringing another kid like him into the world. But no one seemed to be coming for them, either. Not since that trip to the beach, and even then, those people had never directly gone after them. They'd just hung back, taking pictures. They hadn't gone after Jackson when he ran, and they hadn't gone after Mulder and Dana while he was gone… So what had they wanted, if not him? Why hadn't they chased him? Why hadn't they gone after Mulder and Dana if they wanted them?

Mulder thought this was all over. He'd said as much, back in July, when Jackson had asked about the people coming after him, who'd come all their lives. I'm inclined to believe this is all over, he'd said. Jackson hadn't believed him at the time, but what if he was right? 

And then Jackson's Google alert had pinged. He'd gotten an email that he saw at the library. They caught the guy who robbed Sarah's house. He was a kid who had a crush on her younger sister, and was annoyed that she wouldn't give him the time of day. Apparently he'd been breaking into places for years, apparently he wanted to scare Sarah's sister as revenge, and all the stolen shit was just a bonus. Not a trained assassin, just a stupid asshole who liked break-ins. Maybe it was a cover for the assassins, but Jackson didn't think it was. It didn't feel like it was.  

It had made him think about things. The break-in was a coincidence, just like the thing with Mulder and Dana had been a coincidence. And it made him start thinking about what happened at the beach. He'd reached, and he landed on a memory, the morning after he'd been a total asshole and then ran out. Dana taking Daggoo out to pee, and the neighbors coming to talk to her. They weren't assassins or agents, at least not according to what they'd said to Dana. They had recognized Dana and Mulder from that jackass Tad O'Malley's web show. They were fans, not assassins; they were taking pictures because they recognized Dana and Mulder from that show. That was why they were watching, and that was why they didn't ever come for them. 

Maybe it was all a coincidence. Jackson lodged that idea firmly in his mind and didn't let it go. He couldn't let his guard down, not again. But thinking back to everything that had happened put things into perspective. He had been staying in one place for months, and they hadn't found him. Sure, he'd been careful, he used aliases, but he'd used aliases on the run, when he was constantly moving and hiding, and they still found him. Why hadn't they found him now? If they wanted him, why hadn't they come? It was easier to get to him now than ever before. They could've come, but they hadn't, and maybe that meant it was really over. 

Jackson didn't know for sure. But he had been trying to let go of his paranoia, at least a little. He didn't want to be so closed off from people. It was a lonely fucking way to live. He didn't exactly know who he could reconnect with, but he needed someone. He couldn't keep living alone, on edge. He couldn't do it. He was torturing himself, living in constant paranoia, constantly worrying. He couldn't take it. Who could fucking take it?

And besides that, he wanted to see the kid again. He'd promised he would come back, and he intended to keep that promise. It was time he checked in, made sure Lily was getting along okay. It was time he tried to make amends with Dana and Mulder. 

So he'd driven up to Farrs Corner, stopped and got some food—a peace offering, maybe—and made the long trek out to their house. He found Mulder and the kid out on the porch, and felt the same wave of relief and welcoming that he usually felt from his apparent birth father. But layered under it was a sense of wariness, of caution, small but stunning. 

Jackson yanked back from Mulder's mind as he clambered up the steps and into the house. 

---

Inside, Mulder bent over the couch, touching a gentle hand to Scully's head to wake her up. She'd been sleeping lightly lately, to the point where he was a little surprised the bang of the screen door hadn't woken her. She woke slowly, blinking sleepily as she sat up. He still held Lily in the crook of his arm, and Scully smiled and whispered, "Hey, sweetheart," and leaned in to kiss the top of her head. 

"You get some rest?" Mulder asked, offering his free hand to help her up. 

She took it but didn't stand, yawning. "A little. I'm still so tired. I'm so tired, Mulder."

"I know." He bent to kiss her forehead, squeezing her hand. "So someone dropped in a few minutes ago," he offered, shifting Lily to curl up against his shoulder. She was already getting sleepy again, her eyes lolling shut, and he figured they could put her down for a little while so they could eat. "And he brought some food."

Scully turned towards the kitchen and found Jackson, standing beside the counter. A grin spread over her face, to which he offered an awkward smile in return. "Hi, Jackson," she said, getting to her feet. "It's so good to see you."

She'd cried when they found him gone that morning. She'd been exhausted and hormonal, and probably still in pain, but she'd still cried. Finding the note he left had helped a lot—had seemed to cheer her up—but Mulder could still remember the hurt on her face when they found him gone again. Could feel the hesitance on her now, even as happy as she was. The same hesitance he had. 

It made him feel guilty and horrible, the way he had when he'd felt this way at the beach—after everything he'd been through, everything he had missed with William, every moment he'd hated himself for letting him go, how could he ever hesitate at spending time with him? But then he thought of the things he had said in that beach house, the way Scully had burst into tears when he was gone, and the feelings only seemed to grow. He didn't want his son to leave—god, he didn't want that—but he did want things to be easy. He wanted Jackson to be theirs, really be theirs, and he didn't want to constantly be on edge, wondering when his son was going to up and disappear, or say something to hurt his wife. He wanted things to be simple, but he knew they probably wouldn't ever be. 

But still, it was amazing to see him, as it was every time—would it never not be amazing to see his son, his grown son? He could tell Scully was overjoyed, even though her emotions were conflicting. And even as Mulder worried, it made him feel a little better when Jackson asked how Scully was feeling. Lily was nearly asleep, her fingers in her mouth, and so he took her upstairs to put her down and gave Scully and Jackson a moment to talk. 

They didn't talk much over dinner; Mulder and Scully were both too exhausted to make much conversation. They ate in the living room, and Jackson found a channel that was airing horror movies in honor of the upcoming Halloween season, and Scully smiled. Mulder watched the two of them absently, the flickering light of the TV on their faces. They looked alike in this light; they had the same eyes, even if they were different colors. 

Mulder got up to throw away the trash when they were done, taking the Styrofoam boxes and the crumpled napkins into the kitchen. "Oh, uh, I can help with that," Jackson said when he saw him, scrambling to his feet like he had something to compensate for. 

"No, no, don't worry about it," said Mulder. "I've got it."

Jackson nodded and collapsed back into the chair, sagging into it. He seemed as uncomfortable as they were, fidgeting where he sat. As Mulder stuffed the boxes into the couch, he spotted his wallet on the counter, and his sleep-lacking mind seemed to remember: he should pay his son for the food. He retrieved two twenties and passed them to Jackson as he sat back down. "For the food."

"Thank you so much for bringing it," Scully added. "You didn't have to do that."

"It… was the least I could do," Jackson said, and he shoved the money back at Mulder, who shook his head. 

"Take it, sweetie," Scully said, and Mulder could see her slight flinch. He knew she was trying to back off, trying not to suffocate him with unwanted mothering (her words), and he knew it was difficult. Of course it was difficult. "I-I know Burger King can't be paying you very much," she added quickly, trying to recover.  

Jackson laughed, maybe a little uneasily, and tucked the money in his pocket. "They're not," he said. "Uh, thanks."

"Thank you," Scully said gently. 

They sat in silence for a few more minutes, the Halloween score filling it, until they heard Lily wailing from upstairs. "That's my cue," Scully said with a little sigh, getting to her feet. "I'm heading to bed after I feed her." She leaned down to kiss Mulder goodnight. 

"I'll be up in a minute," he said, squeezing her hand. 

Scully nodded, turning towards the stairs. "Goodnight, Jackson," she added gently. 

Jackson swallowed heavily, shifting in place. "Night, Dana."

As her footsteps retreated upstairs, Mulder turned to face his son. He was watching as Michael Myers stalked across the screen, his face lit up by the light of the television. His expression was as unreadable as always.

Mulder swallowed hard, hating himself for even asking the question, but knowing that he had to know for sure. He said, “So, Jack… how long do you think you’ll be here?” It sounded cruel to his ears, selfish and unwelcoming, and he was stricken with a sudden fear that these words were going to be enough to drive Jackson away.

Jackson didn’t look at him, but Mulder could hear a touch of discomfort in his voice when he said, “Uh, I have work on Sunday, so probably either tomorrow night or early that morning. You know.” 

“Right,” said Mulder, his mouth dry, guilt clogging his throat. He had no idea how to navigate this, walk the line between protecting Scully’s feelings and trying to make his son feel welcome. He could try to reach out and risk getting hurt, or he could be distant and risk hurting Jackson, but really, neither option sounded very good. “Of course, you’re always welcome here,” he added in a rush. “I just… wondered…”

“Yeah, no, definitely,” Jackson said quietly. “It’ll be Saturday or Sunday, I can tell you for sure later.” 

“Okay.” Mulder bit back a yawn, exhaustion overtaking him. “I-I’m going to bed. I apologize in advance if the kid keeps you up.” He tried to make his voice sound light and breezy, like he wasn’t upset. (He didn’t have any right to be upset.)

Jackson finally turned to look at him, the shadows of the darkening room hiding his eyes. “It’s okay. I don’t sleep a lot anyway.”

Mulder locked the door before he went upstairs, and it seemed to him that, out of the corner of his eye, he saw Jackson throwing him a grateful look. It stuck out to him for some reason as significant, that Jackson seemed grateful that he was locking the door, but he was so tired, his mind foggy, that he barely had the energy to think about it. 

He found Scully upstairs in bed, covers tucked around her, feeding Lily with pillows layered across her lap. (It was still fairly hot for October, but Scully managed to be cold in almost any form of weather.) “Hey,” he murmured, walking across the room to the dresser so he could change. 

Scully yawned in reply. “Thank goodness she didn’t inherit your sleeping patterns,” she murmured, stroking the top of their daughter’s head. “She’s gone down so well every night, even if it doesn’t last more than a couple hours.” 

“Most newborns spend the majority of their day sleeping,” Mulder said absently, pulling a t-shirt over his head. “Even Mulder newborns.”

She had a thoughtful sort of look on her face, looking down at the baby. “William never went down very easy,” she said softly. “I’d have to rock him… sing to him, talk to him… for what felt like hours.”

Mulder looked down at the floor, the rug he was standing on. He could still make out the patterns despite the dimness of the room, could still remember the day they’d picked this rug out. It was still hard to hear about everything he’d missed, even now, and even harder considering how the night had gone. “Maybe she’ll stay like this,” he commented to the floor.  

“Maybe.” Scully’s voice was soft, not entirely unhappy, and when he looked up, she was smiling sleepily down at the baby. 

He smiled, too, and went to sit on the bed beside her. Lily was nearly asleep, curled against her mother with her eyes half-closed, and he reached down to hold her hand in his, his head tipping forward until his cheek was resting against Scully’s shoulder. “I’ll give her a bottle when she wakes up,” he whispered. “You sleep.”

She snorted. “Easier said than done,” she said, but he heard the thanks in her voice. He sat up straight and pushed hair away from her face, behind her ear. She smiled a little again, turning her face into his palm. “How’s he doing?” she asked him softly. 

“He’s okay.” Mulder swallowed hard, looking back down at Lily, snuffling in her half-asleep state. “He said he had work Sunday, so he’d leave tomorrow night or the next morning.”

“Okay.” Scully yawned again, wider this time. “That’s good to know.”

“Yeah.” 

“He… He seems like he might not be as mad at us,” Scully said softly. When Mulder looked over at her questioningly, she added, “He… seems like he’s trying.”

“Yeah,” Mulder said again. He could see the note he had left last time still sitting on Scully’s bedside table, creased from being folded up. 

“He genuinely seemed worried about me and the baby, when he came a few weeks ago.” Scully yawned once again, this time trying to talk around it. “And in the note… he thanked us…” 

Lily was already asleep on Scully’s lap, so Mulder reached down to scoop her up, moving her to the crib. “We should get some sleep,” he whispered, moving back to lie down beside Scully, draping an arm over her shoulder. “I’m sure he’ll still be here when we wake up tomorrow.” He said it even though he wasn’t completely sure, even though he halfway expected to find the house empty besides them tomorrow, note or no note. 

But in the morning, Jackson was still there, asleep sprawled out on the couch when Mulder went down to let Daggoo out. He felt shame twisting in his chest, and then relief, genuine relief. He was so relieved to find his son still there.

---

The day following was more or less uneventful—maybe more so than Scully would’ve liked. A part of her still felt the need to entertain Jackson, to convince him that, yes, it was worth it to have a relationship with them, past lending money and buying food. It was kind of a ridiculous line of thinking, considering that in the past, they hadn’t done much more than go get lunch or go down to the beach—and besides that, they were too exhausted for much else, and Jackson had always sort of done his own thing, anyway. But she still felt strangely guilty, like a parent of divorce who never saw their kid, for not having anything very interesting to offer her son.

Jackson seemed pretty okay with it, though. He ate the breakfast that Mulder made, and offered awkwardly to help clean up after. He took Daggoo for several long walks (runs, he called them, although Scully suspected that Daggoo’s little legs wouldn’t hold out for a long run), and found movies on TV for the three of them to watch. He borrowed Scully’s laptop and played some sort of game on it, which Scully might’ve minded in a different state of mind—she had a lot of idle research saved on there—but in this context, she couldn’t really bring herself to care. He offered to watch Lily after lunch, which Mulder seemed a little apprehensive about, but agreed to, either because he knew they both needed a break, or because he didn’t want to offend Jackson, or both. Scully felt a little guilty about it herself, as much as she relished the chance to get some rest. “Are you sure you don’t mind?” she asked gingerly, balancing Lily in the crook of one arm. She seemed as ready for a nap as they were, which boded well for Jackson, but it still seemed a bit odd to stick a teenager with a newborn. “She’ll probably just sleep the whole time.”

“Nah, it’s cool,” he said mildly. “I mean, what else am I gonna do?” He motioned to the TV and the computer. 

Scully bit her lower lip and nodded, putting Lily down in the little bassinet thing they’d gotten for downstairs. “Just keep an eye on her,” she said. “If she wakes up, we’ve got bottles in the fridge, and diapers upstairs… Do you know how to change diapers?” she asked a little helplessly. 

She was relieved when Jackson nodded, a little uncertainly. “We stayed with a friend of my mom’s who had a baby last summer, and I got put on diaper duty a couple times,” he said. “So I guess I’ve, uh, done it before.”

“Okay,” she said. “Well, uh, if you have questions or need help with anything, come right on up and get us.”

“Anything,” Mulder added. “We don’t mind.”

“Okay.” Jackson’s attention was halfway turned to the TV, but he nodded at them.

Mulder still seemed a little nervous at the prospect, which was understandable on Scully’s—it had little to do with Jackson, at least from her perspective, and more to do with the anxiety that came with Lily being with someone who wasn’t one of them; she’d be lying if she said she wasn’t feeling it a bit herself—but they still managed to get upstairs and crawl into bed. They slept for almost three uninterrupted hours, waking in the late afternoon and going down to find Jackson still on the couch, Lily’s bassinet pulled up beside him as he watched TV. “She, uh, she stayed asleep, mostly,” he said nervously when they came down, like he was worried they were going to be upset about something. “She woke up once, but she didn’t really cry, so I didn’t do anything. Was that right?”

Scully went to the smaller bassinet and scooped her daughter up, who had woken up at the sound of them coming downstairs and was beginning to whimper. “She looks fine to me,” she said, sitting down on the couch and easing Lily into the crook of one arm. “I think she’s probably hungry… Thank you for watching her,” she said to Jackson. 

“We really appreciate it,” Mulder added. “We needed the rest.”

“Yeah, no problem.” Jackson got to his feet, saying, “She’s a good kid,” again, as if he wanted to remind them. He rocked back on his heels and added, “I’m gonna go upstairs for a while.”

“Okay,” Scully said. Jackson was disappearing up the stairs almost immediately then, not quite running, but not quite walking, either. “I guess the actual babysitting freaked him out a lot more than the concept,” she said to Mulder, reaching up to pull aside her shirt. She was surprised at how casual her voice sounded, like Jackson had always been their child, and he was reacting to a new sister with the typical behavior of older siblings. 

“Probably.” Mulder sounded amused as she was. He leaned down to kiss her forehead. “I’m going to go pick up some dinner, okay? Subs sound okay to you?”

“It sounds excellent,” she said, already hungry—lunch seemed more like it was months ago then just hours. “Thank you.”

“Course.” He squeezed her hand before moving away, going to the counter to retrieve his keys before heading out the door. 

The sudden quiet was almost relieving, and Scully reached down to change the channel on the TV as Lily began to feed. She still felt a little sleepy after her nap, well-rested, and she would be lying if she said she wasn’t happy about the prospect of a few minutes to herself. But before she landed on a channel she liked, a loud sound sliced through the air, seeming to echo through the rooms of their house and cinching tight around Scully’s chest. 

Her first thought was gunshot, and she tensed in panic, pressing a hand over Lily’s head and hunching over protectively. Her mind was racing, searching for answers—Mulder, was Mulder okay, was Jackson?—and crying out in protest. Her heart was pounding so hard that she could barely hear Lily’s startled cries; she felt as if she couldn’t breathe. It took a few moments, and the rumbling sound of Mulder’s car, for her to process that it wasn’t a gunshot. His engine had backfired. 

She readjusted her shirt with a trembling hand, getting to her feet and trying to shush Lily as she walked to the window and looked out. No sign of assassins at their doorstep, or soldiers on the lawn, just the back end of Mulder’s car rolling down the driveway. She took a shaky breath, and then another, pressing her lips to Lily’s head and whispering, Shhh, shhh again. Nothing to worry about, she was okay. 

She was turning away from the window when she heard the next sound: thundering, frantic footsteps from above. Jackson was running towards, his feet pounding the floorboards, and before she could ask what was going on, she heard his voice, tight and frightened and booming. “Dana?” he bellowed. “Mulder?” 

He stumbled to a stop at the bottom of the stairs, his eyes widening when he saw her standing by the window. He looked frantic, his hands balled into fists, his chin trembling, and Scully realized in an instant that she wasn’t the only one who’d heard a gunshot a few moments ago.

He was shaking, the way she had been a second ago, his face twisted with fury and fear, and he stammered out angrily, “A-a-are you…?” 

“I’m okay,” she said quickly, remembering. ( The shots, the bodies sprawled on the floor of a kitchen she’d never been in, but recognized from her dreams. The third gunshot from upstairs… ) “We’re okay, we’re okay. I-it was just Mulder’s car backfiring.”

Jackson’s eyes widened in understanding, his limbs going limp as the panic left his body. “Oh,” he muttered, sagging in a chair, sprawling out and leaning his face forward in his hands. 

Scully wanted to go and comfort him, but she didn’t know if he even wanted that from her. And besides, there was still Lily, screaming so loud it would be hard to talk with him. She began to rock her back and forth, whispering and shushing and humming under her breath. Lily began to calm, her sobs subsiding into hiccups. When she finally quieted, Scully went to sit on the couch, on the side closest to Jackson’s chair. “Are you okay?” she whispered.

Jackson seemed to have calmed, the fear and tension gone, but he still wasn’t looking at her. He still had his forehead in his hands. “I-I thought it was a gun…” he replied softly. 

“I know,” said Scully. “I did, too.” She’d heard enough gunshots and threatening sounds to jump at a car backfire, she could still remember people breaking down her front door to come and kill her and Mulder. 

Jackson’s voice was sharp when he spoke, like he was embarrassed. “I thought they were coming to—” He cut himself off abruptly, shaking his head hard, gritting his teeth. He looked towards another corner of the room, away from her. “Are they are going to fucking stop ?” His voice sounded as if it was wrenched from his throat, raw. “Are they going to stop coming for me? Am I ever going to be fucking safe? Goddamnit !” He kicked the coffee table, hard enough to nearly topple it over, and it landed back in place with a bang .

Scully looked at Lily, worried the loud sound would startle her, but she still looked miraculously calm. Not on the verge of tears. She looked back to her son and saw tears welling in his eyes, shining in the light of the room. “I never wanted this for you, you know,” she said, her voice low. “Never. I… I wanted you to have a different life than this.”

Jackson laughed bitterly, thumping his foot softer against the coffee table. “Not your fault.”

“It is,” Scully said, a little bitterly herself, because she knew it was. She shifted her eyes to the ground. “It is, and I… I just want you to understand that—”

“No, it’s not,” he interrupted her, his voice stony and serious. When she looked back at him, he was looking back at her solemnly. Maybe angry or maybe reassuring, she couldn’t tell. But he was looking at her. “I know it’s not.”

It stunned Scully, just a little bit, because she had thought all this time that he blamed her, and she opened her mouth to reply, but he was still talking. “I… I shouldn’t have said that stuff at the beach,” he added, still in that sharp tone. Apologetic. “I shouldn’t have.”

Scully didn’t know what to say. They fell into silence, sitting side by side, Jackson leaned forward so his stomach was against his knees, and Scully shifting Lily against her. She seemed uninterested in eating now, her face buried in the side of Scully’s shirt, so Scully left her alone.

Jackson spoke first, finally, sitting up straight. “How’s the kid doing?” he asked, motioning to Lily. “Like, in general?”

Scully smiled a little. “Good. She’s good. She’s healthy.” She had her suspicions about Lily, that she was like Jackson—she’d found things shifted from where she’d left them, things out of place, and wondered—but she couldn’t be sure. And the concept didn’t scare her nearly as much this time as it had last time. It was still scary, sure, but not quite as scary. At least now they had some idea of what to do. 

She saw Jackson looking at the baby, leaning towards them a little, and she asked carefully, “Do you want to hold her?” She had just realized that she didn’t think Jackson had held her yet; their interactions had been limited, and Jackson had indicated that he hadn’t really picked her up when they’d been alone. 

Jackson looked very briefly terrified, but he nodded cautiously. Scully leaned down and set Lily gently in the circle of Jackson's arms. He was stiff and frozen in place, staring down at the baby like she was going to break. “I'm not very good with kids,” he said as Scully showed him how to cradle the head. He looked nervous, cupping her head with a large hand. “My mom's friend… she made me hold that kid, the one whose diapers I had to change, but he screamed the entire time I held him. I don't think kids like me.”

Lily yawned, a little smacking sound, her eyes half-closed. “She likes you,” Scully said in her reserved-for-babies voice, and resisted the urge to add, Your sister. Your sister likes you.

“Hmm.” Jackson was watching the baby. Scully heard the flicker of a word in Jackson's voice at the back of her mind, somehow silent— Hi —and Lily’s eyes slid closed contentedly. Scully thought that she must have heard him, too. 

“I don’t want her life to be like mine,” he said finally, nudging her hand open with one finger. Lily yawned again. Scully nodded, understanding. Jackson looked up from his sister, meeting her eyes, and said in that same solemn manner, “I’m going to make sure it’s not.” 

Scully nodded again. She reached out tentatively to touch her son’s arm, brushing her fingers over his forearm before pulling back, not wanting to overstep. “We both will,” she said. 

They sat there in silence then, Scully and her children, clustered together in the living room until Mulder returned.

---

Jackson left the next morning, as he reminded them he’d do the night before. Once again, they found his bedroom empty in the morning. It still stung, just a little, but not nearly as much as all the times before. 

---

If someone asked Jackson what the hell he was doing with his birth parents, he wouldn’t have been able to answer them. He didn’t entirely know himself. He’d been back and forth so much on whether or not he could have some kind of relationship with them that he was starting to confuse himself. He didn’t know what the hell he was doing, and he didn’t know why he’d said that stuff to Ginger that night. (Except that he kept thinking about the caution in Mulder’s mind when he’d shown up, about the hurt he’d felt from Dana when she’d said it was her fault that his life was so fucked up.) 

He didn’t mean to keep in touch with them, but it just happened, and it happened mostly because of the kid. Because he wanted to keep in touch with her, even though she was still kind of a potato, and probably barely even knew he existed. But she was like him. He knew that she was like him, and he knew that she needed him, the way he had needed someone when he was a kid. Even if she had Dana and Mulder, who seemed surprisingly capable of taking care of her. 

(It wasn’t that he doubted their parenting skills, but he also did. Of fucking course he did. No matter how sorry they were, they had given him up. But it was becoming more and more clear that they were capable, and probably had been capable of taking care of him. At least as capable as his parents.)

(The horrible, treacherous thought came to him one night, after waking up from a nightmare of white-masked doctors holding him back as he screamed and cried for his parents: maybe he would’ve been safer with Mulder and Dana. Maybe they could’ve protected him, if only because they knew what to expect. The idea made him nauseous and guilty, sick to his stomach, but it was strangely reassuring when it came to the potato. It made him think to himself, Maybe she’ll be okay. He and Dana had promised that she would be.)

But anyways, whatever the reason, the kid—Lily—was most of his motivation for going back. He wanted a sister, once, and he’d gotten one (another one, if you counted the little girl buried in California—which he couldn’t help but do). So he had to go back for her, if nothing else. That was, ultimately, the best reason for him to go back. 

But aside from Lily, there seemed to be one other reason, if less significant than the first, to go back. It was the reason that he least wanted to acknowledge, but it kept coming up anyway. His mind kept lingering over that moment of slight recoil from Mulder. The hurt, the nervousness, the caution from them both. It shouldn't have bothered him—it was what he had wanted, after all—but for some reason, it did. Two more people to flinch away from him, to be afraid or resentful. It shouldn't have bothered him, but it did. It kept poking at him, a frequent jab in the back of his mind. You did it, asshole, you pushed them away. They hate you now. They don't want you there. He didn't think it was completely true, but he didn't want to fool himself. The emotions were there, even if they were small. And he couldn't quite let it go. 

So he kept going back, if only because he couldn't quite help it. His apartment was too lonely, and sometimes, he got echoes of his sister's midnight wailing in the back of his head. He woke up one chilly Saturday in October, and knew immediately that it was Mulder's birthday, hearing a glimpse of Scully's voice. He tried not to think too much before he left, knowing only that he should go. He was on his way to Farrs Corner within the next hour and a half. 

---

Jackson found Mulder at the house, halfway up the long, winding driveway, Daggoo at the end of a leash. He yipped excitedly and jumped at the car as Jackson pulled sideways onto the lawn and threw the car into Park. 

Mulder shielded his eyes from the sun and smiled squintingly. "Jackson," he called out, lifting his hand in a wave. 

"Hey," said Jackson, slipping out of the car and locking it behind him. He could tell without reaching too hard that the smile was genuine, cautious but genuine. He pulled back, crossing his arms over his chest, his shoulder against the car door. "Uh, happy birthday."

"Thank you." He smiled a little wider, letting up his grip on the leash a little so Daggoo could greet him, jumping at his legs. Jackson crouched to scratch his head. "We haven't heard from you in a couple weeks… how are you doing?"

"Oh, I'm, uh, fine," he said, mentally cycling through the habitual pleasantries he'd always kind of hated. "How are you guys? How's the kid?"

"We're good. Kid's good." The leash slipped out of Mulder's hand, and Jackson automatically scooped it up. "She's good at screaming," he added. "I keep telling Scully that she should try out for horror movies when she gets older."

"That must drive you crazy." Jackson scooped up Daggoo, holding him like a baby as he wriggled and barked excitedly. He didn't know how to look at Mulder, so he looked at the dog, letting him lick his face. The dog was almost worth the visit in itself; he would've gotten one of his own if it was at all practical. 

He remembered, suddenly, why he was there, and put Daggoo down, feeling the obvious need to speak the reasoning out loud. "Uh, do you guys mind if I stay a couple nights?" he asked. (He didn't have to work until Monday.) "I could, uh, watch the kid some, give you guys some time to yourself… Date night or whatever," he added lamely, biting back a flinch. 

Mulder chuckled. "I don't know about a date night, but… of course you can stay, Jackson. You're always welcome here."

I don't think that's true, he thought reflexively, and then remembered that Mulder could hear him now, sometimes. "Uh, thanks," he said, turning the leash over and over in his hands. 

"Thanks for coming into town," Mulder said, and Jackson could feel guilt under the surface of his words, like he felt as bad about the whole situation as Jackson did. The two of them started walking down the driveway towards the house, Daggoo prancing in front of him. "I couldn't think of a better birthday than one spent with—" He cut himself off, chuckling nervously. "I-I'm sorry. I know that's corny."

"It is," Jackson said, and was relieved to hear Mulder laughing. He laughed, too. 

They walked in silence for a few moments, their shoes stirring up dust from the driveway. The wind was blowing, stirring the long grass out in the field, and Jackson shivered, shoving his free hand in his pocket. He was trying to stay out of Mulder's mind, to not hear things he didn't want to hear, but the silence was almost unbearable, enough to make him uncomfortable, and he spoke on a sudden impulse: "Listen, I'm really sorry about what happened at the beach. W-what I said."

There was another pause after that, one that probably didn't last very long, but seemed to Jackson to last forever. He felt his face growing hot with embarrassment, and he kept his head down even as Mulder said, "You… you don't have to be sorry. If anyone should be sorry, it's—"

"I am," he said roughly, not understanding how his birth parents could still be so apologetic, so self-blaming, when he was the asshole. "I am sorry, and I at least owe you an explanation. I shouldn't have said that stuff." He balled his hand into a fist in his pocket, wanting to hit something and knowing there was nothing he could hit. He kicked a rock in the road instead. He was pissed off, and speaking without thinking, the words spilling out of his mouth. "Y-you remember those people a-at the beach house? Taking pictures? I guess they recognized you from that douchebag's web show."

Mulder laughed nervously, like he at least agreed that O'Malley was a douchebag. "Y-yeah, I remember."

Jackson sighed, kicking at another rock. He hadn't wanted to say this to them, but he didn't think he had a choice now. "I… I thought they were there for me, " he said bitterly. "I thought they were with… the people who killed my parents." He felt tears welling up, his throat thickening, and he bit his tongue hard to stave them off. "Someone broke into my girlfriend's place about a month before that trip, and I thought it was because of me. And I… I didn't want what happened to my parents to happen again." He sniffled and tried to hide it, scrubbing at his face with one long sleeve. "I was going to stop coming around, to keep you guys safe," he admitted to his shoes. They'd stopped walking, and Daggoo was tugging at the leash, but he didn't know if he could move. "That was… kind of the last straw. I had to go, and I didn't want you coming after me. So I… I said that stuff to make sure you wouldn't."

There was a stunned sort of silence there. Jackson didn't look up, even as Daggoo coiled the leash around his legs, running around him eagerly. "Jackson…" Mulder finally started, his voice thick. He felt his birth father's hand on his shoulder.

"I couldn't do it, okay?" he snapped, and kicked the ground harder than he should have. "I know it wasn't the right thing to do, but I couldn't do that again. Not again. I… can't let anyone else die because of me." He sniffled again, biting down on his tongue harder. He hated crying; he was sick of it. He was regretting ever starting this. 

"Jackson…" Mulder tried again, his voice faltering. 

"That's why I came here after Lily was born, cause I thought something had come for you." Jackson chewed at his lip, staring hard at the top of his worn shoes. He needed to buy new ones. "But it wasn't real," he added. "The… the break-in was nothing, and so was the thing at the beach. I… I don't think it's dangerous. Anymore." He bit too hard and felt a burst of copper in his mouth that made him flinch. "But I shouldn't have done it, and I'm sorry. Okay?"

"Jackson, listen to me," said Mulder, in a voice so serious it made Jackson look at him, if only out of surprise. His expression was calm, understanding. "I understand the way you're feeling," he said. "Probably better than most." 

Jackson bit his lip again instinctively, right in the sore spot. "Because they took your sister, right?"

Mulder nodded, and Jackson could feel decades worth of pain tightening like a knot in his head. "But it wasn't just her," he said. "Not-not exactly. They took her because my father made my mother choose, and I guess Samantha was the one she chose. So I guess it was because of me, but only indirectly. I don't blame anyone but my father and the bastards he worked with for Samantha." His face darkened a little, like it was hard to remember. "But there's plenty more to blame myself for."

Jackson swallowed hard. "Like what?"

"They murdered my father years later. I've always believed the motivation had to do with my inability to let things go. When my mother died, I thought it was murder, too. It wasn't, but—" His voice broke, and he looked away. "But the blame falls the most with me over… what happened to your mother. And what happened to you."

Jackson didn't know what to say to that. He looked back at the ground, at Daggoo's pleading face. 

"I-I don't know how many times I pushed Scully away in an attempt to keep her safe," Mulder said, his voice lilting. "T-they kept hurting her because of me. To get to me. They killed her sister, which never would've happened if she hadn't been working with me. They did… countless things. And you…" His voice broke, trembling. "You were always in danger because of me. T-that's why I left less than a week after you were born. I wanted to keep you and your mother safe, and that seemed like the only way to do it. And look what happened." His voice was full of bitterness. "They didn't stop coming. You weren't any safer because of it. And I lost you because of it. Leaving didn't do a thing except make it worse."

Jackson didn't know what to say to that. He felt like he couldn't speak at all. He was gripping the leash too hard, his knuckles whitened with the effort, his head spinning. And then he felt Mulder's hand on his shoulder again. 

"I'm not trying to hurt you, or to make this worse," he continued, his voice gentler now. "God knows I want more than anyone to leave this stuff behind. I just wanted you to know that I get it. I've been there."

Jackson cleared his throat once, twice, and looked up at him. His birth father. "What made it stop?" he asked, quietly. 

Mulder squeezed his shoulder before letting go. "I used to think running away was the answer," he said. "But it's not. It may work, and it may amount to nothing, but either way… you run the risk of isolating yourself."

Jackson gulped, averting his eyes once again. Mulder patted his shoulder reassuringly. "I could've pushed your mother away a long time ago, and maybe she'd be happier," he said. "Or maybe she wouldn't. It's impossible to ask yourself questions like that; you'll drive yourself crazy trying to figure it out. But I know this: as much as I regret everything your mother has gone through because of me, I can't regret staying with her. Because I wouldn't have her. And I wouldn't have your sister, or you."

Jackson swallowed again, again, and spoke unevenly. "That… that is really corny, too, Mulder," he said, and offered a wobbly smirk. 

He was relieved when Mulder laughed "You're right," he said. "And Jackson… I won't tell you what to do. But I will tell you this. I promise you, you don't need to protect us. You don't need to worry about it. That's not your job, okay?"

Jackson wrapped the leash around his palm, unraveled it. He mumbled, "Okay."

Mulder smiled, reaching out and taking the leash in his own hand. "Come on back to the house," he offered. "It's chilly out here." 

"Sure." Jackson followed him down the road, walking slowly like he was reluctant, even though he didn't think he was. (He was… something. He couldn't put his finger on what.) "Only because I assume there's cake," he added, and Mulder laughed again.

---

They had dinner that night, a casserole that Dana claimed was the only thing she was good at cooking. (Mulder tried to tell her that wasn't true, and she replied with, "I'm going to remind you of the time you threw out that spaghetti because you thought it was old takeout, and a hazard.") They had the cake after, accompanied by a bad rendition of Happy Birthday , because Dana apparently couldn't sing, and Jackson knew he'd inherited that from her. 

It was as corny as all that shit Mulder had said down on the driveway, and it hurt a little, because it reminded Jackson of nights he'd spent with his parents. But it wasn't bad. It was one of the first things he experienced with his birth parents that didn't make him want to run.