X-Files: A New Beginning
Author: The Fox
Archive: Anywhere, just let me know
Rating: PG?
Spoilers: All
Disclaimer: Exactly what everyone else has been telling us for years: These characters do not belong to me, but if they did, CC would have a lot to answer for!! I am making absolutely no money from this (dammit!).

Summary: Mulder's back. You'll just have to read on!!

Note: I have not seen Season 9, as it hasn't aired in Australia yet but I have seen heaps on the internet. I am also in the process of viewing Season 8 as re-runs because I missed too many when it first aired here. I have been inspired for some time now with great fanfic writers like Dri, Shawntaw, Dawn and Bonetree, just to name a few and dabbled a bit on paper, but never got up the nerve to send one in. I've also heard the rumours of a new movie (yay!) with both Duchovny and Anderson (double yay!). I got sick of waiting for Season 9 and for the rumours of the movie to come to light and thought out my own version of the second movie. This is what came from the dabbling. On an end note, thank you Shawnta for your inspiration!! Mwha!! :)


Prologue
Washington D.C.
December 1 6.15pm

"Goddammit!!"

The vial shattered immediately on contact with the floor, the pieces of glass glistening, moistened with the sticky substance it had contained.

"You've really got to be more careful, Jim. We can't afford to be clumsy and lose more time than we already have." Dr. Steve Callahan bent uncomfortably in the contamination suit, steadying himself and reaching down with shaking fingers to retrieve the larger pieces of glass. Dr. James La Salle released a puff of air, wanting desperately to wipe at the beads of sweat forming on his creased brow, an impossibility in the damned suit. He scanned the room for the paper towels and the waste container. The suits were not only uncomfortable and stuffy, they could be downright claustrophobic, especially after spending almost 8 to 10 hours a day in them and only being able to see things by turning your entire head or relying on your peripheral vision.

"Believe me, Steve, it wasn't intentional. We've been working non-stop on this for too long and getting nowhere. Just us, no one else in this Godforsaken hole because of SECURITY and their CONFIDENTIAL protocol bullshit! What do they expect from us!" He swiped at the mess, leaving trails of the yellow substance on the tiled floor. Callahan ripped more sheets from the roll and followed La Salle's motions, succeeding in clearing the entire mess with two swipes.

"THEY expect us to give them results." He stood and leaned his exhausted frame against the bench, causing the glass vials to tinkle together in their trays. La Salle replaced the waste container and stretched to stand by his colleague.

"When's the deadline?" He seemed to compose himself. Callahan shrugged, the material of the suit swishing with the motion.

"Didn't give me one, really. Though I suspect it can't be too far off." La Salle's eyebrows raised slightly in a silent question.

"Jim, those experiments in Tunisia are relatively completed. Those bees..."

"When do you meet with them again?" La Salle cut him off, not really wanting to know more. There was an uncomfortable pause. He noted Callahan's face through the plastic of the headpiece. Definitely a grimace.

"Tomorrow".

"Oh man..... What are you going to tell them?" La Salle absently flicked on the computer monitor by his side. His colleague stared at the machine, not really taking in the formulas adorning the screen.

"The truth. We can't create the protein code needed. It just can't be created synthetically. That's why it's only effective within the first 96 hours."

"They won't accept that, you know". Callahan nodded in agreement, still staring at the screen.

"It's been months without any support. The team we did have is now deemed redundant after only two years. All this testing... So many lives.... They'll have to accept it, or....." He lifted a larger glass vial, rotating it in his hand.

"It doesn't exist. Not here, anyway. They have to understand that we tried. We can't manufacture something that doesn't exist, that can't exist." La Salle turned to watch Callahan still rotating the object in his hand, swirling the yellow liquid contained inside.

"Maybe...." Callahan held the container still and then slowly rotated the bottom toward him to view the white label beneath. The large black words stood out clearly: PURITY CONTROL 2


Chapter One

Washington D.C.
December 1 11.03pm

Dana Scully bolted upright in her bed. Desperately trying to control her breathing, she rubbed at the nape of her neck. She sighed as it came away wet with perspiration. The red numbers on her bedside clock announced that she had only been asleep for at least an hour. She needed sleep. Tomorrow was an early lecture at Quantico, one of the many "perks" of her new life away from FBI Headquarters, though she was called in frequently to consult in various cases that required her "expertise". Then there was the matter of getting William to her mother's even earlier. God, she needed sleep!

Dana fell back onto the bed, her left arm placed upon her forehead. She looked toward the window at the drapes billowing in and out with the slight breeze. It had been warm for a December night, so she had left the window slightly ajar to feel the crispness of the air. She liked to have her bedroom slightly cool so that she could snuggle into the warmth of the covers. Moonlight and streetlights from below illuminated from the window and gave her bedroom an almost ghostly appearance.

Why had she woken so suddenly? Had she been dreaming? A nightmare? She honestly couldn't remember and maybe didn't want to. She turned away from the window and snuggled deeper into her pillow, closing her eyes and willing herself to just go to sleep.

As soon as she had closed them, they snapped open almost immediately. She had definitely heard a noise. It sounded like a floorboard creaking under the carpet. She held her breath and waited. Nothing. Perhaps it had been the floorboards from one of the tenants above or below her apartment. Yes, that was probably it. Sighing again, she closed her eyes.

This time, she definitely heard the creaking. It was definitely her apartment! Slowly, Dana pulled away the bedcovers and swung her feet around on onto the carpet. Carefully, she reached for the first drawer of the bureau, lifting it slightly so as not to scrape the wood together and blindly searched for the cold metal of her pistol. Grasping it, she held it close squinting in the darkness to check if it was actually loaded and then proceeded silently towards her bedroom door.

She peered around into the living room, also haloed in the ghostly light like her bedroom. Weapon held tightly in both hands, arms stretched out before her, she crept into the room, straining her eyes to scan all the shadows in every corner. Nothing. The kitchenette also held no obvious threat.

Lowering the gun but still walking with stealth, Dana slowly pushed the door to the baby's room open. Her eyes locked onto the crib. She could hear the soft snoring from William, intakes of air still a little raspy from his recent bout with a cold.

Forgetting her task of surveying the apartment and perhaps thinking all was now secure, Dana moved quietly to her son, reaching down to replace the covers that he had kicked off during his slumber. She lovingly stroked the fine hairs around his temples. When he was first born, his hair was light in color and Dana thought William might eventually possess her fair skin and auburn locks. Eventually the shade darkened to brown, though his skin tone remained fair. His blue eyes had also darkened. There was a saying she remembered from somewhere. ' All newborn baby's eyes are blue.' Was that true? She knew as a scientist that it really depended on the parentage and dominant and recessive genes. Though sometimes things had a way of just happening... didn't they? William's eyes had turned to a darker shade of ... was it green? Hazel? Sometimes it was hard to tell. It was almost like they changed whenever she thought she could place the color.

Sometime during her reverie Dana became aware of another presence in the room. There was no noise, just a sensation that crept over her. Without hesitation, she whipped around poising the gun before her, aiming it directly at the shadow behind her near the wall.

A figure was seated in the reclining chair she used for feeding or cuddling William. The position was so that the figure was silhouetted in the darkness away from the window and near the far corner of the room. It did not move or speak.

She stood like that for some time, watching the figure, squinting at the darkness. She almost expected the figure to light up a cigarette, but that was not possible. Wasn't it? Why couldn't she move? What was stopping her from screaming out to the neighbors or taking this intruder into cuffs and calling 911? She was capable. She had spent almost 10 years at the FBI and KNEW she was more than capable. Yet, she kept the weapon aimed at the shadows but could not move or speak.

"Hey, Scully."

She gasped. Her heart missed a beat and her hand flinched. That voice was so familiar.

The shadow moved slightly and she jerked her hand to straighten it further, trying not to lose aim.

"Forgotten me already? Has it been that long?" The shadow stood.

"Stop!" Dana broke her paralysis.

"Scully, it's me." A step closer. The hammer of the pistol pulled back with a shaking finger.

"So, you're going to shoot me?" The intruder stepped into the light of the window. Fox Mulder's face was now in full view.


Chapter Two

Washington D.C.
December 1 11.20pm

"It's me, Scully," Fox Mulder repeated. Dana shook her head. Memories of 'shape-changers', clones and flukemen penetrated her thoughts.

"No. I don't know.... I don't know if it's you!" Tears welled in her eyes and blurred her vision. She tightened her grip on the Sig and risked a glance at her son. He was still sleeping, though she had raised her voice.

"I know it's been over a year, but you know me.....Look at me, Scully. Look at me. Please." His voice was insistent and soft, caressing her thoughts, manipulating her rationality. The tears overflowed and streamed down her cheeks. She swiped at them with her left hand but kept her weapon aimed directly in front of her with the other. Dana dropped her eyes to the intruder's chest, not wanting to look into his eyes. Not wanting to believe. She had to be strong for William. It was so hard. It looked so much like him. If it wasn't him......

"Noooo....."

"Scully...." Another step.

"No!" She hissed and replaced both hands to the gun. "It may not be you! I don't know!"

"If you look at me, you'll know. Trust me, Scully. We've always been able to trust. Please trust me now. If you look at me and don't know me, then you can shoot. You've shot me before....."

That did it. Dana raised her eyes to his face. Those haunted hazel-green eyes stared back at her with such intensity and she knew. Her heart knew. More tears threatened to fall and her arms lowered. The forgotten weapon dropped to the floor making a dull thud on the carpet. Her trembling hands tried to ascend to her face, but they felt like lead. A sob caught in her throat and instigated her whole body to shake with each subsequent sob.

Fox Mulder hesitantly extended a hand as he stepped further towards her. He wanted to engulf her in his arms tightly but he didn't want to frighten her any more than he had already done. She had trusted him. Believed him and he would not want her to flee now. Gently, he stroked her arm with his right hand, feeling the sobs that racked her small frame. His own eyes blinked at the moisture filling at each corner. His left hand traced the tears that tracked along her cheek and then cupped the side of her face. They stared into each other's eyes searching out their pains, their memories and their hearts. A reunion of lost souls. Finally, Dana leaned forward and Mulder was able to relieve the ache to hold her tightly against him.

"God, I've missed you." Not more than a whisper could he utter. He nuzzled her hair, breathing in her scent. A mixture of strawberry shampoo and vanilla lotion. So many memories lingered within this fragrance that was his Scully. He could remember countless times that he had drawn strength just being in the same room she'd been in, even hours after.

"Mu...Mulder..." That was all she could manage as the more violent sobs abated. Dana gripped her hands around his waist, felt his strong arms envelope her and felt his heart thundering in his chest against her ear. Her trembling and sobbing continued, leaving his t-shirt under her cheek damp with her tears. The tightness of his arms was so reassuring, giving her his warmth and strength. It was so familiar.

"Hey, you're gonna get dehydrated that way." Mulder chuffed, pulling back to look at her. He leaned down and kissed her brow and swiped at his own eyes. He was rewarded with a brilliant smile. He finally looked past her and to the sleeping infant in the crib. He bent down and repeated the same motions as Dana had previously, stroking William's hair along the temples.

"He's grown." His voice remained soft, engrossed in the motion of his hand.

"That happens." Dana watched Mulder stroke William's face, his eyes showing so many emotions as he continued to touch the tiny form.

"I've missed it all." That one short sentence impaled her heart. She had been the one to send him away, to leave her and William. He had not wanted to leave, would have given his life for both of them. More tears threatened and she forced them back, sniffling.

Dana sighed, wiped the last tear that was clinging to her cheek and reached up to touch Mulder's chin. He forced his gaze away from William and rested on her. She smiled and tugged at the sleeve of his leather jacket.

"C'mon. We need to talk." She led him to the outer room. Mulder fell onto the couch and flinched slightly when Dana switched on the lamp. It was only then that she was able to see how thin he had become. A few more lines traced his face and there were dark rings below his eyes. He looked up, caught her staring and smiled. The lines and dark rings seemed to fade as did the years. The man she had partnered with on all those cases, working out of that basement office all those years came back into view. This was Mulder. His smile always had the power to melt her heart. The time apart had not changed that.

"Are you hungry? Something to drink?" God, it sounded like she was babbling.

A chuckle escaped his lips as he looked at her. She dropped her head and let out her own laugh, barely audible.

"Mothering instincts, Scully?" Mulder shook off his jacket and placed it on the arm of the couch.

"You don't look like you've been mothered much."

"I could say the same for you." Dana straightened her pyjama top and looked away to the kitchen. Mulder cringed. Why did he have to do that? He could be such an ass sometimes. Couldn't he just keep his mouth shut or just try to say something nice?

"I'm sorry, Scully. I... Shit. That was insensitive. I guess we're both so used to being honest with each other, it just slips out, huh? Either that or we haven't had much practice for a while." He rubbed his chin and leaned forward, resting his arms on his knees.

"I guess this year hasn't been too kind to either of us." Dana sat beside him and laid a feather touch against his arm. "Mulder, why are you here? Do you realise the risk...?"

"I've been here before." He stared at his hands.

"Before?"

"Yeah."

"When? How?"

"There were times that I just had to see you... to see you both. Just to make sure that you were really safe. I know I shouldn't have, but ..."

Dana increased the pressure on his arm, urging him to continue.

"I came here a few times, watched you sleep.....checked on Will......" He ran his free hand through his hair.

"Oh, Mulder...." She took his left hand in both of hers. "But tonight?" She tugged on his arm to bring his eyes to her. "Tonight is different, isn't it?" A tingling sensation crept along the nape of her neck.

"I have to get you and William out." The warmth and sadness in his eyes turned to fear.

"Why? What.....?"

"Scully, just trust me. We have to leave. Now."


Chapter Three

Washington D.C. FBI Headquarters Hoover Building
December 2 8.36am

He was getting a headache and the day had just started. Assistant Director Walter Skinner removed his glasses, placed them on his desk and pinched the bridge of his nose. There was a soft rap on the door but he didn't raise his head.

"Come in."

"Sir?" He lifted his head only to rest them on his knuckles at the sound of his assistant.

"What is it Kimberley?"

"You need to call Quantico immediately." Quantico? It was only 8.30 for Chist sake. What could they possibly want so early in the morning? What happened to the 9 to 5 schedules people used to keep? Though he had hardly ever kept those hours in recent years. Instilled military training had seen him up at the crack of dawn every day and he was usually at work by 8am, sometimes earlier.

"Sir?" He hadn't realised he was staring straight through Kimberley.

"Sorry, Kim. Who was it and do you have any idea what it's about?" She leaned over his desk to place a small memo near his glasses.

"All there Sir. He did mention something about Agent Scully when he..."

"Agent Scully?" He replaced the glasses on his nose and picked up the memo. He reached for the phone as Kimberley closed the door to his office.

"This is A.D. Skinner. I'm returning Agent Ryan's call." A pause. "Agent Ryan....... What? No, no I haven't ..... I assure you....... Well, I'm sure there's an explanation..... Are you certain? What about her cell? No, I haven't heard...... Yes, I'll check, but..... I'm sure you can get a substitute while we find out...... Right. Let me know if you hear anything first." That headache was now in full force. He massaged the pulse at his temples and did not hear Kimberley return. He jumped slightly when he felt her brush by at his side. Sometimes she was so silent in her movements that he often wondered whether she had military training also. Maybe it was just the headache overpowering his senses.

"Sorry, Sir." She placed a reassuring hand on his shoulder. Two round tablets and a tumbler of water were set in front of him. He looked up to meet her smiling face.

"Thought you might be needing that today." She squeezed his shoulder and was a little surprised to feel his large hand cover hers before letting go, still holding her gaze.

"Thank you, Kim. I... er....appreciate...." She walked over to the door and stopped before opening it.

"You really should take more care of yourself. I've watched you work yourself to the limit." He smiled at her concern. She returned the smile and couldn't help notice that her boss was just the slightest bit flustered. Those little muscles in his jaw usually worked overtime. They were doing that right now. After all these years, was he interested? She had actually hoped some time after his marriage with Sharon had failed and the divorce proceedings had all faded into the background that he would at least notice her. He had always been the considerate boss but a stickler for protocol. A good man. That in itself was hard to find these days.

"Kim?" She looked back from the open doorway.

"Yes, Sir?" She felt a flush crawl up her neck to her cheeks at her thoughts.

"Could you please keep trying Agent Scully at her home and on her cell? She didn't turn up for her first lecture this morning and no one seems to be able to reach her. It's not like her. They thought perhaps I'd given her an assignment without their knowledge. Agent Ryan will need to be notified if we're able to contact her, though he may reach her first. If that's the case, and he calls, patch him straight through."

"Yes, Sir. What about Agent Scully's mother?"

"Only check there when it's absolutely necessary. I don't want to alarm her, especially if it turns out to be nothing. God knows she doesn't need any more on her plate."

"Yes, Sir."

"Kim?"

"Sir?" She turned to see an awkward smile placed on his lips. Those jaw muscles also working.

"Thank you again. I really DO appreciate it."

"You're very welcome. I do it because I WANT to, not because I HAVE to." She watched the surprise enlighten his face before she closed the door. Oh, he definitely seemed interested.


Chapter 4

Somewhere on the outskirts of Washington D.C.
December 2 8.50am

William squirmed in the child seat in the 4WD, pulled on the front straps and pointed at things that passed by the window. Mulder raised his eyes to the rearview mirror intermittently to watch him, taking in all the emotions in his little face as he looked out at the scenery beyond the window. At times he grinned, puckered his lips, gurgled and sometimes sucked in his cheeks at the things passing by.

"Is he always so quiet?" Mulder glanced at the motionless passenger by his side.

"Huh?" Dana turned from her own window and craned her neck around to see her son in the back seat, now pointing at a large billboard by the road. She turned back to Mulder's expectant smile. It was so good to be able to see his face, his smile. It was definitely something she had missed. "Quiet?"

"Yeah, he hasn't cried or complained since you woke him."

"I guess after the first few months, he's never really cried or been very fussy." She looked back out at the passing trees. "I guess I never really thought about that, but..."

"But?"

"I thought maybe he would've started talking by now."

"He hasn't?" Mulder risked a longer look at the rearview mirror. William seemed to be waving at something that caught his eye.

"No. Well, apart from a few sounds: grunts and whimpers mainly. Nothing that you could call forming words. Mom was concerned as well so we took Will to a couple of specialists not long ago." Dana looked down at her hands folded in her lap.

"And?"

"There didn't seem to be anything physically wrong with him. He's been very healthy. Just the one cold last week, but he recovered so quickly. He hasn't had any of the childhood diseases yet, but he's been vaccinated...." She raised her eyes to see Mulder's lopsided grin. "What?"

"Nothing. You sound so defensive. I KNOW what a good mother you are, Scully. You don't have to give me a run-down. Are you concerned about his speech? You know that some children are just late bloomers, don't you? Actually some gifted children start out that way. Statistics..."

"I know the statistics, Mulder. I did a bit of research...."

"I'm sure you did. I'm just sorry I wasn't there to help you." Mulder's smile faded and his features became serious again, turning his attention to the road through the windscreen. Dana leaned back into the headrest so that she could look directly at Mulder. She bit her bottom lip and decided it was time.

"Mulder?"

"Hmm?"

"You didn't leave D.C. at all, did you?" Mulder didn't answer straight away and she thought he might be avoiding her question. Then he spoke.

"I tried, but.... I couldn't. I know you wanted me to...."

"I didn't WANT you to, but it was just too risky for you to stay. You know that, don't you?" He didn't answer. "Mulder?"

He let out a slow, sad sigh that ripped at her heart. She let him gather his thoughts while she watched him. Finally, after some time, he spoke again.

"I watched you sometimes.... going to work or coming home. A couple of times you went to the park with your mom....." Dana wanted desperately to reach out and touch his arm and retreated. He needed to say his piece without interruption, without distraction. She could still read him after all this time.

"Once you were there with Will. Just the two of you and I almost.... It was tempting to just go to you, but.....That's why I guess I went to see you at night while you were sleeping. It was stupid, I know, but sometimes the need was just .... too much. Even if I couldn't talk to you, or....or.... touch you. It was just enough to be near you.... to see Will. I even got a little scared sometimes....."

"Scared?"

"I'd hoped I'd never see you with...."

"With?" This was a puzzling statement to her. Mulder's brows furrowed.

"....with someone." He finished. Dana's eyes grew wide. 'With someone'? How could he think that? Who would even want to ask a single mother out? What single working mother would even have the time? She stopped these thoughts and suddenly realised that she'd had the same thoughts about him. 'What was Mulder doing right now? Did he think about her? Did he think about William? Was he with anyone?'

This time Dana didn't hesitate. She reached over and grasped his right hand in both of hers, her thumbs tracing light tracks over the knuckles. She swallowed the lump that was threatening to rise in her throat. She didn't want to cry again. Too many tears had already been shed. It was amazing that there were still any left to flow.

"Where did you stay? The e-mails..."

"Somewhere people wouldn't look. Wouldn't think to look. I even picked up some research work for a couple of universities, using a pseudonym." He glanced briefly at her, revelling in her touch. "If I got lonely, I crashed at the Gunmen's, but not too often. They get a little paranoid, you know?" A small smile tugged at the corner of his mouth. She thought about all the deadbolts on their doors and how they would not take any risks with open telephone lines. They had even offered to check her home for bugging devices! Yes, paranoid, but they would not turn down their friend. They hadn't even told her about Mulder.

"Mulder, do you...." She looked down at his hand, turned it over and entwined her fingers with his.

"What?"

"Do you ..... resent me for making you leave?" She couldn't look up at him, didn't want to see what may be in his eyes. She kept her own eyes focused on their hands.

"'Resent' you?"

"Is HATE too harsh a word then?"

"God, Scully....."

"Do you?" He curled his fingers around hers.

"I could never hate you, Scully. I know that you just wanted to protect me....to protect Will..... I also know what Kersh said to you. I guess I was angry at first, but I've had a lot of time to think. I wanted to protect YOU. I couldn't do that if I was gone. So, I compromised. Now, do you hate ME for not leaving... for hanging around, breaking and entering.... stalking....?" Dana raised their entwined hands to her lips and kissed the knuckles of his hand where she had tracked her thumb. He could feel her smile against his skin.

"Does that mean you don't mind the stalking?" God it was good to joke with her again. Even this slightest attempt. He missed that so much. Who was he kidding? He had missed her. It was just so good to be with her again. Dana planted one more lingering kiss on his knuckles and dropped their still entwined hands in her lap. She didn't want to let go, not yet. It was almost like she was trying to make up for time that had been lost to them. Time that they couldn't touch.

"Mulder, it was just about the hardest thing I've ever done. I want.... I NEED you to know that." She continued to stroke his hand but still couldn't look up.

"I think we both did it for William.... but can YOU understand why I couldn't leave entirely? I need YOU to understand that, too." She nodded her reply.

They continued on in companionable silence. Dana caught a runaway tear as it escaped down her cheek. The air had been cleared, bar one more matter.

"So, Mulder, is it okay to ask something now?"

"I guess so, as long as you don't want me to tell you my pseudonym. The research I did was pretty shitty. Nothing paranormal about it. Just psychology crap." This time he didn't raise a smile from her.

"Would you mind telling me why I'm following you on nothing more than blind faith again? You still haven't told me why we needed to move so quickly and why I couldn't call Quantico or even my mother. Mulder, she's probably having a fit right now. You do realise she may have called the local PD already?"

"Knowing your mom, Scully, she'll wait a while - more from past experience I would think - and then most likely call Skinner and interrogate him if she can't find you at Quantico." She raised her eyebrow. Ah, 'The Look'. No words were needed. She wanted an answer: now.

"Look, let's stop up the road somewhere and grab some breakfast. We'll talk then, I promise." She was looking at the road in front of them. No reply. "You can call your mom from there. Just don't tell her where you are." At least she was still holding his hand, so that had to be a good sign.

"Scully?" Still no reply. He didn't want to piss her off, not when they had just been reunited and not when they had just cleared so much that needed to be said. He was an old hand at pissing her off, that was sure. There was too much more ahead of them and it was way too much to spill out in one sitting. He tried again, this time gently tugging at her hand. "Okay?"

This time, he received a nod of the head in reply. Okay.


Chapter Five

Washington D.C. FBI Headquarters Hoover Building
December 2 11.15am

The elevator slid open and A.D. Skinner stepped out into the corridor. He strode with purpose to his office, pushing his glasses further up his nose. Kimberley looked up from her computer. Skinner's long coat was unbuttoned, his tie was somewhat askew and the top button of his collar was undone. It looked as though his morning had been uneventful. He rubbed his right temple absently as he had done earlier that morning and stepped to the front of her desk. The tablets he had taken were losing their effect.

"Any news, Kim?"

"I tried to catch you earlier..."

"Sorry, I forgot to recharge the battery." He produced his cell phone and bounced it a couple of times on his palm, looking at it disdainfully.

"Agent Ryan called back a short while ago to inform you that Agent Scully never made her 10.30 lecture either." Skinner shifted his hand to her desk, tapping his fingers. This was a nervous reaction she had noted over time. "I haven't been able to reach her anywhere, Sir, and neither has he. I've even checked various hospitals and the paediatrician that she's visited in the past, but nothing."

Skinner motioned to move to his door and then turned back to Kimberley.

"Maybe it's time to call Agent Scully's mother."

"Yes Sir."

"On second thought, find her number and I'll call." Skinner pushed the door to his office open, removed his coat to place it on the coat rack and dropped his briefcase on the floor by the chair. His eyebrows rose when he noticed the wrapped plates of sandwiches next to the neat pile of files on his desk. The question on his face was still evident when Kimberley walked in.

"I... uh... didn't think that you had bothered with breakfast and might have been too busy to consider lunch. So, I took the liberty..." Skinner sat down and reclined back into the chair.

"So you don't think I'm taking care of myself?"

"Well..." Kimberley moved to his desk, handing him a yellow slip of paper. "Let's say that I'm protecting my interest." She turned to leave.

Skinner's eyebrows could not go any further off his head. What the hell did that mean? Was this one of those rhetorical statements or one of those innuendos? He imagined he had heard something in her voice earlier, but shrugged it off without another thought. This was different. Christ. Was he too old to play these games? Well, he wasn't dead either.

"Sir?" She was lingering at the door, obviously amused at his reaction. "Let's say that if anything happened to you, I'm out of a job, right? So, in a way, I'm protecting my own interest." That should let him off the hook a bit, but not too much. She didn't want to give him a coronary. She began to close the door behind her but peered back in when she heard him call.

"Kim?"

"Sir?" He shifted in his seat.

"Have you eaten yet?"

"I was going to take my break at 12.00."

"Going out?"

"No..."

"Then why don't you join me? There's enough here to feed a small army."

"Oh...Only if you're sure?"

"Let's say that I have to protect my own interests too." A small smile formed on his lips. She grinned widely at that and closed the door. He could play this game too and give as good as he got.

Skinner leaned forward, tapping the notepaper between his fingers, contemplating lunch. Kimberley? He HAD noticed her, he was only human after all and not THAT old. He was also in good shape physically. BUT. But she was his assistant. What was he doing? He looked down at the slip of paper. He was too tired to think about that right now. He reached for the phone and dialled. It was picked up on the receiving end after five rings.

"Hu...Hello?" The person on the other end was obviously out of breath.

"Mrs. Scully? Maggie?"

"Yes?"

"It's Walter Skinner. I'm sorry, did I catch you at a bad time?"

"I was just out the back. What can I do for you Walter?" Skinner hesitated and Maggie Scully took this pause as something ominous. "Walter? What's wrong? You're obviously not calling to say `hello'. Is Dana all right?"

"Maggie... I'd hoped you'd be able to enlighten me on that."

"What? I don't under..."

"Sorry, Maggie, I don't mean to frighten you. Scu... Dana didn't turn up today at Quantico. We thought perhaps.... Has she called you?"

"No. I actually called her this morning when she didn't bring William around. This is the day she usually drops him off fairly early. I couldn't reach her. I thought perhaps she'd changed her mind and took him to daycare. She often does that when she thinks I'm too tired, sometimes forgetting to call." There was a pause. "God... did you try there?"

"I'll get my assistant to check it out, but since she hasn't called in..."

"Walter, she wouldn't just leave."

"I know. Maggie, please don't panic. Maybe there was an emergency and she hasn't been able to inform us yet. I'm sure there's an explanation. We'll find out. Please stay by the phone in case she calls and let us know."

"all right. Walter?"

"Yes?"

"Thank you. I know the pressure is always on you when things like this happen. It's good to know that there is someone we can depend on. You've been so good to us so many times."

"Let's hope that it's just nothing."

"Yes." There was no conviction in her voice. It was an all too familiar scenario. This woman was strong. Damned strong. He knew where Scully inherited this trait. He let the receiver fall into the cradle and pressed the intercom.

"Kim?"

"Yes?"

"Did you get a hold of Agents Doggett and Reyes?"

"No, Sir. They seem to be out of range. A.D. Kersh has them on assignment in Colorado. I've left a message for them to call ASAP. Sir? Does that mean you had no luck with Agent Scully's mother?"

"Hmmm." He let out a breath. "She did mention a daycare centre though. Do you know which one?"

"Already checked. No sign of them." A grin formed on his lips again. God she was efficient.

"Okay. We'll wait for Doggett and Reyes. Maybe they called her...."

"Sir? Would you like me to check with A.D. Kersh about that?"

"No. I'm sure he would have mentioned that, or at least Quantico would have been informed." He cut off the intercom and then depressed the button again, looking at the plates in front of him.

"Kim?"

"Sir?"

"How about an early lunch?" He could hear her chuckle before he removed his finger from the button. Skinner sat back and waited to hear her footsteps move towards his door.


Chapter Six

Rocky Mountains, Colorado
December 2 11.17am

She was trying hard to hold her breath. Leaning over a corpse and in this position was really not an easy task. She could feel the bile rise, so she sat back on her haunches and looked away to see where her partner had disappeared to. A late breakfast had not been a good idea today, but she hadn't known they would uncover a corpse.

Agent Monica Reyes re-zipped the body bag, straightened up and quickly placed her hands into the pockets of her thick jacket, that were almost numb with the cold. She spotted her partner talking with a very animated sheriff by the dirt track they had arrived on earlier. As she neared them, the sheriff was already climbing into his patrol car.

"What's up?" At her voice, Agent John Doggett turned to face her, his lips set in a thin line, one hand on his hip. Not a good sign.

"A.D. Skinner's been trying to reach us."

"Another assignment?"

"Agent Scully's missing."

"What?!"

"She didn't turn up at Quantico this morning. They've checked everywhere and she's left no word. No one's heard from her since about 4pm yesterday. They wanted to know whether we called her out here without Kersh's knowledge."

"Did they check with her mother? What about her apartment?" Monica pulled her jacket tighter around her. John nodded, more to himself than in agreement to his partner's questions.

"Done. Her apartment showed no evidence of a break- in, but..."

"But?"

"Some of her belongings were missing." Monica stared at him in disbelief.

"So you're saying that she just up and left? Something must have scared her, surely she wouldn't...?"

"I'm not saying anything. We don't know enough to jump to any conclusions."

"I guess we're leaving then?" Monica turned to see the crew collecting the body bag.

"Well," John followed her gaze. "This guy's no longer missing and the sheriff's got his former partner in custody, so case closed."

** /p>

Somewhere between Washington D.C. and Louisville December 2 11.44am

"Mulder, you said you were going to stop over 3 hours ago." Dana shifted in her seat, rubbing her stomach. She wondered if Mulder had heard the growls it had started emitting.

"Sorry." Mulder glanced at the rearview mirror. William had nodded off about an hour ago. "I wanted to get some miles between us and D.C. We also need to find somewhere obscure."

He half-turned his face to her and gave a quick smile. He'd better find somewhere soon. He'd heard her stomach complaining some time ago and his was not doing any better. William had been the only one fed. Thank God he didn't have to pee.

Just as he thought they might have to wait a little longer, a roadside truck stop came into view on his left. Only a few semi-trailers were parked alongside. Mulder swerved the 4WD into the driveway and manoeuvred into a parking bay at the back of the diner.

William blinked awake as Mulder braked to a stop. Dana unbuckled the seatbelt in one swift movement and propped her head over the headrest. Seeing her face appear, William gurgled around a smile, his two bottom teeth peeking out of pink gums.

"Hey there, sleepyhead!"

Mulder unclasped his own seatbelt and kicked open his door. He stretched backward, resting his hands on his lower back. As he opened the back door and leaned in to release William from the child seat, Dana was already stretching behind him and stamping her feet to get the blood flowing again. He was surprised to see William's outstretched arms. Dana was obviously as amazed as he was as she stopped her motions and stared down at them.

"Mulder, he doesn't go to anyone else but me. He doesn't even want to go to my mother most of the time, but I think now that he's used to her, he sort of puts up with it, but he never...." She stopped. Mulder was grinning from ear to ear as William was still reaching out to him. "Well, I guess he...."

"Da! Da!"

"Oh my God!" Dana's legs gave way and she found herself kneeling on the ground beside the door, steadying herself on the side of the vehicle. Mulder swooped William up into his arms and out into the parking bay. William, oblivious to the astonishment of the adults, shrieked with delight.

Mulder knelt beside Dana, seating William on his lap. William was hickupping around his giggles. She cupped her son's cheeks and covered his face in butterfly kisses.

"You spoke! I don't believe it!" She leaned against the car, threw her head back and laughed. "Yes! Yes! Mulder, he spoke!"

"I heard. I also heard WHAT he said." Mulder scooped William up again and lifted him above his head, then brought him down to cradle in his arms. William thought that was just as good as the last motion and let out several more squeals of laughter.

Still stunned, Dana absently grabbed the diaper bag from the back seat and locked the door. As she watched them walking into the diner ahead of her, she suddenly realised that not only had William spoken his first words, it had been directed at Mulder with arms outstretched. William was shy to strangers, even to her mother. She had been so protective of him, not wanting to introduce him to too many people, due to her own fears of losing him. Even the daycare centre where she sometimes took him was small, secure and did not have many patrons.

William had taken to Mulder instantly and had uttered his first words to him. Perhaps bonds went beyond distance, beyond comprehension. Amazing. She squinted up into the sky, smiled and followed them into the diner.

Mulder was waiting for her inside the door, scanning the interior for a booth. Dana, still unable to stop smiling, held out her arms to take William.

"Mulder, I'll take him to the restroom first. Why don't you order me some toast, coffee, eggs and bacon? We won't be long." He nodded, but stopped her as she turned to head for the back of the room.

"Bacon, Scully?"

"I'm celebrating." She grinned again and disappeared through the doorway.

There were four other inhabitants in the diner. Two men sitting at the counter, deep in conversation with the waitress, pouring their coffee and one man seated in the far left hand corner by the window. He surmised that all three were possibly the drivers of the trucks parked outside.

The waitress looked up from her chore and motioned for Mulder to sit anywhere he pleased. He chose the middle booth on the right side of the diner facing the window nearest the rear parking bay.

Dana stared at her reflection. They had fled so hastily that she had not even thought about make-up. She splashed cold water on her face and used William's towel to dry. She was so pale. If only she had brought her make-up bag with her from the car she could have freshened up the way she would have liked to. William fussed on the change table by her side, forcing her to collect her thoughts.

"Well, Mulder has seen me in worse condition than this." She said to her reflection as William started to whimper. He was definitely not comfortable sitting on the table and was determined to make this known. At a last minute attempt, Dana tugged at the clip to let her hair fall down around her shoulders. She ran her fingers quickly through her hair, pinched her cheeks and then proceeded to pick William and the diaper bag up in one motion.

"I am so proud of you!" She kissed William's cheek to confirm her statement.

Mulder was leaning back in a booth to her right when she re-entered the diner, sipping at what looked like orange juice and staring out the window deep in thought.

"Penny for your thoughts?" He chuckled and replaced the glass on the table.

On seeing Mulder, William giggled, bucked against his mother's waist and reached out for him. Dana let out an exaggerated sigh.

"I think I should be jealous." She let Mulder take the wriggling infant from her.

"Nah, I think it's the height thing." Mulder glanced at her as she sat in the seat opposite. One eyebrow was arched high above her eye. He chuckled again. "I'm taller, Scully, so he gets a better view of the world."

Dana shook her head and took a sip from her own orange juice as she watched Mulder settle William on his lap, facing the table. The smell of bacon filled the diner and she found her mouth watering. She rummaged through the diaper bag, found the small jars she needed and selected one. William spied the jar and squealed.

"Now, Scully," Mulder scoffed, "that's bribery."

"The way to a man's heart, Mulder." Dana lifted one of the spoons from the cup and saucer to the right of the table and with some effort managed to unscrew the cap from the jar. She was hoping her food wouldn't be too long or she might be forced to eat William's lunch.

"Scully, can I?" Mulder held out his hand for the spoon and jar. She gave him a wide smile and relinquished the objects.

The waitress gathered the cutlery and napkins and leaned against the servery waiting for the cook to place the remaining food on each plate. She glanced over at the group seated in booth 7 and rubbed the side of her face. Not regulars, just one group of many that passed by on their way to the city, but certainly the first to make her actually take notice.

They were a beautiful family. Just beautiful. That was the only way she could think to describe them. She had seen good-looking families before, but this one could be on the cover of one of her weekly magazines, like Vogue. The two adults had that stressed look about them though, like some of the truckies that stopped by and hadn't seen sleep for a few days, but they were real stunning to look at. Might have been their eyes, the way they looked at each other and the little one: what a cutie! His eyes were obviously inherited from his father, but they were more intense, so full of life.

"You gonna stop wool-gathering and take these plates out?" The cook banged the side of one of the plates with the egg flipper to emphasise his point. The waitress wrinkled her nose at him and assembled the plates on the tray beside her.

Mulder had almost finished feeding William, his little fingers wrapped around Mulder's larger ones and over the spoon, when the waitress appeared by their table with their order.

"You are such a cutie!" The waitress cooed at William and then straightened up to look at the two adults. "I'll just go and get your coffees. Oh, we have a high chair out back, if you'd like?" She gestured to the kitchen with her thumb.

"Thank you, but he's fine." Mulder replied, not wanting to give up the warmth of William on his lap, his fingers still curled around his own.

"If you don't mind, though," Dana gave the waitress an uncertain smile and plunged her hand into the diaper bag. "Could you please warm this for me?" She held out a bottle with William's formula.

"No problem. Won't be long." The waitress scuffed off to the kitchen in her backless sandals.


Chapter Seven

Roadside Diner Somewhere between Washington D.C. and Louisville
December 2 12.30pm

The empty plates had been cleared a few minutes ago and they sat in silence sipping their coffee, stealing glances at each other when the other wasn't looking. Dana had not eaten that much since...well, she really couldn't remember.

William sucked on his piece of toast trying to taste more of the egg that it had been dipped into. His other hand was playing with the zipper on Mulder's jacket, leaving butter smears on the leather. Dana reached over and began wiping William's hands and then proceeded to wipe the oily patch on Mulder's jacket. Mulder watched the movements of her hands, lost in thought.

As Dana sat back, William picked up where he left off and began absently playing with the zipper again, still sucking on his piece of toast. She exhaled a long sigh as she traced around the rim of her coffee cup. Mulder shifted William a little more to his left and then slowly looked up to meet Dana's eyes.

"Okay," his voice slightly hushed, " I guess I need to explain a few things." Dana opened her mouth to speak and then clamped it shut. No, she would restrain herself and wait, at least for now.

"The Consortium, remember them?" He asked and Dana nodded in reply. "Well, even without that cigarette-smoking son of a bitch, they're still around, still making deals. I've been tracking them, trying to find out what they're up to. Over the last year they've been dabbling in oil. Corn oil. Apparently they have an invested interest in corn crops in Tunisia. A satellite photograph that the Gunmen were able to intercept showed the same kind of construction that we saw outside of Dallas."

Dana leaned forward, absorbing these words. She could not contain herself any longer.

"So, Mulder, does that mean they have those Africanised bees housed in that...that..."

"Looks that way, Scully."

"But what's that got to do with us now?"

"Not us, Scully. It's not about us any more. It's William." Dana's eyes grew wide in disbelief. William had finished his piece of toast and was sucking on his fingers. At the mention of his name, he gazed up at Mulder and smiled.

"Why Mulder?"

"Well," he continued,"apparently you had some tests done on him?" Dana's body tensed. She'd had complete blood and DNA testing shortly after William was born. She suddenly felt the slightest bit guilty.

"I...I had to be sure. I had to know that he was okay. That he was...normal. How did you know?"

"It's not hard, Scully. I knew you would under the circumstances and the Consortium obviously knew that too. It's relatively easy to hack into medical files, if you know how. Tell me what the tests turned up?"

"If you saw what tests I did, then you would already know the results."

"No, I didn't. THEY did. I just KNEW that you would be taking blood and DNA tests. So, tell me, Scully, what did they prove to you?"

"Mulder..." She could not pull her eyes away from his, though she could feel tears welling, ready to fall. "I HAD to. I was so scared."

"I know." He reached out for her hand. "It's okay."

"Everything was normal, though the ET scan showed a little more activity in one part of the brain that's actually dormant in ours. I didn't take this to a neurophysicist because William was so small and it was just a fraction more activity than usual..."

"Gibson Praise." Mulder groaned, pulling William a little closer with his left arm. Scully nodded. He knew her fears.

"Mulder, I didn't know what to think, but his blood was clean, not like Gibson's." She brushed the tear that fell onto her cheek.

"And his DNA?"

"I think you know."

"I need to hear it from you. I need to have it confirmed by you." Mulder gripped her hand. "Please."

"Mulder, he IS your son. That's beyond a doubt." Mulder let out the breath that he had been holding, closed his eyes and lowered his head, almost resting on the top of William's crown. "You only have to look at him now to know that."

"There were so many questions, so many..."

"Mulder, stop." She squeezed his hand in return. "Just tell me what this Consortium wants."

"They want William. He holds the key." Mulder planted a kiss on the top of William's head. "The key to what they've been searching for since their failed attempt in Antarctica." Dana's eyebrows furrowed in concentration.

"Mulder, I don't understand. Maybe I've been out of the X-Files too long. I'm not quite connecting the dots here."

"A vaccine, Scully."

"But they had one. You held it in your hand. You injected me with it. Will wasn't even there!" She stopped, realising that she had raised her voice and looked around. The two customers at the counter had left some time ago and the last one in the corner seemed totally absorbed in his newspaper. She lowered her voice anyway. "Mulder?"

"That vaccine was a WEAK vaccine. It could only be administered within 96 hours after infection or it wouldn't work. They've been trying to produce a lasting vaccine, an actual cure to the virus: a cure to the black oil. From what I've discovered, their scientists haven't been able to achieve their goals. They can't produce that protein code that you yourself detected."

"But..." She was cut off when Mulder released her hand and tapped the table.

"Just let me finish, Scully." Dana complied by sitting back in the booth again. "You were exposed to the virus and given a vaccine. I was exposed in Tunguska when they tried to use me as a test subject. I was also given a vaccine. I can only assume that we're now immune."

"But why don't they want our blood then? Why William?"

"Scully, the vaccine we were given was synthetic. A vaccine that can only be administered within 96 hours of infection. They need a natural vaccine. You and I are now immune. William is a combination of our DNA. William would have a natural immunity. They want him so they can obtain that protein code."

"Oh my God...." Dana clasped her fingers on the edge of the table. Her knuckles were white with the effort. His words finally sinking in. "Mulder, they wouldn't just stop at taking blood samples, would they?" Mulder wrapped both hands around William's body and planted another kiss on his head.

"Scully, you and I both know what kind of people we're dealing with here and he wouldn't survive what they'd have planned for him."

Dana leaned across the table and stroked William's cheek. He gurgled and smiled, trying to grab her fingers.

"So, what do we do?"

"Well," Mulder sighed and deposited William on his mother's lap," I still want us to get as far away from D.C. as possible right now. Then we wait for the Gunmen to try and get evidence."

"Mulder, we can't do this on our own."

"We've got no choice right now." Mulder crouched beside her. "Look, I'll fix the bill and then fill the tank. Why don't you call your mom? But, Scully, you have to make it short. We don't know if her phone line's tapped. And...you can't tell her where you are." Mulder tucked a strand of hair behind her ear.

"I know. I just need her to know that we're okay."

Mulder was just about to stand when William reached out to pat him on the cheek.

"Da! Da!"

Dana locked her gaze with Mulder and they both laughed. It was a refreshing change to the intensity of their recent conversation.

"See Mulder," Dana smiled up at him, "even HE knew!"

Mulder watched Dana from the counter of the diner as she gathered William onto her hip and placed the diaper bag onto the table. She looked over to him and pointed at the bag. He nodded and she strode back to where they had entered, stepping into the glass enclosure to make her call.

"You need a receipt?" The waitress had rung up his bill on the cash register and was waiting expectantly for his reply.

"Uh...no thanks."

"You have a beautiful family, mister." She smiled as she took his money and pocketed his very generous tip.

"Thank you." Mulder positively beamed as he returned to the table to collect the bag.


Chapter Eight

Mrs. Scully's residence
December 2 12.55pm

The remaining Christmas cards fluttered to the floor. Maggie Scully had delayed writing out the cards this year in the hopes that Dana would join her next weekend to help. However, after hearing from Walter Skinner this morning, she needed to keep herself busy and this provided a perfect task.

She bent to retreive the fallen cards and noticed the top one. It was addressed to Fox Mulder. She hadn't been able to send him a card last year, though she'd written it in the hope that perhaps he would show. She supposed she would have to keep this one also.

She had no idea why he had to leave or why her daughter insisted it had been for the best. She was not given any explanations and she didn't ask for any. She only knew that wherever he was, he would be hurting.

During the months that Dana had disappeared early in their partnership, he had been devastated. She also knew that the second time she had been taken, he had literally travelled to the end of the earth to bring her back. She didn't know all the details, but she knew Fox and she knew that he and Dana shared something special. Being apart like this was obviously hurting them both. It was definitely love, but it was more than that. It was almost as though they lived for each other, felt each other's pain, like they were born for each other. Was that what being `soul mates' meant? She had never seen anything like it in her life, even in her own marriage. Wherever Fox was, she hoped he was coping. If Dana was any indication, then he may only be holding on by a thread.

Dana had never revealed the nature of her pregnancy, though she had been told she was barren some years ago. She rejoiced for Dana. But her daughter's happiness was marred by the fact that Fox was not with her. When Fox went missing in Oregon, the pregnancy seemed to be all that was keeping her going each day, keeping her alive. She wouldn't name the father, but Maggie knew. It was best to leave things unsaid.

Dana had become very quiet this past year. She doted over William, that of course could be understood, being the little miracle that he was, but she hardly ever carried on a conversation any more. She was so distant. Smiles were also rare and forced and really only genuine wherever William was concerned. Maggie hoped that for both Dana and Fox's sakes that they would soon be reunited.

The ringing of the telephone brought her out of her thoughts. She dropped the pen between the stacks of cards and moved into the living room.

"Hello?"

"Mom?"

"Dana?" Maggie gasped. "Dana! Where are you? I've been so worried. Everyone's been looking for you!"

"Mom, I can't....Mom, I just wanted to let you know that we're all right. William and I are fine. Try not to worry and I'll call you again when I can." Maggie could hear Dana's voice thick with tears. She could also hear William's muffled gurgles in the background.

"Dana! Not worry? Sweetheart, why can't you come home? What kind of trouble are you in? What about Walter Skinner? Can he help you in any way?"

"Mom, I really can't....I'm sorry. I HAD to leave. I'll call you again soon, I promise. We love you."

"Dana, wait!" Maggie listened to the beeping on the line for some time until she let it drop from her hand. She sat on the floor by the phone and wept.

What was happening to her daughter now? How many times must she go through this? And now, her grandson was involved. She wished Fox were here. He would know how to find them. He would protect them.


Roadside Diner Between Washington D.C. and Louisville December 2 1.15pm

He was waiting on the other side of the pumps, leaning against the 4WD, hands in his jacket pockets and looking down at his boots. He'd filled the tank and paid a visit to the restrooms and she had not shown up, so he'd waited. He knew that she would not risk talking too long to her mother, so it was possible that she may have paid another visit to the restroom herself. That would be understandable, really.

He looked up as she approached, pushing himself away from the car and swung the rear door open. Mulder noticed the red tinges and puffiness around Dana's eyes. It would have been difficult for her, to restrain herself from telling her mother everything, to try and reassure her. So, he didn't say a word as he settled William into the child seat and clipped the belts in place.

Dana was grateful for the silence. He didn't ask and she didn't want to tell. She had tried to compose herself somewhat after hearing her mother's voice. Even the waitress had offered her a glass of water.

She sat in the front passenger seat and waited for the travelling to commence again. Mulder drove in silence, stealing glances now and then. There was no need for words. It was their unspoken communication. A few looks, nods or a tilt of the head said so many things. They could read each other so well. Sometimes that had been a blessing and sometimes a curse. No one else seemed to understand this communication between them. It confused outsiders. It even pissed people off because they couldn't follow the flow of their conversations. It had also pissed off Skinner to no end, though he seemed to accept it after time, perhaps thinking that if it enhanced their partnership, it couldn't hurt.

Skinner. Her mother had mentioned him. Evidently he'd called her to see if she knew anything. Could he actually assist at all in this situation? Mulder had said he was waiting on evidence. If the Gunmen could produce evidence, would Mulder consider enlisting his help? She turned her head to look at him. He was focused on the road ahead but felt her eyes upon him and glanced in her direction. Her eyes were half closed and she was smiling. He reciprocated her smile and then returned to the road. Perhaps she'd bring the subject up later.


Chapter Nine

Somewhere between Louisville and Nashville, Tennessee
December 2 9.45pm

When Dana woke it was dark. The only light was the glow of the headlights on the road in front and the colorful numbers and symbols lit up on the dashboard. She was still facing Mulder, positioned rather awkwardly, which explained her numb leg and sore neck. Mulder was rubbing his eyes with the palm of his right hand. She stretched and massaged her neck, craning around the seat to discern how her son was doing.

William was playing with the makeshift mobile that Mulder had set up to hang above his window. Gasoline stands had an array of assorted trinkets that had caught his eye along the way. Mulder actually seemed more amused at this task than William did. William was also chewing on a child's cookie, or what some people called 'baby biscuits'. She didn't remember packing anything like that. Mulder must have picked some up while she had been sleeping. He also looked like he'd had a change of clothes.

She turned back to Mulder, who was still rubbing his eyes. He never ceased to amaze her. He had let her sleep and had obviously changed and fed William without waking her to get assistance. He was becoming a good father.

"Mulder?"

"Hmmm?" He placed both hands back on the steering wheel after stifling a yawn.

"You've been driving all day without any sleep."

"Like old times, huh?" He smiled, not taking his eyes from the road.

"You probably didn't get any sleep before you came by my apartment either. We have to stop somewhere so you can rest."

"I can go a little while longer. I still suffer from insomnia, you know."

"Even so, your body still needs to rest. You need to replenish your strength." Dana sighed. She would have to use a different tactic. "William needs to rest, Mulder. At least for the night."

Mulder glanced at the rearview mirror, then back at Dana. Stupid. Of course they needed to rest. What had he been thinking? He'd wanted to get as far away from D.C. as fast as possible and didn't even stop to think about how or where they would go. Didn't think. Damn!

"Sorry. Stupid, huh? I just wanted to get you out of D.C. I just....God, I just don't stop to think. I haven't changed, have I?!" He slapped the steering wheel.

"Mulder...." Dana leaned forward so that he could see her face as well as keep his eyes on the road. "You DID think, that's why we're here. It wasn't stupid. What IS stupid is if you don't rest, you'll be of no use to me or William." She reached out and rubbed his arm. "No, you haven't changed, Mulder, and I'm glad."

He didn't answer but seemed to be thinking about that, so she sat back and kneaded her neck again.

"And Mulder?"

"Yeah?"

"Thanks for feeding and changing William."

"I wanted to."

A billboard came into view on the right. `The First and Last Stop Motel. Next 2km.'

"Hey, Scully, I think we're in luck." Dana also saw the sign and smiled.

"I hope it's not like one of those tacky ones you used to pick." This got a smile from Mulder as well.

"Scully, I'm offended." He placed a hand over his heart. "I thought you liked all those little out-of-the-way motels with the pet roaches."

"If this place has roaches, William and I are sleeping in the car!"

Mulder chuckled and saw lights ahead. It was not only a motel but perhaps a small town as well. He hadn't noticed any sign suggesting a town, but then he hadn't really been looking.

He almost missed the turn-off just as Dana pointed to the dirt track leading off the highway. It was perhaps only 2 or 300 yards from the turn-off to the motel's reception area. He braked, turned off the ignition and headlights, sat back and rubbed his eyes again.

"Wait here. I'll go check us in."

Dana nodded and closed her eyes. She heard his door open and listened to the crunch of pebbles under his boots as he walked to the motel's office.

She must have dozed off because she couldn't remember Mulder returning and driving in front of one of the rooms. He was leaning over her and touching her cheek when her eyes fluttered open.

"Hey, you don't have to sleep in here. I don't think they have roaches."

Dana opened her door and swung her legs to rest on the ground. Still seated, she stretched her legs and shuffled her feet that made scraping sounds on the gravel. As she closed the door and walked around the car, Mulder had already released William from the child seat and was half leaning in to grab the diaper bag. He straightened and handed William to her. He slumped over her shoulder, still sucking on the cookie, not really interested in actually eating it. Mulder reached into his jacket pocket, produced the room key and placed it in her outstretched palm.

The florescent light flickered overhead several times before basking the entire room in brightness. William murmured his disapproval and tucked his head under his mother's chin, shielding his eyes with one arm. The door closed behind her and Mulder entered carrying two overnight bags and the diaper bag. He dropped all three on the floor next to one of the beds and surveyed the room.

It wasn't the Ritz but it was clean and didn't smell of rising damp like some of the motels they had stayed in and the heater was actually working. There was a queen size bed and a single bed next to the far wall covered in a floral bedspread. The floral theme continued on the curtains over the bed and the towels left at the end of each bed. There was a small, round table near the entrance with a sofa and two chairs.

Mulder flopped onto the sofa and kicked off his boots, throwing his jacket on one of the chairs. Dana had placed William on the single bed while she rummaged through her bag. He was already curling up before she could dispose of the cookie and was able to make a kind of fort around him with extra pillows and blankets from the chest of drawers by the larger bed. He wasn't usually a restless sleeper, just kicking covers off when he was hot, but this at least helped relieve her own fears of him falling from the bed.

Before Dana entered the bathroom, she noticed Mulder reaching for the phone, and stopped. Mulder raised his eyes to meet hers.

"Just have to check something out."

"Who...?"

"Santa's helpers." He smiled and began dialling. She nodded and disappeared into the bathroom.

The ringing continued for some time before a familiar voice answered.

"Lone Gunmen."

"It's me. Turn off the tape."

"Yeah, okay. Let me put the scrambler on." There was a short pause and Mulder could hear a few clicks and another voice in the background.

"Hey, man," Langley began, "how you doin'?"

"Okay. Have you got anything for me yet?"

"Only some small time stuff so far."

"Like what?" There was another pause and a more fervent conversation muffled by Langley's hand over the receiver. "Langley!"

"Hang on, man, we're gonna put you on speaker." Mulder sighed. These three could not carry on a conversation by themselves.

"Hey, man, how's everything? Where are you?" Frohike.

"You really think I should tell you?"

"Sorry. Guess not."

"Tell me guys, what did you find?"

"There's been quite a bit of movement in a certain area of Tunisia that we noted previously." Byers this time. "It seems they're moving out."

"Moving out?"

"Yeah, man. The whole field was burned to the ground, even those huge domes were incinerated." Langley chimed in.

"They must be transporting everything....the virus...." Mulder rubbed his chin in contemplation.

"Yeah, that was our guess." Frohike again. "But we haven't found out where yet. We're still trying to track them. Next time you call, we may have something for you. Maybe a location, or maybe even an organisation name."

"When's a good time to call you again?"

"Give us another day." Langley piped in.

"Can you hold up where you are for another day? Is it safe?" Byers' voice was showing sincere concern.

"Yeah, I think so."

"Hey, man," Frohike finished, "take care of yourself and....your family." Mulder closed his eyes. MY family. Those words sounded good. Sounded great.

"Thanks guys. I'll be in touch." He returned the phone to the table just as Dana stepped out of the bathroom. The smell of soap filled the air.

"All yours." She offered the bathroom for Mulder's use, not realising that she had just left herself wide open for a graphic or lurid response.

"Well, Scully," Mulder waggled his eyebrows at her, his eyes bloodshot but twinkling, nonetheless. "If you say so."

"As I said, Mulder, you haven't changed." Her lips curved at the corners and she shook her head as she wandered over to the bed.

Dana jumped slightly when she felt Mulder brush by her to pick up his bag. When did he become so silent in his movements? Had he always been this quiet or was it something he had acquired over the last year, avoiding being discovered? He was already in the bathroom when she looked up from checking William.

She sat on the opposite bed and stared down at her son. His mouth was slightly open and his bottom lip was twitching as if he were in conversation. His mouth almost always had that puckered look. Her mouth. His left hand was curled under his chin and his right one was on the pillow next to his head, the little fingers sometimes curling in and back out.

She didn't know how long she had sat there just watching her son. It must have been a while because the door to the bathroom opened to reveal Mulder in a new t-shirt and sweats, the hair over his forehead still wet and almost hanging over his eyes.

Mulder padded over to the single bed and peered down at William's sleeping form. He stroked his son's cheek gently and looked over at Dana.

"He looks like you when he sleeps."

"Oh?" She raised an eyebrow.

"It's the hands, always one under the chin, Scully." Mulder mused.

Dana watched as Mulder took one of the pillows from the larger bed and opened the drawers to produce an extra blanket. He proceeded to the sofa by the entrance and placed them to one side. She shook her head and shuffled off to stand by him.

"Mulder?" She bent down and retrieved both the pillow and blanket. "You can't sleep here."

"I'm used to it."

Dana looked up at him and shook her head again before she returned to the bed.

"Not on THAT one. It's way too small for you and after driving all day you need to stretch out and rest." She placed the pillow back by the headrest and the blanket at the foot of the bed where the towels had been and turned off all the lights at the main switch. "Now, I'm too tired to argue, so just come here."

He didn't move, but he didn't sit on the sofa either, just stood there watching her. The only light was fragmented through the wooden slats of the blinds by the door. She pulled back the covers and slipped into the bed, leaving plenty of room on her right side. She waited.

Mulder placed his hands on his hips and looked at the sofa, then leaned his head back to stare at the ceiling. She WAS right, but... He couldn't get another room; even an adjoining room would be too dangerous. He couldn't leave them alone: not now.

The covers were pulled back and the mattress dipped with his weight. Dana opened her eyes to see Mulder facing her on his pillow. Their eyes locked in exploration of the other. Caressing, saying everything which words could not. They did not touch, only with their eyes.

Some time elapsed before Dana's eyes slowly lowered, the silhouette of Mulder's form on her closed lids. Mulder remained fixed on her face, a face that he had missed so much.

There was so much to think about, so many thoughts that constantly invaded his mind. This was probably why he was an insomniac. He pushed them all aside and concentrated on her face. Her pursed lips slightly open. Her hand under her chin. Her slightly freckled cheeks and nose. Her auburn hair fanned out on the pillow below her right cheek. With these thoughts of her, Mulder felt his own eyes grow heavy and as he continued to watch her, he followed her into sleep.


Chapter Ten

First and Last Stop Motel Between Louisville and Nashville, Tennessee
December 3 7.07am

She was dreaming of a forest. The sun's rays were upon her, streaming through the canopy of the trees, warming her face. She was lying on the ground upon the softest, greenest moss and feeling content. A blanket of leaves enveloped her and she felt so warm, so safe. The smell of the forest was ... was ... Mulder?

Dana slowly opened her eyes. The forest was gone. The sun's rays were actually on her but peeking through the curtains above the bed. Arms replaced the blanket of leaves that had surrounded her. Mulder's arms.

They were still facing each other, Mulder's arms loosely wrapped around her. Dana's head was nestled under his chin, her right cheek between his chest and the pillow that they now shared. Dana's right arm was under her chin, palm flat against his chest. Her right leg was bent over Mulder's. Her free arm was under his left, and wrapped around his waist. God!

Some time during the night they had sought out each other's warmth, each other's touch. This felt so unbelievably good, so right, so safe. Better not go there right now.

William stirred in the bed behind her. She carefully moved her head back to see Mulder's face. He looked so peaceful. So content. She had always loved to watch him sleep, not that he knew she had sometimes done that.

Regretting the loss of his touch, she slowly pulled her arm from around his waist and scooted backwards to the edge of the bed, holding his left arm and gently placing it on the bed where she had lain. Mulder shifted slightly, leaning into the area where Dana's body was now missing. His left arm slid across the sheet as though searching for her. She held her breath. Mulder stopped moving and she listened for his breathing to become deep and even again until she could release her own breath.

William was sitting up, playing with the covers pooled around his feet. He smiled up at his mother and stretched out his arms to be held. Dana gathered him to her, planting a kiss on his cheek and searched the diaper bag and her overnight bag for extra clothes for both William and herself. On the way to the bathroom, she tripped over her shoe and tried to steady herself on the side of the bed.

She hadn't even regained her balance when Mulder suddenly sprang to life, reached under his pillow, sat bolt upright and aimed a Colt ACP at her with both hands.

She gasped, holding William tightly against her, instinctively turning her body around, shielding him. Mulder's eyes were wide open but glazed.

"Mulder?" Dana's heart was racing, not daring to move. Mulder blinked several times; confusion shrouded his face. He shook his head as if to clear his bemusement and lowered his arms and head and sank back down on his knees, hurling the pistol behind him on the bed. It bounced several times across the mattress to rest between the headboard and his pillow.

Dana, still holding William tight against her side, slowly moved to stand beside Mulder. He raised his head slowly. His eyes were gorged with remorse and guilt. He lowered his gaze again and pulled his legs up against his chest, both hands running through his hair.

"Scully....God, I'm so sorry. So sorry...." He rocked back and forth, gripping his legs tighter.

"Mulder, it's okay...."

"No, it's not!" He whipped his head around. "I could have shot you! I could have shot you both!"

"But you didn't."

"I COULD have!"

"Mulder..." She kept her voice soft but firm. "I startled you and you're used to being alone..."

"You're making excuses for me..." He shook his head, eyes lowered again.

"No, I'm trying to rationalise this. Wasn't that my job?" He looked up at her then, some of the fear dissipating from his face. "Mulder, I startled you. I know you have to keep a gun near you. I should have woken you...."

"What if I had...."

"Mulder...." Dana moved beside him and stroked the hair back from his forehead, trying to reassure him. Her heart was beating its normal rhythm once more. "I don't think you would have fired. No, I KNOW you wouldn't have."

He grabbed her hand gently and placed the palm against his cheek. The light stubble bristling against her skin.

"You have too much faith in me." He whispered against her hand and kissed her palm.

"No, I have faith in US." She leaned down and kissed the top of his head. Mulder closed his eyes at her touch.

"Da! Da!" William reached down to grab for Mulder, only able to brush against the top of his ear.

"Well, " Dana straightened up, trying to lighten the atmosphere. "Looks like someone's feeling left out."

Mulder smiled up at his son and took his outstretched hand in his own, placing a kiss on each chubby finger. William giggled and squirmed in Dana's arms, obviously wanting to go to Mulder.

"Oh no you don't. You're going in the bath." Dana shifted him onto her other hip and moved towards the bathroom. She stopped halfway and turned. "Mulder? We'll make a deal to wake each other up, okay? Regardless of the hour."

Mulder stared at her for a moment and then nodded.


Somewhere between Louisville and Nashville, Tennessee PM Same day

It was definitely a small town. There was one general store that doubled as a post office, a few other shops, including a diner and a pharmacy and the bakery where Mulder had gone earlier that morning to buy croissants and muffins.

They had spent the entire morning in the motel room eating breakfast, drinking the complimentary instant coffee, talking, playing with William and basically trying to forget the event that had terrified Mulder when he had woken. They had agreed to wake each other up, regardless of the time. It seemed to satisfy Dana and she refused to raise the subject any further.

Mulder however, still held the fear that it could happen again and perhaps with fatal consequences. Dana's trust in him was so complete and he felt undeserving of it, but he wasn't going to disappoint her and dwell on it. He would bury this fear, bury it deep within the confines of his mind where so many other fears lurked, where she couldn't see. He would just wake her as he had promised.

William constantly craved their attention, trying to walk by leaning on his parents or the chest of drawers or wanting to play with anything that caught his eye. He was relentless in his antics with Mulder, trying to climb over him or on him. Late morning he had fallen asleep on Mulder's chest as they both lay on the carpet playing with the makeshift mobile from the car. Dana lay on the bed and watched them, basking in the moment.

They had decided when William woke that it was probably safe enough for them to venture into the town to get some fresh air and to see if there was a park for William. The wind was still chilly but the warmth of the sun compensated for the cold. They had concluded it was definitely picnic weather and wandered into the bakery that Mulder had previously entered, hoping that they could purchase some ready-made sandwiches and drinks.

Dana inhaled deeply. The smell of freshly baked bread was heavenly and reminded her of visiting her grandmother when she had been a small child. Grandma had always insisted on making her own bread.

She hadn't been listening to Mulder's conversation with the storekeeper and noticed him regarding her with an amused expression, William hanging off his arms, sucking on a sample of bread that the storeowner had presented him with: a reward for a toothy smile she had received. Mulder turned back to the storekeeper after Dana raised her eyebrow at him.

"So, we're thinking of having a picnic around here....."

"We can rustle you up somethin' for that, I'm sure. Anythin' in partic'lar that you like or don't like?"

Mulder and Dana exchanged looks.

"I'm kind of partial to bagels...cream cheese..." Dana began.

"And I eat just about anything, as long as it's not too healthy!" Mulder finished.

The storeowner released a hearty laugh and disappeared through the back partition. Her voice echoed into the store.

"Ok, let me see what I can do for y'all. There's a nice li'l park with a small pond just up the road apiece. The young'n can feed the ducks there. Real nice. Clean."

Sounded perfect.


It was definitely perfect.

They'd had to keep their jackets tight around them to stave off the cold but the sun remained out the entire time spent by the pond. William had squealed with delight as he helped Mulder throw the leftover bread to the ducks, some of them actually feeding on the bank near their feet. Dana couldn't remember a more perfect day. It was almost normal.

Mulder sat back against the tree watching William crawling in front of them, trying to catch the scurrying ants in the grass. He pulled Dana back towards him, her back against his chest and crossed his right arm under her chin to place his hand on her left shoulder. Dana stiffened at first and then relaxed into his caress, leaning her chin firmly on his arm. Yes, it was definitely a perfect day.

"Mulder?"

"Hmmm?" His voice was mellow, close to her ear. Her skin tingled.

"We'll have to leave here tomorrow, won't we?"

Mulder let out a short puff of breath, sending another tingle along her neck.

"I don't want to talk about that right now."

"But you'll talk to them tonight?"

'Them'? She probably meant the Lone Gunmen. He was not really in the mood to think right now. He nodded in agreement against her ear.

"Yeah. Let's not talk about that now, okay?" He placed a gentle kiss behind her ear. She felt a flush rise up her neck. That spot was just so sensitive.

"'kay..." That did NOT sound like her own voice.

Mulder felt her shudder at his touch and smiled against her skin. He continued the kisses down her neck to the top of her jacket, then along the side of her face. Dana turned her head slightly; eyes closed and met his lips in a sweet, chaste kiss.

Her eyes opened to Mulder's gorgeous, smiling face tilted to the side of her own. She was reminded of the kiss they had shared after their ordeal with the Millennium Group; the way they had both smiled afterwards. The expression in their eyes was different now though.

Mulder leaned in and kissed her again, this time lingering a little longer. Short butterfly kisses followed along the length of her mouth and on her chin.

"Mul..." Dana started but the words were swallowed by Mulder's lips on her own again and she forgot the words she had began to say. Forgot all the worry, all the time spent apart. Nothing mattered at that moment.

Their kisses deepened, becoming more passionate, more urgent until they broke away catching their breath, forehead against forehead, both panting and flushed. The chuckling started with Mulder, still against her forehead until both of them began to laugh outright.

"Shkeee!"

The laughter stopped abruptly as they turned to see William sitting in front of them, one hand on Mulder's knee and the other pointing at Dana. Mulder's eyes widened.

"Scully."

"What?"

"No. He's trying to say 'Scully'." Mulder searched Dana's face. She looked from Mulder to William and then back to Mulder.

"No. I don't...."

"Shkeee!" William climbed onto her lap.

Dana laughed again and her eyes danced. She scooped him against her shoulder and kissed his nose. Mulder rubbed William's back as she held him. She met Mulder's eyes.

"I'm going to hold you fully responsible, Mulder." She gave him a serious look, but with no strength behind her words. He feigned surprise and shock. "Yes, Mulder, you! He should be trying to call me 'mommy', not Scully. This is because of you."

Dana leaned forward and brushed her lips against Mulder's cheek, then his mouth, lingering on his full lower lip. William squirmed between them.

"This is because of you, Mulder. Thank you."


Chapter Eleven


First and Last Stop Motel Between Louisville and Nashville, Tennessee
December 3 6.20pm

"Shhh. You're gonna rupture something if you keep going!" Mulder's voice scolded, but his eyes were laughing with her. Dana could not stop giggling. Actually giggling like a schoolgirl!

It all started at the pond when Mulder had slipped on some damp leaves as they were leaving and had ungracefully fell on his ass. It wasn't the actual event that had caused the laughter, but the expression on his face. It had been a look that she had never seen in over 9 years of knowing him. She had thought she'd known every guise, every expression. This one was new and took her by surprise. So much so, in fact, that she hard started to giggle and could not stop.

They had leisurely strolled back to the motel, Dana trying to compose herself, but every time she glanced at Mulder, the giggles would surface again. She held her side as they neared the door of the motel room.

"Mrs. Jones!"

A rather large lady shuffled out of the reception area and was trying to attract their attention. Mulder turned, William nestled over his left shoulder. He caught up with Dana ahead of him and bent down to her ear.

"That's you, Scully."

"What?" Dana squinted up at him, clearing her throat. It was becoming rather raw from her laughter.

"Mrs. Jones. That's you."

"Oh." She turned to see the woman waddling across the driveway.

"Mrs. Jones!" As she came closer, Dana could hear the woman puffing for air.

"Yes?" Dana smiled politely and waited as the woman tried to catch her breath. Her face was red and she clamped a meaty arm to her rather ample breasts. As she did so, she turned her face to Mulder with an inquisitive expression. Mulder shuffled his feet and shifted William to his other shoulder, not exactly sure what was expected of him. He took a wild guess.

"Uh....honey, this is Mrs. Wade. This is her motel." Mrs. Wade smiled at this. Good guess. Profiling came in handy sometimes.

Dana looked up at Mulder, an eyebrow raised, more to the `honey' reference than to the introduction. He smirked and nodded to the larger woman. She focused on Mrs. Wade.

"Mrs. Jones, I just wanted to firstly say hello and to apologise for not having a spare crib last night when your husband asked."

"Oh, that's quite alri..."

"We only have the one and the Wilson's won't be leaving until tomorrow night."

"That's fine. We've made do with..."

"Anyway," Mrs. Wade interjected again, waving a hand in front of her, "tonight we serve dinner in our dining room. I assume your family will be joining us at 7?"

Dana looked around for Mulder. He had escaped into the motel room. Damn him!

"Oh, I don't think...."

"But you MUST. It's no charge. We like to do it every week, my Nelson and me. Like the company."

"That's very kind, but..."

Mrs. Wade squeezed her arm.

"I'll see you at 7. It's roast beef tonight." She turned and strode off, finishing her words over her shoulder. "There's only one other couple to join us: The Wests. They're newlyweds."

Dana stared after her. She choked on a laugh until she could enter the room out of Mrs. Wade's earshot. As she closed the door, her giggles commenced again. She would really rupture something if she continued to laugh like this. But it was bliss.

Mulder was sprawled out on the sofa; William playing with a new trinket that he had picked up in town. A soft toy. A little yellow duck to perhaps commemorate the day at the pond. He was grinning widely as she giggled against the door.

"What's with the W-thing?" She croaked.

"W-thing?"

"Wade, Wilson and West!" Dana wiped the tears of laughter from the corners of her eyes.

"Maybe it's the area. I should've checked us in as the Whites." Mulder shrugged.

"Oh God, Mulder, I don't think I can survive tonight!" She let out another laugh and cleared her throat, collapsing in the chair opposite the sofa. "`Jones', Mulder?"

He placed a hurt look upon his face.

"Hey, Scully, it was late and I needed a common name!"

"Well, in that case, you're doing all the talking tonight!"

Mulder groaned, but then his eyes twinkled.

"Roast beef?"

"That's what she said."

"If it's good, then it'll be worth it."


First and Last Stop Motel
Same day Evening

It had definitely been worth it. Mrs. Wade was a fantastic cook. Mulder had accepted seconds, as did the other men. The women had all declined another helping, mainly to save room for the apple pie. Mrs. Wade had even pureed fresh vegetables for William.

Conversation had been quite scarce at first until Mr. and Mrs. Wade embarked upon stories of past guests. They had a knack for making people feel at ease.

The Wilsons were on their way to Wyoming to start a new business. The newlywed Wests, were driving to Las Vegas for their honeymoon. Mulder fabricated a story of visiting his mother, who hadn't seen Will yet, in Nashville.

He had been totally unprepared when Mr. Wade had inquired whether he was a police officer, but had remained surprisingly calm. Mr. Wade had noticed the pistol under his jacket. Mulder had replied that he was in fact a law enforcement officer and felt naked without the weapon. That seemed to appease the situation.

The Wilson's two-year-old girl had been fascinated in William and they had played together on the floor of the living room in full view of the dining room table, while the adults drank their coffee. The newlyweds had not entered in much conversation. A lot of touching and brief kisses were passed between them, not unnoticed by Mulder who constantly glanced at them.

The motel room seemed so quiet compared to the time spent within the Wade's dining room. It had been a surprisingly pleasant evening, despite their prior misgivings.

Mulder had telephoned the Lone Gunmen on their return in the hopes of gaining any new developments. They had not been able to come up with a damn thing, though Langley was still trying to hack into another database. They needed another day. Mulder was apprehensive to stay in one place for too long but conceded to noon the next day.

Dana contemplated the evening as she gently rubbed William's back, seated on the opposite bed, leaning across his tiny body. The dim glow of the lamp casting shadows across his face.

"Asleep?" Mulder inquired softly as he closed the bathroom door.

She nodded, sitting back, still watching William's chest rise and fall to the rhythm of his breathing. Mulder pulled the covers further up under William's chin and brought the extra pillow closer from the edge of the bed.

"Sometimes I can't believe that he's here." Her voice was distant. Mulder settled next to her. "I have to keep looking at him to make sure that it's not a dream. And to have you here with us as well..."

"It's not a dream any more. You can believe, Scully. Believe." Mulder tucked a strand of hair behind her ear and let his hand drape down along her neck. He felt her shoulders tense and massaged the back of her neck. Dana relaxed at the touch of his fingers circling her neck and shoulders, kneading the muscles there.

Mulder cupped her face with his other hand and turned her toward him. His eyes searched hers and found the answer.

He pulled her towards him and gently kissed the corners of her mouth, her nose, her cheeks and then descended upon her lips. The kiss deepened, becoming more passionate, more intense, more demanding. Heartbeats increased and breathing became more labored. Without breaking the embrace, Mulder leaned further forward, gradually descending them together on the bed.


A-hem! Let's leave them alone for now. ;) I'm not particularly fond of voyeurism! <G> I told you, it's my first time writing something a little more than romance, plus I am still a 'virgin' fanfic author. *blush blush* Maybe some day, if I have some inspiration..... *sigh* Oh and another apology: no offence to the names Wade, West , Wilson or White - or Jones for that matter!! Okay, let me get onto


Chapter Twelve

First and Last Stop Motel Between Louisville and Nashville, Tennessee
December 4 2.13am

It was just out of reach. If he could just stretch a little further....just a little bit more..... almost....and then he fell.

Mulder kicked out slightly. He had been falling. He had been trying to reach for...something. What was it? Nothing came to mind. No memory of what he had been reaching for at all. It hadn't been one of his usual nightmares and for that he was grateful.

A little disoriented, he looked up at the ceiling, then turned his head to the left. The motel. He could make out William's small form on the other bed in the dim light of the room, facing towards the window so all he could see was the back of his head peeping out from the covers. On the pillow by his head was a round shape. He strained to see what it was. The toy duck.

There was movement on his chest. Dana's head shifted slightly and some auburn strands tickled his chin. A smile formed on his lips. THIS, he remembered.

Her right arm was draped across his stomach under the covers and her naked body was nestled into his side. He bent to nuzzle her hair, his right hand gliding down the silk of her skin along her spine. With his left hand, he stroked the side of her face, placing the wayward strands of hair behind her ear. The warmth of her nearness caused a pleasant stirring in his groin.

Dana shifted again, sliding her arm up to his chest and under her chin. The movement caused a slight shiver. She propped her head up on his chest. Her eyes were half-closed, a shade of blue peeping out from under the lids, and reflecting the moonlight from the window.

"Can't sleep? Cold?" Her voice was just a whisper, still slightly sleep-slurred.

"Not cold." His voice vibrated deep from his chest under her chin. "Not cold at all."

God, what did people call that type of voice, all raspy but yet soft? A crooning voice? Mellow? Definitely sexy. Whatever it was called, it was making her nipples harden against his skin, driving the sleep away.

"Nightmare?"

"Not really. More like.... I don't know, but definitely not a nightmare."

"Okay." A slow blink. She kissed his jaw then propped her hand under her chin. "Want to talk about it?"

"Nope."

"It WAS a nightmare." Dana sighed, stroking a lock of hair back from Mulder's forehead.

"No, it wasn't. It was..... That's the thing, I can't remember." He inclined his head from the pillow and kissed the tip of her nose. "Don't worry about it."

"You usually remember your dreams." A frown creased her brow.

"Not this one."

"What DO you remember?"

Mulder softly chuckled, creating tremors along her body.

"What? Why are you laughing at me?"

"Scully, you're always trying to analyse everything. I honestly don't remember." Another kiss to her nose. A smile teased her lips.

"Okay, fine. Whatever." She motioned to move away but Mulder grabbed her shoulders, keeping her in place, still chuckling.

"Where are you going?"

"To let you sleep."

"Who says I can get back to sleep? Or that I WANT to go back to sleep?" She could just make out a slight movement of his eyebrows in the dark.

"Again, Mulder?" He rolled over, still gripping her, so that she was beneath him. He didn't answer but his lips descended on her neck. "Mulder?"

Mulder continued his exploration of her neck and then persisted down to her shoulders until he finally spoke against her skin.

"I have to make up for a lot of wasted time."


10.35am

Dana stretched on the mattress. God, her body was aching all over. Muscles she hardly used were groaning this morning. She smiled and turned her head to see the cause of this wonderful pain she was experiencing.

Her smile faltered. That side of the bed was empty. She bolted upright, Mulder's t-shirt hanging loosely around her body and scanned the room. The other bed was empty. William?

Dana literally jumped from the bed, running to the bathroom. Not there. She whipped her head around, hair falling into her eyes, trying to focus. Both overnight bags were gone but the diaper bag remained on the floor. Panic was rising rapidly from within her.

The sound of the key turning in the lock ceased her wandering of the room. The door opened to reveal Mulder, William clinging to his neck and carrying the two overnight bags.

Mulder halted. The panic in her eyes was evident. Tears had already tracked down her cheeks. Mulder's stomach turned to think he had placed that look of terror in her eyes, on her beautiful face, a face that just hours ago, displayed sheer pleasure to him.

They both could not move for a moment, Mulder standing in the threshold, Dana by the bathroom door.

Mulder exhaled a long breath, placed the bags by the bed and went to stand in front of her. She ripped William from his arms and held him fiercely against her, sobbing.

"You promised!!" Her legs were giving way as the panic slowly ceased and she moved to sit on the bed, still holding William tight. He squirmed at the intense grip and she finally loosened her arms, placing kisses over his face.

"Scully..."

"You promised, Mulder!" She regarded him with a scathing look. He sighed and sat beside her. He noticed she flinched.

"Scully, I DID try to.... You were really out of it." She wouldn't face him, continuing to shower William with kisses. "Scully..."

"Mulder, I didn't know.... You were both gone.... I.... I don't ever want to feel like that again." Her voice was choked with tears.

"Scully, when you wouldn't get up I took Will for breakfast and we did some laundry. Mrs. Wade has one of those coin-operated machines out back. I thought we'd be back before.... Scully, I REALLY did try and wake you. Scouts honor." He raised a hand in front of him, palm outward.

Her face was buried in her son's shoulder and the words he heard were muffled.

"You were never a scout." At least she wasn't shouting, but she wasn't looking at him either. He needed to be able to read her face.

"Scully? I honestly tried to wake you. You know that I wouldn't.... Okay, I have proof." Her eyes peeked over William's head, still moistened with her tears. Good. He didn't want this between them. He HAD tried, but she seemed so peaceful and he thought they could make it back in time before she woke completely. Next time, if there was a next time, he was definitely leaving a note!

"Proof? How can you have proof?" Oh good. Dr. Scully was back. Dr. Scully the scientist.

"Evidence, Scully, that I DID in fact try to wake you." The eyebrow raised higher than he remembered. Interesting. She allowed him to wipe away her tears. That was good.

"Okay, what's this evidence?"

"When I tried to wake you, you bit me." Another raised eyebrow. "Look." He removed his jacket and tugged on the collar of his sweater to the left shoulder, pulling his t-shirt along with it. A rounded red mark was revealed beneath. Dana leaned closer. Definite teeth mark. She sat back to observe the lopsided grin. Her anger and fear that she had felt were but mere twinges now. He really had tried to wake her. It was her turn to feel guilty. She had panicked. She had not even been rational. But with all that she had been through, all that she had seen.... It was also not within her to apologise so easily.

"Mulder, that.... that could have been done during the throes of passion." Mulder shook his head, letting go of his sweater.

"Scully, I remember your throes of passion, and you weren't doing that!"


11.30am

Mulder could wait no longer.

They had packed all their belongings in the 4WD, paid their bill, bid their goodbyes and waited. Mrs. Wade didn't mind them waiting until noon. They had been a nice family, a little skittery, but nice. And the love was so eminent; it made her feel just plain good.

He paced. He sat and then he paced again. If he'd had a basketball, it would have been bounced off the walls and the ceiling.

It was still too early, but what was half an hour? He dialled from the sofa; long legs sprawled out in front of him.

"Lone Gunmen." Why did it always seem like Langley answered?

"It's me. The tape."

"Okay. Hang on." Clicks and beeps. "Hey, you're early." The speaker was on again.

"I didn't think half an hour would make any difference."

"Time is always an important factor." Frohike's voice.

" 'Time is of the essence'. Haven't you ever heard of that?" Was that Byers? Were they all drinking?

"Yeah, and 'time waits for no man'. Cut the bullshit, guys, and tell me what you've got!" Someone cleared their throat.

"Okay," Frohike began, "we found some interesting stuff in a very secure location. Very hard to hack into. Security was major."

"Yeah, man," Langley continued, "we're talking N.S.A. Their codes are mean!"

"N.S.A.?" Mulder gathered his legs in towards the sofa. "Jesus. They're involved in this?"

"We stumbled on a couple of documents when we were checking out corn oil." Byers added. "They were involved in some deals in Tunisia."

"We got a name of the company for you, too." Frohike again. "'Nature's Best'. Not even a seal of approval by the F.D.A."

"We even have a location for you too." Langley added. "Dallas."

"Oh, Jesus." Mulder groaned. Dana had been seated with William on her lap in the chair opposite Mulder, patiently waiting. Patiently listening. She leaned forward to get his attention.

'What?' She mouthed at him. 'Dallas' he mouthed in return. Damn! Bad memories there.

"There's a large factory between Dallas and Waco." Byers this time. "A lot of activity happening. We're almost certain everything has been moved there."

"Okay..." Mulder ran a hand through his hair. "What's happening in D.C? The research centre. Any indication whether the tests are continuing?"

"Oh yeah." Frohike's voice was too serious for Mulder's liking. "There was a fire."

"What?!"

"Yeah," Frohike continued carefully, "this one was big. No trace of anything left behind, not even bodies. I don't think we tripped security, but it happened yesterday before we could hack into their files."

"Shit! They may be moving out too..." Mulder rubbed his temple. "...maybe disposing of all the evidence and transferring to a new site...maybe joining in Dallas..." He wasn't really conversing with the Gunmen, just bouncing his thoughts around verbally.

"Something's brewing, man." Langley brought Mulder's thoughts back to the task at hand. "Something big. You want us to do anything?"

"Just sit tight for awhile. We're going to keep moving now. I'll call you."

"We'll wait." Frohike was back. "You know we'll do anything we can. Just take care, okay? Oh, and Mulder?"

"Yeah?"

"Merry Christmas." Mulder huffed.

"Bah, humbug! Thanks guys. I'll be in touch."

Christmas. Just over three weeks away. It did not feel like any Christmas spirit was being spread around at all. Christmas.

Mulder was lost in thought, pulling on his lower lip. Dana retrieved the phone from his lap and placed it back on the table. She could tell that his mind, his complex and brilliant mind, was working overtime. The expression on his face was the one he usually had when he was about to embark on a theory, but he gave no indication of sharing it with her.

From the pieces of broken conversation she intercepted, she had a pretty good idea of the situation, but she would pry the remaining details from him later. She would also try to implore him to seek help. Help from Skinner.


Chapter Thirteen

Somewhere on the outskirts of Nashville, Tennessee
December 5 1.20pm

"Why won't you talk to me?"

Dana was not having a good day. They had spent the night in the 4WD just off the highway, hidden by foliage. There hadn't been a town in sight. Mulder had taken the opportunity to also change their licence plates, with compliments of the Gunmen. Dana and William had spread out in the back of the vehicle, leaving Mulder to stretch out in the back seat, after temporarily relocating the child seat. It was still clearly too short for his lanky frame but he could cope for one night.

Mulder woke up cranky, not saying more than a few words at a time. To top it all, William had been particularly fussy all morning, not wanting to eat. There was no fever that she could ascertain and his color seemed fine, but nonetheless, she kept a wary eye on him. He had spent most of the morning whimpering, almost coinciding with Mulder's mood, until he finally fell asleep.

"Mulder?" She was not going to stand for it any longer.

"What do you want me to say?" Mulder's tone was stiff. He was staring at the road and his lips were set in a pout.

"Tell me what you're thinking."

"I'm thinking we need to find a place..."

"That's not what I mean, and you know it." She threw the road map between them. Mulder risked a short glance at her. She had folded her arms across her chest. Shit.

"Look, I'm just trying to figure a few things out in my head, that's all." He sighed.

"Mulder, you're not alone any more. We're in this together, aren't we?" No response. "Mulder?"

A slow nod of his head and he gripped the steering wheel tighter. His brows furrowed. She was right. Too long being on his own. She was still his partner, though in a different sense of the word. They were all together now and he needed to keep it that way.

"Scully, I'm not sure if what I've been theorising is relevant. I could be wrong so I don't want to project anything that I haven't thought out clearly to you."

"When has that ever stopped you before?" She smiled, unfolding her arms. He regarded her with his own grin. That was better. "So, tell me."

"Okay, remember Dallas?"

"How could I forget."

"The reason that I persisted further for more evidence was because I received a tip."

"You told me that much."

"The man's name was Kurtswile. Dr. Kurtswile. Also an author of two apocalyptic paranoiac books."

"Ahh. A man after your own heart."

Mulder let that slide and continued.

"He predicted that a plague - a plague to end all plagues - would be released during a holiday when people would be away from their homes. An exigency government would come into office and declare a state of emergency." He turned to view her reaction. Her hands were wringing together in her lap and she was biting her bottom lip. "Scully? You following me?"

"Mulder, this just sounds like the man's plot in one of those books you say he wrote."

"The man's dead, Scully. He was murdered because of this theory, this theory that I think is actually becoming fact." Dana raised an eyebrow.

"Mulder, you can't seriously be thinking...."

"Scully, after all that you've been through, all that you've seen, why is it so hard for you to believe that this may be happening, that this could be the ultimate apocalypse? Armageddon, Scully."

"Mulder..."

"Just think for a minute. He said it would happen on a holiday. Christmas, Scully. That site in Tunisia has been destroyed. The word went out to locate Will and now the research lab in D.C... Things are getting too intense. Things are happening much too fast. This is all too much of a coincidence for my liking."

"Okay..." Her lecture voice. If the situation weren't so serious, he would be revelling in the reminiscence of past discussions like this. "Let's say that the imminent danger of this plague is real. This Armageddon, as you perceive it to be, will be in the form of a plague? What kind of plague?"

"Scully, have you been listening? The bees. The virus. Black oil. Dallas. Antarctica. Don't you get it?"

"I get it, but I don't want to. It's so... so... ludicrous to think..."

"You were there. You were infected. I don't know about you, but I don't particularly want to see the end of the world, not when there's so much to show Will."

Dana exhaled loudly.

"Okay, though it's hard for me to believe, I want the same. I want the chance to live without danger; to protect Will. Even if it goes beyond my belief as a scientist, the need to save Will is stronger. What do you have planned?"

"Not sure. But it figures that everything is leaning towards Dallas."

"You want us to go to Dallas?"

"God, no... Well, not yet. We have to find a place to hole up for awhile."

"And then?"

"Maybe destroy them before they try and annihilate the human race and our future along with it."

"Mulder?" Her lips pursed around the question. "I think we need more help than just the Gunmen...."


December 6 Washington D.C. 2.05am

Why couldn't people call at a goddamn decent hour! Christ!

He thought about letting the phone ring and allowing the machine to pick up a message. Shit! He'd actually forgotten to turn the damn thing on!

The phone continued to ring. Whoever it was, they were persistent.

Skinner groaned and glanced at the clock attached to his headboard. Jesus! He'd been having a really, really good dream too, and those were rare these days.

"This better be important, goddammit!" He growled into the receiver.

"Did I interrupt anything?"

Skinner was now wide-awake. That voice could not be mistaken. It was Mulder.

"Yeah, you interrupted a dream." He was keeping cool, though. "What's up?"

"Need a favor."

"When?"

"Real soon. Will you be ok?"

"I can handle it."

"You're sure? You know that trouble always follows."

"Fully aware. I just need to know one thing. You have `the packages', don't you?"

"Yes. They're safe with me."

"So, where and how?"

"It's Christmas. Santa's helpers are everywhere."

The phone disconnected.

`Santa's helpers?' Now that was a new one. He grinned and replaced the receiver. He'd contact those three geeks tomorrow - oh yeah, it was already tomorrow.

Skinner ran a hand over his face and fell back on the bed. He would find it difficult to get back to sleep now. He pondered about whether he should get himself a shot of whisky or just lay there and wait for sleep to take him. He could call the woman who had invaded his dream. Would she still be awake? God, he was acting like a hormonal teenager! He needed to get a grip, or he'd be scaring her off. He had more urgent things to think about.


Chapter Fourteen

Washington D.C. The Lone Gunmen Publications
December 6 2.20pm

"What's the password?" Frohike was manning the door today. He could see Skinner's jaw tense in the screen above him. Skinner placed both hands on his hips and faced into the camera.

"How about `open the goddamn door or I break it down and confiscate every piece of shit you've got stored in there'?" He was not in the mood to play games. It had been hard for him to get away. He'd had to cancel an appointment and forego lunch with Kim in order to use his lunchtime hour later so as not to cause any suspicion.

The sound of the bolts opening made Skinner grimace. Jesus, how many deadbolts did they have? Frohike's face peered around the door and Skinner pushed it open further, brushing past the small man.

Skinner scanned the room, noting that nothing much had changed since the last time he had entered. Various machines and gadgets were everywhere. He stopped his surveillance when he found three pairs of eyes on him. The Gunmen were seated across a large metal table, regarding him with some curiosity and making Skinner the slightest bit uncomfortable.

"Okay..." Skinner cleared his throat. "I was informed that a mutual acquaintance needs some help."

The three men exchanged glances. They hadn't really wanted anyone else involved in this, let alone someone from the Bureau, but Mulder had assured them that Skinner - and only Skinner - could be trusted. Their last contact with Mulder had been via e- mail last night. They needed the extra firepower and apparently this guy was an ex-marine.

"No one knows you're here? You weren't followed?" Langley enquired, folding his arms.

"Give me some credit." Skinner clenched his teeth and returned his hands to his hips. "Just tell me what this is about."

"Everything's explained in this." Byers placed an envelope on the table and pushed it toward Skinner with his index finger. "They need a place to hide out until this situation can be resolved."

"'Situation'?" Skinner looked from one man to the other, then leaned forward to retrieve the envelope.

"Just read that when you can." Frohike pointed to the envelope that Skinner was placing in his jacket pocket. "No one else is to know about this situation. No one but you. But right now, we need to have a safe place for them to go."

"That's not going to be easy." Skinner rubbed his jaw line. "Everything we have is covered by the Bureau, so I...." His sentence died as he squinted, deep in thought.

"So, can you help?" Frohike was becoming impatient.

"Maybe...." Skinner began and rubbed his jaw again. "How long can you give me?"

"The sooner the better. How long do YOU need?" Byers leaned back in his chair.

"Maybe another day."

"Can you avoid using the Bureau's resources? You know, telephones, computers, cameras everywhere.... The place isn't as secure as you may think." Frohike moved towards the door, ready to open it for Skinner. "We can't have anyone knowing about this, inside or out."

"You're talking about Bureau security." Skinner stood by the door, looming over Frohike.

"Exactly."

"What....?" Skinner pushed his glasses further up his nose and then held up a hand in front of him. "No, don't tell me. I don't want to know."


The Nashville Antique Mall Nashville, Tennessee 3.15pm

The bank had only asked for one form of ID. William had been a welcomed distraction to the young woman at the counter.

The Gunmen had wired a large sum of money to a Mr. Peter Jones at The First American National Bank. The Gunmen had provided the fake driver's licence. With such a large sum of money, he wasn't sure if the bank would need another form of ID, such as a credit card. He couldn't have one, so he'd decided he might improvise with a story.

He hadn't needed to. William played his part beautifully. He'd leaned over the counter and smiled brilliantly at the teller. Perfect distraction.

They'd left Dana collecting supplies. They were in dire need of more clothes and food. Mulder hadn't wanted to separate but Dana had insisted that they could get things completed faster. He'd relinquished after showing him the weapon she concealed in her shoulder bag.

Mulder rounded a corner, pointing out the brightly decorated Christmas tree in the middle of the mall to William and halted.

Dana was seated on one of the benches opposite Santa's photo emporium where children were lined up waiting to eagerly sit on his knee. She was surrounded by several overflowing shopping bags of different sizes and colors. A man, dressed in a very expensive suit was seated next to her, obviously deep in conversation with her. He was perhaps in his mid to late thirties, neatly groomed and quite good-looking.

It was probably nothing. Perhaps Dana had initiated the conversation to enquire about accommodation in the area.

Mulder didn't like it. He especially didn't like the fact that she was smiling at him; actually smiling one of her sweet smiles. He stood there riveted to that spot for some time, hoping the man would leave. He didn't and it was starting to piss him off.

Just as Mulder's feet started to move in Dana's direction, William let out a squeal.

"Shkee!!"

Dana searched among the crowd until she spotted Mulder and William. The man beside her followed her gaze. Mulder zigzagged his way through the shoppers until he was directly in front of Dana. William was promptly placed on her lap. The man stood as Mulder eyed him with a menacing glare.

"Sorry we're late, honey." Mulder continued to stare at the man as he spoke to Dana. "The bank was busier than I had expected and our son was just too popular." He emphasised 'our son'.

Dana was finding this amusing. Was he jealous? The guy had just been lost in the mall and had approached her to find directions to one of the exits. She could not recall ever seeing Mulder jealous before.

"That's okay. I was trying to help this man find an exit and we just started talking..."

Mulder did not release his glare. The man, obviously uncomfortable, looked down at Dana, a small smile on his face.

"Thanks for trying to help. I hope I didn't bother you."

Dana returned his smile. In fact, she delivered a full tooth smile.

"No bother at all. Sorry I couldn't be of any assistance."

The man glanced at Mulder with an awkward smile and escaped into the crowd. Dana patted the empty position beside her. Mulder, brows knitted together, sat and stretched his right arm on the bench behind her.

"So, what was that all about?" Dana placed a hand on Mulder's thigh.

"He could've been anyone. You have to be more careful." His tone was curt.

"Mulder, he didn't seem threatening in the least. He was very polite and very lost."

"And why did he just happen to choose you to talk to among all these other people?"

"I don't know. Perhaps with all this," Dana moved her free hand to gesture towards the shopping bags, "it didn't seem like I could run away."

Mulder turned his face towards her. He was still scowling.

"What if he'd pulled a gun on you?" What if...?"

"Mulder..." Dana placed a hand on his cheek. "Stop it. I can look after myself and I AM armed." She took her hand away, secured her grip on William and started to rise from the bench. "And besides, I really didn't mind talking to such a handsome stranger."

Mulder grasped the bags she had left around the bench and started after her.

"You thought he was handsome?" He caught up with her as she stood before the Santa stage.

"Well..." Dana turned and squinted up at him. "Yes, I did."

"Really?" Mulder shifted a few shopping bags in his arms for better leverage.

"Uh huh." She nodded and then stood on tiptoe to kiss his cheek. "But not my type."

"And what's your type?"

"Taller, darker and very paranoid." She turned to watch the children fussing over Santa. Mulder grinned his approval of her last comment.

"Mulder?"

"Yeah?" Mulder was amused at the sight of one of the 'elves' trying to assist a child on Santa's knee. He reminded him of Frohike.

"I would love to get a photo of Will with Santa. For mom."

Mulder leaned down to whisper in her ear.

"So would I, but we can't. Maybe next year."

Dana nodded and turned away from the joyful scene.

"If there is a next year."

Mulder followed her out to the parking bay. How could he answer that? He couldn't and decided it was safer not to.

"Let's go and find us a motel, one where I can use my laptop. We need to find out what's happening."


Chapter Fifteen

Washington D.C. FBI Headquarters Hoover Building
December 8 5.15pm

It had taken longer than he'd thought. Working outside of the Bureau, even outside of his own apartment, had been difficult. Finally contacts had been completed. Time to put all his efforts into motion. The worst part had been keeping everything from two other agents.

A.D. Skinner tidied his desk, gathered his briefcase and headed out the door. He met Kimberley's confused expression over her computer. He pushed his glasses further up his nose and moved closer to her desk, leaving some breathing space between them.

"Kimberley.... Kim.... It's past 5. You should've left by now." Well, that had to be the worst thing to say; she always worked back at least half an hour, but it had already left his mouth.

"I was just about to leave." She sat back in her chair and pushed away from the desk, so that she was in full view. Her eyes were studying the floor. "I just don't understand why you're taking leave right now. You never have in the past. Not so suddenly, anyway."

"I've been called away on an emergency." Skinner was a little taken aback by her openness. It amazed him that a woman as attractive and intelligent as Kim could be the slightest bit interested in him. Yet, here she was, not hiding her obvious regret that he would be absent from work.

"So you said."

"It's family."

"I know." Her eyes showed hurt when she raised her head, but there seemed something more. It was a look that told him `I'm not buying that family bullshit, mister!', though she didn't utter word to dispute him.

"When I get back, would you.... " He changed his approach. "Maybe we could have dinner instead of lunch?"

Kim smiled and her shoulders seemed to relax. She nodded.

"I'd like that. Only...."

"Only?"

"Only if I can call you Walter out of work? I think it would seem rather `kinky' if I called you `Sir' over dinner."

Skinner cleared his throat. `Kinky'? Now that was a word that wasn't in his vocabulary.

"I think that would work."

"Okay then. It's a date, Walter."

He raised his eyebrows. She pointed to the clock above his door.

"It's after hours."

Man, he could get used to his name being uttered from her lips.


Washington D.C. The Lone Gunmen Publications 9.02pm

"You're late. I thought you were supposed to have been a marine?" Frohike mumbled as he closed the door and re-bolted.

Skinner glanced at his watch. What the hell was he talking about? He was going to quibble about 2 minutes?

"I'd fix your clocks."

Frohike glared at him but said nothing. They would be spending some time together so they'd better get used to one another.

Skinner stumbled over a few duffel bags lying on the floor in the dim light. There were over ten placed side by side in the middle of the room. He stepped around them, shrugging off his leather jacket and pushing his hands within the pockets of his jeans.

"What's all this? Is this supposed to be `incognito'?"

Langley appeared from one of the back rooms. He took in Skinner's attire. He couldn't remember seeing this stiff dude in anything casual.

"`All this' is fire power, man. You'll be glad when we need it."

"`Fire power'? More like you're planning on a war. What have you got in there?" Skinner crouched beside one of the bags and reached for the toggle.

"I wouldn't do that!" Byers had entered from another room and stared wide-eyed at Skinner.

"Why not?" Skinner was still crouched, hand hovering over the duffel bag.

"Very delicate stuff, man. You could set it off." Langley answered, leaning against the metal table.

Skinner stood slowly, eyeing the ten bags. He stepped away and stood next to Langley.

"Jesus, you're taking explosives?!"

"What did you expect? Bee bee guns and slingshots?" Frohike snickered.

"I was expecting some weaponry, but this..."

"We have that covered too." Byers grinned.

"Jesus!" Skinner removed his glasses and ran a hand over his face. He lowered his voice. "Okay, how did you expect to get all this through an area that's bound to be packed with security?"

"We'll think of something." Frohike muttered, buttoning his jacket.

"Yeah," Langley continued, "it's not like we haven't bypassed security systems before."

Skinner replaced his glasses. God, this was going to be very interesting.

"Where did you get...?" Skinner stopped in mid- sentence. "No, don't tell me, I don't want to know." That seemed to be his official statement wherever the Gunmen were concerned.

"Well..." Byers carefully lifted one of the duffel bags. "No time like the present. Let's get all this gear into the van, shall we?" He glanced at Skinner's anxious regard to the bags. "Just be careful with them and don't drop them and they'll be fine."

Skinner puffed air through his nose and lifted the nearest bag to him. It was bulky and he grunted slightly at the weight until he was able to adjust it on his shoulder. He reached for another bag and then stopped, studying each man.

"Did you get word out?"

Langley turned at the door, slightly leaning to his right with the weight of the bag slung over that particular shoulder.

"Yeah. We're gonna meet up with them first. They'll be at the location you provided. I hope it's safe, man." He struggled out the door.

Skinner lifted the other bag and followed.

"So do I." He muttered. "So do I."


The King's Lodge Between Nashville and Memphis, Tennessee 10.30pm

William had finally nodded off, no thanks to Mulder.

The motel room was adorned with various Elvis paraphernalia: framed paintings, photographs, dolls and even a clock with an alarm that produced an Elvis song, rather than a bell.

Mulder had tuned the radio on the nightstand to a local station. Endless Elvis. He finally turned the volume down after trying to convince Dana that he was teaching William to recognise the `true King' of Rock and Roll. Mulder was in his element.

Dana lay under the covers of the bed, gazing at Mulder at the small table by the crib, hunched over his laptop computer and humming along to the tune of `That's all right' playing on the radio. The glow of the screen was reflecting on his glasses in the dimmed light of the room.

She had seen this image of him so many times before. They had been just partners then. Well, maybe a little more, but had never ventured too far from where they couldn't reign themselves back in. Now it was different.

He turned his head slightly, peering at her over his shoulder. It was uncanny how they could respond to one another without words. It was almost telepathic. Wouldn't Mulder love to hear that from her scientific mouth!

"What?" Mulder removed his glasses and placed them on the table, not taking his eyes from hers.

"Nothing. I was just wondering if you had any word." Dana fluffed the pillow behind her head.

"Yep. We'll head off tomorrow."

"Where?"

"New Mexico."

"New Mexico?"

"Yeah. They'll meet us there."

"Mulder, what.....?" Dana began and it dawned on her. "Was that Skinner's idea of a safe place?"

"Yeah. I think it may just work."

"I don't know...." A frown wrinkled her brow. "I don't want to risk endangering anyone else."

"Scully," Mulder rubbed his eyes with the palms of his hands, "I think it's the only place we have right now and they can be trusted. Skinner knows what he's doing. We'll only stay as long as we have to. Okay?"

"Hmmm." Dana propped her hand under her chin and continued to stare at Mulder. "I think we should've had other people involved, Mulder, and you KNOW who I mean."

"No!" He snapped at her and then immediately lowered his head, letting his voice soften. "I don't... I just don't feel comfortable about that. I don't know them like you do and I won't risk William or you to people I have no knowledge of. I won't. Please understand that."

Dana sighed as she rested her head back on the pillow. Yes, she could understand. Mulder didn't give his trust easily.

Mulder finally switched off the computer, diminishing the light in the room further. He checked on William before sliding into bed beside Dana, tucking her back close to him and feeling the warmth instantly radiating from her body.

"Scully," he whispered beside her ear, " I don't like the fact that we're involving innocent people here either, but it may be just the place where no one would look. I promise we'll stay only for as long as we need to."

Dana turned and held Mulder close, her face resting on his chest and concentrated on his steady heartbeat. Why did life have to be so complicated for them? She just wanted to rest, not have to think of anything but simple things.

They remained in silence for some time, Mulder gently tracing up and down her spine with his fingers.

"Mulder?"

"Hmmm? I thought you were asleep."

"Are you going to keep the radio on all night?"

"Got something against Elvis?"

Dana smiled against his neck. He had a way of turning a serious moment around, relieving tension.

"No, but I don't think I can sleep with the music on all night."

"You don't have to sleep." His voice sank deeper and she pinched his side. "Ow! Hey!"

They listened to the first verse of 'Love Me Tender' in silence until Mulder started again.

"I wonder if we can get a chance to visit Graceland. Did you know, Scully, that it's the second most visited house in the country, after the White House?"

"No, I didn't." Dana chuckled. "Where do you get all this information, Mulder?"

"I read it somewhere. If I read it, I store the information and it pops back into my head whenever the situation calls for it."

"Ah, selective memory."

"Eidetic."

"Sleep, Mulder. There's more driving tomorrow." She chuckled against his chest.

"Sleep?"

"Sleep."

He sighed.


Chapter Sixteen

The King's Lodge Between Nashville and Memphis, Tennessee
December 9 4.19am

"Scully?"

Mulder's face was directly above her. He was whispering her name and stroking her cheek as her eyelids fluttered to keep him in focus. She smiled and tilted her head up, brushing her lips against his.

"Scully, as much as I would love to comply, I think you should try and wake up completely. I thought I heard something."

"Wha...?" Dana forced her eyes to open further.

Mulder had pulled on his jeans, sweater and jacket and was wrestling with his socks and shoes. She felt around for her own clothes as Mulder strapped on his ankle holster and checked the clips of both weapons.

"Grab William and go into the bathroom. Take your gun with you." He pulled at the curtain edge and peered into the darkness. The sky was overcast, not allowing any moonlight to peep through, so the only light was from the small bulb over the reception door almost 100 feet away. There didn't seem to be any movement.

"Mulder?" Dana had nestled William, still sleeping soundly, in her arms. She stood next to the bathroom door, one of his bulky sweaters dangling around her thin frame. Her Sig was stuck into the back of her faded jeans where the sweater was bunched around it. Her feet were bare. Her eyes were expectant, frightened.

"Just go inside." Mulder's voice was still low. "It may be nothing, but I thought I heard a sound. I'm just going to check it out." He motioned to the door, pistol in hand. "Scully, go inside."

Dana stepped into the bathroom, locked the door and sat on top of the closed toilet seat. She held William on her lap, resting his head against her chest. She grasped for the gun and held it firmly in her right hand, dangling at her side. Her eyes locked on the door, ears triggered for sound.

Mulder waited until he heard the bathroom door lock. He held the motel door slightly ajar, only enough for his face to peer through. Holding his Colt high near his face, he pushed the door further open and slowly slid outside. He kept his body against the wall, turning his head from left to right. No movement.

The 4WD held shadows that were impossible to see around. Mulder crouched low, straining to view below the car. No feet. No one.

He had heard footsteps on the gravel. He was certain of it. It hadn't been part of a dream, had it?

Just as Mulder turned to survey around back, something whizzed passed his ear. A chip of plaster from the wall flew into his face, nicking his chin. He instinctively ducked low to the ground, squinting into the darkness from where the projectile had emerged. Silencer. Great.

The parking bays in front of the rooms held only five more vehicles, but many more shadows. The assailant was concealed within those shadows. Mulder crouched low against the wall, pistol at the ready as he rushed to the first car. Another stream of air sailed past the top of his head. He ducked lower. A searing pain penetrated his left shoulder, knocking him back against the wall.

Mulder cringed and tried to raise himself up slowly but a body slammed into his side, sending him sprawling against the ground, forcing him to drop his weapon. The assailant's pistol was close to Mulder's head, loosely held within a large hand. He'd obviously been sent off balance with the force of the blow too and was recovering. Mulder grabbed for the weapon in the assailant's grip. Thank God it was his right arm he was struggling with and not the arm of his wounded shoulder. The movement was still sending bolts of lightning through his body, but he could not relent or the son of a bitch would more than likely put a bullet through his skull.

The assailant grunted, recovering fully, forcing himself upon Mulder, pushing against his chest. Mulder gripped the hand that held the pistol tighter, pushing it away from his chest and turning it slightly. There was another grunt from the shadow above him and a puff of air forced through his mouth. The body slumped over Mulder's chest.

Mulder lay panting, beads of perspiration glistening on his forehead. The weight of the body was making it harder for him to breathe. He pushed the body aside, turning him over to see his face. Too many shadows to make out any features. Retrieving his own pistol, he dragged the limp body along the gravel towards the 4WD. The light from reception revealed quite a surprise. It was the young man from the mall. Shit.

There was no pulse. Blood was seeping through the hole in the man's down jacket. Mulder dragged the body across the highway and into the foliage on the other side. After covering the body with a few leaves and branches, he headed back to the motel, pain bolting along the left side of his arm. It was making him dizzy and nauseous.

Dana murmured reassuring babble into William's ear. He had started to whimper as a muffled thud penetrated the silence. She rocked William, trying desperately to soothe him so he wouldn't cry. She feared for him. She feared for Mulder. He had been gone too long for just a surveillance check. And the noises.... Damn!

A thud at the bathroom door jolted her to a standing position, right arm aiming the Sig directly in front of her. She turned slightly, holding William close, but away from the direction of the door. Another thud.

"Scully?" A rattle of the handle. "Scully, it's me. It's ok. Open up."

Dana placed the pistol on the toilet seat and darted to the door, still shielding William at an angle to the door.

Mulder was leaning heavily on the doorframe, holding his left shoulder. His head was lowered and damp locks of hair were hanging over his brow.

"Jesus, Mulder, what happened?" Dana pulled his arm to move him toward the bed. He winced. "Sorry. Come over here. Let me take a look."

Mulder literally collapsed on the bed, wincing again as pain shot through his entire left side at the motion. William was still whimpering at the hollow of Dana's neck. She lay him beside Mulder's right side and he instantly ceased his sounds and began sucking on his hand, his eyelids half closed. She was too concerned at the sight of all the blood on Mulder to comment.

"Mulder, you'll have to take these off so I can see what's happened." She tugged at his jacket and sweater. Mulder complied by sitting up slowly, allowing Dana to fuss with his clothes. He was too distracted to make any lewd remarks at this. He groaned when she pulled around his wounded shoulder. He relaxed back on the bed, stroking William's head with his free hand.

"Shoulder, Scully." He managed through another groan. "Ow! Just the shoulder." She was poking and prodding his entire upper body, checking for bruises or broken bones.

"I have to make sure." She returned her attention to the blood surrounding his shoulder. "What's with all this other blood?" She motioned towards his sweater and hands.

"Not mine."

"God. Is he dead?" Dana rummaged through her overnight bag and sat down on the bed beside Mulder again, unzipping a square black leather bag. Medical supplies.

"Yeah. Body's on the other side of the highway." He noticed the bag. "Scully, you take that with you everywhere?"

"Mulder, I take it with me whenever I'm with YOU." She smiled and attended to the damage, clearing the blood away with alcohol-soaked cotton balls.

"That's comforting. Ow!" Mulder craned his neck to see what was stinging so much. His head was starting to reel from the pain. "What're you doing?"

"Mulder, it has to be cleaned. Looks like just a flesh wound only scraped the top of your shoulder. It's a deep gash and you should have stitches, but I think it'll heal nicely. It'll be sore for a while."

"You're telling me!" He groaned again.

"So," Dana prompted, "I didn't hear any shots, just some scuffling. What happened?"

"Silencer. Ow! It was the guy from the mall."

Dana's hands stopped for a moment and then continued their work.

"Oh." She dressed the wound and began cleaning Mulder's hands. "Then it was my fault."

"How can you say that?"

"I shouldn't have talked to him. God, I'm so sorry, Mulder. I..."

"Scully..." Mulder grabbed her hands in his, halting her cleaning. "You weren't to know. He spun a story on you about being lost."

"Mulder, how did they know where we were? I was checking. We weren't followed. We've been careful."

"I don't know, Scully, but we're not sticking around here any longer." He sat up and swivelled his arm and shoulder, flexing his hand. "Still hurts, but I can drive."

"I can drive."

"I'll drive."

"Worried about my little legs not reaching the pedals?"

"I didn't say that." He grinned. "I may need your firepower if we ARE being followed. You're a better shot than me."

"You want some Tylenol?" Dana placed the soiled cotton into a plastic liner she had found in the trashcan by the table. She stuffed it into her medical kit to discard later.

"No. Makes me feel weird. I need to concentrate. I can handle it."

Dana nodded. He handled a lot of pain; too much pain and not just of the physical kind. She wished she could be as strong sometimes. He had suffered his whole life and she had only a glimpse in the past year. She'd had William though; he'd had no one.

They made record time loading the 4WD. The remaining occupants of the other rooms seemed not to have been disturbed by the previous struggle in the parking bay.

Light was just forming over the horizon when they settled back onto the highway. Their course had now been decided. New Mexico.

Mulder leaned towards the dashboard and switched on the radio. The silence was too deafening and he needed to relax. Maybe some more Elvis would do the trick.

Instead of the radio, the tuner was now on tape mode. An old rock song from the '70's blared into the car. 'Fox on the Run' by The Sweet.

Mulder ripped the tape from the dash and threw it on the floor.

"Shit! Shit! Shit!" He repeatedly slammed the steering wheel.

The next stop for gas he was checking for tracking devices both in and out of the vehicle.


Chapter Seventeen

Two Grey Hills, Navajo Reservation, New Mexico
December 15 6.12pm

"Over there." Dana pointed to a white one-storey weatherboard house, a few shrubs and trees along the path leading to the front door. The porch light was on, a few moths hovering in the glow.

A bicycle leaned against one side of the house and boots were strewn across the porch. A dog, perhaps a mixture of beagle and some other hound, trotted around the corner and cocked its head at the approaching car.

As the barking began, the screen door opened and a large, middle-aged man with a weather-beaten face appeared at the top of the stairs. A teenager, chewing on what may have been his dinner joined him. The older man descended the stairs slowly, a smile forming on his Native American face. He scowled at the dog, which retreated onto the porch instantly, and returned his focus and smile on his visitors.

Mulder, holding William and Dana approached the man.

"Hey, Hosteen! Long time no see!" Mulder extended his free hand and it was instantly enveloped in the older man's larger one.

"FBI man! Good to see you." Albert Hosteen Jr.'s voice boomed into the quiet evening. "And FBI woman!" He turned to take Dana's hand.

"I'm not FBI any more." Mulder corrected. "Not for some time now."

"And you?" Hosteen searched Dana's face. Her expression had turned solemn.

"Still am, though maybe not for much longer."

Hosteen focused on the infant in Mulder's arms.

"And who are you little one?" Hosteen tickled William's chin and was rewarded with a squeal of delight.

"Our son, William." Mulder explained. "He's the reason we're here."

Hosteen's smile widened.

"Still partners I see..." Hosteen ascended the stairs, motioning for them to follow. "Okay, c'mon in. Leave your things for now and we'll have some dinner. Hope you like stew. I'm not a very good cook, but at least it'll warm you up. It gets real cold at night."

He continued to chatter as he entered the house, his guests in tow.


9.45pm

Dana returned to the living room. William had been too excited around new faces and had refused to sleep. She'd finally settled him into a large bedroom composing of one large bed, a crib and an old wooden wardrobe. Bare necessities, but clean and comfortable.

The house was warm: not just in temperature. Dana felt safe. She knew that it would be short-lived, but for the time being this was a feeling she wanted to savor.

Albert Hosteen Jr. and his son listened intently to their story, completing the puzzle that Skinner had started with his initial contact.

"So," Mulder finished, "we're sorry about placing this on you and your family." He set his coffee mug on the small table before him.

"No." Hosteen leaned back into the cushions of his sofa. "Don't apologise. My father said that you would return."

Mulder turned to Dana. Her raised eyebrow displayed his own question.

"He said," Hosteen continued, "that one day you would return to find your truth. We were to help you because in turn, you would be helping us."

"More like I'm placing you in danger." Mulder mumbled.

"My father was a wise man." Hosteen ignored Mulder's comment. "He knew things. Of course he was a holy man, but there were things he just knew. He said that you would help us find a new beginning."

"What did he mean by that?" Dana finished her coffee and placed her cup beside Mulder's.

"Beats me." Hosteen smiled. "I'm not the wise man my father was, but I'm not going to go against his wishes, not even in death."

Hosteen stood and stretched, patting his son on the back.

"John, you should be in bed. There's a few errands you need to run for me tomorrow."

John sneered at his father and then turned to their company.

"I'll see you in the morning. Good night."

"Good night." Mulder and Dana returned in unison.

Hosteen watched his son exit and examined his guest's faces. They were obviously concerned for his welfare.

"Please, don't regret coming. I agree with my father. It was destiny. I feel it."

He walked to the kitchen but turned at the door.

"You should get some sleep. We get up real early around here, and I could use an extra pair of hands until the others arrive."

"Sure." Mulder nodded. "What time?"

"Five. Oh, and are you any good with animals?"

Mulder shrugged and he looked from Dana back to Hosteen.

"Don't know any, except the fish I had. What species are we talking about here?"

"Cattle and horses."

Oh God. Mulder grimaced inwardly, but it appeared on his face.

"Aah. Do I have to touch them?" He asked hopefully.

Hosteen roared with laughter as he disappeared into the kitchen.


Chapter Eighteen

Two Grey Hills, Navajo Reservation, New Mexico
December 18 4.05pm

If he never saw another horse or cow it would be too soon!

Mulder leaned against the wooden railing of the corral to wipe his damp face with the sleeve of the borrowed flannel shirt. His whole body ached, especially his ass.

His shoulder wasn't too bad. The wound was healing but as the scab was forming, it was creating an irritating itch. That itch was forgotten with the ache the rest of his body was screaming at the moment.

Hosteen had taught him the basics of riding a horse and assisting to rope cattle. He caught on fast, but it would never eventuate to anything half-decent. That was fine with him but he would continue to help these people who had opened their home to him. At least he could offer his help until it was time for them to leave.

There had been no further incident following Tennessee. No tracking devices were detected anywhere on the vehicle, but he had exchanged the licence plate again. The Gunmen thankfully had provided him with four in total.

Perhaps all the major cities were being probed on an off chance they would be detected. There had also been no news announcements to report a body turning up along the highway.

"Hey!"

Dana stood at the bottom of the stairs, holding a small bottle, re-establishing his mind back to the task of restoring the corral. Mulder squinted at her as she strode toward him.

"Hey yourself."

She reached up and smoothed the persistent lock of hair back from his forehead and handed him the bottle. Lemonade.

"Great. Thanks. You read my mind."

"Always." She smiled up at him and watched him drain the bottle to the last drop before continuing. "So, how's it going, Tex?"

Mulder placed the empty bottle on one of the vertical beams and stretched backwards, hands on lower back.

"Don't make me live on a farm, okay?" A lost puppy expression donned his face.

"I'll give you a massage tonight." She laughed.

"Promise?" Mulder waggled his eyebrows.

"Down boy! Somehow I don't think you'll have any strength!"

"Well..." Mulder was interrupted by the undeniable sound of an engine.

Both searched for the approaching vehicle before Mulder hustled Dana before him inside the house.

Hosteen lumbered out of the stable, wiping his hands on an oil-stained rag. A commuter van bounced along the dirt track. He sensed no danger, though an impending fear gripped his heart.

Their time had come.

He positioned himself on the track ahead of them and waited for their approach. The van slowly braked before him and instantly the side door slid open.

Hosteen edged closer to greet four men. An oddly suited alliance of men but also oddly cohered.

"Albert Hosteen Jr.?" The tallest man, military-like, enquired.

"That's me."

"Skinner, Assistant Director, Washington, FBI." He held his hand for Hosteen to accept. "I'd like to thank you for your cooperation."

Hosteen nodded, turning to the three remaining men. Skinner hesitated. He had no idea how to introduce the Gunmen. He was rescued by a familiar voice.

"You guys are one sorry sight!" Mulder bounded along the track toward them, Dana not far behind.

Embraces from all the Gunmen to Mulder and Dana, Frohike studying Dana's thinness and not holding back a comment. Mulder stood before Skinner.

"Sir." Mulder extended his hand.

"You're not FBI any more, Mulder. You don't have to call me 'Sir'." Skinner grasped Mulder's hand in his.

"I... We appreciate this, Walter."

A little unnerved at the use of his given name, he had overlooked Dana. She touched his still extended hand, smiling.

"Thank you. I know that this goes far beyond anything you believe in and above all it can jeopardise your career." Dana reached both arms around Skinner's neck and embraced him fiercely.

Skinner's body tensed at the contact, but returned a hesitant pat to her back. She withdrew as Mulder was introducing the Gunmen to Hosteen.

Mulder peered into the van; a whistle escaped his lips.

"Guys, you brought me a Christmas present! I'm touched. What's with the other gadgets?"

"A few state of the art systems, perfected by yours truly." Langley leaned against the van. "It'll allow us to penetrate anything anywhere. Something that ... " He threw a thumb toward Skinner. "General Patton over there has trouble comprehending."

Skinner's jaw muscles rippled. How he had managed to endure even one day with these geeks was beyond him. Inwardly, he smiled.

"Well," Hosteen broke in "we should get everyone settled. You've come a long way and a long way to go."


7.33pm

"Man, that was some meal!" Langley patted his stomach for emphasis.

Hosteen's dining table would not have held so many people. It had been a fairly warm winter evening, allowing the use of his abandoned barbecue.

"In the last few days, my son and I have gained some weight. We have you to thank." Hosteen glanced at Dana. A flush appeared on her cheeks.

"I'm not a great cook, but it's really the least I could do for your generosity."

"On the other hand..." Mulder slid his arm across Dana's shoulders, not the slightest bit abashed in present company. "I think I've lost weight from all the work I've been made to do! I've got calluses on my ass!"

Laughter filled the yard, but was soon consumed by more pensive concerns.

"We'll need to rest up for a day and set out again tomorrow night." Skinner leaned forward in his chair, setting his empty beer bottle by his foot.

"It may take more than a day." Frohike contributed, bouncing William on his knee.

"Then we may need some time to set up and determine the type of systems they have." Byers added.

"Yeah, " Langley offered, "the satellite surveillance photos can only show us so much."

"What time?" Mulder rubbed Dana's shoulder. He could feel the tension building there; her eyes were focused on William, gurgling atop Frohike's lap.

"I'm thinking if we head off around eight at the latest, we'd reach Dallas during the cover of dark too." Skinner folded his arms. "We'll stop somewhere to rest up and survey the area."

"It'll be cutting it close." Mulder withdrew his arm from Dana's shoulder and leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees, both hands clasped together.

"What makes you think that all this involves Christmas?" Skinner persisted. "I mean, how can you be so sure? A holiday can mean various other times of the year."

"I just know. Call it a hunch. Gut instinct. Christmas is one of the longest holidays of the year when people are away from their homes. Even if I'm wrong, they're bound to release this plague some time. Better we hit them now than risk it and wait." Mulder leaned back in his chair.

Dana shivered. The time was soon approaching.


Chapter Nineteen

Two Grey Hills, Navajo Reservation, New Mexico
December19 7.25pm19 7.25pm

"No!"

Dana slammed her fist on the table. A red blemish was forming on the side of her palm from the force. The empty baby bottle toppled over and threatened to roll off the edge only to be caught by Byers' reflexes.

"Scully..." Mulder ran a hand through his hair, staring at his feet, not able to look into her eyes.

"How can you have decided this without me! How could you totally disregard my opinion in this! And YOU!" She rounded on Skinner. "How could you have even considered allowing him to manipulate you like this!"

Skinner glanced up and then away. He could not face the red headed fury standing before them. The group, minus Dana, had discussed the situation well into the morning and only one conclusion was inevitable. The risk to William and Dana was too great. They would have to remain behind.

"Scully." Mulder moved forward.

Skinner noted the hesitation in his steps. `Brave man', he thought.

"Scully, listen to reason, please." He reached for her. She brushed away his hand and sidestepped to scoop up William from the sofa beside Frohike.

"`Listen to reason'? Mulder, we're supposed to be in this together, remember? Or had that slipped your mind? We're going with you."

"No. Scully, listen to what you're saying! We ARE in this together, that's why you have to stay and protect Will. Frohike's agreed to remain with you." Mulder placed a hand on her arm. This time, she allowed his touch. "Come on, Scully, you're usually the rational one, the voice of logic. You know that this is the right decision. The ONLY decision."

Dana kissed the top of William's head. A tear trickled slowly down one cheek; another threatened to fall on the other. She lifted her eyes to Mulder. They were brimming with fear and defeat.

"When, Mulder?"

Mulder's eyes returned confusion.

"When will it be enough? When will it all end? Will there ever be a time that we can stop running, hiding, fearing for our lives, for William's life? Is there ever going to be a day that our lives will resemble anything normal? I want all that Mulder. We've given everything. I want something back in return. I want that for us, for William."

The tears were now in full force, her body shaking with sobs. Mulder held them both as tight as he could. Langley and Byers exchanged glances and retreated to the front yard. It was too intense.

Hosteen leaned on the kitchen counter, sipping coffee, taking in the entire scene. Skinner, still standing by the sofa with arms folded, shuffled his feet, not really sure whether he should leave or stay. He felt like a voyeur. Frohike remained on the sofa, staring into the blank television set.

"Mulder, it....it..." Dana tried between sobs, "it's just not fair. Is it so wrong that I... to want something so normal for us?"

"No, but we have to finish this, Scully. It has to end so that we can give that normal life to Will. I want that as much as you do. You know as well as I do, this is the only way."

"I can't do this without you, Mulder. You have to return to us so that we can at least try... for some... some sort of normality."

Mulder closed his eyes. He wanted that so much. Normal. When had his life been normal? Yes, he wanted to lead a normal life too and if it was not to be, at least he could at least try to give that to his son.

"Scully..."

"Promise me you'll come back." She gripped his jacket with such force that Mulder swayed a little toward her. "Please."

"Scully, you know I'll always be here." He touched her temple. "And here." He touched her heart. "And here." He stroked the top of William's head.

Dana's eyes brimmed with more tears. She knew he couldn't lie to her, but this once she'd hoped he would.

"Mulder, please don't... don't take risks. Be careful. For me. For us."

He nodded, cupping her face in his large hands. He was trembling, eyes moistened with his own tears.

"Scully... Dana, I... I want you to know that I love you. I've loved you for such a long time...I..." Dana placed a finger upon his lips.

"Don't. You can tell me when you come back. I'll hold you to that." She gently removed her finger and let her hand fall to his chest, craving the sensation of his heartbeat.

Mulder leaned down and brushed his lips against hers, chaste at first and then with an intense fervor. She returned in kind.

"I love you." He whispered.

"Love you right back." She sighed, eyes still closed, cheeks wet.

"Love you, too." Mulder kissed William's cheek. "Look after your mom."

Mulder stepped back, reached for his overnight bag by Frohike's feet and turned to Skinner, clearing his throat.

"Okay, let's get this show on the road."

He followed Skinner to the door before turning. Dana was clutching William, still sobbing openly. In only a few quick steps he was back beside her, one last hard press against her lips and then was gone.

Dana fell to her knees, balancing William awkwardly. Frohike jumped off the sofa and bent to take William. Hosteen hauled Dana to her feet, grasping her arms. Her entire body was trembling. He could do no more than hold her to his chest until her tremors would subside.


Chapter Twenty

Between Dallas and Waco, Texas
December 20 6.33pm

"He's been gone too long."

Mulder checked his watch for the fifth time in the last twenty minutes. Skinner ran a hand over his mouth and reclined in the passenger seat of the van.

"He was late coming back this morning too. Just give him a bit more time."

Mulder tapped the steering wheel with his left hand as he peered through the small binoculars at the site nestled in the valley below. Langley had needed to view the technology in place at the plant first hand. This was his second 'reconnaissance mission' for the day.

Byers was manning the radio, headpiece attached to his ear. He tapped the back of Skinner's seat.

"He's on his way." Byers smiled shoulders visibly relaxing. He had to admit he'd been a little concerned too. "Says he had to take a closer look at something and was almost detected so he had to wait for an appropriate moment to return."

Mulder exhaled loudly. He turned to Byers, obviously still conversing with Langley.

"Tell him to get his butt into gear. I thought he got most of his visual this morning!"

The side door of the van slid open. Langley's flushed face appeared before the rest of his body lurched forward into the cramped space.

"I heard that! And you should know why! I had to get inside this time to see what system they were actually using."

"Jesus, Langley!" Mulder's lips were a straight line. "Are you crazy?! You should have said that was your intention! You never said you were going inside for Chrissakes! You shouldn't have risked that alone!"

"Hey, man. Chill out! It was a last minute decision. I saw a gap in security and I took the chance." Langley threw his headpiece on the computer console.

"Fuck!" Mulder kicked his door open, jumped out and slammed it shut behind him. Skinner watched as Mulder paced back and forth behind the van through the rear view mirror.

Langley glared at Byers, folding his arms across his chest.

"What?" Langley asked Byers. "What did I do? When does he ever think things through before jumping headlong into a situation? Shit!"

Skinner craned around his seat to view both concerned faces.

"I'm sure he believes that whatever happens is on his shoulders alone. That's the way he is. He needs to feel in control of every situation."

"Yeah, well," Langley lowered his eyes, "he should consider that we're all in this together."

"Yeah." Skinner opened his door. "Now that's a concept he's not used to."

Mulder was still pacing as Skinner stood, arms folded behind him.

"Are you finished feeling sorry for yourself yet?" Skinner's voice was calm; there was no sting behind the remark.

Mulder spun around, eyes glaring.

"What?! What he did was downright stupid! He could've gotten killed! This whole operation could have been jeopardised!"

"'Operation'? This isn't an 'operation', Mulder. This is four men trying to take on a whole plant full of what looks like military guards! He was doing what he thought would assist us in destroying whatever it is down there."

Mulder went back to pacing, kicking dirt up behind his heels.

"Look," Skinner's tone became softer. "I know what you have at stake here."

"Do you?" Mulder halted, hands on hips. "Do you really know?"

"You think you're the only one who wants a future? A future for yourself and your family? What about everyone else? The world's not yours alone to look after, Mulder. If we fail, it's not your fault."

Mulder kicked a stone near the toe of his boot. Yeah, little did the rest of the world know what was about to happen if they did fail. Merry Christmas.

They were both startled when a ringing pierced the evening's silence. Skinner patted his jacket and dived into the inside pocket, retrieving his cell phone.

"Shit! I forgot I had the damn thing!" He looked at the illuminated screen. No registered number appeared. "Yeah? Who is this?" His eyes widened, turning them to Mulder. " What?! That's impossible!"

Mulder stepped beside Skinner, eyebrows raised in question. Skinner handed him the cell phone. Mulder looked from Skinner to the phone, sheer puzzlement blanketing his face. Skinner's eyes gave away his horror and shock. Mulder placed the phone to his ear.

"Yes?"

"Mulder?"

That voice was regrettably familiar, but it had to be a trick.

"Yes." Mulder answered cautiously.

"Been a while, my friend. Too long. We'll have to get together real soon."

"Krycek, you son of a bitch. You died. No one should know that better than the man standing right next to me."

"Now, Mulder," Krycek chuckled, "I'm the one that should know that better than anyone. I'm very much alive. What everyone thought they saw was a 'decoy' of sorts."

"A clone?"

"Something like that. Why do you think the body disappeared from the morgue?"

"Convenience? How did you get this number and what do you want?"

"What, no small talk after all this time?"

"Just get to the point!"

"I know a lot of things. I stay in the loop a lot so that I'm always on top of things. I need to be one step ahead of everything so that I feel needed."

Mulder was becoming tired of listening to Krycek's condescending tone. It was shocking enough to discover that he was alive, let alone hear his voice.

"Get to the fucking point!"

"Now, Mulder, such profanity! Okay, you need me to get into the facility in the valley. I need your cooperation."

"Why do I need YOU?"

"I can get you through security and I know the layout of the entire place - especially where you need to go. I know that you want to destroy the place. So do I."

"Yeah, right. When have you ever been on the right side of your conscience!"

"Believe it or not, I DO have one."

There was a muffled cry in the background. An infant. Mulder's heart sank.

"You fucking son of a bitch!" He spat into the phone.

Skinner leaned closer. What the hell was going on?

"Aah, I take it you heard that? I think he's just hungry."

"Shit!" Mulder fell back against the van, his knuckles where white where he was gripping the phone. He ran his other hand through his hair.

The jolt of his body against the van sent Langley and Byers scrambling out into the diminishing light of the evening. Byers ran into one of the shrubs camouflaging the van.

The sight of Mulder on a cell phone was unnerving and both Byers, rubbing his scratched arm and Langley looked to Skinner for confirmation. He shrugged. He was just as perplexed.

"Life's a bitch, isn't it?" Krycek chuckled into the phone again. "You wanna speak to the little woman?"

Shuffling noises in the phone.

"Mulder?"

Mulder's eyes clenched shut. He had thought they would be safe. Why did things always turn around and kick him hard?

"Are you okay?" He could not keep the sound of desperation from his voice.

"We're fine. It's Krycek, Mulder."

"I kind of figured that out. Are you REALLY okay?"

"Yes, a little shaken." She was obviously holding back tears. A lump was forming in his own throat.

"I'm sorry, Scully, I..."

"Mulder, " Dana cut in, "Marita's with him. She's sick. She..." There was a scuffle.

"Scully? Scully!"

The three men surrounding Mulder glanced at each other in shock.

"I think you've heard enough for now." Krycek returned.

"If you touch them I WILL KILL YOU!" Mulder's voice rose to a scream.

"I believe you would." Krycek answered softly. "So now that you know I'm serious, we're going to meet and you and I are going to help each other."

"Where are you?"

"In Dallas."

Shit. They would have been just behind.

"Okay," Krycek continued, "We'll come to you. I guess you'll be near the plant?"

"Above. There's a dirt track before Waco. No name: just a dirt track. There's a small white rock formation just before it."

"I guess we'll see you soon."


Chapter Twenty-One

Between Dallas and Waco, Texas
December 20 11.12pm

The low hum of an engine perpetrated the silence. Mulder shot a glance into the rear view mirror. There were no headlights. His heart was about to pound right through his ribcage as he quickly exited the van into the foliage, tracing the side of the vehicle to the rear.

Skinner jerked awake at the sound of Mulder's door opening. He checked for his weapon before tapping the computer screen in front of Langley and following Mulder to the back of the van. Langley turned to see the tail of Skinner's jacket retreating outside. He watched as Byers yawned and both joined Skinner and Mulder.

In the darkness, it was hard to distinguish the make of car that was approaching. By the sound of the engine, it was fairly large. It braked several feet away, enough so that the darkness was still enveloping the vehicle, making if difficult to see any figures within. The engine cut out.

A figure stepped from the shadows towards them. The figure was tall, dressed in a long coat both hands embedded in the coat pockets.

The figure stopped a few paces away, smiling. As soon as Krycek's face came into view, Mulder darted forward, only to find Skinner's hands roughly shoving into his chest pushing him backward.

"Easy, Mulder!" Skinner hissed into Mulder's face. "Just keep it together."

"Aah, Assistant Director Skinner. A pleasure as always. Sorry about the hour but we had a few stops along the way. I see you're still trying to keep him in line." Krycek's eyes darted between Skinner and Mulder.

"Just don't push your luck, Krycek. That is, if it IS Krycek."

"I assure you..."

"Where are they, you son of a bitch?!" Mulder pushed forward again, straining against Skinner's restraint.

"In the car."

"Let me see them."

"Later."

"NOW!!" Mulder pressed so hard against the hands holding him back that Skinner grunted with the effort.

"Mulder, you're so impatient." Krycek huffed and turned his head slightly toward the car, not leaving his eyes from Mulder. "Okay Dana, you can come out. Slowly."

Mulder shot Krycek a glare at using her given name and then squinted in the darkness as the rear door opened and another smaller figure ventured toward them.

Dana stepped beside Krycek, facing Mulder.

"Are you okay? Where's Will?" Mulder strained forward again, Skinner forcing him to stop.

"They're fine!" Krycek snapped. "I NEED them. Why would I hurt them?"

"We're okay, Mulder." Dana nodded. "Will's in the back."

"Hosteen and Frohike?"

Dana dropped her head.

"You bastard!" Mulder shoved Skinner aside but didn't move toward Krycek.

"They're not dead." Krycek chuckled. "You always jump to conclusions. They're just.... a little.... worse for wear."

Skinner was tensed, ready to restrain Mulder at any given moment. He stood straight, both hands on hips.

"What is it you want, Krycek? You haven't explained your intensions." Skinner's voice was placid, considering the tautness of his stomach muscles at that particular time. " How is it you need our help?"

"As Dana mentioned to you, Marita's with me. She's sick. In fact, we both are."

"Sick?" Mulder glanced at Dana. He couldn't see her eyes clearly enough in the shadows to see any hidden communication there.

"We've been infected with a virus." Krycek continued. "We've both been infected before..."

"If you've been infected before shouldn't you be immune?" Mulder interrupted.

"It was a different strain! God knows what those scientists thought they were trying to do. Maybe they thought if they could culture a different strain they could contain it, produce a vaccine that would destroy it."

"There's no vaccine for the new strain?" Skinner shifted slightly.

"No, but I think because we've been infected before, it slows the process down. There's no signs of infection for about a week and then it's downhill slowly." Krycek glanced back toward his car and returned his focus on Mulder. "Pain, fever, deterioration of skin and tissue."

"What's that got to do with us?" Mulder persisted.

"C'mon, Mulder, aren't you supposed to be the brilliant profiler or are you just playing dumb? Why do you think the Consortium was searching for the kid? He's got some kind of protein code that they needed."

"How do we know that you haven't been commissioned by the Consortium yourself? I'm not likely to trust you with your background, am I?"

Mulder tensed as Krycek removed his hands from the pockets of his coat. His right hand, gripping a Luger PO8, rubbed his temple. His prothetic arm hung limply at his side.

"Ask yourself why I just didn't take him and run then. I could have, but I'm here."

"Maybe it's just more of your lies..."

"Mulder, I think he's telling the truth this time." Dana interrupted. She took a step toward Mulder and was stopped by Krycek's outstretched arm before her, still gripping the pistol.

"What makes you think that?" Mulder still couldn't see her eyes properly.

"Well," Dana continued, "Marita is definitely ill. She's had a high fever and there's some discoloration of the skin. I've never seen anything like it, except..." She studied her feet for a moment before continuing. "This morning some of her skin... God, it was like what we saw in Dallas. The firemen. The deterioration of the skin and tissue... Mulder, it's similar to what we saw in Dallas. Krycek..." She studied the face of the man beside her. He nodded. "Krycek experienced some chills last night and a fever this morning. There's still no discoloration, but my guess is that it's only a matter of time."

"Time we're wasting talking about this." Krycek added. "Look, I'll help you get into the facility, screw up the system or whatever you had planned, but before we do destroy it, I need Dana to try and develop a vaccine."

"No!" Mulder folded his arms, shaking his head.

"I don't think you're in a position to deny me, Mulder." Krycek positioned the weapon beside Dana.

"You're not going to touch him!" Mulder motioned to step forward but halted when Krycek jabbed the pistol into Dana's side.

"Relax. I'm not going to touch him. Dana will do all that. She's the doctor. She's also the mother, so I don't think she's gonna hurt him, do you? We'll go and do whatever you've got planned first while Dana whisks up a scientific concoction. I think that's fair. Deal?"

"Scully?"

"Mulder," Dana's voice was slightly strained. "Krycek knows that with the limited time and resources and the lack of my own knowledge, that I may not be able to generate a vaccine. I would only need a little of William's blood, that's all."

"Then you're willing to do this?" Mulder unfolded his arms, placing them on his hips. "That means that both of you will have to enter the facility. Have you thought of that?"

"Yes, I have. Did you need to ask?" Dana's voice was raspy. It was now obvious she was crying. "I knew the risks you were going to take. With Krycek's security pass, you'll have a better chance. WE'LL have a better chance. I've also seen what this virus is doing. Mulder, if I can at least try..." Dana tried to compose herself, sniffing. "If you fail, then we don't stand a chance. There'll be no future. I don't want Will to exist without the hope of a future, Mulder."

Mulder could hear the tension in her voice. She was struggling with her emotions. Struggling hard. Struggling between being a doctor, a scientist and a mother and perhaps even as a lover and friend.

"Okay, it's your call then."


Chapter Twenty-Two

Nature's Best Corn Oil Plant Between Dallas and Waco, Texas
December 21 2.05am

"May I ask why you're here so early in the morning, Sir?" The guard leaned against the driver's window. He was cold and tired and was definitely not expecting any visitors at this God-forsaken hour.

"I have a few pieces of equipment that needed immediate delivery." Krycek replaced his ID to the inside of his coat pocket and smiled.

"I'll have to inspect the van, Sir."

The guard moved toward the side. Skinner tensed beside Krycek.

"I don't think that's a good idea." Krycek tilted his head through the open window.

The guard withdrew his hand from the side door. He readjusted his rifle, straightening his uniform.

"Is there a problem, Sir?"

"Yes. I also have some test subjects in there. Actually quite contagious."

The guard retreated a step, gripping the strap of his weapon tighter.

"Oh, don't worry," Krycek smiled, "they're within contained units, but you never can be too careful, you know."

"Which facility, Sir?" The guard scratched his stubbled chin and turned toward the boom gate.

"Several. A few deliveries. Also have some equipment that was asked for. I have clearance to all and I know where I'm going, thank you." Krycek released the handbrake and before changing gears, leaned towards the window again. "Is there anyone else about?"

"Sir?"

"I'd hate to scare anyone at this hour, you know, especially anyone armed like yourself."

"I'll radio forward to let security know you're about. There were some doctors working late, but they left a few hours ago."

"Appreciate it. Thanks. It may take us a couple of hours at most."

The boom gate was lifted allowing the van through. Skinner exhaled the breath he was holding. Krycek glanced at him.

"Piece of cake." He grinned.

"It's not over yet." Skinner shifted in his seat.


2.15am

Mulder squeezed Dana's hand as he rubbed William's back pressing him gently against his own chest. William had begun to whimper just as the van stopped. It was a tight squeeze with all the equipment and extra bodies. Byers and Langley were furiously trying to replicate Krycek's security pass in the limited time given them. Langley was adamant it could be done. If they split up, each with a pass, they could cover more ground in less time.

They had cleared space on the floor for Marita by placing the duffel bags at the very rear of the van, lying them carefully on top of the other. Mulder and Dana were squeezed by the side door, Langley and Byers side by side at the computer and other equipment opposite, with Marita's body wrapped in an army issue blanket between them.

Marita's face was bathed in perspiration. Occasionally she moaned, but for the most part she was still, almost lifeless. Dana had to check her pulse often to assure herself she hadn't slipped away. Her breathing was shallow and her heartbeat was faint. The perspiration was the only evidence that she was still alive.

Mulder had noted the discoloration on Marita's neck as Dana checked her pulse, lifting the blanket slightly. It was more than a bruising. The skin at her collarbone was actually clear, like jelly. He caught a glimpse of muscles and veins behind the jelly-like substance and turned away. It was amazing that she was still holding on.

The van jolted and was mobile once more.

"Done!" Byers broke the silence. He turned to face Mulder and Dana, a finger on his lips. "Sorry. Got a little excited." He lowered his voice. "The passes are completed but we have no way of testing them out before we try them."

"We've also had limited time to make them." Langley turned away from the screen. "But they're not THAT high tech. Pretty much average army shit, so our replicas should work. That's if Rat-boy's pass is actually valid."

Now that was a thought. Was he being played a fool again? Krycek had actually seemed concerned for Marita. Of course, he had his own sorry hide on the line this time.

"I guess we'll find out soon enough, won't we? Great work guys."

Mulder bent his head placing a kiss on William's temple. William's small hand tapped Mulder's chin.

"Da. Da."

"Shh, Will. Shh." Mulder kissed William's temple again, continuing to gently rub his back.

Dana felt guilt flood through her as she watched Mulder with William beside her. She had agreed to try and produce a vaccine. Between what she knew from both Mulder and Krycek, it was something that had eluded the most knowledgeable of scientists for months, if not years. But they did not have William. Mulder had said that he was `the key'.

It was only some blood. William's blood. Her son.

She would be using her son.

It was a chance to help destroy this possible future the Consortium had planned.

She would be using her son.

She didn't want William to see that possible future, a devastating plague ravaging human bodies.

She was using her son.

Mulder squeezed her hand. His eyes were definitely the window to his soul. There was no blame, just understanding.

"It's okay, Scully." Mulder whispered, leaning closer.

She squeezed his hand in return. He understood. She didn't need to explain, he knew her too well and he was not judging her.

The van stopped. Langley and Byers tensed, grasping for the security passes between them.

"Okay." Mulder scrambled to his knees, passing William to Dana. "It's time."


Chapter Twenty-Three

Nature's Best Corn Oil Plant Between Dallas and Waco, Texas
December 21 2.35am

"Okay, I'll drop you off at the areas you were given like I explained before. Use the passes. Any codes will be the numbers that I gave you or the code name `Purity Control 2'."

Krycek absently rubbed his neck, wondering if he'd forgotten anything.

"If you run into security, just tell them that you're dropping off equipment. The guard at the gate should've already notified them by now. Just keep any weapons and other shit you have in those bags secure."

"What's detonation time?" Langley asked, making mental notes.

"We'll need to get out before light. Things start happening around here from about 5.30am." Krycek glanced at his watch. "It's now just after 2.30. What's say we make it 5 and meet back at the top of the valley at 4.30? Remember to use the right track behind the main lab. There's not a lot of guards around at this hour, but..."

"That'll give us less than two hours." Skinner checked his own watch. "Is that enough time?"

"It'll have to be." Mulder touched Dana's arm. "It's not enough time for you, though, is it?"

Dana glanced up from checking Marita; William cradled on her shoulder.

"Krycek seems to think that the second lab in the facility should have the basics already set out for me to work from. Hopefully it'll only be a matter continuing with Will's blood. But I can't tell until I see what's already been done."

Krycek leaned over the van's side door. Skinner and Krycek were both crowded into the opening. Krycek was becoming impatient, not wanting to stay any longer than necessary.

"Look, if it seems like we're cutting it too close, we'll take what we need and hightail it out of there, okay? We need to get started." Krycek dropped his eyes to Marita's body. "I'll take Marita, Dana and the kid to the lab, so we'll be last. I'll drop off those two," He nodded to Byers and Langley, "at the storage unit where they keep the bees. Skinner and you," He turned to Mulder's cold glare, "can take the other lab where the test subjects are. They're all dead so don't try to save any."

"Why are we supposed to trust you on your own?" Mulder snapped.

"Okay," Krycek let out a breath, seemingly exasperated, "then give her a weapon. Then we'll both be armed. I told you, we're helping each other here. I just needed you to listen to me before so I used a little `persuasion'." He grasped the side of the door. "The sites that I located are all the main focus areas. If they're destroyed, there'll be nothing left to try and recreate the virus. You need to focus on those."

"We've assembled enough bombs to place two in each location." Langley interrupted. "Shouldn't be anything left to sift through once we're done."

"I'm going with you." Mulder was still glaring at Krycek. "Skinner can take care of the main lab. You won't have time to set the bombs."

"Mulder, just go with Skinner." Krycek leaned forward, crowding Mulder's space. "That's the bigger of the two labs. When you've finished there, you're welcome to come join me. I promise I'll be a good boy."


4.05am

Dana glanced at her watch again. Time was advancing too quickly. She checked on William. He was curled up on several blankets a few steps away from her on the floor of the lab. Part of a bandaid peeped out from the inner crook of his elbow as his hand twitched under his chin.

She had tried to soothe him by constantly murmuring to him and kissing his cheeks as the syringe pierced his arm. William had whimpered but did not cry. Dana wept openly in his place. The piercing of his skin had pierced her own heart.

"How's it going, doc?" Krycek approached her from behind. Startled, she fumbled with one of the glass slides.

"Jesus!" She exhaled loudly, composing her thoughts and the grasp on the slide.

"What? Didn't hear me coming? Oh, I forgot, you've been out of touch for awhile."

Dana ignored his comment and peered through the microscope.

"There were abundant samples of the vaccine they were working on and I've managed to understand some of the coding...."

"But?" Krycek peered over her shoulder. His warm breath on her neck made her nervous and she shifted slightly.

"It's not as easy as a recipe for apple pie. You can't just add a few spices to make it better."

Krycek leaned against the bench beside her.

"I thought it might have been a matter of adding... you know... So, does this mean you can't...?"

"I'm trying!" Dana slammed her hand on the bench by the microscope. Two petri dishes jumped at the vibration.

"Okay, okay!" Krycek held both hands in front of him. "There's not much time left. I'd just like to know the truth."

Dana sighed and then a laugh escaped from within.

"The truth. God, isn't everyone after the truth? The truth is what's brought us all to this." She inhaled deeply. "The truth is, I don't know if I can administer this."

"You've finished?" Krycek stepped away from the bench, searching her face.

"It should be taken through a few more processes before..."

"What, like pasteurising milk before we drink it?"

"Something like that. It's undiluted. It may need..."

"We don't have time for that." Krycek stared at the test tubes partially filled with a yellow substance set near the microscope.

"I know there's no time, but you said that we could take what we have..."

"I know what I said." Krycek interrupted, reaching for one of the test tubes. "That was with regards to the detonation time. This..." He jiggled the tube in front of Dana's face, "is to do with Marita's time."

Krycek moved toward Marita lying on the metal table behind them, still holding the tube. Dana gripped his arm.

"The truth is... Krycek, I don't know if it'll work. Do you really want to risk it?"

"I don't think there's a choice. She'll die even if we don't try." Krycek returned the tube to Dana and bent near Marita's face. He placed a finger on her cheek and drew it back almost immediately. His finger was covered with a sticky residue.

Dana clasped Krycek's wrist to view the substance more closely.

"My God..." She positioned her latex-gloved hand over Marita's neck, checking for a pulse. She was still alive - barely. Part of her neck was now jelly-like, even the bone was now a soft mass.

"Do it." Krycek demanded. "Now." He brushed Dana's arm gently, the strain on his face relaxing somewhat. "Please."

Dana opened a metal cabinet beneath the bench. As she reached for the packet of syringes, the door swung open. A young soldier stepped in, a semi-automatic rifle directed at them.

"Please refrain from what you're doing and step slowly toward me. Any weapons should be placed on the floor where I can see them." The soldier's voice quavered but the words formed as he had committed to memory.

"Well, hello there." Krycek smiled, moving forward as directed and placing his hand to the inside of his coat. The soldier twitched, weapon straightening. "Whoa, buddy! I'm just reaching for my ID."

Krycek held out the leather wallet before him. The soldier stepped forward. As the soldier focused on the ID, Krycek thrust the wallet into the young man's face, a sickening crunch as bones were fractured with the force.

The soldier gasped in pain and disbelief, tightening his grip on the rifle including his finger on the sensitive trigger. A round escaped, echoing through the room.

Dana lunged to the floor, covering William with her body. A bullet ricocheted off the metal table missing Marita's body and hit the bench above Dana, knocking over the microscope. William, startled awake by the noise and his mother's tight grip around him, started to whimper.

The echo of the bullets receded, the only sounds were William's soft mewling and her own heartbeat pulsating in her ears. There was also a panting. Someone was gasping for air.

Dana craned her neck. Her view from the floor was limited. She could only see two pairs of boots.

Holding William against her, Dana scurried along the floor to the first pair of feet. The young soldier was out cold, blood trickling from his mangled nose. Krycek lay beside him, face down, breathing rapid and slightly raspy. She pulled at his coat, forcing his body to roll over. Krycek moaned. His sweater was soaked in blood.


Chapter Twenty-Four

Nature's Best Corn Oil Plant Between Dallas and Waco, Texas
December 21 4.15am

Mulder left Skinner at the rear of the main lab, requesting him to check on Byers and Langley. Though he was confident they were capable of their task, he needed the reassurance of Skinner's expertise to get them back above the valley safely.

Footsteps approached. He ducked for the cover of shadows by the side of one of the buildings and waited for the footsteps to recede into one of the structures opposite. He peered around the corner, looking up at the door. The smaller laboratory.

A green light flashed twice on the device and beeped, allowing access to the counterfeit card. Mulder pushed through, searching for the room where Dana and William had been taken. He peered through several windows; all was dark and deserted.

Gunfire reverberated through the hallway. Mulder re- directed his steps towards the source and picked up his pace. He should never have left Krycek alone with them! Fuck!

Light from a window at the end of the next hallway beckoned to him. Not caring if his footfalls could be heard he ran to the door, skidding to a halt. Colt gripped in his right hand; he forced his left to push against the door.

Dana was kneeling on the floor beside Krycek, one hand pressing a bloodstained blanket against Krycek's chest, the other holding William.

Dana, on hearing the door open, scrambled for the rifle still strapped on the unconscious soldier's arm. She dropped the barrel of the weapon as Mulder rushed through the door.

Tears were streaming down her cheeks and the front of her sweater was stained crimson. Mulder, not sure if the blood was hers, knelt beside her, tugging at her sweater, touching her face.

"Are you hurt? What happened? William?"

"It's not our blood, Mulder." She continued to press down on Krycek with the blanket. "It happened so fast. There's three bullets..."

"Hey, I can hear you. It's my chest, not my ears." Krycek opened his eyes. His voice was strained, blood spattered on his lips.

"I'll go get Skinner." Mulder leaned closer into Krycek's view. "I can't carry you and Marita both. We'll grab what we can and get the hell out of here."

Surprising both Mulder and Dana, Krycek laughed, turning into coughs, splattering more blood around his mouth.

"Mulder..."Krycek stilled Dana's pressure on his chest. " Why do you always have to be a martyr? There's no time. Take them and go. You have about a half-hour to get out of range. I've already set the bombs." He coughed again.

"There's still time." Mulder started to pull him off the ground. Krycek grabbed his wrist.

"No! There's no time. I thought maybe there was a chance, but... Marita and I are as good as dead. Go!"

Footsteps echoed down the hall. Mulder pushed one of the chairs near a computer desk to the door, jamming it under the handle. Torn, he searched Dana's face and returned his focus on Krycek.

"Use the..." Krycek coughed thicker blood onto his lips. "Use the other door. Go down the stairs.... Basement.... Like a tunnel... Leads to outside..." He gasped for air.

Dana wiped Krycek's mouth with the blanket. He stared at her, pupils dilating before her.

"Good luck. Give me... rifle." His hand grabbed the air in front of Dana.

Dana pulled at the straps releasing the weapon from the soldier's shoulder and positioned it beside Krycek's good arm. He fumbled for the trigger.

"Maybe... can live long enough... get off... few rounds." He smiled.

Mulder stood behind Dana. William peered over his mother's shoulder. Through teary eyes, he recognised the figure standing over him and outstretched his arms, wriggling in Dana's grip. Mulder reached for William and placed him within his jacket for warmth. The zipper only reaching up to the bulge around William's back.

Mulder tapped Dana's shoulder with his free hand.

"We've gotta go."

The handle of the door jiggled. Mulder tensed, pulling Dana up from the floor beside him. Loud thuds began.

"Go!" Krycek tilted the rifle to the door, slightly adjusting his head from the floor.

Dana fled to the bench, grabbing the other test tube and searching for computer disks. Mulder grasped her hand holding the tube.

"We don't have time!"

"But..."

"Leave it! In a few more minutes we won't need it. Come on!"

Mulder pulled with such force, Dana lost her grip on the tube and it toppled to the floor, smashing on the tiles at their feet. She stared at it blankly for a moment and then followed him through the back door.

The basement was like a maze of hallways. Krycek hadn't mentioned this area when he had explained the locations for the bombs to be set. He supposed he hadn't needed to.

Which way?

On gut instinct, Mulder ran to the left pulling Dana along after him, hoping that he wasn't disoriented with the darkness. Hoping that they were going in the right direction. Hoping that they would be in time to escape the impending explosions.


4.58am

Where the hell were they?

Skinner peered through the small binoculars again. It did little good in the darkness, but it made him feel like he was doing something. Langley was chewing on his nails again and Byers paced the side of the van for the seventh time - or was it more? Probably more.

"Something's wrong, man." Langley mouthed around his finger. "I can feel it."

"Maybe we should go back down." Byers stood beside Skinner, hoping the taller man could give them some direction.

"We can't." Skinner thrust the binoculars back into his jacket pocket. "There's no time. They're probably climbing up the side now. We just can't see because of the darkness." He was trying more to convince himself.

"Yeah." Langley continued to gnaw on his tender nail. "Right."

"We should have taken the radio headgear with us. At least then we would have had contact." Byers leaned back against the van, fear entering his voice.

"And if any guards saw that? How were you going to explain it? Come on, guys, that man's got more lives than a cat. He..."

A loud explosion pierced his words. A bright cloud of flame illuminated the darkness. Several more explosions followed, creating mushroom clouds in the valley below. Flames could be seen between the clouds and debris. Smaller explosions continued on.

Skinner stared into the valley, silently watching the destruction of their making. Byers hung his head, chin resting on his chest. Langley ceased biting his nail and slumped to the ground.


Chapter Twenty-Five

Epilogue

Washington D.C. OPR
December 27 10.15am

"So, what is it you're saying exactly, Assistant Director Skinner?"

Skinner sat forward leaning against the wooden table in front of him. Perspiration beaded his brow and his upper lip. The assembly before him looked upon him for answers, answers that he didn't know if he could provide with satisfaction. He clasped his hands on top of the table and continued.

"What I'm trying to explain is that Agent Dana Scully and her son were taken to this facility against her will. This facility that on the outside was a corn oil plant, but a cover up for some laboratories, laboratories that were conducting inexplicable tests."

"You have proof of this?" Director Langer peered over his glasses at Skinner.

"No. Unfortunately any proof was lost in the explosion."

"I see. And why did you happen to be there?"

"I received a call from my assistant, Kimberley Cook to report on Agent Scully's whereabouts. I was in Dallas at the time, on leave."

"I see." Langer scribbled on his notes. "Please continue."

"Fox Mulder..."

"The former Special Agent Mulder?" Langer interrupted.

"That's right." Skinner pushed his glasses further up his nose. " Mulder apparently tried to assist Agent Scully's escape from this facility but he wasn't successful." Skinner's eyes dropped to his hands. "There was evidence of bone fragments. It was hard to abstract any DNA samples, but they appear to be both male and female. Other bones were incinerated completely with the intense heat of all the chemicals."

"So, Assistant Director Skinner, you are telling us that both Mr. Mulder and Agent Scully were killed in this explosion?"

"Yes Sir."

"And the child?"

"As I said, other bones were completely incinerated. Agent Scully would not have left her child alone. Therefore we deduced that they died together. All three of them."


Old Horse Springs, New Mexico
July 4 5.35pm

Jeff Hastings skimmed over the last paragraph of his research report. Damn, it was good! Pretty boring, but good nonetheless.

He reached for the glass of lemonade beside the computer keyboard, his wedding band clinking on the glass. The liquid was cool and refreshing in this weather. He'd have to see if he could fix the cooler tomorrow. He leaned back and stretched his arms over his head, popping some neglected joints.

The lock on the front door jiggled and a petite redhead pushed through, carrying two large carry-bags.

"Hey!"

"Hey." Jeff noticed the carry-bags. "What's that? I thought shops were closed today."

"Oh, I had these at the office." Kate Hastings placed the bags by the door and strode over behind her husband. "Finished?"

"Yeah, just about." He grabbed her waist and pulled her onto his lap, kissing her briefly on the lips. "How come you had to go into the clinic today anyway? It is a holiday, or had you forgotten?"

"People get sick even on holidays, you know." Kate looked around the room. "Where's Will?"

"In his room. It took me forever to get him to sleep. He doesn't want to nap any more. He thinks that an almost 3-year-old shouldn't have to have an afternoon nap."

"And you convinced him otherwise?"

"In a manner of speaking."

Kate studied the living room floor. There were toys strewn everywhere. Her husband buried his face in the crook of her neck.

"I meant to clean up." His voice was muffled and tickled her skin. "He wore me out."

"Okay." She chuckled and brushed the wayward lock of hair from his brow. "Is he up?"

"Yeah, he wanted to dress himself."

"Oh. Independent."

"Yeah," Jeff kissed her cheek, "like his mother."

"Well," Kate slid off her husband's lap and made her way to the kitchen, "I've got some sparklers in the bag that I think will be safe for tonight. We'll take the chicken and the pie that I made to the lake and join the others..."

A little boy ran through the hallway into the living room.

"Will, don't run in the house." Jeff scolded.

"We did 'fore!" Will replied a little out of breath.

"Yeah, well, not in front of your mother anyway." Jeff whispered.

"I heard that!" Kate shouted from the kitchen.

The woman could hear a pin drop in a crowded room! Jeff grinned. He noticed his son venturing toward the front door.

"Where are you going?"

"Someone coming." There had been no doorbell, no knocking.

"Will, don't do that."

"Do what?" Will turned from the door.

"Don't.... Remember when we talked about reading the end of a story before anyone else knows what's going to happen?"

Will nodded.

"Well, people don't understand that you know the ending before they do."

"Okay." Will turned back to the door. "But it's Uncle Walter."

He was late.

Kate ran to the door, followed by Jeff. The door opened to reveal Walter Skinner, hand in the air before him ready to rap on the wood.

"Hi Uncle Walter!" Will strained up to see the face of the tall figure before him. He was almost as tall as his father.

"Hey Will." Skinner ruffled the child's hair affectionately.

"Walter." Jeff extended his hand.

Kate pulled Skinner into a hug that he eventually returned. He was still not used to this type of affection from this woman.

"We thought you'd be earlier, but you're just in time." Kate pulled away and straightened her floral dress. "We're just about to go to a picnic by the lake with the rest of the town. Fireworks tonight."

"Are you sure?" Skinner seemed uncomfortable.

"Of course we are. Why wouldn't we be? You were supposed to spend the day with us remember? Since you're late, you can spend the evening."

"I... ah... have someone..." Skinner stared at his feet.

Kate and Jeff glanced over at Skinner's rental car by the curb. A pretty blonde waved at them. Kimberley.

"You old dog!" Jeff punched Skinner's arm playfully.


Sunset came early as they strolled over to the festivities by the lake. Kimberley joined Kate at the hotdog stand. Skinner accompanied Jeff to greet Albert Hosteen Jr. and share a beer. Hosteen's scar on his right temple was slowly fading from his ordeal with Krycek some month's back. Will, chaperoned by John Hosteen, played on the makeshift swings by the trees.

Fireworks were being prepared and a light breeze made the heat of the evening bearable.

"Walter! Walter!" Kimberley's scream pierced the murmur of the small crowd by the lake.

Skinner and Jeff looked up. Kimberley was crouched on the ground, holding someone in her arms. Picnic basket and blankets at their feet. Jeff focused on the figure and rushed forward, almost knocking Hosteen over.

"Scully!" Jeff touched her Kate's cheek. It was damp.

"Scully?" The plump lady from the town's general store looked down at him, hotdog dripping mustard on her hand.

"It... It's a pet name..." He waved her off. He couldn't be bothered right now. His heart was beating too fast and he couldn't think of anything but the woman lying before him. "Hey. What happened?" He tried to keep his voice calm, lifting her head.

"I don't..." Kate tried to raise her body up. Dizziness swept her again. "Dizzy."

"You don't have to try and get up yet." Jeff placed a strand of auburn hair behind her ear. "Just relax. Breathe."

"I'm fine." Kate sat up quickly. Another wave of dizziness swept through her and something trickled from her nose. She placed a finger under her nostril.

Blood.


Jeff held Will tight on his lap. William had said nothing in the past hour. He had understood that his father was not in the mood to speak, but he needed his strength right now. He didn't know how he knew. He just did.

Skinner approached Jeff slowly, Kimberley by his side. The hospital corridor was empty except for the nurse at the desk.

"Any news?" Skinner sat beside Jeff. Will shifted slightly.

"Not yet. Doctor's been in and out but hasn't given any report yet." Jeff did not look up.

"Hey, Will." Kimberley patted Will's arm. "Wanna come and get something to drink with me?"

Will tilted his head so that his father could see his face.

"Can I?"

Jeff glanced up at Kimberley. His eyes were red and haunted. She had seen that look before.

"I won't let him out of my sight. I promise." She bent down and whispered. "I'm also armed."

Jeff nodded and Will promptly jumped from his lap, extending his hand toward Kimberley. Jeff watched them walk along the corridor hand in hand.

"He's a good kid." Skinner sat back against the wall.

"Yeah."

The door before them opened and a doctor, wearing the customary white coat and stethoscope around his neck exited. He smiled at Jeff.

"If you'd like to join us?"

Jeff sprang to his feet and entered the room, leaving Skinner alone on the seat.

Kate was sitting atop the only bed in the room. She was buttoning the top of her dress. She gave a strained smile. Jeff sat in the chair beside the bed.

"So?" Jeff began. "What was it? Sun stroke?"

"In the evening?" Kate arched an eyebrow at him.

"No, I think we can rule that out." The doctor smiled. "We can also rule out your fears too, Mrs. Hastings."

Kate stood by the bed, reaching for her husband's hand.

"Your blood count is fine." The doctor continued. "I can show you the results if you like. I understand you're in remission, but I have double-checked all the tests. You're fine."

Both Kate and Jeff exhaled loudly.

"Then, why...?" Kate looked from the doctor to Jeff.

"I don't know about the nose bleed. Sometimes they just happen. Like in children. Have you been feeling nauseous lately, Mrs. Hastings?"

"No... Well, I... one time last week..." Kate tried to recall. Jeff squeezed her hand.

"Well, the dizziness and nausea is common. "

"Common?" Kate was not following.

"Mrs. Hastings, you're pregnant. Just over three months to be exact."

"Pregnant?" It was Jeff's turn. "But, she can't... I mean...."

"Well, I can assure you, she is. We can set up an ultrasound for you in a few days if you like. I must say though, I already know the sex. Would you like to know?" The doctor could not understand the confusion in both parents' faces.

Kate let out a gasp. Tears overflowed down her cheeks. She turned to her husband. He was smiling wide with that lopsided grin of his.

Of course, she would have to re-check all of the tests, but this doctor was so sure; so confident. She had never imagined... Yet, she also had William. She was now blessed with a new life, a family, a new beginning.

Kate nodded to the doctor.

"A girl."

Kate clasped her husband's face in her hands.

"A girl." She kissed his cheek. He nodded. "Samantha. I like that name."

The End


Aaaah, I love a happy ending! ;) Thank you for all your feedback and coming along with me for the ride.

I was thinking of a sequel - but SHORTER stories. I think I'll wait to hear from the readers before I decide. Let me know.

Happy Holidays! The Fox

Read A New Life now.

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