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By Falling In And In

Chapter Text

Most Like An Arch This Marriage

by John Ciardi

Most like an arch - an entrance which upholds
and shores the stone-crush up the air like lace.
Mass made idea, and idea held in place.
A lock in time. Inside half-heaven unfolds.

Most like an arch - two weaknesses that lean
into a strength. Two fallings become firm.
Two joined abeyances become a term
naming the fact that teaches fact to mean.

Not quite that? Not much less. World as it is,
what's strong and separate falters. All I do
at piling stone on stone apart from you
is roofless around nothing. Till we kiss

I am no more than upright and unset.
It is by falling in and in we make
the all-bearing point, for one another's sake,
in faultless failing, raised by our own weight.


****


April 7th, 2001


Scully is in the kitchen rinsing lettuce when there is a knock at her door. She dries her hands before making her way to the entry, still not entirely used to the amount of space she now occupies. A glance through the peephole reveals Mulder, who looks uncomfortable. She opens the door. "Mulder, come in. I was just getting dinner together."

"Oh. Well, if it's a bad time I can go." He sounds nearly hopeful.

"Not at all."

"Uh, okay then." He walks in and pushes the door shut, seeming uncertain of himself.

"Have a seat. I just want to go check the oven." She disappears into the kitchen for a moment.

Mulder sits on the couch, looking around the room as though it is entirely unfamiliar to him. His right leg bounces like a jackhammer and he whistles a few bars of Freefalling before turning his attention to the rake in Scully's tabletop Zen garden. He traces four circles around a reddish rock, then lines the pebbles up by size.

When she returns to the living room, Scully settles on the loveseat and props her feet on the coffee table. "So," she says. "What's up?"

"You're pregnant," Mulder blurts out.

She looks amused. "I'd noticed that."

He coughs. "Yes, well. It's rather difficult to avoid noticing, isn't it? Because you look as though you have  - snake-like - swallowed an object several times the size of your own head.  So I am assuming there are things we should discuss."

"Discuss?"

Mulder gives her an exasperated look. "Scully? This isn't some meeting with Skinner you're bullshitting your way through, okay? I realize that this is hideously awkward, but let's pretend for a moment that our prior pattern of sexual congress wasn't interrupted for several months by my death."

"I didn't know in Bellefleur, if that's what you're wondering."

"I hoped not."

"I would have told you. And I wouldn't have been so careless with myself."

He draws a stick figure in the sand with the handle of the rake. "Okay. Scully, do you think it's related to what happened to you out there?"

"What, you think the next generation of Mulders wanted an early start on the alien abduction?"

Mulder laughs once and then repeats, "The next generation of Mulders" in an odd voice.

"Oh, come on. You can't have actually thought otherwise?" She is scoffing, but there is a note of uncertainty in her voice.

"No. But it's different to hear you say it. This has been the elephant in the room for almost a week now."

She gets to her feet, walks to the couch, then lowers herself next to Mulder. She pokes him in the ribs. "Elephant? I won't sit idly by as you call me names."

"Your girth is impressive."

"You can't really be single, can you?"

"I guess that's the next question, isn't it?" he says, looking down at his hands.

She smiles in a distant way. "You were dead until fifteen days ago. Maybe you should take it slow before you go trying to make an honest woman of me."

"Are you saying you don't want me around? Come to think of it, you have been acting peculiar."

"Peculiar? Mulder, how on earth is one supposed to act in such bizarre circumstances? I apologize for not talking about this sooner, but you were in a coma." She bites her lip and gazes at her rounded abdomen. "I don't want you to make promises that are too hard to keep. You…you have a habit of disappearing."

He bristles. "Well, excuse the hell out of me. I haven't been on a sightseeing tour of Europe, you realize. Perhaps at some point while they were slicing my chest open or drilling my teeth I was over Europe, but close only counts in horseshoes and grenades."

She closes her eyes. "I'm sorry. That's not what I meant."

Mulder sighs. "Look, I understand your concerns. I do. But I think maybe we've found all we're meant to find."

Scully eyes him warily. "Mulder, don't - "

"What else can I hope to discover? I have proof of both the existence of extraterrestrial life and the government's conspiracy to cover up that fact. My entire family is dead. Maybe this is another chance."

She turns to him and takes his hand. "Mulder, I can't be your savior."

"Some Catholic you are."

Scully chuckles as she leans against his arm. "I mean it. I want you here. I want you involved. But this isn't going to be a grand quest. It's going to be late nights and early mornings and tedious repetition. It's not a means to an end. It's a journey."

"I know."

Scully runs her forefinger over his knuckles. "Do you? There's not going to be any more dashing off to Oregon or Puerto Rico or God knows where. Can you live like that? Can you really let these things go?"

He is silent.

"Because if you can't," she continues, "I can accept that. I know who you are and I knew it when I asked you to help with the fertility treatments. I knew it when I started sleeping with you. But what I can't accept is the possibility that - however well-meaning you are at this moment - you're going to promise me that you'll stay and then leave again when something irresistible pops up."

Mulder exhales slowly, weighing what may be against what is. What he may find against what he has found already. "I can let it go."

Scully believes that he believes himself and is touched. "Well," she says. "Well, okay then."

He reaches out to stroke her hair. "So what do you want to do? Do you want to live separately? Do you want a place together? A creampuff wedding gown and a Barbie Dream House in Reston?"

She snorts. "Spare me. I don't know. I mean, I had planned to just stay here. It's near my mother, it's near work."

He looks puzzled. "Near work? I thought you were thinking about teaching at Quantico."

"I was, but it's an hour away and I don't want to deal with the commute."

"My will, Scully. You know there's no need for you to -"

"Well, you're not dead anymore," she says sharply. "I've already contacted your attorney about having the money transferred back to you."

He looks shocked. "What? Why? I don't want it. I didn't want it before and I don't want it now. You know as well as I do how my parents ended up with it. That was emergency money. It was Go-To-Antarctica money. We don't have to go back to work until we feel like it, if at all. The interest alone is -"

 Scully does not want to discuss this further. She taps her forefinger against her thumbnail. "There's more to my not teaching at Quantico than just the commute. Rumor has it that a Supervisory Special Agent position at the DC Field Office is going to open up in August and that my name's on the short list. Actually, I heard my name is the short list."

Mulder whistles. "Day-um. Who've you been making friends with while I was away?"

She ducks her head, but is clearly pleased. "You're not upset, are you? I mean, that I won't be returning to the X-Files? This is just such a huge opportunity for me."

"I'd say you've served your time down there. Especially since I ended up corrupting you."

"Mmm. It turned out okay, as far as punishment assignments go."

"Gee, thanks." He slides a tentative hand over her belly. "Scully? How did this happen?"

Her eyebrow arches like a cat.

"I mean, I know how," he amends. "But I thought you …"

"Me too. Mulder, when I was in Africa I saw things that I still can't explain. That craft, the ship - whatever it was - it seemed to have…regenerative powers of some kind. And I touched it."

"And you think it may have somehow restored your ability to conceive?" He chooses his words carefully. One wrong step and Scully will retreat to the safety of her hallowed skepticism.

She shrugs. "I don't know what I'm saying. Maybe there's not an easy answer. I had a vision of some sort on that journey. Of a man. He said some truths are not for me to know."

"And you can accept that?"

"I'm pregnant, Mulder. What is there to accept or not accept? I have had ultrasounds and an amniocentesis and this child is perfectly normal in every way. You told me never to give up on a miracle. So yes, I suppose I can accept the rest on faith."

Neither one of them mentions the fact that their world is full of stones better left unturned. Emily-stones.

"Do you think it means anything with regard to your cancer? The chip in your neck?"

She runs a finger over the scar. "I'm certainly not going to chance finding out the hard way."

He nods. "I think that's for the best."

She squeezes his hand, then slips an arm behind his back. "I missed you. Sometimes I had these…experiences where I swear I could hear you."

"I had them too." He pulls her close and rests his cheek on top of her head. "Thank you for feeding my fish. They said to tell you hi."

She smiles against his shirt. "Why don't you bring them over here, Mulder? They could make themselves comfortable if they wanted to. I have a little drawer where I could keep their things."

"I'd miss them terribly."

"Well, you could come too. I have a little drawer where I could keep your things as well."

He takes her by the shoulders and sits back, holding her at arms' length. "Dana Scully. Are you asking me to shack up with you?"

She blushes. "It seems the next logical step on my wanton path, now that you've gone and ruined me."

He cups her face in his hands. "You've just made my landlord the happiest man in the world."

Chapter Text

May 26th, 2001


"Is it possible for him to be absorbing any nutrition at all, Scully? Is it normal for babies to dirty diapers at such an alarming rate? I feel like the EPA is going to issue us a citation if this keeps up."

Scully yawns, watching Mulder snap William's rubbery pink legs back into his overalls. "Yes, it's perfectly normal. Put those little mitts back over his hands. He keeps clawing at his face. And he pinches me when he eats."

William, now six days old, squirms as his small fists are covered up. Mulder scoops the baby from the kitchen table and deposits him in the sleek black bouncer seat on the floor. "Look at the bears, William," he says. "Red, blue, yellow."

"His color vision won't be that developed for at least another week," Scully observes.

William burps as Mulder bounces the chair with his foot. "I have to tell you, the temptation to use this as a catapult is overwhelming at times. Where's that stupid musical dog?"

"The one that hasn't shut up for two days? Even when we took the batteries out?"

"Yes."

"Trash."

"Your mother is a very sensible woman," he informs his son. "Look, this says Baby Bjorn. That means bear, William. This is a multicultural chair you have. It's Swedish."

"He's a Flavenwilliam," says Scully.

"Does that mean we have to buy a Volvo?"

They are interrupted by a knock at the door. Mulder gets to his feet to answer the door. William drools at the bears, his eyes crossing now and again. Scully looks over the back of the couch as Walter Skinner enters, carrying a large wrapped box. "Congratulations," he says.

Mulder accepts the parcel and sets it on the end table. "Thanks. You didn't have to bring anything, though. We got the official Bureau snack basket. Scully ate all the pralines and yogurt-covered raisins and I think most of the dried fruit, but some of the little cookies are left. Or did you attack those too, Scully?"

"I didn't eat all of that," Scully says indignantly. "We've had company."

"She did," Mulder asserts. "Coffee?"

Skinner shrugs out of his coat and drapes it over the armrest. "Coffee would be good. Black." Mulder nods and heads to the kitchen. Skinner walks around to peer down at William, who has worked one mitt off. "Congratulations, Scully. How are you feeling? He's a pretty big guy."

"I eat all my veggies," says Mulder, returning with a mug of coffee, which he hands to Skinner.

"You're hilarious, really," says Scully. "I'm good, thank you. It was a fairly easy delivery, though he was eight pounds, six ounces at birth. He lost a little weight at the hospital, but he eats very well and is developing as he should. Excellent rooting reflex." She sticks her leg out to stroke the bottom of William's foot with her toe. His own tiny toes splay. "Proper Babinski sign. He's a textbook baby. I've run him through the full battery."

"She was a terror at the hospital," Mulder remarks as he sits down. "I thought they were going to put her under general anesthesia just to shut her up. You can sit, by the way."

Skinner perches at the edge of the loveseat, then reaches forward to touch William's hand. "Hey," he says, as William grabs his finger. "He has a good grip. You going to let him do some dry-firing and join the family business?"

"We're going to wait until he weans."

Skinner smiles, spinning the bears for William, whose eyes cross again.

"Do you want to hold him?" asks Scully, aware that sometimes people do not want to Hold The Baby and that such a question puts them in an awkward position. But something tells her that Skinner would like to.

"Sure." He sits back, watching Scully lift William out. He accepts the warm little body and cradles him comfortably. "My sister has four kids," he says, though whether the remark is designed to reassure himself, William's parents, or William is unclear. He touches the tip of the tiny nose.

"So tell me about the position at the DC Field Office," says Scully. "Still looking like August?"

"How many people will she get to boss around?" Mulder inquires. "That's what really matters to her."

Skinner smoothes his hand over William's downy head, petting him like a cat. "In all the years that I have known them, your parents have done nothing but raise exasperating questions. Scully, the position - which has not officially been posted and therefore cannot be officially discussed - will become available in mid-August. They are very keen to have a female Supervisory Special Agent and your forensic background is most desirable. I wish to remind you that three of the very few female SACs in the history of the FBI began their administrative careers as Supervisory Special Agents."

Scully chews her lip and tries - unsuccessfully - to appear nonchalant.

"Additionally," says Skinner, "I spoke with Burdena Pasenelli. She has asked me to send you her regards and let you know that she hopes you'll be available to join her for lunch when things settle down."

Mulder and Scully both gape at Skinner, who is looking down at the now-sleeping baby.

"Burdena Pasenelli?" Mulder says at length. "The former CFO of the Bureau?"

"You may want to keep the finance talk to a minimum," Skinner advises Scully. "The two of you hold a few records."

"Sir," says Scully. "I don't understand how -"

"You are not without allies, Scully. Let's leave it there, shall we?" He passes William to his mother before taking a sip of his steaming coffee. "If you'll be using a federal employee child care center, you need to go ahead and get all your paperwork in. You know what the red tape is like."

"I'm staying home with him," says Mulder. "For a while, anyway."

Skinner blinks in surprise. "Well, good for you. It will be interesting to see whether he's inherited your charming disregard for authority."

"If he has," says Scully, who is stroking her son's cheek, "we're sending him to a good boarding school."

"I have a manly diaper bag and a manly stroller," Mulder tells Skinner, gesturing to the black Xplory in the corner. "I'm prepared for anything."

Skinner shakes his head. "Good luck," he says to William.

William bats his hand in his sleep. The red bear spins slowly.

Chapter Text

November 9, 2001


"Will, buddy, you need to work with me here." Mulder has been scraping the same spoonful of pureed apricots off of his son's chin for twenty minutes. "I know it's more effort than a liquid diet, but there's a whole world of culinary delights out there. You just have to practice and then we can upgrade to chili dogs and Tastykakes."

William grabs at the contents of the spoon, then smears them in his hair, gurgling happily.

Mulder sighs. "Let's call it a day, shall we? Your mother's due home shortly and you can be her problem for a while. How about a bath in the meantime?" He wipes the baby's hands, then removes the high-chair tray to unbuckle him. William holds his arms out and Mulder picks him. They head to the bathroom.

"You know what we need to do?" Mulder asks as he extracts William from his stained t-shirt. "We need to take a road trip. Shake things up a little. I hear it's fashionable for women to date younger men now, so you could do pretty well for yourself."

William squeals delightedly, kicking his feet like a frog.

Mulder strips the rest of his son's clothes and his diaper off. He kneels down to secure him in the bath seat before turning on a stream of tepid water. "How about Graceland? You work hard on those apricots and you can score a nice fried peanut butter, bacon and banana sandwich. We'll look into it when I get back."

William pats his stomach. "Ba," he says.

"Get back?" Scully asks, taking off her jacket as she walks into the bathroom. She crouches on the floor next to the tub to kiss her son. "Where are you going?" William reaches forward to grab a hank of her hair. He looks dejected when it is too short to reach his mouth. Scully begins to soap his head and his plump back.

"I didn't hear you come in," Mulder says. "The boy wonder was painting himself with fruit and needed a hose-down."

"Still no luck with the apricots? Maybe we should mix them with the kiwis. He liked the kiwis. William, did you give your daddy a hard time today?"

William sinks his new teeth into a rubber duck and shakes his head like a rat dog.

"Have you forgotten what the post-kiwi diapers were like?" Mulder asks her. "I didn't know they even had that many seeds. He can try sweet potatoes tomorrow, but tonight you'd better just make it milk. He's hungry and not feeling adventurous, plus he skipped his afternoon nap and can barely keep his eyes open."

"My pleasure. Hurry up and rinse him. I haven't pumped anything for some time." Scully gets to her feet, grimacing uncomfortably. "So, when you get back from where, Mulder?" she asks, unbuttoning her shirt.

"Tlaxcala," he replies, giving William a rinse with clear water. He then lifts him out and wraps him in a large green towel. William howls in protest as he is carried to his room.

"Tlaxcala?" Scully repeats, following them. "In Mexico?"

"That's the one," Mulder says, putting a clean diaper on the baby. "William, stop trying to bite your feet. It makes this hard." He dresses his son in robot-print pajamas, then passes him to Scully.

She sits in the glider, unhooking the front of her bra as she settles the baby across her lap. William latches on enthusiastically, and an expression of relief crosses her face. "Why are you going to Mexico? And when?"

"The flight leaves at midnight. Cab's picking me up at 9. You know what international flights are like these days. I already worked out the child-care details with your mom. I tried calling you a few times, Scully, but you didn't pick up. I shouldn't be gone more than a week, if that."

"Sorry. I was in meetings all day. But you only answered one of my questions," she tells him, trailing her fingers over the rosy baby skin.

Mulder picks at a spot of apricot on his sweater. "I got an e-mail from an archaeologist friend of mine this afternoon. He was at a dig site outside of Huamantla and heard about a group of archaeologists who disappeared from a site not far away."

"And this is of interest to you because…?

"I assume you are not entirely innocent of the concept of paleocontact," he says delicately.

"Aliens visiting ancient civilizations to bestow upon them advanced technologies? I am familiar with the notion. I watched Chariot of the Gods  in college." She speaks in the arch tone that has accompanied hundreds of his slideshows.

"The Maya believed that their ancestors originated in the Pleiades. The Popul Vuh - the central text of the Maya - describes gods who 'returned to the stars' after their mortal lives had passed," Mulder tells her.

Scully chews her lower lip for a moment. "Mulder, you are doubtless aware that I have come to accept many of your beliefs about the existence of life beyond this terrestrial sphere. However, I do not accept the idea that aliens were dispensing sophisticated engineering knowledge to ancient cultures. It makes no sense and only the most dubious evidence exists to extend the idea any credibility whatsoever." She switches William to the other breast.

Mulder picks up a small musical giraffe and winds it up, listening to the tinny rendition of Brahms Lullaby. "The archaeologists in question found evidence that the Maya were using steel decades prior to the arrival of the Spanish."

"Really? Because they were using obsidian when the Spanish arrived to obliterate them. And besides, so what if they were, Mulder? We don't do this anymore. Let someone else ferret it out."

"As I said, all of archaeologists have disappeared without a trace, though residents of nearby villages report seeing bright lights low in the sky the night they disappeared. Their disappearance, coincidentally, is timed with the appearance of a magnetically reversed sunspot. The Maya believed such sunspot activity was related to the end of our current age."

Scully rolls her eyes. "Yes, December 21, 2012. I got that doomsday e-mail too, Mulder. The world ends at 11:11 Greenwich time. I'll put it on the calendar." William is still making vague attempts at sucking, though he has fallen asleep.

"Scully, there was a backwards sunspot the night I disappeared too."

"Mulder, we appear to be in the peak of our current solar cycle. There's going to be a huge amount of unusual solar activity."

"Not backwards sunspots. Those come at the end of a solar cycle. And solar cycles average eleven years. If a new one were beginning now, it would be due to end right around 2012."

She sighs and closes her bra, listening to quiet baby snores. "So you're going to go to Mexico in hopes of…what?"

He shrugs. "I don't know. But I want to know what happened to these scientists. Maybe I can learn what happened to me. And to you."

Scully gets up slowly, cradling her son, then crosses the room to lay him in the crib. She watches him for a moment. Then she walks to the door and turns out the light before stepping into the hall. Mulder follows her, pulling the nursery door quietly closed as he leaves the room.

"Mulder, you promised me this was over," she tells him. "What happened to letting it all go? You can't just do things like this anymore."

He stiffens. "I'm not asking your permission."

She laughs bitterly as she stalks to the bedroom. "No, of course you're not. I suppose I should just be grateful that I'm finding out ahead of time instead of by a note stuck to the refrigerator door. 'Scully - gone alien hunting. Pick up bread on your way home from work.' "  She slips out of her silk blouse and tosses it to the bed.

"Don't be ridiculous. When's the last time you picked up groceries on your way home from work?"

"Don't give me that," she snaps, rummaging through the dresser for her FBI Academy sweatshirt. "This is what you wanted. You can go to work and we can hire a nanny if this is too much for you, Mulder, but I do plenty to pull my weight. It's not unreasonable that I don't want you flying off to some Mexican hellhole to chase flying saucers."

"This is a partnership," he reminds her, sitting down on the bed. "This is not the Kingdom of Scully where your desires reign supreme. You think it's important that I stay, I think it's important that I go. Someone's going to lose this one."

"William, probably," she says, as her trousers hit the floor. She pulls on a pair of yoga pants. "You have a child now, Mulder. You have to give things up. We both do."

"Oh, do we now?" he asks derisively. "What have you given up, Scully? The career you didn't want for the one you did? The basement for the limelight? I left over ten years of my life down there. Or have you forgotten that since we started playing house?"

"Playing house? Is that what this is to you? I told you that you were free to make whatever choice you wanted. I never pretended this was going to be anything other than what it is. I can't help it if you regret your decision now that you realize I was right." She walks past him to the kitchen, where she pours herself a bowl of cereal and then drowns it in skim milk.

He is close behind. "We agreed there was 'no more dashing off,' Scully. I didn't realize I was going to be under house arrest. I have planned a trip and I tried to give you as much notice as I could. I have made arrangements for William. The freezer is full of pureed produce. Your life won't be inconvenienced beyond your indignance over not getting to have it all your way."

She shakes her head. "You're unbelievable. You just don't get it, do you? This isn't about anyone getting their way. This is about you deliberately doing something that could put your life at risk. William has already attended one funeral for you, albeit in utero. I'd like to keep it the last for at least a few decades."

He sighs and rubs his neck. "I do get it. But this could be huge, Scully. I'm not chasing a blind lead here. This is something that could help explain everything that's happened to us since you were abducted. Including William."

She gives him a hard look. "There's nothing to explain about William."

He doesn't answer, just holds her stare.

"Fine," she says, scraping her uneaten, sodden cereal into the garbage disposal. "Go. You're going to anyway, so I might just as well pretend to agree. That way if you get killed, we won't have spent our last night fighting."

"I don't want you to pretend," he tells her, frustration making the words tight. "I want you to understand why it's so important."

"Well I can't," she replies. "I buried you less than a year ago. And to have you risk everything all over again because you're curious  is just a slap in the face."

"You're damned right I'm curious," he says, suddenly angry with her. "I'm curious about why we've been test subjects for years. About why a woman who had all her ova taken was able to conceive a child. About why I was taken before. I'm curious about a whole lot of things and if you can stand here and tell me you're not, then I have to ask myself what happened to the woman I used to know."

"She grew the hell up," Scully informs him. "And she suggests you may want to consider doing the same."

"Yes, your denial is very mature. I'm sure if you just bury your head in the sand the way you always have, we can continue going blithely about our business as though William isn't being raised by a formerly sterile mother and a formerly dead father. Let's just sing Kumbayah and embrace our diversity."

She crosses her arms. "And that's such a repellant idea to you? You can't know everything, Mulder. You can't take on every crusade that comes along."  

He shrugs, looking tired. "Scully, I just want to go down there and see if there's a connection. I'm not going to be careless."

"Were you being careless in Oregon?" There is a terrible sadness in her voice.

Mulder closes his eyes and has nothing left to promise her. "I have to finish packing." He goes out of the kitchen and returns to their bedroom.

She does not plead. She does not cry. She does not throw anything. She goes very still for a time and then makes herself a cup of tea.


****


Mulder comes back in half an hour later, a duffle bag slung over his shoulder. He finds her at the table, peeling the contents of a box of clementines. He straddles a chair backwards, resting his forearms and chin across the top rung. "I don't like us being at odds."

"I don't like it either."

"But I'm still going to go."

Her nails sink mercilessly into another orange. "I know you are."

"And I'm going to come back."

"Sure. Until next time, right? Until the next big lead pops up and then everyone else be damned." A large section of peel drops to the table. Her fingers are fragrant with the bittersweet oils. "I don't know why I thought this would work. I don't know why I thought you could prioritize."

He reaches for her hand, gently prying the orange from it. "I am prioritizing. This is directly related to what happened to us. This is what I've done for as long as you've known me, Scully. I need to know what happened out there, for all our sakes."

"I'm touched."

"This isn't easy for me either."

Scully swallows hard before she looks at him. "Right."

"I'll call when I land, but I don't know how much contact I'll be able to make otherwise." A horn honks outside and Mulder checks his watch. "That's my ride. Scully, I want you to know that I -"

"Just go."


****


Maggie Scully arrives at their apartment at 6:45, where William has just finished nursing. Scully has made him a bowl of oatmeal and some of the sweet potatoes Mulder left in the freezer.

"Hello, Dana," her mother says too brightly. "How's my little man?"

"Starving, apparently. Thanks for helping, Mom. Sorry it's so early."

"That's okay," Maggie assures her, taking the bowl of orange mush. She begins feeding it to William, who grins toothily at her. "Mmm, good," she says encouragingly.

Scully pulls out her phone, scrolling through her agenda. "Well, it's greatly appreciated. I'll be in and out a bit today, but call if you need anything. Plenty of milk in the fridge and there are labeled baggies of baby food in the freezer. I should be home by seven at the absolute latest."

"That's fine. We're going to have a nice time. Say 'ah,' William."

Scully lifts the breast pump off the floor, setting it on the table. She unzips the case to pack a dozen empty bottles into the bag. "Great. Mulder should be back by next Friday at the outside. I'm sorry things can't be more definite."

Her mother makes a non-committal noise and offers William another spoonful of breakfast.

Scully, who ran two pairs of stockings this morning, asks her mother exactly what the noise is supposed to mean.

"It wasn't supposed to mean anything, Dana. It's none of my business." She hands William a pile of Goldfish crackers. He grasps one firmly between his chubby thumb and forefinger, then goes cross-eyed trying to watch himself eat it.

"What's none of your business?" Scully has no idea why she is picking this fight.

Maggie looks heavenward for the briefest of seconds, then turns to her daughter. "He disappears to Mexico for 'a week-ish' on a moment's notice? I thought you were both done with that sort of thing."

"He didn't disappear. I know where he is. He's entitled to some time away, Mom. Taking care of William day in and day out is exhausting for him."

"I know it is," her mother says. "I raised four children while your father was at sea for six months at a time."

Scully pulls her coat on too hard. "Well, I guess you're stronger than the both of us. Congratulations."

"For heaven's sake. It's not a contest, Dana."

"No, it's not," Scully says in a voice like broken glass. She leans down to kiss William's curly head and inhale his clean, soapy scent. "Goodbye, baby. I miss you."

"Mamamamama!" William babbles, then stuffs a cracker in her mouth.

Scully chews it, then kisses his fingers. She looks away before her mother can see her eyes fill up.


****


Scully and William wait just past the security checkpoint at Dulles. William is in his stroller, teething on the tail of a sock monkey. Scully is craning her neck anxiously around the throngs of people flowing through the concourse. She turns to the large screen on the wall to study Mulder's flight information for the thousandth time.

"Any minute now," she tells William. "Won't he be surprised?"

William gnaws on his toy.

The crowd of people thins out, and Scully checks her watch again. "Probably at the back of the plane," she speculates. "That's what happens when you buy your tickets at the eleventh hour. I learned that the hard way over the years."

A woman walks by her in a t-shirt emblazoned with the Mexican flag, then stops at the stroller. "Hello, handsome," she says to William. He bats his eyes and flirts shamelessly. "He's darling," the woman tells Scully.

"Thank you. Um, did you just get back from Mexico City?" Scully asks.

"Yes, I did. It's just beautiful."

"Were there many other people left on the plane?"

She squats down to chuck William under the chin. "No, just me and the stewardesses. I like to wait until everyone gets off and avoid the crush, you know?" She returns her attention to the baby. "You have the prettiest blue eyes, don't you? Yes you do! Aw, look at your monkey. I bet that's your buddy, huh?"

Scully feels like she has been kicked in the stomach. "Thanks. Right. Well, I guess we'll head home."

"Were you waiting for someone? They'll page people."

"I…no. No, I think I just got my dates mixed up." Scully smiles in a self-deprecating way.

The woman straightens back up. "Babies! So distracting." She waves at William and says, "Bye-bye!" before continuing her journey to wherever she calls home.

Scully wheels the stroller around, heading towards the walkway to the garage. She is so angry that there is no space to panic yet, though it will come in time. Because she has unwittingly trained herself to walk tall when she's hurting, her chin tilts slightly higher and her shoulders straighten. She weaves through the obstacle course of people, seeing none of them.


****


Scully spent two hours on the phone with the US embassy in Mexico City, then finally fell into an exhausted sleep. She comes half-awake when she feels his breath on her neck. "Mulder?" she says groggily, before she fully registers that it's an unexpected sensation.

"Hey," he says. "I debated whether or not to wake you. I haven't showered in two days, my luggage is rumored to be somewhere in southeast Asia, and I've brushed my teeth with a stick since my loaner toothbrush fell down a mineshaft."

She sits up in the bed, staring at him. "We went to the airport but you never came."

He looks crestfallen. "Scully, I'm sorry. Our Jeep got a flat on the way to catch the bus to Mexico City and I had to catch a later flight."

"I thought you weren't coming back."

"Scully -"

She takes his hand and traces the fan of his metacarpals as she speaks. "That's a problem, Mulder. It's a problem that I had cause to think it. We can't move forward if this old life is going to dog us every step of the way."

"I agree," he tells her, propping himself up against the headboard. "But for a different reason."

She looks up at this, puzzled.

"You risk your life when you leave here every day, Scully. And never have I given you any guilt about that. Not once. Because I know what it means to you to do what you do. I went to Mexico to try and find the missing pieces of what happened to us so that we can move forward with a clear understanding of what we're up against. I don't want the past to dog us either, but it will if we can't make sense of it and know what it means for the future. If you can't trust that - if you can't trust me - then this isn't ever going to work out."

Scully gazes at him for a minute that stretches on for eons. Then she slides over, tucking her head under his chin. "What did you find?"

He wraps his arms around her. "A lot of Mexican government officials with fully automatic weapons and an impressive grasp of English vulgarities."

"And?"

"And scorched trees and grass in a large circular area with a diameter of about 100 meters."

Scully plays with the buttons on the front of the faded blue shirt he's wearing. "The archaeologists?"

"Nothing. They were trying to say that the researchers were from a foreign team whose visas had expired and so they were sent back home, but that's so clearly bullshit it's laughable. Then they started shooting and we headed for the hills. Spent a few days hiding out and watching them sanitize the area. I got some pictures, but it doesn't amount to much."

"I'm sorry," she says. Genuinely.

"It's okay. Oh, hey, I got you a present." Mulder reaches into his pocket and pulls out a small jadeite figurine. "This is One-Hunahpu. He's sort of like the Mayan god of basketball. But he lost an important game and his head was turned into a calabash. It had the power to impregnate virgins."

She takes the small stone carving. It feels cool and heavy in her hand. "You went to Mexico and all I got was this lousy statue?"

"Well, I got you a t-shirt too. But it's probably somewhere in Cambodia right now."

"I like it," she says. "Thank you."

"Sneaking around a highly classified scene wasn't the same without you," he murmurs into her hair. "It's not as fun when you aren't around to be coaxed into lawlessness."

She laughs softly. "Working at the FBI isn't quite as thrilling without the constant threat of professional disgrace."

He strokes her jaw with his thumb. "Thinking of quitting?"

"No. You?"

"Not unless you're going to turn me over the CIA or something."

"No," she breathes. "No, I don't think that will be necessary."

"I thought if I wanted to stop caring, I could. I tried. But I think this is the only person I know how to be."

She tilts her face up to look at him in a silver slice of moonlight. Her hands, which kill and heal, tug his warm weight down over her.

Chapter Text

February 7, 2002


"He's getting restless." The Morley has burned down nearly to the filter. "He needs a project. That trip to Tlaxcala was an unforeseen glitch."

"Doggett and Reyes have the X-Files now. Do you want him back at the FBI?"

He stubs out the last embers of the cigarette. "No. Something different. I want him occupied with an equally interesting but less personally consuming project."

"Very good, sir. And Scully?"

"Agent Scully now has the attentions of all the right people and can make her own way."

The silver lighter flares, and a haze of smoke settles about him like a mantle.

Chapter Text

July 17th, 2002


"BIRD!" shouts William, reaching towards a fat, greasy-looking pigeon.

"No," says Mulder firmly. "They're plague vectors with wings. Have you not heard your mother's rant about psittacosis?"

"Bird," William repeats, holding his small pink hands out beseechingly. "Come. Yim."

"The bird will not come to William. The bird will only come if you have food and you dumped your Cheerios overboard when we turned onto M Street."

William, now reminded that he has been starved for several blocks, begins to wail. Mulder passes him a plastic key ring, which is promptly flung to the pavement. "Ohs! Dadadada! OHS!"

"We're having lunch with your grandmother. Hang in there for a few more minutes and you will be rewarded with pizza."

Mulder retrieves the toy, then trots briskly down the sidewalk. William screeches at an increasingly higher pitch until they stop in front of Pizzeria Paradiso. Maggie Scully stands outside, and her face lights up when she sees Mulder and the small passenger in his futuristic stroller.

"Nana!" squeals William, holding his arms out. "Up. Upupup."

Maggie unbuckles William, then scoops him out. He pats her face with sticky hands before cramming the fingers of his right hand into his mouth and humming quietly.

"Hello, Mulder."

"How are you, Maggie?"

They have come to an unspoken agreement that Fox and Mrs. Scully would be passive-aggressive.

"I'm good, thank you. I missed you all while I was away. Bill and Tara send their love."

Mulder refrains from further comment as he holds the door open. Maggie walks under his arm. He pulls the stroller in and lets the door close behind them while Maggie settles William into a highchair.

When the pseudo-goth waitress glides over, Mulder orders a pizza for himself and William to share. Maggie orders a salad with tuna and cannellini. William contents himself with banging his sippy cup against the tray as the grownups talk.

"I haven't heard from Dana since I got back," Maggie says, squeezing her lemon wedge into her water. She stirs in a packet of Splenda.

"She's out of town right now. Salt Lake City."

"Is she working on a case?"

No, thinks Mulder. We're looking into polygamy and she's off doing research. He avoids chit-chat at the best of times, and the layer of tension that enfolds these meetups makes it even more irritating than usual. "There's a group of anti-government separatists in southeastern Wyoming with possible ties to a group she's been investigating in Garrett County."

"Oh," says Maggie. "Yes, I remember that. They were in the news. The leader, Kyle Strauth, went to College Park the same time as Dana. Isn't that a funny coincidence?"

"Haha." The laugh sounds phony even to him, and Mulder is grateful when the food arrives a few minutes later. He cuts up a slice into bite-sized chunks for William, then sprinkles pepper flakes on a piece for himself.

Maggie twirls her fork through the garnish on her plate as she watches her grandson convey pizza to his mouth."Is it dangerous, what she's doing?" Her tone is artificially light.

Mulder feels a pang of remorse for the awkwardness that still exists between them. "She's not doing field work like before. She's managing teams of agents who will handle the investigative avenues." He hopes he sounds comforting.

"She's got a knack for that sort of thing. Organization, I mean."

"Yes, she has. Skinner thinks there's every chance of her being made an Assistant Special Agent in Charge within a year or two."

"That's good."

"It's very good. Maggie, she's going to be okay. She's happy and she's getting to do exactly what she always wanted. She's making a difference."

Maggie nods, then sips at her water. "You never stop worrying. But I guess you know that now."

He cuts up more pizza for William. "I do."

"You know, Bill never changed any of the kids' diapers. It wasn't some kind of overt chauvinism or anything. It just didn't occur to him. Men weren't expected to have that level of involvement with their children."

"Yeah, I think it was the same with my dad." Mulder pretends to eat William's pudgy, tomato-stained hand and is rewarded with delighted shrieks.

Maggie smiles. "We didn't breastfeed back then either. They told us formula was better. More scientific. They gave you a pill to dry the milk up and set you home with strict instructions to feed the baby on a firm schedule, no matter what. I followed the rules with Bill Jr. and Melissa, but by the time Dana was born, I just gave her a bottle when she seemed hungry. She was an easier baby for it. Charlie too." Maggie chews a forkful of tuna contemplatively.

"I'm sure William will grow up and laugh at the idea of tummy time because they'll have discovered some brilliant new approach by the time his kids come along."

Maggie takes a deep breath. "When they…found you, the plan was that I was going to watch William two days a week and Dana was going to hire a nanny for the other three. I was so excited to have a grandchild nearby! I offered to watch him all five days, but Dana was afraid it would be too much for me. And then, when you came back and she told me you'd be staying home with him, I was incredulous. Forgive me, but I never considered you the most responsible of people." She looks both embarrassed and relieved by this unburdening.

"You're in good company," he assures her.  William, oblivious to the conversation at hand, gnaws happily on his father's discarded pizza crust.

She laughs nervously. "Well. Be that as it may, you've just…what I mean is that I'm incredibly impressed. I don't think he could be in better hands."

"Thank you," Mulder says. "Maggie, the School of Forensic Science at GW is working with the FBI and Interpol to create a detailed database to help profile violent serial offenders. I have been invited to help head up the project. It would be two days a week for now, and I can do the rest from home while he naps. If I accept, would you be willing to take care of William while I'm at work?"

She looks surprised, then elated. "When do you start?"

Chapter Text

February 26, 2003


Skinner rests his fork on the edge of his plate. "Forget it, Scully. You know I can't. I'm not your direct supervisor anymore. You'll have to discuss it with SAC Robison."

Scully sighs, uncrossing her legs as she leans forward. "I was hoping to have an answer from you before I went to SAC Robison. It'll make a better case to present when I request the resources. Your approval on requiring that seminar for my team would go a long way, sir."

He had already decided to give in before they started eating. The discussion was merely a formality. "Look, I'll try and put in a good word for you, but I'm not making any promises."

Scully takes a drink of her ice water and tries not to look smug.

"You seem to be adapting well to the world of the desk-bound, Scully. How do you like admin?"

"I like it very much, actually. I think coming off of maternity leave made the whole transition much easier for me. It was a good buffer. And I've certainly come to empathize greatly with your position."

"You'd better be careful, Scully. What goes around comes around."

She laughs. "I can only hope you're mistaken. Though it is nice to draw on some of my own experiences to help prevent others from making some of the mistakes I did."

Skinner's expression turns serious. "Well, it's good to see you doing so well. Over the years I had my doubts about whether or not you'd live long enough to make it here. And I'm not talking about the cancer."

"Sir, I -  

He plows ahead. "Finding Mulder dead was not a shock to me. Or if it was, I was only shocked not to have found one of you dead sooner. The risks you took were well beyond the call of duty and, quite frankly, I'm very glad to see you both finished with it."

Scully's face tightens. "Our work was outside the normal realm. On occasion, it necessitated extraordinary measures."

"I thought he was going to get you killed, Dana. I didn't want your name up next to Reggie Perdue's."

"If I had died, it wouldn't have been because he 'got' me killed. I always went with him of my own volition." Her voice is as cold and white as the weather.

"It wasn't my intention to offend you, but I -"

"Your concern is appreciated."

The silence stretches on a beat too long. It is broken by a muffled chirp from Scully's pocket. She withdraws her phone and glances down at it. "Excuse me," she says. "I need to answer this e-mail."

Skinner signals the waiter for the bill. Then he turns his attention back to Scully, whose brow is creased as she composes her reply. Skinner often forgets that she is beautiful and is always faintly surprised when he notices.

She wears her good looks like her sidearm - both inextricable facts of her existence. She will flirt if she has to and she will shoot if she has to, but it is her expressed preference to have to do neither. Scully oils her gun, runs long miles, and concedes to the necessity of flattering makeup and well-cut suits.

She hits send, then pockets her phone. "I never could decide if cell phones made civilization more or less efficient," she remarks.

They argue briefly when the check arrives. Scully wins, sending it back with a generous tip.

"So," Skinner says as he gets up. "Can I give you a lift? It's starting to snow."

Scully rises from the chair, and together they walk to the coat check. "Thank you, but Mulder's meeting me here. We're attending a lecture at the Air and Space Museum. His choice." She hands the claim ticket to the clerk and slips her coat on when it arrives.

Skinner has enough sense not to ask her what the lecture is on. "Enjoy. I'll let you know what I hear. If anything."

"I can't tell you how much I appreciate this."

"Well, don't thank me yet." Through the front window, he sees Mulder pull up to the curb.

Scully smiles briefly, then turns to head out into the biting wind. Skinner watches her from inside as she climbs into the waiting sedan. He wonders what they talk about after a decade in cars together. Mulder who is always searching, and Scully who never gives anything away.

Chapter Text

October 8th, 2003


Mulder sprawls across the black leather sofa in what is shortly to be his new home office. "It's so good to see you," he tells it. "We'll never be parted again."

"A boy and his couch. It's like a Norman Rockwell painting," Scully says, setting down a cardboard box on the desk. She picks up a container of fish food and taps a few flakes into the aquarium which is, for now, resting on the desk.

"She's just jealous," Mulder murmurs to the armrest. "She doesn't understand our love."

"Well, I'll leave you two to catch up on old times in a minute. The movers just brought in the last of the stuff from the storage unit and you need to tell them where it goes. I figured you'd want it all in here, but I don't want to have to move it twice."

"Here's good," he says. "Just have them bring it in and I'll go through it later. Where's the child?"

"With Byers. They're building the Pentagon on the Lego table in the living room." She gestures vaguely towards to front of the house.

"I thought he said Legos were communist?"

"No, he said that Legos encourage conformity. Rainbow Fish is the alleged communist."

"Rainbow Fish is a communist. So. We're homeowners now, Scully. Are you going to join the gardening club? I'm thinking of taking up golf, myself." He swings his legs out of the way as she sits down, then rests them across her lap.

"At least there aren't any draconian CC&Rs," she says. "We can get that pink flamingo you always wanted."

"How John Waters of us. I like playing house with you, Laura."

She smirks. "I bet you do, Rob. But if you're going to whisper sweet nothings to the couch, I may let you sleep with it from now on."

"You're drunk with power now, ASAC Scully. Pride goeth before the fall. You corrupt government officials never learn."

She laughs. "I thought power was supposed to be an aphrodisiac."

He stretches. "Mmm. Maybe so. You know, Claire Dorsey's left me three messages about that teaching position at GW. She's the co-chair of the Psych department. Apparently she has a deep interest in the paranormal and used to follow my career a bit. Anyway, I'm thinking of taking it. Lecture halls full of impressionable co-eds…"

"You'd be like the Indiana Jones of behavioral science."

"You mean I'd bastardize a noble field of study?"

She runs her hand up his leg. "You'd be the sexy professor who made all the girls develop a sudden, intense passion for criminal profiling."

"Well, that's kind of you, Scully. But I'm without the nameless mystique of Daniel Waterston."

He ducks, and the paperback novel she hurls glances harmlessly off the wall behind him.

Mulder reaches over to retrieve the book. "The Five People You Meet In Heaven? Really? You're now a fan of The Oprah?"

"Bill sent it at Christmastime."

"Of course he did."

 They hear a tentative knock at the doorframe and look up to see Frohike with a bottle of champagne. "Forgive the intrusion, but thought I'd offer a libation to the gods of domesticity on your behalf. Langly's looking for something to drink out of."

Mulder gets to his feet and pulls Scully up. He blows a kiss to the sofa, laughing as she rolls her eyes. They follow Frohike out to the kitchen, navigating through a maze of furniture and cardboard. Scully pauses to direct the movers to Mulder's office. They nod and walk past her, one of them nearly tripping over William's train table.

Maggie Scully is at the sink washing mugs as Langly dries them. The countertop is a tumble of crumpled newspaper and bubble wrap. "It's true," he tells her. "The military-industrial complex wants us to keep things peaceful with Japan so that our gamers can collaborate with their gamers and continue to develop software programs that will desensitize American children to violence and create a generation of remorseless automatons with deadly accuracy and itchy trigger fingers. They're creating super-soldiers, Mrs. S. We're doing a piece on it in next month's issue. Do you subscribe to our 'zine?"

"I'm…I don't…what?" she stammers.

"Now, now," says Mulder, stepping around four semi-unpacked boxes of china on the floor. "Watch out or you'll give us paranoid government conspiracy types a bad name." He picks up a mug which reads, 'The glass is now half empty,' and is marked with a horizontal black line. "Where's the bubbly, Frohike?"

Frohike peels the foil off the top of the bottle and looks contemptuous. "Bubbly? It's Pol Roger, mi amigo. Winston Churchill's favorite champagne. And '02 was a very good year for champagnes, so let's not denigrate this by calling it bubbly. Oh, and there's sparkling apple juice for Will," he adds, as Byers and William enter the kitchen. They are wearing balloon hats. Static cling holds Styrofoam packing peanuts to their clothing.

"I has a hat," William remarks.

"Yes," agrees Scully. "You have a hat. Did Byers make it for you?"

"He make the hats. Of bawoons and rumble bands."

"They're lovely," Scully says. "Thank you, Byers." Byers nods, managing to look dignified beneath his elaborate headwear. He selects a Dilbert mug from the drain board.

"I need cookies," says William, rubbing his eyes and yawning.

You need a nap, thinks Scully as she lifts him up.

He flings his hat to floor. "Noooo! No naps!"

Scully's eyes go wide. William kicks, reaching for his father.

"Hey," says Mulder. "None of that, thank you. No one said anything about a nap. I have some special juice for you in a minute. Fizzy juice. Grown-up juice. But only if you can calm down." He takes his son.

Scully, looking uncertain, picks up the balloon hat from the floor. She sticks it on her head. William laughs, and she puts the peculiar coincidence from her mind.

Frohike dispenses the champagne into the clean mugs, then passes them out. He pours sparkling cider into one for William. "Ahem," he says. "Your attention please. I have now known Mulder for fourteen years. And since that first encounter, I have helped him break into government facilities, flee shadowy agents, hack mainframes, and otherwise stick it to The Man."

"Hear, hear!" intones Mulder, raising his mug.

"Be careful," says Scully. "I am The Man," Then she turns beet red when she realizes that she has handed Mulder a one-liner on a silver platter. "Don't you dare," she warns from beneath her multicolored crown.

"Wouldn't dream of it," Mulder replies, but he is grinning widely.

Maggie feigns cluelessness and continues popping a sheet of bubble wrap.

"Anyway," continues Frohike, clearing his throat dramatically. "In all that time, we never imagined that we'd one day be helping him and Scully move into a tidy Northern Virginia existence. But I'm sure you'll all join me in wishing them well and reminding Scully that there is nothing legally binding about their relationship and she is free to take Will and run as soon as she comes to her senses."

There is laughter and the sound of porcelain clinking. William shouts "Cheers!" with everyone else. Scully takes him back as he finishes the juice. He buries his face in her neck.

Mulder claps Frohike on the shoulder. "That was beautiful. I'm deeply moved."

"She's still tasty, Mulder. More so, actually."

Mulder takes a sip from his mug. "Sixty-four was a very good year for reds."

Chapter Text

May 20, 2004


"Happy birthday dear William, happy birthday to you!" Everyone in the room applauds and William beams as he blows out the candles on his cake. Mulder lifts him up from the table before he can stick his hands in the frosting. Scully takes the cake over to the counter to slice it up.

"I can't believe he's three," Monica Reyes says, separating a stack of plates. "It feels like just yesterday you were pregnant and we were looking for Mulder. And now here you are, all together."

"Time certainly has flown," Scully agrees as she cuts the thick chocolate cake into even pieces.

"Nancy Anne Tappe would probably sense an indigo aura about William," Monica says, transferring cake from the platter to the dessert plates.

Scully smiles, reminded of how she's missed Mulder's outlandish theories at work.  "I believe I read that Nancy Anne Tappe reports sensing indigo auras in 97% of all children under ten."

"I didn't know you were familiar with the concept."

"Have you met Mulder? I'm familiar with everything."

Monica laughs. "Are you thinking of having any more?"

Scully coughs lightly and swipes at the icing on the knife with her finger. "Mulder had a vasectomy," she whispers. "It was my fortieth birthday present."

Monica blinks. "Oh. I, um…congratulations?"

"Thank you," she says, laughing. "William asked about a brother or sister around New Year's. Mulder and I discussed the idea, but ultimately we felt like one was enough. We are, as they say, getting too old for this. Are you and Henry thinking about kids at all?"

"Oh, all along. We've both always wanted kids." She holds her wrist out for Scully's inspection. "I've been wearing a moonstone bracelet and Henry carries mandrake in his pocket all the time. Just in case." She grins a little sheepishly. "He's sort of into New Agey things, you know."

Had this information come from her sister, Scully would have rolled her eyes and then asked if they'd considered sex. She squeezes Monica's shoulder. "Well, good luck to you both. I think you'll be wonderful parents. When does the cast come off his leg?" She loads a serving tray up with plates and Monica does the same.

"The doctor says his hip should be okay in about two weeks. People don't realize what a dangerous sport cheese rolling really is."

They walk to the living room and Frohike lets out a wolf whistle. "You know what's better than one hot woman jumping out of a cake? Two hot women carrying a cake."

"Preparing for your audience at Buckingham Palace?" Mulder asks, getting up help distribute plates. "Stop trying to make the rest of us look so seedy with your refined discourse. Don't be afraid to tell him to shove it, Henry." He unloads Monica's tray as Maggie helps Scully.

"I'll remember that," says Henry, scratching his blond goatee. He is good-natured and enjoys the lively weirdness of Mulder and Scully's gatherings. Monica sets the tray on the breakfast bar before taking a seat next to him. He puts an arm around her shoulders, the sleeve of tattoos along his arm highlighted against her white shirt.

Scully settles onto the floor to eat her dessert. William walks over, then sits in her lap. "No more babies?" he says, patting her face with star-shaped hands. "No more babies for your birthday?"

Scully almost chokes on a mouthful of food. "Excuse me?" she asks, glaring at Mulder. He holds his hands up, giving her his "wasn't me" face.

"Who told you that, honey?" she asks William.

"I hearded you say it."

Scully curses herself while kissing his head. "We'll talk about it later."

Langly walks over with an enormous box covered in tree-frog wrapping paper and sets it on the floor by Scully's knee. "Hey, Will-man. Present time."

William thanks him as he tears the paper away to reveal a box with a picture of a retro tricycle on the side. "A bike!" he crows. "A red one!" There is applause from the other guests.

"It has a bell you can ring," Byers says. "And a basket."

"Now you can cruise for babes," Frohike adds. "Those preschool girls like a guy with his own set of wheels."

There is a knock at the door, which Skinner answers like the world's surliest butler. "What?" he demands of the woman on the porch.

She hands him a large, gift-wrapped box. "Happy birthday." She walks away as Skinner stares after her for a moment. Then he goes inside and shuts the door. "It's a present," he says.

"From whom?" Scully inquires.

Skinner shrugs. "Maybe there's a card inside." He hands the parcel to Mulder, who takes it to the kitchen table.

"I want my preeeesent," William whines, squirming in his mother's lap as he hears the tantalizing crinkle of wrapping paper from the other room.

Mulder stares down at the white box. He lifts the lid off, revealing a shimmer of grey silk tied with a red ribbon. He pulls the bundle out, tugging impatiently at the bow, and the fabric falls away to reveal an antique rag doll. He closes his eyes, takes a deep breath, and then carries the toy out to his son.

"Happy birthday," he says, handing the gift over.

"Lookit the doll," says William, holding it proudly over his head. "It's a daddy doll."

"Good-lookin' guy. You gotta get him a nice Barbie to hang out with," Frohike advises.

Scully stares up at Mulder. "The one upstairs…?"

"The girl one was Samantha's and this one was mine. It got lost one summer at the Vineyard. I thought it did, anyway." He watches his son play and tries to tell himself that the fabric doesn't carry a hint of stale smoke.

Chapter Text

August 3, 2004


"We'll be touching down at down at Shannon in approximately ten minutes," the captain says over the intercom. "Local time is nine forty-six AM and the local temperature is eighteen degrees Celsius. Thank you for flying Aer Lingus."

Mulder cringes at the thought of waking his sleeping son up for the two hour car ride to Galway.

William spent the first hour of the flight shrieking because his ears wouldn't pop. Then he shrieked when they did. His parents finally calmed him enough to get him engaged in some of the many toys and books they had packed, but those halcyon moments were cut short by William becoming so involved in a Stuart Little coloring book that he peed all over the seat.

Scully took him to the miniscule airplane bathroom to get cleaned up while Mulder thanked every deity he could name that they had sprung for first class seats. Wiping urine off leather was far better than trying to wring it from cloth.

The flight attendants were understanding, but the nattily dressed woman in the seat across from them looked at Mulder and remarked that pets were not allowed to travel in the cabin and she thought the rule for small children out to be the same. Mulder informed her that he if he had a giant stick up his surgically enhanced ass, he'd be cranky too. He went on to explain that his traveling companion was a physician and would be happy to remove said stick free of charge and then, possibly, beat her with it.

The woman pursed her lips and went back to reading The Da Vinci Code, which Mulder thought said everything about her that he needed to know.

Scully returned a moment later with a clean but restless boy who demanded to be walked up and down the aisles for the next two hours. He finally fell asleep watching clouds as Scully sang herself hoarse with endless choruses of "You Are My Sunshine."

Mulder's daydreaming is interrupted by a piercing scream from William, whose ears hurt again. Scully startles awake and makes vague remarks about ketamine for the flight home. He doesn't ask whether or not she's kidding.


****


Larissa Sullivan was twenty-two, her parents were dead, and she had just finished a degree in architecture at Cornell. She lived six miles from the Scullys' house in San Diego and had met Charlie at a pool hall where he was half-drunk on beer purchased two months before the National Minimum Drinking Age Act would be passed. Charlie wore a Culture Club t-shirt under a teal linen jacket with the sleeves rolled to his elbows. His acid-washed jeans were full of fashionable holes, a sartorial concession which had made Captain Scully rant about damned hooligans living in his house. Larissa was dressed like a neo-Dickensian street urchin. She had an enormous bow in her hair. Charlie was captivated by her beautiful face and her Doc Martens.

"Hey," he said to her. "You come here often?"

"That's a shitty pickup line," Larissa said. "And yes, I do. Which you'd know if you did." She turned her back to him and continued drinking her gin and tonic.

"I just turned eighteen," Charlie said to her red bra strap and her cascade of crimped chocolate-colored hair. "You can't fault a guy for upholding the law."

Larissa turned around again, regarding him with amusement. "You're a baby," she said. "That's cute. Let me give you a piece of advice, Mr. Upstanding Citizen. This place is a shithole and all the women here are jaded and condescending. None of them will fuck you. Seek life elsewhere."

Charlie touched his hand to the lacquered surface of his hair. "You want to go anywhere better then?"

She sighed. "You really can't take a hint, can you?"

"I'm the youngest of four. If I listened every time someone told me to shut up and go away, they would have found my dead body in the woods years ago."

Larissa actually smiled at this.

Encouraged, he stuck out his hand. "My name's Charlie."

She shook it, her fingerless lace glove soft against his skin. "I'm happy for you."

"You're not going to tell me your name?"

"It's not going to do you any good anyway, sport."

Charlie reached across the bar to grab a cherry from the garnish tray. He pulled the stem off, popped it into his mouth and, after a moment of odd facial expressions, removed it. The stem was tied neatly in a knot. He set it on a napkin and passed it to Larissa.

Larissa played with her lime twist, appraising Charlie anew.


****


When Captain Scully found out that he was to become a grandfather, he was nearly apoplectic. "Charles Vincent Scully, you are going to make your intentions clear to this woman right now and marry her. Your mother and I did not raise you to drag our names through the mud."

"Bill, be reasonable. He's barely eighteen years old. We'll work something out, but let's talk to the girl first."

"Reasonable? REASONABLE? Margaret, our son has seen fit to bring a child into this world and he's going to have to man up and face the consequences."

"You think marriage is a consequence?" piped Melissa, who was home for a visit that she now planned to cut short. "That's messed up. Though worth noting."

"Watch it," Captain Scully growled. "Charles, put on something respectable, for God's sake. You're a father now."


****


They parked in the lot beside Larissa's building. Bill Scully got out and closed his eyes briefly as he waited for his son to join him. They walked up to the door. Charlie sucked in a deep lungful of air before pressing the buzzer on the brick wall. "Hey. It's Charlie. And, uh, my dad."

There was a longish pause, then the door beeped and they entered. They walked up two flights of stairs to arrive at Larissa's door, which was already open.

"Hey, Charlie," she said. "And you must be Captain Scully."

"I am. May we come in." It wasn't a question. Larissa stepped aside to let them enter.

"So what's up?" she asked, settling on the couch. She picked up a can of ginger ale and took a long drink.

"What is 'up' is that you are now pregnant with my son's child. Charles wishes to do the right thing and marry you."

Larissa laughed, setting her beverage back down. "Is that so? Because Charlie looks more like a prisoner of war than a valiant suitor."

Charlie smiled faintly and Larissa winked at him. Captain Scully glowered.

"The truth is I haven't quite decided if I'm going to keep the baby yet. So this is rather premature. In any case, I don't particularly care to be married just yet, and Charlie's heading to Berkeley soon."

"He's doing nothing of the kind. He's staying here and raising his child."

Charlie's jaw dropped. "Dad! I busted my ass for that scholarship!"

"You should have thought of that before you spent an evening with this…lady. Miss Sullivan, my wife and I will take the child in if you don't wish to raise it. We can work something out with an attorney that will be mutually acceptable to all parties."

"When I said I wasn't sure about keeping the baby, I meant I'm thinking of having an abortion."

Bill Scully actually found himself speechless.

Larissa got to her feet and crossed her arms. "Actually, I think you'd better go," she said to him. "Charlie and I need some privacy."

"That's what got you into this mess," he spat at her, as he stood and drew himself to his full height. "I am not leaving my son here alone with you to compound his sins."

"Whatever," Larissa said. "I can hardly get more pregnant. Anyway, this is my home and I am ordering you the hell out of it. Sir."

His face reddened nearly to purple, Bill grabbed his son's arm. "Let's go," he said in a voice shaking with rage. "You gave me no indication of what sort of woman we were dealing with. You, madam, will be hearing from my lawyer before you murder my grandchild."

Charlie didn't move.

"Charles, I said let's go."

"I'm not going anywhere."

"The hell you're not. You're going to go downstairs, get in the car, go home, and we're going to figure out what to do about this."

"Dad, there's nothing to do. She doesn't know if she wants to have the baby. She doesn't want to get married. Are you gonna drag her to Father Bennett by her hair? Let me stay and talk to her and we'll figure something out. I'll be home in a few hours." Charlie Scully had never in his life spoken to his father this way.

"You come home now, or you don't come home," the captain ground out between clenched teeth.

Charlie looked at Larissa, who smiled and shrugged. He straightened his shoulders, then turned back to Captain Scully. "Bye," he said.


****


Mulder, Scully, and William head up the stone path to Charlie and Larissa's house just outside of Galway. "I'm about sick of those damned roundabouts," Mulder grouses as William stops to examine a small stone fountain. "A few traffic lights wouldn't kill them."

"Well, we're here now," Scully says. She hasn't seen her brother and sister in law since they had a layover at BWI during her second trimester. "Will, be careful. Don't break Uncle Charlie's nice fountain."

"I am being careful." He leans over the rim to snatch at a goldfish when Mulder catches him by the shirt.

"Nice try. Come on. We'll look at the fountain later. We're here for ten days."

They troop up to the porch and Scully is about to knock when the door swings open. Standing in the entrance is a tall woman with wavy brown hair, green eyes, and a dazzling smile.

"You're here!" she yells as they file in. "Oh, Dana! Come here and let me hug you. And William! My, what a handsome boy you hatched into. Mulder, it's so good to finally meet you." Larissa is everywhere at once, kissing cheeks and commenting on how happy she is to see everyone. "Come on. Charlie and Jane are grilling some chicken out on the patio. Simon's due in an hour or so." She turns and walks down the hall on traffic-stopping legs.

"That's Larissa?" Mulder asks. "No wonder Charlie didn't go home with your dad."

"You've seen pictures," Scully reminds him.

"The effect is different in person."  

Scully laughs. "She's always been gorgeous. I think my dad could have forgiven her if she'd been plain, but with those looks, he was convinced she was the spawn of Lilith."

"Well played, Charlie."

Scully takes William's hand as they walk through the house. The décor is a tribute to all of the places that Charlie and Larissa have lived through the years as her firm bounced them from one exotic locale to another. Right now they are in Ireland for two years while she works on restoring a 17th century manor house to baronial splendor.

They walk past the kitchen to a pair of French doors that lead outside to a flagstone patio. A man with chin-length red hair is standing at the grill with a pretty dark-haired girl of about fourteen. They are laughing and throwing grapes into the flames to make them pop and sizzle while Larissa watches.

"Oh my God," Scully says. "Jane was just a little girl the last time I saw her. She's all grown up."

"Who's Jane?" William asks. "Who's that guy?"

"Jane is your cousin and that's my brother Charlie. Remember?"

"No. I'm sleepy. This house smells funny. Can we go home?" He rubs his eyes.

Scully tugs William with her as she and Mulder walk outside. William ducks behind a stand of feather reed grass to sulk.

"Dana!" Charlie shouts, jogging over to give her a hug so enthusiastic it lifts her off the ground. "It's so awesome that you're here. And Mulder! Hey, man."  He lets go of his sister to shake Mulder's hand.

"Good to meet you," Mulder says. "I hear nice things."

Charlie laughs. "Sure you do." He then crouches down and looks around the patio. "If there are any cool little dudes hanging hereabouts, they should come out. Jane and I found some pretty neat toys to play with."

William peeks his head around a small shrub. "I'm cool. What kind of toys?"

"You have on a Rolling Stones t-shirt. You're totally cool. We have a wooden castle with knights and a catapult and stuff. And puzzles and books and a fishing rod thingie. Plus Simon dug out his RC helicopter. How does that sound?"

William looks up at his parents. "Can I go see the helicopter now?"

"If Uncle Charlie says it's okay," Scully answers, sprawling in a large deck chair.

Charlie ruffles his nephew's hair. "Sure thing. It's way more fun than boring grownup talk. Jane, if he's okay with it, take Will over to see the helicopter, would you? Simon left everything behind the shed."

Jane walks over, holding her hand out to William. "Hi. Come with me and I'll show you all the toys if you want. I'll give you guys a better hello later." William takes her hand, smiling shyly, and trots off beside her.

Charlie pokes his sister in the shoulder as he stands up. "Cute kid, Dana. So when are you gonna ship him out to sea like the rest of the respectable Scully men? I mean, he's illegitimate, but I think the tradition still stands. They ought to have Matthew bound for Iraq or some shit soon, right? Simon is, like me, decidedly disreputable."

"Charlie," Larissa warns from the hammock. "Don't be an asshole."

"I'm not being an asshole! Personally, I think bastard children turn out the best. We didn't get married until Jane was two, you recall. No hard feelings, Danes. I'm just saying Mom and Dad were respectably married and the four of us were fuckups in many diverse ways. While our own kids seem so decent."

Mulder takes the chair next to Scully. Charlie may be the official black sheep of the Scully family,  but Mulder suspects ten days here will more than make up for the miserable few he spent in the home of the venerated Bill.

"So," Larissa says. "How was your flight?"

"Very long," they both answer.

"Sweet crapping Christ on cracker," Charlie says as he walks over to the cooler to take out some beers. "You two sound like an old married couple already."

"Well, we worked together for almost a decade," Scully says, defensively. "Besides, it was a long flight."

Charlie hands her a beer, then passes one to Mulder. "Yeah, yeah. Just start drinking before you begin telling amusing anecdotes about one another's grooming habits. That's the death knell for your fitness in polite society." He walks to the hammock and climbs in, stretching out next to his wife. "So, Mulder. Tell me about my sister. Is she still kind of an uptight control freak? I mean that in the nicest way possible, of course."

Scully gives him a dark look.

"She's very organized," Mulder says diplomatically, taking a drink from the bottle. "Scully's -" He bites off the next word and begins again. "Dana is -"

"Scully?" Charlie repeats delightedly. "Awesome. Dana, I always saw you with some slick, well-heeled surgeon. You know, living in a McMansion somewhere with badly named children and a stupid little dog. But you've managed to surprise me."

"I live to make you happy, Charlie."

"Yeah, too bad you're still a professional narc. We used to have fun back in the day. Remember when Missy and that sketchy guy Sloop were staying with me and Larissa? Simon was like four and you -"

"No," Scully says too sharply. "I don't."

"The hell you don't." Mulder leans forward, resting his forearms on his knees. "What happened, Charlie?"

Charlie stretches, propping his head up on his hands. "Way back in 1989, your woman - who had a taste for blue eye shadow and big hair -"

"Charlie, don't make me hurt you."

"Please. I could kick your ass, short-stack. Where was I?"

"Big hair," supplies Mulder.

"Yes. Good man. Okay, so Dana was spending a weekend with us. She was all, 'I'm practically a doctor, you guys. Here, let me name all of your bones and muscles and tell you what horrible diseases you probably have.' "

Scully is shooting daggers at her brother while Mulder listens in rapt enjoyment. "She's still a little geeky," he tells Charlie. "Which has always been a point in her favor," he adds in response to Scully's glare.

"So," Charlie continues. "She was pissing all of us off. We sent Simon to stay with some friends for the night and decided to get Dana stoned. Just to mellow her out."

"Charlie, I'm really going to kill you if you finish this story."

"Charlie, I'm really going to kill you if you don't finish this story."

Larissa giggles. "Remember the bar?"

"Patience, woman. Don't disrupt my narrative flow. So Larissa bakes these brownies loaded with so much weed it's amazing we didn't get toasted from the fumes alone. And little hundred-pound Dana obliviously eats like three of them. And she's walking around telling us all how much she really, deeply, totally loves us."

Mulder is grinning so widely that his cheeks ache. Scully takes a long drink and looks like a woman awaiting her execution.

"Then Missy starts working on some crochet thing and Dana's going on about how the yarn is so beautiful and it's like the web of humankind and the whole world is so magical with the flowers and bunnies and rainbows. She's got her eyes closed and she's going, 'Larissa, Melissa, Larissa, Melissa' over and over and giggling. Then she goes into the kitchen for a drink and disappears for about fifteen minutes. So Larissa goes in after her and -"

"She was under the table eating a stick of butter and a package of frozen waffles and crying because John Lennon was dead."

Mulder laughs until his stomach hurts.

"It gets better," Larissa says. "We took her to this bar - what was it called, Dana?"

"House of Brews." Scully has reconciled herself to the situation. "New Orleans themed."

"Yeah, that was it. So we go in and it's open mike night and Dana runs up onstage and starts belting out Sweet Home Alabama into the microphone. But in this slow, stoner drawl. She got a standing ovation."

"She loves the classic rock," Mulder says, chuckling.

"I sang Dancing Queen too," Scully recalls. "And Bohemian Rhapsody. Charlie finally had to drag me offstage."

"I lured her with a package of Oreos," Charlie adds. "She ate about half of it before she fell asleep on the table. I guess it was her last hurrah, because ten months later, she went and joined the FBI and got on the Captain's shit list." A bitter edge creeps into his voice.

Scully looks down. "He tried to be understanding, Charlie. He really did."

"You're such a loyal soldier, Dana. You were his favorite until then. Missy and I were always the frank disappointments."

"He loved all of us."

From the corner of his eye, Mulder sees Larissa emerge from the hammock. She coughs slightly, walking over to him. "Let's go see how Jane and William are doing, shall we?"

"I love helicopters." He gets up, then follows her off the patio and across the grass.

Charlie watches them disappear around the side of the house before speaking again. "I think what he really loved was the way we made him feel about himself. And when we couldn't do it right, he cut us loose. William's little right now, but, having raised one child to adulthood and another close to it, let me tell you something about being a parent. Your kids don't ask to be born. They don't owe you for their existence. You give them everything you have and you love them until your heart breaks and then you send them out into the world. And you never, ever make them feel like they're indebted to you. Because guilt is how you break a person down. It's emotional blackmail and that shit is fucked up. Bill will do it to Matthew; you wait and see. But you're better than that."

Scully rolls her beer between her hands. "Everything about my life would disappoint him," she muses. "But I still wish he could be here to see it sometimes."

"He treated me like shit for ten years, then he treated me like I didn't exist for ten years. Now that he's been dead for ten years, I guess it's time to wax nostalgic."

They clink their bottles and drink a silent toast.

Chapter Text

January 22, 2005

"Hey!" Mulder calls from the front door. "Sorry I'm late. I kind of lost track of time and traffic was a nightmare." He walks through the foyer, deposits his bag by the couch upon which Scully is curled, and then sits next to her.

"It's fine," she says. "I was just doing some paperwork. My mom picked Will up a few hours ago."

"Ah, right. Slumber party."

"He was very excited. He had fun packing his suitcase."

Mulder stretches out to rest his head on Scully's lap. She secures her papers with a binder clip before twirling her fingers in his hair. "So are you all set for spring semester, Professor Mulder?"

"Lecturer Mulder. Though that doesn't really have the same ring, does it? Anyway, yes. Claire's enthusiastic about everything. She's been a great resource. We had lunch today and she made some vague allusions to tenure."

Scully's fingers stiffen almost imperceptibly. "That's nice," she says. "I know she's been very supportive of your work."

"She has indeed. You know, she's planning a research expedition to evaluate the magnetic fields at monolith sites all over the globe. She's recruited a team from the Applied Physics Lab at Johns Hopkins to join her. It's quite an impressive undertaking."

"Mmm."

He looks up and sees a blankness settle over Scully's features. She is playing with a pen, staring off at nothing.

"She asked me to come along for at least part of it, but I don't want to make that kind of time commitment. I think I'll probably just take a week and check out one or two sites."

"Sure."

"Claire feels that my involvement could attract some additional funding."

Scully's responding smile is tight. "Well, that's nice."

"Yes, it is. And you said that already."

"Did I? I'm sorry. I'm just distracted. It's been a long day," she says absently. Scully pats him twice on the forehead, then gets up from the couch when he lifts his head. She walks into the kitchen and takes a seat at the table to begin sorting a pile of mail.

Mulder puffs out a breath as he sits up. He stands, then crosses over to the breakfast bar to watch her. Even in the dim winter light, Scully's red hair and severe black suit contrast sharply with the white tablecloth. She looks as though she's been sketched in blood and charcoal. "I certainly hope you're not distracted by contemplations of my fidelity."

Scully's head snaps up. She looks genuinely offended. "Don't be stupid."

He presses his palms against the cool granite. "I didn't think I was. You get that look on your face every time I've mentioned Claire for the past six months."

"Oh? Which look would that be?"

He mimics it. "Like this. The politely bored look you get when you've lost all interest in a discussion. I used to think of it as your UFO face, but you've come around that bend at long last. And because there's no particular reason for you to be disinterested in her, I have conjectured that you are instead exceedingly interested in Claire and are masking it with disinterest."

Scully rolls her eyes. "You never could resist a good conspiracy theory. Mulder, Claire Dorsey has been a wonderful patron to you. You've been incredibly happy since you started teaching, and I am nothing but appreciative that she was so persistent in encouraging you to take the position. I'm sorry if I've seemed disinterested. It isn't the case." She returns to the stacks of paper.

Mulder walks around the island in the kitchen to take the chair at a right angle to hers. "It's strange sometimes. Going to work every day with people other than you." He picks up a Pottery Barn catalog from beside her hand and leafs through it. "I guess you got used to that with John when I was gone."

"No, I didn't. I spent the whole time pregnant and looking for you. It was strange for me too when I started at the field office."

"And now you're having to adjust all over again, I suppose. You're used to having co-workers other than me. But you're not used to me having anyone other than you."

"I didn't realize I'd been so possessive. My apologies, Mulder. Roam free at will." Her tone is at once light and sharp. Like a javelin.

"You're deliberately misunderstanding what I'm trying to say. You have a habit of doing that when you're irritated."

"I'm not irritated."

"Used to piss Skinner off like nobody's business. It was like performance art. In any case, I realize deep personal unburdening makes you twitch, but if we can't talk to one another, we're a little screwed here."

Scully stares up at the ceiling for a moment, the tip of her tongue running briefly over her upper lip. "My career is heading exactly where I had always hoped while you've left the Bureau. There are times when I worry about what that means to you. About whether you might…resent me for it on some level. Claire's extremely attractive, she shares your beliefs in paranormal phenomena, and you two spend a great deal of time together. It's possible to have an emotional bond with someone without developing a physical one." She drops her head to examine a piece of junk mail.

Mulder folds a sales circular into a paper airplane. "If it weren't for you, I probably wouldn't have gotten to work at the Bureau as long as I did. I enjoy what I'm doing now. I don't resent you, Scully; I'm just glad you've finally gotten the recognition you deserve. As for Claire, she's my friend and colleague. She's not an emotional surrogate. I don't have any need for that."

Scully's gaze flicks upwards. He catches it, holding it for a moment. "I don't," he says again.

She comes close to smiling and rips into another envelope. "So you're not going to run off and start some kind of ghostbusting squad together, then?"

"I don't sleep with all the women I work with. Besides, I'm more the doomsday cult leader type. I'm terribly charismatic."

"That's comforting, Mulder, thank you."

"Want some Kool-Aid?"

"I drank my fill years ago."

"Then I'm afraid you're stuck with me." He reaches across the table to take her hand.

She sighs theatrically. "I suppose I am. Poor Claire. She'll never know the thrill of joining you on a quixotic quest and then, possibly, having sex in a dank motel room."

"They weren't all dank."

"The dankness ratio was high."

Mulder slips his fingers under her cuff, drawing little circles on her wrist. "Perhaps. But you know, we have a house full of non-dank rooms all to ourselves and no need to be discreet." He slides his other hand up her thigh. "What do you say?

She pulls her hand from his to take her jacket off. "You really are terribly charismatic," she tells him.

He scatters the mail over the floor with one sweep of his arm.

Chapter Text

June 14th, 2005


John Doggett takes a bite of his sandwich, jabbing at the picture on the table with a highlighter as he chews. "There's no way, Mulder. No way. It's water damage on the wallpaper."

Mulder shrugs. "I just call 'em as I see 'em."

Monica Reyes squints. "No, I can see it. Look here. If it were water damage, it would just be on the wallpaper, but this is something in front of the mirror. Look, it's reflected. See that smudge? It's exactly the same as the shape over the wall. And that corona could be ectoplasm."

Doggett rolls his eyes. "I'm not gonna pretend I haven't seen a lot of weird things that can be chalked up to some kind of paranormal cause since I started this job, but that isn't a ghost. That's bad plumbing."

"What about the clanking noise the woman heard before the murder, John?"

"Bad plumbing is noisy."

Mulder grins, enjoying a sense of déjà vu by proxy. "I wish you both luck in all your endeavors," he says, getting to his feet. "But I have a flight to catch. I'll call you in a few days if I can."

Monica looks up. "You off for a summer vacation?"

"Rumors of alien abductions at Xunantunich."

"Naturally. Guatemala?"

"Belize. Anyway, good luck with your ghost slash plumbing problem." Mulder leaves fifteen dollars on the table to cover his lunch. On his way out, he hears them bickering about lens flares. Feeling suddenly homesick, he pulls out his phone to call Scully.

Chapter Text

December 25, 2005


"Merry Christmas!" Scully calls, pushing the door open. Mulder follows behind her, William hiding under his long overcoat. Snow swirls in behind them, the freezing air sharp against the heady aromas of turkey and nutmeg and sage. Mulder kicks the door shut and William tightens his grip on the small, wheeled suitcase he's dragging behind him.

"Feliz Navidad," Mulder says to the assembly in the living room. "And Happy Hanukkah, as it happens."

"Oh, are you Jewish?" asks Tara brightly.

"I offer fealty to no lord."

"Um," she replies. "Okay."

Bill Scully gets to his feet, walking over to hug his sister. His beefy arms utterly envelop her. "Merry Christmas, Dana." He glances over her shoulder. "Mulder."

Mulder smiles a plasticky smile and says, "Ahoy, Cap'n."

Bill drops his arms and crouches down. "William! How are you? I haven't seen you since you were a tiny baby. I bet you don't remember me."

William squirms, hiding his face against his father's leg. Bill smiles awkwardly before getting to his feet. "Cute."

Mulder is mildly ashamed of his plan to use his son's discomfort to his advantage. "I think Will's a little overwhelmed. I'm gonna take him upstairs until he's a bit more settled." He heads for the stairs just as Maggie Scully bustles over wearing a loud red sweater ornamented with a bobbled Christmas tree. Mulder thinks that she looks like a kindergarten teacher and finds himself charmed by her tacky knitwear. He leans down to kiss her cheek. "Merry Christmas, Maggie. The presents are still in the car. And there's pie," he tells her. "Pecan and apple."

"Dana still won't eat pumpkin?"

Mulder shakes his head sadly. "Not since the Cheesecake Factory debacle. Will and I are going to go relax for a few."

"Okay," she says. She says hello to William, who waves but remains tucked away even as they walk upstairs. She smiles to herself and returns to the kitchen to prod her turkey.

Scully flops on the couch next to Tara. She reaches over to give her sister in law a hug, then leans against the armrest. "It's been too long, Tara."

"I saw you on CNN!" Tara says. "The thing with that cult guy? That was incredible!"

"Kyle Strauth," Scully sighs. "Catching him was bad enough. The trial should be like Chinese water torture. Where's Matthew?" she asks. "Ditching the old folks?"

"He's next door playing with the neighbor's spaniel," Bill answers. "He was campaigning for a puppy all year. He's dog-crazy."

"He doesn't know we're taking him to the shelter when we get back," Tara adds. "He gets to pick."

Scully smiles. "You were dog-crazy too, Bill. What was the name of the dog you and Missy found that time? Remember? It lived with us for like five days until the owner came and got it. It was something ridiculous. Mr. Barkington?"

"Lord Fluffworth!" says Bill, laughing. "I had forgotten all about that."

"He wasn't even fluffy," Scully recalls. "He was a miniature Schnauzer. We're thinking of getting a dog, but William hasn't asked yet and I'm busy enough as it is."

"Is William usually shy?" asks Tara.

Scully shrugs. "It all depends. He has been lately. He's going to preschool three mornings a week and while he loves it, I think it's tapped into some fear of separation."

"Mulder still staying home with him the rest of the time?" Bill asks.

"Mostly," says Scully, knowing her brother well enough to be wary of the follow-up.

"You two getting married any time soon?" he asks.

"Bill!" snaps Tara. "It's none of your business."

"It's a valid question," Scully says in the tone she uses when one of her agents has done something so tragically stupid it would be sheer cruelty to point it out.

"Marriage is a sacrament," Bill tells her. "Aren't you worried about your soul, Dana? About what you're teaching William?"

"Sodomy, it's between God and me," sings Scully under her breath.

"What?"

"Nothing. Bill, we've not got any plans to get married right now, but your interest is duly noted. If things change, I'll mail you a save the date card."

"What are we supposed to call him?" Bill asks, verging on petulance. "Your boyfriend?"

"You can call him the same thing you always have," Scully tells him as she gets to her feet. "He's my partner." She walks to the hallway and calls to her mother in the kitchen. "Mom! Where's Dad's old twenty-two? I want to go shoot some mistletoe out of that big oak tree."

"It's in the garage, honey," her mother yells back.  Scully gives her brother a chilly look before heading out to the deck.

Bill sighs and his wife pinches his leg. "For heaven's sake," she says. "Keep your mouth shut sometimes." He gets up in search of cashews.

Mulder comes downstairs a few minutes later, William dragging his suitcase bump-bump-bump down the stairs behind them.

Tara leans forward and smiles. "Hi," she says. "I'm your Aunt Tara."

"Hi. I'm your nephew William." He holds his hand out and she shakes it solemnly.

"Whatcha got in your suitcase, William? Secret stuff?"

He sits down to unzip it, removing his belongings for his aunt's inspection. "I have a coloring book, crayons, five dinosaurs, a big truck, a small truck, and my stuffed hedgehog named Hox."

"And a compass," Mulder adds.

"Oh, yes. And a compass. In case we get lost," he explains.

"That's smart. We got lost on our way from the airport. There was a road closure and we had to find a different way here."

"I'm learning how to read maps," William tells her. "I know left, right, stop, and how many traffic lights to the grocery store. It's three." He pushes one of the dinosaurs around in the big truck. "Where's Uncle Bill? And Nana? And Matthew? And my mom?"

"Uncle Bill is in the kitchen with your grandmother, your mom is outside getting the mistletoe, and Matthew is playing with the neighbor's dog. Would you like to put on your coat and we can go outside together and see Matthew and the dog?"

"Yes, please."

"Do you want me to come too?" Mulder asks. He takes the small coat from the back of the couch and hands it to his son.

William regards his aunt for a moment, then gets up to pull his coat on. "No thanks. But you can hold Hox if you get lonely." He passes his father the toy and takes Tara's hand. "I'll show you where Nana keeps the treats if you want," he tells her in a stage whisper. "She thinks I don't know, but there's a tricky drawer by the toaster."

Tara laughs and winks at Mulder. He smiles back at her, watching them go outside. Tucking Hox into his pocket, he heads out to the car to gather the pies and gifts.


****


The boys are in the living room playing with their new toys, oblivious of the hilarity in the dining room.

Scully is laughing helplessly, one hand on Mulder's shoulder. Bill's eyes are streaming and Maggie is patting a red-faced Tara comfortingly. Mulder has finally stopped laughing, but his jaw hurts from the recent exertion.

"How could you not know?" Scully finally manages.

Tara hides her face in her hands. "They go so fast you can't see them!" she wails. "I didn't know they had little sleds!"

"So all this time, you thought the luge was pretty much just a frozen water slide?" Mulder asks.

This sets them all off again and Maggie wipes at her eyes with a napkin while Tara pretends to pout, though she's laughing at herself before long as well.

"Oh, God," says Scully, when she finally catches her breath. "I'm going to go make a pot of coffee. Anybody need anything while I'm up?"

"Dana, why don't you put everything on the serving cart and bring it out to the living room?" her mother suggests. "Then we can watch the boys play."

"I'll give you a hand," Mulder says, as everyone gets to their feet to adjourn to the living room. "I'm very helpful with pie."

"You're so noble." They walk into the kitchen as the others file out and settle into the cozy furniture.

Bill Scully stands next to the couch where his mother and his wife sit, watching his nephew and his son race fire trucks around the large Oriental rug. Charlie and crew off heaven only knows where, Melissa dead, and Dana living some crazy life with her lunatic partner. He sighs, frustrated by life's persistence at undermining his expectations.

"Everything okay, Bill?" Maggie asks, looking up at him.

"Huh? Yeah. I'm, uh, just a little jet-lagged or something I guess."

"Well, Dana should have the coffee out in a minute. Actually, Bill, can you go ask her to use the dishes with the little red flowers instead of the old blue set? I don't mind if the boys break the red ones."

"Why don't you just use plastic?" he asks.

"It's Christmas!" says Maggie, sounding scandalized. "We don't use plastic on Christmas."

He shakes his head, smiling as he walks down the hall to the kitchen. His sister is slouched against the refrigerator and Mulder is dangling a clump of green leaves over her head. Bill takes a few steps back, but he can see them from around the corner in the entryway mirror.

"Merry Christmas, Annie Oakley," Mulder says.

"I always was a better shot than you," she replies sweetly.

He dips down to kiss her and Bill looks away, leaning against the wall. He wants his sister happy. He does not want Mulder to make her happy. But Bill believes men can be saved by both grace and good works. He sighs again, then says a quiet prayer to the god of lambs and tigers. Reconciliation too is a sacrament. He walks back to the living room and finally, finally, he tamps down the last shovelful of earth on Melissa's grave.

Chapter Text

July 19, 2006


Scully sits bolt upright in bed, gasping for air.

She kicks the covers off and races down the hall to William's room. He is balled up in his bed, shaking and breathing shallowly. "Mulder!" she yells, running to her son's bed. "Get some shoes on! We need to go to the ER!"

She scoops William up in her arms, keeping the blanket wrapped around him. He is shivering violently that it is a struggle to keep a solid grip on his small body. Scully sees that his lips and his nail beds are bluish; the pulse under her fingers is thready and fast. She presses her mouth to his forehead and her heart sinks at the burning heat of it.

"You heard me," William manages through chattering teeth.

"Shh," Scully soothes, hurrying to the hallway as fast as she can. She nearly crashes into Mulder in the doorway. "I think it's pneumonia," she tells him.

He takes the trembling boy from her and hands her a pair of shoes. "I'll get him in the car. Stick these on and we'll get going."

She nods, slips the shoes on, grabs William's stuffed hedgehog, and follows after them.

Chapter Text

November 23, 2006


Dear William,

You won't be receiving this letter for some time, but perhaps it will help you gain some perspective when you finally do get to read it.

I told your mother once that a man looks back on the sum of his life to see what he'll leave behind. In my case, the end total has been distressingly low, though I am not foolish enough to lay the blame on anyone else other than myself. Perhaps you know now that you have an aunt and an uncle you'll never meet, though your father does have a penchant for secrecy. But I know you have your own ways of acquiring information. In truth, I cannot say I regret my choices but there are times when I wonder if there could have been another way. The losses are heavy, but the human spirit is eminently resilient. We grieve and move on. It's a skill you must acquire if you are to survive.

The world in which we now live is a strange one, but that we are alive in it is a miracle in and of itself. You're beginning to truly appreciate that now, I'd imagine. How much do you see beyond your immediate field of vision? And how much do you understand?

I hold no hope of reconciliation with your parents, nor do I suspect it is necessarily desirable. In the end, William, we don't fight to win. We fight so that a man can stand up. Your father will tell you that too, though he and I stand for different things.

I wonder what you will stand for.

Your grandfather

Chapter Text

April 11, 2007


Scully sinks lower in the tub, blowing puffs of bubbles onto the tile. "I need more wine," she informs Mulder, her words a touch slurred.

"I don't know about that," Mulder says. "I think I may need to cut you off before you drown yourself."

"I'm an excellent swimmer." She widens her eyes appealingly.

"Lush," Mulder chides, but refills her glass. "So are you coming out of that water any time soon, or should I look into scuba gear?"

She takes a sip, making an appreciative murmur. "Could be a while. Why don't you get in with me?"

"Pfft. No thank you. Only pasta should be in water that hot."

"Wimp." She pouts for a moment, then downs the rest of her wine. "More, please."

"I'm afraid there isn't any more." Mulder takes her glass, which he places on the edge of the sunken tub. He sits down next to it. "Come here and I'll wash your hair."

Scully narrows her eyes suspiciously. "And what horrible sin are you about to confess?"

"I'm hurt, really. Here I am, trying to be nice, and you're making baseless accusations."

"I wouldn't say they're baseless," she says, but slides around so that her back is to him.

Mulder dips the wine glass into the water. "Look up." She does, and he shields her eyes with one hand, spilling the contents of the glass over her head. It sluices down her hair and throat and the tops of her breasts. He puts it back down, then rummages through the bath caddy for a moment. He finds her peppermint shampoo and squirts some into his hand, working up a lather before massaging it into her hair.

"You're a good shampoo boy."

He turns on the spray nozzle to rinse her hair. "Oh, I bet that's just the liquor talking."

She rolls her head. "Mean it. But don't tell my regular guy I said so."

Mulder finds the tea tree oil conditioner and warms some in his hands. Then he slicks it onto her hair, kneading his fingers into her scalp as she makes small noises of contentment. "It'll be our secret," he assures her, rinsing her hair again. "I don't want to incite the wrath of Yuri."

"He once shot a man in Reno, just to watch him die," Scully mumbles. "Oh, that feels really good."

"I bet Yuri doesn't do this for you." He presses his thumbs just above the wings of her shoulder blades, his fingers curling over her clavicles. She closes her eyes and drowses for fifteen minutes as he works out the knots in the fine muscles of her neck and shoulders.

"I can't believe you read my thesis," she murmurs at length, feeling reasonably sober.

"What?"

"The day I met you, you told me you read my senior thesis."

"What on earth made you think of that?"

Scully shrugs. "I found a box of my stuff that got put in your office by mistake and started going through it. That was in there. I reread the whole thing and I cringed at parts." She laughs a little. "God, I was so prim."

He smiles, recalling his speedy plow through her dense writing. "I had to do my homework. I was so impressed by your youthful optimism. Shame you lost that. Though you did find a better tailor."

She chuckles. "I might say the same for you. You know, time travel into the future is allowed by the laws of physics. It was backwards time travel I argued with you over."

"But you still don't believe the future can be altered?"

"Read Brian Greene's loaf theory of parallel universes. I think maybe we can just travel amongst an infinite range of possible outcomes, which gives the illusion that we are affecting the future."

He grabs a towel and begins to dry her hair. "If you could go back into the past, Scully, where would you go? You can't kill Hitler or anything."

"I don't know how I'd ever possibly choose. I mean, there are so many things I'd want to see. The library at Alexandria, Marie Curie's lab, the Athenian agora…I could spend months just watching Leonardo da Vinci or Isaac Newton. There's no way I could pick, Mulder." She stands in the tub, slightly wobbly, and reaches for the spray nozzle, washing off the small clouds of suds that cling to her body.  Scully steps onto the ledge, then wraps herself in the thick robe Mulder is holding out. "Mm. Thank you. So what about you? Where would you go?" she asks, crossing the room.

Mulder watches her sit in the chair before her vanity. She removes the lid from one of her many jars of moisturizer, then dips her fingers in to extract a large blob of the stuff. Stretching her right leg out, she rests her foot on the counter top and slowly works the cream into her skin.

"August 1998," he answers. "I'd go into that hallway and kill that goddamned bee under your collar."

She laughs deeply, her teeth showing and her hair falling past her shoulders as her head tips back. "I thought you said there was no killing."

He walks behind her, resting his hands on the chair back. "Bees don't count."

Scully props her left leg up and begins lotioning it. "So that's really what you'd go back and do? It wouldn't change anything, would it? I mean, supposing we could actually affect the temporal flow at all, which - as you know - I don't believe. But anyway, we're here now, Mulder. So why the bee?"

Mulder gazes at their reflections in the mirror. "Because that's the moment we both realized we'd spent five years waiting for it to rain sleeping bags and I want to know what would have happened."

She looks up at him, surprised. "I would have gone to bed with you about fifteen minutes later. It was just too awkward after Antarctica. Didn't you know that?"

"Definitely the bee, then."

Chapter Text

October 28, 2007


Scully is at the counter, putting pairs of chocolate chip cookies into orange and black baggies decorated with rabid-looking bats. Mulder walks up behind her and peers over her shoulder. "Golly, Mrs. Cleaver. Those cookies sure do look swell." He runs his hands down her back, settling them at her waist.

She is agreeably playful. "Thank you, Eddie. But I think you'd better go now. Ward will be home soon."

"There's a pearl necklace joke in here somewhere, but I can't find it."

"I'd advise you not to pursue the investigation."

He kisses her neck, hoping to distract her long enough to steal a snack from her tidy piles. His hand creeps along the edge of the stove, but she smacks it with a spatula. "Touch them and die. These are all organized. There are some over on that tray by the sink. You can have those."

He is affronted. "I don't want your sad reject cookies. I want a pretty one. Symmetrical. With evenly dispersed chips. I'll go get you a ruler so you can find the best."

She turns, her arms crossed, an amused expression on her face. "Really, Mulder. I had no idea your sensibilities regarding pastry were so delicate."

"That's what you get for domesticating me. Hey, where's the man of the hour?"

"You're so full of it. You just thrive on generating chaos." Scully checks her watch. "I don't know. He went to get his costume on twenty minutes ago."

A clomping on the steps interrupts their conversation. They turn to the origin of the noise. Mulder crams a cookie into his mouth. "Yoink," he says thickly.

Scully glares, but directs her attention to the small pirate in the living room. "Captain Sparrow! You look terrifying."

"Yargh!" he says fiercely. "Hey, can you do my eyeliner?"

"Yes, be sure you look your best before you pillage anything," says Mulder, brushing crumbs from his mouth. "Or else you won't meet any good wenches."

"What's wenches?"

"Ladies of ill repute."

"What's ill repute?"

"He's being silly," Scully interrupts. "Come here and I'll fix your beard." She mouths "shut up" over William's hat as she straightens the elastic at the back of his head. Then she rummages through her makeup bag for a kohl pencil.

"So, you excited for the carnival, Will?" Mulder asks, watching as Scully carefully rings the wide blue eyes in sooty black.

"Yeah, I guess. You got the bat bags, right? Those were better than the pumpkins."

"Bats, yes. Okay, you're all set." William blinks a few times. He passes a clip-on earring to his mother, cocking his head to give better access to his ear.

"Isn't six a little young for all this makeup and jewelry?" Mulder queries. "Shouldn't you wait for prom?"

William looks contemptuously at his father. "It's pirate stuff. It's cool."

"You're right, I'm sorry. It's very cool and you are the coolest pirate on the seven seas. Is your mom dressing up as Keira Knightley?"

Scully shakes her head behind William's dreadlocked wig, but he can see her eyes smiling.

"No," says William seriously. "She's still going as a witch doctor."

"Ah, well. Maybe later."

Scully shoots him a hard look, but there is still mirth beneath it. "Why don't you go get dressed, Mulder? It'll just take me a few minutes to get ready. The hat's already in the car."

He gets to his feet and watches William admire his own reflection in the hall mirror. "Many cultures traditionally associate red hair with witchcraft," he remarks to Scully.

"I know that."

"I know you do. Have you a close personal relationship with a cat or owl? Sixth finger? Unusual freckles or birthmarks?"

"Be nice this afternoon and you can check me over later."

They share a smile, then Mulder walks to the stairs. "Hey! Captain Jack! Where'd you bury the chest of vampire fangs?"

William rattles his sword at the mirror. "In your nightstand drawer. Savvy?"

"Savvy."


****


They park the car behind William's school and get out. Scully is wearing scrubs, a stethoscope, and a pointed black witch's hat. Mulder is resplendent as an old Hollywood vampire. William dashes across the lot, disappearing among a cluster of small children who are hovering near the cotton candy machine.

Mulder opens and closes his mouth experimentally, the fanged caps on his incisors staying put as he runs his tongue over them. "I vant to trink your blud," he says in a rumbly voice, swooping his cape around Scully.

"If you do, be quick about it. I'm supposed to be manning the duck pond for an hour and they'll need to find a replacement."

"I find your community spirit endearing," he confesses as they make their way to the bake sale table behind the moon bounce. "It's very suburban of you."

"I think it takes the emphasis off the fact that we're living in sin," she replies dryly.

"Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live," he tells her, unloading bags of cookies. "I may be obligated by scripture to drain your life's blood after all. Cut back on my sinning. Hello, Olivia," he says to the attractive blonde woman counting the bills in the cash box. "How's tricks?"

"Can't complain," she replies. "Though you'd think with the tuition they charge, I wouldn't need to be out here hawking cookies like an overgrown Girl Scout."

"I bet you'd look cute in the uniform," Mulder tells her, licking his fangs.

Olivia laughs. "I'd tell you to keep your eye on him, Dana, if it weren't so obviously unnecessary. And where's that other handsome man of yours? I heard all about his costume. I wanted to see it."

"He's right over there," Scully says, pointing towards the group of kids now eating wads of pink fluff.

Olivia stands and squints. "I don't see any pirates. Has he got a hat?"

"Of course. And he's wearing a -" Mulder stops. "Scully, he's not there."

They hurry to where William was standing only a minute ago. "Shivani? Max? Any of you guys know where Will went?"

Shivani, dressed like Hermione Granger, points her wand towards the parking lot. "He went with Mr. Ellsworth."

"The headmaster? Why?"

"He said he needed a pirate helper to get some treasure out of his trunk. Do you want a chocolate frog?"

Mulder politely declines, scanning the parking lot for Mr. Ellsworth's car. It is in the usual spot, but no one is nearby. He fights the rising panic. "Shivani, was Mr. Ellsworth wearing a costume today?"

She nods. "He was a clown."

His face was covered in makeup, Mulder thinks. He could have been anyone. Scully tosses her hat off as they run to Mr. Ellsworth's car, which is locked, and Mulder smashes the window open with a rock. He reaches in and pops the trunk. He hears Scully gasp.

He joins her at the back of the car to peer down at Jonathan Ellsworth, who is bound, gagged, and unconscious. His face is covered with clown makeup but he is otherwise naked. Scully checks his pulse with trembling fingers.

"He's alive. Mulder, what the hell is going on?" she asks, pulling out her phone to call the FBI's Child Abduction Rapid Deployment team.

Mulder dashes through the parking lot, calling William's name, while Scully tells the agent on the phone to hurry up NOW because she is the ASAC of the DC Field Office and this is her kid and do not fuck with her thankyouverymuch goodbye.

She runs after Mulder and grabs his sleeve when she catches up. "What do we do?" she asks. "I don't know what we're supposed to do when we're on the other side."

Mulder, who is breathless and feeling slightly hysterical, tells her that they should stay calm and rational and wait for the CARD team and the police and whoever else is showing up to show up. An odd look crosses Scully's face. She staggers backwards, then sits down on the pavement. "Mulder, get the car."

"What? Scully what's wrong?"

"I think I can find him. Just get the car."

He asks no more questions, but runs to get the car and pulls it up next to her. She gets shakily to her feet and climbs in. "He sees Disney World," she says, shutting the door. "Through the trees."

"What? Disney World?"

"He doesn't have another name for it." She sounds frantic.

Mulder slams his fist against the steering wheel in frustration.

"The Mormon Temple," he says suddenly, laying eight feet of rubber as he takes Q Street to MacArthur. "That looks kind of like Disney World. What else, Scully?"

She closes her eyes, tapping her fingers frantically. "He's in a white van. A big one, like when the painters came. There's nothing written on the outside though. It hasn't got any windows on the sides, but there's a…he doesn't know what it's called - I think he means grate - over the window on the rear door.  Anyway, he can see out a little from there."

Scully's phone rings, making them both jump. She passes it to Mulder, who doesn't have time to say hello before Skinner starts talking. "Scully, what the hell is going on? I heard the CARD team has been dispatched to William's school and that -"

"Someone's got William."

"I'm in my car on my way there now. Stay put, Mulder, because if you -"

"We're on Nebraska Avenue."

"What do you mean? What are you doing?"

"I don't have time to explain right now, but William's in an unmarked white van somewhere near the Mormon Temple. You need to put an APB out for it now. I'll call you as soon as I learn anything else." Mulder listens for another moment before hanging up the phone. He turns to Scully. "He's coming at this guy with everything he's got. Two helicopters plus ground coverage. What else do you see?"

She closes her eyes and, after a moment, she speaks. "They're driving under another road. A bridge. There are lots of other cars. They're going fast." She opens her eyes again. "495 eastbound, just before 97. Tell Skinner to shut it down now."

Mulder calls Skinner back, relaying Scully's information as he navigates through the familiar streets, all of them now looking alien and hostile. He feels each minute tick like an eternity. Unable to stand it any longer, he runs a red light on Connecticut Avenue. It almost causes a four-car pileup and he swerves around the other drivers. They honk at him angrily, but he scarcely notices. He goes against traffic in the Chevy Chase Circle - nearly up on two wheels at one point - tires squealing as he hits the on-ramp for 495. The cars are all at a standstill, however. He and Scully leap from their vehicle and run along the shoulder. Scully has her badge out.

Two helicopters hover like dragons above the roadway. Cars are clogging the lanes and FBI agents and police officers are going from driver to driver.

"STOP!" one of the officers shouts at Mulder and Scully. "You! Stop now!"

They freeze, Scully holding up her badge a little higher. "That's our son you're looking for!" she shouts. "Where's Deputy Director Skinner?"

Skinner runs over before the woman can reply. "Scully!" he shouts. "What's going on?"

"Have you found him?"

"Not yet, but if he was on 495, he can't get anywhere. We've got choppers surveying from the air if he tries to escape on foot. How do you know he's here?"

Mulder comes up from behind. He touches her shoulder. "What do you see?"

She closes her eyes and shakes her head. "He's still in the van. He hears the door open. The helicopters, he -" She opens her eyes. "He can hear the helicopters, Mulder. He must be here somewhere. He must be here." She whirls around, searching for a white van in the sea of cars.

Skinner looks briefly confused, but the years have taught him which questions are worth asking. "Scully, there's nowhere he can go. If this man is escaping from the vehicle, we'll find him."

"What if he plans to kill William and then himself?" she asks. "You know there's plenty of precedent for it, and we don't know anything about the kidnapper's MO."

Skinner opens his mouth to speak, but the words are swallowed up by a voice over the PA system of the further helicopter.

"THIS IS THE FBI - STOP! PUT YOUR HANDS UP! YOU ARE SURROUNDED. I REPEAT, STOP AND PUT YOUR HANDS UP!"

Mulder, Scully, and Skinner race towards the aircraft, along with the law enforcement officials. By the edge of the woods flanking the roadway is a man in jeans and a sweatshirt, slight traces of clown makeup still evident on his face. His hands are up, but he doesn't look particularly agitated.

Scully pulls her gun from her ankle holster and points it at him. "Andrew Strauth," she spits. "How's your piece of shit brother enjoying federal prison?"

"He thinks about you all the time," says the man laconically. "Real nice little boy you have, Agent Scully."

Scully's finger slides towards the trigger.

Skinner moves beside her. "Scully, put the gun down. We've got him. Put the gun down and go get your son."

"No. Mulder, go get William."

Mulder goes to the van. He climbs inside, emerging a moment later with William, who is crying and has black tears running down his cheeks from the pirate makeup. Mulder shields his son's face as he walks back down the road to their car.

"Scully, put the goddamned gun down," Skinner hisses in her ear.

She does, finally, and steps closer to watch the officers cuff the man on the hood of his van. "You better pray they never let you out," she informs him flatly. She walks after Mulder and William.

Chapter Text

June 4, 2008


"Is Hobbes a real tiger or a pretend tiger?" William wants to know as they close the book.

"What do you think?" his mother says, stretching out on top of the comforter.

"I think he's a real tiger. It's better that way."

"I think so too," Scully agrees. She smoothes her hand over his hair.

"Bad people can't get out of jail, can they?" he asks her.

Yes, baby, they can. Can and do every damned day of my life.

"No," she lies.

"Sometimes I still have bad dreams," he mumbles.

"Me too." She bumps her forehead against his. "What do you think we should do about it?"

William considers this. "We could think about not-scary things. And we could give each other our ideas and make good dreams for each other."

"I like that idea." She swirls her fingers through her hair, pretending to pull something invisible from her head. She rubs it into William's scalp. "Here," she says. "These are good dreams about a little boy and his friend the tiger. And they build a duplicator out of a cardboard box and build funny snowmen and have adventures in their wagon."

William grins and pulls dreams from his own head, pressing them to hers. "These are good dreams about a boy who bakes his mom a cake and it looks like a dinosaur and it's really full of four kinds of chocolate and they drive in a fire truck to the moon with Dad and there's giraffes there and they all eat the cake and have a party for a hundred years and nobody gets tired."

Scully laughs. "That's a great dream. I can't wait to have it."

They curl close to each other, breathing deeply, until they drift to sleep. When Mulder finds them, he gets the camera, shuts off the sound, and takes a dozen pictures.

Chapter Text

August 16, 2008


Dana Scully's heart and lungs are annihilated when the Nosler 175 Grain Spitzer Partition bullet rips through her chest. The bisected lead expands like the mushroom cloud at Hiroshima, fragmenting and shredding tissue on a lightning-fast path through her torso. It exits from what was - only a millisecond ago - her left shoulder. The impact throws her backwards and she is dead before she hits the ground.

William, who likes to sit in the front seat to play with the controls while Scully unloads the groceries, whirls around at the one-two sounds of the gunshot and his mother's body hitting the pavement. "Mom?" he calls, scrambling out of the car.

There is a rattling sound as Scully's blood acidity rises and her larynx spasms. The sphincter muscles of the iris relax, causing her pupils to dilate, though William is not yet close enough to her to see this.

"MOMMY!"

Blood spreads like a shadow beneath her. Blood as thick and red as strawberry syrup runs out the corner of her mouth, along her cheek, and down to the ground. Her lips are rapidly approaching the color of her eyes. There is no sound at all other than the barking of the German Shepherd two doors away.

William crouches down to touch the torn flesh and bone above her left bicep. He closes his eyes, searching for the cords that hold his mother's life to her body, but they have already frayed. He can sense them hovering nearby and reaches out with a thousand incorporeal fingers to snatch at them. He pulls hard, yanking them, anchoring them to the ruined pulp of Scully's thoracic cavity. He is trembling, sweat-soaked and nearly feverish when a neighbor pops her head out. She screams for someone to call an ambulance now, now, now Jesus Christ I think someone shot Dana Scully, lord have mercy…

Doors fly open and people rush out. Mrs. Alban from next door runs over to gather William, who wrenches from her grasp and returns to his mother's side, smoothing his fingers over the exit wound. There is a six-inch gap between what used to be her shoulder and the rest of her arm.

"I think…I think she's gone, honey," says Mrs. Alban in a choked voice, trying to pull him from the body again as she checks Scully's right wrist for the pulse she knows isn't there.

"She's not, she's not. You have to let me…" William reaches for the invisible cords again, pulling harder, then falls backwards from the exertion.

"William," breathes Mrs. Alban. "William, where's your daddy?"

Suddenly, there is a sound like a stick being pulled from thick mud. They turn to stare at Scully, who has begun to draw shallow breaths. Her eyes stare past the quiet circle of neighbors and her mouth works soundlessly.

"I need some tape," cries William. "Duct tape. Please, somebody." He runs to the car and dumps out a sack of apples, returning to Scully with the empty bag as someone nearby dashes into a house. Working quickly, he rips her shirt open, then spreads the thin plastic over the sucking chest wound, which is marked with a vivid froth of blood. Mrs. Alban's son returns from their home and tosses over a roll of silver tape. William secures the bag on three sides as his mother struggles for air. Her hands flutter against the pavement.

William brushes blood-sticky hair from her face. No one says anything at all until the ambulance pulls up. Then they are full of stories. The EMTs rush over and they move Scully in one piece - including her arm, whose severing must have been a trick of the light - to a stretcher.


****


Mulder staggers into the Albans' kitchen close to eleven o'clock. William has been bathed and dressed in some of the boys' outgrown pajamas. He is curled up on the couch, sucking his thumb, which he has not done for over a year.

"Is she okay?" whispers Mrs. Alban.

Mulder nods, too drained to speak.

William walks to his father and holds his arms out. Mulder lifts him up, carrying him wordlessly outside. Mrs. Alban is not offended by his silence.

Mulder and William sit on their front porch, watching the stars. "Your mom's okay," Mulder tells him. "You saved her life. Did you know that?"

William shrugs.

"How'd you know what to do?

"Saw it on a show."

"Mmm. That's what the EMT said you said. But is that what really happened, or is that what you think was the right thing to say?"

William shrugs again. "She's okay, right?"

"Yes, she is. You didn't do anything bad or wrong. I would just like to understand."

William squints up at the moon. Then he turns to watch moths cluster around the porch light. "She told me about the plastic," he says. "How to do it with the tape. She told me in my head. Like I told her where I was at the Bad Time." He tucks his knees up, wrapping his arms around them.

"Okay," says Mulder. He reaches out to draw his son close. "Can you tell me how it is when you hear people like that? When you talk to them?"

"It's, um, I guess it's like a radio. But I can't always pick what I hear but some stations I can hear real good without trying."

"And you can hear Mom well?" Mulder remembers when, for a time, he had a taste of what his son experiences. The chaotic babble humming like static, cut by the homing signal of Scully's voice.

"I guess so. But not all of her. Only the front parts. I can hear you too sometimes but quieter. I know about the girl with the long braids who died. But Mom's always the loudest and no one else hears me back." He huddles smaller. "I don't want to talk about it any more."

Mulder strokes the glossy chestnut hair. "That's fine. We can talk about other stuff. Anything else you're cool with telling me?"

The little boy is quiet for a time. "There are strings," he begins at last. "They go around everybody and they break when you get old or sick and stuff. And if you get better all the way, the ends go back together. But if you don't they don't. Until they all break."

"How do you know about the strings?" Mulder asks, gently.

"I can…kind of feel them, I guess. I can see them a little too, but mostly it's feeling. And hers were all, they were all broken at the end but they were still floating near her and I just grabbed them and I pulled real hard."

"Pulled?"

"Yeah. Like, they're usually are all floaty and stuff when something is sick or …dies but this time it was like somebody was holding the other end and I just pulled them back to her so they couldn't hold them anymore. I pulled and pulled until she breathed."

Mulder does not tell William that Lucian Patrick Strauth, brother to both Kyle and Andrew, was found dead in the woods behind the Albans' house. Lucian died of massive blood loss and extensive cardiopulmonary trauma, but the coroner had yet to establish a cause for the injuries.

Chapter Text

February 17, 2009


The older man exhales a plume of smoke. "I told you years ago. You want to neutralize a person, you give him everything he ever wanted. Men with nothing to lose are dangerous." He stubs out the last of the Morley into a burled walnut ashtray.

His companion shrugs. "It doesn't matter now anyway. What does he know?"

"He knows what he wants to know."

"And the boy?"

The scent of a match being struck, and another cigarette being lit. "The boy is utterly unremarkable. Not at all what we had hoped."

"It's disappointing."

"These things happen."

Chapter Text

March 4, 2009


Mulder is sleeping on his back, one hand across the thick comforter that covers him to the waist. He is bare-chested and rumple-haired, his lips slightly parted against a field of stubble. Scully props herself up on her side to listen to the steady sound of his breathing. The wide cuff of her blue silk sleeve droops down to her elbow, lit by the pale dawn filtering in between the blinds.

He draws a deep breath, his ribs rising, the little hollow pockets above his collarbones deepening for a second before he exhales.

Scully inches closer, inhaling the mingled notes of his soap and his cologne and the soft morning scent of warm skin against clean cotton sheets. She reaches out her right hand to trace the shape of his face. His eyes slide open when she presses her finger to the philtral dimple above his lip.

"Mmmf," he says. "Time izzit?"

She consults her watch. "Six oh two."

"I hate Mondays."

"Me too." She lays her head on his shoulder, draping her right leg over his thigh. Her arm rests across his torso and she makes little patterns on his skin with her nails.

He turns his head to kiss her. "What time is his play tonight?"

"Six. My mom's getting there early to save us good seats."

"He makes a very handsome Thomas Jefferson, Scully. Our Founding Fathers would be so proud."

"He does indeed. I guess we'd better get up," she says, checking the time regretfully. "Duty calls."

"You don't really mean that," he mumbles, sliding one hand along her waist.

She slaps lightly at his wrist. "I do. You have an eight AM lecture and I have a meeting with the SAC from the Baltimore Field Office. And William's alarm goes off at six-thirty."

"You just want to sound responsible because you know it turns me on."

"So if I don't try to sound responsible, it's because I wish to be irresponsible. And if I do try to sound responsible, it's only because I'm secretly trying to seduce you, thereby behaving irresponsibly? You think you're so smart," Scully says as he tugs at her pajama bottoms.

"I'm a certified genius. Now untie these stupid things. Time's a-wasting."

"You're a certified something." She gets up on her knees and deftly works the knot out of the drawstring.

Mulder looks on approvingly as she shimmies out of her pants. "Be honest. You stripped your way through med school, didn't you? My wallet's on the dresser. Get yourself a nice dollar bill. Aw, hell. Make it a five," he amends as she tosses her underwear to the floor.

"Your munificence is boundless as ever." She crawls back over to him. Mulder kicks the blankets off and she eases his boxers down. "And I took out gigantic loans and waited tables in med school."

"Was it at Hooters? I can see you in those little orange…Christ," he gasps as she straddles his lap, taking him inside her in one fluid motion.

"I am diagnosing you with ante meridian priapic tumescence," Scully says. "It's a serious condition related to flow of blood in your brain."

He skims his hands up her thighs and rests them just below her waist. His thumbs draw circles where her hips flare appealingly outwards. "Is it life threatening?"

"We should have you back to yourself in to time. I recommend steady massage with a warm compress." Scully demonstrates, watching his face as she moves.

Mulder groans. His head falls back against the pillows as he matches her rhythm and thrusts upwards.

Scully leans forward to kiss the long muscles off his neck and trail her tongue into his ear. "I am, however, regretful to inform you that this is a chronic condition. Treatment will be ongoing. Probably for the rest of your life."

"I certainly hope so," he says.

Chapter Text

November 11, 2009


Mulder and William sit at the fountain in Kogan Plaza, watching people file in and out of the concrete cube that is the Gelman Library. Several students huddle under the rotunda, smoking and chatting.

"This is so cool," William says, hugging his backpack to his stomach. "Maybe they'll think I'm one of those kids who goes to college when they're eight."

"You're rather clever," Mulder replies, checking his watch. "And yet you still cannot remember to make your bed in the morning. Why do you suppose that is?"

"I'm too busy thinking to remember that stuff," William informs him loftily. "Can I see your office?"

"Sure. I need to stop in and grab a few things before class anyway."

They collect their belongings, then walk down the brick path, their breath curling white and translucent in the chilly autumn air. William scuffs his feet through a drift of damp leaves which give off a rich, woodsy scent as he kicks a clump of them upwards. He passes below the tall clock and a few students wave at his father. William is delighted by this.

"Hey, Dr. Mulder. New TA?"

"Just Mulder," Mulder says with a note of exasperation in his voice. "No Doctor. As I have mentioned. Repeatedly. This is my son. He's off of school today and is going to be giving me a hand."

William hoists his backpack importantly.

"Cool. I didn't know you had a kid, Mulder," says a blond guy as he fiddles with an iPod. "Hey there, buddy."

"I didn't know you were married," says a girl in a red pea coat. She flicks her eyes towards Mulder's left hand, where her gaze lingers a moment too long.

"They're in a domestic partnership," William explains, and is confused by the laughter that greets this. He retreats shyly behind his father.

"Couldn't have said it better myself," Mulder says. "I will see you all in forty-five minutes, I presume?"

The students nod. Mulder and William wave as they make their way to the large gate at H Street.

"How come they laughed at me?"

"Because lots of people think kids are either supposed to be idiots or smartasses," Mulder says, taking his son's small hand while they cross the street. "And when a kid says something reasonable, they don't know what to do. So they laugh."

"That's dumb," William observes, tucking his hands back into his pockets once they reach the safety of the sidewalk.

"It is," his father agrees. "It's what happens when you watch too many sitcoms."

"Too much TV liquefies your brain," William recites tiredly. "I know."

"What a good trained monkey you are."

They round the corner onto Twenty-second Street and walk to the glassed-in composite of buildings that comprise the Academic Center. "Cool. Your office is in here?"

"Yep. I teach one class in this building and one class at the Ashburn campus in Virginia."

They enter the lobby and make their way to the elevator. William hits the Up button. When the car arrives, he gets in and pushes the button for the seventh floor. He bounces impatiently on the ride up until the doors slide open. He runs out into the hall to check the doors until he finds one with Fox Mulder on the nameplate. "Here it is!"

The door is papered with cartoons, clippings, and bumper stickers given to Mulder by his students. He unlocks the door and pushes it open. "Well, here it is. It's not much, but you're welcome to poke around," he says, flipping on the lights.

William shrugs his backpack to the floor, then takes a seat in the swiveling leather recliner. He settles back, twisting experimentally. "This is a good chair. Do you like being a teacher?"

"Very much. It's a neat job," Mulder says, opening a drawer in one of the filing cabinets next to the desk.

The chair spins in lazy circles. "Mom used to be a teacher, right? For cutting up dead people?"

"Right."

"But now she's the boss-lady. Was she ever your boss?"

"She's the assistant boss-lady. And no, she was not. She was my partner."

William taps at the keyboard briefly, then shakes a snowglobe from Chilmark, Massachusetts. He watches the white particles and glitter drift down over the tiny city. "Do you miss getting to have a gun at work?"

"There's not much call for a gun on a college campus. I guess I could use really bad papers for target practice, but it's frowned upon. Aha! Here we are." Mulder retrieves a CD from the drawer and tucks it into his briefcase.

"Did you ever cut up dead people?"

Mulder leans back against the wall. "No. That was never my specialty. But I did once help your mother go through a big container full of body parts looking for a human head."

The chair stops spinning. William stares incredulously. "Really?"

"Really. It was gross and slimy."

"That's so weird. I didn't know they did that at the FBI. Maybe I'll join." He turns on a laser pointer, which he directs at different spots around the room.

"Well, we were in a sort of specialized division," Mulder says, putting a sheaf of papers into a cardboard box. "Not everybody gets to look for heads. And you have to wear a tie every day, you know. You don't so much like ties."

He shines the pointer at Mulder, making a red spot on his forehead. "Yeah. But the badge is cool. And it's a good place to meet girls, right?" William gives his father a gap-toothed grin.

Mulder laughs. "Get your stuff and help me carry these papers down to the lecture hall. I'm giving a quiz and you can pass it out."

As they leave the office, William looks up and asks, "What's a DILF?"

"Where on earth did you hear that?"

"The girl with the red coat. What is it?"

Mulder rolls his eyes and shakes his head. Then he gets down on his knees, taking the lapels of his son's coat in his hands. "William, when you asked me where babies come from, what did I do?"

"You told me."

"When you ask me things, I generally tell you the answer. But right now I am going to say something I swore I would never say."

"Which is…?"

"Go ask your mother."

Chapter Text

January 12, 2010


Scully sits on her mother's bed, sorting stacks of clothes to donate to a shelter. Her brothers are in the living room negotiating with the man from the antiques store. Mulder and her sisters in law are playing in the snow with Matthew, Simon, Jane, and William.

As a Catholic, she learned that the body is a vessel for the soul and that the soul can live separately from the body. As a pathologist, learned that once the brain is dead, the body becomes a collection of dead tissue. It is meat and bones and sinew. Either way, the ceremonies enacted for the dead are for the benefit of the living. Scully closes her eyes against the memory of the way her scalpel used to cut through the crepey suede-soft skin of the elderly. The way their prominent superficial veins looked. How women in particular lose fat and muscle mass to the point where reflecting the skin back from the underlying tissue requires the delicate care and precision of a doctor with a living patient. Funeral directors cluck their tongues in dismay when a careless pathologist buttonholes the throat. There was no autopsy on Margaret Scully. Sudden cardiac death from acute myocardial infarction is fairly straightforward.

Her eyes open when she hears footsteps in the hall. She knows without looking that it's Bill, because the stride is measured and even, and the steps fall more heavily than Charlie's.

"Are you two all done?" she asks him.

Bill sits on the bed next to her. "Yeah, they're hauling it all down now. Charlie's making some coffee. Do you want anything, Dana? I haven't seen you eat a thing since the funeral."

"Coffee would be good. Thanks, Bill."

"There's still a ton of food in the fridge. How about a sandwich? Chicken salad?"

"I'm okay."

Bill takes a pale blue sweater into his lap as though he plans to fold it. "I guess this is hardest on you in a way. You lived the closest, you saw her all the time."

"She was almost eighty, Bill. It's hard, yes, but her health had been steadily declining. I can't pretend this was a total shock."

"It's okay to admit you're hurting, Dana. Not that you ever have, of course, but no one would think less of you."

Scully moves the shirt on her lap back to the bed, then stands up. "Please, don't. I'm just not up for this today." She leaves the bedroom, lured towards the enticing aroma of coffee.

Bill follows behind her. "What? I'm just saying that you haven't even cried. That can't be healthy."

They pass through the living room and into the kitchen where Charlie has filled three mugs. Scully stirs a little bit of milk into one before she begins drinking it. "Bill, you mourn how you see fit and I'll do the same."

"Sometimes I think you've turned off completely. You did this when Dad died too. And Missy. You just push everyone away when you're upset. Like you always have, but more so over the years."

Charlie groans. "Bill, shut up. She didn't need a lecture from you on how to have cancer or how to be in a relationship or how to raise her kid and she doesn't need one on how to be sad either."

"Isn't Mulder a psychologist or something? What does he make of your Stoic routine?"

"I wouldn't know. He's well-mannered enough not to bring it up." She goes back to the living room to sit on the couch and fortify herself with caffeine.

"Well, if it were Tara, I know I'd be concerned," Bill persists, following her over. "I cried. Charlie cried. Maybe you should - I don't know - talk to someone."

"I don't need an audience to validate my grief." Scully puts her mug on a coaster. She opens one of the albums on the table. There's a grainy photo of her mother holding an overall-clad redheaded baby. She's not sure which one of them it is, but it isn't Missy, because the child hasn't got Emily's face.

Scully has buried her mother, her father, her sister, her lover and her daughter. She wonders how many times your heart can break before the pieces won't go back together anymore. And here is her well-meaning but pompous brother acting like she doesn't know how to cope with sorrow. She'd laugh if it weren't so terrible. Scully presses her hands to her face and breathes warm, moist air through her fingers.

"Why is it so important to you that she cries?" Charlie asks, coming into the room. He sits down next to his sister, putting an arm around her narrow shoulders. "Why can't you just leave her alone?"

"Why do you think the answer to every problem is to walk away from it? You and Dana both just turn off when things are too hard."

"You're in fine form today, Billy-boy. Why don't you go ahead and finish telling Dana how to feel? Then maybe you can remind her of how she disappointed our father, is living in sin, and how you still hold her responsible for Missy after fifteen years. Talk about how Mom always wanted to marry off a daughter, just to twist the knife a little deeper. Then you can start in on what a fuckup I am for finally calling Dad on his bullshit and paying my way through college while working two jobs to help raise my son. Missy's dead, so I guess she's earned some kind of sanctity for that. Then we'll sing hosannas to the Captain, laud our sainted mother, and round it all out with hearing about your latest commendation, you sanctimonious arrogant asshole."

"You're such a martyr, Charlie. I don't know how you manage to haul that big cross all over the globe."

"God, would you both shut up?" Scully snaps, drawing her hands from her face. "You're ridiculous. The three of us are ridiculous. We just laid our mother to rest and we're arguing about this ancient load of tired bullshit again? Bill, mind your own damned business once in a while. Not everyone does what you do, and one day you'll have to accept that. We're not on your ship and you're not our commanding officer. And Charlie, let it go. Dad was a jerk to you. We know. Get over it. And if you can't get over it, then at least stop dragging it up because I am sick to death of hearing about it."

She gets up, jamming her hands into her pockets. "When you're ready to behave like civilized people, call me. Mulder and I were hoping to have everyone together for a few meals before you all go home, so just make sure you can either be pleasant or silent."

Scully walks to the door. She opens it, tugging on her coat as her brothers watch her.

"Dana, I -"

"We bury the dead alive," she says, walking out and pulling the door shut behind her.

"What the hell does that mean?" Bill asks.

"It means half our family's gone and none of us is getting any younger." Charlie replies. "So let's finish this up and play nice."


****


Charlie and Bill enter the house just after ten. Their wives are chatting in the living room, where Jane is teaching Matthew how to play Five Card Stud. William and Simon are setting the table while Scully cuts up a pineapple. Mulder is making scrambled eggs.

"Hey," Charlie says, setting several large brown paper bags on the counter. "We didn't know what people wanted, so we got everything."

"Four kinds of cream cheese," Bill adds, placing two bags next to the others. "And two dozen bagels."

"Lox," Charlie offers. "Whitefish salad. And Berger cookies."

"Brown-nosers," Scully says. "The oven's heated, so why don't you guys stick the bagels in to toast?"

Charlie does so. Ten minutes later, they are all sitting around the table and eating. Mulder brings a pitcher of Bloody Marys and a pitcher of mimosas to the table.

"My kind of guy," Larissa says, pouring herself a glass of each. "This is the only way to drink juice in my book."

"Hey, Dana, remember when Bill and Missy spiked the punch at your Sweet Sixteen and Aunt Olive got hammered?"

Matthew stares at his father. "You did?"

Bill laughs. "I had forgotten about that! Oh, man. Mom and Dad were so mad, I left a day early to go back to school, Dana. Do you remember?"

Scully grins, spreading chive cream cheese on an everything bagel. "I do. Missy and Dad had an epic blowout over that one. Remember the time she wore heels and one of your dress shirts over her bra and underwear and went as the Walk of Shame for Halloween? And Dad wouldn't let her have the car for two weeks?"

"Missy and Dad were always having epic blowouts," Bill says, spearing his fork into the lox. "I can't say I blame Dad for being upset with the costume though. And it still wasn't as good as Charlie's pregnant nun costume. Sister Spooky told Mom he was probably a Satanist."

"Sister Spooky told Mom that only prostitutes use tampons."

Jane looks baffled. "What? Why?"

"Hymen intactus," Charlie says in a loud whisper. "And I think once you're married you're supposed to be pregnant until menopause. But then again, religion was never really my thing."

"Yeah, like the time you asked Father McCue if the Resurrection meant Jesus was a zombie?"

Mulder laughs, nearly choking on a mouthful of tomato. Tara thumps him on the back and hands him a glass of water.

"Awesome," Simon says. "Nice one, Dad."

"How come they didn't kick you out of Catholic school?" Jane asks, stirring her coffee.

"Because he was brilliant," Scully tells them. "He was always right at the top of his class. Got a full ride to Berkeley."

"Pshaw. You're making me blush."

"You're the most arrogant man I know," Simon says to his father. "You should get some kind of recognition for it. Like a hat."

"It ain't braggin' if you really done it," Charlie replies in a lazy drawl.

Bill laughs. "He always was blessed with self confidence."

"You don't say," Larissa remarks dryly, picking through the fruit salad for strawberries.

"Dana was valedictorian," Charlie says. "She was voted Most Likely to Succeed."

"And Best Eyes," Scully adds nonchalantly. "Rumor was Missy would have been Best Hair but Lisa Carmichael got a spiral perm the week before voting."

"She was so pissed," Charlie recalls. "Were you voted anything, Mulder?"

Mulder shakes his head. "My school didn't do Senior Superlatives. If they had, I probably would have been Most Likely To Believe The Shah Was A CIA Decoy."

"Perhaps he was disguised as the swamp rabbit that attacked Jimmy Carter later that year," Scully suggests. "You know these covert ops types."

"I remember that," Tara says, rifling through a box of teabags. "What exactly is a swamp rabbit?"

"It is a rabbit which inhabits swamps and other wetlands," Mulder says. "And, according to President Carter, they hiss in a menacing fashion."

"Were you guys voted anything?" William asks his uncles.

"I got Best Eyes too," Bill says. "You were Best All-Around, weren't you Charlie?"

"Yep. And Most Likely To Have An FBI File. Hey, is there any truth to that, Dana? The Feds keeping an eye on me?"

Scully swallows a bite of bagel. "Not to my knowledge. But I'd be happy to get something started."

"Don't encourage him," Larissa warns. "He'll take it as a challenge."

Charlie points at her with a forkful of whitefish. "Excuse me, but I prefer to be an International Man of Mystery, unfettered by Uncle Sam. Oh, hey, we're moving to Panama City in July if anybody wants hats or cocaine or whatever the hell they make in Panama."

"The national bird of Panama is the harpy eagle," William says. "They're really cool. We're doing Central America in Social Studies."

"You'll have to come visit," Larissa tells him. "See if we can find one up close."

"They're endangered."

"Remember when Dad's boat got delayed in the Panama Canal and Mom dressed up as Santa?" Bill asks. "She had to stuff three pillows into Dad's suit to make it fit."

"She had to roll the pants way up too," Scully recalls. "She almost broke her neck in those boots."

"And Charlie cried when the beard fell off her face."

"Hey, I was three. It was very traumatic," Charlie says around a mouthful of eggs.

"Not as traumatic as my rabbit," Scully sighs. "I still feel guilty about that."

"I wasn't going to say anything," Bill tells her. "But that was kind of awful, wasn't it?"

"I still maintain that's why you went into pathology and law enforcement," Charlie remarks. "To learn to better cover up your crimes."

Scully throws a grape at his head. "Bill, remember when I graduated med school and you and Mom made a Red Velvet cake in the shape of a cadaver?"

"Ha! Yeah, she got the idea from Steel Magnolias."

"That cake wouldn't have been so gross if you hadn't filled it with vanilla custard," Larissa says. "It looked like pus."

"It was supposed to."

Matthew is gazing at his father with something like awe.

"She got her hair redone for my graduation party," Scully muses. "All frosted, with those big wings on the side. Dad told her she looked just like Murphy Brown."

"That reminds me. Bill, you know the time you and Missy found that raccoon and Mom took it to the vet and paid to have its leg set?" Charlie asks. "I found out she used her hairdressing money for that."

"Really? Who told you that?"

"Aunt Olive. When she was drunk at Dana's Sweet Sixteen."

The conversation spins like a Ferris wheel, dizzying and bright, covering high points and low. Scully and her brothers remember the woman their mother was, forget the woman she wasn't, and remind each other of the people they used to be.

Chapter Text

June 20, 2010

"Happy Father's Day!" William shouts, running into their bedroom. "Dad, are you awake?"

"Mm. I am now." Mulder rubs his eyes before propping himself against the headboard. "What's up, buddy?"

"I got you a present." He thrusts a rectangular parcel into his father's lap. "They wrapped it at the store. I don't know how to do wrapping paper. Open it."

Scully yawns, rolling onto her side to watch. "He picked it out himself. I don't know what it is either," she says.

Mulder tears the paper off, then removes the lid from the box. He pulls away the tissue paper to reveal a square clock. In the center, above the hands, is the word "Whatever." The numbers one through twelve are jumbled up in the lower left-hand corner. Mulder and Scully laugh aloud.

William grins delightedly. "You like it? Really?"

Mulder removes the clock from the packaging for closer inspection. "It's perfect. Thank you."

"I thought it would look good in your office. And maybe your students would think it was funny."

"It's going to look great in my office. You'll have to visit again and pick a spot for it. Come here and give your old dad a hug."

William clambers onto the bed to wrap his arms around his father. Then he lets go and sits back on his heels. "I thought a tie would be boring. And you don't really wear them."

"He used to wear horrible ties," Scully tells her son. "Really awful ones. So if he ever gets a job where he has to wear them, you and I are going to pick them out."

"My ties were not that bad," Mulder says. "They were refreshing. And besides, this is coming from the Queen of Shoulder Pads?"

Scully hits him with a pillow and William shakes his head. "You guys are so weird."

Chapter Text

April 7, 2011


Scully shuts the door, then walks over the thick Persian rug to settle behind her large desk. Two decades of hard work have finally paid off, and she is now the lord of her own small fiefdom. Her field office oversees the District of Columbia as well as the state of Virginia. She runs her hands over the blotter, taking in the crisp scents of toner and paper and freshly cleaned carpet. Her reverie is interrupted when the phone rings. Scully answers it, still relishing the sound of her new title.

"SAC Scully? There's a Melvin Frohike here to see you. Shall I send him in?"

Scully groans inwardly, but directs her new assistant to admit him. She flicks imaginary specks of dust from her immaculate desk and straightens the already-straight painting on the wall behind her. The door opens and Mulder walks in.

"Mulder! Where's Frohike?"

Mulder feigns astonishment. "You're already using your office to conduct salacious affairs? You could at least pretend you're not disappointed to see me."

Scully rolls her eyes. "Frohike isn't here, is he?"

"Don't cry. I'm sure he'll stop in if you ask nicely and offer up a few choice government secrets. Frohike's firmly committed to mixing business with pleasure, G-woman."  Mulder pushes the door closed before walking over to perch on Scully's desk. "Nice digs, Scully. The décor is rather uninspired, but we can fix that up for you in no time. I have a few extra posters to get you started. Then we'll work on a bobble-head collection."

"Thanks just the same, but I'd rather not garner a reputation for clinical insanity just yet."

Mulder smiles, leaning across the desk to kiss her. "Shall we christen it? I came all this way …" He runs his forefinger under her collar.

She draws back to give him a stern look. "I know you know me well enough to know that I wouldn't even entertain the idea. So really, why are you here?"

"I don't know if I want to tell you now. That was a pretty cold rejection. I think I'll just head home and drown my sorrows in the rest of that key lime pie." He slides off her desk, then walks back to the entrance.

"You're up to something. But I have lunch with Skinner, so I'm afraid whatever you've got tucked up your sleeve is going to have to stay there for a while."

"You do not, in fact, have lunch with Skinner. You have lunch with me."

Scully gets up from her chair to join him at the door. She pulls out her Blackberry and then brings up the calendar, holding it in front of Mulder's eyes. "I beg to differ." She puts the phone back in her pocket.

"Tsk, tsk," Mulder chides. "He didn't even tell you he bailed? Walter, Walter, Walter."

"Mulder," she says with a trace of exasperation. "I'm quite pleased to see you, but I'm not canceling."

"I've already taken the liberty."

She stares at him. "You what?"

He opens the door, walking into the waiting area without answering.

"I'm not kidding. Mulder, are you serious? What did you do?" Scully follows him past her assistant's desk and into the hallway.

Mulder stops briefly at a potted fichus tree to collect two thermal bags bearing the George Washington University logo. "Call him if you don't believe me. He was very understanding. Do you think he suspects we're sleeping together? Anyway, it's all sorted out, so quit griping."

"Mulder, Skinner and I have some budgetary matters to discuss. Personnel issues. And I have my eye on two very promising students at the Academy. What on earth possessed you to cancel my lunch meeting?" Her arms are crossed.

"Demons? Maybe you should call a priest." He continues to the elevator and presses the down button. He steps in when it arrives, holding the door for her. "So are you coming or what?"

Scully closes her eyes for a second, then sighs and goes to the elevator. Mulder smiles beatifically as he presses the button for the main floor.

The elevator descends quickly, dinging before the doors slide open again. They walk through the lobby, where a few people nod and whisper. Scully smiles in the imperious-yet-casual manner she has perfected. They exit the building onto Fourth Street and into the bright warmth of a Mid-Atlantic spring day.

"I really haven't got the time for this," Scully says, shielding her eyes.

"You don't get enough fresh air," he insists, steering her towards F Street. "You'll shrivel up."

"This from a man who voluntarily spent a decade in the basement?"

"And look how I turned out."

They walk in silence for a time. Mulder takes Scully's elbow and pulls her onto Third. They follow it down to C Street, where they turn right, and then pass the District Court Building. Mulder stops her at the entrance of the John Marshall Memorial Park. "Voila," he says. "We're here."

"Where?"

"Lunch. I find monuments to deceased Supreme Court Justices aid the digestion."

They enter the park, walking down the steps by the Constitutional Pillar. Mulder scouts for a space on the bright grass. Having spotted something suitable, he strides across the lawn and sets his bags down. He unzips one and removes a large George Washington Colonials stadium blanket, which he unfolds, then spreads out. He sits down and looks over at Scully, who has her arms crossed. "Come," he urges her, setting out plates and utensils. "Partake of the bounty that I have procured for you."

"And what exactly have you procured?" she asks, picking carefully across the grass. Her heels sink into the turf every second step, giving her an oddly jerky gait. She attempts to look dignified and Mulder attempts not to look amused.

"I don't know, actually. I told the nice man at Dean and DeLuca that I was hoping to score with some uptight Fed and needed a picnic fit for such an endeavor. He said he'd do his best."

"You're always thinking of me," she says, sitting carefully on the blanket.

"Naked."

Scully digs through the bags, spreading the contents across the blanket. "I'm quite impressed. You may get lucky after all."

"There should be some kind of chocolate something. I was very specific about that."

"Aha!" She lifts out a box tied with a bow. "What have we here?" She opens it, revealing two small chocolate cakes decorated with gold leaf. "Very pretty."

He removes the box from her hand. "You have to eat your healthy food first."

Scully selects a crab cake and bites into it. "With pleasure. Oh, this is very good."

"Aren't you glad I screwed with your day?" he asks, helping himself to an oyster.

She chews thoughtfully. "I have come to appreciate the richness your impromptu diversions have added to my existence."

"Does this mean my brilliant plan to seduce you with food has worked? Your desk looked very sturdy. What kind of wood is it? Teak?"

Scully laughs. "Even if I were inclined to risk my career on such an enterprise, I have a meeting with Senator Atwater at two o'clock."

"Scully," Mulder says patiently, "if anyone understands the need to break up the afternoon with sexual indiscretions, it's the members of our esteemed legislative branch."

Scully shifts over and rests a hand on his knee. "I used to think you were a terrible influence on me," she tells him. "That you were encouraging me to be too reckless and too irresponsible. And that I was giving into it. But I came to realize that taking risks is the only way to ever truly make any worthwhile advances. I like to think I've learned to be a good agent. Hopefully a good SAC. And that's due largely to your influence."

"Well," he says, hoping his voice is steady. "I guess you've earned your dessert now." He passes her the box, which she accepts. Then she sets it down and takes his hand instead.

Chapter Text

October 15, 2011


Scully takes her shoes off after the last of the guests leave. She sits on the stage at the front of the Mellon Auditorium; chin in her hands, elbows on her knees. It was a good party, but it is past two in the morning and she is drained. Behind her, the band is relaxing and polishing off leftovers.

Mulder wanders back in from the bathroom, striding past the empty tables and chairs to sit next to her. His bowtie hangs at either side of his unbuttoned collar, his jacket over his arm.

"You're a fierce party animal, SAC Scully."

She grins. "You had a good time?"

"You make an old man feel appreciated. I always loved this building."

"I know. And fifty's not old." She likes the touches of grey at his temples.

Mulder laughs. "We'll see how you feel when your turn comes in a couple of years."

She bumps his shoulder with her own. "As long as you don't mind sleeping with an old lady, I'm sure I'll be fine with it." Scully gets to her feet to stretch. Without her shoes, the long dress puddles like ink on the floor. She kicks at it in annoyance with her bare feet.

Mulder slips his oxfords off. He stands up and walks behind her, nodding once to the band leader. "You're too short to be a proper chin-rest like this. Get those heels back on."

"Smartass," she says, turning to face him.

Mulder slides his arm around her back, taking her left hand in his right. A piano tinkles onstage, then the woody notes of a clarinet float down. "They're playing our song," he tells her.

"I didn't know we had a song."

"We do. It's…whatever this is."

"Moonglow." Scully pulls away for a moment, reaching down to gather the hem of her dress. She loops it through one of the thin shoulder straps, then takes Mulder's hand again. "That's better."

"I've known you almost twenty years," he muses, leading her smoothly across the floor. The mellow sound of the xylophone rises behind them. "And what a long, strange trip it's been." He holds her close, his hand almost as wide as her waist.

Scully laughs. "That may be the understatement of the year."

"Wishing you'd run screaming for the hills when you still had a chance for normalcy? You could have avoided a lot of tragedy, you know."

Scully presses her cheek to the starched white landscape of his shirt. "And what? Trade William for Emily? You for my sister? It doesn't work like that, Mulder. You can't balance a life like a ledger book. I'd be lying if I told you there are things I wish hadn't happened. But I made a choice to be here, to live this life. And taken as a whole, I wouldn't undo it. Look at you. What you've lost. What about all the things you could undo?"

He shakes his head slowly. "No, I wouldn't either." He tilts his chin down so that her hair brushes against it. She's wearing the same perfume she always has. "But I should have asked you to dance more."

"None of that," she says softly. "You're not allowed to be maudlin at your birthday party."

"I'm not maudlin. I'm reflective. And the party's over."

"The band's booked until three, there are at least two unopened bottles of champagne, and the caterer hasn't packed up the rest of the desserts yet."

"In that case," Mulder says, "I'm hereby filling up your dance card and then we're raiding the kitchen." He raises his arm, guiding her under it. Scully twirls beneath the gilded ceiling, her laughter ringing like a bell in far corners of the cavernous room.

Chapter Text

July 7, 2012


Mulder turns the air conditioning up a notch, staring vacantly out the window at a ladybug on the side view mirror. He startles when the car door opens.

"Jumpy?" Scully asks as she climbs into the passenger seat. She sets two cups and a paper bag into the cup holders, then pulls the door closed. "So. William is dropped off and, presumably, watching the movie. He was so pitifully mortified that one of his friends might see us that I only walked him as far as the edge of the food court. But I spied on him until they all bought tickets and went in."

"He'll probably write a tell-all book about how cruel we were to him."

"Probably. He's at the age where kids like to imagine they're the result of spores. We're officially uncool, Mulder."

"Excellent. Does this mean we can start showing naked baby pictures to his friends? Because I like the one where he's wearing your shoes and holding your badge."

Scully laughs. "I love that picture. But he would probably never recover. Oh, here's your pretzel." She passes him the bag she brought in.

"Thanks," he says, removing his snack from the wrapping. "Mmm. Bless that Auntie Anne. You didn't get anything to eat?"

She wrinkles her nose. "They're too greasy. I just got some lemonade. Iced tea for you."

Mulder clutches a hand to his chest. "She can be taught!"

"Watch it or you're back on root beer. So. What are you up for? The movie's two and a half hours long, plus I gave him twenty dollars for video games and food. He said not to come back before eight."

Mulder swallows the last mouthful of pretzel. He wipes his fingers carefully on one of the little paper napkins that came in the bag. "Are you aware that the back seat of this car has approximately 37.4 cubic feet of space?"

"Nobody likes a math geek, Mulder."

"I do. I like them very much."

"One may use any of the antiderivatives of a function to compute its definite integral," she says seductively, twirling her straw.

"You should never drink and derive, Scully."

She leans over until her lips just graze his ear. "When dealing with a wave function which has an infinite vector with a discrete index, one approaches it in the same manner as a finite vector, but the sum is extended over all the basis elements."

"The probability of us committing a lewd public act is rapidly approaching one," he says as her left hand slides up his thigh.

She sits back to watch him for a moment, drumming her right fingers on her knee. "Let's get a room."

"What?"

"Let's go to a hotel for a few hours. Somewhere nice. We'll check in, order room service, and get our money's worth out of the bed. Then we'll come fetch poor, sad William whose parents are pathetic and embarrassingly dull."

Mulder stares at her. "Turn around slowly so I can stab you in the back of the neck."

She laughs. "What? You don't want to?"

"I'm not sure how to convey my eagerness without looking tragic."

"Convey it, by all means. I won't tell anyone." Scully inches her left hand up to unzip his jeans. "I brought you tea, Mulder. Doesn't that mean anything to you anymore?"

Mulder gives her a long look. "Of course it does," he says, shifting the car into drive.

"And really, even if it's just fate, I think it would be an awful shame waste such a golden opportunity." Scully works her hand through the opening in the front of his shorts, and Mulder nearly takes out a small cypress as he veers towards Westpark Drive.

Chapter Text

December 16, 2012


They sit outside on the deck, watching the logs burn down in the large stone fire pit. The sky is low with shaggy grey clouds. Night is creeping in as the sun advances westward.

Scully checks her watch. "We need to head out soon if you still want to do dinner at Dave and Buster's, Will. You know how packed it gets on the weekends."

William shrugs and stifles a yawn with the back of his hand. "Yeah, I guess. I'm kind of tired though. Maybe we should just stay home. Can we go next weekend?"

Mulder leans over to briefly press his hand to his son's forehead. "Are you ill? I have never heard you pass up ribs and Tokyo Cop."

"I'm okay. I just don't feel like going anywhere." He rubs his eyes with a gloved hand.

"Are you sure you're all right?" Scully asks, sipping from her mug. "You do look a little pale."

"I'm fine. I just haven't been sleeping so good lately is all."

"No? How come?"

William leans forward and jabs at a log with the fireplace poker. He watches as the black wood crumbles to reveal a glowing red center. Little sparks swirl upwards in an eddy on the thermal updraft. "Forget it."

"No such luck, I'm afraid," Mulder says. "I'm cursed with a very good memory. What's going on?"

"Nothing."

Scully studies him for a moment, wondering when exactly their fat-cheeked baby became the lanky boy next to her. William has her sharp nose and blue eyes, but his mouth and his build are Mulder's. They can lay equal claim to his wide stubborn streak and recent tendency towards emotional restraint. Over time, she has learned that the best way to gain control is to give some up. "It's fine," she tells him. "You don't have to say anything if you don't want to."

They sit in silence for a few minutes, listening to the fire pop and crackle. William stares down into a mug of hot chocolate. Mulder tosses some pinecones into the fire, and the air is soon full of their wintry scent.

"I hear people talking all the time, even at night," William says suddenly. "People but not people. And they're, you know, in my head or whatever." He drums his feet against the built-in bench seat.

Scully doesn't risk a glance at Mulder. "People but not people? Can you explain what that means?" she inquires gently.

He shrugs, looking as though he wishes he hadn't said anything. "I don't know. Like it's one voice but it's also a lot of voices. And you can just tell it's not a regular person." He takes a long drink of his hot chocolate.

Mulder's fingers are tapping ceaselessly against his thighs. Scully can see him resisting the urge to interrogate their son. "Can you remember anything that they said?" he asks in a carefully even voice. "Even a little thing might be important."

"They don't really have words. It's like I just know their ideas. They're getting close, whoever it is. I can just feel them getting nearer all the time."

Scully's head jerks up only a split second before her mug slips from her hand and shatters on the deck.

William stares at her, bewildered, as he picks up flashes of strange memories he can't understand. His mother, years younger with a belly like a full moon, screaming on a table. A little girl who bled green blood. His father, lying ashen and gray in a forest clearing. His grandmother standing at a grave with the name Fox William Mulder on the stone. Cancer, nosebleeds, babies in metal jars, a man smoking a cigarette.…

He closes his eyes and presses his hands to his face, unable to move. Mulder lifts him up and they all go into the house, leaving the fire to burn itself out. Once inside, Mulder carries William to the couch. He lays him down and drapes a blanket over his curled form, then sits next to him. Scully sits near his head, running her fingers over his fine hair and his soft neck.

You lied to me.

"We didn't lie," she says. Mulder looks over, watching the two of them.

You didn't tell the truth.

She sighs. "It's complicated, William. We had planned to talk to you about these things at some point in the future, but -"

Dad knew. All those times he went away…

"Your father had some suspicions, but it isn't as though we knew anything for certain."

Aliens are coming here? For real? Like War of the Worlds?

Scully smiles in spite of herself. "War of the Worlds? I have no idea. That's just it. We don't know exactly what's coming."

"It's almost December twenty-first," Mulder says in a dead man's voice. "He might not be so far off."

Scully shoots him a warning glance. "Mulder, I don't think this is the time for -"

You went to Antarctica. You saw things there. Then Dad was…away and you saw that too. Are we going to die?

Scully's face falls. "I don't know." She speaks steadily so that the sob in her throat will stay there. William's pulse is fast under her fingers. "We're going to do our best to keep you safe. That's all I can ever promise you."

Mulder turns sideways, stroking his son's back with one hand. He rests the other on Scully's leg and, together, they stare out the bay window to watch the cold face of the moon rise like a Peeping Tom.


****


The man in the car takes the headphones from his ears and sighs. He pulls out his cell phone, lighting a cigarette as he dials and listens.

"I didn't expect to hear from you quite yet," says the voice on the other end.

"It has to be tonight," he says. "Now."

"Tonight? I thought you wanted to wait until -"

"Gas the house." He hangs up the phone. He does not get out his binoculars to watch the activities across the street. Instead, he puts his car into drive and the sleek black sedan whispers down the dark road like a shadow.


****


Mulder unconsciously recognizes the wumwumwum sound of the ceiling fan before he sees it. It is a soft, rhythmic heartbeat noise, like that of a washing machine. He opens his eyelids, which are heavy as a portcullis, and immediately slams them shut as sharp white light floods in.

He sits up, then opens his eyes again carefully, shielding them with one hand. He is at first certain that his vision has been damaged because the world is white and hazy, but he soon realizes that he is in a bed draped with swaths of mosquito netting. He glances down and sees that he is wearing gauzy white pajamas that look like scrubs. There is an IV in his arm and a papery feeling in his mouth. His head feels like an anvil wrapped in cotton balls.

Mulder bats the netting aside and pulls the IV out. Gingerly, he swings his legs over the side of the bed. He stands, slightly shaky, but the floor remains firm beneath him as he takes a few steps across the gleaming hardwood floor. "Scully!" he calls in a crackly voice. "William!"

A woman runs in and takes his arm. "Ah, Mister Mulder," she says. "You need to rest some more. And you took your IV out. You are probably still dehydrated."  She wags her finger in dismay.

Her voice has a musical lilt. Caribbean, maybe? He can't decide. Mulder tries to pull his arm from her grasp, but nearly loses his balance. He grabs at the wall. "Where are Scully and William? Who are you? And what the fuck is going on?"

"They're in the next room. They woke up a few hours ago and they're doing fine. My name is Aralai. I'm a nurse, and you are at a medical treatment facility on Tivua Island."

Mulder stares at her. "Where is Tivua Island? And why I am I there? Here. Whatever."

"It's in the South Pacific. Fiji. Mister Mulder, please sit down. Your blood pressure is very low and I'm worried you will pass out. Someone is going to explain it all to you. Just relax."

"You get Scully and William in here and I'll relax." He leans against the wall, looking pale and stubborn.

Aralai sighs, then leaves the room. She returns a moment later, ushering Scully and William in before her. "You see? Everyone is fine. Sit down now." Her voice and her expression are stern. She turns sharply on her heel, disappearing around the corner.

Scully runs over to him. "Mulder!" she exclaims with relief. "You're all right."

William looks anxious, but smiles as he walks closer. "Hi," he says.

They appear exhausted, but otherwise fine. They are both wearing pajamas like his. Mulder slowly returns to the bed. William climbs next to him, leaning against his father's side. Mulder drapes an arm around him, then looks up at Scully. "Do you have any idea what's going on?"

She shakes her head. "No one will tell me anything. They kept saying we had to wait for you to wake up, then someone would come talk to us."

"I want to go home," William says in a small voice. "It feels wrong here."

"We will," she assures him. "As soon as we can."

"You are home, William," comes a smooth, familiar voice from around the corner. The voice is joined by a familiar face, though instead of his usual suit, the man is wearing brown linen pants and a white collared shirt with the sleeves rolled up.

"Aren't you supposed to be dead?" Scully snaps before she can stop herself. William blanches at the venom in her tone and tightens his grip on Mulder's arm.
 
"You know what these miraculous recoveries are like," says the man. "Cancer, cerebral inflammation…hardly anything's terminal if you know the right people."

"I must warn you that my temper is extremely short right now," Mulder informs him. "I'm all out of patience, so whatever you have to say, say it fast. What's going on?"

"William knows. He doesn't realize it yet, but he knows."

William looks up at this stranger who makes his mother recall terrible things. "I don't know anything."

"Let's take a walk, shall we? Mulder, I'll call for a wheelchair if you'd like."

"No thank you." Mulder pats his son's shoulder reassuringly. He gets to his feet again, holding onto the wall. He feels stronger this time. Scully hovers anxiously at his side, and William rises from the bed to half-hide between them. They follow their visitor to the doorway, then out into a bright, airy lobby painted a soft shade of green. The lobby leads out to a ramp, which slopes down to a white beach at the edge of a lapis sea. They all walk down towards the shore.

"Paradise," says the man, drawing in a deep breath. "Don't you think?"

"Gorgeous," says Scully. "Send a postcard next time."

He smiles at her. "Do you know what day it is? It's the day after the end of the world, Dana. I couldn't send you a postcard if I wanted to."

"What are you talking about?"

"It's December twenty-second. Life as you know it ceased to exist on the twenty-first."

Scully gapes. "We lost six days?"

"More like four, really. What with the time zones and all, I can't give an exact -"

"Shut up," Mulder snarls. "Just get us home."

"I've already told you. This is your home now." He strolls ahead of them. Small waves splash around his feet.

William scuffs his feet through the sand. He walks to the edge of the Pacific Ocean, looking down at the crust of seaweed and shells that mark the surf's retreat. "It's gone," he says, gazing out over the water. "Everything's gone."

Mulder and Scully look at one another, then at their son. "What's gone?" Mulder asks.

"The strings. The people. The…way things touch." He looks frustrated by his inability to articulate himself. He turns to the mysterious person beside him. "You're my grandfather."

"I am."

Behind them, Scully flinches and Mulder clenches his teeth, but they remain otherwise still.

William takes his grandfather's hand in his own. "You've done awful things," he says quietly. "You shot your little boy."

I did.

"You watched me for my whole life, and you did good stuff for us. You brought us here, away from the…the aliens. They're really real?"

I have no reason to lie to you. Do you believe me?

William shuts his eyes and focuses for a moment. "Yes."

Good. This is one of the safe places. They won't come here. They'll remain on the continents and densely populated areas, scavenge what they can over the next decade or so, then leave.

Scully, unable to tolerate it any longer, starts for the water, but Mulder catches her shoulder. Her body is rigid, but she waits.

The boy hangs his head and works his toes into the wet sand. "So everyone I know is…?"

Dead? Probably.

Fat tears slide down his cheeks and fall into the saltwater below. He lets the hand go.

Don't cry for the dead, son. They're past caring.

"I'm crying for me because I'm sad." He wipes at his face with his sleeve. Then he looks over his shoulder and watches his parents for a moment. "They hate you. I think maybe I should too."

William's grandfather stares past the breakers. I can't tell you what to think or what to feel. I'd advise you not to let anyone do that. Virgil said, 'facilis descensus averno.' Do you know what that means?

"No."

It means, 'It is easy to descend into Hell.' But it's not easy to come back out. Don't let anyone own your actions. It's a cheap way to live.

William squeezes his eyes shut until he feels like he can open them without crying. He turns around and heads back up to his parents. His mother is ashen and there is a hard set to his father's face.

"What did he tell you?" Mulder asks in a tight voice.

"The truth," William answers.

Chapter Text

September 3, 2018

Scully sits on a sugar-sand beach, drowsing in the early evening heat as fat clouds scud across a delphinium sky. She wears a white cotton shift and no shoes. From the corner of her eye, Scully sees a figure coming past the low fence, backlit by the sun. Squinting, she raises a hand to shield her eyes. "Mulder?" she calls.

He comes closer and sits down next to her, his rolled-up sleeve brushing her bare, brown arm. "Dr. Livingstone, I presume?"  His worn shirt is soft as flannel, and his long legs appear even longer in the frayed khaki shorts.

"Hey. Where's William? I wanted to show him how to fix the flange on the sink."

Mulder works his toes into the warm sand. "He has no time for plumbing. Jesse finally got the projector working again, so Will and Lusiani went to a movie. Though the pickings are slim. Tonight it's either Little Shop of Horrors or the second Austin Powers."

"Better than the solid month of Star Wars prequels. I noticed Lusiani had been hanging around quite a bit lately. She and William have been playing H-O-R-S-E a lot since you got the basketball hoop back up."

"Yeah, well. You know, that boy of yours sure gets his ass kicked a lot for someone with a pretty good backcourt game," Mulder observes derisively. He reaches over to grab a coconut from the ground, rolling it towards the water, but it stops short. "Dammit."

Scully smiles. "He's trying to be gentlemanly. And Lusiani's too polite to tell him it's condescending."

"She had better watch herself. Mulder men are notoriously dashing and seductive. Not that I need to tell you that. You threw yourself at me like a drunken prom date the first time I took you to a movie."

She sniffs. "I did not throw myself at you and you did not 'take' me anywhere. We saw that horrible, horrible movie together out of a sense of duty to Skinner."

"For whose flashlight you had, apparently, been harboring an unrequited longing." They can talk about him with ease now, though it took almost a year for the names of those they've lost to stop cutting like a butcher knife.

"Richard Gere," Scully muses, poking idly at a section of palm leaf near her hand. "I still can't quite believe it. It was preposterous! Richard Gere had a substantial head of hair, you realize."

"Richard Gere looked like a collie," Mulder says. "Funny-shaped eyes."

Scully grins at him, then reaches out to pluck dried grass from his shirt. "You know, not everyone gets to have their lives made into a movie AND a book."

Mulder snorts. "Yes, well, that's all very nice for you, Miss I Was Played By Tea Leoni. Miss Noble of Spirit and Pure of Heart. Meanwhile I got Gary Shandling and -"

"I never thought you were a ticking time bomb of insanity," she reassures him. "But I did agree that your psyche was warped."

"You say that like it's a bad thing."

Scully laughs, shifting to lie with her head in Mulder's lap. Her long hair, now a blend of copper and silver, drapes over his leg. "Not all of the time it wasn't." She watches a few petrels swoop down over the water in search of a meal.

Mulder smoothes her hair back from her brow, twining it around his fingers as he stares beyond the sea. "What do you think is out there now?"

She sighs. "I don't know. I used to think about it all the time. Obsessively so. But eventually, I just stopped somewhere along the way. It's as if Out There stopped being real."

"I know what you mean. This is the whole world now. I forget things. Like traffic. Remember traffic?"

"I do that too. You know, after Antarctica I thought I'd never want to see snow again. But I do miss it from time to time now. No more white Christmases."

"Well, it's been twenty years. You've had time to warm up, I guess." His fingers are light against her slim throat. "No more haunted Christmases either."

"Mmm. That was a good Christmas. Psychotic hallucinations and all."

"You played hooky for me," he says fondly.

"I wanted you to open a present on Christmas. And I hated the thought of you being alone." She runs a hand over his calf.

"Well, as our shared hallucinations go, it was much better than the mushroom thing."

"That was a nice addition to my journal. 'Today Agent Mulder and I did massive amounts of 'shrooms and almost died. Yet again.' "

Mulder laughs. Then he reaches down to take her hand, drawing it up to press her knuckles to his lips. "You did throw yourself at me in LA," he murmurs against her warm skin. "You know you did."

"Oh, please. You showed up at my room in nothing but tuxedo pants under the dubious guise of borrowing an ice bucket."

"Mine was cracked." He rests her hand back on his leg. Then he scratches his ear thoughtfully. "Do you think it was cracked because I beat it with my shoe for ten minutes?"

"I wouldn't rule out the possibility," she says, mounding sand over his foreleg. "But perhaps it was just shoddy workmanship."

"Well, we'll just chalk it up to serendipity. Oh, hey, we need to go catch a few fish before the sun sets if we're going to be eating."

Scully sits up to avoid the sand as he shakes his leg free. "What about the boar?" she asks. "Didn't Thomas and Ratu kill a boar?"

"Nope," Mulder says, getting to his feet. He extends an arm to Scully, pulling her up. "Apparently Ratu slipped and sprained his ankle this morning. So no boar. Which I only just discovered. Thomas and I might give it a go tomorrow, but it's fish tonight."

"Fine by me," Scully says.

They brush the sand from their clothes and walk down the beach to where a red rowboat sits in the sand. They push it out into the water until it no longer scrapes the bottom. Scully climbs in, followed by Mulder. She reaches below the seat to retrieve a battered hand net. He begins to row out into to the lagoon and she leans over the side, peering down into the water.

"So what's on the menu tonight? Mulder asks.

"Mangrove snapper, sea bream, and some of those little barracudas."

"I'll have the snapper please, garcon." He rests the oars in the oarlocks.

Scully hangs her arm over the edge, flicking her wrist to dip the net into the water. Her first two tries are unsuccessful. "I think they're onto us," she says, gazing at the fish in annoyance. "Mulder, is it wrong that part of me doesn't care what's out there anymore? I mean, fundamentally I do. If I really and truly contemplate how horrifying it must be, how much we've lost, I get sick. But I don't want to go back. I don't ever want to have to pick up the pieces. I don't want William to have to see whatever ruins are left."

The net cuts into the water again and Scully triumphantly tips two flopping fish into the bottom of the boat. Once they go still, Mulder wraps them in banana leaves and stacks them in a small basket.

"There's nothing wrong with that. Or if there is, I'm wrong with you." He watches her capture and deposit several more fish. "I didn't want it to be real. For all those years I railed about no one believing the evidence at hand, I didn't want to believe it all myself when it happened. But those satellite images before the blackout..." He trails off, shaking his head. "What purpose would going back serve? To gawk and live some post-apocalyptic Mad Max existence?"

Scully nods. "That's where I am. How much do you think William remembers? I haven't really discussed it with him. He doesn't like it to be brought up."

"I don't know," he says, topping off the full basket with more banana leaves. He slides over to rinse his hands in the clear blue water, then dries them on his shorts. "I tried to stop it all somehow. I really thought I could. I feel like a colossal failure sometimes."

"We're alive, Mulder. You didn't fail. William's very happy. And so am I. I know you wanted to go see it all for yourself, but I'm glad you listened to reason. Australia's thousands of miles from here and there's no reliable transportation."

"Reason, threats…it's all the same," Mulder says, smiling. He reaches over to brush a fall of hair from her face. Above them, the clouds have turned lavender and the sky burns pink and orange. Back on shore their house awaits, and out past the wide, wide sea lies what's left of the world. They sit in their small boat, in the gloaming, and watch the day go down to dark. High above them, stars begin to bloom like cereus. Many of them are distant suns to their own lonely planets. The tide rises up the beach and Mulder pulls at the oars to follow the waves home.