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***

Will all great Neptune's ocean wash this blood
Clean from my hand? No, this my hand will rather
The multitudinous seas incarnadine,
Making the green one red.
--Macbeth, Act II, scene ii, line 61

***

At first the letter in the mail: quite unremarkable.

Scully came across it first, of course, as she was far more likely to sort through their mail than he was. A simple, white envelope, addressed only to Fox Mulder -- no Special Agent title.

"You order some pictures, Mulder?" Scully asked dryly, tossing the letter on to his desk.

"You implying something, Scully?"

"No return address," she commented, raising an eyebrow.

And as it sat on the desk in front of him, Mulder regarded it with only mild curiosity. No return address. Photos, don't bend. An advertisement, maybe?

"Why would I order a couple of pictures, Scully, when I could get a whole magazine?" he smiled, ripping the envelope open.

And there were two snapshots: one quite familiar.

***

"The paper is Kodak, probably from later than 1976, judging from its rigid quality and the color. Could be as late as 1982, although our source didn't think so." Frohike said cautiously. "And it could have been sold anywhere in the country, Mulder. Anywhere that sells Kodak."

Frohike was subdued and tense, watching Mulder's face intently. They all were, realized Scully. We're afraid because this is so close, so tangible, and that has always meant that our next step is disastrous.

Not this time, she begged internally. Let him have this.

"Not 1982. She doesn't look that old," Mulder said. "1979, or 1980 seems about right."

And Scully looked again at the snapshot: Samantha Mulder, whose face had become so familiar to her, standing on a large rock surrounded by trees. A young teenager, skinny, wearing exactly the kind of halter top that Scully had worn about the same time. Smiling, slightly, squinting a little into the sun -- looking like her brother. Unmistakable.

"Does it look...posed to you, Scully?"

"Posed?"

"Like she was told to stand there, smile -- like this was set up for someone?"

"Possibly." Scully regarded him.

"I wonder if my father got a picture like this in the mail from time to time, letting him know that she was still out there."

"And now they're sending it to you?" Byers said. "I mean, why would they?"

"It has to do with the other picture," Scully said. "Mulder, somebody's trying to tell you something."

"The other pictures is newer," offered Byers. "After 1990, our source said. But again ... it could be from anywhere."

The second photo was of a hand. Small, with almost translucent fingernails: a baby's hand, lying back against a black background.

Almost certainly a baby whose life is being manipulated towards someone else's agenda, Scully thought stonily, like my own genetic offspring.

"It's a warning," Mulder said, gazing hard.

This has happened so many times, Scully told herself. You would suppose someday this lurching in my stomach would stop.

***

He let Scully buy him dinner at a Chinese restaurant in Georgetown, and sat slouched back into the booth, gazing out the window at the Friday night passersby.

"Mulder," Scully said.

He looked at her, her face so tired and pale. The familiar guilt about Scully: how had she ever become a cog in this awful machine? Shouldn't he have let her go long before now?

"I'm wondering what new and creative way you've found to blame yourself for this, Mulder."

"She was taken as an insurance, you know," Mulder said, stirring the sesame chicken around idly with his fork. "That she might be made a hybrid, if everything worked out -- but if it didn't...she was supposed to insure my fathers commitment to the project."

"Like Cassandra," Scully nodded. "She was CGB's insurance. Unfortunately for her."

"It's a pretty nasty trick, isn't it, Scully? Create a human pawnshop, for the ethically challenged. Use your family members as markers in the game."

"It's deplorable," Scully's lips were pursed.

"It's effective," Mulder said. "How could my father ever act out against them, knowing they had Sam?"

"Blackmail is usually effective," Scully commented.

"They tried it with me, too," Mulder said.

And he remembered the feeling of wrenching in his stomach. How guilt and terror can worm its way around your intestines. How it can press itself into the sides of your head until you're blind with pain. Or force itself into your sleep.

"With you," Mulder continued, staring at her. "They infected you with the virus as insurance against my work. So that they could control me."

"Yes," Scully said, and looked down at her half-eaten plate of food.

"And had I not gotten the vaccine, it would have worked." Mulder continued, the tone of his voice sounding odd.

"Mulder--" she began.

"I couldn't have gone on," Mulder said thickly.

"That's not true."

"No, it is, Scully," he insisted. "I don't think I could have."

"Yes, you could have," Scully said. "And it's very important that you hear this, Mulder. Should that happen again, should they threaten you with my life in any context... I'm telling you now: I would rather you continue the work. You have to continue the work."

"It's easy to say, Scully--"

"I mean it, Mulder. I don't want to be a marker used against you," she said. "The idea sickens me."

"It would destroy me -- " he began.

"You couldn't let it."

Mulder stared hard at her, and then shrugged, slightly. "I would try, Scully. Good enough?"

Scully seemed to allow herself a small smile. "It's a weak promise."

"Honest, you mean."

"I'll accept it," she said, trying to meet his eyes.

"And the same applies to me, Scully. If they should use the same tactic. "

"All right," she said softly. She put her hand on top of his, her eyes warm, and clasped it. "But let's hope it never comes to that, all right?"

The waitress approached to fill their glasses with water. "Can we have the check, please?" Scully asked.

The waitress smiled. "Your lucky night. It's been paid for by the guy at the bar."

What guy? A sudden tightness in his chest. Mulder stood up quickly, scanning the restaurant.

"He left before...maybe twenty minutes ago?" The waitress was puzzled. "Is there a problem? He said you looked like a nice couple."

"Was he an older man? Smoked cigarettes?" Scully demanded.

"No, he was young. Maybe in his twenties, thirties. Wore thick glasses. He seemed nice, really."

Mulder ran for the door, pushed his way through the restaurant out on to the street, searching for someone who had been watching them, someone keeping tabs on their conversation.

But it was only Georgetown at night. Hadn't he been staring at these same passers-by, just moments before? Well-dressed couples on dates. College students.

Scully was standing behind him, looking at the street scene herself.

"Did you see him, Mulder?"

"He's long gone, whoever he was", Mulder replied.

"Maybe someone just thought we looked like a happy couple, Mulder."

"Then we should arrest him for being criminally misguided, shouldn't we, Scully?"

And then he noticed a man standing alone down the street, leaning for a moment against a storefront. But just as Mulder was ready to run for him, ready to make him give answers, several children bounded out of the ice cream shop nearby and ran up to him, one taking his hand. A woman in a nice coat followed them.

"Probably a tourist," Scully said, looking at him.

But he had been standing all alone there, for just a second...

***

Perhaps, thought Mulder, it was meant as a metaphor.

Because what could possible be more vulnerable than the tiny hand of an infant? He thought of the paleness of the skin, how one could see traces of blue vein down its wrist.

Mulder was reminded of Emily, of the pale skin and sickly eyes of a three-year old doomed to death. Was there any clearer demonstration of the precarious nature of a child's life?

Even a child who had Scully for a biological parent -- a parent who was intelligent and courageous and desperately needing -- even this child had no guarantee of life.

Was the picture meant to remind him of Samantha, of the ease with which someone could take the knowledge of her whereabouts from him?

Or was the picture meant literally: a photo of a child in danger, who Mulder, with the right information, could possibly save?

He was nearly inside his apartment building when he was bumped, abruptly, on the street.

"Excuse me," said the man. His eyes seemed abnormally large behind his glasses. "I wasn't watching where I was going."

And Mulder felt the slip of paper in his hand, as the man walked away.

LAUNDROMAT. FOLLOW ME.

"Hey!" Mulder shouted after the man, who looked back at him, scowled, and kept walking.

"Hey -- I'm not playing these goddamn games," Mulder said, running up to the man. "I think you better tell me what the hell is going on."

"Agent Mulder," hissed the man, "we are both in danger when you talk to me in public like this."

"Who are you?"

"Follow me into the laundromat," whispered the man. And he ducked across the street, running inside a ramshackle storefront: Mighty L Laundromat.

"Hey, you didn't look both ways," Mulder called after him, feeling a hardness at the pit of his stomach.This was his chance for some answers but he couldn't shake this feeling of foreboding.

The man was sitting in front of a dryer, mutely watching it spin. He was a skinny, pale little man, rather young, with stringy hair and the strikingly large glasses.

"What, are we going to watch your laundry dry?" Mulder said, sitting next to him on the bench. "Who the hell are you?"

"I work in a lab," the man responded. He kept his lips very tight together, and looked straight forward at the dryer. "I work for a very powerful man. He'd kill me if he knew I came to you."

Mulder exhaled. "You have something you want to tell me?"

"I work in a lab. I'm very unimportant. A lab geek, really. I process results I have nothing to do with....with most of it. It's a genetics lab hybrid experiments, mostly. You know what I mean when I say hybrids?"

He was sweating, Mulder noticed. Nervous as hell.

"Yeah," Mulder said. "Did you send me those photos?"

"I needed to tell you...they're waiting, I think, until you're most vulnerable...but I think if you knew now everyone would be better off. I think it's necessary...oh god."

The Lab Geek's eyes became very wide under his glasses, and he stood up, shaking his hands in a peculiar nervous twitch. "Oh god. The same man just walked by the laundromat door twice."

"Does this have to do with my sister Samantha?"

"Listen," the Lab Geek grabbed his hands. "Listen to me, Agent Mulder, I'm going to be a dead man soon. But this was only his project, you know? The chain-smoking guy, my boss? Only his. None of the rest of them -- so many of them are dead now, you know -- they didn't know about it. It was his sick idea. For you."

"What sick idea?"

"Oh, it's all there. I've given it to her. She'll know what to do. Run tests. You'll find it," he said, leaping to his feet.

"Find what? Who are you talking about?"

"Did you see that man?" The Lab Geek ran to the side of the door, peering cautiously out the door.

"Were you followed to my..."

"Do you understand I'm about to be *killed*, Agent Mulder? I have a family, you know!"

The Lab Geek peered out the door until he was convinced it was clear.

"Good luck," he said to Mulder. "I told you because it's better you figure it out now. Because otherwise he'll use it against you. He'll trap you. People will be hurt -- people I care about."

And the Lab Geek took off, out the door, sprinting into the city street.

Mulder watched him run into the distance, debating over whether he should chase him down again or not. He had acquired so little information from this encounter, and yet....

His internal debate was interrupted by the cell phone.

"This is Mulder."

"Mulder, it's me," Scully's voice was breathless. "Where are you? I called your apartment."

"Uh...I'm at the laundromat."

"I found the strangest thing in my mailbox, Mulder. In a padded envelope, no return address. No note."

"What is it?"

"A small vial of blood, sealed tightly. I'm on my way to the Bureau lab to drop it off and have it tested for diseases, unusual levels of toxins..."

"Good idea. I'll need to fill you in on a cryptic conversation I just had."

"Mulder, do you have any kind of DNA sample for Samantha?"

Mulder stopped. "You think--"

"Some baby hair from a scrapbook, something like that?"

He was silent for a moment.

"Mulder..." Scully's voice was gentle. "I have no reason to think the blood is Samantha's. I think it's just prudent to have it checked, because of the photos."

"My mother does," he said. "I'll call her, and see if she can have something couriered down to us."

"I'll call you tomorrow, Scully. We'll go to the lab together."

"My favorite kind of date, Mulder."

***

The lab technician was able to process the results much faster than Scully had expected, and they were ready when she and Mulder arrived the next morning.

In her dream the night before, she had run down to the beach with Melissa, both of them little girls again, and dug her toes into the sand, and looked up to realize that the ocean was filled with bright red blood.

"Who has done this?" Mulder had shouted, suddenly standing near her in the sand. He was angry.

"It was Moses, Mulder, look he's floating in the rushes," she'd said, softly, laughing, and pointed to a baby floating in a basket on the bloody waves, reaching a tiny hand upwards.

"Oh god, we'll never reach it," Mulder had cried out, running into the ocean. His pant legs were stained with blood and his face was anguished. "He's floating out to sea..."

A troubled dream. The random firings of a troubled subconscious mind, she reminded herself...

How has this vial of blood been acquired, she wondered. Was it voluntarily given? Is its donor still alive?

"Well, you can relax, it's definitely human blood," the lab technician told her, smiling and holding the vial between her fingers triumphantly.

It was her idea of joke, to tease Dr. Spooky. But it did make her oddly relieved.

"And you checked it against the DNA sample that was couriered early this morning?"

"The baby hair sample? Yes. Take a look at the chart here. Some interesting results."

Scully glanced at Mulder. He was standing on the other side of the lab counter silently watching her, strangely subdued.

Let this be something Mulder will be able to understand, she prayed. Let this be something that gives him some reassurance. That doesn't plunge him again into despair.

She picked up the chart and read it over.

And felt her stomach lurch. Again.

"What does it mean?" Mulder asked. "Is it Samantha's blood?"

"There's a lot of genetic material in common here," Scully commented quietly. She looked up at Mulder.

"I've seen a chart that looks something like this before," she added, staring at him directly.

"It is hers," Mulder said dully.

"No," Scully said. Still staring. "But it's very probable that it's a relative."

"A relative," repeated Mulder, slowly moving around the counter towards the chart.

"I've seen this before," Scully said again, more carefully, hoping he would understand. That she wouldn't have to be the one to explain.

But he wasn't listening, he was lifting the chart and scanning it himself -- illogically, Scully thought, as he doesn't know what it means.

"It could be Samantha's child, Scully. The baby's hand. Maybe it's the genetic product of Samantha and... something else?"

"The blood is human," Scully said to him slowly, eyeing the lab technician. "There's nothing especially abnormal about it."

The lab technician, taking Scully's hint, walked away, pretending not to hear their conversation.

Scully continued: "And it doesn't have enough DNA structure in common, I think, to be Samantha's child."

"Then what?"

"It could be your blood," Scully continued. "Let me take a blood sample from you, Mulder. I can run the test myself, if the lab tech will help me."

"My own blood?" Mulder was impatient. "That doesn't add up, Scully, why would he send my own blood to me? And where would he have acquired it?"

Scully was preparing the needle to take Mulder's blood. "Did you give blood any time in the past year?"

"For the Red Cross, or maybe as part of a physical," Mulder shook his head, extending his arm for Scully's needle. "But the man I spoke to, Scully, that lab employee -- he indicated that this blood sample would tell us something new, something important. What could a sample of my own blood have to reveal to us?"

"Maybe it's not yours, then," Scully answered. She wiped a cotton ball with alcohol over Mulder's arm, and injected the needle into his vein.

"Can you help me with a second DNA test?" she called to the technician.

And as Scully watched the needle fill with Mulder's dark red blood, she felt her chest tighten, her stomach seize with the beginnings of nausea.

How could he not have seen the similarities? she thought furiously. It occurred to her instantly, almost the second she picked up the chart. But then, he hadn't been there when she had found out about Emily.

She was suddenly aware that Mulder's eyes were on her, as she extracted the needle.

"You don't think it's my blood at all, Scully, do you?"

She stopped and stepped towards him, cautiously.

"No, Mulder," she answered. "I don't."

He didn't say anything in response, but she could tell that this time he had understood.

 

***

Silently they sipped Bureau coffee, sitting side-by-side on uncomfortable vinyl seats in the lab's waiting area.

Scully had expected she would be the first to speak, but she was not.

"This can't be the same as Emily, Scully," Mulder said suddenly. "It doesn't fit into what we know about this organization. Everything we've encountered indicates that they were using human eggs, not semen, for these experiments. "

"It probably isn't...the same as Emily," Scully replied, carefully using the same euphemism he had. "If I had to hazard a guess, I would say that it is very different. But we can't know anything until we see the completed chart."

"And how would a sample of my semen be obtained?" Mulder continued. "How could this have been engineered?"

"Maybe it wasn't 'engineered', Mulder," Scully replied. "Is it possible that there could be a child fathered through conventional means?"

"Through conventional means?" Mulder said. "What are you implying, exactly?"

Scully looked away, awkwardly. "These things happen to people, Mulder. Could they have tracked down a child that you had fathered at some point in your life without knowing it?"

Mulder rolled his eyes. "Oh Jesus, Scully..."

"I'm sorry to pry, Mulder," Scully said, "but it seems more likely than other options. They know that they could use your child against you, Mulder. Insurance. Like they did against your father."

"I had some casual liaisons in college. I guess it could be remotely possible..."

"The photo of the infant's hand dates after 1990," Scully reminded him. "If we're assuming the photo is of your offspring, it would mean a liaison after 1990."

"Then believe it or not, Scully, the list of potential maternal candidates shortens considerably," Mulder said.

And with a sudden bitter laugh, he stood up.

"It's so unreal, Scully, it's just not possible. I think we're going to find that this blood test is not going to indicate I'm the father of any child."

"Forgive me for this, Mulder," Scully said softly, "but Diana Fowley? Did that happen around or after 1990?"

Mulder stared at her. "Scully?"

"If she was able to work with them..."

"It's absurd, and it's insulting," Mulder answered, standing up. "Without any basis."

"Mulder, you're not--"

"The chart," he said quickly. And Scully watched the lab technician come through the glass doors of the waiting area.

"Here it is, Agent Scully," the lab tech said quietly. She wasn't making jokes anymore, Scully realized. And she seemed in a hurry to leave, letting the doors swing behind her.

And the chart was in Scully's hands, in front of her. She read it, feeling her stomach jump yet again.

"Mulder," she breathed in, deeply. "there is a ninety percent chance that you are the father of the person who this blood was extracted from."

"Oh no," Mulder whispered. "How--"

"We could run the test again, if you doubt it," she continued, "but I would consider this conclusive."

"Then they have some child, then, Scully, that has the misfortune of carrying half my DNA," Mulder said bitterly.

"Mulder--" Scully began.

"Some child who they'll screw around with and make crazy and unhealthy, all for my sake. All for me! Will I ever have any family members, Scully, who aren't featured in the X-files?"

"We'll find it," Scully replied. "We're going to find it. They're not going to hold this over you, Mulder, not a child's life."

"Goddamnit!" Mulder slammed his hand against the wall. "He was waiting to tell me, Scully -- that goddamned bastard. Waiting for the most effective moment to tighten his grip on me."

"Mulder --"

And she had the impulse to embrace him, suddenly, and reached to pull him to her, to comfort him.

This happened to me, too, she thought desperately. Don't you remember? How comforting you were to me then?

But he stepped back.

"No, it's not going to happen like this," Mulder shook his head. "I'm not going to sit back passively, Scully, and mourn, and let them dangle this carrot." He grabbed his jacket and moved for the door.

"Where are you going, Mulder?"

"I'm going to find the Lab Geek again somehow, Scully. I'll make the son of a bitch clear his conscience."

"How..." called Scully. But Mulder pushed through the doors, letting them swing behind him.

***

According to her Bureau file, Diana Fowley lived in the Watergate Apartment complex, and Scully found that strange in itself -- the price range was certainly beyond *her* salary, anyway.

This was going to be awful, she thought miserably. She had no idea what she was about to say to Diana, and was certain it would be a humiliating exchange.

But she couldn't shake the possibility that Diana was the mother of this child of Mulder's. That Diana, and her involvement with the conspiracy, was the connection that could give them a lead.

"Agent Scully," Diana opened the door, smiling slightly. "This is certainly unexpected."

"I have some questions for you," Scully said. "If you have a second."

"Am I under investigation?" Diana said smoothly. "I wasn't aware."

"No, of course not. This isn't a Bureau matter -- exactly."

"So it's personal, then, Dana?" Diana smiled. "Come inside, and take a seat."

"I'm afraid this is a little awkward," Scully said, keeping her voice as calm as she could, as she sat down on to Diana's sofa.

"Is that because you've assailed me repeatedly with unjustified insinuations about my ethics?" Diana suggested.

"No," Scully replied, ignoring the bait. "Because it involves your personal life. Have you ever had a child, Diana?"

Diana's expression did not change. "No, I have not."

"You were never pregnant, at any time, from after 1990?"

Diana smiled, slowly, realization seeming to break over her face.

"I didn't have a child fathered by Fox Mulder, Dana, if that's what you're asking."

Scully clenched her teeth, fully aware of the impression she must be making.

Diana continued, leaning in towards her and smiling: "You'll have to look elsewhere for that candidate."

She definitely knew something. Unmistakable. Scully felt her stomach knot up with anger.

"I'm not entirely convinced of your honesty," Scully said tightly.

"You could check my medical history. It's in the Bureau files."

"Would you give me your permission to check your medical history? I will do it tonight," Scully replied quickly, feeling her cheeks inflame.

"Why should I? You haven't indicated to me what this is even about. Does Fox even know you're here?"

"Why don't you allow me to take a sample of your blood or hair to run a DNA test? I can confirm or refute my accusation conclusively then."

"And what accusation is that, exactly?"

"It is my belief," said Scully, standing up, "that you know exactly what I'm talking about."

"You're wrong," Diana replied. "Now get the hell out of my apartment."

But Scully found that she couldn't control her temper, somehow. "You can tell CGB that he'll fry in hell for what he's done. You can tell him that from me."

And as she turned to walk out the door, Diana said, coolly: "I'm sure he'll be very afraid."

Scully turned and looked at her for a moment.

And then left, leaving the door hanging open behind her.

***

The hospitals had turned up no leads. Nothing!

And Mulder's head was beginning to pound furiously. His good old guilt headache: an old friend from childhood. He had stopped for a moment, to sit in his car, and regroup.

He had called the morgues first. Looking for a white male, twenty to thirty, pale, blondish hair, glasses. Probably a homicide, he suggested to the person on the phone.

And then he'd dutifully gone down to the morgue to try to identify some who had fit the description. Lots of dead white males, as it turns out, but none of them were the Lab Geek.

That much is good, Mulder reminded himself. That means that he is out there somewhere alive, walking around with the answers rattling around in his head.

And the cell phone buzzed, interrupting his thoughts again.

It must be Scully, he thought, and was struck with sudden guilt remembering their last encounter, hours ago. He had been his usual graceless self.

"Mulder," he said, picking up the phone.

"Congratulations are in order, I suppose," came the voice on the other end.

It was not Scully at all.

"You black-lunged son of a bitch," Mulder replied.

"It seems we've had a slight security problem, and you've found out about our little surprise for you."

"I'll kill you when I find you," Mulder said in a low tight voice. "I will put my gun in your face and pull the trigger."

"Yes, yes, so you've said before, Agent Mulder. I think I have information you'll need first."

Stay calm, Mulder, he reminded himself. Obtain information. Would Scully fly off the handle like this?

"What do you want from me? What are you asking for me to do?" Mulder continued.

"Your father was once somewhat troublesome to our operation, you know, Agent Mulder."

"Not troublesome enough," Mulder replied.

"But after your sister's abduction, he was much easier to convince, somehow. It happened to all of us, knowing the fate of our own blood lay in our decisions."

"Your own blood," Mulder repeated, disgusted.

"When you began to cause us real trouble, Agent Mulder, I developed this plan myself. I remembered your father's face when..."

There was a careful pause.

"Well, we thought you might best respond to similar tactics. Some of my colleagues thought it unnecessary, but I nursed it as a side project. And of course now most of my colleagues are dead."

"Where did this child come from?"

"Oh, Agent Mulder, from a human sperm cell and an egg in a laboratory. Nowadays it's a fairly common way to come into life, really. I believe I was there to witness it firsthand."

Mulder ground his fist into the car dashboard, but he kept his voice steady. "How did you obtain my sperm cells?"

The voice on the other end of the phone laughed. "We could obtain your tonsils if we wanted them, Agent Mulder. Or the President's, for that matter."

Keep asking questions, Mulder reminded himself. Don't let him distract you.

"Where was the egg obtained?"

A pause.

Then, very carefully: "We have many ova at our disposal, Agent Mulder. We could select whichever we thought best."

"An abductee's ovum," Mulder replied. "From the hybrid experiments."

"And of course, why should we involve a stranger," the voice continued, "when two birds could so effectively be knocked down with one stone?"

And Mulder froze in his seat, his limbs stiffening and his heart escalating.

"Agent Mulder?" the voice asked. "Are you still there?"

Mulder hung up the phone, and heard a dial tone.

He felt himself shaking, and his mouth was peculiarly dry.

Slowly he managed to press down on the cell phone buttons.

"This is the lab?" he said, almost a whisper. "Agent Mulder here. I'd like you to run another set of DNA tests on that sample we ran over today."

***

Three hours later, Mulder was sitting in the dark in the basement office, staring at the vial of blood, rolling it around in his fingers.

In the darkness the blood appeared thick and black, a foreign substance.

Mulder stared at the vial as it turned over, the darkness trickling from one side of the to the other. Black blood.

The key turned in the office door, and the door opened.

"Mulder?" Scully was silhouetted by the hall light.

"Yeah."

"I got your message." She took a step in. "What are you doing here in the dark?"

She flipped on the light switch, and he was amazed, for a moment, how the black blood became bright crimson in a flash.

"Scully--" Mulder said, but couldn't continue. His voice was too hoarse.

"What's the matter?" Scully said, walking for him. "Did you find the Lab Geek? What did he tell you?"

"I don't know how...I can't begin to --" He broke off. Mulder could only stare at her miserably.

"Are you okay? Are you sick?" She stepped towards him again.

"Here," he finally said, giving her an envelope. "I got a call from CGB today, Scully...I had them run another test at the lab."

"Another DNA test?" Scully pulled the chart out of the envelope. "For what purpose?"

"The lab technician told me what the results meant," Mulder continued.

Scully's eyes widened ever so slightly as she read the chart's header.

"You ran it against my DNA," she said.

"Yes," Mulder said, watching her.

She continued reading, and Mulder watched her face, watched her mouth tighten.

She looked up, her face blank. "I'm the mother."

"A ninety-five percent chance, Scully."

"They used my harvested ova," she said softly. "They used it to create an insurance that we wouldn't destroy their work."

"Scully -- " Mulder said, helplessly. "I can't begin to tell you how sorry I am that they did this to you again."

She was looking past him, and Mulder thought her hands trembled slightly.

"Don't they see," Scully said, in a steady voice, "you don't create children for the purpose of blackmail?"

"They knew," Mulder said, his voice cracking, "that it would be worse for us this way. They knew they could keep up both from working on the X-Files, not only because of the human instinct to protect one's own offspring, but because both of us couldn't bear to hurt the other."

She still wasn't looking at his face, and Mulder thought he understood why. He took a deep breath.

"There's more, Scully. This was lying on the desk when I came in this evening."

He handed her a padded envelope. "It's a videotape. No markings. No return address. Addressed simply to Dana Scully and Fox Mulder."

Scully pulled the video tape out, slowly, and stared at it, her eyes strangely bright.

"I guess," she said, "we should watch it?"

"I could watch it first, if you want," Mulder said. "I've had longer to adjust to this..."

"No," Scully said quietly. "No, we'll both watch it."

Mulder took the videotape from her hands, and walked across the room, slipping it in the VCR.

***

The confusion first of static, and flecks of white and grey, then a moment of darkness and vague sounds of movement.

A woman's voice, faintly, "Say hello to the camera. Say hello."

Autumn leaves, bright red. A grove of trees, maple and oak. The camera jumped nauseatingly.

The woman again: "Are you going to say hello to the camera?"

Then suddenly, very close, a pale face, two wide set hazel eyes, framed with large eyelashes. Exquisite! Scully gasped.

The camera pulled back: it was a child around a year old, barely standing on its own under the trees, a head full of sandy colored hair, its sex indeterminate.

Staring at the camera seriously. Its face wary.

Looking so small underneath the towering fiery maple trees.

"Show how you can count," suggested the unseen woman.

The child cried out a syllable, and thrust a finger forward, looking cautiously at the woman who stood somewhere behind the camera.

"That's right, one," said the woman.

The child saw something on the ground, suddenly, and looked up at the woman seriously, its mouth slightly open.

The camera zoomed in, lurching. The child's face: round and pale, looking down at the ground, its eyelashes shading its eyes.

"Do you see something...what is it?" said the woman.

The child leaned over precariously, reaching for the ground, and picked up a bright red leaf. Its arm extended, shaking the leaf towards the unseen woman, its eyes wide and bright.

"It's a leaf, yes, it's red," the woman said. "So smart!"

The child smiled, just slightly, its lips pink and full over its teeth, and Mulder felt guilt press against the sides of his cranium.

***

They watched: rapt and frightened. Feeling the horror, yes -- the swirling anxiety and anger -- but also the deep pull.

Standing next to each other, untouching and unmoving, afraid to look away from the screen. His mouth slightly agape. Her eyes wide and filling with tears.

And although it made them weak with fear, they found themselves searching the child's face and body: searching for tiny fragments, the slightest characteristic or movement of: yes, themselves, but mostly of each other.

The deep pull, giving way to deep hopeless yearning. And again they were reminded of the vast deep expanse of their own aloneness.

And the dark red glow of the leaves on the television screen fell over their frozen faces, giving them an eerie blood red sheen.

***

Our state cannot be sever'd; we are one,
One flesh; to lose thee were to lose myself.
--John Milton, Paradise Lost

***

Chapter Text

***

And the Lord said to Abraham, "Take with you your only son -- yes, Isaac, whom you love so much -- and go to the land of Moriah and sacrifice him there."
- Genesis 22:2

***

Scully regarded the Lincoln Memorial.

She sat on a bench near the monument, having walked in meandering patterns over the entire city for the past three hours and finally sitting here, on the Mall. With the hordes of tourists.

Once I came here with Ahab, she remembered, when we came to DC with the family. He lifted me up on his shoulders and bought me a plastic flag and we joked about sitting in Lincoln's giant lap. And she was overwhelmed, momentarily, with the urge to be a child again, to sit on her father's broad shoulders, outstretch her arms, and prop her chin on top of her father's balding head.

Now the monument was swarming with schoolchildren with disposable cameras, running in mad circles over the steps and down to the reflecting pond.

Nearby, one little girl was leaping down the steps in front of the monument, testing herself by taking larger and larger jumps every time. Scully wondered if the child would fall, eventually, and felt her stomach knot up in an illogical, protective worry.

"Agent Scully?"

Scully was startled.

"Sir?"

"Are you here on assignment?"

His tone was faintly challenging.

"No, I am not," she replied, meeting his eyes.

"That's a strange response from you, Agent," Skinner said, more gently.

He sat next to her on the bench, his face unreadable. She was, of course, supposed to be in the office on a weekday afternoon. Scully wondered how he had ever known to find her here on the Mall.

"Do you know where Agent Mulder is right now?" he tried again.

"I don't," Scully said truthfully.

"He's given me this," Skinner said, pulling an envelope from his coat pocket and handing it to her. "A resignation letter."

So he has done it, Scully thought miserably, reading over the brief letter. I, Fox Mulder, hereby resign my position at the Federal Bureau of Investigation...

"Does that surprise you, Agent Scully?

"It saddens me, sir, but no, it doesn't surprise me."

Scully wondered if Skinner could tell how she was really feeling, and fervently hoped not.

She looked at him, dismayed to feel tears welling afresh in her eyes, and reached, wordlessly, into her coat pocket to carefully pull out the color photo she had made from the video.

Skinner took the photo of the child. "What's this?"

"That's why Mulder doesn't think he can go on."

Skinner carefully scanned the picture, and his eyes met hers again. "Who is this?" Skinner said.

"That is the biological child of myself and Agent Mulder," Scully said. "Created for the sole purpose of blackmail and manipulation by our smoky friend."

"Jesus," responded Skinner, his face inscrutable.

There was a silence for a moment, while Skinner regarded the color printout. Scully wondered if he were looking for their features, hints of his agents' characteristics.

"This child was created--?" Skinner began.

"It was created using an ovum harvested during my abduction and semen samples obtained from Agent Mulder in some unknown way," Scully said flatly, recounting the details like she would with any case.

"Oh, it would be easy for them," Skinner said, looking up from the photo and staring blankly at the children on the Lincoln Memorial. "They have more power than we can comprehend."

"Power without ethics or accountability," Scully said bitterly.

"Those bastards," Skinner said softly. "This is far worse than anything they've ever had on me."

Scully turned and looked at him, afraid to ask.

Skinner met her eyes. "Yes, Agent Scully, they've worked out their little safety plans with me, too."

"You continue to work without fear?"

"The thing they hold over my head," Skinner said, "is much less important to me than this is to you and Mulder."

Scully was silent.

"What I'm wondering is," Skinner continued, "will you resign alongside him?"

"I don't know. I don't know if I can leave this work, admitting defeat," Scully said. "I want to find the child, make them pay."

"But?"

"I don't want to add to the number of the dead," she said flatly, trying not to look at the picture that pulled upon her so. "And I don't want to be put in a position where I'm...emotionally vulnerable to these men. Or where Agent Mulder is..." Scully broke off, looked at him. "Would you, sir?"

Skinner's gaze back was even. "You're a far better agent than myself, Scully," he said slowly. "You'd better make this call without my advice."

He stood up. "But if you decide to stay on as senior partner of the X-files, Agent, you'll have my full administrative and personal support to pursue this case exclusively."

And he stood and walked away from her, leaving her sitting among the running schoolchildren, holding the printed out photo of her own child.

***

The banging on the door: that would be Scully, of course.

Mulder set his drink down, lifted himself off of the sofa, and found himself moving uncertainly towards the door, his mind fuzzy with alcohol. He didn't want to see Scully now -- couldn't bear it.

"Mulder," Scully said instantly, stepping inside his apartment.

"Hello," he said, evading her eyes. "Fancy meeting you here."

"Mulder, where have you been the past forty-eight hours?"

"In the bathroom," Mulder said, trying not to slur his words as he headed back to the sofa. "I couldn't get to a phone."

"You gave Skinner a resignation letter," Scully said, and something in her tone made him look at her. "You quit the X-files. The FBI."

"That's right," he said.

"And you didn't want to tell me?"

Her voice sounded strained, but her face was as stoic as ever.

"Scully, when we watched that video, you must have known that the X-files were finished. At least my affiliation with them," Mulder said, over enunciating. "They have us by the balls. No options."

"You're drunk, aren't you, Mulder?" Scully said softly.

"What do you think, Scully?"

She was silent, her face unreadable.

"Yes, yes, I am," Mulder nodded. "What investigative skill, Agent Scully. You will be more than adept at carrying on the quest for Truth all by yourself."

It sounded more sudden, more pathetic than he'd intended.

"I'm not resigning, Mulder, if that's what you're asking me to say," she answered evenly. "But I'd rather not do it alone, either."

Mulder felt himself lurch for her and seize her arm.

He pulled her towards him suddenly. Her face was much closer to him than they were used to.

She didn't pull away, but looked at him with wide sad eyes, unflinching.

He leaned over, and the smell of her hair in his nostrils, whispered into her ear.

"You could do the X-Files alone, though, couldn't you, Scully? You're better at it than I am. I think it's because you have more faith than me."

"That's not true, Mulder," Scully answered him, her voice strangely muted.

"But I *couldn't* go on alone," Mulder responded, still speaking in her ear. "I've told you that before."

"So go on with me," Scully whispered back. Meeting his eyes. Smelling faintly floral.

So ... close.

Then, a release: "I can't do that anymore, either."

Scully didn't say anything, but he could feel her disappointment.

Overpowering. He turned away from her and looked out the window.

"I don't understand..." she began. "Mulder, I just don't understand how..."

And then stopped. He didn't turn to look at her. Just kept staring out the window.

"Good-bye, Mulder," she said after a beat.

"Where are you going?" he whispered into the window.

"To the office," Scully answered. Such a strange distant quality to her voice.

"Good luck," Mulder answered, not turning away from the window.

***

It was long past midnight, but there was the child, frozen, moving slightly, facial muscle by facial muscle. Frame by frame.

Scully scanned the video, seeking any small detail that would give her a clue as to its location, but unsure of what to look for.

It isn't my strength as an investigator, she found herself thinking on the twentieth viewing. Details such as this leap out at Mulder instantly, but I am inclined to see the whole picture. The forest for the trees.

The child was dressed so as to be purposely androgynous: a white tee-shirt, toddler blue jeans, tiny sexless tennis shoes. A genderless haircut: hair that fell loosely about its face, a sandy shade of brown.

The hair will darken as the child gets older, Scully predicted. Mulder's dark hair and dark eyes: dominant genetic traits, of course. Her own facial bone structure, narrow nose, wide-set eyes.

And what else lurked in this poor child's DNA, waiting to manifest itself? A genetic disorder, programmed in? Or maybe only its parents' natural pathologies: depression, perfectionism, obsession, self-doubt.

If you found this child? What then?

Scully couldn't imagine the scenario. It seemed like absurd satire to insert a child into her life.

When she had come in contact with Emily, it had occurred to her first: that she was a laundry list of qualities incompatible with motherhood. That her recent life had made her too hard, too unpredictable to be a stable influence on anyone, much less a child.

But it became surreal while watching the video with Mulder: Agents Scully and Mulder, a grotesque parody of new parents watching baby videos. Not parents at all, really, but needy children themselves, grabbing selfishly on to this unintended life to save themselves from their own loneliness.

The child in the video kneeled down for the red leaf on the forest floor, taking it awkwardly in small fingers, and lifting it up for the unseen woman to see.

Then Scully noticed something she had not before.

She rewound the tape, and watched again as the child spotted the leaf, and knelt down to pick it up.

Pause.

The forest floor was covered with spots of grass and brown and red leaves, but just underneath the child's foot, barely visible, there was some dirt, some exposed earth, that was reddish orange in color, and as the child moved to pick up the leaf, the red dirt sullied the side of its shoe, ever so slightly.

"Red dirt," Scully said, and tapped her fingers on the desk thoughtfully. It didn't mean much, but it made her think of the southern United States. Georgia, South Carolina, Alabama. Isn't that where there was that hard red clay coating the ground? She remembered her mother talking about the challenges of gardening in the south.

It was nothing, the slightest hint of a lead, and she ached to call Mulder and bounce it off of him.

But he would be passed out by now, and his drunkenness was ... alarming to her anyway.

Not only that, of course, Agent Scully, she reminded herself. Mulder is off the X-Files, she remembered. It's you now. You're the X-Files. Dr. Spooky and her lonely basement office.

She stared at the red clay in the video, amazed and despairing.

***

Mulder stared out of his apartment window for an hour, maybe, feeling the effects of the alcohol slowly begin to fade, before he noticed a figure standing alone down the street, its face orange in the streetlamp illumination.

Are you watching me, buddy?

The figure shifted its weight from one foot to another. A man.

You can leave me the hell alone. I'm not of any interest to anyone anymore. Something reminded him...

And Mulder, without a second thought, took off running for the man standing outside.

***

The Lab Geek tried to dodge him, of course, and took off running down a side alley. But Mulder knew the neighborhood, and sprinting around the block, cut him off at the other side.

"Stay where you are," Mulder said, grabbing the Lab Geek's arm and twisting it behind him. "I have some questions for you."

"I'm dead now," whispered the Lab Geek helplessly. "You've killed me."

"You were standing down the street from my apartment. Why?"

"I was trying to think of a way to contact you," the Lab Geek said. "A way that would mean I could still live."

"Who's after you?"

"Who do you think, Agent Mulder?"

Mulder stared at the man's face. He was genuinely terrified -- that much was certain.

"Let's go to a public place," suggested Mulder. "Let's go to a coffee shop and sit under some bright lights and order some pie or something. Then we can talk."

"It won't matter," the Lab Geek said dully. "I'm a dead man. And I think it's ... okay. Really. It’s okay."

"Not too cheerful, huh?"

"I've ... done some damage. Damage I can’t undo. I've hurt people I love."

"Well, join the club," Mulder said. "For some of us it's more of a lifestyle. Listen -- there's a coffee shop up around the corner. We can head there."

"Agent Mulder," the Lab Geek said, his face suddenly weirdly bright. He grabbed Mulder's lapels and gazed at his face. "There is someone who is going to be very hurt by my contacting you."

"Gee, I hope his name is CGB Spender."

"No -- someone innocent, who I involved in this myself," the Lab Geek hissed. "You'll do damage control, won't you, Agent Mulder?"

"Let's go to a public place," Mulder said again. This alley was making him nervous. And why did the Lab Geek stare at him so strangely, with such odd intensity?

"Don't you see that it doesn't matter?" the Lab Geek said, staring at Mulder. He waved his finger behind him into the alley. "I'm about to die."

And as if on cue, from the far end of the alley a shot rang out, staining the Lab Geek's back red.

"Jesus," whispered Mulder, trying to support the Lab Geek's slumping body. "Help -- we need an ambulance here!" he called towards the street, furiously looking about for sign of an assassin or witness or *anyone*. "How the hell did you see the shooter behind you?"

"Agent Mulder," murmured the Lab Geek, blood seeping around his teeth, "I worked for Riverside Biotech Laboratories. My name is Koenig. Earl Koenig."

"Earl," Mulder said, his stomach churning with nausea. "I am sorry. I should have listened to you, let you be...just stay still, and I'll find help."

"I lied to you," the Lab Geek said. "I knew what I was doing, all along. That I'd probably die. Listen, you can find what you need..."

"You shouldn't speak now. I'll get an ambulance," Mulder said helplessly, trying to apply pressure to the wound.

"Tell her I'm so sorry..." the Lab Geek said. "I am so very, very sorry I ever..."

And Mulder, soaked in blood and feeling for a pulse,felt Earl Koenig's life leave him.

***

Mulder found Scully in the basement office, exactly where she said she'd be.

She had fallen asleep at Mulder's desk, her face pressed against an open copy of a road atlas, open to the Southeastern United States. On the television screen, Mulder noticed, was the video. Paused on the moment where the child leans down to pick up a leaf.

"Scully," he said. He didn't want to frighten her. His clothes were stiff with the Lab Geek's -- no -- with Earl Koenig's blood.

She woke up obediently, her eyes flickering open, accustomed now to interruptions in her sleeping patterns. She stared at him.

"Sorry, nobody down here but the FBI's most unwanted," she said, blinking.

"Earl Koenig. Of Riverside Biotech Laboratories. That's your lead, Scully."

"What happened to you?"

Mulder didn't say anything for a moment.

"The Lab Geek. I saw him on the street outside my apartment, and I chased him down, and he told me his name."

"What?" Scully sat up, instantly alert. "Where is he now?"

"Dead," Mulder said. He disliked the strange cold tone of his voice. So detached.

"Damn," Scully said. She looked at her hands, and then looked back up at him suddenly. "You lasted about ten hours off the job, Mulder."

"I'm not back, Scully," Mulder said. "I'm trying to give you a tip, that's all."

"Civilians don't chase down suspects and attempt to obtain information like you did tonight."

Mulder said nothing, but refused to meet her glance.

"Will you come with me to Atlanta, Mulder?" she asked.

"What's in Atlanta?" he said.

"I have a hunch that's where Riverside Biotechnology will be located."

"Scully," Mulder felt the pressure in his head again.

He turned and faced the television set. The image of his child flickered weirdly on pause. "I can't. Not any more. I can't cope with the potential … risk."

He looked at her, so weary and pale behind his desk, her eyes wide and vulnerable. Like the child's in the paused video, he realized.

"Can you understand that?" he said more softly. "After all I've done and been through and thought about Samantha, to have this added risk: another blameless child? Can you understand at all, Scully?"

"No," she answered quietly. A slight hitch in her voice. "I can't."

And to his horror, her eyes filled with tears.

***

Riverside Biotech Laboratories, it turned out, was located in a snarl of traffic and office parks in north Atlanta, and by the time Scully had arrived in the door of the building, she was already exhausted.

"I'm looking for the supervisor of Earl Koenig," Scully told the front desk receptionist, who regarded her with surprise.

"You with the press, honey?" the desk receptionist said. "Because I don't think he's giving interviews."

"No, I'm an F.B.I. agent," Scully said patiently, showing her badge. "Special Agent Dana Scully."

"That's a different story," the desk receptionist said, pressing buttons. "We're all real upset to hear about what happened up in D.C...."

She spoke into the phone: "Dr. Lowry? There's an FBI lady out here to see you about Mr. Koenig's death. Agent Scully." She looked up, hanging the phone up. "He should be out in a few minutes."

It had already occurred to Scully that she would encounter an investigation into Earl Koenig's murder, and she supposed that up to a point it could work to her advantage. If there were other individuals nervous at work, a murder investigation might prompt them to talk.

*Or it might scare them into silence,* Scully thought, tapping her fingers.

"Agent Scully?" Dr. Lowry was younger than she expected; he looked barely out of school, with red hair and ruddy freckles. "Step down the hallway into the conference room, please."

She followed him down a short hallway that ended in what looked to be a rather elaborate security clearance point down the hall. They turned into a small conference room halfway down the hall, and Dr. Lowry gestured towards a chair.

"Please, have a seat," he said, grimacing. "I've already spoken to the police, of course, but whatever else I can do to help. I'm seriously shaken by the news."

"Dr. Lowry, in what capacity did Mr. Koenig work for you?"

"He was a research assistant," Dr. Lowry said. "I have six research assistants on my team; he was one."

"And what kind of work was he involved in, exactly?"

Dr. Lowry shook his head and smiled a little. "Now I did explain this to the police, already. We're checking it out with our legal department, but at Riverside Biotech we do have a strict confidentiality policy with our clients."

Scully felt herself go cold. "I see. So the work that Earl Koenig was doing was for a ... corporate client."

"That's right. In the most vague terms, our laboratories do a wide range of testing and research in many areas: genetic engineering, fertility treatments, artificial limbs ... we work for big Fortune 500 companies, nonprofit organizations, the government."

"Would it be possible, Dr. Lowry, for the work Earl Koenig did for you to be linked, somehow, to his murder?"

Dr. Lowry's eyes grew a little rounder, and his lips pursed tighter. "Absolutely not, Agent Scully. We're a research group. Very benign."

"Do you know why he was in Washington, D.C.?"

"I don't," Dr. Lowry said. "He was supposed to be at work this past week. I called his wife myself to check up on him, and she didn't know where he had disappeared to either. So I deduced he had gone somewhere for personal reasons."

"I see," Scully said.

"But I've told this all to the police already, Agent Scully," Dr. Lowry said, a slight edge to his voice. "Don't you have access to their reports?"

"Do you have Earl Koenig's home address?" Scully said, abruptly. "I would like to speak to his wife."

You're behaving like an insane person, she told herself. You're behaving like Mulder.

"I will happily provide it, Agent," Dr. Lowry said. "Although I don't understand how your investigation is functioning without such basic information."

Scully said nothing, but jotted down Koenig's address in silence.

***

The banging on the door couldn't be Scully, of course, because she was in Atlanta.

"Who is it?" called Mulder from the sofa.

He hadn't moved in hours, he realized. What time was it? How long had he been lying here? He looked down at the book in his hand: Soren Kierkegard. Philosophy. How long had he read before he fell asleep?

"It's Walter Skinner."

Mulder sat up and stared at the door.

"I'm not home, sir," he called back.

"Open the door, Mulder," came Skinner's reply.

Mulder sighed, deeply.

"I don't have to do what you say any more," he answered, standing up. Everything ached. "I'm not your employee now."

He didn't want to see Skinner. Not at all. But he opened the door.

"It's going to be hard for me to adjust to you not listening to me, and not respecting my judgment, Mulder," Skinner replied, standing in the door frame, "but somehow I think I can manage it."

"Scully's in Atlanta," Mulder said.

"I know, obviously," Skinner said, inviting himself in. "I approved her travel arrangements. What I'm curious about is why you're not there, too."

Mulder smiled grimly and flopped down on his sofa again.

"Haven’t we covered this? I'm not an FBI agent anymore, that's why," Mulder answered. "I'm going to pursue a new career as a sofa cushion."

"You have a biological child," Skinner said. "Scully showed me the video."

"Then you must understand, sir,” Mulder said sharply, “why I might not want to put anyone at risk."

“No, see, that’s what confuses me,” Skinner said. "To put who at risk? The child? Isn't the child at risk regardless? Vulnerable to these men? God, Mulder, you know what these men are capable of."

"I've been looking for Samantha, sir, for how many years?" Mulder said. "How can I guarantee that my searching for this child will help its situation? I'm not really that helpful. I’m more ...poisonous to everyone I encounter."

"It's not just the child, is it?" Skinner said. "It's not just the child you're worried about hurting here."

Mulder was silent.

"And it's goddamned foolish, you know."

"It *is* the child, sir," Mulder began, weakly.

"It's foolish because she wants you there so badly," said Skinner. "She can take care of herself. But she hates feeling alone as much as you do. Maybe more than you do."

"I don't know what you're talking about, sir," Mulder said.

"I have some information I need for you to courier to Agent Scully," Skinner continued. "It's very important. It concerns a medical condition I have reason to believe the child has."

"What kind of medical condition?" Mulder said. "How do you know this?"

"I have my sources of information, too, Mulder," Skinner said. "And I happened to know first-hand about this condition, since I have it myself."

Mulder sat up. "What the hell are you talking about?"

"It's not really a sickness at all. It is a type of technological control they are able to exert over my physical health," Skinner said.

"Your sickness last spring?" Mulder said.

"Exactly right," Skinner said. "I've been able to find out more about it. I know that it's controlled through a kind of palm pilot, and that I could be attacked at any time."

"But have you been able to locate a..."

"It's not about me, Mulder," Skinner said. "I think they've infected others, too, as a safety net. If the child ever got into your hands, they could still control you. Do you understand?"

 

***

Two police cars sat outside of Earl Koenig's house, which unsettled Scully.

She wasn't sure she wanted to explain her involvement in this case, but she *did* need to talk to Koenig's wife.

I wish I were Eugene Tooms. I could squeeze in and listen to their conversation without their knowledge.

"I'm Special Agent Scully, FBI," she told the police officer who answered the door.

She lowered her voice: "I don't mean to intrude on your homicide investigation, but I'd like to speak to Mrs. Koenig about a related matter, if that's possible right now."

The policeman raised an eyebrow.

"I don't think you've been filled in on all the details, Agent," the policeman answered. "Maybe you'd better come inside."

Mrs. Koenig sat in a chair, quietly crying, surrounded by two detectives. Another was dusting the door handle to an adjacent room, which Scully thought odd. Why dust in the Koenig home, when the homicide was in D.C.?

"We're questioning Amber Koenig right now about a possible kidnapping," the policeman said to Scully quietly.

"Her four year old son has been missing since yesterday. And in light of her husband's murder, we've got reason to be concerned."

A kidnapping. Scully felt herself grow very, very still.

"Who are you?" called Amber Koenig, from her chair. "The woman who just came in...? Are you a detective?"

Amber Koenig was pale, with dark hair, and a strangely pinched, narrow face.

She looks as if she were about to break, thought Scully. But then what could be more understandable?

"I'm an FBI agent, Mrs. Koenig," Scully said. "My name is Agent Dana Scully."

Mrs. Koenig looked at her, wordlessly, for a moment.

"Is the FBI going to be working on finding Isaac, too?"

"I'm sorry, ma'am. I came here to ask you questions about your husband, actually," Scully answered. She felt the detectives' eyes drilling into her, and felt her face flush.

She wasn't supposed to intrude on their investigation. She was supposed to call first, explain matters, introduce herself, wait her turn.

All the things she normally was very careful to do, and that Mulder completely ignored.

"I'd like to talk to Agent Scully for a minute," Mrs. Koenig said, her voice suddenly more even.

"We have just a few more questions, Mrs. Koenig," the detective answered, staring at Scully.

"I would like to speak with her, officer, if you wouldn't mind," she said again, a slight southern accent coloring her speech. "There's some coffee in the kitchen, I think, and tea..."

Scully shifted her weight on to her other foot, and waited for the officers to look at one another, and at her.

"All right, ma'am," the detective said. He didn't sound happy. But as Mrs. Koenig took Scully's hand and led her to the couch, her eyes were strangely bright.

"He was going up to see you, in Washington, wasn't he?" said Mrs. Koenig softly. "Earl was?

"I think he went to see my partner, actually," Scully said. "Agent Mulder. Had he mentioned him to you before?"

"No, but I knew he was going up to see F.B.I. agents," Mrs. Koenig whispered. "I saw him addressing an envelope, about a week ago, and then he bought the plane tickets. I was angry, because I'd thought we'd take a vacation with Isaac, and he was going off..."

Her eyes filled with tears, and Scully grasped her hand.

"I'm sorry, Mrs. Koenig, I know this is hard," she said. "But do you know why your husband might have wanted to see F.B.I. agents?"

Mrs. Koenig wiped her eyes, and blinked back tears, staring at Scully.

"Can we keep this confidential, for the time being, Ms. Scully? Because I haven't mentioned any of this to the police, and I don't know if it's even important, or just ... our family's dirty laundry."

Scully nodded, willing her breathing to stay even and natural.

"I think it had to do with our son, Isaac," Mrs. Koenig said. "We adopted him through someone Earl knew at work, and I think Earl was trying to locate Isaac's biological parents. Because Isaac had been sick, lately, in these strange little spurts, on and off, and we didn't know why, so my husband had been asking questions at work. "

For a moment, Scully felt like she was stepping backwards, but she wasn’t. She was still standing there, facing Mrs. Koenig, breathing in and out.

Of course. Of course this is what happened. She swallowed.

"What happened after he started asking questions at work, Mrs. Koenig?"

"He told me no one would tell him anything, that the child's records were sealed," said Mrs. Koenig. "But then he became oddly agitated. One night he woke me up, and insisted on apologizing to me, but he wouldn't say for what. He wouldn't tell me what was happening, Agent Scully, but I assumed he had found something about Isaac's past he didn't want me to know."

"When did you adopt Isaac?" Scully's voice sounded unnaturally high to her own ears, but maybe Mrs. Koenig wouldn't notice.

"Is it important, you think?" Mrs. Koenig said, hopefully.

Scully couldn't understand why this woman seemed to be so trusting of her. It filled her with a kind of guilty dread.

"It could be."

"We can't have kids," smiled Mrs. Koenig, her face a mixture of emotions. "And through Earl's work, he enrolled us in a foster program. We took in infants, just for a few months, until they were found adoptive families. We had four children come through before Isaac."

You were a temporary storage facility for child guinea pigs. And you never knew. Scully noticed that she was clenching her fists.

"But we had Isaac for nearly six months. He was a little over a year old, and absolutely the most ...extraordinary child I had ever seen," she said. "He could speak in sentences. He seemed so alert, so fascinated by the world..."

She smiled, and some tears streamed down her face.

"You know, both Earl and I studied science in school. We went to Georgia Tech," she smiled, "and we met as lab partners in a chemistry lab."

She wiped her face with the back of her hand.

"And it might sound stupid, Ms. Scully, but we told ourselves that Isaac was a natural scientist. Curious, observant, a good memory for a child. He was the kind of son I like to think we would have had biologically anyway. So Earl sought permission at work to adopt him. This was almost three years ago..."

"Do you have a photo?" Scully's voice was barely a whisper.

Mrs. Koenig picked a photo album nearby. "I've given photos to the police already, of course. Do you think you can help find Isaac, Ms. Scully?"

It was the same pale and sandy-haired child from the video in the photos.

Which shouldn't have surprised Scully, at this point, but she felt herself startle nonetheless.

In a wading pool, with Earl Koenig holding his hand.

Sitting in a high chair, a half smile on his face.

Regarding a stuffed dog curiously, a raised eyebrow.

Looking *so* much like Mulder, Scully realized, a cramp gripping suddenly at her stomach.

"You say Isaac had been sick?" she asked, still staring at the pictures.

"Strange little episodes. He would be covered with huge purple hives, like chicken pox, only bigger," said Mrs. Koenig. "He wouldn't be able to hold down food, or even sit up in bed. We even ran him to the hospital a few times. But after a day or so, it would pass, and he'd be back to normal...just a little weak."

Scully regarded a photo of Isaac in a wool cap, ready to play in the snow.

"At first I thought it was a 24-hour flu," said Mrs. Koenig. "But it happened several times, you know, in just a few months: always the same. I started worrying about what would happen when he started kindergarten, missing all that school, you know? No doctors could give us any explanation. And so Earl thought maybe there could be a genetic disorder of some kind, that maybe we should research Isaac's parents' medical history."

She wiped her eyes. "And that's why, I thought, he went to D.C.. To track down more information. I didn't know what the F.B.I. had to do with it, and frankly, Ms. Scully," she said, sadly, "I didn't want to know. I didn't want it to be the kind of thing Isaac could find out, someday."

How much had Earl Koenig known, wondered Scully? When did he become aware of his role in an unethical game, and how it might affect his son?

It was unbearable, that this woman should become involved like this. That anyone innocent had become involved in this.

And that included the little boy. The little boy who liked to play in the snow, who had Mulder's face and the natural capacity for science.

"I will try to find him for you, Mrs. Koenig," whispered Scully, suddenly. "I can try to bring him back to you, as best I can."

Mrs. Koenig looked up at her, surprised.

"Thank you, Agent Scully," she said, unsteadily.

"If I have any more questions, or any additional information, do you mind if I stop by later this evening?"

Mrs. Koenig shook her head, bewildered. "Do you mind if I ask -- how you are connected to all of this?"

"It has to do with my partner," replied Scully, almost without thinking. It was not a lie.

***

When she walked out of the Koenigs' door, Scully sighed, deeply, as if she had been holding her breath since she entered.

And she took a deep breath in, again.

She willed herself to stay calm, physically smoothing down her suit as if to knock out the wrinkles in her emotional state. But she couldn't shake this ever-tightening loneliness. Her great sinking feeling of despair.

Isaac's recurring sickness. It bothered her. Specific purple hives, flu-like symptoms. What could it be?

She thought of Emily's face -- Emily who was Isaac's biological half-sister. What had she done to prevent Emily's sickness and death? Would she do the same service for this little boy?

Suddenly, she felt as though she were a character in some kind of play, a classical tragedy, written somewhere in stone, unchangeable.

No free will -- only a sense of catapulting towards an inevitable conclusion. What would it be? Someone blinded, someone murdered, a son dead? Children shouldering the burden of payment for the actions of their parents? No hope of appealing successfully to a higher power.

Scully wondered, for a moment, where her faith was.

Every fiber of her being told her to call Mulder. As if it were part of the play. A scene she couldn't avoid.

Should she call him up -- again like a cruel, grotesque parody of a happy mother -- tell him, congratulations, you have a son? Named Isaac? Who is adorable, and according to his mother, a natural scientist?

That is, if he's still alive.

She stared at the phone. She couldn't quite bring herself to make the call.

She felt something terrible well up in her throat, and was suddenly filled with a dark urge to drive back over to Riverside Biotech and make that red-headed scientist give her more information.

If I put a gun in his face, he might tell me who Koenig worked for, she thought miserably, I could do it. I could express my free will, for better or for worse.>

As she walked to her car, she imagined she was turning, physically, into Mulder, which would be a relief in some ways. People would take her more seriously as a tall dark FBI agent, wouldn't they? The son of a bitch at Riverside would listen to her.

But she wasn't Mulder, not really. And as she put her hand on the car door handle, she felt a hand go over her mouth.

A hand with a soft cloth, pressed against her nostrils and lips.

Pushing back against someone, she attempted to grab her gun.

And before she lost consciousness, her last thought was:

Who would have the audacity to kidnap me right in front of a house full of police officers?

***

She wasn't answering her cell phone, which was worrisome.

And she had told Skinner she would be staying at a Best Western, but according to the woman answering the phone, she had not yet checked in.

But she was a big girl, Mulder reminded himself. And what could he do, exactly, to help?

Mulder stood in Washington National, surrounded by geometric patterns of fast-moving business people and tourists, and considered his options.

The first: go home. Keep trying Scully on the cell phone, and try to get her to a fax machine. He could fax the material Skinner gave him to her, no problem.

Then he could find something to distract him: books, a dirty movie, sleep. Reassure himself that his help was not needed.

The second option ...

Mulder regarded the plane ticket to Atlanta.

A child represents risk. The potential for future suffering. Another holy grail, always just out of reach, like Samantha.

But this dangling carrot was entangled, painfully, in his devotion to Scully. In his *love* for Scully. The slightest tug on this, the slightest push, and it could be devastating. It could be all-encompassing.

He lifted his cell phone, dialing her comfortably familiar number one more time.

"This cellular customer is not..."

And he knew he had no options, really. Not if he didn't want to behave like a coward.

He checked the time on the ticket. He had ten minutes to get to the gate.

***

When Scully awoke, she was aware she was laying on a military cot, just like the one her father used to have.

She could feel the canvas and cold metal beneath her fingertips, and in the confusion of waking, she thought maybe she was there, in the basement of her childhood, napping on her father's old navy cot.

But she smelled cigarette smoke, and no one in her family -- besides herself, on certain rebellious occasions -- had ever smoked.

"Agent Scully?" he said, a small smile on his lips. "I see you're waking up."

Her eyes sprung open. She forced her body up, facing him in one quick movement.

"I should kill you," she found herself saying. "I should shoot you in the goddamn head, you son of a bitch."

But she had no gun, she realized instantly, patting her clothing. She found she was wearing hospital scrubs, and she was, of course, unarmed. She felt unsteady, leaning against the cot.

The cigarette-smoking man shook his head, a slight 'tsk-tsk' on his lips.

"I'm afraid Agent Mulder has not had a good effect on your personality. You were such a sweet-natured young woman when I first met you."

"Where are my clothes?" Scully said, her voice deliberately low and calm. "And my badge? My gun?"

"In good time," he smiled. "Why don't you have a seat? I'd like to talk to you, Agent Scully."

"Where am I?" Scully asked, realizing this was the most important question. It looked like a hospital room, white and sterile, but there was a desk and a sofa, like it was a corporate office.

But he just smiled, slightly, and sat behind the desk.

"You know, Agent Scully, I often think back to the first time I laid eyes on you," he said. "You were one of the greater missteps of my life. So when I do think of you, I indulge in some hindsight."

He gestured to the sofa, a burgundy leather affair with brass trim.

Scully stared at him, feeling alarmingly vulnerable. She wondered if this was how Mulder usually felt, in his more regular interactions with this man.

"Please," he smiled slightly. "Have a seat."

She slowly moved to the sofa, sitting gingerly on the very edge.

"Rarely have I so misjudged a situation," he said, extinguishing a cigarette carelessly in a crystal ashtray, "as I did having you assigned to the X-files."

He pounded a new cigarette out of the package.

"I watched you in your classes at Quantico. I reviewed your academic history, your family history, your personal relationships," he continued.

"I thought that your rationalism, your respect for authority, would be well-suited for counteracting the ambitions of my son. But in just a very short time, I realized it was a fatal error. You have done exactly the opposite. You've made my son a more dangerous adversary. And you've become one yourself."

Scully stared at him, trying to make her face a mask.

"I mean Fox Mulder, of course, when I say 'my son,'" he said. "Surely you're aware of that history?"

She shrugged, slowly, deliberately ambiguous.

"But in spite of my miscalculation of you -- or perhaps *because* of it, I also must admit a certain respect for your abilities. I think you are a spectacularly cunning mind. In some ways, more talented than my son. Who despite brilliance, does have his glaring flaws. I can see what would draw him to you."

"What do you want from me?" she said, with cold precision. Her hatred for this man, her protectiveness of Mulder, it made her vulnerable, she realized. Better to stay calm. Don't give him any openings.

"I am going to offer you a solution," he said. "A mutually beneficial solution. To both of our problems."

She paused, pursing her lips. "And that is...?"

"Follow me, Agent Scully," he said, standing, and taking a drag.

He went to the door at the room's rear, and opened it slightly, gesturing for her to walk through it.

When she stood, she felt a dizzy sensation of foreboding.

Feeling as though she were leaping from a great height, she took steps through the door.

***

It was a drab nursery of sorts, with many children's cots, and some worn-out stuffed animals tossed about.

Only one cot was occupied. A child, sitting, facing the wall, with only a sandy head of hair turned to Scully. He didn't seem to notice them standing in the door; if he did, he made no reaction.

"He's not a particularly happy child, I'm afraid," whispered the cigarette-smoking man behind her, holding the door. "Go talk to him, Agent Scully."

Scully stared at the child, perfectly still where she stood.

"Go on," he said quietly, touching her shoulder. "You're his mother, after all."

"His mother is Amber Koenig," whispered Scully, furiously, shaking his hand from her shoulder and turning, to keep the child from hearing. "You took him from her home."

He smiled one of his sickly little smiles, and replied, "Amber Koenig is dead, Agent Scully. She committed suicide yesterday evening after you left her house. She sat in a running car inside of her garage. Terrible tragedy."

Amber Koenig's pinched face, framed with dark hair, asking Scully to find her son. The pictures, the video, with Mrs. Koenig and this little boy ...

Scully felt herself go cold.

"You killed her," she said.

"I'm not God, Agent Scully," he replied. "I don't choose who lives and who dies."

His eyes still on her, he closed the door.

And Scully, slowly, turned and stared at the boy.

Utterly unable to imagine what to say to him.

It had been the same with Emily -- the same awkwardness, the same loss of confidence. But he saved her the worry.

"Do you know where my mother is?"

He spoke suddenly, still facing the wall, not looking at her at all.

She took a step towards him. "Isaac? Your name is Isaac?"

"I know my father is dead," he said, flatly. He sounded so old, for a four-year old, Scully thought. So weary. "He was killed in Washington."

"I know," Scully said, inadequately. "I'm so sorry, Isaac. I know that he loved you very much."

"Is my mother dead, too?" he asked.

This time he turned, to look at her, his eyes empty. Absent of tears. He was paler, and more serious, than even in the pictures.

Scully felt her own eyes fill. "I -- I don't know," she answered.

"I think she is," he said, scowling. "I think that both of my parents are dead, and that's why I'm here. With that man."

Moving slowly, like she would with an injured animal, Scully lowered herself down, sitting next to him, on the cot.

"Isaac. I'm going to try to help you. I don't want ... for you to stay here with him if you don't want to."

She wasn't prepared for him to lean against her, suddenly, to press his small forehead into her side.

Unexpected physical affection. Like Mulder.

"Who are you?" he whispered deep into her side. "Why do you want to help me?"

"I'm a friend of yours," she said, touching his head gingerly. "I think you might be -- related to me, somehow, and I want to take care of you. You're a very, very important boy to me."

"Is that man my grandpa?" he said, in a very tight little voice.

Scully felt revulsion, as she ran fingers through the boy's soft, Mulder-like hair.

"Is that ... what he told you?"

The boy looked up at her, a single tear in his eyes.

"I miss her," he said, suddenly a real four-year old. "I don't want her to be dead."

He started to cry, and Scully held him firmly against her. She had nothing to tell him, no hope to give him.

How can I find an explanation for him, she thought miserably, when I am still searching for one for myself?

***

He had been crying for a long time when the cigarette-smoking man opened the door to the nursery again.

"Scully?" he said. "A word with you in the office?"

She stared at him, too numb to sum up the requisite amount of hatred, cradling Isaac in her arms.

"I don't feel like speaking with you," she said, her voice strained.

"I'd like to explain more to you about our possible arrangement," he said. "A way I believe might suit Isaac best now, too."

"Is my mother dead?" Isaac called to him, his voice hoarse and small with tears.

The cigarette-smoking man paused, regarding the child.

He walked over to where they sat on the couch, and knelt down in front of Isaac.

Scully tightened her hold on the boy, wishing she could close his ears, too.

"I'm afraid so, son," the cigarette-smoking man said. "I'm very sorry."

And strangely, his face did look sorry. Scully wondered if this man were truly Mulder's father and Isaac's grandfather. It certainly didn’t make any of this better.

"She was so sad about your father dying, that I'm afraid she died herself," the cigarette-smoking man said simply.

Isaac just looked at him, the tears rolling down his cheeks becoming slower and slower. Less frequent.

"I'm trying to arrange something for you," continued the cigarette smoking man. "Someone to take care of you. How do you like Miss Scully, here? She's a very nice lady, isn't she?"

Isaac looked miserably at him, and nodded his head.

"Miss Scully?" The man was pulling a cigarette out. "A word in the office?"

"I'll be back," she whispered into Isaac's ear. "Try to rest, okay?"

He looked at her with empty eyes.

She kissed him on the cheek, and lay him down on the cot, covering him with a light sheet. He wouldn't sleep, she imagined. But maybe he would be able to cry, which was probably better for a child than brooding.

And she followed the devil into his office.

***

"In southwest England, in Cornwall, there is a rather remote town on the seashore, populated by mostly locals, but also a fair amount of London tourists."

Scully watched him, silently.

"They have a small medical clinic, for the locals and the summer visitors, where they have an opening for a general practitioner. It would be mostly sprained limbs, flu, mild infections," he said, breathing in on a cigarette. "It wouldn't be a lot of money, but I would supplement it with a small stipend. You would need some certification, but I could provide that."

"You're suggesting I take a job as a doctor in Cornwall?" Scully said, not comprehending.

"I have already acquired a small seashore cottage," he said. "A garden. A nice, old-fashioned kitchen, a living room, a library, which could also be your office. And two bedrooms. A master bedroom, for you, and one for Isaac."

He would give her Isaac.

She didn't trust him, of course, not at all.

But she couldn't prevent a small, internal flicker of hope.

"It would be a simple life. A wonderful place for the boy to grow up, I believe," he said, a dry smile. "I had a London associate who used to holiday there. Good primary schools, lots of places to play on the beach, a healthy environment."

She could almost envision it. Bandaging up tourists' limbs, rather than cutting into mutants' corpses. Spending weekends sitting in the sun, watching Isaac build sand castles.

A place to raise a child. A place to heal, both herself and him, she thought.

"You would have to change your name, of course," he said. "You could keep your first name. I suggest something simple. Dr. Dana Woolsey. Or Dr. Dana O'Connor, if you prefer to keep your ethnic ties. Isaac would take your last name."

"What is the price?"

He regarded her.

"A complete termination of contact with Fox Mulder."

She felt ashamed, suddenly, for entertaining the fantasy. For failing to fit the pieces together.

"No," she said.

"You could have limited contact with your family," he said, "but that would have to be established over time. To prevent him from searching for you."

"I won't do it," she said.

"I suggest this alternative," the cigarette-smoking man said, a thin smile, "because the child is my grandson. It would be less difficult for me to see him happy with a capable parent than ... anything else worse that might happen to him."

“Meaning?”

"It's not impossible that the child could die," he said, with a shrug. "Even if I tried to spare him, it could come down to it, in the course of the game. Unless this option is pursued. This is a much better way, Dana."

She felt a few panicked tears spring into her eyes, although she cursed herself for appearing vulnerable in front of him.

"Don't sacrifice the boy out of devotion to Fox Mulder," he said. "Fox isn't worth it to you, ultimately."

He sucked on a cigarette, and looked at her, urgently.

"Oh, I can imagine how you feel about him," he said, waving his cigarette around. "I imagine you suppose someday he will see your devotion, and you will cease to be unhappy and fall into each other's arms."

"You don’t know how I feel," Scully retorted, wiping her tears quickly, wondering how much of her and Mulder's partnership this man had observed.

"The hope of love with my son is not worth this child's life," the cigarette-smoking man said. "As a lover, Fox Mulder has managed to disappoint less discriminating women than yourself. I believe that like his father, he's incapable of making a woman really happy. I'm sure you're already more than aware of his emotional flaws."

"You don't understand," Scully said, "why I can't accept this bargain. You can't begin to understand."

"And you must know on some level it would be better for Fox as well," the man continued. "I believe, at this point, you represent a weak spot for him. He needs to be free of this partnership of codependency. To move on with his life."

"You don't care about him," Scully said, sharply. "Don't pretend you do. You believe that without me, Mulder would not be able to go on with the X-files. That's what you want. That's why you're offering."

"I'm afraid I'm not as simple to interpret as you think," said the cigarette-smoking man.

“Nor," Scully said, "am I.”

She imagined going back to Mulder, taking his face in her hands, telling him she had lost this strangely produced child of theirs to CGB Spender, that this four-year-old could likely die. How would he react, she wondered? Push her away, refuse to be comforted?

But what if she accepted the deal? What would his reaction be then?

"If I did accept this -- solution -- what would Mulder be told?"

"That you were dead, of course. The child as well," he said. "We would try to minimize the potential for him to search for you for years. He would learn to accept it, with time."

"No, he wouldn't," she said, softly. "If you truly know anything about Mulder, you must know that he never would."

Something flickered over the cigarette-smoking man's face. A shadow.

"He would have nothing to lose," Scully tried again. "He would self-destruct, and try his best to take you and your plans down with him."

He raised a cigarette to his lips.

"Perhaps. I'll risk it," he replied, his face stony.

She stared at her hands, which were bruised, likely from her brief struggle in front of the Koenigs'.

And felt herself slipping into dangerous supposition. Into guilty consideration.

How could I be such a traitor, so terribly disloyal to this man who would do anything for me?

Whom I love, surely, more than anyone?

His guilt would kill him. He would never forgive himself for letting her go to Atlanta alone. He would drown in self-hatred. Self-annihilation. Alone. Without her.

But to leave the little boy, the small Mulder, in the hands of the devil, vulnerable to the lies he might tell him, the ways in which his small and beautiful mind might be manipulated, the guinea pig uses found for his perfect child's body...

She was sick. It had made her sick.

Grasping just in time for a brass trash can near her, she leaned over, and vomited violently. As the devil watched her.

***

It felt like there were two invisible hands pressing on the sides of Mulder's head, but he tried, desperately, to concentrate on the road.

More than anything now, he wanted, somehow, to get to Riverside Biotech, to make someone give him an answer, in spite of the fact that it was nine o'clock at night and it would likely be closed.

He had to find her. No alternative.

The facts: just hours before Mrs. Amber Koenig took her own life, Scully had spoken with her. Carbon monoxide poisoning. An apparent suicide.

"Yeah, Agent Scully came by and talked to Mrs. Koenig for a while. Seemed a little distracted, just burst on in without calling first," the cop had told him. "But then we're by-the-book types around here."

Mulder had thanked him, shocking himself with his own diplomacy. What inspired him to be so polite? When Scully was missing! Gone. Vanished.

Her rental car, last seen parked in front of the Koenigs' residence, was nowhere to be found.

No sign of her at the Best Western. She had never checked in, had not slept there last night. No sign of her familiar overnight bag, with its meticulously organized contents. Not even a lipstick, a Kleenex, a receipt that he could connect to her.

The most disturbing part was the kidnapping. Had she been safe, had she been okay, she would have called and told him about the kidnapping. Wouldn’t she? A child, four years old, kidnapped? It couldn't be a coincidence.

A boy. Isaac Koenig. The Lab Geek's own adopted child, whom he was willing to sacrifice so that Mulder could track down the truth.

It reminded Mulder of something. But he couldn't pinpoint it.

"Goddamnit," he shouted out loud in the car, a sudden stab of guilt hitting him.

He should have gone with her.

No agent should be without someone on their back. And Scully, for god's sake, should never have been there, so emotionally vulnerable, without him.

Riverside Biotech was closed, according to the sign on the door.

But Mulder thought he could see a light inside, in a side wing. Another lab geek, he thought, working late?

And against his better judgment, he began to consider how one might break into a building like this one.

***

He offered her a handkerchief, which she accepted, wiping her mouth furiously.

"You threw up before you defended your thesis in college, too," the cigarette-smoking man said. "I happen to know."

She looked up at him, still weak.

"You don't know me as well as you pretend," she said.

"I know as much as I want to," he answered.

"All the facts you have gathered about my life -- and about my partnership with Mulder -- you ultimately can't interpret. You don't have the requisite knowledge of humanity."

His lip twinged.

"You want to accept my solution, don't you, Scully?" he said. "And it bothers you. You perceive it as betrayal."

"No," Scully said.

"It's not betrayal, of course. It's freedom, for you and your son. And for Mulder's son," he said.

"I can't accept your deal," she said. "I won't do it."

He looked back at her.

"Is that your true decision? Made with all clear-headed reasoning?"

"My answer is no," she said, slowly and carefully. "It couldn't be anything else. Agent Mulder needs me as part of his work, and I have a responsibility to him and to the public I serve."

There was contempt on his face.

"You really think that's the right thing to do, Agent Scully?"

"Where would Isaac and I be when the world came crashing to an end?" Scully said, meeting his contempt. "Would you take care of us, then? Would you take care of the millions of others destroyed by your selfishness?"

"Mulder's fairy stories are much exaggerated."

"Bullshit," she said. "Bullshit, I don't trust you."

He stared at her, taking a long thoughtful drag. And then he reached into his coat pocket, producing a cell phone and dialing, still studying her face.

"We'll need transportation for myself and the boy," he said into the phone. "Dr. Scully won't be joining us after all."

There was a small knock on the door adjoining to the nursery. She felt herself start to tremble.

"I'm not going to kill you, Agent Scully," he said, a sardonic tone to his voice. "But I do pity you. It seems you've become more like my son than I had expected. Willing to sacrifice loved ones for some quixotic quest."

"I intend to get Isaac back," Scully said, her voice cracking. "You won't have him forever."

"Do you really, Dana?" There was such mockery in his voice.

He crossed and opened the door to the nursery, and Isaac stood in the door, looking small and fragile. There were faint trails of tears on his cheeks.

"Are we going somewhere?" he whispered, staring at Scully. "Are we leaving?"

"Yes, Isaac," answered the cigarette-smoking man. He leaned over, and scooped the child into his arms. "We're about to leave to go on a helicopter. Have you ever been on a helicopter?"

"You're coming with us?" Isaac said, looking from the cigarette-smoking man's arms to Scully.

Tears dropped from her eyes, startling Isaac, which was of course the last thing she wanted to do.

"No, Miss Scully isn't coming," answered the cigarette-smoking man. "She has decided not to come."

He walked to the desk and began extracting papers to put into a small briefcase, keeping a tight hold on Isaac.

"Don't cry," Isaac said to Scully, panicked.

"Isaac," she said, trying to keep her voice steady. "You have a very good memory, don't you?"

"We've got to go," the cigarette-smoking man said.

"Will you remember my name, Dana Scully? Will you repeat that to yourself,when you're scared? And when you're big enough, will you try to come and find me? Because I think we could … help each other, if you can find me."

"Come with us, Dana Scully," Isaac said, his eyes round and scared. "Come with us on the helicopter, please."

"I can't, I can't," she said, her voice broken. But she knew she had to force her voice to stay modulated, to maintain an artificial cheeriness. "I want to, Isaac, but I can't leave something ...important here. I have to trust I'll find you again, and then we'll live together, okay?"

Through the nursery door, several men, dressed exactly as Mulder would have expected in black suits, walked inside, and at the cigarette-smoking man's gesture, handcuffed Scully to the couch.

"No, no," cried Isaac. "No, please, don’t hurt her. I want to stay with Dana Scully."

"Time to go, Isaac," the cigarette-smoking man said, staring at Scully. "Time to go on to a helicopter with your grandpa."

"I don't want to go on a helicopter, I want to stay with her, I want to go home, I want to stay, please," called Isaac, his voice rising.

"Don't be scared; don't be scared," called Scully, as Isaac was carried away from her.

She tugged, irrationally, on her arms, feeling the handcuffs chafe against her wrists.

"There's another name you should remember, Isaac!" she said, unsure if he could still hear her clearly. "You should find a man named Fox Mulder. Would you repeat that back to me, Isaac? Fox Mulder?"

They began to walk out of the room, escorted by the surreal men dressed in black.

"Repeat it, Isaac!" she found herself shouting. "Repeat it back to me: Fox Mulder. Fox Mulder."

And from the other room, it gave her immeasurable hope to hear him echo back, his child's voice suddenly taken over by his father's own amazing sense of concentration:

"Fox Mulder, Fox Mulder, Fox Mulder, Fox Mulder, Fox Mulder, Fox Mulder, Fox Mulder, Fox Mulder…”

***

Mulder had broken into Riverside Biotech, a private company. A big no-no from a federal agent's standpoint.

But then he wasn't a federal agent anymore, he reminded himself. And he hardly worried about those details when he was, especially when something like this was at stake.

Scully. Whom he should have been with. Who had disappeared without a trace.

The mechanical screams of alarms going off, both directly in his ears, and echoing back to him from distant arms of the building. He wasn't as good a cat burglar as he had hoped.

The police would be there any minute. And he didn't know what he was even looking for.

He wound his way around a white, sterile hallway, lit only by the red flash of the alarm system, peeking into the lab rooms aimlessly.

He was staring into a dark lab when he heard the sound of a door open, around the end of the hall, and a man's voice surrounded by footsteps.

And a woman's voice -- or a child's voice? He could hardly hear, the sounds disappearing into the wail of the alarm system.

Mulder began running down the hall, trying to find which side hall the sounds could be coming from, feeling his body tense.

But the alarm's repetitive whine misled him, and when he did, finally, reach a door that might have left outside, the only thing he could hear was the distant sound of a helicopter, outside the building.

"Goddamnit," he shouted, pounding the door, his voice echoing and melding into the sound of the alarm.

He swallowed, painfully, feeling his headache rise again.

There was a small corridor off to the side, with strangely executive wallpaper, that Mulder followed, his body rigid.

What did he expect to find, he thought, furiously? Anyone he might have wanted to talk to probably just left on board the helicopter.

At the end of the hallway was an office door, with no name plate hanging above it. For some reason, it sent a shiver down him. The door was open. And inside the door was an office.

Illuminated by a small desk lamp, Scully sat motionless, handcuffed to a sofa.

*****

She didn't even look at him.

She was looking at the wall, her face stained with tears, but she wasn't crying.

"Scully," he said, breathlessly. "I'm glad to see you in one piece."

He took a step for her, and she looked up at him, faintly surprised to see him.

"I lost him," she said, dazed. "I lost him, Mulder."

He regarded her face. Her eyes had such a strange, unreadable expression.

"We've got to go, Scully, the police will be here," he said. "You can tell me about it. You can explain --"

"There's no good explanation," she said, her voice like a child's. "I sacrificed a baby, a little boy, to some ridiculous idea of the truth. I killed him, my own son, my own child."

Mulder moved behind her. Removed a Swiss army knife from his coat. He used the screwdriver to disattach the crossbar from the couch, unhooking Scully's cuffs.

"Scully," he said tenderly, helping her balance on to her feet. "We'll find him again, Scully."

Her arms were still restrained, so he put his hand in the crook of her back, steadying her.

But she resisted his guidance. She stood as still as a statue, her eyes not registering his.

"Oh God," she said, "what have I done? Mulder, what have I done?"

Whatever it was, Mulder thought, it was still pressed into the features of her face. Her mouth, eyes, forehead -- seemed to be frozen. Anguished.

He pulled her into a tight embrace, pressing her head into his shoulder, relieved her body was warm and alive.

"Stop it, stop doing this, I know you did what you could," he said, taking her head into his hands, pressing his palms to her cheeks.

He looked into her face, into that horrible expression. That emptiness.

She was fine, physically. But she couldn't seem to walk out with him. She didn't seem capable of functioning.

Gingerly, he scooped her up, lifting her body into his arms, fitting the crook of her knees over his forearms and letting her head rock against his shoulder. He was reminded of Antarctica. Of other cold and dark places.

He began to carry her out of the office.

"I had him in my arms," she said, dream-like, whispering into Mulder's shoulder. "I had him pressed up against me, like we are now. He looks so much ... like you, Mulder. He’s so beautiful."

"We'll find him, Scully," he said.

Amazingly, he found that he believed it.

***

On the plane she seemed more her old self, although her eyes still looked more empty than he could have believed possible.

He held her hand almost constantly, so that the airline ticket counter woman had asked him if they were on honeymoon, which Mulder couldn't even find humor in.

He had only smiled wanly and shook his head, glancing nervously at Scully's hollow eyes.

She had sketched out the story to him briefly: the child had been offered to her in exchange for abandoning her partnership with him.

It was the type of act on her part that should have wracked him with guilt, with remorse, with self-blame. Who was he to deserve such loyalty?

But for some reason he couldn't quite articulate, he didn't feel that Isaac was doomed. He had a kernel of hope. Of optimism. That she had, in fact, acted for the best.

If only he could share it with her.

"In the Bible," she said suddenly, breaking his thoughts. "Abraham sacrifices his son Isaac, too. Genesis."

"Almost," Mulder said. "But Scully, he gets him back."

He had thought of it earlier, he realized.

Something he had read made reference to the story of the binding of Isaac: an ethically problematic story for existentialist philosophers. How could a father be willing to murder his own child, and what kind of deity would ask it?

"He had faith, that the Lord knew best," Scully said. "He listened to the voice of God."

"It's easier to listen to the voice of God," Mulder said, "than to make your own call."

She stared at him. "I suppose that's true."

They paused, and the flight attendant offered them dinner, which they both declined.

"I hope I was listening to the voice of God," she said. "I hope I did what He would have wanted. But it didn't feel easy."

Not for the first time, he was touched by her faith.

"The child would still have been sick, Scully, with the disease Skinner is infected with," Mulder reminded her, hoping for the umpteenth time that it would comfort her. "You wouldn't necessarily have saved him by taking CGB's dirty deal. There was more going on than you knew."

She was looking out the window again.

"Maybe," she said, softly.

"We'll get him back," he said again. "I know we will."

"Even if we did, we -- we would be so terrible for a child, you and I, Mulder," she said, a bitter catch in her voice. "What kind of parents would we be?"

Mulder had no answer for that. He couldn't imagine being a father. He had no frame of reference for healthy interaction with a child.

"What kind of parents -- would you want for a child, Scully?" he said.

"Like mine," she said. "Mature, stable, in such a warm and loving relationship."

Mulder considered carefully his next words.

"I'll concede that we have our lapses in maturity, and that we certainly could work on stability," he said.

Scully pursed her lips.

"But I mean, a loving relationship," he shrugged. “We have that in spades. I would say so anyway.”

"You would?" she said, scowling slightly, not meeting his eyes. He put a finger under her chin, forcing her to look directly at him.

"I'd argue that particular point with you to the death," he said.

She was silent, staring at him. Her lip trembled.

"And -- I think we'll be okay," he said, his voice hoarse. He pressed his hand against hers, running his thumb over the soft surface of her fingers. "We'll figure it out."

"You talk like you believe we'll find him," she said.

"I do," he said.

“Why?”

“It’s … I just do,” Mulder said. “I can’t quite explain it.”

"A leap of faith," she said.

"Exactly," Mulder felt an involuntary smile.

"Believing we'll get him back, hope against hope?" Scully said.

"I'm trying."

There was a pause.

"I'm ... glad you feel like that," she said, sadly, clutching his hand.

"You don't yourself."

She kept looking at him, and her next words were childlike, tremulous.

"I want to believe," she whispered. A small smile.

***

A leap of faith. Hope against hope.

Scully changed into flannel pajamas mechanically, listening to Mulder's pacing in her living room.

It seemed strange to her that suddenly, there were so many things Mulder had faith in. That they would get Isaac back. That good would prevail. That he and her were in a loving relationship, of all things. That they could be good parents.

Before, he had been discouraged to the point he would quit. And now he seemed to be full of a kind of burning optimism.

But then Mulder had always been the knight of faith, hadn't he? Faith in the eventual satisfaction of his quest. The romantic hero. Don Quixote. Sir Launcelot.

"You finished?" Mulder called from outside her bedroom door, certainly sounding more pragmatic than Don Quixote.

She had been so dazed, before, that when he had walked her up to her apartment, she had not even thought to tell him she would be fine.

"Yes," she said, slipping under the covers. "Why? Are you going to brush my teeth for me, Mulder?"

"I wanted to make sure you will be alright," he answered, standing in the door frame, watching her lay her head back against her pillow. "How do you feel?"

"Drained. Exhausted. Ready for sleep."

"Understandable," he said. "Do you have enough covers, Scully?"

"Oh, leave me be," she said, a faint smile on her lips. It was all she could do. No banter now, please, Mulder, she thought. Go home, get some sleep. I'll see you tomorrow. We'll see where we stand then.

But he had no comeback.

"Then I'll turn your light off for you, Scully," he said, strangely gentle, reaching on to her bedside table to flip off her lamp.

Darkness. Suddenly, she could see no trace of him, her eyes adjusting to the blackness.

"I'll call you tomorrow," his voice came from the darkness. "We'll reevaluate our options."

"All right," she whispered back. Already she felt her eyelashes meeting, her eyes beginning to close.

He must be standing there still, she thought sleepily, standing over my bed.

"You know," he said, and stopped.

"Yes, Mulder?"

"I appreciate you being so loyal ... to the work, Scully," he said.

"I'm loyal to *you*, Mulder," she said, her mind thick with sleep.

A pause.

"Sleep tight," he whispered.

Suddenly his warm lips were on her forehead, kissing her lightly. Tenderly.

"I love you," he said, just barely, almost too quietly for Scully, in her fatigue, to hear.

Almost immediately her mind began to slip into a dream.

He left, locking the door of her apartment behind him.

****

That night, during Scully's dreams, the significance of Mulder's half-whisper slid in and out of her subconscious mind, entwining with other sharply sensitive fragments, taking on new incarnations.

Perhaps it caused her to dream more vividly, for her dreams that night were unusually vivid.

She dreamt of childhood, of Melissa and Bill and Charlie playing in a forest of all red maple leaves, ducking under branches, playing hide-and-go-seek. She sat in a tree, laughing and watching. Calling out suggestions for the best places to hide. "Bury yourself in leaves," she called. "Leave a space for your mouth, so you can breathe, okay?”

She dreamt of Abraham, complete with Old Testament beard and robes, looking horribly hollow as he raised his knife above poor small Isaac, who lay bound on a stone tablet. Scully, out of breath, ran to Abraham, tried to warn him, that it wasn't his son Isaac, father of Jacob, at all -- it was Isaac Koenig, just an innocent boy. Abraham looked down at her. "They're all innocent," he said, sadly. "I think God means that faith requires sacrifice. But who can ever tell what He wants, really?"

And she dreamt directly of Mulder, looking more like he did when she first met him than he did now. He was eating sunflower seeds, standing overlooking a vast deep canyon. The beginnings of a smile on his face, hewas spinning her fantastic yarns about old Native American spiritual leaders being able to jump over the canyon and land safely on the other side.

"I don't believe it, Mulder," she answered him. There was a flirtatious smile on her lips that she'd once had often, when they first started working together, but she rarely had any more. "It's too far. Not physiologically possible."

Instead of arguing back, he leaned over, kissing her forehead so gently.

"Leap of faith, Scully," he answered, playfully. And then he pressed the package of sunflower seeds into her hands, and jumped.

In her dream, she leapt after him, even though she was frightened and unsure.

And for the longest time, she just fell.

***

After he tucked Scully in bed, Mulder considered where to go next. Home was a strong choice, but there was something else he wanted to do.

He decided to go to the basement office, knowing he would not feel at ease until he wrote the letter.

At 4 o'clock in the morning, the office was, of course, dark. As he booted up the computer, he noticed the light from the monitor gave the crime scene photos on the walls an eerie shadow.

There was a slight creak in the hallway. The building settling.

A peculiarly shaped shadow was cast against the wall, right over the "I Want To Believe" poster.

Downright spooky, thought Mulder.It's been too long since I've pulled an all-nighter here, apparently.

He began to type.

Dear Assistant Director Skinner,

After having reconsidered my decision to resign, I respectfully request to be reinstated as a federal agent, and reassigned to the X-files in partnership with Special Agent Dana Scully.

On a personal note: sir, you were right.

Sincerely,

Fox Mulder

 

Over the whine of the printer, he considered the letter a moment, and of how Skinner had intervened in the situation.

If Scully were allowed an extended period of time to analyze the data, she might be able to help Skinner find a cure to his illness, Mulder reminded himself. And that would help the child, too, when they found him.

He watched the paper emerge from the printer, his pen already ready to sign his signature, when he suddenly had a strong feeling that somebody was watching him.

He raised his head, scanning the office.

There was no one that he could see. But had the door been open a crack before? Or had he closed it completely behind him? Would he have heard it open, over the printer's noise?

There was no sound now. Only the irregular rhythm of Mulder's breathing.

You better get home and get some sleep, g-man, Mulder told himself.Twenty-four hours without sleep, and you're losing it.

He signed his name, even adding an uncharacteristic flourish, and he felt better. He'd stick it into an envelope and into Skinner's box tonight. Make a copy to stick in Scully's, maybe, to reassure her.

But now there was definitely a sound. A small sound, coming from just outside the door.

"Who's there?" Mulder called, his hand going to his gun. "Is someone there?"

The sound was rhythmic, a small sing-song, like a few notes played on a recorder or flute. Was it a recording? A radio?

Mulder felt the hairs on the back of his neck rise, curiously.

And suddenly the door pushed open, and he could see the outline of a child standing there.

Impossible.

The boy stepped forward, rocking slightly, repeating the quietest little sing-song back and forth to himself.

"H-how did you get in here?" Mulder heard himself say, standing up.

The boy looked up at him, his voice tiny. "Fox Mulder?"

Mulder felt himself nod, stunned. He took his hand away from his gun.

The boy seemed satisfied, and he stepped further into the office. The light from the monitor hit his face, and Mulder felt himself jump. The expression on his face: so familiar! Looked just like Scully, being cautious.

The boy began his sing-song again, but this time, Mulder could understand it.

"FoxMulderFoxMulderFoxMulderFoxMulderFoxMulder," the boy repeated softly. His face intense.

Were all children this small so serious, Mulder thought irrationally?

"How did you get here?" he tried again. "Is somebody with you?"

The boy shook his head, slowly, walking cautiously behind the desk, and standing directly in front of Mulder, looking down at his feet.

"I'm supposed to find you," he said, unsurely, as if repeating a story or a phrase he'd heard. "A woman named Dana Scully told me I should find you."

"She ... " Mulder began, looking down at the boy. He hardly knew what to say. "But how could you have? You haven't...?"

"Fox Mulder," repeated the child. His eyes, looking up briefly to Mulder's, were wide and sad. Wanting something, Mulder realized.

This child who seemed to have dropped out of the sky.

"You're Isaac," Mulder said.

The little boy stared up at him, his face blank.

"I'm so happy to see you," Mulder said, feeling foolishly inadequate.

They stared at one another, seeming to size one another up.

Mulder's mind raced.

Maybe the boy had been delivered there, deliberately, a cog in some complex unknown scheme. Or maybe an unknown friend made sure he made it to the F.B.I. building in Washington, serving as their salvation.

Or could he have miraculously found his way himself, using some human instinct his mother wouldn't be able to categorize and catalog?

Could he sense, Mulder thought illogically, that the very root of his existence sprang from this office, this room with walls lined with frightening photos and head shop posters? It's here he was conceived, Mulder realized, regardless of where sperm met egg. This is the place of his genesis. Does he somehow understand the homing call of his own DNA?

The boy had his mother's stoicism, but something in his face broke through again. A wistful expression, wanting something.

And then, like he was in a dream, Mulder knew to lift the boy up into his arms, pulling him close, and letting him wrap his arms around his neck. Like Scully would.

He wasn't surprised that Isaac seemed to be breaking into sobs. He was relieved, actually, to see this normal behavior.

"I don't know how you got here," Mulder said, embracing the child's crying torso tightly. "But believe me, Isaac, I'm pretty happy you are,
and I know that Dana Scully will be, too."

The little boy's sobs deepened, and Mulder stroked his hair, surprising himself by how fiercely protective he felt. Was this the paternal instinct? Did it spring out of your biological preprogramming, ready for action?

This must the pull, the deep tugging that Abraham felt as he leaned over Isaac, Mulder thought, feeling the small heartbeat against him. This is what Scully felt, too. This squeezing, wrenching, grasping sensation. How could they ever sacrifice, feeling this?

"FoxMulderFoxMulderFoxMulderFoxMulder," sobbed the boy, tightening his hold around Mulder's neck.

Did it matter, ultimately, how it happened? Mulder wondered, feeling tears prickling in his eyes, too, as the small face pressed against him.

"We're going to be okay, Isaac," whispered Mulder. "We'll find a way to take care of you, to love you, I promise you that."

"FoxMulderFoxMulderFoxMulder," said the boy, softer, his sobs slowing.

Mulder let his lips rest on the top of the boy’s head, like the promise of a kiss, and let his eyes run over the strange small details that made up Isaac’s head and ears.

And then: a horrible chill. Like a hand around his throat.

On the back of the child's neck:

A purple blotch, like blood vessels sprung to the surface. A web of inflamed tissue, rising above the surface of the child's pale skin.

A blood-dark kiss of death.

****

"The knight of faith infinitely renounces claim to
the love which is the content of his life. He is
reconciled in pain. But then occurs the prodigy -- he
makes still another movement more wonderful than all,
for he says: 'I believe nonetheless that I shall get
my love back, in virtue, that is, of the absurd, in
virtue of the fact that with God all things are
possible.'"

--Soren Kierkegaard, Fear and Trembling

****

Chapter Text

I think you are wrong to want a heart.
It makes most people unhappy.
The Wizard of Oz, L. Frank. Baum

 

In Scully's dream, she was falling. Pitching endlessly downwards, into a gaping desert canyon.

Usually, in dreams, the sensation of falling meant that she would soon wake up. That she would feel herself jump slightly, would realize she was in her bed, her pulse still rapid from fear.

But in this dream, she wasn't afraid, exactly. She more had a sense of disorientation, of head over heels: an Alice-In-Wonderland feeling. Falling was an experience in itself. Dark red rocks of the canyon simply flew by her. She could feel the blast of dry desert air, rushing through her fingers and hair. She was almost giddy.

"Scully," Mulder called from somewhere far below her. Then -- she could see him, a small figure below. He already stood on the ground at the bottom of the canyon. "Scully, come see what I found..."

"I'm coming, Mulder ..." she called back, her voice like a song. "I'm going to land soon..."

She began to notice the ground beneath her, covered in brown desert shrubs.

***

"Scully," he said again, touching her hair gently. "Scully, wake up."

She murmured something unrecognizable, rocking her head slightly back and forth, her eyes still shut.

"She, uh, usually wakes up quickly. She's a morning person," Mulder said to Isaac, feeling, absurdly, that he needed to explain. Isaac was standing next to him, leaning over Scully's bed. "But she was very tired last night, and she hasn’t been asleep that long. You must be tired yourself…?"

Does he think I’m weird?

Mulder considered the possibility that Isaac might be thinking he was very peculiar. Did children make those kind of judgments about adults?

The boy, standing next to him, didn't answer, but kept staring at him. It seemed to be his habit, Mulder noted.

But he almost certainly understood the question. There didn't seem to be much Isaac didn't understand, Mulder thought. Were all four-year-olds like this?

"Scully," Mulder tried again, standing over her and gently shaking her arm. "Please wake up. I've got to show you something."

She blinked, opening her eyes halfway, seeming to recognize him. Glancing, with bleary eyes, at the clock next to her.

"Mulder, it's only five-thirty," she whispered, hoarsely. "I get a few more hours, don't I?"

"I've got to show you something," he said again. He tried to keep his voice soft, casual. Didn't want to startle her.

"Nothing's wrong, is it?" she said, suddenly more alert, sitting up slightly. "You didn't find anything ---"

And then she saw Isaac, standing next to him. Holding his hand.

"My God," she whispered. Her eyes widened, slightly. "Oh God."

Isaac stared at her, his eyes unreadable.

"Is it a dream, Mulder?" she croaked, barely audible.

"No, g-woman," he answered her, smiling despite himself.

"Where did you come from?" she said, staring at Isaac.

"He arrived in the office," Mulder said. "No explanation. No logic involved."

"Dana Scully," Isaac said, expectantly. "You said I should find you.”

"Oh,” Scully said, her voice strangely calm. “Yes, I guess I did.”

***

Hours later, Mulder woke in Scully's bed, which smelled clean and female. In late afternoon amber light.

From another room he heard Scully: her professional voice, speaking authoritatively.

There was a strange weight against his shoulder: Isaac's head. Isaac, his hair matted and damp with sweat, was still asleep.
He glanced at Scully's alarm clock: 4 in the afternoon. They had slept for nearly ten hours. At first, they had put Isaac on a mattress on the floor, but during the night, he had climbed up and wedged himself between him and Scully.

Ten hours should be enough sleep to get anybody thinking clearly, Mulder thought.

Carefully he extricated himself from the sleeping boy, gingerly inserting a pillow under his head so as not to wake him. Keep sleeping, kid, Mulder thought. Because when you wake up, who knows what hoop we'll make you run through next.

Mulder leaned backwards, stretching his back. It felt like morning, but it was really afternoon. It was not the strangest thing that had happened recently, but it unsettled him, somehow.

In the living room, Scully sat in jeans, with wet, freshly-washed hair, speaking to someone on the cell phone, Skinner's medical papers spread around her. There was a faint smell of coffee.

"Of course, I understand," Scully was saying, "Thanks for the suggestion. I'll give you notice when we've made some kind of decision about how to proceed."

"Hey, Scully," whispered Mulder.

Scully looked up at him, nodding, but still speaking into the phone. "Thanks -- I know it's an unusual situation. I'll be in contact soon."

As she clicked off the cell phone, she looked up at him, her face strangely blank: "Good morning, Mulder."

"Late afternoon, actually," he said. "We're quite the sleep-deprived family unit, aren't we, Scully?"

Her hands stacked papers in front of her. She gave him a dull smile. "There's some coffee in the kitchen."

"You made coffee? How long have you been up?"

"I've been making phone calls. I called the police in Atlanta to tell them we'd located Isaac. And I just spoke with one of the lawyers I had consulted before about Emily, to find out some background on custody issues."

"What kind of custody issues?" Mulder called from the kitchen, pouring coffee.

"Well..." she said. There was a strain in her voice. "I wanted to learn about the details of the Koenigs' will. Who they requested custody of Isaac go to in the event of their deaths. There might be a grandmother, or aunts and uncles, or someone more suitable than us, who are legally responsible for him."

Mulder, cautiously carrying his cup of coffee from the kitchen, tried to keep his tone casual.

"More suitable than us?" he said. "We're the kid's parents, aren't we? That's about as suitable as it gets."

"Only biologically," Scully said. "The Koenigs were his parents in every real sense. I told you before, Mulder, I'm not sure we'd be good for Isaac. Our lifestyles..."

"Scully," Mulder began, moving his fingertips to his temples. "I don’t understand something. You wanted custody of Emily. Why didn't you worry about our lifestyles then?"

"That was just me," Scully said. "It wasn't both of us."

"How is it different? Are you worried about me specifically? Being a parent?"

"No, of course not," Scully said quickly. "But … I worry this could mean the end of the X-files. If we have a child."

"People work and have children all the time, Scully."

"People who are … teachers, or store managers, or accountants,” Scully said. “But can you picture it, Mulder? Who would take care of Isaac when we have to take off for a case in California with little notice? Who would protect him when somebody decides to use him as a tool against us?"

"You can help him get better," Mulder said. "No one else is able to deal with his sickness. You know that."

“Maybe,” Scully said. “Maybe I can help him. But as a doctor. And that can happen no matter who has custody of him --"

"He belongs with us," Mulder interrupted. He was surprised by the forcefulness in his voice. "His health problems, the death of his parents, even his conception -- they were all the result of our work. Of our quest. He's part of it. "

Scully was silent. Took a sip of coffee, and seemed to study him carefully.

"I understand how you feel," she said. "That's why I told the lawyer we'd get back to him. So we could decide, if we wanted to file for some kind of ... joint custody or something."

Mulder took a drink of his coffee, and his eyes wandered to Scully's pictures, framed on her bookshelves. The Scully family. Her mother. Her sister.

"You've called your mother?"

She paused, and then nodded, slowly.

"What did she say?"

"Well, she'd like to ... see Isaac at some point. She was somewhat surprised, of course, and I don’t think she really comprehends it."

"Well, sure. Who does?" Mulder said.

"My mother seems to prefer to believe that Isaac was more of ... an accident."

"An accident," repeated Mulder.

"That's right.”

"You mean, a night of passion without proper precautions kind of accident?"

"Yes," she said, looking away. “She just seemed … to decide that was the story she preferred.”

"This is going to sound strange, Scully..." he began.

She looked up, and in that moment he realized he couldn't say it. Not all of it, anyway.

"What, Mulder?"

He turned and looked intensely at Scully's bookshelf.

"I guess I wish that his existence was just an accident, too," he said. "Lots of kids are accidents."

Scully said nothing.

"It's a weird feeling, isn't it?" he said, softly.

He wasn’t exactly sure which part he meant.

"Yes, Mulder," she said, meeting his eyes for a moment. "It is."

Mulder looked down at her papers.

"You're looking at Skinner's medical history?"

"I'd like to go to the lab and run some tests on Isaac's blood today. To see if it connects with what I learned about Skinner's blood," she said.

"Should we -- be taking him to the hospital, Scully?"

"As of now, the lesions on Isaac's neck only superficially resemble Skinner's," she said. "They're not nearly as severe, even seeming to become less inflamed as he slept last night. But if there's any change, we should take him in."

"I can keep an eye on him today," Mulder answered.

"Good," she said.

A beat.

"Scully ..." he began. "We ... shouldn't tell him about our relationship to him?"

"Oh no," she said. "I don't think so. He's just lost the Koenigs. He didn't know he was adopted. He’s so small. It would be unfair to him, I think."

"You're right," Mulder said. "Of course you're right."

"You ... want to tell him, Mulder?"

"Well, eventually," he said. "Don't you?"

She just looked back, and he could have sworn her lip trembled slightly: a very un-Scully expression, out of the blue like that.

She began gathering up the papers, still avoiding his stare. "I guess I'll go to the lab. Traffic will be terrible, rush hour ..."

"Scully, I -- "

"I'll stop by the office and talk to Skinner," she interrupted. "Maybe he can help provide some answers."

"Okay," Mulder said, trying to sound reassuring. "And the kid and I will go, I don't know, to the zoo or something."

Scully looked up, and there was the strange vulnerability on her face again. "I'll go put on some work clothes."

She disappeared into her bedroom.

Mulder was left staring at the photo of the Scully family on her bookshelf.

***

Scully was wearing her most uncomfortable shoes, which may have been a kind of self-punishing choice.

"We have not determined the means by which Isaac Koenig was delivered to our office in the Hoover Building," she finished.

She doubted Skinner had even noticed that she shifted foot to foot.

"Koenig?" Skinner scowled.

"His parents' name, sir," Scully said. "Adoptive parents."

Skinner regarded her from his desk, his arms crossed over his chest.

"It's a real puzzle, isn't it?"

"Yes, it is, sir," Scully said. "To be honest, I'm not sure what to make of it."

Overall, this wasn't as hard as she had imagined.

It was just like many of their other cases, she realized: she reported the strange stories to Skinner, while Mulder did the field work with the unexplained phenomena. Deceptively normal.

"The boy has no recollection of his return to you?"

"Not that he has been able to relate to us," Scully said. "My suspicion is he's suffering some form of post-traumatic stress. And of course he may not know, either."

Skinner tapped his fingers on the desk absently.

"I assume Agent Mulder will work with him more today," Scully said. "Try to acquire more information about what might have happened."

"I'm concerned that the boy's being used as a kind of marker," Skinner said. "It's important to find out how he arrived here, so that we can figure out whether there is another shoe about to drop."

Scully nodded. "That's a concern for Agent Mulder and me, too. We're working on it."

"What about you, Agent? Are you all right?"

Scully felt her eyebrows lift. "Of course," she said.

"You seem to be making a point of approaching this … professionally," Skinner commented, "and it's a pretty personal case, no?"

She looked at her hands. "I'm well aware of my personal investment, sir," she said.

"I would like to call in some auxiliary agents to help you with the research," Skinner offered. "So you have some time to go home --"

"That's not necessary," she said quickly. "I want to do it."

"Agent Scully --"

"Nothing is clear right now, sir, except for that C.G.B. Spender will try to make Isaac sick," she said, feeling her pitch rise. "Fatally ill, just like you were. I have to figure out a way to release him from that. It's all I can think of right now. And I'm the only one I trust to do it."

Skinner regarded her, seeming to weigh what she said carefully.

"What do you need in terms of assistance from me, Scully?"

***

"Anne of Green Gables," Isaac said.

The words startled Mulder, who had been just about to drift asleep again on Scully's couch.

There was Isaac, standing, still wearing the slightly dirty tee-shirt he'd showed up in, in front of Scully's bookshelf, staring at her books.

"The Wizard of Oz," he said, looking at a yellow, dog-eared volume. Softly: "I’ve seen that movie."

"Hey, good morning -- or good afternoon, really," Mulder said, lifting his head off of Scully's couch cushion.

"A Wrinkle In Time," read Isaac. "Alice In Wonderland. Moby Dick."

"You can read that, huh?"

Isaac looked back at him, silently, and seemed to arch an eyebrow.

"Do all four-year-olds read?" asked Mulder. "That seems young to me."

Isaac turned towards the books, running his small hand over their spines.

"Whose books are these?" Isaac said. "Do all grown-ups read kids' books?"

"Ha,” smiled Mulder. “Sassy. They're Dana Scully's. I think they were hers when she was a little girl."

Isaac took some steps away from the bookshelf.

"I'm in Washington, D.C.," he said, looking around.

"That's right. You're in Dana Scully's apartment in Washington, D.C."

"Where's Dana Scully now?"

"She's gone to work on something," Mulder said. "A way ... to keep you from getting sick. She's a doctor."

"I slept for a long time," Isaac said. Then, after a beat. "Dana Scully is a doctor?"

“Yeah,” Mulder said.

Isaac was silent, scowling a little, as if thinking about that. Mulder gave him a sidelong glance.

"Isaac,” he said. “I, uh, thought we would hang out for a while. Maybe get something to eat. You like pizza? Or whatever you want."

Isaac gave him a look. "Are you feeling nervous?”

“Nervous?” Mulder said. “No, I wouldn’t say I’m nervous exactly. Why--”

“Do you have kids?"

"Well, uh," Mulder answered. "I'm not married.”

"Dana Scully isn't your wife. She's your friend."

"That's right," Mulder said. "Yeah."

"Are you … a scientist?"

He must be thinking of the Koenigs, Mulder thought. They were scientists.

"No, I'm an FBI agent," Mulder answered. "So is Dana Scully. We're like police officers, only ... we work for the federal government."

Wow, Mulder thought. I’m actually putting myself to sleep with that explanation.

"Washington D.C. is the place my dad died."

"Yeah," Mulder said. "It is."

“My parents were both scientists when they were alive,” Isaac said. “But they’re dead now.”

“That’s true,” Mulder said. “And I’m really, really sorry about that, Isaac.”

Isaac scowled a little, and walked over to sit next to Mulder on the couch.

"I ... do have a grandpa who is alive. ”

"That man you're talking about? Mulder said quickly, fiercely. "The one that took you? He is not your grandpa. No matter what he told you. He is a liar."

"He is a liar," Isaac agreed. "But ... I think he might be my grandpa, too.”

The kid seemed to deal with that potential relationship much better than Mulder had himself. Still, something didn’t quite add up here for Mulder.

"Don't you have a grandpa already, Isaac? Your mother's father, or your father's father?"

Isaac scowled a little again, bit his lip, thoughtfully, and shook his head. He reminded Mulder of Scully. So much of Scully. That serious expression, the tension around his small eyes, the way he held back his fear.

And he was strongly tempted, all of a sudden, but knew that he shouldn't. Should just steer the conversation elsewhere.

But it seemed inevitable. Self-restraint never being his strong suit.

"I will tell you a secret -- I know who your grandfather was," Mulder said. "One of them. One of your real grandfathers, I mean."

Isaac blinked at him: a question.

"Really?"

"Sure. He was a kind of ... hero," Mulder said.

"A hero?"

"A sailor. Sailed the ocean blue. Kind and good and fair to everyone who met him and all that stuff," Mulder said.

He tried to make it sound like a beautiful story, and he hoped Isaac believed him.

“You knew him?” Isaac said, with interest.

"I never knew him myself, but I do know he was a hero to … people who did know him."

"So was he like a pirate?”

"Not a pirate, exactly -- hold on, I have an idea,” Mulder said, feeling giddy. "I bet I can show you a picture. Let me see if I can find one."

He pulled a photo album off of Scully's bookshelf, flipping furiously, and finding it to be photos of Scully in college, pulled out another one.

"Here," smiled Mulder, looking at the photo triumphantly.

He brought the open photo album over to Isaac, spreading it over their laps.

William Scully, movie-star handsome, standing in uniform with his arm around a young Maggie Scully, whose dark hair curled, Scully-like, around her ears. Both of them glowing. A ship in the background. Wind tousling their hair slightly. The perfect parents.

The black and white photo made even him serenely happy, he realized, and he never even met the guy.

"That's him?" Isaac said.

"That's right," Mulder smiled. "That's his ship behind him."

"And that's my grandma, there?"

"Yeah," he said. "She looks beautiful, isn't she? They're both very beautiful people."

"They're young," Isaac said. "They're too young to be grandmothers and grandfathers, aren't they?"

"This was a long time ago," Mulder said. He realized, too late, that there was a sad addendum to this fairy tale. "Your grandpa has died since this photo was taken, Isaac. But your grandma is still alive. She's a very nice lady, still very beautiful, and she'll want to see you."

Isaac stared at Mulder, unblinking, and didn't say anything.

What is he thinking, Mulder wondered? How much does he understand? Can he fit the pieces of this puzzle together? Is it obvious who this album must belong to, whose father this is? How much can four-year olds interpret the intricacies of family trees, anyway?

"I've only been to the ocean once," Isaac said, staring down at the page. "I was scared to go in the water, but I liked it. I would like to sail in a boat, I think maybe."

"All right," Mulder said. “Maybe we can some time.”

"Maybe this is my good grandfather," Isaac said. He touched the photo, lightly, over William Scully's face.

"Your good grandfather?"

"You know how in The Wizard of Oz, there's a good witch?" Isaac said.

"Sure," Mulder said. “Glinda. I’ve seen it.”

"But there's also a bad one," Isaac said. He stared up at Mulder, raising an eyebrow significantly. "I think I have a bad grandpa, too."

Mulder stared down at him, suspecting he might be right.

***

"It's only theoretical at this stage," Dr. Han said. "You don't understand, Agent Scully, this couldn't possibly be."

Scully reflected that if she had a quarter for every time she had heard that, she'd be able to afford an entire closet full of more comfortable shoes.

"Really, there's been nothing accomplished outside of a very specific field of computational chemistry. It's a fairy tale still," he said. "My god, it's fascinating, though. This almost seems like the real deal."

She was standing, painfully in her shoes, in a laboratory at George Washington University's chemistry department. Dr. Han was at the microscope, staring at a sample of Isaac's blood.

"We're dealing with a very sensitive case, Dr. Han." Scully began, "and it's possible that our government could have developed this technology keeping it secret from mainstream science."

"But we're talking about nano-assemblers, Agent Scully," Dr. Han said. "Scientists have known about the potential for nano-assemblers for years. Tiny molecular computers, the size of atoms or molecules. Just imagine how such inventions could invigorate medicine, for example: fighting cancer cells, rebuilding damaged tissues. But this is a weapon. A kind of biological warfare."

Scully didn't know if she had the heart to disillusion this guy about the United States government.

"I think that's the point, Dr. Han," she said. "I think that this is intended as a weapon. The nano-assemblers in this case can be externally instructed to link together to block the blood flow in the arteries, causing eventual death."

"Indeed," Dr. Han said. "If this is what it appears to be, that's true. Only these nano-assemblers have not been instructed to link significantly yet. They're still so small as to be almost beyond the view of this microscope."

"The question is, as a doctor, how could I treat such a condition?" Scully said. "What are the theoretical antidotes?"

"You have to remember, Agent Scully," Dr. Han said, lifting his head from the microscope, "that we usually talk about these in the context of healing cancer or stopping Alzheimers. It's not really scientifically stylish to consider all the ways a technology could be lethal."

"Of course," Scully said.

"It would be possible, of course, to unleash counter-nano-assemblers into the bloodstream, that would attack and defuse these. But no department I know is going to be able to produce something like that for at least another ten years."

Scully grimaced.

"It would also be possible to attempt some kind of electrical shock in the subject, in the hopes that the machine's internal power sources would be affected. I'd say that's a slim chance, though, since the levels of electricity would have to be so high as to be dangerous," Dr. Han mused. "The best answer is, of course, to find the external control to these nano-assemblers. The control panel, if you will."

Scully sighed. "That doesn't seem likely either."

"Then I don't know what to tell you," Dr. Han said. "I'm frankly bewildered by the entire prospect."

"I was afraid you'd say that," she said.

"I can certainly do some more research, though. I'd like to, actually."

"Then I'll check back with you later, Dr. Han," she said.

Her face must have looked crestfallen, because his expression softened instantly.

"Don't worry," he said, gently. "You never know what I may come up with."

She wished she had better control over her facial expressions.

"Thank you," she said, a little primly. She collected the rest of the blood samples, leaving him a few to work with.

Then something occurred to her. She needed to remember to do this more often.

"Dr. Han," she began. "This might sound odd, but as I said, this is a sensitive case. If you should notice anything ... oh, out of the ordinary, or suspicious in your everyday life, will you please call me immediately?"

"Oh? You think I'm now a danger to the U.S. government? An assassin's target?" Dr. Han smiled, wiping off his glasses. "I hardly think that."

"Just don't rule it out," Scully said, humorlessly. "We lose more scientists that way."

He laughed a little as she left, but she didn't.

***

She carried a stack of books down into the basement office, letting them slide from her arms on to the desk, and suddenly was very aware of Mulder's absence.

She wished he could help with this. Help her look through the books on nanotechnology, becoming familiar with every nuance of the theory.

But of course someone should be with Isaac. And it was probably too technical for him anyway.

Could she do this? Think of a countermeasure to a technology that wasn't supposed to exist in the first place?

I have no choice, she reminded herself. I can't be self-defeating.

The office phone rang. Must be Mulder. She picked it up.

"Scully," she said quickly.

There was a pause. A breath. Not Mulder, she realized instantly.

"I can help you with what you're looking for," the voice said. It was familiar. She felt the hairs on her neck prickle.

"Alex Krycek?" she whispered.

"I can help you. I know about the technology, but you'll have to trust me."

She pronounced each syllable carefully: "What do you want?"

"They're looking for him, you know. They're tailing Mulder and the kid right now, even as we're speaking."

"Who is?"

"You know damned well who, Scully," Krycek said, impatiently. "The point is, they'll take the kid easily. Mulder's good, but he's not that good. He should be lying low until you and I can meet."

"Mulder would never let them take Isaac. "

"He would never *want* them to, you mean. But he didn't want them to take you either, did he? And they seemed to have very little problem doing that, as I recall."

Scully controlled her tone.

"Why would you help us? What's in it for you?"

"Not your concern," Krycek answered smoothly. "Only be assured that there is something in it for me, or you wouldn't have your boy, and you wouldn't be getting this phone call offering my help."

"You gave Isaac to us?"

"Now did I say that?" Krycek sounded strained. "Listen, this is only secure for so long. We need to meet. I'll contact you. Tell Mulder to take the kid and disappear."

Dial tone.

The hand she was holding the phone with, she realized, was shaking. She dialed Mulder's cell phone, feeling her stomach grip.

It rang. And it rang. No answer.

She slammed the phone down. Surely it just meant he wasn't picking up his phone. But why? When he knew she'd be trying to call ...

She swallowed down her anxiety. She'd better find him.

***

Mulder heard the phone ringing in his pocket, but his hands were full of plates.

Omelettes. Macaroni and cheese. Chicken soup. Chocolate pudding. What did kids like to eat, anyway?

Isaac had been too short to reach the restaurant's elaborate all-you-can-eat buffet. He sat at a nearby table, covered with an ugly green plastic tablecloth, sitting with rigid posture and looking at something in the distance.

"Do you like macaroni and cheese?" Mulder said. He set a big bowl down in front of him. "There's some other stuff here, too. I didn't know what you would want."

Isaac regarded the macaroni and dug his spoon in. "I like macaroni," he said.

"Good." Mulder was relieved. He sat down the omelette, and considered checking the message on his cell phone.

Wait until after eating, he decided. No sense in ignoring the kid over dinner so soon in our relationship.

"Do you eat here everyday?" Isaac asked.

Mulder looked up, surprised. It was a buffet-style all-you-can-eat restaurant he only came to by himself, or once or twice with the Gunmen. Even though it was only blocks from her apartment, Scully didn't like the cheap food free-for-all.

"Every once and a while. I'm not much of a cook," Mulder said. "Why do you ask?"

"It’s good. I like macaroni," answered Isaac cryptically. He looked up quickly from his bowl and gave Mulder a little shrug. "I'm hungry."

"Me, too," agreed Mulder. "If you want something else, just let me know."

They ate in silence for a moment, Isaac taking fast bites of macaroni. He looked away, stopping the movement of his spoon.

"Do you know that man?" Isaac said. "From when you've eaten here before?"

"What man?" Mulder felt his muscles tense. "Who are you talking about?"

"The man in the green shirt, who's sitting over there reading. He's got glasses on?"

Mulder turned around and peered, carefully, over the surrounding tables. Sure enough, there was a man sitting alone across the restaurant. Drinking only coffee. He turned back around to Isaac.

"How long has he been there?" he said.

"He came in right after you went to get us food," answered Isaac. "He's been watching me, but pretending not to watch me. Like he's sneaky, you know?"

"I know exactly," Mulder said.

He tried to consider the options here. Ignore the tail? He might do it if it were just him, or just him and Scully. But this was different. This gave him a very unsettled feeling.

Isaac began eating his macaroni again, carefully watching Mulder's face.

"It's smart of you to notice him, Isaac," Mulder said. "You should always notice if people are following you who aren't supposed to be."

That's some pretty damn important father-son advice. That is, if you're my son.

"Is he a friend of my grandpa's? Trying to get me?"

"I don't know," answered Mulder truthfully. "Maybe. But we won't let him. You should just keep eating, okay? And pretend he's not there."

Isaac seemed to do as he was told, lifting some carrot sticks Mulder had crammed onto a plate and dipping them unappetizingly into the chocolate pudding. Mulder watched this process, his mind racing.

Maybe it was best to stay in a public place. Maybe they should leave now, find safe harbor.

But where? Scully's apartment was certainly not safe, he realized. His own was probably no better. God, how stupid he had been to bring Isaac out in public! He had been an idiot.

"Can I have your cornbread?" Isaac asked. He pointed at Mulder's almost untouched plate. Poor kid must be starving, though Mulder absently. He passed him the bread, feeling his cell phone brush against him as he did.

The cell phone. Someone had tried to call. Probably Scully. He began to fish it out of his coat pocket.

"Isaac!" called a woman's voice, suddenly. "Oh my god, Isaac, baby, there you are!"

Mulder looked up, and felt his stomach sink.

A woman, dark-haired, in her thirties, stood in the doorway of the restaurant. A policeman stood next to her. She was pointing right at Isaac.

People sitting around them peered over, curious.

"Oh my god, Isaac," she said, rushing to their table. She looked at Mulder, with horror. "Who are you? Why do you have my son with you?"

Isaac looked at her wide-eyed, frozen in the act of eating cornbread.

"He's been missing since morning, officer," the woman said breathlessly, pulling Isaac's face to hers, "and I've been looking everywhere for him. Isaac, sweetie, are you okay?"

"This is not your son," Mulder said, trying to keep his voice calm. It frightened him. Frightened him beyond reason. He could barely think.

"Is your name Isaac Koenig?" the police officer asked Isaac.

Isaac nodded, slowly, looking in horror at the woman.

"Sir, why do you have this boy in your company?" the officer asked Mulder.

"I'm with the FBI," Mulder said, quietly, carefully removing his badge, "and this boy is in my custody. His parents are no longer living, and this woman is not his mother."

"I just want my baby back," the woman said to the officer. "I don't really care what happens to this man. I just want Isaac to come home. His father will be so relieved."

"I'm afraid you're under arrest, sir," the police officer said. He hadn't looked at Mulder's badge.

He seemed to be talking too loudly. He's an actor, Mulder realized, and the restaurant patrons are the audience. This is theater. This is a performance.

"Your identification isn't valid, and it's not clear what you're doing with this boy."

"I'm an FBI agent," Mulder said, louder. He was paralyzed with fear. Must remain calm, he told himself fiercely. "If you wait one moment, we can clear this up with a call to the assistant director at the Bureau."

"We can clear it up down at the station," the officer answered, smoothly. "There's a car out front. Come with me."

"I'd like someone to follow us to the station, please," Mulder demanded loudly. "Is there someone who will make sure this police car goes to the police station?"

"Come on, sir, please don't make a fuss," the officer said, pulling out some handcuffs. "There's a car outside."

"Handcuffs aren't necessary, I'll go willingly, if there are some people in this restaurant who will make sure we get to the police station," Mulder said, turning to the restaurant's customers. "Are there any volunteers?"

The only faces who turned to look at him were suspicious. Hateful, even. Probably thought him a child molester. The audience was against him.

"I need help," Mulder said, desperation making his voice sound uneven. "This is not a real police officer. I need someone's help."

"Help," echoed Isaac softly. But the woman had him pulled very tightly against her.

"Shh, shh, honey, it will be okay," she said. "You can watch a video when we get home."

Mulder reached inside his coat quickly, and pulled out his gun, pointing it at the false police officer.

There was a gasp in the restaurant.

He appeared to be a crazy person. A child-molesting insane man, shouting nonsense about being in the FBI, wielding a gun.

"Give me back the boy," Mulder said quietly. "Give him to me."

"Now just take it easy, sir," the police officer said. "Let's don't have any trouble."

"Give me the boy, lady," Mulder repeated, louder.

But the woman was holding Isaac very close to her, making a safe shot at her impossible.

"Please, please, just let me and my baby go home," she said, her voice quavering. "I'll do anything."

She began backing slowly towards the door to the restaurant, Isaac still clutched closely to her.

"Stop backing away, or I will shoot," Mulder said, although he had no shot.

The woman pulled Isaac up even closer, blocking herself more completely. "Don't shoot, please, sir; he's only a baby."

"Isaac," Mulder called helplessly.

What would he tell Scully if he lost Isaac?

The woman was at the door now, and Mulder noticed a police car outside the glass. He quickly ran towards her, keeping his gun between her and the false police officer, who stood in the restaurant center.

"Stay away from me," the woman said. Her voice was less quavery. She was only steps away from the police car. "You're a crazy man."

"Stop," Mulder cried again.

In a blur, Isaac grabbed hold of a small, tight handful of her dark hair. And pulled. Hard.

"Darling," she gasped, leaning towards him.

She made a grab for his fist, but Isaac wriggled from her grasp, and kicked her face, hard.

With unchildlike brutality. With blood erupting over her face, she screamed.

Mulder was aware, vaguely, of the faux policeman running up behind him. He leapt for Isaac, scooping him up off the ground.

"Run," Isaac hissed into Mulder’s ear, staring back at the woman. His foot had been very well aimed.

Mulder ran. He ducked in between cars on the street, sprinting as fast as he could down the block, ignoring shouts back at the restaurant. He swung Isaac on to his back, wrapping his arms tightly around his neck.

"Run," whispered Isaac again.

And Mulder ran. Like hell.

***

" Violence is a calm that disturbs you. "
- Jean Genet

Chapter Text

All the world is not, of course, a stage, but the crucial ways in which it isn’t are not easy to specify. - Erving Goffman

***

In Scully’s apartment, a book was partially pulled out of the bookcase, like an invisible child was reading down its spine.

She walked over and touched it: The Wizard of Oz. Why would that be out? Scully wondered if Mulder had been reading to Isaac.

She tried to picture it: Mulder, sitting with a small boy on her sofa, reading about Dorothy and Kansas. Would he be sardonic? Detached? Corny? She couldn't imagine. She pushed the book into the shelf again.

"Mulder ... ?" she called. Just in case. There was, of course, no answer.

There was no note either. Surely they had just gone to get something to eat. Maybe the restaurant had been crowded, and Mulder couldn't hear his cell phone. Maybe they were still there. Maybe she should try again.

She fished out her phone. And was aware of a slight click behind her.

Her body froze. Someone was in the apartment.

Carefully, she reached for her gun.

"Don't move, Scully," came a voice, smooth and low. Krycek's.

But it was coming from the wrong direction. From her right side, and not from where she had just heard the click. Two intruders, she catalogued irrationally.

Then there was a gunshot.

Scully spun around. An anonymous man, clothed in a dark suit, lay bleeding to death on her living room floor. Krycek stood to her right side, his gun raised in the air.

"My God," Scully said.

She instinctively leaned over to examine the man on the floor.

"He's dead," Krycek said, his voice low and quiet. "We should go."

"What are you doing here?" Scully was incredulous. "What the hell is going on?"

"Let’s see. You were about to get shot," Krycek shrugged. "And you dying doesn't serve my purposes right now, so you’re welcome."

Impatiently, he leaned over to peer out her window.

"Let's go," Krycek said. "Neither one of us is safe here. I know a place we can talk."

"I should find Mulder," Scully said. "I need to tell him not to come back here."

"Mulder's marginally intelligent, Dana," Krycek said. "He'll figure it out. That is, if Spender hasn't already snatched Isaac back."

There was contempt in his voice. Scully felt herself grow cold with hatred.

"This isn't the first person you've murdered in my living room," Scully said, her voice low and steely. She kept her body rigid. "I have no reason to trust you."

"You have every reason to trust me," Krycek said. "Because you’re flying completely blind, and I have information you need."

Scully was silent. Looked at her phone, laying silent in her hand.

"Come on," Krycek took her arm. "We don't have a second to spare."

She put the phone in her pocket. And said a quick, impetuous prayer.

***

By the time they were at the Lone Gunmen's doorway, Mulder was sure there was no tail.

He'd doubled back, made false turns. No one was there, and anyone that was, the Lone Gunmen's security system would eventually find out.

He was also sure he couldn't run any further with the kid on his back. Sweat was rolling down his face. He was wheezing like he'd just been released from the hospital -- and he was one to know what that felt like.

It was just lucky they'd been able to reach the Gunmen’s apartment. He didn't know where else to turn. And there had been no time to call Scully. Was she all right? Had she been tailed, too?

"Who's there?" came the voice from the intercom. Frohike.

"Frohike, it's me," Mulder said. "Your favorite fed."

"Well, you sure don’t sound like Agent Scully," Frohike said as the door opened. "Hey, Mulder. You're just in time. We got pizza."

Frohike's eyes landed on Isaac. "Babysitting, Mulder?"

Mulder shook his head a little, pulling Isaac off of his shoulders. "This is Isaac," he said. "Isaac, this is Frohike. He's a friend. I think he'll give us a safe place to hang out for a while."

Frohike reached out and shook Isaac's hand. "Nice to meet you, Isaac. "

Isaac said nothing. Regarded Frohike with his characteristic blank stare.

He'd been quiet since kicking the woman's face, Mulder realized. Okay, probably not the most psychologically healthy occurrence. Trust me to teach my kid how to inflict disturbing violence on people in our first six hours together.

"You've got yourself teamed up with some trouble here, I see," smiled Frohike. "On the run from danger?"

"Yeah,” Mulder said, humorlessly. “That’s actually fairly ... accurate.”

He stared at Frohike, who widened his eyes a little.

"Okee-dokee," Frohike said. "Come in. You need a safe haven, we got your safe haven right here. "

***

Isaac, it seemed, was as much into pizza with everything as he was into macaroni and cheese. He sat at a chair in the Lone Gunmen's office, swinging his legs absently and biting into a slice.

He was staring at a nearby screensaver on a computer: Richard Nixon waving irreverently at Bugs Bunny. He pointed to it suddenly, and looked up at Langly.

"It's Richard Nixon, right?" he said.

Langly looked at him oddly.

"Uh, yeah," he said. "How'd you know that?"

Isaac shrugged, taking an enormous bite of pizza.

Langly regarded the kid silently for a moment, and then: "You ... like video games?"

Isaac nodded absently, chewing. But he pointed to a poster, nearby, of an alien.

"You like aliens?" he asked Langly, mouth still full of pizza.

"Uh, sure," Langly said. "Mulder could tell you everything about aliens."

"Everything about aliens on TV?"

"Everything about aliens in real life."

Isaac laughed. "Okay.”

“What, you don’t believe me?”

“There’s no such thing as aliens,” Isaac raised his eyebrow knowingly, like he knew Langly was toying with him.

"Oh yeah?" Langly said.

"They're not real. They’re pretend. Right, Fox Mulder?"

Ahh. A four-year-old skeptic. Of course he is.

Mulder opened and shut his mouth, speechless.

"All righty then. Let me show you a game," Langly said. He eyed the Gunmen from across the room. "I have a simple one here. It's an oldie but a goodie — Pac-Man. I think you can master it."

And as Isaac played, across the room, Byers cleared his throat.

"All right. So Mulder ..." he began. “What’s going on?”

"Who are you running from?" Frohike interrupted. "Where's Scully?"

"Who’s the kid?" Langly whispered. "He's weird."

"Weird?" Mulder said, slightly offended, turning to Langly. "You think so? I think he's a nice kid."

"Mulder, what is he, three or four?"

"Four," Mulder answered.

"Listen, as a former au pair, let me clue you in on a little basic child development," Langly said. "Four-year olds do not know who Richard Nixon is. They can't really distinguish fact from TV. They don't have much of a vocabulary yet. This kid talks like he's graduated from Cornell. There's something … weird about him."

“Spooky,” nodded Mulder. “Makes sense.”

“Why does it make sense, Mulder?”

"Well, the apple," Mulder said, "I guess you could say it doesn’t fall far from the tree. So to speak."

There was a silence. They didn't get it.

"He’s my biological son,” Mulder said. “But he doesn't know it."

Byers’ eyes went wide.

"So sure, he's a little weird," Mulder shrugged.

"Whoa," Langly managed to say. "This is something ... they did?"

"Yeah," Mulder said. "It gets a little more interesting than that, too."

"I knew it. He's been tampered with? His brain?" Langly said. "Development sped up, so to speak?"

"Well, no, I don't know about that," Mulder said, feeling a little defensive. "I didn't notice anything wrong with his brain. He seems like a great kid to me, although I think he's been in a state of shock for a while now. Understandably so. He lost both of his adoptive parents very recently."

"Oh my god!" Frohike said, standing up suddenly, hand on his mouth.

“What?” Langly looked startled.

"It's so obvious."

"What's obvious?" Byers said.

"Just look at the kid," Frohike hissed, pointing at him across the room. "Just look at him. He's the spitting image of both of them! It's damn eerie."

"Both of them?" Langly said.

"If that's not Dana Scully's kid, I'll eat my hat," Frohike said. "He looks just freaking like her."

They all stared at him from across the room. Isaac, focused intently on Pac-Man, shifting back and forth with the controls, didn't notice them staring.

"Oh wow," Byers said. "You're right. The eyes and nose..."

"And everything he said, just a few minutes ago, all that outrageous Scullyness!" Langly said. "It's genetics in action. Un-freaking-believable."

"Yeah,” Mulder sighed. “It is … hard to miss. The Scullyness. But he doesn't know who his real mother is either, guys.”

"This is really something they did?" Langly said, narrowing his eyes. "This isn't just something that ... happened?"

"No," Mulder shook his head, wearily. "His conception was engineered by others, not an accident."

He paused, feeling the need to clear something up. "You know, Scully and I don't actually have ... encounters that might produce that kind of accident."

There was silence for a moment, as they seemed to process that. They seemed a little taken aback, which surprised Mulder. He didn't know that it was so widely taken for granted that he and Scully were involved sexually.

"They're looking for the kid? What for?" Frohike said.

"We weren't supposed to get him," Mulder said. "I think he was supposed to serve as a dangling carrot, like Samantha. It was his hand in that photograph.”

They nodded. They were uncharacteristically quiet.

"He might be unhealthy, too," Mulder said. "It's a long story, but the point is, we've got to lie low."

“Of course you can stay here.” Byers said quickly.

"This is a good place," Langly said. "We can set you up with some deluxe security arrangements. And we'll teach the kid to play some bad-ass games."

"Guys," Mulder said. "It might be dangerous. For you."

They stared at him blankly, not comprehending.

"Having us here," he added. "We might put your operation here in danger."

"It's always dangerous," Byers smiled a little, "hanging out with you, Mulder. But not to worry."

"You're family," Langly said. He gestured to the kid. "And so's your family."

"Where's Scully?" Frohike said.

"At the office," Mulder said. He sat up. "I should call her. She should -- come here, too."

"Use our phone," Langly suggested. "It's untraceable."

***

"Turn your phone off," Krycek ordered. "We can't risk the ringing, where we're going."

"And where are we going?" she said, reaching inside the odd black purse for her phone.

"You'll find out when we're there," he said.

She touched her hair again. It was strange, unfamiliar: a dark and long wig.

She had noticed, when Krycek handed it to her, that it was expensive and realistic. As were the sunglasses. And the snug-fitting black dress, which, she observed, was a pricey designer label, although she didn't know too much about such things.

She was supposed to become someone else. To elude her tail.

It didn't surprise her that Krycek had such toys on hand. But it did surprise her that she was willing to play along.

Krycek was driving a very ordinary compact car. Driving it very quickly through Georgetown traffic, with a mysterious brunette in sunglasses sitting next to him.

"You're being tailed," she said, staring at a car in the rear view mirror. She looked at Krycek. His jaw was clenched.

"I'm always tailed," Krycek said. "But it's not so unusual for me to take off from a Georgetown restaurant with a pretty girl on a weekend night. And it's not so unusual for me to try to lose the tail, either."

He made a wild left turn, causing Scully to grip her seat instinctively. But she was used to rash driving.

Why was she here? She couldn't remember what had possessed her to take Krycek at his word. To put on the fancy dress and the fake hair and put her life in his hands.

Then, once again, she remembered.

Mulder, she prayed internally. Don't take the risks that you would take if you were by yourself. The most noble thing you can do is to stay safe.

"Grab your purse," Krycek said suddenly, as they were stopped at a light. "We're getting out."

"We're getting out here?" Scully said. “Leaving the car?”

She turned around. They were surrounded by cars. Traffic would definitely be blocked.

"The tail's too close. It will be easier to walk a few blocks," he said. “And it will hold them up.”

He stepped out of the driver's side door, and ran to her side quickly, grabbing her arm.

"What the hell are you doing?" called someone from the car behind them.

"My car's stalled," murmured Krycek to the stopped cars, with a charming smile. He put his hand on Scully's back, running with her to the edge of the road.

She turned to look behind them, just as the light changed. The honking had just started.

"Come on," he hissed, gripping her arm and ducking down a side street, walking briskly.

She tried not to think about the civil unrest unfolding behind her. And matched his pace.

***

“Honestly … you and Scully … never have? Not once?”

“Are you going to read it to me or not, Frohike?” Mulder said, rolling his eyes.

Frohike was supposed to be looking up the background on the Koenigs’ family members, but he was distracted by shaking his head in disbelief.

"All right, all right. Earl Koenig’s parents, Ira and Linda Koenig, died in an automobile accident in Bradenton, Florida on July 8, 1981," Frohike said, reading from a screen. “Earl was their only child. According to their obituary in the Orlando Sun-Sentinel.”

"What about Amber Koenig's family?" Mulder said.

"Here it is -- looks like mother died of cancer in 1992. Father not in her life. One brother,” Frohike read.

"Not many relatives," Mulder said, tapping one of the Lone Gunmen's pencils against a countertop. "Only Amber Koenig's brother. I wonder if that's who is named in their will as Isaac’s guardian?"

"Well, her brother has a few legal problems. Like a little problem with drug trafficking, for example. It says here he currently resides in the penitentiary in Richmond County, Georgia," Frohike read from the screen. "So probably not?"

Mulder leaned back in his seat to consider this. He wasn’t a lawyer, but it seemed like the circumstances might bode well for the chances that he and Scully could get custody.

That is, if she wanted custody.

And if she was all right. And not staring down the barrel of a gun, as he sat here joking around with Frohike. He couldn't remember ever feeling so restless.

"She'll call, man," Frohike said, gazing over at him. "Give her a while, she'll call."

Mulder didn't trust calling Skinner: the FBI lines weren't always secure.

"She's made of steel, Mulder," Frohike said. "She crushes her enemies. She can handle it."

"I know," Mulder said.

He looked at his silent phone.

***

It was a theater. Krycek had dragged her by the elbow into a hip part of town and through the door of a theater, a small, elegant, older theater with a quirky brass chandelier hanging overhead in the lobby.

A crowd of theater goers, dressed in the same sort of sleek, mod black clothes that she and Krycek had on, mingled with champagne flutes. Somewhere there was soft music playing.

“Have a drink,” Krycek said, more an order than a suggestion. He swiftly lifted a glass of champagne off a tray and placed it in her hand. “But only one. Keep clear headed.”

Scully gave him a withering look. “Why am I here?”

“I come here often,” Krycek said, lifting a glass for himself. He kept his voice low, but looked around with a half-smile smile planted on his face, as though they were making flirty small talk. “It’s not suspicious for me to bring a date, and we will be able to talk with minimal risk.”

“You often come to the theater?” Scully raised an eyebrow and took a sip of champagne. “I would have figured you for more, I don’t know, dog fighting?”

“I can see you have a very high opinion of me, Dana,” Krycek said sweetly, drinking from his glass. “Let’s continue this conversation in our seats.”

“I’m not sure I am in the mood for --”

“It won’t take long for my tails to find me,” Krycek sighed a little, glancing discreetly out the lobby windows. “It never does. And while from a distance you do look quite different in that get-up, if we stand here so visibly in the lobby like this? They will be more likely to recognize your lovely face.”

Scully pressed her lips together, moving away from the window. “Fine. What are we seeing?”

“I don’t know. Something pretentious, annoying, and arty, I’m sure,” Krycek shrugged, taking her arm again and smiling.

“I see you’re quite the sensitive connoisseur,” Scully said.

“Smile a little, for God’s sake,” Krycek said, walking her towards the doors to the main theater. “Try to look like you’re enjoying my company.”

Scully attempted a half smile as she walked. “I’m really not that good of an actor.”

“Tickets?” A young man at the door, dressed all in black, aimed a more sincere smile at Krycek. “You’re a season ticket holder, aren’t you, sir?”

“I’m in Box C tonight,” Krycek said smoothly, slinking an arm lightly around Scully’s waist. “Just one guest. We can take our champagne with us, yes?”

“Of course. Enjoy the show,” the young man said, glancing admiringly at Scully and giving Krycek a knowing smile that Scully disliked profoundly.

“Relax, Dana,” Krycek whispered, as they made their way down the dim aisle towards Box C. “You look like you’re here under duress.”

“Am I not?” Scully hissed. She was clutching the stem of her champagne glass so hard she was afraid she might shatter it.

The theater was not large, but had a series of smaller enclosed box seats surrounding it, one of which seemed to be Krycek’s Box C. There were divisions between the boxes that obscured the seats next to them from view.

Scully had to admit, with the cover of darkness in the theater and relative privacy, it would be a discreet place to talk.

“You’re here to find out information that is important to you, as I recall,” Krycek said, sounding weary. “You weren’t forced. This is to our mutual benefit.”

He made a faux-gallant gesture for Scully to sit down in one of the box’s seats.

“I don’t like this,” Scully said, keeping her voice low, but gesturing emphatically to her dress and hair and the champagne glass as she sat down. “I don’t like your arm around me, and I don’t like the feeling that you are toying with me.”

“I’m not toying with you,” Krycek said, sinking into the chair next to her. “And don’t flatter yourself. This is business.”

“Business,” Scully repeated skeptically.

“Strictly professional,” he said. “Believe me, I’ve no special interest in involving myself in that epically screwed-up relationship you and your partner have going on.”

“It’s not --” Scully stopped herself, closing her eyes. Leave Mulder out of this. “Fine. Let’s talk business.”

“When the show begins,” Krycek said, “we will.”

He took a deep drink of his champagne and gave her a saucy wink.

She wanted to punch his face.

Strictly professional, Scully, she told herself.

It had been her mantra all day long, and it was starting to ring false.

***

“I’m not tired,” Isaac said.

The Lone Gunmen had assembled a mattress for Isaac, and Langly had even managed to dig up some clean-ish looking sheets and blankets. There was even a lumpy-looking pillow, with some kind of faded vintage Battlestar Galactica pillowcase.

All and all, it looked like a fairly convincing and comfortable bed for a child to sleep in, but Isaac was uninterested. He preferred to spin around again, and again, and again, and again, in Byers’ desk chair. He had his knees pulled up inside the black Ramones tee shirt that the Gunmen had loaned him to wear. It was the very smallest shirt they could dig up, but it was still enormous on him.

“It’s past 9 o’clock,” Mulder said.

“They all call you ‘Mulder,’” Isaac said, thoughtfully, mid-chair spin. “Just your last name. Not your first name.”

“Yeah,” Mulder said, rubbing his head, “a lot of people do that. Listen, what time do you normally go to bed? I think it’s normal for kids your age to be in bed at this time.”

“Well,” Isaac said, kicking his feet to spin the chair around faster, “I did sleep a very long time last night, Mulder. So I might not be … normal today.”

That was a reasonable point, Mulder thought. They both slept in until nearly four in the afternoon. How much sleep did kids this age need, anyway? Was it productive to make him lie here by himself? Would he be just lying there, worrying?

“Fine, you win,” Mulder said, raising his hands in defeat. He gestured across the room to the Gunmen. “Want to watch whatever movie they’re watching?”

Isaac nodded eagerly and hopped off, leaving the chair spinning around and around by itself. He ran across the room to the TV, which was playing a 1960s Japanese horror movie that held all three Gunmen’s rapt attention. Isaac plopped down on the floor next to Frohike and reached over to take a fistful of popcorn out of his bowl, watching the screen with fascination.

“Wow, really held your ground on bed time, didn’t you?” Langly said sarcastically, as Mulder sunk into the chair next to him.

“He’s not tired,” Mulder shrugged, rubbing his temples.

Langly gave him a disbelieving look.

“Listen, Langly, I didn’t say I knew what I was doing here. I’ve never been … an au pair.”

“But you were -- I don’t know -- an Oxford-educated psychologist,” Langly pointed out. “Don’t they cover some of this child psych stuff in the smart guy brain classes?”

“I don’t even know if he likes me,” Mulder said. “He’s going through grief. He doesn’t know anything about me.”

“I think he likes you fine,” Langly said. “You just need to give the kid time.”

“I wish Scully were here.”

The sentence came out quickly, so quickly that he hadn’t even had a chance to think about it before he said it.

But once he had, he realized how deeply he meant it. He meant it for the most obvious reasons, of course; he wanted to know Scully was safe. He wanted there to be some innocuous and easily explained reason she wasn’t answering her phone for so long. He wanted her to come in all tired and with sore feet and eat some of Frohike’s popcorn and complain about the traffic getting there.

But he also meant it because he wanted Scully to help him understand what to do about Isaac. He wanted her to somehow peer into Isaac and determine where his illness and pain and grief ended and where his regular little-boy personality began. Mulder wanted her to help him know things, like when children should go to bed, and whether their brain development was sped up or they were just smart, and how to make them stop looking so haunted, and whether they could be okay with messed-up fathers or not.

“Yeah,” said Langly, awkwardly. “But hey, like, I’m sure Scully will get here soon.”

“Right,” Mulder said. He said nothing.

“Is that lady bad?” Isaac asked Frohike on the floor, pointing to a character on the screen.

“Yeah, she’s a yuki-onna,” Frohike said to him. “A Japanese snow grandma demon.”

“She looks bad,” Isaac said. He blinked, but his face did not betray a particular expression.

“You good, Issac?” Mulder asked, suddenly concerned. He sat forward, realizing belatedly this probably wasn’t appropriate viewing. “It’s a little scary, huh?”

“I’m not scared,” Isaac said, his eyes not leaving the screen.

“Are you sure? We could find something else to watch--” Mulder offered.

Frohike turned around and gave him a deeply affronted look.

“No...” Isaac crinkled up his eyes, thinking about it. “Pretend things like this aren’t scary. Real things are scary. ”

“Yeah, I guess that’s … true,” Mulder said.

In a disturbing, what-have-we-already-done-to-you sort of way, sure.

“Can I sit next to you, Mulder?” Isaac said, turning around and scrambling over the floor.

“Yeah,” Mulder said. “Uh -- of course.”

Isaac climbed over into the chair right next to his. Unexpectedly, and somewhat wonderfully, he leaned his head against Mulder’s arm.

“That’s a yuki-onna,” Isaac told him matter-of-factly, pointing at the screen. “She’s a snow demon, but of course that’s not real.”

Actually, Mulder happened to know of some research on yuki-onna that suggested some factual basis to the Japanese folklore, but he decided to keep that to himself. He would cure Isaac of this skepticism thing later.

“No,” Mulder said. “You’re right.”

They watched the movie for a moment. Mulder wondered if Isaac had any idea what was going on, because he certainly didn’t. Isaac tapped on his arm.

“I kicked that lady hard today,” Isaac whispered. “The one who was trying to take me into the car.”

“You did,” Mulder said, in as gentle a voice as he could. “But you were protecting yourself, Isaac. You were keeping yourself safe. Both of us. I think you did the right thing.”

“Yeah,” Isaac nodded slowly, still looking at the TV screen with his cheek pressed against Mulder’s forearm. “She was lying, and she was bad, and she was real.”

Mulder could tell, from Isaac’s heavy-lidded eyes, that he was tired after all. They looked just like Scully’s, after an all-nighter.

“But … after I kicked her, there was that blood,” Issac said softly, blinking a little. “It went everywhere.”

Mulder said nothing to that, and neither did Isaac.

Moments later, the boy fell asleep on Mulder’s arm.

***

The show was some kind of modern take on Shakespeare’s Macbeth.

The concept seemed to be that the play was taking place in a shadowy and dystopian nightclub, with a constant beat in the background and continuously strobing lights. The actors all wore white and red masks, as though they were participants in some strange ritual.

The opening scene had a nightmarish quality that Scully just … wasn’t in the mood for at all.

“What did I tell you?” Krycek said, gesturing to the stage, rolling his eyes. “Pretentious and arty. Ridiculous. Americans don’t understand theater.”

“You’re very smart,” she said in a small, tight voice. “Now business.”

“Yes,” Krycek said. “Face the stage as we talk.”

On stage, the three witches, masked and writhing on the floor of the stage in black leather goth club gear, screamed and extended their hands.

“Peace!” they called. “The charm’s wound up.” The stage lights turned suddenly and dramatically dark red.

“I am concerned about -- the technology our mutual friend has at his fingertips,” Krycek said quietly, eyes forward, the red light reflecting over his face. “I think it poses a real threat to me, as it does to you.”

“Well, I can appreciate your concern, but isn’t this the exact nanotechnology you wield yourself? Against Assistant Director Skinner, for one?” Scully said.

“Yes,” Krycek said. “That is, it’s similar. I acquired the nanoassembler tech first -- from some associates -- and I sold it more recently to Spender’s operation, with some modifications.”

“And … what, now you have regrets?” Scully couldn’t keep the anger from her voice. “You have a conscience? Or you’re just scared?”

“Keep your voice down, Dana,” Krycek said in a more hushed tone, a quick look around.

No one was visibly paying attention. On stage, the young, acrobatic actors playing Macbeth and Banquo were being seduced by leather-clad witches, and the audience’s attention was on them.

“I am not a complete fool,” Krycek continued, in a low voice. “You don’t give Spender and his people a weapon like that … without some self-protection. The nanoassemblers that I sold Spender’s operation are almost the same, with one key difference.”

Scully turned to look at him. “A back door?”

“A possible back door.”

Scully watched the actors crawl over one another for a moment, mulling this over.

“So clearly you would have kept this possible back door a secret from Spender when you sold him the tech, since that defeats the purpose.”

“Obviously,” Krycek said. “I quite carefully kept it a secret. That’s why it’s not a fully developed antidote, mind you, but more the … guide to an antidote. A way of stopping that particular model from doing damage.”

“But why would you give this help to us?” Scully narrowed her eyes. “How does it help you -- to help Isaac?”

“Oh, it doesn’t,” Krycek said, with a shrug. “Not your kid in particular. No offense. He’s not the important chess piece here. At least not to me.”

“Then what--”

“I want you to come up with the back door seemingly on your own,” Krycek said. “Or with the help of your little scientist friend, the one you went to see this afternoon. I want you to appear to do it out of the motivation to help your kid. It would help me if you could neutralize Spender’s tech without involving me at all.”

Scully was silent again, considering this motivation, wondering what Mulder might make of it. Was it possible Krycek was leaving out crucial parts of the back story? Of course. Would that matter if it benefited Isaac? Perhaps not.

“Stay, you imperfect speakers! Tell me more!” shouted Macbeth onstage, futilely, at the witches, who had vanished into thin air.

“This could help Isaac, but it won’t help Assistant Director Skinner,” Scully realized, after a moment. “The tech he is infected with belongs to you, not to Spender’s operation.”

Krycek shrugged again, apathetically. “Can’t win them all, I’m afraid,” he said. “Although I will say that I would have to be more subtle in my use of Skinner’s nanobots going forward. I won’t be able to call undue attention to the fact that my tech isn’t as vulnerable to your back door. That would be suspicious, you see.”

Scully said nothing. She didn’t like this response, but the truth is, it was worth it to her to keep Isaac safe -- and of course Krycek knew that very well.

“So on that note, I have a proposal for you,” Krycek smiled, reaching into his coat pocket. He produced what certainly looked like a small jewelry case, and extended it to Scully.

“If you get down on one knee, Alex, I swear, I will break your kneecap, business or not,” Scully said.

“You really don’t understand the concept of being undercover, do you, Dana?” sighed Krycek. “It’s obviously not a ring. Inside are files on a drive that should lead your Dr. Han to the back door without too much trouble.”

Perhaps too quickly, Scully took the ring box from Krycek and enclosed her fingers around it, tightly. It might be foolish, but she felt … hopeful. Eager.

“Dana, listen. There is something else inside that case, too.”

“And what’s that, exactly?”

But Krycek’s attention was across the room. He leaned towards her, and when he spoke, his voice was tense.

“It will wait. Slight change of plans. Stay facing me.”

“What is it?”

“Someone has what could be a … camera aimed our way. Everything depends on what we do next.”

***

For a while, an interminable length of time sitting facing his direction, listening to the sounds of the actors and club music thumping behind her, clutching the ring case tightly in one hand and a champagne flute in another, Scully could see that Krycek’s face was actually tense, more tense than she could remember seeing him before.

But after a moment or two, he seemed to regain control of himself.

“All right,” he said. “Listen closely. Keep your hair around your face as much as you can,” he said in a low tone. Scully followed his instructions. “Lean in towards me, as though we are having a conversation. Take a drink of champagne. Without drawing attention to it, slip the ring case in your purse.”

“Are we about to leave?” Scully said. As she slipped the ring case into the purse sitting at her side, she could feel the cool metal of her gun in there, too. It reassured her.

“At intermission,” Krycek said, “two things will happen. One, I will go find our friend with the camera, and he and I will have … a pleasant chat. Two, you will exit this theater and promptly catch a cab a few blocks away.”

“Believe me, I would love to leave,” Scully said, “but don’t we have to assume this theater’s lobby and entrance are now being watched?”

“I have an idea for how to handle that,” Krycek said vaguely.

“Alex, if the man with a camera has a photo of my face already, and he has already transmitted it digitally --?”

Krycek waved his hand dismissively.

“I think it’s not a dealbreaker. It’s awfully dark in here. You look awfully different. And this is a fairly implausible scenario for you, Agent Scully -- out at the theater, in a designer dress, drinking champagne and flirting with me while Mulder is home doing domestic duty with your kid on his first day home? Fairly out of character. I’d say I have plausible deniability, at least.”

Scully wondered if Krycek intended for that to sting as much as it did.

Where were Mulder and Isaac now, she wondered? Where would she even find them? Mulder had to be terribly anxious about her whereabouts by now -- again. What would he have told Isaac? Would Isaac be worried, too?

Of course, if she could get the ring case back to them tonight, and if the contents were everything Krycek said they would be, this whole nightmare of an evening would be worth it.

“Now,” Krycek said. “Before intermission, while there is still time, I want to tell you about what else is in the ring case.”

“How dramatic,” Scully said. “What is it?”

“Depending on how you decide to use it, it could change everything. So yes, it is dramatic.”

***

“The snacks just never stop here, do they?” Mulder said, accepting a jalapeno popper from the generously-laden plate Byers extended to him. “You guys live well.”

“We’re trying to be good hosts,” Byers said earnestly. “We grasp the tension of the situation.”

Minutes before, Mulder had lifted the sleeping Isaac from the recliner over to the mattress with the Battlestar Galactica pillow, and tucked the blankets carefully and artfully around him.

This task had given him a strange feeling of accomplishment, like he had done a real thing that a parent might do: tucked a kid into bed.

And yes, that bed was a makeshift mattress, on the floor of a safe haven, which happened to be in a studio apartment, shared by three bachelors, who published a conspiracy theory newsletter.

But Isaac looked so peaceful and cozy -- especially for a kid who fell asleep talking about blood -- and Mulder felt accomplished.

“We have an air mattress for you, too,” Byers told him. “You can sleep on the floor next to the kid. It will be tight in here, but you know, we can make it work.”

Mulder didn’t say what he wanted to -- that he hoped there would need to be space for Scully to sleep, too. Because he had left her a message he hoped would lead her here, even if she couldn’t call. But he couldn’t bear to say that aloud, to get yet more pitying looks from the Gunmen.

“Byers,” he said. “I owe you guys so big for this. Really. All of this.”

“Please stop thanking us, Mulder,” Byers said, kindly. “Just help me blow up this air mattress.”

“Shhhhh,” Frohike hissed from across the room. “You’re talking over the movie.”

There turned out to be some kind of pump for the air mattress, and Mulder’s only job was to hold it awkwardly in place while Byers expertly operated the pump with his foot.

As he gripped the pump, Mulder craned his neck to quickly glance at his phone, sitting on the desk nearby.

“You know,” Byers said quietly, noticing Mulder’s glance, “if you wanted to go try to track her down, we could handle keeping an eye on the kid.”

“I know,” Mulder said. He was embarrassed to be so transparent. “And I do trust you guys, but I think she would want me to stay with him. Make sure he was safe.”

“Sure,” Byers nodded, tapping his foot up and down on the pump. “I get that.”

“And I also -- I want to make sure he’s okay,” Mulder said. “He just lost his parents. I think one of us, Scully or me, ought to be with him all the time.”

“Makes sense,” Byers said.

“I know what you’re thinking, though, Byers,” Mulder said. “What if Scully is in serious danger? What if she needs back-up?”

Byers cocked his head at Mulder. “And?”

“I don’t know,” Mulder said. “She can handle herself. I trust her. But how long do I wait?”

Byers stopped pumping. The mattress was full. He reached down to disconnect the pump. “I don’t know.”

“Yeah,” Mulder said. “I guess a little longer. I wait a little longer. It’s not like I even know where to begin to look.”

“But…?” Byers gave him an expectant look, setting the pump aside.

“I don’t know what to do with myself in the meantime,” Mulder said. “Exactly.”

Byers nodded. He reached for the plate again. “More jalapeno poppers?” he offered.

Mulder looked the poppers over again, shrugged, and selected one.

They sat down on the edge of the air mattress, side by side, and began eating the entire plate, one at a time.

***

“Here,” Krycek whispered. He crossed over to take his seat again, laying a mask on her lap. “My friend taking tickets was able to get this for me, and I’ve worked it all out. I’m a much admired patron of the arts here, you see.”

Scully stared at the red and white mask.

“Don’t make it obvious, Dana,” Krycek said, exasperated. “Our shutterbug is two boxes over. I think it must be almost intermission. You’ll just put the mask on, and you will walk confidently through the curtains and straight into the backstage area. Then you’ll exit through the stage door into the alley. Borrow a coat or something backstage so you look less conspicuous.”

“You mean steal a coat from an actor,” Scully said.

“I’m sorry, is this not a life or death situation for your child? It’s a freaking coat,” Krycek said. “You and Mulder and your goddamn tiresome ethics.”

On the stage, Macbeth and Lady Macbeth were greeting guests for dinner. All of the actors on stage were dressed in elegant modern black, and all were wearing masks like the one Scully held in her hand. There was some kind of strobe lighting effect that made their movements feel like a flickering old filmstrip to Scully, although she didn’t imagine that was what was intended.

Oh. I remember this scene from the play, she suddenly realized. Macbeth had murdered people. His guilt would cause him to see the bloody ghost of his friend at the dinner table -- something that no one else could see but him. He would lose it, make himself appear unstable to his guests, and his wife would have to cover for him.

I’m sure Krycek would find Macbeth’s guilt tiresome, too.

“Dana,” Krycek said with sudden urgency. “We may need to move sooner than intermission.”

There was the unmistakable sound of a gunshot.

In unison, Krycek and Scully ducked to the floor in front of their seats.

“Ugh,” Krycek said, rubbing his temple. “I saw that coming. I hate getting shot at.”

From her low vantage point, Scully tried to see the source of the shot -- somewhere to her left, somewhere vaguely where Krycek had said the cameraman had been located before. It was hard to pinpoint exactly in the dark.

She didn’t see evidence of the shot hitting anything nearby, either. Not a close call. A warning shot?

Curiously, the rest of the audience seemed not to visibly react to the gunshot at all. Scully realized that they must have believed it was a sound intended by the production, perhaps intended to be a manifestation of Macbeth’s guilt. It was only she and Krycek who were focused on it at all.

“All right,” Scully said. “Now what?”

“Well,” Krycek said, reaching into his coat pocket again, as if feeling for a weapon. “I am going to go chase that guy down, and very likely kill him.”

Scully sighed.

“Oh, I meant turn him into the proper authorities, of course, Dana,” Krycek said. “Please don’t trouble your conscience. You’re going to continue with your part of the plan. Leave immediately. Do not wait.”

“I will have to wait -- at least until intermission,” Scully pointed out. “I can’t walk through the actual performance to go backstage.”

“If you wait,” Krycek said, “you’re just giving them more time to track you down.”

He reached into his pocket, withdrew a gun, and began a process of adding something to it in the dark that Scully couldn’t quite see. She assumed it was probably a silencer.

Once finished, he sat up and reached over to where her champagne flute was sitting on the floor, half full, and quickly downed it.

“No sense letting champagne go to waste. Even if it is cheap champagne that taste like piss,” he said. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. “All right. Here we go.”

He gave Scully a little salute. “Good luck. Don’t get caught. It would be very awkward for me.”

“I’ll … try,” said Scully.

“And think about what’s in that case. Show it to Mulder.”

With that, he scrambled to his feet, his eyes trained somewhere to Scully’s left. He had his gun close, and he was moving quickly.

Scully had placed her hand on her purse, aware again of what lay inside the case. Watching Krycek dart down the aisle, she was surprised to feel envious of him. It must be easier not to have any kind of moral compass to worry about. There was a freedom in that.

She watched until he was out of her eye line, and then she sat there alone for a moment, listening for another shot.

She didn’t hear one.

Shifting, she bent so that she could see the action on the stage. Don’t wait, Krycek had said. Leave right away.

But how could she march right through a scene with actors on stage without attracting some attention?

Somewhere behind her, she heard footsteps she didn’t like, coming up and down the aisles, as though someone, somewhere was looking for her.

There had to be a way.

On the stage, Macbeth was talking to his guests at the table, but Banquo, his murdered friend, as well as other demon-ish looking ghosts and creatures, were beginning to emerge from the stage’s trap doors and corners, crawling up on to the stage to torture Macbeth’s guilty conscience.

Scully didn’t remember there being more than one ghoul haunting Macbeth in this scene. That must be an innovation of this production.

What if --?

Well. It seemed … worth trying.

With trembling hands, she put on the mask. Clutching her purse, and glancing anxiously over her shoulder, she began slowly moving down the aisle towards the stage.

Scully’s heart beat wildly, but she told herself rationally that this was certainly not as risky as most things she did in her line of work; it wasn’t as risky as being shot at even a few short minutes ago.

This just felt risky. Stage fright.

The stage was fairly dark, with the light strobing effect, and there were at least 8-10 other actors playing ghouls. Like her, they were all wearing black evening outfits and identical masks. She should blend in fairly well.

But Scully still felt conspicuous as she scooted, on her rear end, up on to the stage. On shaky legs, she began walking, slowly, across the stage, trying to match the same pace as the rest of the actors playing ghouls.

Did others in the audience see her come in from the box? Did the person looking for her spot her? Surely the actors noticed her as an impostor?

If so, there was no visible sign, but of course there wouldn’t be, with the masks obscuring everyone’s face. Trying to calm herself with deep breaths, Scully decided to take steps to follow two ghouls who were standing at Banquo’s right side, facing Macbeth, who was sputtering and pointing at them in terror.

Was it obvious to everyone she wasn’t acting very ghoul-like? How did one act like that, exactly? This would have been a much better task for Mulder, thought Scully bitterly. He had no trouble with this dramatic nonsense.

Macbeth and Lady Macbeth were saying something to one another. She tried to slowly edge as near the back of the stage as she possibly could, and while she was there, her eyes scanned the rear of the stage for the door. Maybe she could simply slip out unnoticed while Macbeth was talking.

“Never shake thy gory locks at me!” shouted Macbeth, pointing his finger at the ghouls.

For a moment, his finger landed on Scully, and she wondered if he hesitated. Maybe he was wondering who the short spare ghoul was.

Scully did not expect the special effect.

How could she have? It startled the audience, too, who let out a surprised “ooooh” as a red, viscous liquid cascaded down from the ceiling on to the actors onstage, coating them entirely in blood.

As the blood splattered over Scully’s wig and mask and clothes, her first thought was: oh. I get it. It’s a visual manifestation of Macbeth’s guilt. But it’s a little over the top.

Her second thought was to observe the actors around her screaming on stage, and the distraction of the flickering lights and loud music. If you’re going to try to make a move, she told herself, this is your chaotic moment.

She made her way towards what she hoped was the stage door, slipping a little in the blood now spread over the floor.

***
I am in blood
Stepped in so far, that, should I wade no more,
Returning were as tedious as go o'er.
WIlliam Shakespeare, Macbeth

Chapter Text

What, will these hands ne'er be clean?
Shakespeare’s Macbeth

***
On his back on the Gunmen’s air mattress, a thin blanket pulled over him, Mulder despaired of going to sleep any time soon.

The apartment wasn’t very dark, for one. There were too many computer screens glowing, including the one across the room on which Frohike and Langly were gleefully playing some game, clicking furiously and whispering agitatedly to one another. They didn’t wake up Byers, who snored impressively from his bunk across the room, apparently accustomed to the light and the noise. But they were barriers to Mulder’s sleep.

As were the thoughts, the worries, that continued to push into his mind.

Mulder flopped over again, angling his head to see Isaac, nearby. The rise and fall of Isaac’s sleeping body, at least, was reassuring. Here was the kid, the impossible son, sleeping next to him in some manner that resembled peace, anyway.

Trying to match the rhythm of Isaac’s breathing, Mulder closed his eyes. Concentrate on your breath, he told himself. It’s supposed to calm you down.

A sudden buzzer sound startled him, abruptly breaking the rhythm.

He sat up, eyes open, instantly on the alert.

Frohike and Langly were on their feet already, giving him concerned looks, heading to the security screen.

“Who is it?” Mulder whispered, reaching instinctively for his gun holster. “Who’s out there?”

Frohike and Langly’s faces, lit by the screen, relaxed.

“Well, well, well,” Frohike said with a smile, “it looks like one super hot FBI agent, Mulder.”

“Possibly a little worse for wear,” Langly commented.

Mulder leapt to his feet, tossing off the blanket, rushing towards the door.

“We’re going to have to code her in,” Frohike called from across the room. “Just hold your horses, Mulder.”

“We’re letting you in, Scully,” Langly told her through the intercom. “Sit tight.”

Mulder waited, as Frohike did his magic on the keypad across the room, and then he pulled the door open.

There stood Scully.

Looking unexpectedly like she had come home from a rock concert.

Wearing an oversized coat from an army surplus store, some kind of black dress underneath, and messy, bedraggled hair. Clutching a purse to her chest.

And, Mulder realized with a start, absolutely drenched in blood.

***

“Hi Mulder,” Scully said. “I, uh, got your messages.”

Her voice sounded smaller than she intended.

She stepped inside, got a better look at the intense expression on his face, and felt overwhelmed by how relieved she was to see him. For a moment she longed just to sink into his arms.

“Scully,” Mulder said, shakily, “you’re covered in blood. You have blood all over you, on your face, on your neck ... ”

“Oh,” she waved a hand dismissively, “it’s fine.”

“Whose -- whose blood is that?”

“It’s … not really blood. It’s synthetic. Mulder, is Isaac…?”

“He’s asleep,” Mulder said, pointing to a mattress, where a little prone form lay covered on the ground. “Deep asleep. He’s safe.”

“Oh good. Thank God,” Scully let go of a breath. “Krycek said -- he said they might have taken him.”

Mulder furrowed his brow. “You saw Krycek tonight?”

She slid off the too-big army coat that she had, indeed, stolen from some unlucky actor backstage, just as Krycek suggested. It had made her look rather ridiculously like a rebellious teen, but covered up most of the blood.

Underneath the coat, the tight black dress was still sticky.

“Is that -- are -- are you wearing a cocktail dress, Scully?” Mulder said, blankly.

“Whoa,” Frohike said in admiration from across the room.

“Yes, and it’s absolutely disgusting,” Scully said, pressing her palm against her waist. Synthetic blood came off on her hand, which she held up to show to Mulder. “Soaked completely through.”

“Scully,” Mulder said, his tone patient. “How exactly did you come to be wearing a hot dress soaked in fake blood?”

“Well, that’s really not the important part of the story,” Scully said, “but I will tell you, I promise. I just need to take these shoes off. I ended up walking for blocks to get here. And ... I just want to see him a moment, Mulder.”

“Yeah,” Mulder nodded. He swept his thumb over her cheek to wipe away a dab of blood. “I get it. Go see him.”

“Hi guys,” she whispered to Frohike and Langly, who stood nearby, blatantly watching her and Mulder, as she slipped out of the heels Krycek had given her, hours before. “Thank you for letting us stay.”

“We’re glad you’re in one piece,” Frohike said effusively.

“You sure had Mulder worried,” Langly chimed in.

“And don’t worry. You three can stay as long as you want,” Frohike said. “Our casa, su casa, et cetera.”

You three. The words caught her as strange.

She gave them a grateful smile, and walked as soundlessly as she could over to the mattress with the sleeping child.

The blankets were tucked meticulously around his small body -- Mulder’s handiwork, she supposed, which she was embarrassed to find somewhat touching.

Isaac was breathing heavily, his mouth slightly open. She reached down and touched his head, letting her fingertips ruffle through his slightly-curling, Mulder-like hair.

“Hey,” she whispered to Isaac. “I’m back. I … will try to stick around longer this time.”

She wondered if that mattered to him at all.

Mulder, she noticed, was watching her closely from across the room. Probably time to go give him some answers.

“He’s been asleep a while,” Mulder said to her as she approached, looking over her shoulder at Isaac’s sleeping body. “We had a rough encounter with some of Spender’s people at a restaurant, and I think it took a lot out of him.”

“Rough encounter? How?” Scully said, creasing her brow.

“Rough like Isaac kicked someone in the face to protect himself,” Mulder said. “Like he drew blood, Scully.”

“Oh,” Scully said, unsettled.

“He’s a little … unusual.”

Scully looked at him sharply. “Unusual in what way?”

“He’s bright. He’s strategic.” Mulder said. “It seems strange for his age. But I also think he’s ... empathetic, you know? I am eager to hear your take on him, actually.”

Scully nodded, pursing her lips, and staring at the sleeping child.

“Were you asleep, Mulder?” she said, pointing to the empty air mattress next to Isaac.

“Well, I was lying down,” he said, rubbing his head sheepishly. “Not really sleeping, exactly.”

“I’m sorry to have made you worry,” Scully said, her voice slightly husky. “I do think the evening might have paid off, though.”

“You were with Krycek?”

“Yes,” Scully said. “He gave me the information that I think we can use to help Isaac. It seems like this is one of those circumstances in which the enemy of our enemy is our friend. Or … it’s the other thing.”

“Which is?”

“He was lying.”

Mulder looked at her thoughtfully, seeming to take in her whole face. “Yeah.”

“Mulder, is there anything to eat?” she said. “I haven’t had anything but champagne since -- since I don’t know when.”

“You had champagne tonight?” Mulder said.

“Oh, it’s been a very glamorous evening,” Scully said, rolling her eyes a little.

“Seems like it. And speaking of.” Mulder gestured to her body. “Is that … a dress you normally own, Scully?”

“No,” she said, looking down at the dress again. “I doubt I could afford it. But I hope the blood comes out, because I must admit, I like it.”

“Well, yeah,” Mulder said, lightly. “So do I.”

Scully couldn’t tell what kind of joke that was, or if it were a joke at all. Maybe it was sincerely a compliment. So she smiled a little, looking away, but said nothing.

“Do you want to take a shower?” Mulder said, changing his tone. “And I can try to find you some food? And you tell me your whole bloody story?”

That sounded so good that Scully could have wept. Instead, she just nodded.

***

Mulder found himself watching the Gunmen’s bathroom door, and when Scully did emerge, she was wearing one of Langly’s shirts -- black, Dead Kennedys logo -- and a pair of gray sweatpants, all of which were absolutely enormous on her. She still held her purse.

Her hair was wrapped in a towel, and her face was slightly flushed. She looked exhausted, but also -- Mulder couldn’t help but notice, before quickly sidelining the thought as irrelevant and distracting -- she looked beautiful. Just as beautiful in oversized tee shirts as in form-fitting black dresses.

She sank into the same recliner Isaac had fallen asleep in before. Frohike and Langly had discreetly retreated back to their game, across the room, but Mulder noticed them shooting her curious looks.

“All right,” Mulder said, quickly, “Report from the kitchen. I found a frozen pizza. It’s in the oven. I hope that sounds good, Scully, because there just aren’t any vegetables in that kitchen at all. Like none.”

Scully smiled tiredly. “Pizza sounds perfect, Mulder.”

“It will be ready in ten minutes,” Mulder said. He sat next to her. “Hey, you look … cleaner.”

“I am definitely cleaner,” Scully said, “although that synthetic blood doesn’t wash off as easily as I would think. Those actors have to wash it off every night.”

“I assume you know I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

“I was briefly a stage actor tonight, Mulder,” Scully said, a slight smile. “It was … surreal.”

She explained to Mulder, in broad strokes, how she happened to be in a theater and how she happened to be splashed with blood. Mulder put his hand on his mouth, perplexed.

“You went up on a literal stage? With professional actors?”

“Yes.”

“Wow,” Mulder said, taking that in. “Did you … perform lines?”

“No,” Scully said. “Obviously not. What would I say? The pledge of allegiance? I inconspicuously moved off stage as quickly as I could, and then exited through the dressing rooms.”

Mulder hardly knew where to begin asking questions, so he decided to go with the one needling at him the most.

“And … Krycek. He took you to the theater? And gave you that tight dress? And champagne?”

“It was hardly a date, Mulder,” Scully said, fishing for something in her purse.

“But why would he do all of that just to give you information? Why not speak to you in a dark parking deck, in the time-honored way?”

“I don’t know. He said he was constantly followed. The theater was a safe place to talk, a cover,” Scully shrugged.

Mulder raised his eyebrow skeptically. “It sounds like his motivations were mixed, at best. Like there was some weird thrill in all of this for him.”

She showed him a small ring box she produced from the purse.

“Perhaps. But more importantly, this is what he gave me,” she said.

Mulder gave her a look of disbelief.

“Come on,” she said, “it’s not a ring, obviously. Open it.”

Swallowing, feeling irrationally nervous, he did. Inside, there was a tiny drive, as well as a small vial of a viscous clear liquid.

“The drive is supposed to be our way to a back door to control Isaac’s nanobots,” Scully said. “When Krycek sold Spender this tech, he included a possible back door, as a form of self-protection. But he wants us to be the ones to discover it. He wants to make it look like we came up with it ourselves, to save Isaac.”

“Huh,” Mulder said, holding the drive between his thumb and his finger.

“What do you think?” Scully said.

“Easy as that? No other strings attached?”

“It seems too easy to you?” Scully said. “You think he’s lying?”

“I don’t know,” he said, truthfully. “There’s only one way to find out, I guess.”

The timer on the Gunmen’s oven made a dinging sound.

Scully placed her hand over Mulder’s, the touch of her fingertips feather light, and lifted the drive from his fingers.

“I’ll fire up the computer,” she said, “if you go get me my pizza.”

***

The files on the drive looked legit, or at least they looked legit enough to take to Dr. Han.

Some of it -- the pages and pages of technical schematics, for example -- was beyond Scully’s expertise entirely. A few of the written notes were in English, but most were in a language they recognized as Russian, and others were in a language they thought might be Chechen. Some of the images were recognizable to Scully as pictures of human blood vessels, and she recognized some other anatomical illustrations.

“We can find a way to take it over to Dr. Han tomorrow,” she said, looking up from the computer to Mulder. “He’ll know how to approach it, how to verify it.”

“It’s good news,” Mulder said, lifting a shoulder. “Great news, Scully. Potentially, anyway.”

“Yes,” Scully said, faintly. So why did she feel so anxious?

“If we can take control of this tech of Spender’s,” Mulder said, “well, then we just have to keep Isaac safe … in the more traditional ways.”

Ah. Yes. Only that easy task.

“Right,” Scully said.

“Another piece of pizza?” Mulder said, offering her the plate with the last piece.

“No,” she said. “I think the five pieces I ate before were probably enough.”

“Then I’ll finish it up for you.” The slice was halfway to his mouth already.

She ejected the drive from the computer, and placed it gingerly back into the ring case, as Mulder bit into the final piece.

As she did, she noticed the vial of liquid inside the ring case, too -- Krycek’s other gift of information.

That was a whole different conversation with Mulder. Not for now. Too much.

She closed her eyes.

“You’re tired, Scully,” Mulder said. “Why don’t you take the air mattress? I can take the recliner. We can regroup in the morning.”

Scully looked over at the air mattress, sitting empty next to Isaac, and then back at Mulder, who was taking large bites of pizza rather ungracefully.

“Mulder,” she said, the words tumbling out before she could stop them, “I think I was ... afraid to be with Isaac today.”

Mulder stopped chewing to look more closely at her, but didn’t say anything.

“I don’t regret the work I did,” she said. “It needed to be done. And I found out vital information, I hope, that will help us to protect him. But I think I was also … protecting myself from this.”

“This?” Mulder put down the pizza.

“From him,” Scully said. “Well, from you and him.”

Mulder nodded slowly, as if processing that.

“I didn’t quite realize I was doing it,” Scully said. “But I think I was scared to think of what I would stand to lose, again, if I …”

Mulder watched her, expectantly. “If you got too close?”

“If I got too close,” Scully agreed. That wasn’t quite it, though. She was already close. “Or .. if I let my feelings become too deeply involved. Again.”

“Ah,” Mulder said. “Yeah. That’s the danger.”

They were quiet again. Their eyes were not quite meeting. Scully was suddenly very aware of how often this happened to both of them, she and Mulder both. Feelings behind so many closed doors.

What would this kind of emotional guardedness do to a child?

“Do you think Isaac feels like I … left him?” Scully said, her voice breaking a little. “That’s absurd, though. He barely knows me. He probably didn’t even notice I was gone.”

“He did,” Mulder said, “but Scully, it was only a day.”

“You spent an afternoon and evening with him, and you know him so much better already,” Scully said. “I feel like I have already missed so much.”

“Ah, but you know Krycek’s theater tastes, and I don’t,” Mulder pointed out. “So we’re basically even.”

She knew her smile was weak and unconvincing.

“Scully,” Mulder said. He reached out and clasped both of her hands in his. “Scully, this is madness. You’ve got to stop it. It’s late. You’re exhausted. You look like you’re about to fall asleep on your feet. Go to sleep, and tomorrow morning, the three of us will get up and have some irresponsibly big bowls of sugary cereal together.

Scully laced her fingers into his, which was calming, as she knew it would be. She smiled a more convincing smile.

“You and I have years, hopefully, to feel guilty as parents. We don’t need to do it all tonight,” Mulder added.

“Yes,” she said. “You’re probably right.”

“Probably? Aren’t I always right?” Mulder said. “Don’t you know I’m some kind of genius? Now Langly left us all brand-new toothbrushes in the bathroom, so you go skadoodle, brush your teeth and get tucked into that air mattress.”

“I just … want to make the right choices with him. I don’t want to mess it up. Do you know what I mean?”

“Oh, we’ll mess him up plenty, Scully. That’s just what parents do,” Mulder said. “But we can do it starting tomorrow.”

“Yes,” Scully said. “Tomorrow.”

When Mulder took away his hands to eat his pizza again, she realized how much she had been clinging to them.

***

Mulder finished in the bathroom, having rebrushed his teeth after his late night snack.

The apartment was finally quiet. Even Langly and Frohike had gone to bed now.

Scully had curled up in his former place on the air mattress, facing towards Isaac like a sunflower. He could tell from the way she stirred under the thin blanket that she was still awake. He hoped she wasn’t still torturing herself.

With sudden clarity, he remembered how last night, he had told her he’d loved her. It seemed like ages ago now. He had been standing by her bed in her apartment, before he went back to the office and found Isaac.

Did she remember he said that? She had been nearly asleep. Maybe she hadn’t heard. He hoped so. He felt self-conscious thinking about that now. It seemed way too much, too confusing, too much to process given all that they had to handle emotionally now.

“Good night, g-woman,” he said in a low voice to her as he walked by, keeping the tone light and casual. “Sleep tight. Don’t worry.”

“Good night, Mulder,” she whispered. Her words sounded a little muffled.

He only walked three steps towards the recliner when her voice stopped him again.

“Mulder...?”

He turned around.

She was sitting up a little, her hair still slightly damp and askew from her shower. He could see her facial features lit in the eerie blue computer-screen light of the room, and her eyes met his.

“Mulder, would you maybe--”

There was a pause. Mulder took a concerned step back towards her. “Yeah? Are you okay?”

“Do -- do you think you just might want to … sleep here?” she said.

He stopped for a long moment, to make certain he was understanding her correctly.

“On the air mattress, Scully?” he said.

“Yes,” she said.

“Both of us?”

“Yes,” she said. “It’s a double.”

He looked down at the air mattress. It hardly looked like a double. It was not at all the same as sharing Scully’s spacious queen-size bed with Isaac sleeping between them, or other times they had stretched out on hotel beds side by side to work. This air mattress would not leave any space, any part where they would not touch.

“I know there’s not much room,” Scully added, quickly. “I understand if you don’t want to.”

“You’re saying,” Mulder said, “you want me to.”

He could tell, in the computer-screen glow, that Scully was conflicted about how to respond. Her face registered several emotions he couldn’t quite recognize.

“Yes, I--” she started, then stopped herself. “Yes.”

Mulder just stared back at her for a moment, trying to read her face.

“Sure,” he said, softly. “Yeah. Of course I will, then.”

She didn’t say anything in response, but nodded, and moved over a little on the mattress.

He walked over to the recliner and picked up the extra pillow Frohike had left him, then made his way over back to the air mattress.

Carefully, he positioned his pillow next to hers, then he lifted the thin blanket and gingerly lowered himself underneath, on his side, next to her. She was facing out, towards Isaac, and the front surface of his body grazed the back of hers: his chest against her shoulder blades, his knees touching some curled rear part of her legs. He could smell her, shampoo and toothpaste, and that floral smell she always had.

Somewhat inevitably, he found all of his muscles tensing up. This proximity was unsettling.

“Are you uncomfortable?” whispered Scully, alert, her voice very, very close.

“No,” he whispered. “That’s not … quite the right word.”

She reached behind her, and her hand found his right wrist. She gently pulled his arm directly over her body, looping it around her waist, and she held it, so that he was more closely pressed against her.

A tighter embrace, his body fitting neatly against hers.

Then, again, she reached up. Her hand went over his shoulder, and her fingers went into his hair, comfortingly, a soft and soothing gesture.

“You’re really determined to make the Gunmen gossip, huh?” Mulder whispered, closing his eyes to her touch.

“I just wanted to sleep,” Scully said softly, moving her hand gently down his head. “I wanted to feel calm enough to sleep.”

“And you thought this would make you calm?” he said, a little mystified.

“I thought you would,” she said.

That threw him. He thought about that for a moment.

“Are you … calm now?” he asked.

“I think so,” she whispered. “Are you?”

Mulder considered. “Uh, parts of me, yes.”

Scully laughed lightly, but removed her hand from his head. “Is this okay, Mulder? Really?”

He took a deep breath, and let it out.

“Okay is not quite the right word, either,” he said.

With that, for one brief moment, he gave in a little to the intensity of whatever it was he felt towards Scully. He drew her tightly to him around her waist, possessively, surprising her a little, and causing her to catch her breath. He buried his face into the top of her hair, which was slightly damp and smelled like strawberries.

It felt perfect. It felt terrifying, like falling.

Then he relaxed his hold and felt himself folding around her, reshaping himself around the outline of her, collapsing somehow around her, leaning into her, matching the intake and exhale of her breath as he had matched their son’s hours before.

Strangely, it was calming, after all. It was very peaceful. He began to feel sleepy.

That night, he didn’t dream. Neither did she.

***

The trouble is
that I’d let my gestures freeze.
The trouble was not
in the kitchen or the tulips
but only in my head, my head.
Then all this became history.
Your hand found mine.
Life rushed to my fingers like a blood clot.
-Anne Sexton

Chapter Text

To enjoy bodily warmth, some small part of you must be cold, for there is no quality in this world that is not what it is merely by contrast. Nothing exists in itself.
- Herman Melville, Moby Dick

***

Scully woke up once in the night.

Blinking, she struggled to remember where she was, what room this was filled with such strange dim light, where the soft warmth behind her was coming from.

Then she remembered.

The Gunmen’s apartment, their improvised safe haven. She could just make out some visible tendrils of the child’s sandy hair on the mattress a few feet in front of her. Safe, within easy reach.

It was Mulder’s arm wrapped around her, of course. He was completely asleep, his abdomen gently rising and falling, his breathing light behind her ear. He was here because... well, for once, she had asked him to be.

All was strange. All was normal.

As if in slow motion, she placed both her palms carefully and deliberately on Mulder’s arm, leaned her head back against his chest. She sighed. Her eyes closed.

***

When she opened her eyes again, the room was full of bright sunlight.

Isaac, and Mulder, were gone. Scully was lying alone on the air mattress.

In one frantic motion, she sat up, all her adrenaline kicking in.

“Whoa, whoa, whoa,” Frohike said, standing just a few feet away from her air mattress, holding a towel and a bright yellow coffee cup that said “I Hate Mondays.”

“Mulder? Isaac?” Scully said. Her voice was hoarse.

“Stand down. They’re just over trying to figure out breakfast for six people.”

Right. She could hear Mulder’s voice speaking somewhere behind her. She relaxed.

“Oh,” she said, sheepishly. “Yes. Sorry.”

“Sure,” Frohike said. “Understandable. Maternal instincts. Let’s start over.” He smiled, brightly. “Good morning, Agent Scully. You seem to have had a very restful sleep, and you look luminous, as always. Would you care for some coffee?”

“Good morning, Frohike,” Scully said, a wry smile, running a hand over what must be some wild hair. “I would like coffee, thank you. But I will find it myself.”

“Please do help yourself to whatever you might require,” Frohike said, with a little bow. “I will be availing myself of the facilities.”

Scully smiled at Frohike as he disappeared into the bathroom. She slowly stood up, rolling her head around a little to loosen her neck, and looked around the Gunmen’s apartment to find the origin of Mulder’s voice.

He and Isaac seem to have been distracted from making breakfast.

Instead, they were sitting next to each other on the recliner, looking down at a page from one of the Lone Gunmen’s newsletters intently, an identical crinkle between their eyebrows.

She hung back, transfixed, unable to resist observing this interaction for a moment.

“But you have to ask,” Mulder was saying to Isaac, pointing at the page, “what could make all the patterns in the crops like this? Bear in mind this isn’t just one place, Isaac, but a phenomenon that occurs all over the world.”

Isaac looked from the page up at Mulder. “People could make the patterns. People walking out in the crops and smashing them down with their feet.”

“Sure, people could make them,” Mulder said, “but for what purpose? Why would they do that?”

Scully was fascinated by Isaac’s intense expression as he thought about this.

“I don’t know,” Isaac admitted. “But … why would visitors from space want to make patterns in the crops? That doesn’t make sense either, Mulder.”

Well, well, thought Scully.

“Uh, hi,” she said suddenly. “Good morning.”

She could feel an involuntary smile creeping over her face at the sight of the two of them.

They looked up at her, and with uncanny similarity and timing, they both quickly reflected her own smile back to her. Like turning on a light switch.

“Dana Scully, you’re awake,” Isaac said. His expression was more engaged, more animated than she remembered seeing from him before. He evidently liked talking to Mulder. “Mulder is showing me pictures of patterns that sometimes happen in the crops that grow on people’s farms.”

“Yes,” Scully nodded, leaning against the recliner’s arm rest to look down at the picture. “He’s shown me that before, too.”

“What do you think makes the circles in the crops, Dana Scully?” Isaac asked her.

“Human beings,” Scully said, without a beat.

“That’s what I think, too,” Isaac said, triumphantly.

“Isaac is a bit of a skeptic,” Mulder sighed, giving her a sidelong look.

“That’s very interesting,” Scully said, cocking her head to return Mulder’s look. “Don’t you think that’s interesting, Mulder?”

“What does ‘skeptic’ mean?” Isaac asked Mulder.

“It means you need proof,” Mulder said. “It means you aren’t easily fooled. That you don’t believe what people tell you just because they told you.”

“Then that’s good,” Isaac pointed out. “It’s good to be a skeptic.”

“Right,” Mulder said, surprised, glancing at Scully. “Right. It’s the best way to be. All of my favorite people are skeptics.”

Scully rolled her eyes at that, but also felt her face warming a little, much to her embarrassment.

“So listen, Scully,” Mulder said, reaching out to the ceiling to stretch a little. “I’m no doctor, but I think I heard somewhere that you’re supposed to give kids breakfast everyday. And I’m pretty sure it’s not supposed to be microwaved leftover jalapeno poppers. Thus we have a problem.”

“Scully,” repeated Isaac, experimentally. “Scully.”

“We also have a few Sour Patch Kids,” Langly offered, sticking his head out from behind a computer across the room. “And I think maybe some Bugles?”

Mulder looked at Langly and then, grimacing, back at Scully.

“Point made. What do you think about the idea of me running down to the corner market to try to get a few things? Milk, Frosted Flakes, whatever else?” Mulder said. “Too big a risk?”

Scully bit her lip, stood, and walked to a window, peering out the side of the blinds.

The street outside looked perfectly innocuous. People jogging. A school bus stopping to pick up children.

“We could send Langly or Byers,” Mulder said, lowering his voice a little, walking up behind her, “but you know. They’re not armed.”

Scully nodded and scowled a little, still scanning the scene out the window.

“We can’t stay here forever,” she said softly, so only he could hear. “ I know that. We’ll have to go out today to get the files to Dr. Han anyway.”

“So I’ll go,” Mulder said, and touched her arm reassuringly. “I’ll be careful. And I’ll be fast.”

“Scully and Mulder,” repeated Isaac softly to himself. “Frohike, Byers, Langly. Everyone only uses last names.”

“Hey, I’m going to run to the store, Isaac,” Mulder said. “Anything you want?”

“Doughnuts,” Isaac answered promptly. “Chocolate milk.”

Mulder looked pointedly at Scully. “This kid likes to eat, I’ve noticed. He’s going to be expensive.”

“Maybe some bananas or something, too?” Scully suggested. “It wouldn’t kill any of us to eat something that grew from a plant.”

“I’ll see what I can do,” Mulder said, making a face.

He was putting on his jacket, about to let himself out of the Gunmen’s high-security door with a backpack in hand, when Scully came up behind him again.

“You do have your gun, Mulder?” she said to him, in a low tone, so Isaac couldn’t hear.

Mulder gave her a look. “Yes, you know ... I’m actually a highly experienced FBI agent.”

“I know,” she said. “I’m sorry. I’m just -- unusually anxious.”

“Noted,” Mulder said.

“I’ll try to pull it together,” she said, ruefully, placing a hand on her head.

“I wish I could help,” Mulder said, lightly. “Maybe eight more hours of spooning on an air mattress would do it?”

She felt the sting of that joke more than she expected.

“Probably a mistake,” she acknowledged carefully, shifting her eyes from his.

Mulder cocked his head and caught her eyes quickly again, giving her a look she couldn’t easily read. “No,” he said. “Not a mistake. In my opinion. Any time.”

And then, surprising her, he traced her cheek, brushing it lightly, gently with his thumb. It was brief, but it was also not in his normal day-to-day repertoire of partner touching. It also, uneasily, reminded her of the prelude to a kiss.

“Go talk to the kid,” Mulder said. “He’ll make you feel better. He’s amazing. He’s … exactly like you. Really. It’s uncanny.”

***

Mulder set off down the Gunmen’s street feeling oddly happy, empowered, like he was on some elemental mission, some real hunter and gatherer type deal, off to provide for his strange little family.

Yeah. Strange little family.

The weird little kid who liked to argue. The kid’s mother, who really seemed to want his comfort-- and maybe more? -- but couldn’t ever seem to mention it or discuss it in any way. And, naturally, the Gunmen.

And you’re hunting and gathering at what is essentially a glorified convenience store. Which probably for the best, since I’m not sure you’ve got the stomach for mammoth hunting.

The little store did have all the things Mulder was looking for. Boxes of powdered doughnuts. A container of chocolate milk. Bananas, some apples, a few oranges, some weird healthy-looking yogurt that he imagined Scully might like. Some cereal with some marginal nutritional value. A few snacks he thought would please Frohike and Langly.

It wasn’t until he had paid, and he was loading his supplies into his backpack, that he started to have the creepy-crawly sense he was being watched, although he saw no one obviously nearby.

“Have a nice day,” droned the girl behind the counter, who was indifferently flipping through a magazine.

“Hey, uh, did you happen to see anyone else walk in here while I was shopping?” Mulder asked her quietly, zipping up his backpack and shooting a quick look around. The aisles looked completely empty.

The girl looked up at the empty store, then at him. She gave him a look that clearly communicated he was stupid. “No. You’re the only one here.”

Mulder nodded. He certainly had reasons to have become a little jumpy. He put the backpack on and turned to go.

“Wait,” the girl said. “You forgot something.”

She held out a package of Morleys that had been sitting on the counter.

***

“You’re a scientist, right, Scully?”

Isaac was placing his fingertips on the multi-colored thumb tacks pressed into a map the Gunmen had tacked up on the wall, like he was playing a game of imaginary finger Twister.

“That’s right,” Scully said, a little surprised. “Did Mulder tell you that?”

“I want to be a scientist when I grow up,” Isaac told her, stretching his fingers out between different colored thumbtacks. “My parents were scientists. What kind of scientist are you?”

He was very small. Way too small for a description of her work, probably. But he was also so serious, and so curious.

She made the fast decision that she wanted to try to tell him the truth, at least as much as she could. Wasn’t that the kind of adult, the kind of … parent she wanted to be?

“I’m a doctor,” Scully said. “I do lots of different kinds of science in my job as an FBI agent, but mostly forensic pathology, which means I look at human bodies after they are dead and try to figure out how they died.”

Isaac looked up at her with interest. “Did you look at my parents’ bodies after they died?”

“No,” Scully said, gently, “although possibly someone with a job like mine did.”

“I didn’t see their bodies after they died at all,” Isaac said. His face was blank, Mulder-like, inscrutable. “I saw them alive, and then I never saw them again.”

“I’m very sorry, Isaac,” Scully said, softly, touching his shoulder. “That’s hard.”

“Does it scare you to look at dead bodies?”

“Not really,” Scully said.

“Even when you did it the first time?”

“No,” Scully said. “I just don’t think a dead body itself is that scary. It can be ... sad.”

Isaac studied her face and nodded, slowly. “Yeah. I understand what you mean, Scully.”

It should strike her as strange that he called her Scully. But oddly, it seemed like the most natural name in the world coming out of his mouth.

“What kind of science are you interested in, Isaac?” she said, sitting down beside him.

“Space,” he said. “Stars. Galaxies. Black holes.” His fingers were making his own personal twisty constellations on the thumb tacks again.

“Oh,” she said. “I studied that a little in college. I majored in physics. What is your favorite thing about --”

“Scully,” Isaac interrupted, and stopped. He looked away from the thumb tacks. “Where will I live, now that my parents are dead? Here in Washington D.C.?”

Scully swallowed. “We’re working on that,” she said. “We’ll make sure it’s a place you are safe, though. Mulder and I are always going to … watch out for you, no matter what.”

He nodded, looking a little distant. “Yeah. It’s your job.”

Have we given him ample space to discuss his grief, his fears? Scully wondered. She feared they had compounded trauma upon trauma.

“Do you have … any other questions for me, Isaac?” she asked, hesitantly. “We can talk about anything you want, really.”

“I do have one question,” he said.

“Anything.”

“Do you have a website where you can show me pictures of your research?”

Scully smiled, despite herself. “Well,” she said, “I have some of my work on the FBI server, which isn’t really a website, and it’s not all that great for … showing people. But maybe there is something there I could pull up on this computer, if you really want to see.”

Isaac nodded, and leaned over, on folded arms, watching the screen eagerly as she began signing in to her FBI account on one of the Gunmen’s computers.

Feeling irrationally nervous about showing him her work, she scrolled through her folders and trying to think of any potential tidbit she and Mulder had worked on that might possibly be appropriate and interesting to share with a small child.

“Here,” she said at last, uncertainly, opening up an image. “Here is an image of a pretty interesting case. This man had a genetic abnormality that meant he could change his appearance to look like whomever he wanted. He could make himself look like you, or me, or Langly, just by thinking about it. That’s odd, right?”

Isaac gave her a doubtful look.

“I know, I know,” she said. “It sounds strange, but there was a scientific explanation behind it. He had this complicated musculature under his entire dermal structure. Look, here is a picture of the striated muscle tissue. He could control every part of his skin as easily as you or I can smile or frown.”

Isaac squinted at the muscle cells, and then at her. “That is interesting,” he said, in a voice so comically serious she had to smother a smile. “Did you discover that, Scully?”

“I did,” Scully said, an unfamiliar note of pride in her voice. “With Mulder, of course. We work together.”

“Can the man still change into anybody? Where is he now?”

“He’s in prison,” Scully said, somewhat shortly. “He had committed some crimes, and he was a little … complicated to catch.”

“What about that one?” Isaac pointed to another case number.

“That’s the Peacock case,” Scully shook her head, “...no. Not good to look at.”

“What about the one that says “Family”?”

Scully glanced at him, making a mental note that he was capable of reading that word. “Oh, those are just a few photos I scanned for my mother at work and kept on the server. I probably should take them off, actually. They don’t belong there.”

“Show them to me,” said Isaac.

“If you want.”

She clicked on the first one. It was she and Melissa with arms around one another, the last Christmas they were together before Melissa died.

“That’s you,” Isaac said. “But your hair looks different.”

“Yes,” Scully agreed, somberly. “Other parts of me, too.”

Scully clicked on the next. It was an old black and white photo of her newlywed parents, standing in front of her father’s ship back in the 1960s.

“Those are my parents when they were young,” she told Isaac. “My dad was a captain in the Navy, and that’s his ship behind them.”

Isaac looked at the photo with a strange little furrow on his brow. He said nothing for a moment.

“That’s … your dad?” he said.

“Yes,” she said, staring at her father’s warm smile on the screen for a moment. “He was a very good man. You would have liked him. Everyone did. He died a few years ago, and I still miss him.”

“Oh,” said Isaac, very softly. “Oh.”

Scully glanced at his blank expression.

“Everything all right, Isaac?” she said. Perhaps he was thinking of his own father.

“Yes,” Isaac said, staring hard at the picture of her father. “I’m just thinking.”

“Thinking about what?”

He looked at her, his eyes soft and round, blinking. “I’m ... not sure yet.”

***

Mulder looked at the cigarettes for a moment.

And then he looked up at the girl, whose vacant expression gave no indication she intended anything other than to give him his missing grocery item.

“Thanks,” he said hollowly.

As if in a trance, he turned and walked outside the store, gripping the box of Morleys in his hand very, very tightly.

The street was nondescript. Rush hour was thinning out, but there were still some cars, likely on their way to work. Besides Mulder, there were very few visible pedestrians. A woman carrying a load of laundry to her car half a block away. Across the street, a man in a suit drank a cup of coffee, waiting for a bus.

Mulder didn’t want to. But he had to, didn’t he? What was the alternative?

He looked down at the box of cigarettes in his hand, and carefully slipped off the wrapping, sliding the box open.

The note that he expected was there.

7 pm. Both of you. Running track.

***
Is it better to out-monster the monster, or to be quietly devoured?
Friedrich Nietzsche

Chapter Text

From a certain point onward, there is no longer any turning back.
― Franz Kafka

***
Around and around the block Mulder walked, crushing the box of Morleys angrily in his hand. He checked over his shoulder compulsively. Seeing no one. Seeing nothing. In circles, as usual.

There was never any point, he thought furiously. They obviously knew exactly where we were. They have probably known all along. Our feelings of safety were always an illusion.

In a burst of bitter frustration, he spun and turned back towards the Gunmen’s apartment, gulping back the acrid taste in his mouth.

If he couldn’t bring safety, he might as well at least bring breakfast.

“Guys, it’s me,” he said in a low voice, through their intercom.

He ran his hands down his face and made himself take a deep breath. He knew he had a tendency to let his anger get the better of him, but that was something he couldn’t afford to do any more, right? Not with Isaac in the picture. It was time to show more self control.

“I was starting to worry,” Scully cracked the door, peering out at him. “Get in here. I hope you found fruit. I’m starving again.”

“Mulder! What’s for breakfast?” Frohike interrupted, standing directly behind Scully in a plush bathrobe. “Are you making pancakes?”

Mulder forced a smile. “No one would ever want to eat my pancakes, but you know, I do have a few tasty treats.”

As took off the backpack and set it on the counter, Scully’s eyes met his, on the alert.

“Everything all right?” she said carefully, under her breath.

He shook his head, slightly, and reached into a smaller pocket of the backpack, producing the crumpled box of Morleys with the note inside.

“The box wasn’t … crushed like that when I got it,” he murmured, as he handed it to her. “I did that.”

As she read the note, he watched her face harden, her lips draw tighter together. She looked up at him, her expression a kind of miserable question that he didn’t have an answer for.

What he wanted to do was wrap himself around her, to again attempt the calming trick he was apparently surprisingly skilled at. But he wasn’t sure how that would play with her right now. And there was Frohike to consider.

“Doughnuts!” Frohike exclaimed happily, pulling boxes out of Mulder’s backpack. “Oooh, and cookies! And look, Scully, oranges and bananas.”

Scully’s eyes shifted from her sad shared look with Mulder to the food Frohike was unpacking, and she managed a wan smile. “Yogurt, too. Thank you.”

“Where’s Isaac?” Mulder said, looking around.

“Langly’s doing a few tests with him,” Frohike said, gesturing vaguely to the computers in the corner of the room. “But they should be done soon.”

“Tests?” Mulder turned sharply to Scully, feeling his heartbeat rise again. “What kind of tests?”

“Just some preliminary cognitive tests,” Scully said, placing her hand on his arm. “He was curious about Isaac’s I.Q., and he found a test online, and I told him he could ask him a few questions.”

“Do you think there’s something … worrisome about his cognitive abilities, Scully?” Mulder said.

“I don’t know,” Scully’s voice was a little tight and distant, and she was suddenly too intently focused on opening her yogurt. “It does seem prudent to try to find out more. There’s … so much we don’t know.”

Byers, who had joined them, reached over Mulder’s arm and grabbed a doughnut.

“You know a few things,” Byers pointed out, eying both of them. “You know his adoptive parents were bright people who would have offered him opportunities for enrichment. You know his biological parents are not exactly intellectual slouches. It wouldn’t be that surprising if he were gifted for perfectly natural reasons.”

Mulder watched Scully. She looked down at her yogurt, took a careful bite.

“Doughnuts?” called Isaac hopefully, suddenly galloping over to them.

“And chocolate milk,” Mulder said to him, speaking more cheerfully, just in case Scully couldn’t. “I aim to please, if not to serve you healthy breakfast foods.”

Isaac eagerly helped himself to a doughnut for each hand. Byers poured some chocolate milk into a coffee mug for him.

“How was the test?” Mulder asked Isaac, casually.

“Sort of fun,” Isaac shrugged, his mouth full. “You look at pictures and see what the pattern is.”

“Here, Isaac,” Scully said, with a small, shy smile. She handed him a plate with a banana on it.

For a split second, Isaac gave her a look that Mulder could only describe as … wary. Uneasy. It surprised him, as Isaac had up until then been so trusting of them both. It surprised Scully, too, from the way she blinked at him.

But the expression was gone so fast it was easy to believe he had misread it, and Isaac accepted the plate from Scully’s hands with a little smile, placing both of his doughnuts next to the banana.

“Is it okay if I write on your whiteboard?” Isaac said to Frohike and Byers, pointing across the room.

“Uh, sure, kid,” Frohike said. “Go nuts.”

Clutching his plate and his cup of chocolate milk carefully, Isaac walked over to the whiteboard and set his food down on the ground. Scully watched him go, a tense expression on her face.

“Don’t leave Scully and Mulder in suspense,” Frohike said to Langly, who had walked up to eye the doughnuts. “What’d the test say? Is the kid a super genius?”

“He’s going to need more tests, man,” Langly said. “It’s just an estimate.”

“Come on,” Mulder said. “What do you think?”

“Well, he did really good,” Langly said, picking up a doughnut. “Like I thought he would, based on how he talks. The kid’s definitely a brain.”

“How well?” Scully said flatly.

“The test estimated his IQ was in the 150s or 160s,” Langly said, licking some powdered sugar off his fingers. “That’s highly gifted, the teeny little top percentile of the population. But … you know, it’s not out of the bell curve of normal intelligence. It’s not, like, totally out there. It’s just super smart.” He shrugged. “Obviously have him tested by everyone you can, but I don’t think you have to assume the kid’s had his brain messed with. Sometimes kids are just gifted.”

Byers looked at Mulder and Scully both with anxious concern. “See. That’s what I said.”

Mulder locked eyes again with Scully, who sat holding her yogurt spoon aloft, still as a statue.

“That’s good,” Mulder said to her, after a beat. “Not conclusive, but good.”

“Yes,” Scully nodded, putting her spoon down. “Thank you, Langly.”

“Hey,” Langly said, biting into a doughnut with relish, “it’s my pleasure to help, and to eat your food, man.”

“So what are your plans for the rest of the day?” Byers looked between the two agents cautiously. “What do you need from us?”

“I think that … Agent Mulder and I need to talk over our plans,” Scully said. She hadn’t eaten very much of her yogurt. “We have some things to decide.”

“Yeah,” Mulder agreed, half-heartedly biting into a doughnut.

“Of course,” Byers nodded. “Well, the guys and I are happy to hang out with Isaac for a little while so that you all can speak freely.”

“You think the kid has seen Star Wars?” Frohike wondered. “What about A Clockwork Orange?”

“You hear that, Isaac?” Langly called across the room to Isaac, who was drawing circles on the whiteboard, but looked up. “Best playdate ever!”

“Bring the box of doughnuts,” Frohike directed Byers. He turned to Scully, and bowed, solemnly. “We’ll educate him about the world. He’s in the best of hands.”

“I’m sure he is,” Scully said, her voice sounding thin.

The Gunmen descended cheerfully on Isaac, Frohike wheeling over in an office chair. Mulder and Scully were left to stare after them.

Scully put her half-eaten yogurt down on the counter. She let out a breath. Mulder swallowed his powdered doughnut, wiping his hands slowly on his pants.

“So…” Mulder began. “Seven o’clock tonight. Both of us. What do you think?”

Scully placed a single fingertip on her temple, closing her eyes. “A trap, maybe? To get Isaac alone?”

“Maybe,” Mulder agreed.

“But I don’t see how we can ignore it, Mulder. It -- it will never stop.”

“It will never stop,” he repeated grimly.

Not this year, not next year, not when Isaac is ten, not when he is in junior high, not when he is at his senior prom. He will always be in danger from this cigarette-smoking bastard, this evil biological grandfather.

“So I do think we need … to address it, somehow,” Scully said dully.

“You think we should go?” he said, his eyes scanning her face.

“I think that I need to show you the second part of what Krycek gave us.”

***

Scully removed the clear vial from the case and held it up to Mulder between her fingers grimly. He looked at it, puzzled.

“Nanites,” she said.

“I don’t understand,” Mulder said. “What for?”

“The idea is that we inject them into … him,” Scully said. “Just like what was done to Skinner. And presumably Isaac, at some point.”

Mulder inhaled sharply. “And... who holds the controls?”

“Krycek said we would,” she said simply.

Mulder sank into a chair. “Well,” he said, rubbing his forehead, “that would definitely even the balance of power a bit.”

“If you trust what Krycek says,” Scully said, inclining her head slightly.

“Scully,” Mulder said. “It would be … morally questionable, wouldn’t it? To use this tech as a weapon?”

“Maybe,” Scully said softly.

Maybe?”

“He’s a murderer, Mulder,” Scully said. “He holds the life of our child in his hands. If we have a way to control him, to make him listen to us--”

“That doesn’t sound like you, Scully,” Mulder said. “Why not just kill the smoky bastard, then, and be done with it? A quick bullet to the head? Is this …us now?”

Scully felt herself getting angry. “You’ve wanted to kill him a hundred times, actually, Mulder, so spare me your indignation,” she said, her voice rising a little. “And if we controlled nanites in his bloodstream, we could also find out vital information from him. Information about Isaac, information about your sister, information about what happened to me, all this he has been keeping from us for years.”

Mulder rubbed his hands over his face, and looked up at her. “Yeah,” he said. “Possibly.”

But his eyes looked sad. Worried.

Scully sunk down in an office chair next to him, her sudden anger draining from her. She reached over and took Mulder’s hand in hers, lacing her fingers in his. Across the room, Isaac was listening to Frohike and Langly argue about some plot point in Star Wars, and his small face broke into sunny laughter. They both watched him a moment.

“Listen, I know,” Scully said, finally, after a moment, still watching Isaac. “I honestly don’t know whether it’s the right thing to do. I see that it doesn’t seem like the right thing to do as a doctor. Or … as a Catholic.”

“But ... as a mother,” Mulder said. “As a mother, it might?”

Scully nodded imperceptibly.

“I get it,” Mulder said.

Scully swallowed, searching for a way to explain something to him.

“Mulder, it’s frightening,” Scully said. “To me, anyway. The intensity of having those kinds of attachments for a child, or, you know, for ... anyone. The strength of that. It can take you away from yourself. It can turn you into someone else, someone you don’t recognize any more. It’s been really hard for me... to give myself fully over to it for that reason. Since Isaac, and …. well, before Isaac.”

In her peripheral vision, she saw Mulder glance at her.

“Do you understand?” she said, in a small voice.

“I think so,” he said.

“But the feelings are … real,” she said. “Whether I give myself permission to admit to them or not.”

“Good to know,” he said, carefully. He paused. “You know, if you’re somehow changed by the feelings you have for Isaac --or for anybody else-- you’re still yourself,” he said. “You’re just a different version. Potentially a better version of you.”

“Or potentially a version of me who is willing to use nanomedicine as a weapon to get what she wants,” Scully said, darkly. “It seems like becoming a parent should always turn people into a better version of themselves, but we know that’s not true.”

“We’re new to the Isaac thing,” Mulder said. “We’re finding our footing. We might make mistakes. But -- I hate to be too direct, Scully, as I know it’s not our style, but come on. We’re both better versions of ourselves for the way we feel about each other. Aren’t we? Haven’t we proved that time and again?”

“Probably,” she conceded, stealing a quick, affectionate look at him. “Although I will point out we have both made some very dubious, poorly-thought out choices when it comes to trying to protect the other, which I think speaks to my point.”

“I always make dubious, poorly-thought-out choices,” Mulder said. “With or without you, Scully. But I regret the ones I make for you the least.”

Scully laughed a surprisingly genuine laugh, from her belly. She found herself leaning against him a little.

“Mulder, you’ve been forthright about your feelings multiple times over the past few days,” Scully said, shaking her head in amazement. “Whereas I seem especially dysfunctional. That seems … unacceptable.”

“You’re pretty forthright about spooning,” Mulder said. “I’m on board with that.”

“I’m going to get better at it,” Scully vowed.

“Better at spooning?”

“At doing much more … than spooning,” Scully said with significance. “I hope.”

Mulder gave her a quick surprised look. She expected him to fire back with some banter, but he didn’t.

“Speechless, at last?” she said.

“I think my imagination’s sudden overdrive temporarily short-circuited my capacity for speech,” he said.

“Ah, there it is,” she smiled.

Mulder tightened his hold on her hand. “Scully, you know, I do have some idea of how you feel. About Isaac -- and about me. You don’t have to do it all at once. We can address this situation with Isaac, and then -- you know, whatever else you want to address.”

Grateful, she lifted his hand, in hers, and brushed his knuckles against her cheek.

“And hey, in the meantime, you just tell me what you want from me,” he said, his voice a little breathy. “And obviously I’m … there.”

“I know, Mulder.”

He cleared his throat. “I do think we probably need to draw our attention back to the pressing ethical dilemma at hand.”

“Yes,” Scully said. Somehow, this seemed slightly less daunting than a few minutes ago, even though that made no rational sense whatsoever. “You’re right. We need to have something in mind going into our meeting tonight.”

“Both options seem a whole lot like making a deal with the devil,” Mulder said. “Like we’re not dealing on our own terms.”

Scully twisted a piece of her hair in thought. She looked at Mulder. “I wonder ... if there might be a via media, a middle path. An imperfect solution.”

For a moment she said nothing, thinking through the implications.

“I’m listening,” Mulder said, softly. And he was.

***

It wasn’t the kind of idea he would have expected from Scully. It was the kind of plan she would normally call reckless, and he would call bold, and they would probably argue about at length.

It also was arguably splitting moral hairs, making a very slight distinction where one wasn’t that important.

“I can imagine what Krycek would say about this,” Scully said, rolling her eyes. “He would say we’re being cowards. He already thinks we clutch our pearls unnecessarily when it comes to ethics.”

“You know,” Mulder said, “I’m actually fine with Krycek disapproving of my ethics.”

“Hmm,” said Scully. “I take your point.”

It also seemed like it very possibly might not work. This seemed obvious, but Scully did not acknowledge it. Mulder did not have the heart to raise it, though, because her main worry was Isaac.

“One of us should stay here,” she said. “All day long. We can’t leave Isaac with the Gunmen unprotected. Spender obviously knows he’s here.”

“We both have to go,” Mulder said. “It doesn’t work with only one of us. The Gunmen have enough security here that they can keep him safe.”

Scully sighed, deeply. “But he’ll also think we’re abandoning him,” she said. “We’ll be gone all day. Doesn’t he already seem a little … off to you?”

Mulder bit his lip. “Yeah, a little,” he admitted.

“I suppose,” Scully said, “you would expect a child who had been through what he’s been through to be a little off. When things have died down a little, he’s going to need to talk to someone to process this trauma.”

“Absolutely,” nodded Mulder. “Agreed.”

“So Mulder, we need to go to him now,” Scully said. “We need to explain why we’re leaving. We need to be as transparent as we possibly can.”

“How are we going to do that, exactly?” Mulder asked. “It feels like there is almost nothing we can tell him about what we’re doing.”

Scully furrowed her brow. “I know,” she said. “And I don’t like misleading him, even though he is so young. But it doesn’t seem responsible to tell such a small child about all of these dangers. Does it?”

“No,” admitted Mulder.

“We can try to be selective when we explain it,” Scully said, hesitantly. “And maybe he will like the idea of a day with the Gunmen. They are getting along … very well.”

“Yeah,” Mulder said. “I am sure they are having an absolutely outstanding influence on him.”

She smiled, but it was just an absent flicker of a smile, and then she hugged her own shoulders and gazed across the room. Isaac was sitting in his favorite spinning office chair, rocking idly back and forth, listening to Byers pontificate further on the Skywalker bloodline.

“Well,” Mulder said, eying her carefully. “No time like the present. We should probably talk to him now...?”

“I’m nervous,” she admitted.

“Me, too,” he said. “But you’re right. Selective truth.”

They gave each other an uneasy look before crossing the floor.

***

Isaac sat listlessly slumped in the office chair, his face stormy. He didn’t look at anyone but Scully.

“You’re going to leave ... all day?” he said in a low voice.

“We’ll be back tonight,” she promised. “And you’ll be with the Gunmen.”

He said nothing, pursing his lips together, rocking back and forth in his office chair.

“No. I don’t want you to go. No,” he shook his head. “No.”

Scully’s lips tightened and her face lost some color. Mulder could tell Isaac had hit his mark.

“I’m sorry, Isaac,” she said. “We have to. We wouldn’t do it if we didn’t have…”

“But why do you have to?” Isaac interjected.

There was a pause.

Mulder tried this time. “We think if we go see this scientist, and we go to this meeting, we might be able to keep you more safe.”

“Because it’s your job to protect me from the people that killed my mom and my dad,” Isaac said with a scowl.

“Right,” Mulder said, flatly.

“Like my grandfather?” Isaac said. “My bad grandfather?”

“Right,” Mulder said, discomfited.

“And what if my bad grandfather comes here while you’re gone?”

“We don’t think he will,” Mulder said, hoping that was true. “Plus, the Gunmen have lots of security features here.”

“What if you don’t come back?”

“Listen, kid, we’ll come back,” Mulder said, straining to keep his voice light. “We always come back.”

Scully took a step towards him. “Are you … are you okay, Isaac?”

Isaac,” he repeated. He looked at all of them, in turn. “You all call me Isaac. But everyone else here goes by their last name. I’m the only one who uses my first name.”

“Uh, we could call you by your last name,” offered Byers uncertainly, sitting nearby. “You want us to do that?”

“Absolutely we could.” Frohike asked. “We understand entirely.” He turned to Scully. “What’s his last name?”

“Koenig,” Scully said softly.

“Do you want us to call you Koenig?” Mulder said. He preferred Isaac, but he certainly was one to understand about being picky about a first name ... and he didn’t like the brooding look on the kid’s face. He didn’t like it at all.

Isaac scowled again. “Koenig was my mom’s and my dad’s last name,” he said.

“Yeah…” Mulder said, not following.

“But me?” Isaac said, his voice angry. “I don’t know.”

Scully’s shrewd eyes were now entirely fixed on him. “What is it you don’t know?”

“It was their last name. But is it my last name?”

A beat.

“What do you mean, Isaac?” she said, and Mulder knew the pitch of Scully’s voice well enough to tell she was working very, very hard at keeping it measured.

“I mean…” he hopped off the office chair abruptly, leaving it spinning. “A kid’s grandfather is their mom’s dad or their dad’s dad.” He pointed to the Skywalker family tree the Gunmen had drawn on the white board. “Like … Anakin is the grandfather of Leia’s children. That’s what Frohike says, right?”

Frohike nodded nervously, glancing back and forth at Scully and Mulder.

“So…” Isaac walked over to the window. “I have my bad grandfather, the one who tried to take me. He’s my grandfather, but he’s not my dad’s dad or my mom’s dad. That doesn’t make sense.”

In a stab of panic, Mulder guessed what was coming next -- the results of his own dumb, impulsive mistake, yesterday at Scully’s apartment. He looked desperately at Scully, but her focus was entirely on Isaac, her eyes trained on him as he spoke.

“And then I have a good grandfather,” Isaac said. “This is the part that really… mixes me up.”

“You have a … good grandfather?” Scully said, not comprehending.

“The sea captain,” Isaac said. “The hero that everybody loved?”

Scully’s eyes widened very slightly.

“He wasn’t my dad’s dad or my mom’s dad either.” Isaac turned and spoke to Mulder now. “He … he was Scully’s dad. I saw him in the picture she showed me. He was the same man. My grandfather.”

Scully swivelled to look at Mulder in shock. “How did he--?”

“I showed him a picture of your parents,” Mulder said, quietly, looking down. “At your apartment. I told him it was his grandfather.” He whispered. “I’m so sorry, Scully.”

Scully opened her mouth like she might say something in response, but Isaac wasn’t finished.

“If my grandfather is Scully’s dad,” Isaac began, looking out the window, and it seemed like everyone listening took a breath, “then maybe that means my last name is really … Scully.”

Isaac turned around to face them. “Is that what it means?”

Nobody answered him.

“Is my last name Scully?” asked Isaac. "Langly?"

Langly looked panicked, giving the others a fast look. “Uh, I don’t know. I don’t think so.”

“Byers?” asked Isaac. “Frohike?”

“Gentlemen, maybe we should give the agents and Isaac … a moment to talk?” Byers suggested uncomfortably.

“Yes,” agreed Langly gratefully.

“Take all the time you need,” Frohike said.

“When you’re done,” Byers said, ruffling Isaac’s hair, “we’ll play whatever game you want.”

The Gunmen made a hasty retreat to their computers, but Isaac hardly seemed to register their departure.

He had a very tight, buttoned-up, angry expression on his face -- an expression with which Mulder was actually very familiar, albeit on a different person in a different context.

For a moment the three of them sat there in silence.

“You aren’t telling me everything,” Isaac said, in frustration, to Scully. “I can figure some of it out… but you know more. You’re not telling what you know.”

“Isaac--” began Scully.

“You won’t even tell me my last name,” Isaac said softly.

In his eyes, Mulder recognized, at last, the familiar sadness of someone who needed, so badly, to hear the truth.

“Hey,” Mulder said, finally, “you’re right.”

Scully and Isaac both looked at him.

“We haven’t told you everything. You’re a kid. You’re a really young kid. We’re not used to … kids. We didn’t know how much to tell you,” Mulder said. “Also, you can stop blaming Scully. I didn’t tell you the truth just as much as she did. We both have been … well, not lying, exactly, but not telling you the whole truth.”

Isaac looked from Mulder to Scully. He seemed to accept that.

“All right,” he said cautiously. “Then what have you been not telling the truth about?”

Scully looked up at the ceiling, as if looking for her next words, and her eyes grew shiny and bright. Tears streamed, unexpectedly, suddenly, down her face. But they looked strangely out of place when she lowered her head and smiled a warm, closed-lip smile.

“Why don’t you ask me any question you want?” she said. “And I promise I won’t lie.”

“You won’t lie?” Isaac said.

“Only the truth,” she said. She looked over at Mulder, and he nodded his approval. “No lies.”

“All right,” Isaac took a deep breath. “What is my last name?”

“Your last name is Koenig,” she said, without hesitating. “That’s the last name your parents gave you.”

“Were my parents really my parents?”

Scully swallowed. “They adopted you. When you were a baby. But they were also absolutely your real parents, Isaac, and they loved you.”

Isaac stared back at Scully, his eyes lingering for a moment on the tears falling down her face.

“But I also have … other parents?”

“Yes,” said Scully. “You do.”

“Is the reason that your dad is my grandfather because …” Isaac stopped. “Is the reason because you … are my mom?”

“Yes,” she said, precisely and quietly. “That’s the reason.”

Isaac looked at her mutely for a moment.. Tears, mirroring hers, fell down his cheeks.

“Oh,” he said. “I thought maybe so.”

“Then you were right,” she said.

“Who … who is my dad?”

Scully’s eyes turned towards Mulder. Watching her, Isaac turned towards him, too.

“Mulder is,” she said, her voice small.

Isaac looked faintly surprised at that. He had apparently not guessed that part. Mulder tried to smile, first at Scully, reassuring her, and then at Isaac.

“So my bad grandpa…” Isaac said, still looking at Mulder, drawing his eyebrows together.

“Yeah,” Mulder said, his smile fading. “Your bad grandpa is ... my bad dad.”

“Oh,” Isaac said. He looked down, swallowing hard. “Oh. Okay.”

“We didn’t know about you, Isaac,” Scully said, her voice tremulous. “Someone kept you a secret from us. Until your dad Earl Koenig told us, just a few days ago. If we had known, we … would have found you earlier.”

It didn’t seem like much of an explanation. Mulder didn’t know how much small children, even gifted ones, knew about how babies entered the world, or how a baby could exist without a mother knowing about its existence. But it seemed to satisfy Isaac for now, anyway.

“Okay,” Isaac nodded intensely, anxiously. “I see. I see.”

His voice broke a little. Tears were still dripping down his cheeks.

“Isaac,” Scully said. “Are you okay?

“I’m fine,” he said. His voice was tight, but definitely had a hitch in it.

“Is it okay if I -- if I…” She leaned forward, and Mulder knew what she was asking for.

So did Isaac. He looked at her blankly a moment, but then, another tight little nod.

Scully bent down and folded him into her arms, pressing his small head to her shoulder. His breath caught in a little sob against her, and she rested her chin on top of his head. Her eyes, still wet, fluttered shut.

Taking slow, uncertain steps, Mulder found himself moving towards them, trusting that somehow his instincts, his good intentions, would guide his limbs, show him what to do. He knelt down, and he gently twined his arms around Scully. He rested his cheek on her shoulder, willing himself, forcing himself to think the best. Maybe his embrace reached both of them. Maybe whatever comfort he brought to the mother was felt by the son. Maybe his love was enough for both.

***
I drive around the streets
an inch away from weeping,
ashamed of my sentimentality and
possible love.
― Charles Bukowski

Chapter Text

If you would be a real seeker after truth, it is necessary that at least once in your life you doubt, as far as possible, all things.
― René Descartes

***

The evening was sharp, clear, with just enough of a bite in the air that Scully had her hands firmly in her coat pockets. But when she rounded the corner from the parking lot, she could see in the stadium’s bright lights that there were no runners on the track at all. Very unusual for the location, and certainly for the weather.

Only one solitary man in a dark coat stood on the edge of the track, just a lean silhouette, staring up at the just-emerging stars.

Mulder should really be keeping his eyes on what is happening around him, Scully thought, for probably the thousandth time in their partnership. She could not, as ever, resist a fond smile.

The track, part of a private school campus near Mulder’s apartment, was a familiar place. It was a favorite running spot of Mulder’s from their early years working together, and Scully had, once or twice, joined him there, to gamely huff and puff around the track and pretend she was as efficient a distance runner as he was. She had the impression he didn’t run here as much any more, perhaps preferring to seek out more novel routes, but there was still no doubt in his mind that this was the location the note specified.

“Ah ha, a mysterious woman in black,” Mulder said, as she approached. “This night is getting interesting.”

“This coat is gray, Mulder,” she said, looking down at it with a small smile. “As you should know. I’ve had it for years.”

“How was your apartment?”

“Empty,” Scully said. “Nothing of note. Like Krycek and his murder victim were never there. Yours?”

“Just some very hungry fish,” he said. “And unwashed dishes.”

“Any sign of … anyone here?” Scully’s eyes swept their surroundings again. For a moment they landed on some movement, but it was only a flag flapping on a flagpole near the school buildings. She willed her shoulders to relax.

“Not a soul,” Mulder said softly. “It’s eerie, too, because on a night like this, with weather like this? I would expect there to be plenty of runners and joggers, or kids out having soccer practice or flying radio-controlled airplanes … and whatever else kids do these days.”

“Yes,” Scully said. “I thought the same.”

She was struck silent for a moment by the irrelevant and uninvited image of Mulder and Isaac here on the field, together. Some clear cool evening, they might be here playing soccer, or perhaps flying radio-controlled airplanes, casting long interlocking father-son shadows in the stadium lights. How happy that would make Mulder, she thought, with sudden certainty. She wanted it for him. She wanted it for all of them.

“Remember when we ran here together, Scully?” Mulder said. “I think I recall that you continuously lapped me.”

Scully raised her eyebrow.

“Yes,” Mulder nodded. “You definitely tore past me, and I felt threatened, but I covered it well, as I always do.”

“You’re either patronizing me or trying to butter me up,” Scully said crisply, nudging him, “because we both know that’s an outrageous lie.”

But she felt herself relaxing, falling into the familiar rhythm of their old banter, which she suspected had been Mulder’s intent. Her lips curled into a miniscule smile, and she glanced at Mulder’s face.

He was not looking at her.

“Scully,” Mulder’s voice was low and steady. His eyes were focused behind her, and she knew it was time to turn around.

It was another solitary silhouette walking towards them from the edge of the track, a remarkably frail-looking older man, a curling halo of smoke visible around him even at this distance.

Certainly there must be more of Spender’s people around, thought Scully. This track was cleared of runners by someone, and Spender was not so foolish to come entirely unprotected. But no additional accomplices were visible. It made her uneasy. She dug her hands deeply into her pockets.

“Agents,” Spender’s voice was jovial, calling out to them like they were old friends. “Such a pleasure to see both of you, and on such a beautiful evening.”

“I wish we could say the same,” Mulder said evenly.

“Ah,” Spender said, fingering his cigarette as he approached. “I see we’re not going to do pleasantries this evening, son.”

“You’re not my father,” Mulder said, his voice taut. “Fatherhood isn’t sperm donation.”

Spender lifted an eyebrow. “Interesting point of view for you, Fox, given recent revelations. Do you now consider yourself an expert in fatherhood?”

“I guess that depends. Compared to whom?” Mulder said. His voice was still steady, but Scully reached over and clutched his hand.

Spender’s eyes closely followed her hand’s movement.

“So family life’s going well, then?” Spender said amicably. “What’s the secret? Buy your son junk food until he loves you? Seduce his mother, perhaps, while she’s emotionally vulnerable?”

Mulder’s facial muscles went tight with rage, but Scully gripped his hand tightly.

“I imagine you had some actual reason you wanted us here,” Scully said, her voice bored. “Let’s get to that, shall we?”

“Yes, well, I’ve had to change plans,” Spender said. “Agent Scully, you made a decision I didn’t predict, and then … so did the boy. One thing led to another, and he has ended up in your loving care.” He sucked on his cigarette, staring at them contemplatively. “Still, the situation has certain advantages as it is.”

“I assume you mean advantages for you,” Scully said.

“I mean for all of us,” the cigarette-smoking man said. “Well, almost all of us.”

He smiled a closed-lip smile. “You know already about Isaac’s ... unique medical situation. He is part of the very cutting edge of nanomedical research. It makes it possible for him to have certain medical advantages -- and, well, misfortunes.”

Mulder snorted. “Why not just say what you mean? You have power over Isaac’s health. Whether he lives or dies.”

“I’m pleased you follow,” Spender smiled. “So it’s obvious, then, what our arrangement will be?”

Mulder said nothing.

“You will continue your work on the X-files,” Spender said, gesturing with his cigarette. “Local cases, eccentric medical anomalies, and so forth. However, if your work begins to infringe into an area I deem to be a problem, I will let you know. And you will simply — how should I put it? — let it fall away.”

Scully looked closely at Mulder, whose face was blank.

“I know what you’re thinking, Fox,” Spender continued. “You’re struggling to imagine how you will live with yourself, when you have become so … compromised.”

Somewhere behind the cigarette-smoking man, for the first time, Scully thought she might see another figure lurking in the shadows of the trees beyond the stadium lights, but the person was gone before she could truly get a read on their location.

“I imagine it might not be as hard as you think,” continued Spender, musing. “You will love the boy. You will instinctively want to protect him.” The cigarette-smoking man gestured to Scully. “And of course, you already love your partner, and you hate the thought of making her cry -- any more than you already have, of course. So you have no real choice, and that can be a comfort in itself. When your conscience troubles you, your love for them will be the balm that soothes it.”

Scully circled her thumb lightly over Mulder’s knuckles, the slightest, most reassuring gesture she could manage without Spender seeing.

“It’s not such a bad outcome for the two of you, all things considered,” Spender shrugged. “I confess that I had hoped for a more optimal outcome for my grandson, as I’m not certain you two together will be the positive influences the Koenigs were. They were married. They were ready to be parents. But if there is one thing I have learned in my line of work, it’s this: children are resilient.”

“You … killed the Koenigs,” Mulder said, in disgusted disbelief. “You’re the reason he’s not with them.”

“Because you and Agent Scully made that step necessary, Fox,” the cigarette-smoking man’s voice was hurt and indignant. “And I will kill Isaac, too, should you also make that step necessary.”

“How can you claim to want what is best for him and then say things like that?” Mulder shook his head. “You have already demonstrated you have no concept of what it means to show love to a child.”

Spender laughed a short bitter laugh. “And what have you demonstrated, exactly, Fox? What are your qualifications for parenting? You’ve made clear your own fathers were disappointing models. And the most meaningful relationships of your entire life are with, what? A vanished kid sister and a work associate?”

Scully didn’t have to look at Mulder’s face to know that that comment had landed, because she felt the involuntary flinch in his hand.

“You show such arrogance in assuming you can be effective parents,” continued Spender, seeming to savor each cruel word. “Can you imagine it? You will both work too much and pay too little attention to him, just as you do everyone else in your lives. You will shut yourselves down and fail to talk to one another, and you will probably fail to talk to him, too. He will mimic both of your unhealthy patterns and worst traits.”

“No,” said Mulder, dropping her hand and stepping towards Spender. His voice was strained. “Maybe you’re right that I don’t know what I’m doing, that I will be a screw-up of a father, but I know you’re wrong about Scully. You’re wrong about her.”

Scully gave him a steadying look. Keep your wits about you, g-man.

“Loyal to a fault, aren’t you?” Spender said with a small, cold smile. “Just remember this: when I offered her a choice, she chose the work over Isaac. Isn’t that right, Dana?”

Scully said nothing, but tilted her head and regarded him dispassionately.

Spender looked from her to Mulder with a glint in his eye. “Tell me, son,” He took a drag on his cigarette, obviously enjoying himself way too much for Scully’s tastes. “Do you think you choose to love emotionally distant women because of your abducted sister, or because of your cold mother?”

Mulder lunged forward in fury towards the cigarette-smoking man. Scully stepped towards him to put an urgent hand on his shoulder.

Spender, chuckling a little, took a step backwards.

Somewhere in the periphery, out of the corner of her eye, she could see faint movements -- his guards moving forward in case Mulder was a serious threat. But the cigarette-smoking man himself did not look concerned.

“Temper, temper,” he said lightly.

“You son of a bitch,” roared Mulder, surging towards him again.

Moving quickly, Scully slipped herself between Spender and Mulder, turning her back on the cigarette-smoking man to place her palm lightly on Mulder’s chest.

She made careful eye contact with her partner. His eyes were calm.

At the same time, she reached deep inside her coat pocket with her right hand and took hold of what she needed.

Then, in a sudden, singular movement, she swivelled around and buried her syringe deep into Spender’s neck, injecting it completely with one hand. She had pre-selected the vein on the side of his neck moments before, identifying it in the bright stadium lights.

Feeling the needle sink in, Spender’s eyes went wide.

He tried to back away in panic, but Mulder moved forward to seize him, holding him in place until Scully was through.

When she had finished the injection, she removed the syringe and looked at it intently for a moment, tapping it methodically to make sure its contents were entirely gone.

“What--” Spender grabbed at his neck, his voice rough. “What did you do?”

“So,” she said, her tone business-like, placing the empty needle in a bag and back in her coat. “Let me be clear. Our answer to your proposal is no.”

“What did you do?”

“You know, Mr. Spender,” she said, “it has not escaped my notice that although you called both of us here tonight, you mostly seemed to be speaking to Agent Mulder. You do that a lot, actually. Why is that, I wonder?”

“What did you inject into me?” hissed Spender.

“I’ll tell you my theory,” Scully said, ignoring his question. “I think you believe you can mess with Mulder’s head, affect his confidence, get him to think he’s not worthy of happiness, convince him to behave in ways that are contrary to his best interest. I understand this is a tactic that has worked, to some extent, in the past.”

She stopped to look at Mulder, who now no longer seemed at all angry. He was watching her, his eyes eagerly following her every move. He gave her a little encouraging half smile. Of the two of them, he was by far the better actor, she thought admiringly.

“But you don’t have any equivalent strategy for me, do you? Truthfully, I don’t know what you imagined I would do tonight,” she continued to Spender, who was breathing rather quickly. “Weep? Wring my hands that I chose Mulder and the work over your dirty bargain? Stand by helplessly while you mess with his head and threaten Isaac? Well, you underestimated me. Again.”

“What ...did you inject into me?” bellowed Spender. His face was pink, but Scully knew this was stress, not the effects of the injection.

“Call off your back-up first,” Scully gestured to the men moving rapidly towards them.

Spender stared at her, his lips trembling in fear or anger, but he turned around and shouted at the guards. “Go!” he said. “Go, I’m all right.”

When he turned around again, Scully could see small dabs of sweat beading at his forehead, despite the cool evening.

“Now tell me what it was,” he snarled. “What was in the syringe?”

“Guess,” said Mulder. He held up a Palm Pilot in his hands, produced from his own coat pocket.

In truth, it was one of the Gunmen’s Palm Pilots, still on factory settings, and Mulder barely understood how to use it, but the point was effectively made.

Spender took a staggering step backwards, staring at the Palm Pilot in shock. “Where did you-- how did you get the…?”

“I have some connections in Chechnya,” Mulder said with stone-faced seriousness, as though that made any sense and was any kind of explanation.

That’s my actor Mulder, thought Scully affectionately.

“So I suspect you’re starting to see what the arrangement will be,” she said.

“We want nothing from you but freedom from your threats. You will leave us alone, and we will leave you alone,” Mulder said, his tone calm and reasonable. “No threat to Isaac’s well-being, and you have nothing to fear from this technology. Of course, we’ll continue to pursue justice against you through our work. And obviously we have contingencies in place if something should happen to Scully or me.”

Spender stared at Mulder as though he could barely contain his anger.

“I know what you’re thinking, Mr. Spender,” Scully said, her voice mocking. “You’re struggling to imagine how you will live with yourself, when you have become so … compromised.”

She was taken aback by the edge of spite to her words, and even Mulder shot her a surprised glance.

Spender heard it, too. His gaze shot to Scully, and he regarded her sharply. It was as though a curtain fell over his face again; his facial expressions, panicked moments before, were back entirely under his control.

“Well, I can see you’re very pleased with yourselves,” he said softly. He took a bitter drag of his cigarette. “But as I’m sure you’re aware, I’m not without resources -- and you won’t have this power over me forever.”

He dropped his cigarette butt on the track. “So by all means, enjoy yourself now, Agent Scully.”

“Just stay away from us,” Scully said, her voice low, but more raw than she would like. “It’s all we ask.”

Spender smiled a closed lip smile again. “For a while. But forever? I think we all know that will never happen.”

He began to walk away, towards the rim of thick shadows at the edge of the lights.

***

Two hours later, sitting at Scully’s dining room table, Mulder still felt himself watching her in some combination of amazement and concern. Tonight, with Spender, she had acted with such ruthless calm and precision. Yet he could see, even now, from the tight grip in which she held her coffee cup, she was still rattled.

“We did inject him with nanites,” Scully was explaining to Skinner. “They will show up if he is examined. But they weren’t activated, and we aren’t going to have them activated. They are essentially junk bots floating around in his bloodstream.”

“Serving as a constant reminder and warning,” Mulder added.

Skinner, who sat at Scully’s dining room with a cup of coffee sitting essentially untouched in front of him, looked from agent to agent in disbelief. Mulder could see he was struggling to process the story they were telling him.

“So you … can’t actually affect him?” Skinner said.

“It’s a bluff,” Scully admitted. “Spender’s right that it won’t last forever. He eventually will figure out that we don’t have control. It’s a stopgap measure, at best.”

“A stopgap measure that will buy us time to find other ways to protect Isaac,” Mulder reminded her, touching her shoulder lightly.

Skinner nodded. “It’s risky,” he said, “but if it buys you time, and allows you to keep your consciences clear, well, then … it’s a move worth playing.”

The eyes of all three adults at the table drifted to Isaac, who was sitting propped up on a pillow on Scully’s sofa, flipping systematically through a stack of her books, appearing not at all sleepy.

Once again, he was up way later than children were probably supposed to be up, and once again, he had no proper bed to sleep in, only a makeshift temporary bed, this time on a sofa. Once again, he had no proper children’s pajamas, just a woman’s tee shirt, big on him, that read “FBI Academy.”

Tomorrow, Mulder vowed, we’ll start to fix all of this for him. Maybe he and Scully would drive Isaac out to one of those big neon-bright suburban shopping centers, and together they could pick out some kid clothes, and pajamas, and a bed, and toys, and new books about black holes. And afterwards, they could make a sort of afternoon of it. Maybe share corn dogs and bags of sour candy in the food court. Put coins in one of those massage chairs and let Scully get a back rub. Let Isaac ride the merry-go-round. It was a silly idea, but it warmed Mulder all over.

Maybe this is what hope feels like?

“In the meantime,” Scully continued to tell Skinner, “we’re working with Dr. Han on the back door access to Isaac’s nanobots. He was … very excited by what we were able to share with him. He thinks he will be able to make some headway on that immediately.”

“That’s truly wonderful news, Scully,” Skinner said, sincerely.

“I just wish--” Scully stopped. “I wish we had the same good news for you, sir. I explained the situation to Dr. Han, but he thinks that without an intentional back door, it will be harder to gain control over the nanites. We’re still going to try everything we can.”

“Please, don’t worry about me,” Skinner said, almost embarrassed. “I can take care of myself.”

“Well, obviously,” Mulder said. “But it's always helpful to have back-up.”

Skinner smiled and folded his hands in front of him on the table. “So what’s next with the kid? You’re going to try to get custody of him, I assume?”

“It’s already underway,” Scully said. “Our lawyers say it’s a bit complicated, but we are his biological parents, and there isn’t anyone else seeking custody.”

Skinner shook his head again. “So that’s -- that’s going to be a big change for you two.”

Mulder subtly inclined his head to check the expression on Scully’s face. To his relief, it was a small, cautious smile.

That must be what hope looks like, too, he thought.

“Yes,” Scully agreed quietly. “There’s still a lot to discuss.”

“Sure,” Skinner placed his palms conclusively on the table. “And on that note, I think it’s time for me to be on my way tonight.” He stood up. “Thanks for the update and the coffee. I’m glad you two … found your way back to your partnership again.”

He eyed Mulder knowingly as they shook hands, as though he was implying he understood their partnership meant something more than partnership in the FBI manual sense of the word. Probably Skinner gave them more credit than they deserved, Mulder thought.

Scully walked Skinner to the door, and Mulder wandered over to perch on the sofa next to Isaac, who looked up from the enormous medical encyclopedia he was thumbing through.

“Hey,” Mulder said, eying the book’s cover dubiously. “Should you be reading that? Are there … disturbing pictures?”

“It’s science, Mulder,” Isaac said, giving him a serious look. “I have to learn about medicine now because Scully is a doctor.”

Mulder smiled fondly. I am going to be no match for this kid, he thought. “Oh, sure, I guess that’s true,” he said. “You’re not sleepy yet?”

“No,” Isaac said. “Can we watch a video, Mulder? I go to sleep easier when I watch movies.”

“Huh,” Mulder said. “Me, too, although I don’t love that as an inherited trait for you.”

“Does Scully have good movies?”

“No,” Mulder said, regretfully. “Not at all.”

“I do, too, have good movies, Isaac,” Scully said firmly, coming from the door to plop on the sofa next to them, tucking her legs under her.

“Debatable,” Mulder said tactfully. “But I’m sure we can come up with something. I think she has Planet of the Apes, and that is a classic.”

Scully shot him an amused eye roll, and he stood to look through her video collection.

“Is this --” Isaac asked, looking from Mulder to Scully. “Is this where I’m going to live from now on?” he asked.

“Well, possibly,” Scully said. “We don’t entirely know yet. Do you like that idea?”

“Maybe,” Isaac said cautiously. “But it’s small, for all three of us.”

Mulder turned quickly from the video drawer so he could catch Scully’s expression, which did not disappoint.

***

In the end, Mulder couldn’t find Scully’s VHS copy of Planet of the Apes, and so chose 2001 instead, which it turned out was also a favorite of his from boyhood, because of course it was. It also turned out it didn’t matter much which video they chose, because Isaac fell asleep during the opening title sequence, as the music rumbled ominously, and the sun rose over the edge of the earth.

They turned off the movie, and Mulder remarked to Scully that they could finish it with him another time, another day. Which was a promise that felt much more important than it should have.

It pleased them to think the sun might rise over the edge over the earth for the three of them any day they wished.

Together they tucked his blankets around him, working like a seasoned team. Mulder, showing an overprotective side that might have surprised anyone but Scully, dropped a few sofa cushions on the floor next to him, just in case he rolled off in his sleep during the night. They planted unpracticed kisses on his forehead.

Finally, they crept into her kitchen where they could talk without waking him.

“You’re going back to your apartment tonight?” Scully asked. She placed the dirty coffee cups next to the sink.

“I thought I would, since, you know, it’s where I live,” Mulder said.

Scully nodded, her eyes wide and blue and blank, her lips pressed together, saying nothing.

“Of course, I am open to your suggestions, as always, Scully,” Mulder added, his eyes moving up and down over her face.

“What should we do?” she whispered. “We’ve done it in the wrong order. We have no space to make mistakes now.”

“Well,” Mulder began. “I have no idea what we should do. I only know what I want to do, and what I believe could make us happy.”

“And what is that, Mulder?” she said

At a slow —painfully slow — pace he leaned forward, his eyes staying on hers as long as they could, and his mouth moved to the hollow of her neck.

For a moment it hovered there, uncertainly, his breath sending shivers down her. He then placed the lightest kiss imaginable in her neck’s soft curve. His eyes shot back up to hers, watching her reaction.

“To be with you in the way that I think we both want so badly, Scully. In the way … we have both been so afraid of,” he whispered.

She stared back at him a moment, feeling the echo of his kiss on her neck, her breathing uneven. “Yes,” she said, softly. “That’s what I want, too.”

“He’s right, you know,” Mulder said. She didn’t have to ask who he meant. “What he said tonight? I don’t know anything about this. Being a father. Being in a real relationship.”

“You told me yourself,” she said. “Our relationship is real. It has been for a long time. You know about us already. We both do. We start there.”

“But if we—“ he began. “Well, it’s a risk.”

“Yes,” she said again. “The leap into the unknown.”

“It could be a mistake,” Mulder whispered, his voice shaky. “I know that. I want it so badly, but I am …scared, too.”

“I know,” Scully agreed, biting her lip. “And I wish that love wasn’t so … caught up with fear and pain for us. But Mulder, this could be the way forward, couldn’t it? It could be the way to being a family, a real family. To finding a way to be at peace. To be at home.”

“Is that what you really think?” Mulder’s voice was just a breath.

“I don’t know,” she said, touching his cheek with her fingertip. “I don’t know for certain.”

“We will have to choose to believe,” he said, his eyes becoming brighter. “In other words, to hope.”

She cupped his shyly smiling face in her hands.

And she moved forward to kiss him, deeply, tenderly: a kiss that was also a choice.

***

That night, entangled in sleep with Scully in her bed, Mulder had never been less alone in recent memory. But in his dreams, he was alone again. He was stumbling through the vast expanse of the New Mexico desert at night, looking for something, looking for something.

In waking life, in his memory. Mulder had found the terrain in New Mexico beautiful; in his dream, it was eerie and desolate. What should have been bright and golden was dark and gray.

And he was alone.

As he walked, he came across an equally solitary figure standing by a stone table -- an old bearded man, gazing up at the stars.

Abraham, realized Mulder.

“Even once you get your son back,” Abraham said sadly to Mulder, “you never forget that you could have sacrificed him. You know that you would have, had God not stopped you in time. You have to live with that knowledge forever.”

Mulder almost replied, but was distracted by a rosy glow in the distance, on the horizon, an illumination that hopped and sputtered like a fire. “Excuse me,” he said to Abraham, “I'm sorry. But I don't think I would ever have to. You didn’t have Scully.”

He left Abraham standing alone and walked, in a trance, towards the glow, his steps feeling lighter and lighter.

And when he reached the light, he saw that it was coming from Scully’s TV. Which was there, improbably, in the middle of the desert, with her sofa placed cozily right in front of it.

Scully and Isaac were curled up under a blanket on the sofa, wrapped around one another drowsily, watching the sun rise over the edge of the earth, the glow of the TV flickering pink light over their faces, sending jagged shadows over them, over the desert floor. Mother and son did not see him. But there was an empty spot on the sofa.

He wordlessly climbed next to Scully, under the blanket, set his arm around Isaac, and he joined them.

***