Title: Bird in the Hand
Author: Rachel Wilder
Spoiler Warning: Post FTF
Rating: R
CONTENT WARNING: Adult situations, a little language and sex.
Classification: S, A; M&S married
Disclaimer: This story is based on the characters and situations created by Chris Carter, the Fox Network and Ten Thirteen Productions. As such, the characters named are the property of those entities and are used without permission, although no copyright infringements are intended.

Summary: Mulder struggles to decide if dealing with the devil is worth the price. A sequel to Picking Up the Pieces and Pieced Together. You really should read them first.

Author's Notes: When I wrote "Picking Up the Pieces" I intended to leave it at that. But I received a request for a sequel that I was unable to turn down . . . and writing that sequel created this one. I feared that I had created a monster, but with the support of my lovely housemate, Marti and a cadre of online friends I present the latest in the "Pieces" universe. The list of fine beta readers is long, but significant, so please don't bring the music up before I'm done. Many thanks to Vali, Beth, Gerry, Lynne, Jo-Ann and Marti. I was amazed that each of you could find different comma errors, gaping holes in plot and even a type-o or two. Without your assistance this story would probably bite and Scully would still be trying to crawl into Mulder. (Not that we all wouldn't like too!)

For those still reading, here's a little timeline to help out
with the details:

Mulder's accident: November 1998
Mulder and Scully's wedding: August 1999
Anna comes to live with them: May 2001
Anna gets sick: November 2002
Mulder and Scully adopt Bjorn: December 2002


Woodridge, VA
May 2003

The street stretched out in front of him, his legs pumping as he ran along the pavement. It was dark and windy, rain threatening. Reaching up to wipe the sweat away from his eyes, he shook his head; theground seemed to be slipping underneath him, slipping until he was falling and . . .

"Mulder! Wake up!" Scully shook his arm. "It's a nightmare, c'mon."

He slowly moved away from the dream, waking in the sweat that had bathed him while he ran. He lifted himself up so he could lean back against the headboard of their bed. Reaching for the clock on the bedside table he squinted at it. It was almost four in the morning. He set the clock back down with a sigh.

Scully lifted her hand to his sweat-covered forehead. "Hey, you're hot. Let me get a thermometer." She pushed back the covers of their bed as the monitor on the table began to squawk.

"Bjorn's awake," Mulder said, gesturing down the hall to the nursery where the baby had been sleeping. "He's probably wet; go get him and I'll do diaper duty."

Scully nodded and crawled out of bed as the baby's cries continued. Entering the nursery bathed in the glow from the small night light on the wall, she could see Bjorn had kicked off his blankets. She leaned over into the crib, pulled him into her arms and comforted him. His cries quieted as he tucked his head into her breast. She rocked him back and forth for a moment. She felt half asleep, but she wouldn't trade it for moments like this. His skin was soft like satin and he had that sweet baby smell; powder, sweat and formula. It was like perfume to her.

Their lives had been a whirlwind since first Anna, and then Bjorn arrived. It was hard for Scully to remember first the years when she never thought she had the desire to be a mother and then the second chance at life after the cancer when she wanted nothing more. Even the marriage to Mulder had occasionally seemed empty, but the children had changed everything. Of course she and Mulder had less time for each other, but all it took was holding this baby in her arms or seeing their little girl sitting on his lap to make her forget about the two a.m. wake-up calls, the runny noses, the messy diapers. It made everything more intense, more important, more meaningful.

He looked up at her with that passive baby expression, sucking on his thumb. He was such a good baby, very mellow, not at all like his sister. She was running all the time, jabbering, playing. Anna couldn't wait for her brother to be big enough to join in her antics. Bjorn's renewed cries snapped Scully out of her thoughts and she made her way back to the master bedroom.

She passed the little boy to Mulder. As much as Anna had favored Mulder, this one was the spitting image of Scully from the scruff of red hair on his head to his brilliant blue eyes. Mulder efficiently began unsnapping the sleeper so he could get at the diaper. Scully returned with the aural thermometer, slipping it in her husband's ear while he finished with the baby.

"We make a pretty good team, huh?" asked Scully. Mulder smiled and picked up the now dry and happy baby as she pulled out the thermometer. "101. Probably a UTI. I'll go get you some water. You need anything else?" He shook his head. In the years since his accident infections like this had become almost routine. It was one of those things that happened when the body relied on outside equipment to accomplish what it was supposed to do naturally. She disappeared while Mulder made a face at the baby.

"It's not as easy as it looks, Bo-boy." He sighed and leaned back again, holding the baby up against his shoulder. Urinary tract infections, pressure sores, spastic legs-- this was what it meant to live with paralysis.

*Spinal cord regeneration isn't so far off . . . especially for those who have connections.*

Cancerman's words rang in Mulder's head as the baby fell asleep against his shoulder. His thoughts were interrupted by a small body banging against the side of the bed. He opened his eyes and looked down.

"What are you doing in here? Did you crawl out of your crib again?" Mulder asked as Anna looked up at him.

"Up!" she called. Since her recovery from the aplastic anemia she had quickly regained her former vigor and was becoming a bit of a handful. "Papa! Up!"

"Demanding little princess, aren't you?" he said as he carefully placed Bjorn on the bed next to him. The baby sighed and stuck his thumb into his mouth as he continued sleeping. Mulder reached over and hauled the little girl onto his lap. "Careful, Bjorn is sleeping."

"Yorn, Yorn, Yorn," Anna sang. Mulder chuckled and pulled her close. He figured she would be about 15 before she was actually able to pronounce her brother's name.

"Shh! If you wake him, we start all over and mommy isn't here to make him happy. We don't want to have a scene, do we?" Anna shook her head. She tucked her face into his chest, snuggling against him. What had they done before the kids? He couldn't imagine being any happier if he tried.

Scully returned with a glass in her hand. She held it out to him while he shifted the little girl so he could drink more easily.

"At the risk of sounding cheesy, this makes a pretty cute picture," she said while taking the empty glass from him. She set it on the dresser and moved around the edge of the bed, carefully picking up the baby without waking him. "Should I put them back to bed?"

Mulder shook his head. "Nah, I was reading an old classic last week, 'The Family Bed.' It sounded like a sound theory to me."

She smiled and crawled in next to him, Bjorn snuggled between them, Anna sound asleep in Mulder's arms. Yes, it was definitely all worth it.


Scully walked into her office, rolling her neck, trying to clear the mental cobwebs. Mulder's "Family Bed" theory had sounded like a great idea, but sharing her bed with two small children prone to sleeping lightly had not provided her the kind of rest she needed to face her full day. The morning had been filled with two classes of new recruits, and the afternoon held a forensic exam and follow-up on several open cases.

She glanced around the office; the books were neatly lined on the shelf, pictures of Mulder and the kids were lined up neatly on her desk, files in the drawers where they belonged. She had been lucky to get a private space, albeit small and windowless There were days, though, that she missed the messy, stuffed to the gills basement office that she used to share with Mulder. But, if the melancholy got too over-powering, a trip into his office at home usually cured her of that sentiment.

She picked up her phone to check her voicemail.

"Agent Scully, this is Assistant Director Skinner. Please call me as soon as you have a chance."

She hung up the phone wondering what Walter Skinner wanted. Since Mulder's resignation and her transfer to Quantico they had not had much contact with him, save his assistance when Anna had been ill. She placed the call, quickly being transferred to Skinner by his assistant.

"Skinner," the terse voice answered.

"It's Agent Scully, sir. You called?" she asked as she pulled the file for the afternoon autopsy out of the drawer. She heard him exhale slowly.

"Agent Scully. I'm glad you called. I had some news I thought Mulder should hear."

"So why didn't you call him?" she asked, dropping the file and sitting down at her desk. It was amazing how even people they knew marginalized Mulder. He couldn't walk . . . he wasn't brain-dead or a china doll.

"And I will, I just thought I would let you know first. Agent Williams has been working with some alleged abductees and he thinks he's found a connection to Samantha Mulder. I wanted you to hear about it from me, rather than through the grapevine."

Agent Williams. She didn't know much about him, only that he had taken over the X-Files from Diana Fowley and Jeffrey Spender. He had never sought her or Mulder out about their work on the unexplained phenomena.

"What has he found?" she asked. "Is it a credible lead?"

"I don't know, Agent Scully. I've been stonewalled at every turn. You know that the X-Files aren't under my jurisdiction any longer. Anyone who could tell me more isn't talking."

Scully thanked him for the information and hung up. This was going to open up a can of worms. Since his accident, Mulder had not talked much about his sister. She had asked him if he wanted to name Anna after her, but he said it was time to start new traditions. Scully knew that he was frustrated by his inability to continue his quest, but priorities had changed. First there was rehab, then starting a new career, their marriage and family. She had always known that eventually this day would come. What would Mulder want to do? Would he take up the search again?


"Mommy's home!" Mulder called out as the door slammed behind her. She was taking off her coat as she felt two little arms wrap around her legs.

"Hey there, baby," she said as she picked Anna up. At two and a half Anna was getting close to being too big to do that much longer.

"Good day?" Mulder asked as he came around the corner with Bjorn on his lap.

She nodded her head and leaned down to kiss him. "You feeling better?" she asked.

"Much. I've got lasagna in the oven," Mulder said as she pulled away.

"Me! Me!" Anna called. Scully held her so she could kiss Mulder as well.

"Sounds good," Scully responded. She kissed him again and then followed him into the kitchen with the little girl in her arms.


Scully had been very quiet throughout supper. Mulder wondered if she was tired or if something was bothering her. He tried to engage her while they cleaned up, but she put him off. It could wait until the kids were in bed.

Kids were in bed. How quickly things had changed, even more so after they brought Bjorn home. Free time seemed to have disappeared at an exponential rate and they treasured their time alone together. Scully still worked full-time, but rarely went out of town any longer. When she did Maggie came over if necessary. They had hired a nanny to help out during the day while Mulder continued to see patients about twenty hours a week. Mulder was surprised at how much he enjoyed it. His family life had been anything but normal growing up and he had often wondered if he had the capacity to be a good father. There was no way to know how the kids would turn out eventually, but all indicatins seemed to be in his favor. He liked being home with them, seeing all of their changes every day. He would be lying if he didn't say that he missed the FBI, working with Scully on a daily basis, but it was a trade-off and his practice gave him a chance to use his skills in new ways.

Mulder had gotten Bjorn to bed quickly but it took Anna a while longer to get to sleep. Finally Scully made her way back to the living room.

"So what's the deal?" Mulder asked as she dropped onto the couch and kicked her shoes off.

Scully looked at him carefully. He was still the same Mulder she had met in that basement office so long ago, yet he wasn't. This Mulder was dedicated to her, the kids, his patients. How would he feel about someone else investigating Samantha's disappearance?

"C'mon now, you're making me nervous," he said, his voice serious.

"Skinner called me today," she responded, her emotions guarded.

"And . . . "

"Williams has some leads on Sam's case," she said, holding his eyes.

"What?"

"I don't know and Skinner can't or won't tell me why," she replied.

Mulder was silent for a moment and then slammed his hands down on his unfeeling legs. "That's bullshit!" he shouted.

"Mulder," Scully started.

"No, this is typical, business as usual. I started that investigation! My God, she's my sister!" he shouted. His outburst was interrupted by the sound of Bjorn's cry. Scully left the room to get the baby, giving his arm a supportive pat as she passed by.

As Mulder sat in the living room listening to Scully comfort the baby, another man's voice echoed through his head.

* Spinal cord regeneration isn't so far off . . . especially for those who have connections.*


"What do you mean they can't tell me? I deserve that much, from you at least," Mulder pleaded. He had arrived unannounced at Skinner's office the next morning after having no luck with Tony Williams.

"As I told Agent Scully, this is out of my hands. With the reorganization, I don't have jurisdiction over the X-Files or this investigation. I'm sorry, Mulder. As soon as I hear anything, I'll let you know," Skinner said.

Mulder turned and left without responding. Wheeling through the familiar halls, he seethed as Skinner's words repeated in his head. He reached the adapted Ford Explorer and was ready to transfer into the seat when he heard a familiar voice behind him.

"I'm surprised to see you here, Mulder," the gravel-voiced man intoned.

"What the hell do you want," Mulder spat out as he turned his chair to face his nemesis.

"I thought you might need my assistance."

"I'd rather burn in hell," Mulder responded.

"I'm glad to see your esteem for me hasn't changed over time."

"What do you want?" Mulder asked.

"It's not what I want, but rather what you desire, Mulder."

"You'll have to enlighten me," Mulder responded, shifting in his seat.

The smoking man squatted down next to Mulder's chair. "I can help you find your sister. That is what you want, isn't it?"

Mulder looked straight at the other man's eyes. "I'm not interested in your rates."

"Several years ago, when Agent Scully lay dying in a hospital I introduced you to someone, my daughter. You have never asked me about her again. Why?"

"Because she was another one of your ruses, another clone. I can't say that I ever thought about her again," Mulder responded.

"You're not a terribly good liar, Mr. Mulder. You were here today asking Skinner about her, about the investigation. Whatever your reasons, I feel that I must tell you that she was indeed your sister. I have been protecting her from the men, the others, those who would seek to harm her. The time has now come for you to take over that protection. So, you ask, what is the price? Your loyalty, your protection."

"Like I said, I'm not interested," Mulder repeated.

The man stared at him for a moment then stood back up, his knees groaning slightly. "You'll change your mind. When you do, call me." He dropped a card in Mulder's lap. Mulder stuck it in his shirt pocket without a glance.


Wednesday was pool day. Usually Shelby, the nanny, took the kids, but she had the day off. Rather than disappoint them, Mulder decided he would take them.

The day was hot and the water in the kiddy pool was perfect. Mulder lowered himself into the twelve inches of water, leaning back against the edge of the pool. Bjorn played happily on his lap while Anna jumped in and out, performing for her daddy.

Later, Mulder was hard-pressed to figure out the next sequence of events. A ball had hit the baby, making him cry. As Mulder was comforting him, he heard Anna call out. Mulder told her to wait, but she was gone. By the time he had the baby settled down he turned to see her at the top of the slide into the big pool. He told her to stop, but she pushed off down the slide. Her trip into the water seemed to take a year as he tried vainly to figure out how to get himself to her, what to do with Bjorn, how to save his daughter.

Anna hit the water and disappeared as Mulder watched in horror. Before he could yell for help, a woman was pulling out the coughing and crying little girl. Mulder lifted himself out of the pool and into his chair. He picked the baby up and made his way over to the woman.

"Anna! My god, what were you thinking?" he shouted.

Anna cried louder, Bjorn began to cry, then Mulder. He was scared, they all were.

"Can I help you?" the good Samaritan asked.

Mulder shook his head "no" and the woman turned to leave. Realizing his rudeness he called after her, thanking her for her speedy rescue. She waved back with a smile and departed. Mulder turned his attention back to the kids, wrapping them in their towels, trying to calm them. After a few minutes they had settled down.

"Can I help you sir?" another young woman asked as he sat with the children huddled on his lap.

Mulder again said no, suddenly realizing that the pool area had grown quiet while he dealt with the children. He felt self-conscious and moved quickly to leave the pool. The adrenaline rush from the near tragedy got them out of the deck area and in the Explorer in record time. Putting the key in the ignition, Mulder pulled down the sun visor. Tucked on the back side was the card the smoking man had slipped him five days earlier. He touched it for a moment; if he still had legs, he could have saved Anna himself. He brushed the thought away, put the car into gear and headed for home.


"Anna says she fell in the pool," Scully said, sitting down on the couch next to Mulder after dinner that night. He laid aside his paperwork and pulled his glasses off.

"Yeah, a little bit of excitement for us," Mulder said quietly.

"You want to tell me what happened?" Scully asked, holding his gaze.

How would she ever trust him again, he thought. He had almost let their precious child drown. He told her what happened, his voice breaking at the end as he described his terror at being unable to save their daughter. When he finished Scully pulled him into an embrace. After a moment she pulled back so she could look him straight in the eyes.

"If you described exactly what happened, and I'm sure you did, then no one could have gotten to her. I could not have run over there in time. Even before your accident you could not have saved her. Thank God someone did. It isn't your fault!" She held his gaze again until he began to cry. She pulled him against her shoulder.

"I was so scared," he said, his voice muffled by her body and his tears. She pulled him tighter as the strain of the experience washed over him, bringing all of his emotions to the surface. When his tears subsided he sat back. She put her hand up along his cheek and caressed it.

"I love you, Fox Mulder," she said, leaning in and kissing him fully. "I don't ever want you to think that you aren't enough of a father for your children."


The water in the pool was cool, but refreshing. He squinted into the sunlight as he heard Anna call his name. She slid down the slide into his arms. Suddenly he could no longer stand up. He sank into the water, Anna still in his arms. Her mouth was open, her eyes empty.

Mulder sat up in a sweat. It was just a dream. He looked over at Scully sleeping peacefully. He put his head down on the pillow and tried to go back to sleep.


Mulder was up early, his sleep disturbed by his dreams. He was out on the deck finishing a cup of coffee and the morning paper when Scully appeared.

"Sleep well?" she asked. He peered over the paper at her and shook his head 'no.' "Sorry," she responded, taking a seat across the table from him. He continued reading the paper for a few minutes, finally laying it down to look at her.

"Do you think they'll ever cure paralysis?" he asked.

She considered the question for a moment. "As a scientist I have to think that they will. We are continuing to see really promising developments, so I wouldn't say it's impossible."

Mulder nodded. "How long do you think it'll be? Months? Years?"

"I honestly don't know. Why all the questions, Mulder?" she asked.

"I was just thinking, there's always stuff in the Post. It just seems . . . I don't know, a little spectacular," he replied.

"We could do some research, find out more about what the various labs are doing. I know that Wise Young is doing incredible work at Rutgers. Do you want me to do some calling?" Scully asked.

Mulder shook his head. "Nah, I was just . . . I was just thinking out loud. I'd better get the kids ready," he said as he moved past her into the house.


Scully pulled into her parking place. The drive down to Quantico had been like a blur. Her mind just kept going over the morning. There was something nagging at her. When Dana was a young woman, her mother had taught her to trust her intuition, but it wasn't being terribly clear today. What had Mulder said?

She replayed the conversation on the deck. They often discussed things in the paper. But what was in there today that had prompted Mulder's discussion of a cure? She knew he was upset about the incident at the pool. Maybe that was it. She got out of the car and walked toward her office mulling this over. It wasn't right. She felt unsettled, she was missing something. It had been years since she had this feeling, this foreboding sense that Mulder was about to do something they might both regret.


Shelby had taken the kids to the library for story hour. Mulder's 9:30 am appointment still had not shown up at 9:50 am. He sat in his office thinking about the incident at the pool, about someone else searching for Samantha. He reached into his desk drawer and pulled out the business card he had brought in from the car the day before. He meant to throw it away, but it never got past the drawer in his desk. Picking up the phone, he began to dial.


"You've reached 703-555-1784. We can't make it to the phone, but if you leave us a message, we'll get back to you."

Scully waited as her own measured tones continued until the beep. "Mulder. It's me. Give me a call. We need to talk."

He wasn't there. She thought she remembered him having a patient, but then again she was so busy that she often felt like she had a hard enough time keeping track of her own schedule.

"Hey, Dana. Lunch?"

Scully's head snapped up. It was Jane Waters, one of the other forensic pathologists.

"Thanks, Jane, but I think I'm going to run home. Bjorn is teething and Mulder is starting to lose his good nature," Scully said, pushing her chair back and reaching for her purse.

"Well, I wouldn't want to get the primary care giver in a mood," Jane teased. Her husband Dan also stayed home with their kids and Jane was a good sounding board for Scully.

Scully walked back out toward the car. She had manufactured the teething excuse, but she was uncomfortable with saying that she felt like something was wrong and had to check it out. When she got home, they would all be there and then she would feel silly for having worried at all.


"Why should I do this?" Mulder asked, spinning to look at the man who had thwarted his work at every turn.

The man pulled the cigarette from between his thin lips and dropped it to the ground. "I'm doing you the favor, Mulder. What more do you need?"

"No one does this for free. What do you expect from me? Forgive me, but I don't buy your need for my 'protective services,' let alone this new philanthropic turn you seem to be taking."

The Cigarette Smoking Man paused, looking at Mulder sitting in his wheelchair. He pulled out a chair from the table and sat down across from the former agent.

"Then I guess this will have to be a faith trip, Mr. Mulder. How can you not put your faith in the devil when he offers everything you've ever wanted?"


Scully came home around two o'clock to find Shelby in the kitchen feeding the kids. "Where's Mulder?" she asked, dropping her coat and briefcase on the chair. She leaned over and kissed the children.

"I figured you knew," Shelby answered as she tried to wipe Bjorn's hands off. "He was gone when we got home at noon."

"No note or anything?" Scully asked, looking around the kitchen.

"No, which I figured meant it was a big emergency."

Scully sat fingering the phone, trying to decide who to call, when the door from the garage opened and Mulder wheeled into the house.

"Where were you?" she asked, her tone sharper than she had intended.

"I had an errand. Is there a law against that?" he asked.

She shook her head no. "I'm sorry. It was a long day and when you weren't home . . . my imagination, it got the better of me."

"Hey, it isn't even dark yet, made you miss the old days, didn't I?" Mulder asked, his tone light. She smiled back at him.

"Well, I figured you couldn't have made it to Dead Horse by dinner, so we were safe from that one."

"I won't ditch you Scully. We've got too much to lose here," he replied.

Unfortunately, she didn't feel completely reassured, but despite her intuition she would give him the benefit of the doubt this time. Five years of Mulder keeping his promises had earned him at least that.


"So, where were you?" Scully asked, trailing her hand along Mulder's chest. She was tucked inside his right arm, snuggled against him. The emotional strain of the day had left her spent, but she didn't buy his earlier explanation.

"Errands, I told you," he replied, looking down at her. He raised himself up on his left elbow, shifting his body slightly.

"I'm sorry Mulder, but that's bullshit. Home Depot? Target? Baby Gap again? Where were you and what were you doing?"

"Why do you need to know?" he asked. "Maybe I was out shopping for you."

"So, then tell me that. I have a really bad feeling and it's not going to go away until you explain yourself," she answered.

He pulled his arm away from her and sat up against the headboard. He leaned over and kissed her on the lips, but she pulled away.

"That's not going to work, Mulder."

He sighed and closed his eyes for a moment. "I went to see Skinner last week, about the case. Like you said, he couldn't tell me anything, but I did run into someone else."

"Who?" she asked.

"Cancer man. He . . . he brought up something we had discussed before, when Anna was sick. He offered me a cure."

"For the paralysis," she replied, the conversation from that morning finally making so much more sense.

"Yes."

"And?" she asked.

"And, I don't know. Can you imagine? What would it be like to walk again?" he asked. "To run with the kids, to make love to you any time I want, to go back to the FBI."

"And you want those things?" she asked.

"Is that so wrong?" he asked.

"No, it isn't, Mulder. But consider the source. Haven't we spent enough time trying to get away from these people, dealing with their 'experiments'? How could you willingly participate?" Scully asked. She really couldn't believe he would consider this. There was no excuse for it. None.

"Just hear me out. I won't make this decision in a vacuum, you know," he responded.

"Are you honestly thinking about this, Mulder? Why now?" she asked, her eyes begging him to come up with some kind of reasonable explanation. "My god! They put an implant in me, stole my eggs, created our children. How can you even think of this?"

"I . . . it's so much, Scully. There was the pool, then Sam -- it seems like I should do it. Besides, haven't you dreamed about it? Don't you want to know what it would be like to actually make love to one another without planning, without intervention?" Mulder asked.

Scully ran her hand back through her hair, then moved to the edge of their bed.

"I would want this for you if it was possible, but I don't want you to risk everything for this kind of a deal. You want to find Sam. Fine, ask me. I would look for her. My god, Mulder, you could look for her. You can't walk . . . you can still think, research. You don' t have to scale the wall to get over the fence. As for the other things . . . there are very few things I can count on, besides you and our children. Those things are real and you have to know that I have never been dissatisfied with our love life. The other stuff just doesn't matter and you should know that by now. Sometimes I think you must have suffered a head injury when you fell down that cliff."

"Nice, Scully," Mulder said.

Scully stood up and walked over to the window, looking out into the backyard, her silky nightgown form silhoutted in the moonlight. She crossed her arms, trying to hold off the chill that had filled the room.

"I told you about the deal, I gave you that much. Can't you at least hear me out?" Mulder asked. Scully turned to look at him. "I know it's a scary proposition, but have you ever thought about what it is like for me? Can you imagine having half of your body dead? Unfeeling? I have to rely on you, on your mom, Shelby for everything. I can't . . . I can't get it up like any normal guy. I can't play in the backyard with my kids. My dad might not have been the warmest guy, but I remember what it was like when I was little, before Sam disappeared. I want to have that with Anna and Bjorn. How can you deny me that?"

She crossed the room and sat back down on the bed, taking his hands in hers. "I would never deny you a cure if I thought that was the best thing for you . . . for all of us. But . . . and this is hard for me, Mulder, I don't think it is. I think we would all be sorry."

Mulder sat watching her. When she finished he leaned over and brushed away the tears that had gathered in the corners of her eyes.

"I'm sorry," he said quietly.

"What are you going to do?" she asked, looking at him carefully. Maybe she had been too harsh? She hadn't meant to get so angry, but how could he even think about doing this? She would give anything to rid herself of the implant that already resided in her body. That he would willingly subject himself to their experiments was unthinkable.

"The only choice," Mulder responded. Scully nodded, her eyes filling again. He reached over and pulled her close to him. She began to cry harder. He loosened his hold, sliding her back so he could dry her eyes. She moved closer, putting her hands in his hair, pulling his head close to hers. She kissed him, first gently, then more deeply. His hands moved over her negligee, slipping first the right, then the left strap off until it dropped down around her waist. He ran fingers lightly, gently, across her breasts, teasing until her nipples became hard. Her head dropped down as she began kissing his neck and chest, running her fingers up and down his arms. He began to pant slightly as he rolled over and took her in his arms.


Afterward she lay in his arms. He leaned over and kissed the top of her head.

"It feels so good to hold you," he said.

"And that won't change," she said. He pulled her closer.

Scully's mind raced with questions. What was she doing? Had he made the decision by himself or had her fear made him retreat from a possible cure? Maybe she was wrong. What if he could be cured without any ill-effect? She felt Mulder move behind her. She rolled over as she heard him sit up and reach for his wheelchair.

"Where are you going?" she asked.

"I just want to check on the kids," he responded, turning his head so he could see her.

"Do you want me to come?" she asked.

He shook his head. "No, you rest. Just wait here for me, okay?"

Without waiting for her answer, he turned and began wheeling out the door. She could hear the scuff of his hands against the wheel as she lay on her back, the tears flowing down unfettered.


They didn't discuss the offer from the Cancer man again, but it hung over their house like a storm cloud that stubbornly refused either to drench the arid land or to move East. Scully went to Quantico each day, Mulder saw patients at home. She hoped that the kids didn't see the change in their father, but it would have been hard for them not to. He had made the right decision, but it seemed to have taken some of the life out of him. It wasn't so much of what he said, but rather what he didn't. He had gotten quiet, and that was not the Fox Mulder she had known for almost ten years. She wracked her brain, trying to come up with a solution, deciding that she needed to take drastic measures and fast.

The plane tickets landed on his desk with a loud crack.

"What are these?" he asked, picking them up to examine them.

"It's a vacation. For us," she replied.

He laid them aside without turning to even look at her. "I can't go anywhere. I have work."

"Mulder, I know that there are at least five therapists in the area who can take any of your patients. Besides, you're hardly even seeing anyone any longer. You need a vacation. I need a vacation. Let's get out of here for a while."

"Who will watch the kids? I only see two tickets here," he replied, turning to look at her, his eyes peering through his wire rims.

"My mom is going to take them. She's delighted. She rarely sees any of the other grandchildren, so she thinks that she can make up for it by spoiling Anna and Bjorn."

"I don't want to go. It's too hard to travel. I hate being hauled on the plane."

This was true. They had flown to Vancouver for their honeymoon and Mulder had been mortified at being helped on and off the plane. He disliked anything that made him feel singled-out. On their return the airline had lost his chair temporarily and they had been stuck at the baggage claim with one of the airport transport chairs. They had not flown again.

"I'm sorry. We could drive, but I thought this would be a lot faster," she replied.

He leaned over and picked up the tickets again. "Providence?"

"I thought we could go up to Quonochontaug for a few days. We need to spend some time together," she replied.

He pushed back from the desk so he could look at her. "If we need to spend time together, then we'll do it right here. We don't need to run across the country so we can sit around in some old falling down house that already has too damn many bad memories in it. Besides, I'm not going someplace where I'm going to have to drag myself across the floor to take a shit."

He had gotten so bitter. It was all she could do to not physically recoil from his words. She kneeled down in front of him and took his hands. He pulled away briefly, but she hung on.

"Mulder. I'm going away next week. Either you're going with me or I'm going alone. That's the deal. I have sat by and waited for you to get it together, but that isn't happening. If anything, it's getting worse. You won't talk about it here, so I think we should go somewhere else and try. Your mom has had the cabin completely redone for your needs. Let's just go relax at the beach and try to find out how we can get back to where we were. We were happy before all of this started. I know we can be happy again."

"Fine, you make the arrangements, but cash these tickets in. It would be better just to drive."


And drive they did. They traded off drivers during the long trip up Interstate 95. Each time Scully tried to start a conversation Mulder would turn on the radio, or put in a tape. They sat in silence through "Talk of the Nation" and "All Things Considered." Even lunch at one of the traveler's rest stops in Delaware was met by his stony silence. It wasn't until he reappeared from the bathroom that he even directly addressed her.

"The accessible stall is out of order. I need you to help me," he said, his voice flat.

Scully scanned the room, looking for someone to ask about the facilities. Finally she asked the woman in the gift shop who directed her to the manager's office. He had his own private washroom and they could use that. The door was still too narrow for Mulder's chair so Scully and the manager had to help him in. Mulder looked away as she helped him. He had totally shut himself off from her, not unlike when he had first been injured.

"C'mon, let's get going. We can be there before dark if we keep moving," she said when they had finished.

Mulder simply nodded and wheeled past her to the car.


Under different circumstances Mulder would have been very impressed with the renovations his mother had made to the cabin. Despite the bad memories, this had once been a place that his family enjoyed. The ramp to the front door was tasteful and the new deck added to the side looked very accommodating. He wondered if he would compliment the craftsmanship if it had occurred under different circumstances. Instead he settled in his chair and headed for the house, leaving Scully to bring in the bags and other supplies they had brought along.

He leaned over and turned on the wall switch. The room had been painted, new furniture added. Gone was the plastic and broken furniture left in the wake of his trip to the cottage when his mother had been ill. If he had been able to get upstairs he was sure that the bullet holes had been repaired as well. It looked comfortable, furniture spaced enough that he could easily move through the room. He headed for the kitchen, which had also been completely redone; the counters moved down, space underneath the sink for him to pull in with his chair. He glanced past the hall to note a new addition. He hadn't noticed it from the outside. Pushing through the kitchen he entered a good-sized master bedroom with another entrance to the deck and an accessible bathroom. His mother must have spent a great deal of money on this place, getting it ready for him.

"Do you like it?" Scully asked, coming up behind him.

He turned and looked at her as she set their suitcases down on the floor of the bedroom.

"When did she do all of this?" he asked.

"This spring. She wanted to give you something, someplace to go," Scully replied. She moved past him to the sliding glass doors, pulling them open to let the breeze from the ocean fill the room. "It's a beautiful night. Do you want to watch the stars from the deck?"

She turned back to note he had left the room without a word. Sighing she turned instead to their bags. This wasn't going to be easy.


This continued for the next few days. Scully cooked, Mulder ate with barely a word. She tried to get him to go for a walk on the graded path, but he said he had to catch up on some reading. Finally on the third day she came into breakfast with her bag over her shoulder.

"I'm going up to Boston. I'll be back in the morning."

Mulder looked up from his coffee and nodded, then returned to the morning paper.

Scully sighed and turned toward the door. "I'll be at the Marriott downtown. You shouldn't need anything, but if you do, the local cab company delivers. I'll see you tomorrow."

When Mulder didn't respond, she turned and left. He was going to have to figure his own way out of this funk. She wasn't going to sit around any longer watching him will himself into an early grave.


Mulder lay down the magazine he had been reading and reached back to turn on the table lamp. As he did, the scene outdoors caught his eye. It had suddenly grown much darker and the wind was picking up. He looked out the window to note the dark clouds on the horizon, then flicked the light on. Picking up the remote control he turned on the television. Instead of their usual afternoon fare, the channel 10 weather guy was on the screen. Hurricane Hilary was making its way up the coast, moving rapidly through the Long Island Sound. The Rhode Island state patrol was calling for evacuations of all coastal areas.

Mulder transferred off the couch and into his wheelchair. He made his way into the kitchen, reaching for the phone with his right hand, digging for the phone book with his left. He pressed the "talk" button, put it up to his ear and waited. Nothing. The phone lines must already be down.

Mulder rolled into the bedroom, picking up his suitcase. He started digging through the outer pockets until he found his cell phone. Pressing the "power" button, he waited for it to light up. Again, nothing. Damn. With the rest of his "screw the world" attitude had gone the will to charge his cellular.

BANG!

Mulder looked up. The sound had come from the other room. When he reached the kitchen, he found that the French doors had blown open. He pushed them closed, only to have them fly back at him again. Sighing, he moved through the door, realizing that he would have to get the storm shutters secured in order to keep the interior doors closed.

He moved onto the deck, fighting against the wind to keep making progress. Moving forward, inch by inch, tightening his grip on the wheels of his chair, finally he reached his goal. He was reaching out for one of the shutters when another gust hit him. Before Mulder could catch himself, he fell forward, his chair skittering back and out of his reach. He hit the deck with a thump. The next gust snatched the shutter from the wall, slamming it against the door frame, pinned there by gale force wind.

Mulder rolled onto his back, trying to decide what to do next. His wheelchair had slid across the rest of the deck and down the steps into the yard. His sweatpants and t-shirt were soaked through and he was starting to get cold. Very cold. He had to get out of the wind. He turned over on his stomach, pulling himself toward the sliding glass doors to the bedroom. It was only about five feet, but it seemed to take forever as he squeezed his fingers in between the boards of the deck, dragging his body along behind.

Finally he reached the door. He pushed himself up as far as possible with his left arm and reached for the door handle with his right one. He grabbed the handle and pulled. Dammit! The door was locked. Mulder pulled on it again. It wouldn't budge. Cursing again he turned to look for something to break the glass with. There was a flower pot on the edge of the deck, but he would never be able to get it across the wide spans, let alone break the window with it.

Looking around for another option he noted that the deck was about 3 feet off the ground, providing adequate shelter for the moment. He dragged himself over to the edge, pulling his legs until they were parallel with it. Saying a silent prayer he rolled over the edge, landing hard on the packed sand.

Mulder pulled his arms behind him, trying to push himself up on his elbows. He hissed with pain as he put his weight on his right arm. Rolling onto his left side he looked at the injured limb. His wrist looked strange, the joint out of place. Not sure if it was broken or simply sprained he reached for the post supporting the deck and pulled himself under as best he could with one arm.

The rain was still coming through the deck, but it was better than being out in the wind. He rolled onto his back and exhaled. How the hell had he ended up here? He pulled his arm up and looked at his watch. Less than an hour before he had been sitting on the couch enjoying the latest issue of the "New Yorker." What the hell was Scully doing leaving him here all alone?

Mulder snickered softly. Why the hell shouldn't she have? He had been horrible, to her, to the kids, to Maggie, his mom; to everyone he had come into contact with since he had decided to turn down Cancer Man's offer. Why had that made such a big deal? What was he so mad about?

He hated having other people take care of him. It was a continual irritation. Fox Mulder was an independent soul. He had even learned how to tie his own shoes when he was three. His mother used to say it was the first sign of his genius, but he now recognized it as a strong independent streak. So, how had he existed in the chair for nearly five years, feeling worthwhile, only to become this mere shadow of himself ? Yeah, Scully had to help him, but it was a trade-off. She worked full-time, he ran the household. They shared almost everything with the kids.

The kids. He had been really bad about them lately. The accident at the pool had shattered his confidence. He hadn't taken them out alone since. Logically he knew that the incident could have happened to anyone, but his fears kept getting the better of him. What kind of father put distance between himself and his children? His dad had, after Samantha disappeared. Maybe he was simply following in the footsteps of Bill Mulder. He hoped not. He had always assumed that his dad loved him, but he hadn't had a lot of reasons to know that to be true.

Mulder lay there, listening to the wind howling above him, promising that if and when someone found him, things would change.


Scully walked into the hotel. She had spent the afternoon shopping, divesting herself of a great deal of her disposable income. It was so stereotypical, but shopping did get her mind off of Mulder. She had been surprised to see how dark the sky had become. She stopped at the desk to see if she had any messages. She might be mad at Mulder, but she wasn't going to leave him hanging if he had an emergency.

"It's really dark out there," she commented after the attendant came back without any messages.

"Yeah, they say it's a grade four hurricane coming up the coast, but we shouldn't see any major damage here. You don't have a house on the Cape do you?" the man asked.

"No. What about Rhode Island?" she asked.

"They said they were evacuating," he responded. Scully turned and ran out the door, her bags forgotten on the floor.


Scully reached down to tune the radio, the car swerving until she put her right hand back on the wheel. The wind had gotten very strong. She looked out at the rain coming down in sheets across the road. She started to brake when she saw that a state patrol car had pulled across the road, its lights flashing on top.

"I'm sorry ma'am. The road's closed," the officer said, shining his flashlight into the Explorer.

Scully pulled her badge out of her purse. "I'm with the FBI, Special Agent Dana Scully."

"I really don't care Agent Scully. You will only become my problem if I let you out there."

"You have to let me through. My husband is up there," Scully replied, shading her eyes from the beam.

"Everyone's been evacuated. I'm sure he's in one of the shelters."

"He's in a wheelchair and might not have been able to get out. Early 40s. He's paraplegic. Can you check?" she asked. He nodded and headed back to his car. In a couple of minutes he returned.

"Well, we had two elderly folks in chairs, but no one matching his description. Is there any other way he might have left?"

Scully shook her head. "I have our vehicle and we don't come up here much. People wouldn't expect someone to be at the cottage. I have to go see if he's there."

The officer considered her plight for a moment, then opened her door. "Okay, but we take my car."


Scully was very glad that she was neither alone nor driving. The wind had picked up even more and there were trees down all over the place, electric lines sparking. It took them nearly two hours to drive the fifteen miles from the roadblock to the Mulder cabin. When they pulled up it was dark, but Officer Gordon pointed out that the power was off all over the region. He pulled out his large flashlight, handing a smaller one to Scully. She headed for the front door, he went around the back.

She entered into the living room. It looked relatively untouched. She checked through the living room, kitchen and bedroom, but there was no sign of Mulder. She went upstairs into the loft thinking maybe he had managed to crawl up there, but found no sign of him. Returning to the main floor, she found Gordon in the kitchen. He had come in through the storm-damaged French doors. There was no sign of Mulder at that end of the house either. She walked back out onto the deck, her flashlight sweeping back and forth. She paused at the bottom of the steps as her beam caught on something. It was Mulder's wheelchair, tossed against a tree.

"Over here!" she shouted, her words ripped away by the wind. She waved her arm to direct Gordon over. He began working his way through the yard, the beam of his light showing the sheets of rain streaking down from the sky. Scully looked around. Where would Mulder find shelter? She leaned over, poking her flashlight underneath the deck, the wind nearly knocking her down. She was just about to straighten back up when the beam caught the green of Mulder's sweatpants. She turned and hollered for Gordon, bringing him over to the narrow crawl space.

"How the hell did he get down there?" Gordon shouted.

Scully shrugged her shoulders and began crawling toward Mulder. His pulse was slow, but strong, his respiration regular. His skin was very cold and he was soaked to the bone. They had to get him inside immediately.

Gordon reappeared with a plank which they log-rolled Mulder onto. Carefully they managed to work him out from underneath the deck, into the house and onto the bed.


"We need to get his wet clothes off as quickly as possible," Scully said, as she work the sweatpants down his icy legs, throwing the sodden clothing to the floor. After directing the officer to hand her Mulder's suitcase, she pulled a piece of tubing out of one of the pockets.

"What's that for?" he asked.

"We have no idea how long he's been out there. We need to catheterize him or he could go into kidney failure." She efficiently stripped the plastic bag off and inserted the tubing until it began to drain into the attached bag. Gordon peeled Mulder's t-shirt off, tossing it on the floor, out of the way.

"Hand me those quilts," Scully ordered. Gordon grabbed them from the bottom of the bed and tossed them to her. She quickly pulled them over Mulder's clammy body.

"What are you doing now?" Gordon asked as Scully began removing her wet coat.

"I'm going to give him as much of my body heat as I can manage. You go call for help. We need to get him out of here as soon as possible," Scully said as she pulled off the last of her clothes and climbed under the covers. She practically welded Mulder's icy body to her warm one, willing her body heat into his.


Mulder relaxed back against the lounge chair. It felt great to be on the beach. The sun was beating down, almost hot. He reached over for his iced tea and . . .

"Aah!" Mulder shouted as he smacked his injured wrist into the bedside table.

"Hey," Scully said, sitting up in the bed. Exhausted, she had fallen asleep next to him while they waited for an ambulance to be able to make it to the cottage.

"What? I was . . . " Mulder shifted so he could look at her. The blanket had fallen exposing her bare chest and midriff. "Why, Doctor Scully, is this any way to treat a patient?"

Giving him a wry look, she leaned over and took the hand he was protecting against his chest. "I was so worried about hypothermia I didn't think about other injuries. Is it broken?"

"I think so. I landed on it when I dropped off the deck."

She put her hand up against his forehead. It was warm, but not dangerously so.

"How do you feel? Does it hurt when you breathe?" she asked, a deeply concerned expression on her face.

Mulder shook his head. "Other than the hand, I feel okay. How did you find me?"

Scully related the harrowing rescue she and Officer Gordon had undertaken. Mulder leaned in and kissed her gently on the lips. She pulled away, a look of surprise on her face.

"I made a promise to myself," Mulder said, leaning back. She looked at him, her right brow cocked in question. "If I got out of there alive I would make it up to you."

"Make it up to me?" she asked.

"Yeah. I've . . . I've been unfair, Scully. I've been a total bastard to you, to Anna and Bjorn. I . . . I don't even have a good reason."

"I'm sorry," Scully replied.

"For what?" Mulder asked.

"For making that decision for you, for not letting you work it out for yourself."

"No, you were right. I just had to figure that out for myself," Mulder responded. He leaned in and began kissing her again. There was a light tapping on the door and then Officer Gordon appeared.

"Oh, I'm sorry," Gordon said as Mulder and Scully tried to pull the blankets up to cover themselves. "The transport is here."

Scully thanked him and got out of bed to dress. She turned back to Mulder, concern creasing her face.

"Your chair is ruined, I'm afraid. They'll have to use the gurney to get you out of here," she said, bracing herself for an acidic response. Instead Mulder shrugged.

"Hey, it was Cleopatra's favorite mode of transportation," he responded, smiling at her. "Do you think I could at least get some skivvies to put on, though?"

She laughed and threw him a clean pair of boxer shorts.


Other than a broken wrist, Mulder checked out fine at the hospital. With a loaned chair and Scully's assistance, he was settled in the Explorer and they headed back to Virginia. Finally, they pulled into Maggie Scully's driveway.

Scully came around to Mulder's door, helping him from the car. He settled himself in his chair and looked up at her expectantly.

"What?" she asked.

"I didn't burn any bridges that I can't rebuild, did I?" he asked, wheeling around the vehicle to the rear and dropping the gate.

"Hey, don't do that," she chided him. "You're not supposed to use your wrist until the cast comes off." She helped him pull out his overnight bag. "I don't think you did. Anyone in particular you're afraid of?"

His response was drowned out by Anna bursting out of the house. She ran down the sidewalk, Maggie trailing behind with Bjorn in her arms.

"Papa!" the little girl called as she launched herself into his lap. Scully moved over to protect Mulder's injured arm from her exuberance. "I missed you and Mommy!"

"Hey, pumpkin, I missed you too!" Mulder said, pulling her close and covering her face and neck with little kisses. She giggled as he continued, tickling her arms and legs.

Maggie handed the baby over to Scully. "So, you made it through the hurricane?" she asked her daughter.

Scully laughed and pushed her hand through Mulder's hair. "Well, Mulder's approach was a little unorthodox, but we did just fine."

"And you enjoyed the vacation?before the storm?" Maggie asked.

"Well, I would say that the storm was a key element in the success of the trip," Mulder responded.

Maggie shot Scully a look over Mulder's head. Scully moved her head slightly. She would talk to her more about it later, in private.


Scully helped Mulder slide into the bed in Maggie Scully's downstairs guest bedroom. He moved across the cool sheets with his good arm, Scully guiding his legs.

"Did you take the painkiller?" Scully asked.

"Yeah, thanks. Hey, can you bring the kids in here?" Mulder asked. Scully nodded and headed for the living room where they were watching a video with their grandmother. She reappeared a moment later with Bjorn in her arms, Anna following behind. The little girl, wearing her pink blanket sleeper with the little bear on the front, crawled onto the bed. She snuggled up next to Mulder as he pulled his injured arm around her. Scully placed Bjorn in the crook of his other arm.

"Are you okay here?" she asked as she turned to leave. Bjorn was practically asleep already, but Anna seemed to be ready to go all night.

"Yeah, we're good. Just hand me the book over there," he asked, pointing to the picture book on the bedside table. He took the book from her and opened it up. As she gently pulled the door closed she heard him start:

In the great green room
There was a telephone
And a red balloon
And a picture of-

And then Anna's voice chimed in, "The cow is jumping over the moon, Daddy."


"They all settled in?" Maggie asked as Scully set down the tray with the teapot and cups.

"Yeah, Mulder's reading Goodnight Moon. That usually puts them right out," Scully replied.

"So, what happened out there?" Maggie asked as Scully settled down on the couch. She reached over and filled Scully's mug with chamomile tea.

Scully took a sip of tea, then set the mug down on the coffee table. "I'm not sure. A crisis of faith? It was bad when we first got up there. I . . . Mom, I was afraid that it might be over, that after everything else, the accident, cancer, not having kids, then having them, that this would be the thing that would end our relationship."

"What? His depression?" Maggie asked.

Scully had not told her mother what had precipitated Mulder's change of disposition. She had never shared most of the details of the Conspiracy. It seemed safer that way. Instead she told her mom that Mulder hadn't been feeling well. It wasn't until much later that Maggie had seen for herself what bad shape Mulder was actually in. She was the one who had suggested that Scully go away with him.

"It's insidious Mom. I can understand being blue, but he gave up. I couldn't get through no matter what."

"So what turned it around?" Maggie asked, refilling her own tea cup.

Scully shook her head. "I don't know. Maybe he hit his head during the storm, maybe it scared him. All that really matters to me is that he's in that room reading to our kids for the first time in months."


Scully moved back into their room as Mulder was finishing the bedtime story. She paused at the door and watched him with their daughter.

Goodnight comb
And goodnight brush
Goodnight nobody
Goodnight mush
And goodnight to the old lady whispering "hush"
Goodnight stars
Goodnight air
Goodnight noises everywhere

Mulder closed the book as Anna repeated the last line with him. She snuggled in closer and yawned. Scully closed the door and crossed the room to the bed.

"You have any more room in there?" she asked quietly.

He smiled at her and nodded. "Of course. This is a family bed, after all."

Scully laughed, slipping into her nightgown. She pulled the sheets back and crawled in next to Anna.

"Hey, Scully," Mulder said in the dark.

"Yeah?"

"It never would have been worth it," Mulder replied. He snaked his hand across Anna and took hers. "I love you. All of you. I never want to jeopardize that for any reason."

Scully tightened her hand around his. It was times like these that made her think that they would actually be able to live the rest of their lives with some sense of normalcy. If only that could be true.

FIN


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