Title: Armageddon Falls
Author: The Fox
Written: November 2002
Spoilers: Maybe all?
Rating: PG-13 for profanity
Classification: M/S AU
Disclaimer: I deny everything, apart from what I made up.

Summary: What happens now?

Author's Note: This is not part of The Beginning Series, though there may be some very slight references. Thanks to Kimpa, as always, for beta work and also for the warm website at www.kimpart.com where my stories have been archived. (www.kimpart.com/foxden.html)


Chapter 1

A trickle of perspiration trailed down his temple to tickle his cheek. He swiped at it with a grubby hand and continued to focus on the task at hand. His concentration was waning in the heat of the day but he tried to maintain the connection in the vastness of his mind. There had been one particular 'nudge' as he'd begun to call them some time ago earlier in the day and he'd decided to investigate this further before returning home.

The vision in his mind's eye was not forming particularly well today and to this, he blamed the heat. It was just too damned hot! He hoped that 'nudge' he'd received that morning wasn't too urgent and perhaps he'd be able to make a better connection in the cooler evening.

He scampered down the tree, scratching part of his right elbow on a loose piece of bark. He gave it a quick rub, grimacing at the brief pain it produced, picked up his backpack and trudged off in the direction of home.

As he reached the driveway, he noted the 4WD parked in the garage. It was unusual for his father to be home so early these days. He'd been working on some project for the university and never seemed to make it home before nightfall. Of course, he knew it was much more than that, but he would not frighten his parents by letting on.

"Scully, just listen to me!"

So it was serious. His father never uttered his 'pet name' for his mother unless he was either excited or worried. By the tone of his voice, it was obviously worry.

He opened the front door slowly, peering through the crack now formed.

"Mulder, please don't do this now."

Okay, when his mother called his father by her 'pet name' then it was definitely serious.

"Scu..." His father turned, seeing the door slightly ajar in his peripheral vision. His creased brow softening at the sight of his son's concerned face through the small slit. "Will, don't hover, we're not fighting."

Will walked into the family room, goose bumps beginning to cover his exposed flesh from the air conditioning his mother loved so much. His mother looked up under her linked fingers across her forehead then allowed them to fall to her lap under the table.

"Is everything okay?"

Scully beckoned her son toward her. He stood beside her, leaning on the table.

"Will, we need to talk to you." Scully noticed the drying blood on her son's arm, grabbing it and bending it to view the wound. "What happened?"

"It's just a scratch. I was coming down from the tree too fast."

"I wish you wouldn't climb that damned thing."

His mother motioned to leave the table, possibly to search for some disinfectant and bandaids. She was always so cautious when it came to his health and welfare, even when there was no need to. He had always been in perfect health, in fact, no childhood disease that most other children went through.

"Mom," Will pulled her on her sleeve, "please save that for later. I climb the tree 'cause it gives me clearer thoughts. I'm not sure." After his mother returned to her seat, he prodded further. "Mom, tell me. Do we have to move again?"

His parents glanced at each other momentarily, Mulder shifting slightly, placing both hands on the table.

"Will, why did you climb the tree?" He ignored the icy glare from his partner and continued. "Did you see something again?"

"Dad, I don't 'see' things, I kind of feel them."

"Okay, so did you 'feel' something?"

"Mulder..." Scully received one of Mulder's own frustrated looks. "Jeff..."

"It's okay." Will interrupted. "You can use your real names. It's only me. I don't know why you keep it up around me."

"Well Will," Mulder chuckled, "we tried to keep it up around you so that you'd get used to the names and not slip up in public. I'm sorry we underestimated your intelligence."

"I won't slip up."

"Okay, Will. So what did you feel?"

"I tried. I kept feeling a nudge all morning but I couldn't concentrate. I think it was just too hot and I couldn't focus. I can try again later when it cools down."

"I'll go with you." Mulder returned Scully's stare. "So he won't get any more scratches."

"Mom?"

"Yes, sweetie?"

"Are you going to leave me again?"

Scully's smile dropped and an invisible spear entered her heart, producing a sob from her lips. She grabbed her son and pulled him close in an almost painful grip. Will did not move or complain. He knew that his mother needed the contact. Mulder stepped forward and knelt beside them, one hand stroking his son's head.

"Will..." Scully leaned back, releasing her grip slightly to view her son's face. "I'm sorry you remember that. I never meant to..."

Tears cut into her speech.

"I know, mom. It's okay. I understand that it was to keep me safe." Will returned his mother's embrace, then felt for her hand as well as his father's. Joining their hands with his own, he stepped back against the table, a solemn look on his face. "I just feel that you're going to leave me again. I'm not little any more, so I want to go with you."

"Will," Mulder swept a grimy spot from his son's cheek with his free hand, "what makes you think we're going to leave you?"

"I can *feel* it. I know you don't want to and you're fighting against those thoughts. Please dad, I won't be in the way and I'll do everything you say. I'm not a little kid any more!"

His voice raised on his last sentence, causing both parents to glance at each other again.

"No, Will. I forgot you're an old man at 10 years old."

"Mulder."

"Dad, you're underestimating my intelligence again."

Shot down by his own statement, Mulder sighed and made a pleading look to his partner.

"We know that you possess these feelings and that you are very intelligent for your age, but..."

"But? Mom, I could help! I promise! Don't leave me behind because you think it's for my own good! Please! The safest place is with you and dad. I know this and you know that I know these things." Both parents laughed despite themselves. Will realizing his repetitiveness, tried to continue. "Well, you *know* what I mean."

With that, all three began to laugh.

"Mulder, he definitely possesses your sense of humor."

'Thanks, Scully. Will, you take that as a compliment. Okay?"

"I guess so. Does that mean you'll take me along?"

"Will, how did you know we what we were planning?" Scully took over wiping the grime from her son's face. "What else do you know?"

"Mom, I keep telling you I don't know. I just feel these things and sometimes if I really concentrate, I can feel what you're thinking."

"You have to concentrate? So not while you're sleeping, right?"

"Mulder..."

"Well, hey, some thoughts are not to be read under 18 years old."

"Mulder..."

"Don't worry, dad, I don't understand all the thoughts that go through your head."

Scully stifled a laugh.

"That makes two of us."

"Okay, okay. Point taken." Mulder stood, knees popping slightly. "I guess we need to tell you everything, Will."

"Mulder, should we?" Scully leaned into his touch against her cheek. "I don't know."

"He already feels some things already, Scully. We shouldn't underestimate that either. Maybe he's right, he'll probably be safer with us."

Will gave a toothy grin, white against his tanned skin. He could feel his parents relenting.

"You bet!"


Chapter 2

"Dad?" Will wriggled into a more comfortable position on the limb of the tree, looking down at his father who was shaking a few bark strips from his hair.

"Yeah?"

"Have you ever thought how weird I am?"

Mulder squinted up into the foliage, aware that any movement from his son could cause more bark or grit to fall into his eyes.

"Will, you're not weird."

"Well, some of the kids at school won't come near me. I heard they think I'm weird and I know that some of the teachers don't like me."

"Will..." Mulder took a breath, "Did you know that I had a nickname? It wasn't something that I chose myself, and it upset me when I first heard it."

"It pissed you off?"

"Will... if your mother heard you..."

"She'd blame you!" Will grinned down at his father, hair hanging around his head.

"Yeah, she probably would." Mulder chuckled. "But what I'm trying to say is that some people just don't understand and what they don't understand they fear. I think they're just scared of you."

"What was it?"

"What was what?"

"The nickname."

"Spooky. Spooky Mulder."

"Wow. Does it still piss you off?"

"Will..."

"Okay, *upset* you. Does it still upset you?"

"No, not any more. It did at first, then I ignored it and then I started using it myself. In my line of work it was kind of ... appropriate."

"Because you and mom chased spooks?"

"Not just spooks, but things out of the ordinary."

"The paranormal anomalies."

Mulder peered up into the tree again. Will had his hands folded on the limb with his head propped on top, almost like he was contemplating something very important.

"Where did you learn that?"

"On your computer."

"Will, you're a bright kid but you don't listen. Keep your mitts off my computer."

"You have some cool stuff on there."

"You have your own computer. Do your own search." Mulder grinned. "Cool, huh? Yeah, I guess they are."

A long, comfortable silence fell between them. Will's leg hung over the side of the limb, kicking absently.

"Dad?"

"Hmmm? You getting anything?"

"Not yet. Were you and mom ever scared of me?"

"What?"

"You said people sometimes fear what they don't understand."

"That's true. But we're your parents. We don't fear you, Will, we love you."

"I know but did you ever fear me?"

"Okay," Mulder let out a deep sigh, "I guess we did at first when we didn't know what to expect but later I think it developed into a fear *for* you, not *of* you."

"Dad?"

"You're not weird."

"Someone's coming."

Mulder sat up, turning toward the road. It was hard to see in the falling darkness but there were no headlights that he could see and from the vantage point they had, it was impossible for anything to get by without being sighted.

"Will, no one's on the road."

"Someone's coming," he repeated, almost trance-like.

Mulder realised he was *feeling* something.

"Who's coming, Will?"

"Monsters."

"Monsters? Can you describe these monsters?"

"Like us but not like us."

"Human?"

"Human but not human."

Mulder leaned against the tree trunk, becoming frustrated with the cryptic messages. He needed something more elaborate in order to determine the most appropriate action to take.

"Will, can you tell me more?"

"Not today..." Will's voice lowered almost to a whisper, straining Mulder's hearing. "Not tomorrow... but coming... monsters coming. They need..."

"What do they need?"

Mulder received silence in reply.

"Will?" He moved directly underneath the limb accommodating his son. "Will? Answer me buddy!"

Will shook his head fiercely, his hair flying wildly around his face, almost as if he were endeavouring to disengage all recent thoughts from his mind. His flushed face scanned the ground beneath him at first not acknowledging his father's presence. He then swung both legs around and manoeuvred his body to slide along the branch. He dangled his legs below him before he released his grip. Mulder, his heart leaping to his throat, caught him on a reflex motion.

"Jesus, Will!"

"It's not that much of a drop, dad." He grinned, all traces of the hypnotic state completely gone. "But nice catch for an old guy!"

Mulder feigned an upward slap to the back of Will's head after releasing him, Will ducking in response.

"Just don't give me a heart attack, I don't want your mother's next autopsy to be me!"

He pulled his son toward him, letting his arm rest around his shoulder as they walked back toward the house.

"Dad? Are you going to tell me why we have to move?"

"Are you going to tell me about what you saw or felt back there?"

"Dad, that's not fair. I asked first."

"Bad luck, kid. I'm the parent. I go first."

Will's shoulders slumped under the weight of his father's arm, seemingly in acquiescence.

"I felt..." Will floundered to find the most appropriate word, "a monster."

"You said that before. What do you mean by 'monster'?"

"That's the only thing that I can think of. Big like a man, but not a man and doesn't have a man's thoughts."

"You can read their thoughts?"

"No..." he shook his head, "no more... I don't know. It's like there aren't any thoughts... just..."

Mulder felt his son shiver and stopped, turning Will to face him.

"Just what?"

"It felt like something really bad, dad. Really evil."

"Will, you started to say that it 'needed' something. What was it?"

"That's all I could feel; that it needed."

"But needs what?"

"I don't know." Will examined his feet. "We should go home or mom'll get worried."

"Will, tell me."

Will's eyes met his. They were intense, sad, almost aged, much like a mirror image of his own and they were brimming with unshed tears.

"It needs ME!"

Mulder knelt down, gripping Will's shoulders.

"Why does it need you?"

"I just feel... I think..." The tears started their tracks down his cheeks. "I just know it!"

Mulder pulled his son to him, hot tears dampening the side of his neck where Will sobbed. Perhaps this ability was more a curse than a gift. Why should a 10-year- old boy have to bear this burden, this fear?

"Okay Will, we're here and we're not leaving you behind," he repeated this twice more, rubbing Will's back, soothing him as he had done since he was a baby, waiting for the sobs to dissipate. "Let's go home and start preparing to leave, ok?"

Will's head nodded against his father's neck but he couldn't seem to abate the sobs or let go. He felt slightly ashamed for acting like a baby but also wanted to be within the security of his father's arms just a while longer.

Mulder picked up his son, still clinging his trembling body to him, and started slowly back home. Soon home would take on a whole different meaning too. He felt the old pang of fear creep back. It had been a long time since they had been anything but a normal family. Normal. At least he had had a taste of normalcy; something he never thought he would experience. But by God it would take more than a fucking monster to take this away from him. They may have to leave their home for a while but he would fight tooth and nail to keep them all together, to be able to return to their normal life.

Preparations would have to start soon. If Will's perceptions were any indication, they would probably have to leave within the next day or so. They would also have to prepare Will. It was time to tell him their plan.


Chapter 3

Will was just too damned quiet. There was no hint of a mischievous grin or an inquisitive raised eyebrow, imitating his mother. He sat for most of the day, comic book in his lap but not really reading and either inspecting his hands or gazing out the window. The endless energy seemed to have been sapped by the previous night's conversation.

"Will?" Mulder called from his position on the kitchen bench.

"Yeah?" Will's eyes lazily moved from the view outside the window.

Jesus. Haunted eyes, Mulder noted.

"Why don't you finish packing and we'll go into town for dinner? How about pizza?"

Will nodded, dropped his comic on the coffee table and shuffled off to his room. No enthusiasm about driving into town and no insistence about ordering his favorite toppings.

Too damned quiet.

A hand slid over Mulder's thigh and squeezed momentarily before handing him a mug of coffee. He sipped, absently feeling for Scully's hand. Taking his hand, Scully moved to stand between his knees, resting their linked hands on one.

"He'll be okay."

"Will he? Maybe we shouldn't have told him so much. Maybe it's just too much for a kid to handle."

"Mulder, he's exceptional. We both know that. Yes, he's only 10 years old and he's our son, but he's also very bright and he has abilities that we can't even comprehend and neither can he. How this came to be, we have no idea. But we both know that he also has a right to know before he *felt* anything."

"Do you see the way he is today though? Isn't it tearing you up to see him like that?"

"Of course it is. But I don't think that it's to do with what we told him. Mulder, he was elated to know that we're taking him with us. I think it has to do with what he saw last night."

"You mean, what he 'felt'?"

"'saw', 'felt'... Whatever. I think whatever it was; it scared him. Really scared him." Scully squeezed his hand. "It scares me too."

Mulder set his mug on the bench, encircling his arms around Scully, pulling her close.

"You think he lied about the monster thing?"

"No, I think that's the only way he could describe it."

"What do you think it is?"

"I don't know. I can only speculate."

"So, speculate Dr. Scully." Mulder kissed her forehead, receiving a smile in reply. "You're so sexy when you speculate."

"Mulder, be serious."

"I am being serious. There are a number of times you can be sexy and speculating is one of them."

"You're so full of it." She arched an eyebrow. "Do you want to know or not?"

"Always."

"I think he's just describing a force behind this feeling."

"Like in Star Wars? 'May the force be with you'?"

"Mulder..."

"Sorry. A 'force'?"

"Yes. I think he can only feel some kind of presence that emanates a sensation or emotion. What this thing or beings, whether there be more than one, is radiating, is a feeling that he can't really comprehend and it scares him."

"That's some speculation, Scully."

"A leap?"

"You sound like me."

"Thank you. I take that as a compliment. My partner is quite brilliant, you know."

"I know."

"And modest."

"Yep."

A brief kiss was interrupted with a crash from upstairs.


Will fell onto the bed, scattering the comics he had been sorting to take with him over the bedcover and on the floor. He felt lethargic and drained. He didn't really want to finish packing, though he knew he had to. It was decided they should leave at first light tomorrow.

He had felt excited at first, thinking that he would be sharing one of his parents' adventures with them. The feeling of dread crept up gradually during the night and the memory of what he had felt from his bout on the tree inundated his thoughts.

His parents had explained as much as they could to him, clarifying many feelings that he had experienced in the past.

Uncle Walter - or Skinner, as his parents called him - had contacted his father with news that a committee of sorts had reconstructed to form a lethal and malicious group. His father had given them a name: Consortium. He hadn't seen Uncle Walter in almost 2 years but was sent regular presents, his comics. They both shared an interest in the animated world and though Uncle Walter's exterior exhumed sternness and rigidity, he had a very soft interior, or so Will felt. So, if Uncle Walter had called his father directly, it was definitely of some importance.

This Consortium had reformed after a long absence and was apparently after his family. His parents didn't affirm this, but he knew that he was the focal point of their chase. Everyone wanted a piece of his ass it seemed. Well, not his ass so to speak, but definitely him.

He knew he was different from the other kids at school but he never really knew how or why. Last night, his parents had completed that part of the puzzle. Both had been exposed to a virus, allegedly unknown or alien (his father receiving a few icy glares from his mother at this point) before his conception. This virus could have mutated in his bloodstream as he grew within his mother's womb and somehow enabled him to have some kind of extrasensory skill.

Perhaps this was why the Consortium was after him. His father was adamant it was a vendetta against him because he had pledged to dispose of them. Will knew better but scaring his parents could only lead to being left behind for 'his own safety' and though the year apart from them was a long time ago, it had been a year in limbo; of feeling them, but not having them near and of sheer loneliness for them. He would not risk being left alone again.

He could hear his parents downstairs talking. He knew it was about him and their fears for him. He would have to shake out of this disposition to placate their concerns. He could be strong and he knew he could be of help to them and most of all he knew he had to be with them.

Will slid from the bed to the floor, gathering the comics into a pile, choosing his favorites to take with him. He rose to place his selection on the bureau to add them with his preferred clothes. He glanced at his window that seemed to cloud over like it did on frosty mornings, only it was the middle of Summer. He suddenly felt a surge of fear and hate escalate inside him and as he watched, the windowpane cracked and suddenly burst inward. He crouched down, covering his head with his arms as shards of glass rained around him.


Chapter 4

 

Mulder crashed through the bedroom door almost losing his balance as the door pushed back easily, much more easily than he had anticipated. Too many similar incidents in the past warranted the notion of locked doors. Scully, close on his heels, steadied him with both outreached arms, then turned her attention to their son crouched under the window.

"Will!"

Will's arms lowered to reveal widened, frightened eyes. A small gash was evident on his forehead.

"Mom?"

Scully rushed to her son's side, examining the wound before squeezing him into an embrace. Mulder joined them, briefly checking Will's forehead himself, then moving to inspect the area around the window.

There was no projectile on the floor and as far as Mulder could ascertain, no object to suggest that Will have lashed out at the window himself. Will's hands and arms were also wound-free. The shards of glass jutting out from the windowpane were hot. Lightning? Mulder scanned the sky. Blue and clear.

"Will?" Mulder knelt beside his family. "What happened?"

"Mulder, he's shaking. Can't we keep the interrogation until he calms down?"

"I'm not..." he rubbed his chin, "Okay, you want to clean that up and I'll work on here."

Scully stood bringing Will with her. She led him towards the bathroom but felt him tense and turn.

"Dad, I'm not sure exactly what happened. I just got this *feeling* and then the window burst."

"It just burst?"

"Yeah, I guess."

"What was the feeling you had before this happened?"

"I'm not sure."

"Let's do this later," Scully interrupted, "right now I want to disinfect that cut."

They walked a few paces before Will turned again.

"Fear."

"What?" Mulder stepped towards him, ignoring Scully's frustrated looks. "What was 'fear'?"

"That was the feeling: fear."

"Your fear or someone else's?"

"I was scared afterwards but that feeling was coming from outside."

"Okay," Mulder eyed Scully's frown, "go clean up now."

He listened to Scully's reassuring level voice over the running water in the bathroom as he observed the shards of glass more closely. They were still warm.

"Dad?"

Will's head peered around the bathroom door.

"Yeah?"

"There was one more feeling."

"What's that?"

"Hate."

 


Scully took one last long look at the house from the passenger's side of the 4WD. A tear escaped down her cheek. Mulder intercepted it before it reached her chin, sweeping it away with his thumb.

"Hey Scully, don't. We'll be back."

"How can you be so sure?"

"I just have this gut feeling. You should know that I've always run on that Scully."

The corners of her mouth curved upward.

"Yeah you have and a number of those times has gotten us into a lot of trouble."

"Ouch. You sure know how to wound a guy."

"I hope you're right. This was really a home, Mulder. Our home."

Scully took his hand from her face and kissed the palm.

"Er... Scully," Mulder leaned closer, "if you're trying to come on to me, I have to remind you there's a 10 year old in the back seat."

She tossed his hand away.

"Drive Mulder."

Mulder grinned widely. It faded as he checked the rear view mirror. Will was focused on his bedroom window.


It stepped up to the driveway, stopped and scanned the area around the house. It's eyes settled on the second floor window, the head tilting slightly to the right as if contemplating the broken pane with the piece of plywood covering the gaping hole from the inside.

It moved toward the door, touching the heavy wood panelling with open palms. It seemed to concentrate by squeezing both eyes shut and leaning against the door. A few moments passed before it retreated back to the driveway, where it proceeded to turn in a clockwise motion from the same position, stopping at north, east, south and west.

Seemingly satisfied, it moved on into the failing daylight of the afternoon. The music of the cicadas was no longer heard among the trees.

It would continue day and night to close the distance that had now increased. This had not been anticipated. Sleep or rest was not needed for replenishment.

The course was set and failure was not an option.


Chapter 5

"Christ!"

Mulder clenched his teeth as he gripped the wheel tighter.

"Wha..?" Scully blinked awake, straightening in her seat. "Mulder?"

"Sorry babe."

Scully smiled. It was rare to hear this form of endearment from Mulder unless they were making love. She reached out to touch his cheek.

"What's up?"

"Bad road along here." He nodded to the windscreen. "Damned potholes everywhere. I didn't mean to wake you."

"It's okay. What time is it?"

"Nearing six."

"You want me to take over?"

"I'm okay for a while longer though I could do with a break and some food. Hungry?"

"Mmm a little."

"You know," Mulder checked the rearview mirror, "he's got to be hungry too. He didn't have much to eat at lunch."

Scully craned around her seat to view her sleeping son.

"Mulder, he's sleeping so much. Do you think whatever he's going through is draining him?"

"I think," Mulder veered into the exit lane, "that we should stop and get some food into all of us. I don't know whether it's draining him or it's a form of escape."

"Mulder, this is too much for him. Maybe we should've..."

"Left him?" Scully turned back in her seat, sad eyes staring back at him. "Scully, you know what?"

"What?"

"I don't think we could've anyway. We need him as much as he needs us."

"I know." Scully nodded. "I know, but I hate to see him like this."

"Neither do I, but what can we do? He has this ability that just can't be turned off. You know that it's gotten stronger as he's become older."

"Is that a good thing or a bad thing?"

"Don't ask me that."

"Why not?"

"Because..." Mulder hit the steering wheel. "Because I don't know!"

Scully gripped his arm.

"Mulder. I don't know either. I was just speculating..." She stopped as she noticed Mulder's lips curve into a smile. "What?"

"You just have to speculate all the time. Just trying to turn me on."

"God, Mulder. You turned the conversation completely around on me."

"Yeah, and I'm good at it. Let's not do this any more. He may be tired and scared but he's with us. I don't know what lies ahead, Scully, I just know that I need to keep us all together."

"And if there's danger ahead?"

"Knowing our history there probably is, but we'll deal with it. I promise you that I'll do everything I can to keep us together and alive."

"I don't doubt that Mulder."

"And you're still watching my back after all these years."

"That's what partners are for."

"Don't get all mushy on me, woman."

Scully stifled a laugh.

"Food, Mulder. You promised food."


"Hey Will, you know there's a small orchard up ahead that lets you pick your own fruit. Wanna go?" Mulder set his fork down, watching his son dunking a french-fry repeatedly into some ketchup on the side of his plate. "Hey bud?"

Will raised his eyes and after shaking his head, returned to the over dipped fry. Scully brushed the hair back from Will's forehead.

"Will, why don't we do that? Might be fun and we need some fresh fruit." Will repeated the shake of his head. "Why not, sweetie?"

"We have to make up more time."

Mulder sat forward.

"More time? Will, what do you know?"

Will dropped the untouched morsel into the dollop of sauce, shrugged his shoulders and finally looked up.

"I just feel things, Dad."

"I know, I know. Tell us what you're feeling then."

"I feel..." Will shrugged again. "I feel that we don't have much time to stop."

"Why Will?" Scully moved his plate aside. "We need to stop sometimes."

"I know but we shouldn't make unnecessary stops. We need to get further away." Will's voice became louder and his words came in rapid succession. "We have to get further and further away so that there's more distance between us. The more there is, the more I won't feel. Then we'll have more time."

"Okay, Will." Mulder reached over, as did Scully, to place their hands on Will's, clearly shaking on the table. "Okay, calm down. We'll get as far away as we can, okay? Are you able to define who or what's coming?"

"A monster."


It looked out into the night, above the trees on the horizon, above the moon to the stars as if it were trekking a course; a pathway through the Milky Way.

It seemed satisfied of its decision to take that particular road. There were no lights to guide its path, no maps. It had no need of such things. Its beacon was there but not in the form of a light. There was a connection that governed its path.

It would continue on through the night for it needed no rest. It would continue until it found its goal.


Chapter 6

Monster.

The word kept repeating in Scully's head. What the hell did he mean? Mulder was quick to believe that whatever Will was feeling it was coming from a monster of sorts. Her scientific rationality was not as quick to accept this. It was cryptic; it had to be. There was no such thing as monsters, right? Over the years partnering with Mulder sometimes her all-too-sane theories had been discredited. There were doubts, questions left unanswered.

Monster? She hoped that this was just a word Will used to illustrate his fears. If this was an actual monster of some unknown origin she had no way of knowing how to combat it, to protect her family. Her science would be of no use to them if they were working in the unknown.

"What?"

Scully shook from her reverie to see Mulder's eyebrows raised in question.

"You believe what Will's been saying, don't you?"

"Why wouldn't I?"

"No, I mean about the 'monster'. Do you believe that it's 'something' and not 'someone'?"

"Something extraterrestrial? A phenomenon? An unanswered anomaly?"

"Mulder..."

"Scully, I know you think I'm gullible and believe in anything."

"I never said 'anything'."

"No?"

"You don't believe in the tooth fairy."

"Well, you know, in England back in..."

"Mulder... don't push it."

"All I'm saying is that we should keep an open mind."

"I always have to be the logical one."

"Hey now!" He glanced at her crossing her arms. "Scully, what's really bugging you?"

Scully stared straight ahead into the growing darkness.

"It scares me that I don't know what we're dealing with. If we knew, we could fight it, we could protect him."

"Hey, Scully..." Mulder pulled on one of her arms, grabbed a hand in his, pulling it toward his lips. "We *will* protect him."

"Can we, Mulder? How can we when we don't know what we're up against?"

"We'll give it our best shot. We're a hell of a team to defeat."

"You're so full of it, Mulder."

Mulder grinned against her hand.

"But you love me anyway."


"Mommy!"

Scully sprang from the bed, tripping over her shoes on the floor in the darkness. Mulder's hand retrieved his pistol from beneath his pillow in an automatic response to the cry. He fumbled for the switch on the lamp beside the bed.

The light was blinding at first and he squinted until he was able to focus on Scully at the far end of the room beside the rollaway. She had already pulled Will into an embrace.

"Mommy, mommy..."

Will's voice was muffled against his mother's shoulder as Scully gripped him tighter. He had ceased calling her 'mommy' a couple of years ago. Reverting to this was a sure sign he was absolutely terrified.

"Shhh Will. It's okay, I'm here."

"Daddy...?"

"I'm here too buddy." Mulder knelt beside them, reassuring Will by rubbing his back. "We're both here. We're not going anywhere."

Will's sobs dissipated into long, ragged gasps. Scully pulled back to take in his face. His cheeks were flushed and perspiration glistened on his forehead. His eyes were wet, yet distant, not focused on either parent.

"Will?" Scully brushed against his wet cheeks. "It was just a nightmare. It's okay now."

No response, just drawn out breathing. Scully held Will's face, leaning closer.

"Will? Will, look at me." She shook him slightly within her hands, her stomach clenching in fear. "Will?"

"Hey, Will." Mulder bent forward and gripped Will's shoulder. "Will, wake up NOW!"

Will blinked several times in succession before his eyes centred on his mother, then his father. He sat back and began to swipe the tears from his eyes and cheeks. Scully reached out, stilling his movements.

"Will?"

"Sorry mom."

"Will, don't be sorry. You had a nightmare."

"No."

"Yes, sweetie."

"No, it wasn't a nightmare." Will shook his head, imploring eyes seeking both parents. "It was real. The monster's real."

"Will..." Scully smoothed his hair. "Will, I know you think..."

"It's real!" Will pulled away. "Dad, you believe me don't you?"

"Will, I believe you think it's real."

"It is!"

"Okay," Mulder nodded, "okay Will, it's real. Where is it now? Is it so close now that you see it in your dreams?"

"I don't see it, dad, I feel it."

"Okay, is the feeling much stronger?"

"Yeah."

"Do you feel we should get moving now? Right this minute?"

"No..." Will's eyes wandered past Mulder. "No... a day... maybe less."


"What did you make of all that?"

Scully propped herself up on Mulder's chest, whispering so as not to wake Will who had finally fallen asleep again.

"I think we get an early start tomorrow and get us some distance between this 'thing' and us."

"I wish I knew what it was, Mulder."

"Yeah, but I don't want to wait around to find out. Do you?"

"No." Scully let out a sigh. "I don't think he could cope if this thing was too close."

"Then get some more sleep, you'll need it." He kissed her forehead. "We'll all need it."


It continued through the undergrowth, not brushing aside the twigs and foliage jutting out along its path. It didn't feel sensation, it didn't taste, and it didn't smell. It just was. It could only feel a need. That need kept it continuing in the right direction. It was closer. The need was stronger.


Chapter 7

Mulder slammed the phone back down on the hook and leaned against the frame of the booth. He glanced through the grime on the glass encasing to his partner and child in the 4WD; so vulnerable to the elements. How the fuck was he supposed to protect them?

The front passenger window rolled down revealing the concerned face of his partner.

"Mulder?"

"Yeah, just a minute."

He needed to collect his thoughts but what was the point? He couldn't think of a thing. Not one fucking thing! They were on their own for now but he had no idea where to go or what to do.

He shuffled a few pebbles beneath his feet and watched them roll out from under his shoe in no particular direction... just like them. Shit.

"Mulder?"

He squinted through the murky glass again at Scully's frown. He drew a breath, exhaled loudly and slowly returned to the car.

Before settling behind the wheel again, Mulder checked Will in the back seat; head lulling to one side, asleep. A touch to his cheek brought him back into focus.

"Mulder, what?"

"Skinner doesn't have any further news. We're supposed to lay low until he can pinpoint where we're supposed to go."

"There's no safe house he can allocate for us?"

"He's sure that anything within the FBI would be monitored."

"Any ideas?"

Mulder sunk back into the seat, exhaling through his nose. He reached out to the keys in the ignition. Scully's hand stilled his motion.

"Mulder?"

Mulder clenched his eyes shut.

"What do you want me to say, Scully? You want me to tell you I have all the answers? Well, I don't. I have no clue where to go or what we're supposed to do!"

"Mulder I wasn't assuming you had all the answers. Neither do I. We know we need to get further away from whatever Will sees coming. I just thought maybe Skinner had some idea of the direction."

Mulder shook his head.

"He has no idea."

"Not even from any of his sources?"

Another shake. Mulder turned the key in the ignition, his expression remaining solemn.

"At times like these I miss the Gunmen."

"Mulder..." Scully gripped his arm. "I know... Even Frohike's leer?"

"Yeah," Mulder grinned, "even his leer."

"West."

Mulder and Scully turned to see their son rubbing his eyes.

"What's west, sweetie?" Scully prodded gently.

"We have to go west. Arizona."

"Why?" Mulder set the hand brake, leaning further around his seat. "What's there?"

Will shrugged.

"Will..." Mulder began, but was quickly nudged by Scully.

"Mulder, let's just go with that for now."

They turned in their seats, gave one long, confused look at each other, before Mulder released the brake and set the car in motion. He glanced in the rear view mirror once before entering back onto the highway. Will was staring out the window, his eyes more distant than the miles they'd travelled from their home.


It stepped out onto the highway, no cars passing in the early light of day. It bent down to touch the tar-covered road. Its need was growing but the sensation of distance was now greater. It did not feel anger or disappointment. It knew that it would reach its goal. Humans always made errors. Soon it would reach its goal. Soon.


Chapter 8

"How much for a rollaway to put in our room?"

Mulder signed the reception register under the name of Jones after showing one of the last fake drivers licences that the Lone Gunmen had constructed for he and Scully. There was still quite a bit of forged paraphernalia from them that were still valid. Of course, they had always planned ahead.

"Mr..." the balding man leaned over the counter to check the register, "Jones, we have connecting rooms that might be more comfortable. The rooms aren't that big and by the looks of your boy..." he pointed to the wire screen door where Will could be seen leaning against the car, "he might need the extra space."

"We'd like him to stay with us."

"I tell you what, I can give you the extra space at the same rate as the rollaway."

Mulder glanced up from replacing the licence into his wallet, a frown forming on his face.

"Why would you do that?"

"Well." The man scratched his scalp, "it's really not such a busy time round here as you can see." He smiled, revealing uneven, yellow-stained teeth, then winked. "You might like some quiet time with the missus too."

"The missus and I are fine. Will you bring the rollaway or can I take it now?"

"I'll take it out of storage and bring it to you within the hour."

"Thank you."

Mulder turned toward the door, glad to be clear of the man's body odour.

"Let me know if you change your mind now."

Mulder half-turned briefly back to the reception.

"I don't think we will, but thank you."

Mulder took a few deep breaths of fresh air as he stepped out onto the pebbled driveway in front of the motel's office. He squinted briefly up into the late afternoon sun. Scully leaned across the driver's seat through the window.

"Everything okay?"

"Yeah, all done." Mulder dangled the room key from his fingers. "Number 7."

"A lucky number."

Mulder smiled, pocketed the key and placed a hand on Will's shoulder, startling him slightly from his thoughts.

"You okay, Will?"

"Yep." Will nodded. "But I wish we could get a little further away."

"This is the only place for the next couple hundred miles and we're all spent. We need to rest, buddy."

"I know, dad." He frowned at the porch. "I don't really like this place."

"Me neither." Mulder snickered. "It's not the Ritz and the guy smells like a sewer but it looks better than some places I've stayed."

A chuckle came from within the car, making them both turn.

"Will, your father's right. Some places we've stayed at were a lot worse, believe me."

Mulder opened the door for his son to enter.

"Will, don't listen to her. She has no taste. Some of those places were downright colourful!"

"You mean 'cheap'," Scully retorted with another chuckle.

"Hey, we were on a budget."

"Budget smudget."

Mulder returned behind the wheel to find their room.

"You know, your vocabulary is deteriorating Scully. Did you bring any of your old medical books to tantalise me with?"

"Drive Mulder."


Mulder wiped his mouth with the serviette and threw the screwed up ball past Scully's head. It landed neatly in the trashcan by the table.

"Score!" Both arms shot above his head. "I haven't lost it!" He received an arched eyebrow from both Scully and Will. "Do you guys practice that or what?"

"Practice what?"

"Never mind. What's on the tube Will?"

Will turned back to the television screen.

"Nothing." Will stretched out on his side on the double bed, still flipping channels. "Old movies and documentaries. No cable."

"No? We'll have to complain to the management." He smiled but received no comment from either Scully or Will. "Speaking of the management, where the hell is that rollaway?"

"Didn't you say he had to get it out of storage?"

"Scully, it doesn't take 2 hours. I walked to that one- horse diner to produce that wonderful meal of grease we just consumed and he still hasn't arrived with it."

"Maybe he's cleaning it."

"You're such an optimist."

As if on cue, a knock sounded at the door. Mulder stood and leaned over Scully's shoulder to whisper in her ear.

"Let's not ask him in. We'd have to spend most of the night trying to air the place out."

"Mulder..."

Mulder placed a kiss under her ear before heading to the door. He pinched his nose before opening. That received a slight smile from Will, a frown from Scully.

"Mr. Jones." The balding man from reception beamed around his teeth that Mulder tried to avoid looking at. "I'm sorry it took so long."

Mulder scanned around the man, apparently devoid of the apparatus they were waiting on.

"Did you lose it along the way?"

If it was possible, the man smiled even wider.

"Mr. Jones, I've been searching high and low for it since you checked in. It doesn't seem to be there. I've checked all the rooms also."

Mulder pursed his lips in thought.

"You said you had a rollaway."

"And we did!" He scratched his head. "I really don't know what's happened to it. We haven't had a request for a rollaway in some time and so..." He stopped as Mulder slumped against the doorframe. "I could suggest that interconnecting room again."

"No." Mulder shook his head. "Our son's sick and we need to monitor him during the night."

"Oh, I am sorry."

Scully appeared at the door, overhearing the conversation.

"Hi. Do you think we could at least have a mattress and linen? We'll work something out on the floor."

The man's face crinkled in puzzlement for a brief moment before beaming into a smile again.

"Of course, the least I could do! I'll go and get them straight away." He hurried away but stopped a few feet away. "And I do apologise for the inconvenience."

Scully leaned against Mulder's side.

"Mulder?"

"Hmm?" Mulder was still watching the thin, balding man walking away. "What?"

"He really does smell."

Mulder smiled, absently moving his arm around Scully's shoulder.

"You know something else?"

"He has bad teeth?"

She received a full-blown laugh.

"Apart from that."

"What?"

"Did you notice his accent?"

"No, why?"

"Didn't sound like he was from around here."

"Is that so strange?"

"I don't know. Maybe not."


It moved swiftly without changing its pace. It didn't stop until it needed further direction. It moved within the cover of the trees and brush beside the roads, never on them as it was programmed to do. It would only stray from this path if the need was strong enough or there was a change of course. So far the path was clear and the need was growing stronger.


Chapter 9

Will's head hurt. It wasn't exactly pounding but it was certainly enough to wake him from his restless sleep. Was his sleep restless because his head hurt or did his head hurt because he was restless? He pondered this as he slowly raised his eyelids. It was semi-dark and shadows filled the room from the outside road sign.

Something was not quite right. He could feel... something.

He squinted into the darkness, into the shadows. The shadows suddenly moved!

Will threw the covers off and groped forward on the carpet in the direction he recalled his parent's bed to be. Some motion before him and the sound of groaning made him stop in his tracks.

He sucked in a breath and held it, hoping that the shadows hadn't seen him. Just as he was about to crawl further, large hands grabbed his side. He whimpered as he exhaled the breath he'd been holding, fear overtaking his senses.

"Mom..."

Will was unable to utter any more as one of those large hands moved to cover his mouth. He kicked out uselessly, petrified of his assailants, these shadows, yet wanting to know if his parents were alive, unhurt. He somehow felt they were but he needed the reassurance of seeing them with his own eyes. All he could see were shadows, some moving, some still and all the while silent, as silent as shadows should be.


"Scu..." Mulder held his head, trying to stop the world from spinning and the nausea from reaching its goal. He nudged his partner by his side. "Scully?"

He tentatively touched her forehead, dreading the worst possible scenario. His fears abated as Scully's brow creased and she coughed twice before her eyes fluttered open.

Scully sprung upright then fell back down upon the bed, almost landing on Mulder's stomach. She reached for her head.

"Mulder..." Scully coughed again, her throat raw. "What...?" Realization reared its ugly head and she turned, seeking the mattress her son had been sleeping on. "Will?" She jumped from the bed, holding her stomach, fighting the urge to vomit. "Will!"

Mulder grabbed her from behind, pulling her toward him.

"He's not here. I checked."

"No!" She screamed at the empty mattress, and then turned to bury her aching head within the confines of Mulder's arms. "No, no, no, no..."

"We'll find him. I promise you we will. They won't hurt him."

"How do you know that?" Scully managed between sobs. "How can you be so sure?"

"Don't you feel it, Scully?"

"Feel?" She blinked her wet eyes. "I feel terrified for him. I want my son back!"

"So do I! But Scully, deep down, can't you feel that he's okay? Scared, but okay?"

"No, I don't know any such thing!"

Mulder pushed back, gripping her shoulders, leaning down so they were eye-to-eye.

"Scully, I know you do. I know you can feel he's alive, just like I can. I need you to believe in that right now. Please?"

Scully nodded slowly as tears tracked down her cheeks. Mulder pulled her into a tight embrace.

"We would know, wouldn't we? We'd know if he was... if he..."

"Yeah, we'd know. I'm sure of that. C'mon, you're the strong one. I need you to hold on for me. Please, babe, can you do that for me? For Will?"

Mulder felt her nodding against his chest as she continued to sob for her son.


"Fuck!"

Mulder pounded hard on the reception counter.

"Fuck!"

He shouted this profanity after each pound.

"Fuck! Fuck! Fuck!"

"Mulder?"

Scully skidded to a halt at the door behind reception. Mulder gripped the counter, arms outstretched, leaning heavily forward. He raised his head as Scully stepped toward him.

"That guy's nowhere to be found. It was a set-up Scully! I knew there was something wrong with that guy. He just didn't fit. I should've known!"

"Don't Mulder." Scully smoothed back his hair. "You're trying to blame yourself for this. If I can believe our son is out there waiting for us, then you have to believe this isn't your fault."

"Scully..."

"Mulder, you made a promise to me. You said we'd get him back. Let's do this."

"Where do we start?" Mulder stood upright, hands on hips. "Where do we start looking?" He threw his arms out before him. "Where, Scully?"

Scully placed her right hand over his heart.

"We start here."


Chapter 10

It stopped, tilting its head to the side, almost as if in query. Its head slowly turned to the left, then to the right. As if in slow motion, its whole body rotated on the spot. Each stopping point was at due south, east, north and finally halting its motion on due west. The need was further away but had not changed course. It was time to increase its pace.


"Any better?" Mulder handed Scully the damp towel. "We don't have to leave right this minute."

"No, I'm fine." She dabbed around her face and the back of her neck with the towel, shutting her eyes with the coolness and sitting further upright on the edge of the bathtub. "I don't want to waste any more time."

"We'd only waste more time if you're sick along the way."

"Mulder," Scully frowned, "I won't be. If I am, I'll lay down in the back seat. It's just a reaction from whatever form of anaesthetic they gave us. We need to make up lost time."

Mulder glanced down at his feet.

"Mulder?"

"I still don't know which way to head. How can we make up time if we don't know what direction?" He kicked the doorframe, making Scully jump. "Jesus I hate this! Why us?"

"Mulder, let's call Skinner."

"He said he didn't know anything!"

"Maybe he does now. Please?"

"Okay, but not here."

"No, maybe not. Do you think this place is wired?"

"Probably." Mulder stepped inside the bathroom, kneeling beside Scully. "This may sound strange..."

Scully smiled, letting her hand fall in her lap, still holding the towel.

"Mulder, nothing sounds strange from you."

Mulder smiled in return, taking both her hands in his.

"Scully, thanks for holding it together. I need you because I don't think I could do this on my own. I don't think I could keep it together myself without you."

"Mulder, we've been a team for a long time now. You're not alone never but we need our son back to complete us. Now, tell me, what might sound strange?"

"Well, I think that we need to continue in the same direction we were heading. That's where I want to start but I'm not absolutely certain. I want to know you believe me on this."

"West?"

"Yeah."

"How do you know that?" She gripped his hands. "I don't feel that, but you do?"

"Yeah," he nodded, "I feel that. I don't know how... or why. Maybe it's just my gut instinct or maybe..."

"Will?"

"Who knows what he's capable of?"

"Okay, Mulder. West. I believe you."

"I promise I'll call Skinner the moment we get to the next town but I don't know what he's able to do."

"When he hears about Will..." Scully choked back a sob that threatened again. "When he hears, he might be able to do something."

"What?"

"I don't know. I just know that he's come through for us before. Let's trust him this time too."

Mulder leaned forward, pressing his forehead against Scully's.


Will concentrated on the chain dangling from the rear view mirror. He focused on the way it sparkled when hit with rays of morning light. The more he concentrated, the greater capacity he had to feel the 'nudge'. The hate and fear he felt from the monster was not as strong as recently but a twinge of panic rose when he felt the love of his parents was also weaker. He had to fight against that panic.

They were alive, he knew, but he hadn't been able to confirm this with his own eyes before he was taken away from them. He wanted to know if they were unharmed.

He concentrated hard on his parents. Maybe they would hear him; hear his thoughts. He didn't know if they could above all his fears. He was so damned scared he was shaking.

A tap on his arm diffused his thoughts. A large hand opened before him, offering a sandwich loosely wrapped in foil. He glanced up to the scarred face of his kidnapper.

"C'mon, kid." The man pushed the sandwich into Will's hands. "We're not gonna starve you, boy." A thermos cup filled with what looked like orange juice was also produced. "Here, wash it all down with this."

Will let his hands stay limp on his lap and shook his head.

"Eat kid!"

Will looked up to the rear view mirror into the cold, dark eyes of the driver; the eyes of someone who would kill without a moments notice, without remorse. He tentatively wrapped his fingers around the sandwich and slowly pulled it from its wrapping. He nibbled on the corner of the bread, not really tasting it and all the while watching those murderous eyes.

The large man next to him produced the cup again. He accepted it, gradually bringing it to his lips. He was more thirsty than hungry, gulping it greedily after the first small sip. It soothed his throat that was sore from his crying earlier. He was too old to show so many tears now but he believed that his situation certainly allowed for some.

The glint from the hanging chain was now becoming hypnotic and instead of being able to concentrate, he seemed to acquire random thoughts. Some thoughts about places he had been in the last few days, his computer and interesting games he had found and some about his parents laughing at jokes with him. The sounds around him from the engine of the van to the low murmurs of its occupants were becoming muffled. He looked around at the faces that seemed to fade before him. Before he knew what was happening, he felt his eyes grow heavy and he slumped in his seat toward the large, grinning man beside him.


Chapter 11

The music on the other end of the phone line was getting on his nerves. How long was he supposed to wait? Mulder mapped the outline of Scully's face on the glass of the phone booth with his finger to keep from tearing out the handset in his frustration. Any longer and he would hang up and dial again. He didn't want to risk any tracing, though he didn't believe anyone would recognise his voice now.

Just as he was about to resign to trying again in the next town, the music stopped.

"Skinner."

"Hey, Walter! How've you been, man?"

Silence greeted him momentarily before Skinner cleared his throat.

"Jeff?"

"Yeah." Mulder's tone changed. "Is this being traced?"

"No. You have my word on that."

"Can I trust your word?"

"Mu... Jeff, what's that supposed to mean?"

"Do you know?"

"Know?"

"Do you know what's happened?"

"What?" Skinner seemed legitimately perplexed. "What the hell are you talking about?"

"Will. Do you know about Will?"

"What? What's happened?" Skinner heard Mulder draw a breath on the other side. "I haven't heard anything, I assure you. Tell me, what's happened?"

"He's gone."

"What?! How?"

"They took him. They took him last night while we were sleeping."

"Jesus. Who?"

"If you know anything..."

"I didn't know. I haven't received any further information from what I gave you regarding the Consortium when we last spoke. You think it's them, don't you?"

"What do you think? Can you..." Mulder paused, gripping the handset tighter. "Can you sniff around, try and find out anything? *Anything*, Walter."

"You know I will. How's Scu... Kate?"

"Holding up... but barely."

Skinner let out a breath.

"Christ."

"Yeah."

"Give me till this time tomorrow. Call my cell."

"Do you have any leads you can follow?"

"I'm going in blind but you have my word I'll do everything I can."

"Try anything on a little guy, thin, balding with really bad, yellow teeth."

"Why?"

"He was at the motel when we checked in and was almost too keen for us to have separate rooms. I think the name plate on the counter read Arnold Grimwade."

"Could be fake."

"No shit, Sherlock! It's all I've got. Oh, and he stank."

"That's all your eidetic memory can give me?"

"Hey, I don't profile any more. Besides, you didn't smell him. That could overpower any thought processes."

Skinner grinned at that despite his fears for their safety and their son's. He decided to push Mulder further in case he recalled anything more. He didn't believe that time could taint the man's amazing profiling ability.

"Any particular smell?"

"Stink. You know, body odour and very strong, like he hadn't washed in months or brushed his teeth for that matter."

"I'm not sure whether that'll help my search, but we can check perps with very strong body odour."

Mulder had no idea if he was joking or not.

"He wasn't from around here."

"What?"

"His accent. It wasn't from around here."

Bingo. Prompted, Mulder was bound to give more.

"Where's 'here'? And where do you think he was from?"

"On the way to Arizona. He sounded like he was from the East Coast, maybe Philadelphia."

"That's good. I can check on that."

"There was more than this guy, Walter."

"You're sure?"

"Yeah, no way he could knock us out and take Will on his own. There had to be at least two, maybe three."

"How do you figure that?"

"They would have to get us all at the same time in case one of us woke to warn the other."

"You've still got it, Mu... Jeff."

"If I still had it, we wouldn't be in this predicament."

"You don't believe that. You got into more shit before than you do now."

"Maybe."

"Call around this time tomorrow. Maybe I'll have something for you."

"I hope so, Walter. You're all we've got left."

Skinner's stomach lurched as he pushed his glasses further up to the bridge of his nose.

"I'll give it my best shot."

"Walter?"

"Yeah?"

"Thanks."

"Don't thank me yet."


Will's eyelids were still very heavy. He tried to lift them as far as he could but it was such an effort. All he could see was what looked like a room and he was lying down. He tried to lift his head but the world started to spin around him and he let his head fall back on the pillow.

Dizzy and thirsty, he tried to scan the revolving room and could only discern the outline of one person sitting at what looked like a window. The outline moved closer but he still couldn't make out the face with his blurred vision.

His head was lifted upright and coolness touched his parched lips. He drank deeply of what he made out to be water but his mind being jumbled, he wasn't sure. Whatever it was, it was quenching his thirst and for that he was grateful.

Another form entered the room. Voices. He thought he could comprehend what they were saying but it was difficult to concentrate.

"How's the kid?"

"Doped up to the eyeballs."

"Why'd he give him so much?"

"Wants to keep him under."

"What for? He's just a kid."

"Apparently not just any kid. He's got some kind of power and they don't want him to use it."

"What power?"

"How the fuck should I know? They tell me nothing. I just work here."

"Yeah but I'd like to know what I'm dealing with here."

"Let's just do the delivery when we're supposed to."

Power? Delivery? Will tried to hang on, to listen to more of the conversation. He wasn't even sure he had heard correctly. Sleep was overwhelming him and finally all he could do was circum. His last thoughts were of fear and hate and a monster.


It had increased its pace quite well. If it could feel, it would be pleased with itself. It was closer again and the need was stronger. It raised its head to the sky and practised a smile.


Chapter 12

It was the worst roadside diner he'd ever been to.

He began to embark on a story about past diner experiences but closed his mouth when he noticed Scully was chewing on the same piece of lettuce, fork poised before her mouth, the remaining leaf dangling from the end. She was staring past his head at nowhere in particular.

"How's your salad?"

"Hmm?"

Mulder exhaled loudly.

"Scully, you're not even eating properly."

The corner of Scully's mouth twitched upward slightly as she looked down at her bowl. She set her fork to work stabbing more pieces of lettuce and a piece of cheese and shoveled it into her mouth.

"Okay..." Mulder folded his arms on the table. "That was good. Are you tasting any of it?"

Scully gave two lazy blinks before shaking her head, chewing on her mouthful of salad.

"I thought not. Probably a good thing though." He leaned across the table. "Everything tastes like shit."

"Thanks Mulder." Scully dabbed at her mouth with a paper napkin, pushing her bowl aside. "Just what I needed to hear."

"Shit or not, you have to eat."

"I know but I can't help thinking whether Will..." She raised her eyes to meet Mulder's. "I think about whether he's cold or hungry. I know he's lonely..."

Tears threatened to form but she managed to hold them at bay. Mulder entwined his fingers with hers above the table.

"Babe... I know... Hey, it's a little early, but I don't think the Skin Man'll care."

He read a glimmer of hope in her arched eyebrow.


"Hold on."

He placed the cell phone beside him as he swerved off the road and parked.

Skinner checked all mirrors to make sure that he wasn't being followed. It would possibly tally up to be the twentieth time since he left D.C.

"Okay." He replaced the phone to his ear. "How many times do I have to tell you that my cell phone isn't bugged?"

"Just making sure."

"Mulder, you're paranoid."

"Somehow I think this situation warrants me to be at least a little paranoid. Besides, it's in my nature."

"Hmmm." Skinner's voice grunted into the phone. "Tell me where you are."

"Why?"

"Mulder, I swear to you, this line is clear."

"We're heading in to Apache Junction."

"Okay, can you get to Phoenix by tomorrow?"

"I think so. Why?"

"I'll be there tomorrow."

"You? You're flying from D.C.?"

"No, not from D.C. Mulder, I didn't want to risk being seen. Call me when you get to Phoenix."

"Don't you think Phoenix is a bit conspicuous?"

"They won't expect us in a large city. I think you're more of a target out in the open."

"Maybe." Mulder paused, as if in thought. "Why you?"

"I'm the only one I trust."

"Damn good answer, Walter."

"I'm not a Director for nothing."

"You're risking that position... and your ass."

"I've taken some personal leave."

"Yeah?"

"Gone to visit a sick nephew."

Another pause; much longer this time.

"We appreciate this Walter, especially Scully. She puts a lot of faith in you."

"Well, tell her not to yet."

"Why? What'd you find out?"

"We'll talk when we meet but I gotta tell you, Mulder, you gave me one hell of a lead."

"I did?"

"Yeah, but there's a little more shit I was able to dig up now that the Consortium has reformed. Some of the members are high profile and left tracks."

"Who?"

"When we meet."

"Watch your back, Walter."

"You too."

"Walter?"

"Yeah?"

"Thanks."

"Don't get mushy on me Mulder."


His head was too heavy to lift on his own. He could feel perspiration trickling down his temple and trailing down to his neck, pooling in the juncture between his neck and shoulder. He could hear heavy, raspy breathing in his ears and realized as he tried to turn his head that it was his own.

A cool hand was placed on his forehead. Gentle, soft, female.

"Mom...?" Will didn't recognize his own voice. It was croaky. "Mommy...?"

The hand was replaced with a cool, damp cloth. The hands lifted his head as a cup was placed to his parched lips. He slurped greedily, dripping water on his chin, before the cup was pulled away.

"Slow down now."

That voice was not his mother's. He should have recognized her touch but whatever he had been given had tampered with his senses. He tried to open his eyes wider and inspect the woman's face, but no matter how hard he tried his vision remained blurred. The cup returned and he drank deeply.

Someone else entered the room.

"What d' you think?"

"I think you've overdone it. He's strong but he *is* just a boy. You'll have to give him a break or you'll kill him."

"What about decreasing the dosage?"

"I mean it. Look at him. Any more and you'll have to feed him intravenously."

"You sure? The boss ordered it you know."

"The 'boss' doesn't know shit about drugs and it's potential. Besides, do you realize you've already contaminated his blood?"

"So?"

"'so'? 'so'? So we need it! Now I suggest you give him a break from that shit or you can kiss your deal goodbye!"

Will heard a loud huff and a door slamming. The cool hand returned, caressing his cheek.

"It'll be okay."

Will returned to his unsettling dreams of monsters.


Author's note: My ever-faithful beta is back on her feet again, has picked up her pom-poms and cheering me on thanks darlin'! ;) I have to apologize to anyone in Arizona if I've gotten anything wrong... I'm doing the best I can in researching the area. Future chapters may contain names of places that I've never been. So, no offence. Thanks for all the positive feedback. It really has been a great motivator. And so is being prodded with a spork... (ouch!) ;)


Chapter 13

"Where are you?"

Skinner sat heavily on the bed. He'd been pacing around the small hotel room for the last hour. He'd arrived late the previous night and hadn't slept well. He kept waking every half hour and finally gave up to go for a run in the nearby park.

After returning, he completed mundane rituals, like shaving and showering, all the while waiting and checking his watch. He had almost gone stir crazy and had been about to start another lap around the room when his cell phone shrilled from the nightstand.

"We just got in."

"Don't get settled yet. Meet me in the Heard Museum in an hour. There's a caf inside. I'll be waiting."

"What? No chit chat Walter?'

"An hour."

"Order us something strong."


Skinner sat down at the back of the caf with a newspaper and checked his watch. He was about to turn the page when he glanced above the paper. A couple entered through the front doors, both tanned and slightly disheveled. They stopped just inside the caf, scanning the area. The petite woman spied Skinner's table and turned to her counterpart, tugging on his sleeve. The man followed her, almost flanking her, as she weaved her way through the tables to where Skinner was now pushing back his chair to stand.

"Walter." Scully stepped closer. "It's been... a long time."

She disregarded their old status and drew him into an embrace.

"Good to see you." Skinner awkwardly returned the gesture. "It's been a while."

As they parted, Mulder smiled, holding out his hand. Skinner gripped it, giving it a good shake.

"Walter."

"Domesticity seems to agree with you both."

They sat as a waitress appeared with a tray of steaming beverages.

"You remembered." Scully poured herself some of the tea before her, a slight tremor in her hand. "Thank you."

Mulder reached over to steady her.

"So, Walter, what are dealing with here?"

"A new Consortium."

"You told me as much before. I thought you had something new."

"Members are completely anonymous but..."

"That's always been the case."

"Mulder." Scully frowned. "Let him finish."

"The fact is there seems to be one member in particular that's very high profile."

"How high profile?"

"Try Senator."

"Shit." Mulder leaned forward on the table. "Which one?"

"I'm not at liberty to say."

"Dammit, Walter..."

Scully gripped Mulder's arm.

"I'm sure we don't need to know anyway. Just tell us what we *do* need to know. Please?"

"Well..." Skinner sat back, pushing his glasses up to the bridge of his nose. "The fact is that they wanted your son and..."

"Why?" Mulder felt Scully's hand tighten on his arm. "Why now? We've been left alone for almost 10 years. Why now?"

"Rebuilding. Reconstructing their Consortium and perhaps the time was right."

"What 'time'?" Scully couldn't control herself any longer. "What do you mean?"

"Look, I'm only throwing out ideas and hearsay. From what I can gather, they believe your son holds a cure."

"A cure?" Mulder tapped on the table with his fingers. "The cure to the virus?"

Skinner nodded then shrugged.

"They had one, didn't they?" Scully sat forward, trying desperately to control her anxiety and lowering her voice. "We were both administered with the anti-virus. I don't understand why they need him. Why, Walter, why?"

"Scully, I'm not sure. I'm not a scientist. I wish I could tell you more. All I hear is that they want Will."

"Where did you 'hear' this?"

"Mulder," Skinner exhaled, leaning his elbows on the table, "the lead you gave me was a damned good one. That guy Grimwade was easy to find."

"Probably could smell him from miles away..."

"Mulder..."

"Actually, Scully..." Skinner cleared his throat. "That was one of the things that made it easy for us to find him. The guy has several alias' and Grimwade was one of them and he's well-known for his... well, his... smell."

"Oh..."

"Yeah. Anyway, he told us he was paid to assist with Will's..." He glanced at Scully, biting her lower lip. "...Will's capture."

Skinner paused, taking time to taste his coffee before continuing.

"Seems you were also right about the number of people, Mulder. There were three others involved; apparently two male and one female."

"Any names?"

"No, no names. Even if they did, they'd use false ones anyway."

"Do you know where they're taking him?"

"Buckeye."

"Buckeye?" Mulder and Scully queried in unison.

"It's a small town about 30 miles west of here."

"West..." Scully turned her attention to Mulder. "West, Mulder."

"I heard."

Skinner frowned, unsure of their silent communication. It was obvious they still conversed in the same manner they had years ago.

"What about west? Is there some significance that I should know about?"

"It was something that Will said..." Scully took a breath. "He wanted us to travel west. We're not sure why, but that's what we've been doing. He also mentioned a monster."

"A monster?"

"We're not sure what it means, Walter, sometimes the things he says we don't always understand."

"Sounds like you, Mulder." Skinner rubbed his chin. "Is it a metaphor for something?"

"We're not sure but he was scared." Scully gripped her cup. "He was so scared and now this..."

Mulder's arm went around her shoulders.

"So," Mulder pushed on, "what's in Buckeye?"

"Seems to be some kind of installation."

"What kind of installation? And why there?"

"I wasn't able to authorize any surveillance of the area in the time I had available to me but it's a small town just far enough away from everywhere and prying eyes."

"A lab?"

"I don't know Scully. I wish I knew more. I was only able to find this much in a short while."

"Thank you." Scully raised her eyes to Skinner. "You don't know how much this means to us. You didn't have to..."

Skinner held up his hand in a mute acceptance.

Mulder pushed his cup aside.

"So, maybe we should devise a plan?"

"Well, you know we're on our own but we should check this place out."


It scanned the area. It had made substantial progress. The object it desired was now stable. There were obstacles that it would need to thwart and it would overcome them one at a time. It would reach its goal. Soon, very soon.


Chapter 14

Shadows again. They danced across his closed eyelids intermittently. His throat felt like fire and sandpaper with each dry swallow. His whole body ached, especially his head.

"C'mon now, you need to wake up." A female voice; not his mother's. He recalled the same voice from within his dream state. "Open your eyes."

Will tried to lift his heavy eyelids. They resisted once until a wave of nausea hit him and bile rose into his throat. He let out a moan and tried to roll his body over as his eyelids sprang open. He couldn't help his stomach from lurching or suppress the vomit from escaping his lips.

He felt something metal touch his chin as he began to retch, a hand rubbing his back. He raised his weighted eyelids again between spasms to see a blonde woman hovering over him.

Will attempted to speak but only something between a gasp and a hiccup rewarded his efforts.

"Shhh. You don't need to talk." She wiped his mouth with a damp cloth, gently pushing him back onto the pillow. "I'm sorry you're so sick. I really am."

"No more." Will's voice was very weak, hardly over a whisper. "Please."

"I can't..."

"Please," the woman halted her motions. Will felt the tips of his fingers tingle.

"I can't..."

"Please." The tingling ran up his arms, heading towards his heart. The tingling turned to warmth. "Please."

The woman dropped the towel. A tear tracked her cheek. She sat tentatively on the edge of the bed, staring at Will.

"I... I..."

"Please."

"I... I never wanted them to do this to you."

"Please."

"I think... I can try..." She felt some pressure on her chest, almost making it hard for her to breathe; yet she was compelled to talk to this boy, to reassure him somehow. "I can try to convince them not to give you any more. Okay?"

Will nodded.

"How about I get you something to drink? You have to be dehydrated. When your stomach settles we'll try some food. How does that sound?"

Will nodded again, grabbing her hand as she rose to leave.

"Thank you."


"We need to get closer." Mulder sat back behind the wheel. "I can't see anything through all of this." He emphasized 'this' by thumbing at the thick foliage of the woods.

"I think," Skinner removed his glasses, pinching the bridge of his nose, "that we need to survey this place more thoroughly."

"What?"

"Mulder, think about it. If we go barging in there without knowing what we're dealing with, we'll be caught for sure and of no use to Will."

"He's in there."

"Maybe he is, but let's do this properly, get some more observation in."

"Mulder," Scully leaned forward from the back seat, touching Mulder's shoulder, "as much as I want to go in there and find my son if he's there, I think Walter's right, we need to do this properly and without endangering Will."

"So, what? Sit out here, kick back and just check out the joint?"

"Mulder," Skinner replaced his glasses, "I'm suggesting surveillance. I'm suggesting we *should* go down there, but quietly and not all at once."

"I go first."

"Mulder..." Skinner sighed, sitting back. "Don't you think you're...?"

"What?"

"A little... out of shape?"

Mulder gaped, then turned to see Scully arching an eyebrow at him.

"Thanks Walter. I didn't think you noticed me like that."

"What I meant was you've been out of the FBI for some time now and out of practice..."

"And sitting on my ass teaching all day has me out of shape... yeah, I heard you. You know, Walter, I think it's like riding a bike. You never forget."

"Mulder let me go first. I'll map out the area."

"No."

"Mulder..."

"He's my son, Walter."

"And the less time you're in danger, the better you can help him."

The two men stared at each other and would have continued if not for Scully intervening.

"I hate to break this up, but I agree with Walter."

"Oh, you think I'm out of shape too?"

"Mulder, we haven't been out in the field for more than a few years now."

"Okay, okay. I get your point."

Skinner climbed out of the passenger's side, adjusting his jacket. He opened the back door, rummaging behind Scully for his bag. He returned to Mulder, leaning through the open window.

"Take this." Skinner handed him a small device. "I'll try and let you know what's happening but don't try and contact me. I don't want to be seen or heard."

"I got that." Mulder inspected the device in his hand. "Shit these things are getting smaller. Doesn't look anything like the two-ways we used to use."

Skinner bent back down to the window.

"Mulder, as I said... out of practice."

Scully emerged from the vehicle watching Skinner advance into the night toward the facility.

"Take care, Walter."

Skinner turned, answering with a slight nod.


It stepped out onto the road and practiced smiling. It was definitely getting good. It looked to the horizon where the moon was just showing through some clouds. It had only walked for about 5 minutes before a car pulled up alongside it. The driver, a stout, balding man, rolled down his window to acknowledge it.

"Where you headed?"

"I..." Even the voice sounded good. "I'm headed west."

"How far?"

"The next town."

"Buckeye? Goin' right past if you wanna jump on in."

It slid in beside the driver. It tilted its head slightly, looking directly at the man and smiled its well-practiced smile.

"Thank you."


Chapter 15

Skinner slid along the wall of one of the buildings. For such a large facility security was scarce. In fact, he hadn't seen one security guard since he stepped through the gates unnoticed.

"Mulder?" Skinner kept his voice to a whisper. "Are you reading me?"

"That's a 10-4 big buddy." The reply came with a huge amount of static.

"Cut the shit, Mulder. This place is a maze. I've counted about 10 separate buildings in total."

"Anything? Any signs of Will?"

Skinner shook his head. The man was amazing; one moment he was shooting shit and the next, dead serious.

"Not yet. I haven't been..." He jumped when he heard muffled voices against the wall he was leaning against. "Shit! Later." He depressed the button and cut off Mulder's reply.

He couldn't quite ascertain what the voices were saying, but he was almost certain he could distinguish both male and female. He edged around the corner in anticipation of some aperture or window. Amazingly, a window was just a few feet in front of him and he edged slowly and silently toward it.

Skinner crouched low beneath the window, still not making out any actual words. He inched upward so that he could peer just above the sill. His assumption was correct: a man and a woman were in what appeared to be a heated conversation. The man was large, towering over a slender blonde woman, both very animated.

The woman turned slightly so that Skinner could get some detail of her features. His eyes widened in recognition and shock as his knees buckled from under him and he fell back on his ass.


"You can't keep him drugged!"

The blonde woman pushed the hair back from her brow in frustration. The large Neanderthal before her was not listening.

"Those were my orders."

"Well those orders should be queried."

"I just follow orders, that's it."

"Do you have direct contact?"

"Some."

"Either you do or you don't."

"What do you want from me, lady?"

"I want you to tell them to stop administering drugs to that child."

"No can do."

"Then let me talk to them directly."

"They say that *child* really isn't a child."

"Oh come on, what does he look like to you?"

"It's only what I've been told. We're to keep him drugged or he's able to do things."

"Like what?"

"They didn't say, just that he had some kind of power."

"Have you seen him *do* anything?"

"Well, no..." The man scratched his head. This woman was giving him a headache. "But he's been drugged, so..."

"Was he drugged when you kidnapped him?"

"No..."

"Did he happen to *do* anything at that time? Did he show you any of these so-called powers he supposedly possesses?"

"No... but..."

"But what? I say they're just telling you these things so that you'll fear him. He's just a scared little boy. Now, he's a scared sick little boy and if we don't stop this, he'll be a dead little boy."

"But I can't authorize..." A thump against the far wall caught his attention. "What the hell was that?"

The woman turned toward the window.

"It came from outside."

She stepped toward the window and leaned against the pane, cupping her hands around her eyes to stop the reflection of the light in the room. There was only darkness.

"I don't see anything."

The large man drew his weapon from his shoulder holster.

"I'll go and check around. Those damned idiots are probably on coffee break."

"Remember that I'd like to speak directly to your superiors."

"Well, we'll see."


Skinner heard a door open and scrambled from under the window toward the nearest shrub. His knees still felt weak but he managed to reach safety before the footsteps stopped by the space he had just occupied.

He exhaled the breath he was holding and then gasped for more air. Jesus H. Christ! He couldn't believe what he'd just seen! He fumbled for the small receiver in his jacket pocket.

"Mulder?"

Static.

"Mulder?"

More static.

He shook the device before banging it against his hand.

"Mulder? Christ!"

"Walter. What the hell's going on? Are you coming back here?"

"I want to check out a couple more buildings..."

"I'm coming in."

"No. Stay there just in case."

"In case what? Did you find Will?"

"No but you're not going to believe who I did find!"

"Who?"

"Mulder, I saw Marita."

"What?"

"She's here."

"One of them? Part of the Consortium?"

"Well, she doesn't seem to be chained."

"Shit."

"Yeah."

"I'm coming in."

"No!"

"You're not my boss, Walter."

"Mulder..."

Static repeated on the line.

"Walter." Scully's voice loud and clear. "I'll keep him here. Just be careful and if you don't call in at least an hour, we're both coming in after you."

"Deal Scully." Skinner grinned. "There are two buildings I need to check out. One looks like a huge warehouse and the other looks like some medical facility."

"An hour, Walter. I won't be able to reign either of us in after that."


Chapter 16

Will wiped his mouth; a bitter taste lingered on his tongue. The haze that he had been under was now slowly dissipating. The woman hadn't returned with the promised water and he needed to douse the fire in his throat desperately as well as wash away the bitterness in his mouth. Even more desperately, he needed to relieve himself.

He slowly raised himself to a seated position, the room only spinning for a few seconds. He blinked hard several times to bring order back into his world.

When he felt able to move around a little more, he slid to the edge of the mattress, feeling the sheets where he had lain. He pondered this for a moment a little embarrassed, looking around the room as if he were being watched. The sheets were only slightly damp and possibly from his perspiration and as there was no smell associated with the dampness, he felt reassured that he hadn't soiled himself like a baby in his sickened state. He had no recollection though of going or being taken to the bathroom.

On wobbly legs, Will managed to make an almost direct course to a door on the other side of the room. He only hoped it was a bathroom for he didn't know if he could accomplish the task of walking back to the bed with a bladder about to burst.

Just as he was about to reach for the handle, a key rummaged in the lock and the door to the room opened. Will strained to keep his bodily functions under control as his heart started to pound faster.

The blonde haired woman stepped through the threshold. Her eyes widened momentarily as she glanced at the empty bed but a smile formed when she found Will across the room, slightly hunched over, fumbling for the door handle. She quickly moved to his side, turning the knob that was seemingly beyond the boy's capabilities at the moment.

"You feel you're up to doing this yourself now, boy?"

Will nodded, desperation showing on his face. The woman smiled and helped Will through past the sink, stopping when he clung onto the porcelain.

"What? Can't walk any more?"

Will shook his head, slowly raising his eyes to meet hers. His cheeks were slightly flushed. The woman's smile widened knowingly and she retreated to the door.

"If you have trouble, just call me okay?"


Will washed his hands, splashing some cold water on his face. He let the water drip down his face, relishing in its coolness on his warm skin. The reflection in the mirror was almost startling. There were dark circles under his eyes that he'd never had before. He leaned closer to his reflection and then touched the looking glass with the tips of his fingers. It was almost like staring at his father's eyes.

He closed his eyes tight and drew in a deep breath. He could almost *feel* again. It wasn't quite a nudge but he could feel. He let his head loll back, trying to open up his mind as he had many times before but it wasn't quite as comfortable. He wasn't in his tree and he wasn't home, yet he could feel... something.

Will's eyes flew upon. His parents were near! They weren't standing in the next room but somehow he knew they were close. It wasn't just wishful thinking. He knew.

"Are you okay in there?"

Will whirled around at an awkward angle, dizzy from the sudden motion.

"I'm... okay."

"What?"

Will took a breath and cleared his sore throat. His voice was raspy.

"I'm okay."

Will emerged from the bathroom, still unsteady but using the wall to lean on.

"Well," the woman returned to his side, assisting him back to the bed, "I was beginning to think you fell in."

"I'm dizzy."

"I know." She helped him back under the covers, propping him against the pillows. "I'm sorry you had to go through this, boy."

"Will."

"What's that?"

"Will. That's my name."

"I know. I didn't want to call you that, I'm sorry."

"Why?"

"Because..." She felt that same difficulty in breathing as she did before and couldn't look away from his eyes, compelled to speak. "Because... then I wouldn't have to know you."

"You know me..."

"No."

"You know... my parents."

"No... Yes... some time ago... another lifetime..."

"Help me."

"I can't. I can only try to get them to stop the drugs."

"Please... help me."

She tore away from his stare.

"I... can't!"

She gasped for breath. She needed to escape those eyes.


"Marita?"

Scully stared through the windscreen at the facility beyond clouded by darkness. She never liked Marita and it wasn't because she had been one of Mulder's contacts in the past; a beautiful, intelligent contact. No, jealousy never entered the equation. She always felt that the woman had another agenda on her mind. Now, apparently she did.

"That's what the man said."

"Mulder, why?"

"Why what? Why is she with the Consortium? Why any of this, Scully? I'm as much in the dark as you are."

"I know you have a theory."

"What makes you think that?"

"Mulder, you *always* have a theory."

"Scully, you make me sound like..."

"Mulder just spit it out."

"The Consortium always consisted of high profile participants, including contacts within the Pentagon, CIA, FBI, and who knows, right?"

He received a nod in acknowledgment.

"Well, why not the UN too?"

"But Mulder, why join them now?"

"Maybe she was always with them."

"Didn't they expose her to the virus too?"

"Maybe that was their 'selling point', Scully. Keep her with them; keep her scared?"

"I don't know, Mulder. I mean, I've never liked Marita, but..."

"She did provide us with information."

"Correction: She provided *you* with information," she mumbled the rest under her breath: "And who knows what other things she provided."

"OOO Scully, I heard that. Do I detect a formidable amount of the green-eyed monster?"

"No."

"It wasn't like that, Scully. You know that." Mulder smirked.

"From that smile on your face, I'm not so sure."

"Scully..."

"Mulder shut up and continue your theory. Some of that information she provided could have been bogus too."

"True."

"So why now? No one seems to be giving the answers to that. Skinner's only answer to that was 'timing'. What's your assumption?"

"Maybe Skinner's right."

"Oh, come on..."

"No Scully. Really. Look at that installation down there. A massive structure like that would take years to build and who knows what they've got in there. If they want Will for some 'cure' then they'd have to appoint scientists, and not just your struggling wet- behind-the-ears types either. They'd have to choose their staff with some form of selection process. They'd want the best."

"The best for what?"

"Don't you see? It's like before. They want to protect their own asses. They don't want to be subject to the virus themselves or their families. They need that safeguard."

"But they had a vaccine, Mulder. Why not duplicate that?"

"I'm not too sure on that one, but I'm assuming that it's totally synthetic: manmade."

"And manufacturing a serum from Will's blood would be like finding gold if he has a natural immunity to the virus."

"Now you're seeing it from my point of view, Scully. They're ready now and needed Will to complete the equation. And you know, Scully, this may be a leap..."

"Go ahead, Mulder, I've been taking your leaps for years."

"It was mentioned to me just before you were infected and shipped off to Antarctica that this would all escalate during a holiday. Mass contamination."

"Bees again?"

"Who knows what they have in that installation. Skinner said he saw some kind of medical facility. And Scully?"

"Not another theory?"

"No, a fact."

"What?"

"July 4th is in 2 days."


It stepped out of the car onto the gravel road. It turned and waved to the driver as he sped off on his way further west. Its motions were becoming less robotic, almost human-like in smoothness. The short conversation had been an excellent practice for it.

It tilted its head to view the sign beside the road of the small town and practiced smiling again. 'Welcome to Buckeye.'


Chapter 17

"I don't like this." Scully shifted in her seat. "I don't like this one bit."

Mulder turned slightly, rubbing Scully's hand that was placed on the headrest of his seat.

"Me neither. He's too quiet."

"How long's it been now?"

"Well," Mulder checked his watch, illuminating the dial with the tiny internal light, "I'd say just over an hour now."

"Should we?"

"Let's give him the benefit of the doubt."

"We did say an hour."

"Yeah but he IS getting a bit slow in his middle years."

"Mulder..."

"Okay, let's give him another 20 minutes."

Scully released a sigh and sat back to wait out the next 20 minutes.


Will gulped down the last of the water. The haziness that had engulfed his brain was gradually withdrawing. The woman had not returned but he had felt much more than the usual nudge. It had been a strange sensation but had required almost no energy and oddly exhilarating as if he were drawing strength instead.

He drew a breath and swung his legs out over the bed, tentatively touching the floor with his toes. With both feet flat down and acquainting to gravity again, Will steadily increased weight on his legs, feeling for any queasiness or dizziness. Reassured after several seconds, he disengaged from the bed altogether and shuffled off to the window. He peered around the heavy curtain only to discover it was pitch black outside, a few lights dotting the landscape.

Suddenly a surge of panic rose within his chest and he dropped the hem of the curtain as if he had been scorched. Fear and hate. Those emotions overwhelmed him as they did before they left home. He would prefer to feel the warmth of his parents nearby again but this was all encompassing.

Will backed away from the window, still staring at it, maybe unsure if it would implode like the one in his bedroom. He supported his unsteady weight against the wall and headed for the door.

It should've been locked. Will was able to turn the knob easily and pulled it toward him, just enough for him to peek beyond.

A long, dark hallway met his eyes. His dilemma was now to stay where he was or investigate further. Being a true Mulder-Scully offspring, he could contain his curiosity no further and continued on. Maybe his freedom lay beyond the hallway.

He glanced down at himself. Bare feet and the sweats that he'd been wearing the night he'd been taken. He shrugged to no one in particular. He had no idea about the time that had lapsed between then and now but he was damned sure he didn't want to waste any more just waiting.

Will slipped through the door, trying not to open it very far for fear of the door creaking or the light from the room creeping into the hallway. He padded quietly along, the coolness of the floorboards wakening his limbs.

Maybe it was the emergence out of his drugged state but to Will the corridor appeared to continue on forever. It wouldn't have been so bad if he weren't so afraid of being apprehended on his path to freedom. There were several doors along the corridor, none to which he felt any sense of safety beyond, so he persisted onward.

Just as he was about to despair, he advanced upon a door he couldn't discern any sensation from at all. Turning the handle found it to be unlocked. He hesitated, confusion overriding his thoughts. It was disconcerting to not sense anything from beyond.

No feelings from beyond the door but he turned, aware of a presence entering the corridor. Will had to decide fast: continue on or enter.

He slipped behind the unlocked door into the shadows, hearing it snick softly shut. He crept along the floor of the darkened room, hoping to find some crawlspace where he could be concealed if anyone were to enter the room.

Will stopped. The room was not completely dark. A green filtered light illuminated the space around him.

Forgetting the presence in the corridor, Will stood. Before him were what appeared to be glass tanks, almost like his father's fish tank back home but much larger, large enough to hold... a person.

Were they people in those tanks, within the green murky water-like substance? Rows upon rows... If the forms were human, why couldn't he feel anything from them? There was nothing, not even a slight buzz.

Will was concentrating so hard on picking up any kind of sensation; he didn't notice a shadow ascending upon him from behind. A large hand covered his mouth and he was hauled off his feet.


Chapter 18

Will ceased struggling against the large hands gripping around his waist and mouth. Recognition and relief replaced his initial shock. He smiled against the hand pressing on his mouth.

"Shhh." A voice whispered against his ear. "Going to let you go now, okay? Don't make a sound."

Will nodded, smiling wider. The hands released him and he squirmed around to face the large form, wrapping his arms around broad shoulders, holding tightly.

"Uncle Walter!"

"Shhh Will. You have to keep quiet."

Will pulled away. Skinner's face was shadowed in green light from the surrounding tanks, his baldhead shining bright. Will's smile widened at the thought.

"Mom and Dad are here aren't they?"

"Yeah. How'd you...?" Skinner glanced past Will at the rows of large tanks. "What the...?"

"They don't think."

"What?"

"They don't think. They look like us but they don't think."

Skinner stood, towering over the boy. They don't think? What the heck was that supposed to mean? He moved to the tank closest to him and inspected the human-like form within what looked like green water. There were tubes protruding from it that led to machines and IV drips above the tank adjacent to a florescent light.

They don't think... Jesus. Clones? Skinner felt his skin crawl and he stepped back, grabbing Will's arm.

"C'mon Will, we need to get moving. Are you okay to travel? You look..."

"The monster..."

Monster? Will was staring at the tank Skinner had approached, his face slack, devoid of emotion.

"Will," Skinner knelt beside him, gripping his shoulder, "they're not monsters. I can't be sure what they are but they're not monsters and I don't think they can hurt you in that state."

"The monster's near... Close now... It hates... It fears..."

"Will?" Skinner shook Will's shoulder to break him out of this daze. "Will, are you with me?" They needed to escape. Now.

"Uncle Walter?" Will blinked as if just awakening from a dream.

"Yeah?"

"Someone's coming."

"This 'monster thing'?"

"No."

"Okay, let's get out of here then."

He began to pull Will toward the door they had both entered, only to have the boy jerk back.

"No Uncle Walter."

"What? Will, we have to go. Now."

"No, not that way. Someone's coming that way."

Skinner pushed his glasses to the bridge of his nose, contemplating Will's pleading eyes. The kid was definitely spookier than his father.

"Okay, okay. Show me another way out."

Will shook his head.

"Will, don't play with me right now. We need to get out."

"I don't think there's another way out."

Christ. Skinner spun around surveying the room. It was large and rectangular with no windows and Will was right, there didn't seem to be another door in sight. Shit.

"Okay Will, then we'll try and hide before they get here."

He ushered Will before him toward the darkest part of the room to a corner at the far end of all the tanks. He hoped there would be some niche to conceal them.

Just as they were only halfway there, the door handle turned.


"Okay, something's definitely wrong." Mulder leaned forward against the steering wheel. "I think time's up."

"Finally." Scully checked her revolver. "I thought you would never get moving."

"I had to give him the benefit of the doubt."

"Skinner could be in trouble, Mulder."

"He could also be in a situation that requires silence."

"How do you know that?"

"I don't. I'm just... throwing out options."

"Are you *feeling* something Mulder?"

"No." Mulder pondered for a moment. "No, I don't think so. You know me Scully I go on hunches. Will's the one with those things he calls 'nudges'."

"You felt him before though, back at the motel."

"Scully..."

"If you feel something, please tell me."

"Scully, I'm just going on a hunch but it has been too long and I think we need to find out what's taking so damn long."

Scully nodded, seemingly in acquiescence.


Chapter 19

They didn't reach their destination.

"Hold it right there."

Skinner halted, shielding Will. He hoped he'd have time to retrieve his weapon. He nodded down to Will, in a silent bid for him to understand and be quiet, to just follow.

"Turn around. Now."

Skinner sucked in a breath, turning and maneuvering Will behind him.

"Well, well, well, if it isn't Walter Skinner."

"Marita."

"Still trying to save the world I see."

"And I see you're trying to take it over."

"I'm protecting myself."

"From this scum you've hooked up with?"

"I'm not..." Marita gripped her pistol tighter, holding her arm straighter in front of her. "I'm not 'hooked up' with them. I'm protecting my own interests."

"And be damned with the rest of the world?" Skinner waived his arm in the direction of the tanks. "And what the hell is this?"

"Lower your voice."

"What?"

"I said lower your voice."

"Why? It won't be as loud as firing that at me, unless you have a silencer in your pocket."

"I'm not going to shoot you."

"Well gee, Marita, it certainly looks like it."

"Where's the boy?"

"Why do you need him?"

Marita stepped closer, spying small fingers clenching Skinner's trouser leg.

"Come here, boy."

Will didn't heed her request but peered around Skinner. Skinner tightened his grip on Will's shoulder.

"Do you even know why you're doing this? Is your own personal safety so important that you have to risk the life of a small boy?"

"Don't throw morality at me Mr. Skinner!" Marita hissed, readjusting her hold on the gun. "I do what I'm told."

"Come on, Marita. You do what the money tells you."

"They won't hurt him. They need him too much."

"You don't know that. You don't even give a shit about this kid's life. You don't care what they'll do to him. You just care about the money."

"They won't hurt him!" Marita locked eyes with Will. "Come here, boy."

"Will. It's Will, remember?"

"Will. Come here, Will."

"She doesn't want to do this, Uncle Walter."

Skinner could see Will staring ahead at Marita, a strange expression on his face. He glanced at Marita. She seemed mesmerized by the boy.

"Come here."

"Will. You remember, don't you? Remember...?"

"Will... Come here... Will..."

"We could go... together." Will's voice became hypnotic. "The three of us... together..."

The hairs on the back of Skinner's neck prickled. He found himself fixated on Marita's face. Her eyes were growing wider, staring at Will, her voice softer.

"We could go together." Will repeated.

"Together... together..."

Skinner's brow knitted together. Marita was repeating Will's words over and over. He was sure as shit that the boy was hypnotizing her, or at least some form of it. Christ. The kid was only... what... about 10 years old?

Jesus. He wondered if the Consortium knew about it.

"Uncle Walter? We're going now."


Chapter 20

"Mulder, you're making too much noise."

Scully peered around the corner of the building, on guard for her partner who was trying desperately to unlock one of the larger building's doors. The utensil he was using slipped from his grasp and nicked his palm, sending a surge of pain up his arm.

"Shit!"

"Mulder!"

Scully, with both hands on her hips and silhouetted in the hazy moonlight, shot a scathing look at Mulder, who sighed in frustration and bent to retrieve the wire he was using. He shook his wounded hand from the pain. Maybe he was out of practice. Scully turned from critical to sympathetic after spying the droplets of blood on Mulder's palm and examined it briefly before rubbing it gently with her sleeve.

"Scully I'm doing the best I can."

"It's a wonder you haven't attracted every guard."

"Have you noticed," Mulder straightened up and leaned against the troublesome door, "that there aren't many around? I saw one by the front boom gates and another walking along one of the outer buildings. Why do you think that is?"

"Maybe they have a skeleton crew at night."

"That's funny, Scully." Mulder smirked, returning to the door. "Actually quite good."

"What?" Scully stared, perplexed at her partner. "What are you talking about?"

"Skeleton crew..." Mulder felt something finally turn within the lock. "...Skeletons... Night... It was funny."

"Mulder, shut up, it wasn't meant to be. You know very well what I meant."

"Yeah, but..." The lock clicked. "Ah...got it! Aside from your oh so witty comment, I think it's weird. A huge installation like this with insubstantial security is... well... weird."

"I agree it's strange but advantageous to us."

"Is it?"

Mulder stood before the slightly ajar door, hindering Scully's impatience to enter.

"What? Let's go in. We're sitting ducks out here." He wasn't budging. "What?"

"Scully, it just doesn't gel."

"Mulder, it's miles from anywhere and they probably haven't had any problems with break-ins."

"Maybe."

"Mulder, I want my son back."

"I do too Scully, but something's not right."

Scully pushed past Mulder into the building, leaving him to shrug and follow.


Skinner watched Marita scrupulously for any signs of swaying out of the state of compliance Will had seemingly placed on her. She led them back into the corridor and then into a room that appeared to be a bedroom. She secured the door behind them and proceeded to rummage through a drawer in the desk beside the bed. She didn't seem to be having much luck uncovering whatever she was searching for, her anxiety breaking out on her face.

"What are we doing in here?"

Marita jumped at Skinner's voice, pausing in her scouring of the drawer.

"I... I need the key."

"What key?"

"The security key."

"What security key?"

"Some of the buildings need keys. We should retrieve the formula before we go."

"What formula? Are you stalling for time?"

"They commenced a formula for a serum." Marita continued, her face slack and her hand still hovering over the drawer. "They need Will to complete that formula. If we take the formula... and Will... they'll be lost."

Skinner rubbed his forehead. He didn't want to delay their escape any further, yet the chance to discourage these bastards once and for all was overwhelming. A small hand gripped his arm. Will nodded his approval up at Skinner.

"Okay," he shifted his gaze to Marita, "but so help me, Marita, if this is a set up..."

"No." Marita's reply was devoid of emotion. "There is no set up." She held up a long, gray plastic rectangle. "The key."


"Jesus, Mulder, look at this place." Scully maneuvered her penlight around the room to confirm what the moonlight from the overhead windows already displayed. "It's like a massive laboratory."

"Yeah..." Mulder sidled up against a large container and shivered. Flashes of Scully within an alien receptacle in Antarctica invaded his thoughts. "A lab for what exactly?"

"I don't know but all these notes are on genetic modification." Scully sifted through another pile of papers. "Some also on Will."

"What?" Mulder was beside Scully in an instant, using his own penlight to view the papers she held before her. "How do you know this is about Will?"

"Mulder, I know my son's genetic make-up. How many times have we looked for answers?"

"Okay," Mulder nodded, "so it's information on Will. Can you tell what the hell they were going to do?"

"This just looks like studies."

"Scully, those... containers over there look similar to what you were placed in when you were infected with the virus. Do you think they were going to place Will in there, infect him for an alien gestation?"

"Mulder there's more than one container there."

"Jesus, I don't know. This place gives me the creeps. Let's take some of these notes as evidence and get the hell out of here."

"Mulder, we don't know if they've got back up files. Maybe if we destroy everything..."

The lights flickered on.

"No one is destroying anything."

Mulder and Scully found themselves confronted with three men, each cradling a semi automatic weapon aimed directly at them.


It did not stay in the town of Buckeye but traveled onward using a dirt track still on a due west course. It sensed urgency and picked up its pace. The time was near, very near.


Chapter 21

"Wait!" Will breathed, tugging on Skinner's sleeve. "Something's..."

"What?"

Marita had been two paces ahead but turned back to see what the delay was.

"If we don't hurry, we won't get away before daylight."

"Will?" Skinner ignored Marita's hushed words. "What's wrong?"

"That building..." Will pointed in the direction Marita had been heading. "Something..."

"That's where we need to go. That's where they keep the formula."

"Will?" Skinner placed a hand on Will's shoulder, bringing the boy's focus back. "You don't want to go there?"

"I don't know... I can feel..." Will shrugged his shoulders. "It's a little muddled what I feel. It's like something's both wrong and also good."

"Why don't you stay here while we go and check it out?"

"No." Will gripped Skinner's arm. "Uncle Walter, no."

"We'll be right back."

"No. Don't leave me."

"Will, we're not going to leave you. We'll be right back."

"No, I can go with you."

"But you don't feel right about it."

"Can we peek inside first?"

Skinner straightened up, looking over at Marita.

"There is one window low enough we could try but when the lights are out I doubt that you can see much."

"Please?" Will searched between both adult faces. "Please?"

"We can do that quickly just to appease the boy."

Skinner nodded, following Marita to the side of a large building, Will keeping pace beside him.

The window was low enough and wide enough for all three of them to peer through, but contrary to Marita's words, the lights were on inside.

Skinner's eyes widened and he reached for Will, one hand clasping around his mouth, preventing the remainder of the gasp from escaping his lips. Mulder and Scully were standing almost in the center of the room, three men before them with serious looking weapons.

Marita ducked below the window, shaking her head. Skinner, bringing the boy with him in his grasp, crouched beside her.

"You brought them here!" Marita hissed at Skinner. "Why?"

"I didn't bring them, they brought me. They weren't supposed to..." He patted the pocket of his shirt. "Shit. I should've... Shit! Shit!"

"What?"

"They would've come looking for me thinking I was in trouble without contact for more than an hour."

"Well, that's it then. We have to leave without the formula."

"We can't leave without Mulder and Scully."

"You have the boy. Go. I'll see what I can do here."

"No. I don't see that as an option."

"I see it as your *only* option."

Will squirmed and kicked against Skinner.

"Will, stop it. You're not making this easy. I'll let go if you promise not to do anything stupid like yell to your parents. Okay?"

Will nodded against Skinner's chest. Skinner released him, hands at the ready, just in case.

"We could bargain." Will offered, whispering to Skinner. "Bargaining is good."

"Bargain what?"

"Me."

"No."

"You know they won't kill me but they might kill them."

"No, Will. You don't know that for sure. You have no idea what they'll do to you."

"Yes, I do. Marita knows too."

Skinner glanced at Marita, biting her lower lip.

"What do you know?"

"He's right, they won't kill him."

"But you have no idea what they'll do to him either, do you?"

Marita stared at the ground by her feet.


"You know, you ought to have signs around here." Mulder waved a hand around him. "This place is huge. People can get lost in the dark."

Scully anxiously shuffled from one foot to the other. She knew Mulder was in panic mode and struggling to find a way out of this mess by the way he was babbling. He always talked non-stop when he was nervous. She would have told him to shut up, however the sound of his voice was somewhat comforting at this point in time.

"You triggered the silent alarm." One of the men gestured to the sensor on the ceiling with his weapon. "Each building has them."

"Ah well, there you go..." Mulder continued, "I was saying to the little woman here that we should've taken a right when we took a left but she insisted it was left. She can be very persistent."

"What are you talking about?"

"We got lost in the dark. We ran out of gas a couple of miles down the road and wandered in here. We thought we'd come in here out of the elements. We were tired and thought we might find some food and water."

"How did you get past the other guards?"

"Guards? You have guards? This isn't a camp?"

"Shut up!" The largest of the three stepped forward, pushing the semi automatic into Mulder's chest. He turned to the other two. "Why are we even listening to this bullshit?!"

"Bullshit? So this *is* a camp!"

The guard raised his weapon, aiming the butt towards Mulder's head.

"Ryan!"

The weapon stopped inches from Mulder's forehead. Scully had ceased shuffling and almost cat-like, was ready to spring into action. Mulder just blinked, looking perplexed.

"Ryan, you need to keep your temper in check there, man."

The large guard stepped menacingly in front of Mulder.

"Ryan! Go get Preston."

The guard remained a few moments longer, clicked the safety and then headed toward the door.

"You know, Scully, I think he liked me. Jealous?"

"Shut up, Mulder."

"I can tell. You're jealous."

"I think you should take her advice and shut up."

"You know, you guys should lighten up, this has all been a mistake."

Mulder's hand inched toward his belt.

"Don't even think about it. You'll be checked for weapons directly, just no sudden movements."

"Just wanting to scratch an itch. I tell you, we've been walking a while and you know... mosquitoes... I just wanted to scratch."

"You forget, I heard her say you were going to destroy everything."

"Destroy? No..." Mulder chuckled, receiving a frown from Scully. "She said 'Roy'."

The guard shook his head.

"Man, you *are* full of bullshit."

"She said Roy. Really. Get a picture of everything for Roy. A friend of ours gets a kick out of the places we get ourselves into and he..."

"No!"

Scully's scream cut Mulder off. The large guard had just opened the door when a small figure suddenly burst through, running toward them.


Chapter 22

"Mom!"

Will skidded to a stop, his Nikes rubber soles squealing on the linoleum floor. The two remaining guards turned, diverting their aim toward the interruption.

"Will!"

Both Mulder and Scully sprang forward, only to be halted by the return of the direction of the weapons.

"Stop right there!" The lead guard stepped forward in front of Mulder. "Don't even try it." He nodded to the other guard. "Get the boy."

"No!" Scully screamed, "Please, no!"

The guard paused a few feet in front of Will. His brow creased, a slight sheen of sweat forming on his forehead.

"No!" Scully tried to charge the guard obscuring their way.

"Wait!" Mulder caught her arm before the guard could react.

"Mulder, what ?"

Mulder nodded in the direction of the younger guard hesitating before Will.

The lead guard turned his head slightly to ascertain the progress of his comrade.

"What the fuck are you doin'? Wilson, grab the boy. Now!"

"I

I " Wilson faltered with his next step, visibly straining. "I can't seem to "

"What? He's just a kid for Chris sakes, grab him!"

"It's

wrong

I can't "

"What the fu " The lead guard backed away from Mulder and Scully in the direction of Wilson, still controlling his aim. He stopped beside him noticing the beads of sweat on his brow and the concentration on his face. "What's wrong with you, man?"

"I can't "

Not failing to maintain his sight on the two intruders, the lead guard turned to check out the boy. He was standing stock still, just staring at Wilson. He wasn't sure what the deal was here, but he'd heard rumors that the child that they'd been keeping in the installation was imperative for some of the experiments they were going to perform. Was this *that* kid? He certainly didn't look any different from other kids.

"Hey, kid!"

No reaction.

"Leave him Stewart!"

He jumped at the new voice but knew exactly whom it belonged to. Dr. Preston.

Dr. Preston entered the building, followed by Ryan, instantly lifting his weapon toward Mulder and Scully.

A hand landed on Will's shoulder. Will sprang back as if the touch had been charged with electricity, losing concentration on Wilson, who instantly dropped to his knees, retching and holding his stomach and head.

Preston caught hold of Will's shirt, literally dragging the boy toward him.

"No!"

"Give me a reason to use this." Ryan lifted his semi automatic, aiming it at Mulder, a smile playing on his lips. "Just one move. C'mon."

"He's just a boy!"

"That's where you're wrong." Preston tried to smooth Will's hair but the boy cowered from his touch, beginning to whimper. "This is an extraordinary boy you have here, Mr. Mulder. It *is* Mr. Mulder, isn't it?" Preston didn't raise his gaze from the boy to gain any affirmation of his question but continued his adoration of the child before him. "This boy has the answers we seek."

"Answers? What answers?"

"Ahh, Ms. Scully. Or is it legally Mulder now? I think not. You wouldn't have risked being traced back to where you have hidden yourselves these past years." He finally looked up. "The answers, Ms. Scully. The answers to life as we know it."

"You're not making any sense."

"Oh yes, Ms. Scully, it makes perfect sense. This child you conceived has the answer to what we have sought. The answer to keep the human species from extinction."

"From the virus?"

"Yes. The alien virus or what you have so lovingly called it 'the black oil' or 'purity'."

"I thought you had a serum."

"That was never perfected. Synthetic crap to be quite blunt. We couldn't guarantee 100% effectiveness with that."

"What makes you so sure that this time would be any different?"

"Well, Ms. Scully, we'll find out, won't we?"

Will began to whimper more loudly, tears streaking down his face.

"C'mon, can't you see you're scaring him? Don't you think he'd be better off with us and comply with you without being so scared?"

"Mr. Mulder, the chance of you complying to our wishes is very slim, don't you think?"

"Try me."

"I think your reputation precedes you."

"I've been out of action for some time now. Don't you think I've mellowed? Being a father can do that to you."

"I don't think I'll take that chance."

"Look at him. He's shit scared of you. There's no way he's going to comply with what you want. Scully and I will help you as long as you don't hurt him."

Scully's glare burned the side of Mulder's face. He slowly felt for her hand, trying to reassure her with his touch, without trying to exhibit this to Preston or the guards.

"I think we'll have ways of making him comply. We could "

The lights flickered. All eyes moved about the room.

"Ryan," Preston pulled Will toward him, gripping tightly, "take Wilson and go see what that's about. I don't want the power to go out."

Wilson was still on his knees, wiping his mouth. Ryan pulled him to his feet, slapped him on the back, and lead the way outside of the building.

"Now," Preston continued, "let's have a little party."


Note: To those who wrote to see if I was still alive, sorry for the delay in the next installment. Yes, I'm still alive but RL has kept me from writing for some time and then the muse took a holiday. Hope this installment was worth the wait and hopefully the next one won't take so long. Thanks for continuing to read!


Chapter 23

"Fuck! Fuck! Fuck!"

Skinner cursed under his breath. How the hell did a scrawny kid get away from him like that! Wasn't he supposed to be the experienced FBI Director? Shit.

Marita crawled toward him in the shrub by the building Will had entered.

"We should go."

"What? Are you crazy? We have to get them out of there."

"We need help. We could go and get back up and "

"I don't think there'll be time for that."

"Then we're all dead."

"Now that's positive thinking."

"We can't compete with the weapons that they have and the guards "

"Then we improvise."

"How?"

"I was thinking of a diversion "

As if on cue, two guards exited the building, one coughing and clearly not well, but trying to keep up with the one leading.

Skinner indicated to Marita to be quiet and stay put as he checked the chamber of his gun and released the safety.

"C'mon Wilson," Ryan threw over his shoulder, "quit dragging your feet."

"Man, I feel like shit. I think that kid did something to me."

"You're a weak fuck, you know that?"

"I'm telling you, the kid *did* something to me!"

"Yeah, right, all in your mind."

There didn't seem to be footsteps behind him any more.

"Shit, man, you puking again?"

Ryan turned to see Wilson's semi automatic in his face, held by a large man who also had Wilson locked in a sleeper hold under his arm.

"Hand it over." Skinner nodded toward the guard's own semi automatic. "Slowly."

Just as Ryan was thinking of a way to retaliate, the face of the man before him changed drastically as he looked above and beyond him.

Skinner was not about to trust this young punk in front of him, who was smirking like an idiot. The guard he had in his grip was not giving him much fuss so he needed to watch every action the man before him made. He was not expecting the sight before him.

A large figure appeared behind the guard, no expression on his face and no intention of hiding his presence. With precision movements, he gripped the young man's head between his large hands and whipped it around to the left, a sick bone-snapping sound filling the night. The guard's lifeless body fell to the ground.

The figure stared for some time at Skinner, a chilling smile forming before he headed toward the building close by.


Scully tugged at Mulder's hand, then nodded toward their son. Will was clearly becoming more and more distressed in Preston's grip. By the tension of Scully's clasp, it wasn't doing her much better watching her son so upset.

Mulder returned with a slight pressure of his fingers, trying desperately to think on the spot.

"So Preston, at least let us see if our son's okay. You may be one sick son of bitch but you're a doctor aren't you? You need him to be in his best condition, right? Can't you see he's not right now?"

"These conditions will have to do I think."

"C'mon, what happened to your work ethics?"

"Mr. Mulder, *you* asking me that? Don't make me laugh."

"Well, if not me, let Scully take him for a while, calm him down. Look, you have the gun on us."

Preston hesitated, clearly pondering this. He glanced down at the cowering child, clawing at his shirt where Preston held him.

"Alright. Ms. Scully, make your way over here slowly."

Scully pushed her way past the guard and headed toward Will, who after seeing his mother approaching, stopped clawing and stretched out his arms to her. He was still held firmly by his shirt, his captor only releasing him when his mother was by his side. There was no embarrassment about wrapping his arms about his mother and weeping openly.

Mulder was about to charge the guard while he had his sights on the reunion but his thoughts were interrupted by the door bursting open. The guard whirled around, firing a round into the figure that loomed in the space.

"What the fuck ?"

The figure didn't fall or halt, it continued inside, searching.

"Shoot him!" Preston backed away from the door, leaving Scully guarding her sobbing son against the wall, using her own body as a shield. "Shoot him! What are you doing, Stewart? Shoot him!"

"I did!" Stewart fired another round, unmistakably directly at the large figure. It continued on. "Shit! Shit!"

The firearm seized. As Stewart tried to fire again, the figure closed the distance between them, ripped the weapon from his grasp and threw it against the wall, just missing Mulder's head in the process. Stewart was then hauled into the air and hurled against the opposite wall, instantly breaking his back on impact.

Mulder skidded along the floor to where the firearm lay. Gripping it in his hands allowed him to feel more secure, although he didn't know how secure they were if Stewart's shots hadn't made any difference. There were bullet holes in the figure's clothes but no blood seeped through.

Super soldier?

The figure, seemingly satisfied with Stewart's limp form, turned and scanned the area. It headed toward Preston who was only a few feet from Scully and Will. It didn't seem to acknowledge Mulder and taking that opportunity, Mulder rushed to Scully and Will's side.

Preston fumbled with his pistol in his sweaty palm before deciding a bullet was not going to bring this thing down. He headed for the open door but was grabbed as his foot stepped over the threshold.

"Mulder?"

Mulder glanced up to see the familiar face of Skinner. He was twisting Preston's arms behind his back.

"Jesus, Walter, where the hell have you been?"

"I *had* been trying to get your son out of here but it looks like we got sidetracked."

"Walter "

"Oh shit "

The large figure loomed before Skinner once more. Once again, the attention was not on him and Preston was hauled out of his grasp.

Mulder aimed the semi automatic at the figure.


Chapter 24 - The Final Chapter

Mulder aimed at the figure's head, speculating that if hits to the body had no effect, then blasting the head to kingdom come should just about do it. He tried to steady his aim so that he wouldn't miss and take out Skinner instead.

The barrel of the firearm lowered as a small hand pushed it against it.

"No Dad."

Will's face came into view.

"Move Will so I can get a shot. I don't want to hit Walter."

"No Dad."

"Will..."

At that moment, Preston was hoisted from his feet, over the figure's head. His screams broke off as his spine snapped within the figure's hands. His lifeless body slumped to the floor in a crumpled heap.

Skinner was rooted to the spot, unable to tear his eyes away from the scene before him. The figure seemed to scan the area around him and before Skinner could even think about drawing his own weapon, it was once again standing before him.

"Shit! Shit!" Skinner fumbled with his holster. The damned pistol seemed to be glued to the fucking thing. "Shit! Mulder!"

"I got him!" Mulder pushed Will gently but firmly aside. "Just don't get in my way Walter!"

"Easy for you to say."

"Please Dad, no!" Will pulled at Mulder's arm keeping him at bay. "Please!"

"Will, c'mon, stand aside now." He glanced over his shoulder to see Scully checking her own gun. "Scully, take him will you?"

"No!"

Will dodged his mother, swerving around the table and skidding to a halt between Skinner and the large figure.

"Goddammit!"

Mulder slammed the butt of the rifle onto the floor before hauling ass over to the door, Scully close behind.

The figure stared directly at Skinner, unmoving, face devoid of any emotion. Skinner still fumbled with the holster before finally pulling the damn pistol free, unable to look away.

"No Uncle Walter!" Will's hand pushed against Skinner's. "Please."

Skinner tugged at the back of Will's shirt, trying to haul him behind his own body out of reach.

"Get behind me, Will."

The figure's head pivoted to the right to view the two newcomers to the scene. Mulder and Scully halted just a few feet from them.

"Will, run!" Scully could see her son trying to fend off Skinner's hand, pushing him behind. "Run! Now!"

"No Mom! The Monster!"

"Get out of here Will!"

"The Monster!"

"Will!" Mulder's voice was cracking under pressure. "Move it Will!"

"NO!"

Will suddenly managed to free himself and slip between Skinner's legs, bumping right into the figure's left leg. Before anyone could react, the figure scooped Will up to eye-level.

A gasp escaped Scully's throat, her heart lodged somewhere there as well. Mulder gripped the firearm tighter, raising it higher.

"Hey! Over here! Hey!"

The figure was fixated on Will, not bothering to look over at the commotion from Mulder. Skinner stepped forward, one hand out to grab Will at any open chance, the other aiming his pistol at the figure.

Scully dashed past Mulder, avoiding his arm out toward her.

"Scully! Jesus, no!"

Scully halted just in front of the figure holding Will. The figure did not break away from its fixation on Will, not even as Mulder stepped up cautiously, still trying to aim between the figure's eyes, past Will.

Will also seemed mesmerized by the figure's gaze until his right hand stretched out and touched the figure's forehead. This motion received another gasp from Scully, who reached out for Will, dangling before the figure. Scully tugged at Will's waist, hoping the figure would miraculously drop him but the two seemed fused together.

The figure suddenly turned toward Scully, releasing Will into her arms, looking long and hard at the both of them. Scully backed away slowly, holding Will tightly against her. Mulder stepped forward, poised to shoot. Skinner followed suit.

"Mulder, no, wait!" Scully managed between sobs of mixed emotions in retrieving her son. "I don't think that's necessary."

"Wha...?"

The figure, ignoring both men, headed toward the workstations in the middle of the room. Mulder and Skinner kept their weapons poised, following every movement made.

With one blow of his fist, the first computer at the end of a desk was completely pulverized; small chips of metal flying in all directions. The sound was almost deafening as he continued his wrath-like state in destroying the rest of the computers in the area. The figure turned to the containers, his head tilted to the left as if sizing them up. An about-face brought his focus back on the group now huddled together by the door, watching intently, mesmerized.

"Go."

It didn't seem to register that this figure, this thing, could actually speak. Skinner finally shook free of his paralysis first.

"Who are you?" He lowered his pistol. "*What* are you?"

A smile, so well practiced on his journey, crawled across his lips.

"He will know." He nodded toward where Will was straining between his parents, using themselves as shields from the figure. "Now you must go."

"Why?" Mulder looked from his son back to the figure. "Why did you want to destroy my son and not do it when you had the chance?"

"No. I was not sent to destroy him. I was sent to destroy this. This should not be. I will take care of it now. You will take him and go."

"What about the other guards?" Scully peered back at the open entrance. "The other staff?"

"There are no more."

"Okay," Skinner took a step back, "I'm for getting' the hell out of here."

"Wait." Mulder brushed away a bead of sweat at his brow. "What 'shouldn't be' and yeah, what are you? Why would my son know?"

"This should never have been. I was sent to stop what was not a planned change, a bargain that should not have been made. I am not one of those that seek hosts to change your world. I am one of the interceptors. I mean nothing. He means everything. Take him away. I cannot stop what may be sought in the future but only undo the here and now. Maybe it will be enough."

Mulder opened his mouth but a tug to his shirt stopped his next question.

"Dad, we need to go."

"Will, you know who this is? What this is?"

"I had so many thoughts about everything they got mixed up. I thought that was the monster but the monster was this and I was scared of it. The anger and the fear were coming from everywhere and I couldn't tell from where. But I think we needed to come here. It's ok Dad, we can go and let him do what he came to do."

"I will wait until you are at a safe distance."

Mulder pulled away from Will, taking a step toward the figure.

"Why are you doing this? Why save us? And don't tell me to ask my son. I want to know now from you."

"You are a curious species. I find the more time I spend within this body, the more of your emotions I can feel."

"So you'll know that some of us have little patience. Tell me."

"I have told you that this was not to be."

"But what's that to you and your kind? Why do you even care what happens to us?"

"The equilibrium could be altered. The introduction of another dominant species could be detrimental to this atmosphere and may hasten the expiration of this planet."

"So altering that means altering your own universe?"

"Everything is connected."

Mulder jumped slightly as his hand was touched. Scully's fingers were cold but her contact warm.

"C'mon Mulder, let's get our son home."

She led him back to where Skinner and Will were already waiting on the bottom step outside the door. He turned back, brow furrowed.

"Is this the end? Can we go back to normality now?"

"Normality?" Skinner's eyebrow's raised above his glasses. "When have you ever been normal?"

Mulder choosing to ignore the comment stared at the figure. For what seemed too long, the figure only stared back until what Mulder thought was a faint sign of emotion crossed its eyes.

"It is the end for now."

"No. That's too vague. Tell me."

"It is not for me to know. All you can do is protect the child as best you can."

"Christ sakes, you know more than that."

"No. I know only that your child is special. For some he holds a key. Some may always search for him. I know no more than that."

"'some'? Who?"

"There will always be those who seek destruction."

"Shit. I feel like I'm playing with Confucius."

"Mulder." Scully stroked the knuckles across his hand with her thumb. "We'll continue to live our lives." The fingers of her other hand gripped his chin and turned his face toward her. "With our son."

Mulder gazed into the intensity of her eyes. He paused before nodding and following her down the stairs.

The small group peered back through the opening to see the figure moving back toward the containers.

Move. They needed to move. They had no idea of what a 'safe distance' was but they needed to get there soon.

"Where the hell is she?"

"Walter, who?"

"Marita."

"Oh." Scully sighed. "I think she'd turn on her heels."

"I don't know." Skinner scratched his bald cranium. "Maybe we should look."

"She's not here."

Skinner looked down at Will.

"How do you...?" He shook his head. "Never mind. Let's go then."


About twenty miles from the complex a flash of light reflected in the rear view mirror. Skinner veered off the road. All four faces were illuminated by the blaze in the distance.

No one spoke. They didn't need to.

They needed to go home.

Home.

To normality.

To hope.

The End


 

Author's note: Apologies for having this one drag on for so long. Thank you to those who wrote words of encouragement or letting me know that you were reading and were eager to see the outcome. I can't say that I was satisfied with this ending as I struggled with a couple of scenarios but it's the one I decided to use in the end. Hope it didn't disappoint too much and at least all the characters survived. ;)

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