Title: Hint of Resurrection
Author: EllieL
Fandoms: The X-Files, Fringe. Set Post-IWTB/early S1 Fringe.
Relationship: Mulder/Scully
Characters: Fox Mulder, Dana Scully, Olivia Dunham, William Van de Kamp
Additional Tags: Crossover, Post-Movie(s), Novel

Summary: Olivia Dunham examines files from the old X-Files division, and requests a reluctant consult from former agent Fox Mulder.

Chapter 1

Boston, MA
October 2008

One stormy evening, Olivia finally made the time to look through the pile of folders Broyles had given her, with the suggestion that it might enlighten her understanding of the Fringe Division. Thunder rumbled and wind swept rain across her windows as she poured a neat tumbler of whisky and settled on the couch, the files and her laptop on the coffee table before her.

Most of the files were from the prior decade, all copies, no originals, and nearly all of them were signed by F. Mulder and D. Scully. The names rattled around her head as she skimmed through the first few files, on mysterious cancers and hybrid children and implanted microchips. A fat folder in the middle of the pile was dedicated to men who, like the children in the prior file, seemed to be hybrids of some kind, but of a malicious nature. For a long moment she studied a photograph of a polished steel stiletto; still vaguely uncomfortable with the idea of discharging her gun, the idea of having to use such a weapon at close range seemed at once barbaric and highly personal. She drew a long, slow draught of the whisky.

The next file was slimmer, a simple casefile, the old X number still on the tab above the newly designated Fringe number. A rogue progeria researcher had, in one case, actually managed to reverse the aging process. Unfortunately, that lone case had been a thief and murderer who'd used the new lease on life to return to his prior crimes. Looking at the dates, she wondered how much such black-label research might have advanced in the intervening fourteen years, and what bearing it might have on the case she'd recently investigated. Broyles must have recognized the implications when he gave her this file.

Those implications were swept aside when she read of the death of Special Agent Reggie Purdue of Violent Crimes while working the case. Suddenly the names that had stuck in her brain clicked in to place, and she remembered what she'd heard of Agent Mulder. By the time she'd been at the Academy, he'd become a cautionary tale, a preternaturally gifted Icarus whose brilliance had burned too brightly and crossed that fine line into madness, spiraling down and crashing, taking his partner with him. The story went that he'd had something of a break with reality, intensified by being indulged with years of work on the X-files in hope that he would get himself together again and be able to return to profiling, where he'd done such extraordinary work. Instead, he'd finally snapped, murdering a soldier at a military research facility, then escaping after his trial, along with Agent Scully. Vaguely, she recalled hearing that the conviction had been overturned and clearance had been given last winter for him to be brought in on a consult.

Olivia let the casefile fall to her lap as she sipped the whisky, feeling the slow burn of the alcohol as her thoughts swirled like the liquid in her glass. Placing the tumbler back down on its coaster, she skimmed the tabs on the edged of the files, pausing when she reached one labeled simply "Mulder," handwritten in a clear, precise cursive. Flipping quickly through the pages, she saw some handwritten notes, copies of other casefile pages, cross-referenced in the old X-numbers, a few neatly typed pages, but paused when she came to a copy of a death certificate, issued in 2001. Her brow furrowed, staring down at Fox William Mulder's name as decedent. She flipped back to the beginning of the file, and began to read.

As she read, a different picture formed. Closer to Phaeton, he'd tried to understand and harness powers he couldn't control or even fully understand, and it had destroyed him. He had not been tried. He'd been exiled.

Two nights later, Olivia pulled the "Mulder" file close to her hip as she leaned forward to reach her laptop on the coffee table. With a few clicks, she was into the FBI's database, and quickly called up records relating to Fox Mulder. He'd been consulted on a case last winter, an organ harvester who'd been creating his own Frankensteinian monster, trying to cheat death. When she read the information on Agent Whitney's death, she knew why the case had stayed in her memory; she'd worked with Whitney before, had done a few profiles for her.

There was nothing regarding further consultation work by Mulder. She was surprised that Broyles hadn't done so, given the nature of his prior work on the X-files. Just from the few casefiles and summary compilations, there was a shocking amount in common with the types of investigations they had been, and would be, pursing in the Fringe division. She didn't put much credence in the vast government conspiracy regarding extraterrestrials that had been included in the trial information, but the man certainly had an extraordinary knowledge base that they could utilize.

The last contact information was an address on a rural route in southwestern Virginia, and a cell number with a 434 area code. There was no email, and she frowned, looking at the clock over her mantle. It was too late to call tonight, and an email would have been a bit more subtle and less official. She added the number to her phone's contacts, then dove back into the oddness that had been investigated in the past decade.

He tried to be quiet as he moved about the kitchen, casting an occasional glance at the clock ticking over the doorway. Scully had gotten in late last night, well past two, when he'd finally dozed off. It was rare she had two days off together, time to rest, so he'd crept from bed around eight and left her to sleep, planning to rejoin her later with breakfast The seconds were now ticking up on ten, and the coffee was beginning to percolate, the mere aroma waking him up a bit and intensifying his scrambling of the eggs.

His worry over keeping her breakfast tray hot was alleviated when he heard the creak of the fourth stair, the one that continued to squeak despite all his best efforts, and even her attempt at repair. It retained a distinctive creak, and they'd given up on fixing it. She peered around the corner, still looking half-asleep, and yawned in greeting. He smiled back, giving a little wave with the spatula.

"You're ruining my plans for your day off, Scully."

"Mmm, and what plans were those?" She crossed the kitchen, making a beeline for the coffee pot. He cut her off by wrapping an arm around her waist, lifting her to sit on the edge of the counter while he poured her a cup, adding half a teaspoon of sugar and a generous portion of skim milk. For a moment, her fingers closed over his as he passed her the mug, and she blew gently on the steaming liquid while looking up at him. His fingers slipped down her arms to her elbows, then across her back, pulling her against him.

"Oh, I was thinking of how much you like to sleep in," he whispered against her ear. "But that just maybe waking you would be all right, if I brought up breakfast."

"And coffee. Don't forget the coffee." She smiled at him, a grin playing at the corners of her lips. They'd both been happier, a little more playful, since he'd been free to leave the house, to bring home strange things from the grocery store and prowl through used bookstores.

"I'd never forget your coffee. You're mean without it." He grinned, and she pinched his bicep with a little growl. "Maybe see if we can break in those nice new sheets a bit." When he bought the sheets, she'd protested, saying that just because he now had access to his bank accounts, it didn't mean he needed to go spending it on fripperies. But he'd heard her delighted sigh as she'd slipped between the 1200 thread count Egyptian cotton two nights ago.

A faint smile tugged at the corners of her mouth as she sipped tentatively at the hot coffee. "It would be a shame to get them dirty, though. I thought I saw blueberry pancakes, and those might stain something awful." There was a wicked glint in her eye that he appreciated.

He gave her a quick kiss, tasting the milky coffee on her lips, then stepped aside to remove the eggs from the burner. "Well, we'll just have to eat down here then, and make our way--"

The trilling of his phone interrupted the thought, and the both turned to look at it. Mulder frowned at the caller ID, which displayed only a number whose area code he easily recognized from boyhood. "Boston?"

"The house?" While his mother's residences in Rhode Island and Connecticut had sold quickly once he was able to reclaim possession of them, the Chilmark house had been sitting on the market for nearly six months. Scully had argued briefly to keep for a vacation home on the water, but they'd both eventually agreed that it was not a house with memories they wanted to keep.

"Maybe." He shrugged and hit the TALK button. "Mulder."

"Mr. Mulder, this is Olivia Dunham. I'm an agent with the Bureau--" His eyes grew wide, and he stepped away from Scully to lean against the opposite counter. "--working in a division that's taking over some of the cases you investigated during your time with the X-files division."

He cleared his throat, and said, "How can I help you?" The words seemed to come with effort, catching in his throat.

"Your prior work X-file casework is now part of the Fringe division, and my SAC passed along some of your old casefiles to me for review. Several of them seem to bear a striking number of similarities with an escalating pattern of events we're investigating."

Scully had put the coffee cup down on the counter, and was eyeing him suspiciously. He raised an eyebrow at her and asked, "Can I put you on speaker and have you repeat that?"


Huffing out a laugh, he said, "Nothing. Was there something I can help you with?"

"Initially I wanted to speak with you about a few cases that looked as if they could be related to cases we've investigated and see if there were any connections. But yesterday, something came up that I was hoping you might consult on."

He shook his head violently, drawing Scully's attention from where she was reaching for a pancake. "No, absolutely not. I told AD Skinner after the case last winter that I was not interested in consulting again."

Scully glared, not quite at him, but at the phone he held to his ear.

"I can understand your reluctance. However, I think that your prior investigations might give you insight into the case that's just come up, which doesn't quite fit in with the pattern of events that we've got as a priority. But it strikes me as having a lot of commonalities with some of these previous X-files."

"Tell me about it." He tried to sound noncommittal, unsure himself whether he even wanted to know. Scully's glare had shifted from the phone to him, and he refused to look at her, instead picking the crust of a piece of toast.

"The Denver field office has been tracking the actions of a radical animal rights group that's been causing a lot of damage to property and livestock in several western states. Nothing about their activities prior to last suggested anything other than a particularly aggressive group, being monitored to prevent domestic terrorism. Until last Thursday, when an act of arson at a Wyoming ranch led to the capture of two of their members, and a rather remarkable incident concerning a boy at the scene."

"They're working with children?" While outside of the mainstream of what he would have expected for a domestic terrorist group, given the animal targeting, it didn't greatly surprise him. And in no way made it feel like anything requiring his expertise.

"No, the boy lives at a neighboring ranch. He and his father had been on their way over, at the boy's request, when they noticed the smoke from the fire. They arrived and began to offer assistance, the father actually roping one of the suspects who was taken in to custody. But the boy, against the best efforts of the adults on the scene, managed to make his way into the burning barn and lead out some of the animals. Neither the boy nor the animals suffered any adverse effects, not even smoke inhalation. He was also seen handling some of the sheep that had previously been removed from the barn and had been noted to be suffering burns, but after this boy was in the pen with them, no one could find anything wrong with them."

"And what insight do you think I can provide you with, Agent Dunham?"

Across from him, Scully scowled and reached for the phone. He sidestepped her gesture and shook his head. She relented, leaning back against the counter and watching him.

"There are a few references in your old cases to faith healers, but what really stood out were a few references to a man who seemed to possess this ability independent of a religious context, as we seem to see in this child. The implications of what we see in him are obvious, if true. One of our specialists is greatly intrigued by the information we've gotten thus far."

Mulder shook his head. "That was one man, Agent Dunham, who I have every reason to believe to be an isolated case. And he healed people, not farm animals. I'm not sure what help you think I can give you."

"At least let me send you the file to take a look at, see if anything stands out to you as relevant."

He looked at Scully's deep frown, thought of his promise to her to leave this behind him. "Give me a minute?"

"Sure. I'll hold."

He placed the phone on the counter, and gently took Scully's elbow and guided her to the dining room table. Before they were even seated, she began, "No, Mulder, you promised---"

Heaving a sigh, he settled into the chair next to her. "I know. But she just wants me to do an email consult, look over the case, see if I think it's connected to our experience with Jeremiah Smith, and worth her investigating." Briefly, he recounted Agent Dunham's information about the case.

For a stonily silent moment, Scully stared at him. He could see her weighing her words, weighing her decision, and let her have the time. In the past, he'd tried other approaches, but found through trial and significant error that it was best to let her come to a conclusion before trying to argue it with her. "Can you really just do an email consult, Mulder?" She sounded frightened, and it scared him a little.

Reaching across the space between them, he took one of her hands in both of his, massaging away the tension knotted there, hanging his head to stare at her slim fingers as they spread across his palm. "This isn't something I particularly want to do. Not after what happened last time. I'm happy here, with you, writing my books. She can email me a file, I'll spend half an hour reading it over, and I'm done."

Scully's free hand skimmed through his unruly hair. "You say that now, and I know you mean it. But I also know you, Mulder. You're not good at letting things go."

"It's not a case. The crime's been solved. This is just some interesting aside that the FBI apparently now has resources to have a multi-person unit investigate. I'll admit, I'm a bit jealous of the resources it sounds like are being given to these sorts of investigations now, but it's not even a case." He squeezed her hand.

"All right," she said calmly, looking him straight in the eye. "One half-hour, email only. I'm timing you."

"Deal," he agreed, standing and pulling her up with him. "Now come on, breakfast is getting cold. Then I'll look over the file while you're in the shower. You won't even notice I've done it."

When they returned to the kitchen, Scully picked up the phone from the counter and handed it to him. She was already spreading marmalade on a slice of toast by the time he finished giving Agent Dunham his email.

After a long, hot soak in the tub, Scully was feeling almost refreshed, and ready to curl back up in bed with Mulder. But she was not entirely surprised to discover that the bedroom was still empty, the house silent. She put on jeans and a sweater, then headed back downstairs in search of him, knowing already that "just an email" had turned into something more.

The kitchen was clean, no traces of breakfast remaining, and his office door was ajar. "Mulder? You've had 35 minutes. Time's up!"

As she pushed the door open fully, she saw him sitting frozen at the desk, staring at his computer monitor. Slowly, he swiveled in the chair to face her. Saying nothing, he merely extended one hand to her, pulling her towards him and finally down into his lap. One arm wrapped around her waist before he gestured a finger at the screen. "Take a look."

A glance at the picture was all she needed to understand, but like Mulder just moments ago, she couldn't tear her eyes away from the image before her.

Chapter 2

Scully spent several quiet moments absorbing the picture of a young boy. He had close-cropped strawberry blond hair, curling over his head through it was barely longer than a crewcut. Clear blue eyes stared back at her, over a smiling mouth she'd recognize anywhere. And that nose, sprinkled with freckles. The boy's lanky arms wrapped around a calf as he crouched next to it, looking blissfully happy.

Momentarily, she was unsure whether to weep with delight that he was alive, happy, and had given them a plausible excuse to go see him, or whether to cry against Mulder's chest that avoiding this sort of thing was precisely why she'd sacrificed their child in the first place, and insist that he tell Agent Dunham to leave it the hell alone. She settled for turning to look him in the eye, and saw the same conflict reflected there.

Mulders arms were both around her then, crushing her to him as he buried his head in the crook of her neck. She returned the embrace, one hand tight around his shoulders as the other ruffled his porcupine hair. Slowly, he pulled away to look her in the eye once more.

"What do we do?"

Before answering, she turned back to look at the picture again. "I never wanted him to become a lab rat. I don't want him to become a lab rat. But I think that this is probably just the beginning, and it's better that we're there to investigate this now, figure out what's going on, and find a way for him to remain happy and anonymous."

His index finger traced the cuff of her wool sweater, gently circling her wrist. "Is that what you really want?"

Sighing, she answered, "Given the circumstances, it's what's best."

"That's not what I asked."

"We've been given some really shitty choices to make, Mulder." It was easier, safer, to feel a little angry now. It kept her from crying. "I don't want to make this choice at all. But since I've got to make a decision, it's going to be to do what I can to protect our son."

Mulder nodded slowly, as if waiting for more from her. Then, "I'll email Agent Dunham, tell her it's worth followup, and we're coming along for the ride."

Wedged into the seat by the window on the flight to Salt Lake City, ostensibly studying the file open on the tray table in front of her, Olivia instead found herself stealing glances at the pair next to her. They were not surreptitious glances; the couple were well aware they were being watched, and seemed well practiced in giving nothing away. Olivia was not quite sure what to make of them, even after four hours spent in their company.

Neither were quite as she'd expected, even after having Astrid pull all the information available on them. Yet she recognized something of herself in them, a self-contained, solitary nature which in their case seemed to encompass them as a unit. Mulder seemed that way inherently, deep inside himself. Scully seemed to have acquired -- or developed -- it, something Olivia herself understood. None of them were fond of small talk, and so for the hour and a half since their flight departed Dulles, Row K had been silent.

Next to her, crammed into the middle seat, she could feel the nervous energy coming off Scully. Every so often, one of Mulder's hands would creep across the space between them, stroke her thigh, then return to typing on his laptop. Olivia knew it wasn't nerves over the flight; she'd understood, as soon as she saw them in person, together, and saw their faces jigsaw together into the boy in the file. The pieces all slipped into place, and she'd felt suddenly guilty, felt for a moment like she was conducting one of Walter's more unkind, nonconsensual experiments. But they had to know; it was the only reason for them to both agree, no, insist, on consulting on this.

Finally, she closed the folder in front of her and broke the silence. "I'm particularly glad you were able to find time in your schedule to look in to this, Dr. Scully. My normal medical consultant does not travel well, and I appreciate your expertise."

Mulder's fingers paused over the keyboard, and Scully slowly turned to face Olivia. "I'd wondered how you came to be investigating on your own. In our day, that never ended well."

Olivia would have been surprised by the non-response if she hadn't known they'd spent more years investigating the truly bizarre than she'd spent so far as an agent. "I'm the Fringe Science Team liaison. Much of my work is done with professional consultants, rather than agents, on a daily basis." The professionalism of those professionals sometimes gave her pause, and she was glad that at least in this case, rumors of Fox Mulder's madness seemed greatly exaggerated, if not downright untrue.

"I hope I can be as insightful as your usual consultants," said Scully. It might have sounded haughty or dismissive, if not for the caution belying the words. That was something Olivia instinctively understood as well.

Olivia nodded and flipped her file back open. "I'm sure you will."

The rest of the flight passed in silence.

Living in Boston, she'd forgotten how expansive the country could be. She sat in the back seat of the Grand Cherokee as Mulder drove them across the vast, grassy plain. Scully, in the passenger seat in front of her, occasionally offered a comment or direction as she navigated. Olivia merely observed, surprised by their disregard for the GPS unit sitting idle on the dash. She was still somewhat fascinated by the dynamic of the pair in front of her, who, aside from their few subtle touches on the plane and request for a single room at the hotel, had shown no indication of being anything other than casual partners.

The pastures gave way to grain elevators, houses, and something passing for a town. At the stoplight, an elementary school sat to their left, while a diner occupied the right. Across the intersection was the sheriff's office. She watched Mulder incline his head slightly towards it, while looking at Scully.

Scully shook her head, glanced down at the paperwork in her lap, and murmured, "The hotel is one block down, on Grant."

Nothing else was said as Mulder maneuvered the SUV into a prime spot in the Holiday Inn parking lot. Olivia slipped quickly from the back seat, calling "I'll check us in," through the closing car door before either of the former agents could unbuckle their seat belts. By the time they entered the hotel lobby, rolling suitcases behind them, she had a pair of keycards to present them.

"The sheriff will be closed by now, so we'll have to wait until tomorrow to make a courtesy call and head out to the Van De Kamp ranch. If you two want to get--"

"I'm sorry," interrupted Mulder. "Did you say the sheriff was closed?"

Olivia shrugged and offered an awkward smile. "Small town. The office is open eight to five, with someone on call evenings. When I spoke to him yesterday, Sheriff Flores said we could stop by first thing in the morning, and he'd ride out with us. He said the property can be difficult to find."

"So what are our plans for tonight?"

"You and Dr. Scully are welcome to do whatever you'd like. Have dinner, get a feel of the town, see if anything catches your attention. I've got a meeting with the veterinarian who was on the scene after he gets off work at 6:30."

"Are you sure you wouldn't appreciate a consult on that?" There was an edge to Scully's tone, the sound of someone not used to being dismissed.

"I'll be bringing any relevant records back for you to look at, and to forward on to my Boston contact to examine. When I get back, I'll drop them by your room. 310."

There was a raised eyebrow from Scully, and a frown from Mulder, but neither said anything else to her as she headed for the elevators. As she waited for the elevator, she briefly appreciated the fact that the couple would at least stand out less in this small town than Walter Bishop would have.

Scully scanned the diner's menu, then grinned as she looked up at Mulder. "You know, after that six month stint at Arlene's, I swore I'd never eat anywhere like this again. But I'm looking at this, and feeling just a little nostalgic for chicken fried chicken."

"Those weren't a bad six months, as our time on the run went. A lot of good pie, during that time. Some of it even from Arlene's."

"Mulder!" She couldn't sound serious, though she knew after all these years that she shouldn't encourage him. He had no shame, even in a family restaurant.

"What? I really liked that key lime pie."

She did laugh then, shaking her head. The waitress approached then, older with blueing gray hair and a blue apron. A name tag reading "Jo" was pinned on the left corner.

"What can I get for you folks this evening?"

"Diet Coke, side salad with no dressing, and a bison burger, medium well."

Mulder raised his eyebrows at her, then winked. Jo just nodded and scribbled, then turned to Mulder. "And you, hon?"

"Iced tea, cheese fries, and the meatloaf."

Scully just rolled her eyes at him. They'd had a long-standing disagreement over the appropriateness of meat being served in loaf form. He only got meatloaf in diners.

"You folks on your way down to Yellowstone?"

This was the cue for Mulder at his most charming, and Scully just leaned back in the booth and watched. That it worked never surprised her; she knew first-hand just how charming he would be, but it was always amazing how effortlessly he drew the information he wanted out of people.

"No, no," he said, shaking his head so a lock of hair flopped onto his forehead, making him look as handsome and boyish as that day she'd first met him, a lifetime ago. "Sadly we're here for work, not pleasure. We're doing some followup investigation on the ranch fire last week."

"Oh, my. Poor Dave and Marsha, it's such a shame, that whole barn, all their hay, just as winter's coming on. I thought they caught the folks that did it, though. Didn't I hear Mikey roped one of 'em, just like he was back in the high school rodeo?" Jo shook her head, tsking.

"Well, ma'am, we're looking in to that. These types rarely work alone, and only two men were caught. We're also taking a look at what happened in the barn, and to the animals."

"Oh, you're just like those folks on TV, on those CSI shows! It must be fascinating work. But all the animals made it out all right, from what I heard. Thank goodness Mike and his boy showed up when they did, helped Dave get those sheep out in time."

"You hear of anything funny going on out that way? People hanging around that shouldn't be? Anything odd?"

"Well now," Jo paused, furrowing her wrinkled brow in thought. "We get a lot of people coming through now and then. The main highway's pretty well known as a scenic route between some of the bigger national parks out here, so in the summer, we'll see a good number of folks coming through. No one stays long, and I see most all of 'em."

Mulder smiled, that not-quite-sincere, toothy grin that always garnered favor with ladies who didn't know him well enough to know it wasn't real. It did make Scully smile, though. "Thanks, Jo, we appreciate the info."

"You're more than welcome. And if you're going to be in town longer than those tourists, I'd recommend stopping in at Marsha's little shop down on Cody." She smiled at Scully and gestured to her sweater. "You like a nice sweater, there's no one who knits a prettier one. Does it all by hand, her and her girl Jenny. She's the one that made Dave get the sheep to start with; he's always been a cattleman, but my, that wool's lovely."

"I'll check it out, Jo." Scully did love the idea of a sweater; her great-aunt Olive used to knit, but always sent toboggans that were useless in the San Diego winter, or red scarves that clashed with the Scullys' hair. As Jo retreated, Scully said, "We'll want to speak with them anyway."

"I know how much you love sweaters, Scully."

"You love me in sweaters."

"I love you more out of them."

She rolled her eyes at him as Jo deposited drinks on their table and disappeared again. They unwrapped straws and sipped in silence for few minutes, watching the occasional truck rattle through the intersection. Scully hadn't seen a vehicle that wasn't a 4x4 since they'd left the airport in Casper.

They ate in companionable silence, having eaten what felt like half the meals in their lives in diners like this one, from one coast to the other. There was something comforting and homey about it. Only when slices of pie were deposited in front of them--key lime for Mulder, apple for Scully--was the silence broken.

"We're going to see our son tomorrow."

"We don't know that for certain," said Scully, with a sigh. She prodded a slice of apple with her fork, suddenly less hungry for dessert. "He looks like he could be, but until we know, we can't say anything. Even when we know, we probably shouldn't." She pushed the plate away.

"It might be the only way to explain what happened."

Looking up at him, she saw the nervousness in his eyes, the tension coiling in his body. "Completely disregarding Jeffrey Spender's claim that whatever he injected William with made him 'normal', how would reveling that we're his parents do anything to clarify the situation?"

"Doesn't he have the right to know?"

"At seven? No, he's not old enough to have that right yet. And I gave up the right to tell him." She stared fixedly at the edge of the formica table.

"I didn't." At that, she looked up at him. There wasn't anger in his words, only sadness. He put his fork down carefully on the plate next to the pie crust. "I don't know if I can not say something."

"Before we left, we agreed on this, Mulder."

He nodded. "I know. But we may not have a choice. Not if he's really--"

"Don't. Don't even say it. Until we have more evidence, there's no proof that anything out of the ordinary happened here. Or that he's even our William."

Leaning back in the booth, his eyes roved over her. "If I didn't know you so well, I'd be a little worried by how rational you're being about this."

A thin smile that didn't quite reach her eyes tugged gently at her lips. "Then I'm glad you do." She prodded at the remains of her pie. "You ready to go?"

Mulder nodded and waggled his fingers in Jo's direction, resulting in a receipt appearing swiftly at the corner of their table, two peppermints on top. He slipped a few bills under it, and tucked it all under the edge of his plate. "C'mon."

Olivia had taken the SUV to her appointment with the veterinarian, so they walked. The evening was cooler than they were used to in Virginia, the wind sweeping down from the Rockies and across the flat land even faster than it did down from the Blue Ridge mountains. Scully stayed close at his side, out of the gusts, but pulled away, tugging at his sleeve as they passed Cody Street.

They paused in front of the wide pane of glass, artfully painted with a flowing script reading "Gathering Wool." Skeins of yarn piled in the window, soft and inviting, gold, burgundy and sienna. A pair of scarves twisted across the front of the window, aqua and ruby. A couple of neatly folded, elaborately cabled sweaters sat to one side. The shop behind the window display was dark.

"Ten to four. Not bad hours if you can get 'em." Mulder tapped the glass of the door, where a hand-written sign was posted giving the shop's hours.

A strong gust of wind swept up the street, rattling the glass of the window, twisting their long coats around their legs. Mulder moved closer again, sheltering her from the wind. "Let's get back. It looks like we've got a lot to do tomorrow."

"I think Agent Dunham has a lot to do tomorrow," she said as they returned to the Main Street.

"You think she's deliberately keeping us out of the loop?" He wrapped an arm around her shoulders, pulling her close.

She shook her head, hair catching on his coat. "No, not in any malicious way. But I think she doesn't quite know what to make of us."

"We'll make ourselves the most useful consultants she's ever seen tomorrow." One eyebrow quirked up at him, and he retorted, "You know I can play nice with others when I want to."

"Yes, you can, but you have trouble remembering to keep playing nice."

"Isn't that what you're for? Keeping me in line?"

"Because that's worked out so well for us over the years."

That he was able to laugh at that was testament to the resilience of the relationship formed while she'd tried to keep him in line. He dropped a kiss on the crown of her head as they made their way down the block to the hotel.

It felt like bits of hay had been blown into areas she'd never know existed, but Olivia resisted the urge to scratch, or try fishing it out of the recesses of her clothing, as she stoically rode the elevator up to the third floor. Outside 310, she paused, brushing a bit of dust of the hem of her coat, and listened. There was a low hum of voices, though of the television or the room's occupants, she couldn't tell. Two sharp raps on the door and the sounds remained steady, so she decided it was the TV, though the sound was overwhelmed entirely by the sound of locks and tumblers releasing before the door swung open.

Dana Scully, in stocking feet and t-shirt, was more petite than Olivia remembered, looking more like some transplanted heroine of a Victorian novella than a neurologist and former federal agent. Olivia knew looks could be deceiving, and had already recognized that for all the warnings about Mulder, it was Scully who was more of a risk on this case. She understood, as the men at the Bureau did not and could not, exactly how powerful a mother's instinct to protect could be.

"Dr. Scully."

"Agent Dunham." Scully did not swing the door open to invite her into the room.

"I brought a copy of Dr. Harne's records for you." She passed the motley assortment of papers, stuffed hastily into a manila folder, over to Scully. "They weren't particularly enlightening, as he arrived at the scene after the animals had all been rescued from the fire. He examined all of them, and there are reports for each, but they all note a clean bill of health, except for a bit of singeing to the coats of a few of the sheep."

Scully nodded and flipped the file open. "Are there records on the previous health of the animals?"

"At the back. Mostly routine records on births, vaccinations, that sort of thing. He said it had been a very well cared for flock, but hadn't seen anything unusual about them. Nothing about the circumstance indicated to him that there shouldn't have been issues with smoke inhalation and more severe burns. He's got no explanation, only what he saw, which were generally healthy sheep."

"Well, I'll take a look, see if there's anything that pops out to Mulder or me. Thank you, Agent Dunham." She stepped back and started to close the door, then paused. "What time did you want to head out in the morning?"

"I'll meet the two of you in the lobby at 7:30." She stepped away before the door could be closed in her face. A few steps carried her next door to 308, which was as bland as any hotel she'd had the displeasure to stay in across the country, with pastel colors, slippery looking synthetic fiber bedspread, and particle-board furnishings. Her laptop sat on the small table, and she sat down almost immediately and wakened the computer from sleep mode. Slipping the flash drive into the USB port, she copied the digital veterinary reports onto the hard drive, and uploaded them. With a few clicks, she'd sent them off to Astrid, with the request that Walter have a look at them. She would be interested to see if his requests for further information meshed with Dr. Scully and Fox Mulder's.

The bathroom was just as bland as the room, white tile with cream accents and overly bleached towels, but she was glad to shed clothing that had spent ten hours in transit and an hour on the farm as the vet tended to his own animals as he spoke about his experiences on the Barker farm that fateful day. She was grateful for industrial water heaters as she cranked the shower to the hottest setting and scrubbed the grime of the day off, calculating the time in Boston. Nearly eleven, and she'd been on a shuttle from Logan at seven in the morning. No wonder she was tired.

When she emerged from the steamy bathroom wrapped in a scratchy towel, she felt clean and relaxed. As she rummaged through her compact duffel for the t-shirt and running shorts that served as pajamas, she became aware of the sounds from next door, barely muffled by the thin motel walls. It was not the creak of bedsprings or a thumping headboard, but a distinct feminine wail. She stood upright, grey shorts in one hand, unsure that she could really be hearing what she seemed to be hearing. They'd seemed to discreet to this point, barely touching in her presence; surely they'd spent enough time on the road to realize that she must be able to hear something this loud in her room.

Then, with muffled clarity but sharp tone, she heard Scully's voice. "Mulder, for God's sake." She didn't sound at all like someone who'd been wailing. Or, Olivia realized, continued to moan even as she spoke.

"What?" There was laughter, male laughter, clear even through the walls.

"She's right next door. Don't torture the poor girl like that. Or give her ideas. Just behave yourself for one damn night and let me read this."

Olivia shook her head as the sound from next door died down, replaced with muted sounds that implied the evening news rather than adult entertainment. Turning the slick comforter down to reveal stark white sheets, she didn't spare another thought for her newest consultants as sleep overtook her.

Chapter 3

The Jeep bounced down the rutted dirt road, the front passenger tire hitting a puddle and sending a shower of mud up over the side of the vehicle. Olivia was glad that Sheriff Flores had taken the lead on the way out here, as she was sure even the GPS would have been inadequate to guide them out to the lone signpost marking the drive to the Van De Kamps' property. Ahead, the sheriff's pickup turned then gained speed on the gravel drive, kicking up rocks and dust that obscured her view as she followed up the winding drive through the low foothills.

The white clapboard house and surrounding copse of trees was a pleasant surprise after the stark grasslands they'd been traveling through. Pulling up next to the truck, she stopped and looked over the to couple with her. Mulder was practically leaping out the door, but Scully, in the backseat, had a vaguely green tinge.

"Dr. Scully? Are you all right?"

Nodding, the woman drew a deep breath and sat up straighter as she unbuckled her seat belt. "I'm fine."

Olivia watched for a moment as she slipped out of the door and stood close to Mulder. They did not touch, merely shared a quick glance before turning their gazes on the farmhouse in front of them. Mentally chastising herself for paying so much attention to what they were doing, she reminded herself that they were not the Bishops, and didn't need her monitoring, however odd their dynamic might appear. She exited the vehicle and walked over to Sheriff Flores' truck.

"Come on, folks. Mike's good people, he won't bite." The sheriff walked ahead of them towards the porch, not looking back to see if they were following. Olivia hesitated only long enough to make sure Mulder and Scully were moving in the right direction before falling in to step beside Luis Flores.

As Flores knocked on the wood frame of the screen door, Olivia surveyed their surroundings. Big wrap-around porch, with wood rockers and a few scattered rag rugs, a water bowl indicating some sort of dog, an expansive vista behind them looking out over the low hill country leading up to the Rockies. Very isolated, which piqued her curiosity. Flores rapped again, but the house was silent. Gradually, she became aware of the sharp clang of metal against metal.

"What's that?" She scanned the property she could see from the porch, hunting the source of the sound, one hand edging towards the gun at her hip.

With a nod, Flores walked down the porch steps and towards a path leading away from the house. "Sounds like he's down at the barn."

Single-file, the four followed the gravel path to the tidy wood barn. The sound of metal striking metal rung across the wide space in front of the building. When they entered the dim light of the building, it took Olivia's eyes a moment to adjust, but it took only second before she realized that the found came from a blacksmith at the other end of the building, where a man stood in the aisle with a grey horse.

"Mike!" called Flores, already halfway down the dirt aisle.

The man holding the horse turned towards them, raising one hand in greeting. "Hi, Luis. What can I do for you?"

"I've got some folks here from the FBI. They've got some questions about the fire over at the Barker's last week."

He nodded and began to loop the horse's lead through a ring on the wall, tying an elaborate knot Olivia vaguely recognized. "Kenny, you good here with Sterling while I talk to these folks?"

The horse seemed to cast a wary eye over the group as a voice rang out somewhere behind it, "Sure thing, Mike." The clanging resumed, quieter, and the horse snorted as they made their way back out of the barn.

Back in the cool autumn sunlight, he turned to the group of visitors. "What can I do for you?" He tilted the hat back a little on his head, lifting the brim away from his eyes and giving them an appraising look.

"I'm Special Agent Olivia Dunham," she said, extending a hand, which he shook firmly, and which he extended again as she introduced, "And these are former agents, Dr. Dana Scully and Fox Mulder, who are working as consultants on this case."

"Pleased to meet you. Mike Van De Kamp. The agents I spoke with from Denver said they might be sending up some more people this week to ask more questions. Come on up to the house, I'll get us something to drink, and I'll be happy to tell you what I know. Not that it's much."

They retraced their steps up to the house, settling into the offered seats on the porch as Mike disappeared inside. Moments later, he reappeared with a pitcher of iced tea and a stack of plastic cups featuring Disney characters. He sat down with the Mickey cup in hand. Olivia hadn't finished pouring her drink before Mulder broke the easy silence.

"Did you know of any threats against the Barkers?"

"No, around here, they're well-liked. Dave's family's had the farm for a century now, always just cattle until Marsha wanted some sheep. Very crafty, Marsha, with all that knitting. She treated those sheep more like pets than stock, which is why they were in the barn instead of out grazing like all the cattle. Makes it hard to understand why anyone would go after them."

"You said you and your son were already headed over there the afternoon of the fire, when you noticed smoke and increased your pace. Why were you going over there?"

"Well, sir, Billy's always been pretty fascinated with the sheep. He loves to watch Marsha working with the wool, and she's been teaching him a little about what to do with it. She told him next year, when he's old enough for 4-H, she'd give him a lamb to work with for the year. All her kids are grown now, and she's been a good mother figure for him this last year." He looked down at his cup then, staring at the tea lapping against Mickey.

"What happened to his mother?" Scully's voice was quiet, barely carrying across the porch, and Olivia was surprised at how calm she looked and sounded. She could practically see the tension radiating from her, as she sat very upright in the wicker chair.

Mike nodded a few times, as if gathering the words, before he answered, still not looking at them. "Kathy and I tried for years to have kids, but she had trouble with fibroids, and we were never able to have a baby of our own. We adopted Billy as a baby, and felt so blessed to have him. Two years ago, one of the fibroids turned out to be malignant."

"I'm sorry." Scully's voice was little more than a whisper. Mike nodded, and met her eyes.

Olivia cleared her throat after a moment. "So you were headed to the Barker's because your son wanted to visit the sheep?"

"Yes. We rode over on horseback. The weather was nice, and I wanted to have a look at the fence line as we went. About halfway there, we saw smoke coming from over the hill, and picked up the pace. There was a pretty good blaze going til we got there."

"What else did you see?"

"There was a boy didn't recognize running across the barnyard, with a backpack. He didn't look like he belonged on a farm, if you know what I mean. I uh, roped him. Til I dismounted and figured out what was going on with him, I saw Billy riding straight for the burning barn, still at a gallop. I was worried, because he was on Ace, who's always been terrified of fire. I can't even keep him in the barn when Kenny's hot shoeing, the smoke upsets him so badly."

"And he didn't spook this time?" Flores leaned back in his chair, eyebrows raised.

Mike shook his head. "Nope. Billy galloped right up to the barn, and left him ground-tied out front. Horse didn't move a foot while the boy ran inside. At that point, I was tying the kid I'd roped to Sterling, and trying to get over there myself. What the hell was that boy thinking, running in a burning building like that?" He shook his head again, then continued, "Til I got up there, he was running out, chasing half a dozen of those sheep in front of him. They went right where he sent them, over to the pen where Marsha was trying get the rest of them rounded up and contained."

"Did you notice any injuries to your son or the sheep?"

"Billy looked fine. Little dirty, but his shirt wasn't even singed. The sheep, though, a couple of them looked pretty burnt. The wool burned almost clear off in patches, and they were panicking like I thought the horse would, but Billy wouldn't get out of the pen with them. Not until I climbed in and dragged him out."

"What was he doing in there with them? Talking to them, touching them?" Mulder's expression was neutral, his tone simply conversational. Olivia wondered whether he was questioning as a concerned if anonymous parent, or as an investigator.

"He was quiet, wouldn't even respond to me when I was calling his name. He was just walking slowly through the sheep, and putting his palm flat on the foreheads of some of them. Some of those new-agey type horse folks say that'll calm down a horse, putting your palm flat on their forehead between the eyes, but I always figured if you were able to put your hand there, it mustn't be too panicked to begin with." Mike shook his head, "I don't even know where Billy would've heard something like that. But I guess that's what he thought he was doing with the sheep."

"Did they calm down?"

"Well, they were well out of danger and all together by then, they'd have settled soon enough. It's hard to say."

Flores nodded in agreement, as if he saw nothing odd in this recounting. Olivia prompted, "What happened after you pulled your son out of the sheep pen?"

"There was a lot going on by then, the fire truck was pulling in, Dr. Harne had just gotten there, Sheriff Flores had the guy I'd roped in custody. There wasn't much else for us to do but get out of everyone's way and let them work. We collected our horses and headed over by the house to wait."

Olivia took a long sip of the iced tea, surprised by its sweetness. She pondered which direction to take, now that the questions were bound to get more unusual. And now that she might have to broach the idea of taking this man's son back to Boston with her. Whatever query she might have made was negated by Scully's line of questioning.

"Did Billy see a doctor afterwards? Did he suffer any ill effects from entering the burning building?"

"Once things settled down, we headed down to the ambulance and one of the paramedics looked at him. He didn't see anything wrong, just told me to keep any eye on him for breathing problems or skin irritation and bring him on in if something showed up. Nothing did. That boy's healthy as the day is long."

"He's always been very healthy? No major illnesses?"

"No." Mike shook his head. "Kathy was worried about that when we adopted him, that someone might be giving him up because something was wrong. But now that I think about it, I don't think the boy's had more than a sneeze in all his years. Not the flu, not the chicken pox when it went through his class last winter."

"We'd really like to speak with him and hear his account of the incident, if that's all right with you, sir," said Olivia.

"You're more than welcome to talk with him when he gets home from school. But I don't know that he'll tell you much. All he's told me is that he wanted to help the sheep."

"I'm taking them over to the Barker place now, Mike. If we stop by on the way back, Billy'll be home by then, right?" Flores had stood, and begun to make his way to the porch steps.

"He's home by three. The bus drops him off at the end of the drive, so depending on how long you're over there, you might have to pick him up coming back up the lane."

"Not a problem, he knows me well enough to get in the truck."

They were all headed down the porch steps when Mulder turned back to Mike. "Have you noticed anything odd around here lately? Lights in the night?"

Mike's brow furrowed under the brim of his hat. "You think maybe those arsonists were camping out in the hills before they did this? It's mighty cold out there at night. Its government grazing land heading out towards the mountains, so you see hikers and campers passing through a good bit. But I haven't seen anyone since summer. Only thing I see in the sky are planes passing over and the occasional northern lights. I got Billy a telescope for Christmas last year, so we could see them better."

Mulder smiled. "Thanks for your time, Mr. Van De Kamp."

The bouncy, dusty ride over to the Barker farm passed in silence. To Olivia it felt vaguely uncomfortable, now accustomed to the usual chatter of Walter on a case. But neither Mulder nor Scully seemed troubled as they sat together behind her.

From their time on fertilizer detail, Mulder had seen enough incidents of rural explosions and arsons that the scene at the Barker ranch was not at all surprising to him. What he and Scully needed to know, and were ostensibly here to advise on, could not be gleaned from the ashy remains of the family's barn. Agent Dunham, however, spent considerable time in the ruins with Sheriff Flores. Both of them were covered in grime by the time they'd departed the property, and despite Mulder's focus on examining the edges of the property for signs of trespass and other unexplained visitors, he and Scully hadn't fared much better. No signs of extraterrestrials, Bigfoot, or even unwelcome campers. Both were coved in dirt, Scully vainly trying to brush it off her coat as she stood next to the Jeep.

"You can't see it on that tan coat, you know."

"I can feel it. I feel like I'm coated in it." She pulled the coat away from her body, flapping it so that dust puffed out around her like Pigpen.

"I'll help wash it off later," he leered patting his own black coat, now grey with dirt and ash. Grime flew, and he greeted Agent Dunham's return with a violent sneeze.

"You sound ready to leave, Mulder."

"Ready to go meet Billy Van De Kamp."

"Let's head back over then. Sheriff Flores is heading back in to town, so it will just be the three of us.

"I thought he was coming along for the ride on that, too."

Olivia shook her head, ponytail brushing up a cloud of dirt from the back of her jacket. "No. After we had a look at the site, and I didn't see anything out of the ordinary with what happened there, I told him what I was really here to have a look at. He's fine with our investigating the boy further, but said he had better things to do than worry about 'magical powers' in seven-year-olds."

The ride back to the Van De Kamp's was silent. Mulder sat alone in the back seat, turning the situation over in his mind. Agent Dunham certainly seemed more open to the improbable than Scully had ever been when they were working together, but that didn't mean she wasn't without her own interests. In his experience, that situation had never ended well, and he was worried that in this case, it would end badly for his son, who'd been through enough in his life already. If the boy couldn't be with him, Mulder was rather fond of the idea of the kid growing up on a farm, far away from everything that had conspired to send him there.

In the front passenger seat, he could see the tension in Scully's neck as she sat carefully still in the bumpy SUV, looking out the window at the passing foothills. He wanted to reach out and touch her, reassure her that this was going to work out for the best, but he couldn't. He followed her blank stare out the window as they headed up the lane to the Van De Kamp farm, where in a grassy field, a brown and white horse suddenly lifted its head, pricked its ears, and began to lope in the same direction they were headed, easily outpacing them.

When they pulled in the barnyard this time, they were greeted by Mike and a wary black and white dog. "Hello again, folks. Billy's in the barn with his horse, if you want to talk with him. I told him you were coming and wanted to know about the sheep."

Dunham nodded, and said, "Thank you. Would you mind if we spoke with him alone?"

"It's fine with me," he answered, pulling heavy work gloves out of his pocket and pulling them on as he spoke. "I've got work to do, and will be around, getting feed ready. I don't think he'd say anything to you alone he wouldn't say with me there, but you're welcome to talk to him."

"Thanks. I'll find you when we're finished, if I have further questions." Dunham turned towards the barn, and Mike Van De Kamp turned away, heading for a green tractor parked along the fence, engine cover open. Mulder watched the farmer for a moment, before turning to follow Dunham and Scully in to the barn. In two steps, he was at Scully's side, and briefly caught her fingers in his, giving them a light squeeze. She glanced up at him, resolve in her eyes, as they entered the barn.

At the far end of the aisle, where they'd found Mike and the blacksmith earlier in the day, was the brown and white horse Mulder had seen running through the field. It stood quietly as a boy in jeans, green flannel, and a puffy black vest, brushed it. With his arm extended completely, he just reached the top of the animal's back. The horse lifted its head at their approach, and the boy turned to see what had caught its attention.

"Hello. Are you Billy?"

"Yes, ma'am." The boy put down the brush in a bucket to his right, and stepped towards them.

"I'm Olivia Dunham, from the FBI. These are advisers of mine, Fox Mulder and Dana Scully." She extended a hand, and shook with the boy.

"Pleased to meet you," he shook carefully, properly, as if trying out formal manners he'd been taught but hadn't had much cause to practice. "Are you all FBI agents? Dad said you were building a case against the man who tried to hurt the Barker's sheep."

Dunham's eyebrows rose a bit, but she smiled at him. "Do you watch cop shows with your dad?"

The boy shook his head. "No, ma'am. But we've been reading the Hardy Boys."

"I remember reading those, too. I'm an FBI agent, but Mr. Mulder and Dr. Scully are retired. They just come help sometimes."

"The man who hurt the sheep was bad enough to need special help? Dad said he'd done the same thing to other people, before." The boy's brow furrowed as he tried to put together the pieces, and Mulder almost had to step back at the familiarity of it.

"He was a very bad man who hurt other people, farms, and animals, and we've got a whole office down in Denver working on him. We're here to ask you about how you helped."

Billy's eyes widened and his brows rose, but he nodded.

"Your dad said you'd wanted to go over to the Barker's farm that afternoon. Is that right?"

"Yes, ma'am. I wanted to go see the sheep. Mrs. Barker told me she was going to be shearing them for the last time this year, and I wanted to watch. She said if I was really good, she might show me how."

Before Dunham could continue, Mulder broke in. "Did you feel like you had to go over to visit? Or did you just want to?"

Dunham stared at him for a moment, but the boy looked surprised. As if it never would have occurred to him to lie, he answered simply, "I told Dad we had to go help. He thought I meant the shearing."

There was a sharp inhalation from Scully, just behind him, but she remained quiet as he asked, "What did you really mean?"

"I didn't know. I just knew we had to go, that something bad was going to happen. Like the feeling before a math test, but worse."

Mulder nodded, and beside him, Scully took a step forward, palm extended towards the horse. "Is this the horse you were on that day? Ace?" The horse sniffled her hand, noted the lack of treats, and dropped his head, where she scratched at a spade-shaped white mark on his forehead.

"Yes, ma'am."

"Is he always so well-behaved for you?"

"Dad says he was born broke. Ace was his horse first, for even longer than I've been alive. But Dad said he's the best horse, and should teach me everything he knows."

Scully smiled, and Mulder felt his heart melt a little. He wanted to hug all of them, even the horse. Instead, he asked, "But your dad said he's afraid of fire. How was he so good when you rode over to the Barker's?"

"He's always been bad about smoke, Dad says he's been scared of it since he bought him as a yearling. But when we had to go help, I just asked him to, for me, and he was good."

"What do you mean, 'asked'?"

Billy tilted his head and regarded the horse, now staring placidly at them, its ears flicking towards whoever was speaking. "In my head, I just thought we had to, even if it was scary, because I was scared too."

"Have you asked him things before?"

"I tell him to do things all the time. Foot," he said firmly, and the horse picked up a front hoof. When patted on the shoulder he dropped it again. "But when I can feel him get upset about something, I can think not-upset thoughts for him."

"Is that what you did with the sheep?"

He turned around and stared up at Mulder. "Yes, sir." He then looked down at the bucket of horse brushes, not looking anywhere near any of them.

"You touched them and made them feel better."

The boy nodded.

"Have you always been able to do that?"

He shrugged, still looking down at the dirt aisle. "I don't know."

"It's all right, Billy," said Dunham, stepping forward. "Have you talked to anyone about what you're able to do?"

"I told my dad and Dr. Harne that when I grow up, I want to be a vet so I can help animals all the time."

"Have you ever tried helping people?"

"Yes ma'am," he nodded. "When my mom got sick. I tried to make her feel better, but it didn't help." Tears threatened at the corners of his eyes, but he blinked and drew himself more upright, meeting Dunham's inquiring gaze. "Am I in trouble?"

"No, not at all. You did something very good, and we would like very much to understand how you did it, so that maybe you can help even more."

The boy's head bobbed up and down, slowly, once. "How?"

"Well, I need to talk to your dad first, but I'd like you to come in to town tomorrow, and let Dr. Scully run a few basic tests. Depending on what those tell us, I might ask you to come with me to Boston."

Mulder cleared his throat, and looked over at Scully, who was staring hard at Agent Dunham. "Can we speak outside, Agent Dunham?"

She looked over, and glanced quickly between Mulder and Scully, noting their discomfiture for the first time. "Certainly. Billy, think about it, all right? We're going to go outside and talk to your dad."

As they turned to go, Mulder lingered a moment at the barn door, watching the silhouette of the boy by his horse, speaking in a soft voice that barely carried. The animal snorted, shaking its head and rubbing it against the boy. Mulder watched as Billy reached up and rubbed the horse's long ear.

Chapter 4

"We only agreed to consult on this case in order to determine its validity as a matter of investigation."

Olivia knew the calm in Dana Scully's voice was deceptive; she'd realized almost instantly that while her supervisors warned her of Mulder's unpredictability and dangerous impulses, it was Scully that could pose a true impediment to the investigation should she wish to. She also recognized someone who preferred to deal in facts and reality, no matter how unpleasant that might be. "Further investigation always meant followup by the Fringe team in Boston, Dr. Scully. I thought you understood that. I also thought you'd appreciate the opportunity to do some testing on your own, draw some blood and see if he really is who you think he is."

Mulder, at Scully's side now, looked shocked at her words, but Scully merely nodded. "I do appreciate that opportunity. But having dealt with similar claims in the past, I should be able to perform any evaluations here in the field."

"The primary scientific consultant employed by the Fringe team has his own extensive background in matters like this, Dr. Scully. He'll want the opportunity to examine Billy himself, if your initial exam shows us anything. And if we take him to Boston--"

"What's this about Boston?" Mike Van De Kamp walked up to their gaggle, a bag of grain slung over his shoulder.

"Just the man we were looking for," she said, calmly turning from Mulder and Scully to face the farmer. "We were hoping your might be willing to bring Billy in to town tomorrow so that Dr. Scully can do a routine exam on him. If there's further need for investigation, we might ask that he come to Boston for followup with a specialist we have on staff."

"From the fire? You think he might have something so severe he needs a specialist, all the way in Boston?"

"Not exactly, Mr. Van De Kamp. We're not worried that anything is wrong with Billy. We think there may be something good happening with Billy, that allowed him to ride up to the barn and help those sheep the day of the fire. We'd like to find out what."

"And that's an FBI matter?" Mike had put down the bag of grain at his feet, and was looking confused.

"If he possesses the ability to heal, sir, that would be a matter of great interest to national security, yes."

He nodded, wiping his brow with the back of one gloved hand. "Well, what time did you want to see him tomorrow? He's got school in town all day."

"Dr. Scully, what time would you prefer?" Dunham deferred, turning to see her standing, arms crossed and lips pursed.

After a moment, Scully sighed and asked, "When does his school day start?"

"Eight thirty."

"If you can bring him by the Sheriff's office at seven, that should give me plenty of time to do an exam and have him to school on time." Olivia thought a smile flickered over Mulder's lips at Scully's words, but looking again, she couldn't be sure.

"Yes, ma'am. I'll see you all again then." He removed a glove and extended a hand to them, which Olivia took and shook heartily.

Mulder and Scully were slower to follow suit, and to follow her back to the dusty Jeep.

"I don't know if I can do it, Mulder." She slumped heavily into the overstuffed bedside chair.

Sitting on the bed across from her, he picked up one hand from her knee and laced his fingers through hers. His lips formed a silent innuendo in response that she watched die, sotto voce, before he said, somberly and quietly, "Can't or won't?"

"Yes." She shrugged and shook her head, tendrils of hair slipping loose and tickling her face. Looking up at Mulder's face, so concerned and so long at her side that she knew it better than her own, she closed her eyes again, knowing he could read her troubled visage just as well. "I said we'd do this to see what was happening, to see if he was William, to keep him safe if he was." She opened her eyes and looked right at him. "I don't need a blood test to know he's ours. But I'm going to have to draw blood tomorrow, knowing something odd is going to show up on it. Knowing it's going to be sent back to Boston. Knowing I can't fake it by drawing either of ours, because we've got as much or more going on with ours. Knowing she's going to insist that he be--"

Her panicked litany was cut short when Mulder pulled her from the chair and into his lap, muffling her voice against his chest. One hand tangled through her hair, pulling it free of the sloppy braid she'd pulled it into while wandering the Barker farm. His strong fingers kneaded her scalp, soothing, but his shuddering breath against her ear belied his own struggle with the situation. Lips brushed her temple, the ghost of a kiss, but also pacifying with a "shhh" that barely reached her ears.

A cant of the head, and she brushed her lips against his, needing. His arms closed tighter around her, crushing her against him as he maneuvered both of them up the bed, until he was resting against the flimsy excuse for a headboard. She wrapped an arm up around his neck, pulling him into a deeper kiss which he returned in kind before gently pulling back and looking down at her, so near his eyes were almost crossed. "What are we going to do?"

They'd had years of practice now at not letting desires overwhelm needs. With a sigh, she nestled deeper against his chest, inhaling the scent of him, mingled with hay and dust, pine and ash. "We both examine him. I do a basic neuro exam, draw some blood. I know what Dunham's people will want is an EEG or an MRI, but I don't think we'll have that kind of capability here, much as I'd like to see the results of them, too. You can do a basic psych exam, and see if you can detect anything."

"Anything what?" There was the hint of a taunt in his voice, the prod of one finger in the space between her ribs.

"Out of the ordinary."


"I think he's already that. He seems so happy here."

"He does," Mulder conceded. "But maybe he'd be just as happy elsewhere."

"We can't do that, Mulder. We can't take him away from a happy home and the only life he knows. He's all that Mike Van De Kamp has. I know how that feels," she said, softly, into his chest.

"Scully, I think we're going to have to tell Mr. Van De Kamp who we really are," he said, words coming slowly, carefully chosen. "Maybe not William. But if we draw blood, if we can prove it, wouldn't we then have some say in the matter? We could say no, even if he won't."

She shook her head and pulled away from him. Her whole body ached, and it seemed to radiate out from her heart. "I can do no such thing, Mulder. We've been over this, repeatedly. I signed away that right seven years ago." It hurt her that he made her explain this again, kept picking at this wound. Shifting, she moved to sit next to him, putting a small gap between them.

He sighed, letting her have he space. "I know. But I also know that I did no such thing, and if it comes down to upsetting you or watching him be dragged off for testing like a lab rat, I'm not staying quiet." There was no anger in his voice, just an earnestness that she knew well. "I'd rather say something to Van De Kamp first, explain the situation before we have to have the discussion about something difficult and emotional."

"You're going to explain that I gave our son away while you were a missing federal fugitive, so you've now got some rights you'd like to assert?"

"Well, I'm sure there's a more tactful way than that to frame it."

With a snort, she shook her head. "You've never been one for that, Mulder. But I think maybe you're right this time. Let Mr. Van De Kamp decide how much to tell William, but he's got to know, because even a basic exam is going to find something meriting followup."

"Do you need anything for your exam?"

"No, my bag's in the suitcase." She thought for a moment, then added, "Unless there's a place to get a tuning fork in this one-horse town."

Mulder gave half a laugh as he rose from the bed. "I'll see what I can do. Tuning fork and dinner? I've got to get a few things."

She gave him a faint smile. He'd do his damnedest to find whatever she asked for. "Dinner would be good, too."

"I'll see what I can scrounge up." With a quick kiss, he departed, the door closing behind him with a heavy catch of the lock. She rose slowly, making her way towards the laptop sitting on the table. They were too close to it, but there was still work to be done.

There was something afoot, Olivia thought, as she watched the two former agents over breakfast. Leaning back against the shiny vinyl of the diner booth, she sipped at her cup of dark coffee, exactly the way she liked it, lacking pretension and frivolous flavorings. Across the table, Mulder was focused on an omelette, oozing cheese onto the plate, while Scully picked at a bowl of fruit. No one spoke.

Olivia was fine with silence; it was actually a rather pleasant change from the usual free-association patter of Walter while investigating. But there was something about this particular silence that left her with the feeling something significant to the investigation was being held back.

"What aren't you two sharing?" She sat down the coffee cup and looked between the pair. They didn't look at here, only each other, and Scully shrugged before Mulder nodded.

"We had a son," he began, quietly, not looking at Scully as he spoke.

Tempted to smile, she refrained, and cut off the story. "I know. I've read the files, and after meeting the two of you, I made a few calls and got a few additional files."

Scully looked up from her fruit, intensely angry gaze focused on Olivia. "You had no right--"

"I had every right to fully investigate this case, Dr. Scully. I understood when the two of you accepted this that there was an unusual level of interest at work. Then the pieces fell in to place and I realized it was more of a conflict of interest."

"We've been nothing but professional while working on this case."

"Have been, yes. But I have the feeling that objectivity is slipping over the prospect of examining your son."

Scully's fork clattered on the table.

Liv was nonplussed by the reaction across the table, merely reached into her bag and pulled out the slim file of filmy fax paper that had arrived for her that morning. Wordlessly, she passed it across the table. Scully opened it, and seemed to read intently, while Mulder's eye roved quickly over the page before looking up at her.

"How long have you known about this?" There was an edge of danger, of possible threat, in his voice.

"I suspected when I met the two of you at Dulles. When I called back to Boston to check in, I asked what they could get for me."

"This was sealed," said Scully, slapping the folder closed, not so emphatically given its meagerness. "You should not have been able to get this."

"Over the last few months, I've acquired sources who are skilled at procuring the unobtainable," she said, choosing her words carefully, thinking of Peter, of Massive Dynamic. This came through Peter, and she's slightly less mistrustful of its origins.

"Agent Dunham, I can tell you from a sad history that--"

"I'm aware of some of your unfortunate incidents involving supposed sources, Mr. Mulder." She knew it irked him when she used the "mister," knew he just wanted to be "Mulder," like he was Madonna or Cher or something, and she wasn't having it. "This is a source I work with daily, and trust." Not implicitly, she doesn't say, but trusts him not to get her bad intelligence, to have gone through enough back channels that this is real.

There was silence, and Scully runs her index finger down the spine of the file before breaking it. "There was a good reason I gave our child, a child I had struggled and prayed for, up for anonymous, closed adoption, Agent Dunham. Interested parties wanted him, because they believed him to be something extraordinary, and did their best on numerous occasions to take him from me. This," she tapped the file, "was done to keep those people from finding him. Doing this will essentially acknowledge him to them, and force us to turn him into the lab rat I was trying to keep him from becoming."

The booth creaked as Olivia leaned back in her seat and looked at the pair of them. Mulder's jaw was clenched so tightly she was surprised she couldn't hear the teeth grinding, but Scully appeared frighteningly calm, despite her words. Choosing her words carefully, she began, "This information did not come through any official channels, I assure you. Though practically speaking, the fact that he was able to get it for me so easily leads me to believe that if someone had truly wanted this information, they would have it already."

Across the table, Mulder exhaled in a rush, but Scully still looked pensive.

"At this point, there's no going back on this. And it's better to have us find out what's going on with the boy and keep an eye on him. I don't want to see anything bad happen to him, I just want to understand what happened here, and how he was a part of it. If it's not related to the larger Pattern we're investigating, there's no further interest on the part of the government. Whether either of you want to make his parentage known to Mr. Van De Kamp is your own decision."

Scully was well aware of the two-way mirror behind her as she began her exam on Billy Van De Kamp. She actually tried to focus a bit of her attention on that, on Mulder's presence behind it, in order not to be overwhelmed by the boy in front of her as she had been the day before. That Mike Van De Kamp was in the room with them barely registered on her mind, until he spoke.

"I didn't realize they had doctors working at the FBI." Not hostile, just making conversation as he sat back in the plastic chair in the corner, watching her dig through her patent leather bag.

Reorienting herself, she let the question ground her as she found her penlight and untangled the stethoscope. "At the FBI, I was a forensic pathologist. I left and...took some time off, did a new residency. I'm a pediatric neurologist now."

Mike smile gently, inclining his head towards his son. "Must be better, seeing kids all day."

"It is," she said simply, returning his smile. She liked Mike Van De Kamp, and was glad William had ended up with someone like him for a father. While perhaps on paper not who she would have chosen, he was a good man who was doing a good job raising a happy, healthy son. She tucked a few items into the pockets of her coat, and turned to William, perched on the edge of the conference room table being used for the exam. "All right, Billy, this shouldn't be any different than your annual visit to the doctor's office. But I might ask you to do a few more things, all right?"

"No shots?" A skeptical eyebrow was raised, one she recognized well.

"No shots. At the very end, I'll need to take a little bit of blood, but that won't hurt at all."

His face wrinkled, and he shifted back a bit farther on the table.

"Don't worry. Easy stuff first. Can you take off your sweater for me?"

Despite the good behavior he'd exhibited so far, she was actually pleased to see how typical he was when he pulled the brown sweater over his head with one arm, and tossed the wadded up mess in the direction of his father. With a soft whuff, it landed on the floor, a few feet short of its goal.

"Guess we need to get you some more practice before basketball starts, Billy." His father reached down and scooped up the sweater, effortlessly folding it up and sitting it on his leg.

"I was shooting blind! Doesn't count!"

"Every shot you take counts."

Scully rolled her eyes and let out a little laugh. "Why don't you wait and have this conversation when you're with Mulder? He's the basketball fan. Follow the light, please."

His eyes tracked the penlight, pupils narrowing in the bright beam, but he spoke around her. "Can I have a hoop for my birthday then?"

"You've got one on the side of the barn already, Billy."

"But I can't dribble on the dirt! And you said--"

"Can you take a couple deep breaths and be quiet for a minute?" Scully warmed the stethoscope on her palm, then placed it against his smooth back, long for his age, she noted. He was going to be tall, maybe good at basketball. "Good. Do you play basketball at school?" She stepped back, took his wrist, checked his pulse while speaking with him. Over the past few years, she's gotten used to doing this, maintaining a calming patter with children, gathering information.

"Just in gym," he said. "There's not a team 'til high school. Dad says then, though, if I still want to be a vet, maybe I can go stay with Aunt Pam and go to school there."

She put her hands out, palms down, intensely curious. "Put your hands out, palms up, and don't let me push them down. Where does your Aunt Pam live?" Mentally crossing her fingers, she hoped for somewhere on the eastern seaboard.

"Denver. Last time we visited, we went to the museum. It's got dinosaurs, mummies and a planetarium!"

Throughout the exam, which revealed nothing out of the ordinary beyond an extraordinarily healthy boy with good responses and an inquisitive, pleasant mien, she kept up the conversation. Gathering information eased her mind about his life with the Van De Kamps, reassured her that he had the dog and pony and trip to Disneyland any child might wish for, without seeming at all spoiled, doing chores around the farm. Never did she think her son would be the all-American boy, though her father would have been delighted by it, and would have expected nothing less.

With that melancholy thought, she stepped away from Billy and began returning her instruments to her bag. "You can put your sweater back on now. And you'll both be happy to hear that Billy is a very healthy boy. From talking with him, I'm sure he'll do just as well with Mulder. If you'll wait here, I'll go get him."

"Thanks, Dr. Scully." Mike shook her hand, and at his nod, Billy rose and shook it, too. The boy then retrieved his sweater and tugged it over his head, frizzing his short hair up in a porcupine manner that reminded her of a young Mulder. She smiled then, couldn't help herself, though she refrained from the urge to ruffle the hair.

Mulder met her in the hall, wordlessly rested a hand on her shoulder and squeezed, just once. She nodded, looking up at him with a smile and sad eyes. There was nothing to say; he'd seen the exam, heard everything that was said. He'd been listening to analyze, too, gathering information for himself and refining his plan of approach.

Agent Dunham was sitting, sipping a foam cup of coffee, when she entered the observation room. Scully proffered her two vials of blood. "William's blood samples. I assume you'll be sending them on to Boston for testing. I'd like you to run a DNA test on them as well. I've got samples from Mulder and myself." She reached into her bag and pulled out the two swabs, bagged and labeled.

The swabs passed between them, and they were set aside on the table, along with the blood samples. Dunham, she'd noticed, didn't seem to carry any kind of bag with her. "I'll send these off once Mulder's done." There was a slight inclination of her head towards a metal folding chair, like the one she sat in, placed close to the glass. Instinctively, she knew it was where Mulder had sat and watched. There was some reassurance in settling in to his place by the two-way mirror.

It had not been her tests that worried her; nothing of what made William special would show up with a simple physical exam. Had she access to more advanced equipment, perhaps it would have been a different matter. On some level, she had to admit a curiosity regarding what such tests might show. For now, she would have to content herself with whatever Mulder might have devised to test both psychological development and parapsychological talents.

A few feet away, Dunham sat, still, cup still in hand. It unnerved Scully a bit to feel so watched, to know that she, as much as William, was being observed and evaluated. She remembered her first year on the X-files, her own studious reports assessing not just their cases, but also Mulder's approach to them. Knowing that Dunham had read some of their old files, she wondered how much about their history is known, if she'd read those early files. Once, she was as young as Agent Dunham, but she didn't think the young agent was ever as naive as she was the day she walked in the door of the basement office.

The end result of that opened door was on the other side of the glass, where Mulder slouched in a chair across from William, Mike Van De Kamp gone from the room. He started with easy questions, some of the same that she'd asked, knowing the prior answer, establishing honesty as much as rapport. She'd watched him do it a thousand times, but this time, there was a small hesitation, so minute only she would notice, as he interacted with his son. It was, she knew, exactly why they shouldn't be the ones doing this, why medical professionals didn't treat family.

"Will you play a game with me?" Mulder asked, pulling out a pack of cards. The voices are tinny through the speakers, but she heard the similarity in their tones nonetheless. She forgot about Dunham in the room with her, and turned to watch.

"I'm good at Rummy."

Mulder shook his head, and sat a small deck on the table, less than half the thickness of a normal pack of cards. "We're going to try something else. Easier than Rummy. There are sixteen cards in this pile, all the aces and face cards from the deck. You know those, right?"

"Kings, queens, and jacks."

"Right. I'm going to hold one up, without showing it to you, and I want you to tell me which one it is."

The boy's brow furrowed. "Is this like a magic trick?"

"Not magic. Just a little game."

"It seems silly. How would I know?"

"It can be surprising what you know, when you think about it."

"Fine." Scully heard herself in that answer, and she knew Mulder heard it too, from the grin tugging at the corners of his mouth.

"Okay, Billy." Mulder held up one card, angled so it wouldn't be reflected in the glass.

The boy stared for a moment, shrugged, and said, "King."

Mulder turned the card, passing it past the window so that they could see it, before laying it face up on the table. "Jack."

Scully knew that this wasn't quite how one normally tested alleged psychic abilities. The images were normally random; someone with basic card-counting skills would have a significantly greater than 25% chance of being proven psychic by such a test, but it was a starting place. Pulling out a note pad, she kept a running tally of William's hits and misses.

It also tested the boy's intelligence, she realized, as by the end he seemed to realize that logic limited the number of cards left. Both of his final guesses were right, leaving him with seven right answers. Nearly 45%, though she wondered if the last two should really count. Either way, he came out statistically ahead of the 25% he should have guessed.

"Very good, Billy," said Mulder, flipping over the last card, then sweeping up the deck and reshuffling them. "We're going to try that again, only this time, I'm going to have you hold my hand while guessing."

With some reluctance, the boy reached across the table and took Mulder's offered hand. Mulder picked up the top card, guarding it, staring intently between the face on the card and the face across the table. "Queen. A red one," said Billy, after a moment, his eyes growing wide, gasping a shaky breath.

Mulder flipped the card down on the table. Queen of Diamonds.

Chapter 5

Before Mulder had finished flipping through the deck of cards, Olivia dug out her phone. The boy, now holding Mulder's hand and looking as surprised by his success as anyone, was running at a 75% rate, sometimes even correctly guessing the suit. Olivia knew Walter would want to see this, and Peter might want to take him to Vegas to settle some gambling debts. She was dialing before she left the room, leaving Scully behind to observe, seemingly astonished by what she was watching.

Mike Van De Kamp was sitting outside the door, cup of coffee in hand, and Olivia turned the other way, walking towards the large window overlooking the nearly empty parking lot behind the station. Mentally adjusting for the time difference between Wyoming and Boston, she wondered whether Broyles would be in his morning meeting.

Two rings, and she had her answer. "Broyles."

"It's Dunham," she said, leaning against the chilly plate glass.

"What have you found?"

"Regarding the case, not much. Typical radical animal liberation actor. Denver is more than equipped to handle the case."

"What about the boy?"

Her sigh fogged the glass. "He merits further investigation, but there is a complication." She waited a beat, but Broyles made no response. "William Van De Kamp, Billy, we believe to be Mulder and Scully's son, given up for adoption in 2002."

"We believe? Are they not certain?"

"I'm sending blood and DNA back for the labs to test. I'm also sending copies of the medical and psych exams to the Bishops."


"He shows signs of being psychologically gifted."

"His father will want to come with him. I'll sign off on bringing them to Boston. Mulder and Scully raise no objections?"

"They're not happy about it, but they won't object. Did you know about this, sir?"

"The case was passed along to me, Agent Dunham. I'll see you back in town tomorrow." He didn't wait for a response, or a goodbye, merely hung up. Liv stared down at her phone, wondering how much of the former agents' paranoia really was warranted, and where this manipulation was coming from.

Setting that thought aside momentarily, she turned back to the hallway, where Mr. Van De Kamp sat, watching her. Though she didn't really want another cup of coffee, she poured one, and sat down next to him. "The FBI would like to bring you and Billy to Boston next week for some followup testing. We believe that he is a very special boy, and we'd like to find out exactly what's going on inside his head."

"What do you mean?" Van De Kamp looked puzzled, wary for the first time.

"Based on Billy's description of what happened with the sheep last week, and some exams performed by Mr. Mulder, we believe he may possess some exceptional mental capabilities. We have a specialist consultant in Boston who is an expert in these types of things. He'll want to do some tests, nothing invasive, just imaging." She hoped that was true; with Walter, you never could quite tell.

"I'm not sending him alone."

"Of course not, Mr. Van De Kamp. The Bureau will pay for your transportation and lodgings. We'll probably put you in one of the houses in Cambridge; our expert is at Harvard." There was something reassuring in that, she knew, an air of respectability that didn't quite mesh with her experiences in the Bishop lab.

"Harvard, huh? It'll be good for Billy to go see that, give him something to aspire to."

"I'll personally make sure he gets a t-shirt. Let me go see if Mr. Mulder's done with his examination."

She rose, and walked to the interview room door, still closed. Thick wood, it kept sound from escaping to the hallway, but had an ominous resonance when she knocked, then realized she'd never hear a response anyway. Cracking the door, she slipped inside.

Mulder and Billy were apparently done, discussing a coming book report on "The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe," which she vaguely remembered, and was surprised the boy was reading it already. Mulder, on the other hand, seemed to think it perfectly ordinary reading material for the boy, and was making the case for the darker stories of Roald Dahl and "The Hobbit." She cleared her throat, and he turned to look at her, surprise raising his brows. "Are you gentlemen finished?"

"I've got what I need."

"Great." She smiled at the boy, then stepped back to open the door. "Mr. Van De Kamp, you can come in now."

Van De Kamp sat at the table next to Billy, but she remained standing, holding the position of authority. She knew she'd need it, with Mulder and Scully in the room. Scully, no dummy about how, as a woman, to hold her own and look authoritative, had come in and stood behind her, lingering next to the door. "Billy, we'd really like you and your father to come to Boston next week for a few followup tests at Harvard."

"This is because I knew what the cards were." It wasn't a question, and she noted the affirmation that it was knowledge, not speculation. She wondered if the boy had intended it that way.

"Yes." There was no point in lying to him. "There's someone there who specializes in unusually gifted people, like you are."

"What about school?"

"We'll arrange things with your teachers here, and make sure you have some educational experiences while you're with us."

"No," he said, pointing up at the clock above the two-way mirror. "I'm supposed to be there in five minutes."

Mike laughed, patted the boy on the back. "It's fine, Billy. This is a good excuse for being late. You want to go to Boston?"


That was all it took, Olivia thought. She wished all her investigations went this smoothly. "Great. I'll be back in Boston tomorrow, and will call you by the end of the week with arrangements. Does Billy need some kind of note for school?"

"If we can get one for next week, yes. This morning isn't a problem."

The Van De Kamps followed her out of the room, leaving Mulder and Scully behind, facing one another across the interrogation room.

There was a profound silence in the Grand Cherokee on the way to the airport. Dunham had been matter-of-fact about the whole thing, and Mulder couldn't blame her. It wasn't as if she were the one pulling the strings; he knew how it felt to be played. Scully had been quiet for the ride back to the hotel, and had then vented her frustration with the situation on their luggage. Experienced with her as he was, he merely packed the toiletries and played sounding board; he'd made his feelings clear even before that morning's examination of their son.

Finally, a hundred miles into the drive, he spoke up. "Scully and I will be in Boston next week."

In the rearview, he saw Dunham glance at him before returning her eyes to the road, growing increasingly busy as they returned to civilization. "You'll be on your own for that. If you want to come to the lab and observe, you're welcome to, at least so far as I can invite you to a lab that's not mine."

"Whose lab is it? I've worked with Dr. Tabari and--"

"Its not the medical center, Dr. Scully. Dr. Bishop is emeritus faculty in biochemistry."

"Dr. Walter Bishop?" He sat back against the seat, beginning to put the pieces together.

That look in the rearview again, as if he were the one not being completely honest here. "You know him?"

"Of him. His name came up in some old DARPA files that were passed along to me. He used to do some very unusual, and very questionable research, from what I could gather."

"Questionable in what way?" He wasn't sure whether Scully's question was addressed to him or to Dunham, but he chose to answer it.

"Genetic engineering. He was part of a group that had some success creating chimeras. He was also one of the few legitimate researchers doing any work in the parapsychological."

"You're asking us to allow our son to be examined by someone we know has worked for the government to create just what some people believe him to be?"

Mulder was shocked by the admission of such by Scully, but she'd seen the boy, and too much else over the years to really be astonished.

"He's not the man he once was," began Dunham, slowly. "He was institutionalized for a long time. Now, he feels his work with the Fringe Division is helping to make amends for what he once did." Mulder heard the doubt in her voice, the obfuscated. He would do his own research when they got home.

Olivia maneuvered the SUV through the airport, pulling up at the curb of the terminal. Before unbuckling, he said, "We'll be there."

She turned around then, and nodded. "As I said, you're welcome. Walter will like both of you. His lab is in the basement of the Kresge Building."

"All the best offices are always in the basement." He slipped from the vehicle, hearing the latch release the back hatch. Without another word to Dunham, he pulled their luggage onto the sidewalk, where Scully waited.

"Boston, Mulder? I'm not sure I can get another week off work."

"I can go. I've got to see the real estate agent about the Chilmark house, anyway." He picked up their suitcases and headed for the revolving entry door.

"I'm not about to let you go off to a mad scientist's lab unsupervised, Mulder."

"Agent Dunham will be there to keep an eye on things."

"That's what worries me. She's being manipulated as much as we ever were."

"So we'll call Skinner when we get home, and see what he can tell us."

In order to clear her schedule for the next week, Scully was forced to work a double shift, and straight through the weekend. She worried at the lack of time to do any reading on what to expect when they arrived in Boston, but Mulder seemed to take up the task with gusto, and provided notes over whatever meal they got the chance to share together.

Friday afternoon, he announced he'd found the original DARPA notes he remembered, bad photocopies of dot-matrix printer pages that were barely legible, which he claimed came from a friend of Frohike's. They had commissioned Kelvin Genetics, led by Dr. Bishop, to explore chimerism as a possible biological defense mechanism in 1982. Mulder had also provided the tidbit that as early as the late 1970s, mammalian chimeras were being produced in laboratories. She'd spent the night at work wondering what purpose such creations served.

Saturday, he'd served up cod and a pile of information on the failed project which injected a metallic serum to facilitate direct messaging to the human brain. "Sound familiar?" he'd asked, and she just shook her head sadly at the all too familiar elements of that story.

Sunday night, he'd picked her up at the hospital after her eighteen hour shift, nearly midnight, and handed her a stack of paperwork. "Massive Dynamic. Founded by Bishop's former research partner, William Bell. Who has since unofficially vanished. That's barely a quarter of the shady shit I've found on them."

She yawned, and slid the pile to the floor. "I'll read it in the morning." She was asleep before they hit 95, the hum of the car on the highway lulling her to sleep. Honking and bright sunlight streaming through the window woke her around dawn, as they crossed the George Washington Bridge. As much as the seat would allow, she stretched, feeling the ache of muscles worked too long then rested in an unaccustomed position. It had been years since she'd slept in a car. "You need a break?"

"You slept through my break at the scenic Vince Lombardi rest stop. There are some of those little cinnamon bun things for you." With one hand, he gestured towards a bag wedged between the seats. "And a coffee."

Tugging the bag free, she dug inside, found a wad of napkins keeping the gooey breakfast treats warm. It wasn't the healthy option she would have chosen, but she was hungry. "So fill me in on that pile of paper you handed me last night."

Mulder navigated his way off the bridge, and began, "Walter Bishop was institutionalized following the death of a researcher in his lab back in '91, and the lab was closed down. Three months later, William Bell, his research partner, founded his own company to continue their biochemical research. It was so successful, he was able to buy Fleming-Monroe in 1999, and the company became Massive Dynamic. They're the second largest government contractor, mainly for the DoD, primarily classified fields."

She wiped icing off her fingers, and reached down for the pile of folders on the floor. "What does that have to do with Bishop, or our William, Mulder?"

He drummed his fingers against the steering wheel and changed lanes before answering. "I talked to Skinner over the weekend. Apparently he got some kind of alert when we were called in to consult. He did a little digging of his own into this case. The Fringe Division wasn't referred the case from the Denver office; they were prepared to pat the kid on the head for being a good citizen and proceed with their case against Jamie Paza and Marley Kirkpatrick."

"Where did the referral come from, then?"

"Apparently the case was sent to Dunham's SAC, Broyles, from someone at Massive Dynamic. For some reason, they apparently have a monitoring program of the national sheep population, which hit on the case, and took an interest in William instead of the wooly beasts. Not the adoption records, though. Those were hacked by someone just outside Boston."

For a few minutes, she sat quietly, chewing on the last bite of cinnamon bun and thinking. She knew the myriad pathways of conspiracy Mulder's mind would have followed given the revelation. "You think this corporation, Massive Dynamic, wants our son?"

His head wagged, noncommittal. "We don't know what happened to the forces that tried, repeatedly, to take William. But the corporation arose at a very interesting time, and we both know the best way to hide is behind an official veneer."

"Skinner confirmed that it's William?"

"He knew."

"He what?" She sat up straighter in the seat, twisting to face Mulder, anger building.

"He said he'd been keeping tabs. Nothing official, but he knew where he'd gone, in case we ever needed to know."

The car was silent the rest of the way to Boston, as she sat, sorting through her own feelings. Mulder, she thought, must be doing much the same, though he'd had at least two days head start on her. They'd gone through so much, only to seemingly be caught back up in the same web of half-truths and conspiracy.

Mid-morning, they passed the exit for Harvard, and she finally turned back to Mulder. "You missed the exit." She couldn't fault him for being a bit distracted, and he'd never been the best at directions to begin with. Maybe she should be driving.

"The Van De Kamps don't get in until 2:30. We're going to get settled in first."

"Not, apparently, in Cambridge?"

"Not in Cambridge. Or in Boston." He dropped his gaze from the road to the rim of the wheel, looking a bit sheepish as his longer hair fell across his forehead. "My grandparents' weekend house."

"You've got another one you never mentioned?"

"It's not mine. It belongs to a cousin."

She raised a brow in surprise. "A cousin you've never mentioned."

"Dad helped Beth get a job in the Foreign Service. I don't think she's lived in the US for more than a few months since the late eighties. She's kept the house, rents it out."

Road signs flashed by, and Scully noted their western progress along route 2. "In Concord?"

"Just a little northwest, on one of the ponds."

Navigating the country roads, she had to admit that it was prettier than staying in town, though it seemed a bit far out. Eventually, he turned off the road onto a paved lane, edged sporadically with shade trees beginning to turn the bright hues of autumn. The trees grew thicker, deepening into a wood on either side, before the lane led them to a clearing with a big yellow clapboard house, trimmed with green shutters, and a big white wraparound porch. Just behind the house, she could see the glimmer of a pond, dock trailing out into sparkling water. It looked like something from a movie, not something from the Mulder family's checkered past.

"It's beautiful. But we hardly needed all this for a few days. I hope your cousin gave you a good deal!"

He parked the car on a stretch of gravel to the left of the house, bordered by a browning trellis of roses, and eyed the house for a moment before turning to her. "Beth's owned this house for twenty years and never lived in it. When I called her about using it for the week, she mentioned she'd been thinking about selling it."

"Haven't you been trying to unload houses, rather than collect them?"

"The realtor's office called me Saturday. There's a contract on the Chilmark house, finally."

She studied the property through the windshield. From here, she had a better view of the pond, stretching away towards a piney horizon, no other houses in sight. But they were less than forty minutes from downtown Boston. Her residency and contract was up next June, and they had talked of moving, now that Mulder could live openly.

"Let's think about it while we're here this week." Unbuckling her seatbelt, she returned his smile, and slipped from the car. Though it was closer to noon than dawn, there was still a chill lingering in the damp air, and a cool breeze riffled her hair. It was, she had to admit, the kind of place she always dreamed of living.

"Come on, let me show you inside." Mulder took her hand, and led her around the porch to the front door.

As she watched Peter showing Gene the cow to the Van De Kamps, Olivia rested a hip against one of Walter's myriad lab tables, this one covered with a collection of beakers filled with liquids of varying colors, viscosities, and aromas. After taking a deep breath and inhaling the sickeningly fruity melange of scents, she moved away, toward where Astrid and Walter were working on untangling a series of wires.

"What are we starting with, Walter?"

Walter looked up from threading an electrode through a mesh cap. "Electroencephalography to start, my dear." He held up the nest of wires. "Once we know where his brain is most active, I'll know how to proceed."

"Just a regular EEG?" Somehow she doubted any test run in this lab was 'just' anything.

"I'm sure you expected something much more radical, but that will have to wait until I know how radical the boy is." He turned to face the approaching Van De Kamps, concluding their tour of the lab with Peter. "I understand he's pretty remarkable, aren't you, young man."

Somehow, the boy's nose managed to wrinkle at the same time as his brow rose, obviously uncertain what response he should provide this stranger. Finally, he said, "I'm not quite sure, sir."

"No need for such formalities, here! You may call me Walter. This is Astraea--

"Astrid," the young agent corrected, extending a hand to shake with the boy. "You must be Billy."

He seemed more at ease with her, appearing to relax a bit. If he really was an empath, as Mulder's exam indicated, it made sense to Olivia; Astrid was the most centered and no-nonsense person she'd ever worked with.

"So what are you folks looking at doing with Billy?" Mike Van De Kamp had hung back, lingering near the aromatic table Olivia had recently fled. Worry lines creased the corners of his eyes as he glanced around the equipment assembled in the center of the lab.

"We'll be starting with a simple EEG, Mr. Van De Kamp. Dr. Bishop is going to put an electrode cap on Billy's head to see what kind of neural activity is happening, and where." That sounded, she thought, perfectly plausible and not at all fantastical. This was not a man who would appreciate the fantastical.

One who would, though, was coming through the door of the lab. There had been a knock, and Mulder and Scully entered as she caught a glimpse of the Life Sciences TA's braid flicking away down the hall. No one lingered long down here, and avoided the Bishop lab if at all possible. If not for the involvement of DHS and the FBI, she was sure Harvard would have evicted the entire circus by now. Or at least the cow.

The pair paused a few steps into the lab, both their eyes widening. Mulder had the sudden look of a kid in a candy store, while Scully merely seemed surprised at the equipment stuffed into the laboratory space. It was Scully who seemed to hone in on the group in the center of the lab first, and made a beeline towards Olivia, Mulder trailing after. "Agent Dunham, our apologies for the lateness. We underestimated afternoon traffic."

Introductions were made, and Olivia watched the newcomers size up the Fringe team. Mulder looked right at home, but Scully stood to one side, near Astrid, eyeing the mass of wires. "Dr. Bishop, what course of examination were you planning for today?"

"We were just getting ready to do an EEG. If you would like to assist me with the readings, perhaps Mr. Mulder would help Peter? We're going to ask the little boy to do a few tasks to figure out what's going on in that remarkable brain of his." Walter shuffled forward and lifted the electrode netting towards Billy. "Young man, would you put this on, please."

"Um, okay." For the first time, he truly sounded his age, young and a bit frightened.

Astrid turned from where she was plugging in the electrodes. "Here, why don't you come sit down, while we get things set up for you. It won't hurt, it's just like wearing a really ugly hat." She took the cap from Walter, and helped Billy settle it onto his head. "Good?"

The boy nodded, shyly.

Olivia hung back, guiding Mike Van De Kamp to an out of the way seat. She didn't bother asking if he wanted to leave. There was a hum as the machinery started up, and though Mike and Billy looked alarmed, neither Walter nor Dr. Scully seemed troubled, so she pulled out her notebook, prepared to watch and document.

Chapter 6

The EEG started off more simply than any of her prior experiences with Walter's experiments would have led her to believe. He had Billy sit quietly, eyes closed, as the room remained silent for nearly five minutes. Olivia hadn't been aware he could remain silent that long. Then the additional stimulation had begun; Billy had been asked to open his eyes, to recite the alphabet, to count to twenty, to recite the Pledge of Allegiance, to write his address, to put a simple puzzle together. Walter had stood nodding at the results, while Scully seemed unimpressed.

Then Walter sent Peter to retrieve an enormous bag of candy. "All right, Billy. What's your favorite? I've got Red Vines, peanut butter cups, peppermints, butterscotch, jelly beans. Oh, and those delicious peach rings."

"Peanut butter cups."

"All right. Please help yourself." He returned to the results monitor, nodding once more. "Yes, very good. Now, Peter, come take this. I'll tell you what I want you to eat, while holding Billy's hand."

Peter moved with some reluctance, eyeing both Walter and the candy with some skepticism.

"Don't react. Just eat one of the peppermints."

Digging into the bag of sweets, Peter, pulled out the mints and unwrapped one. "You bought these at the store, right?"

"I bought them," Astrid reassured him.

Shrugging, he popped the candy into his mouth. The process was repeated again with a butterscotch, before Walter moved on to asking him to sample from the bag of jelly beans. On the second bean, Olivia noticed him making an odd face; on the third, he spit out the candy. "What the hell are these, Walter?"

"They're every-flavored beans! They were perfect for this, I think."

"That was horse-radish!"

"And it evoked just the response I was hoping for." He said this looking at Billy, not at Peter. "Two more things for you, Billy. Do you play an instrument?"

"No, sir--I mean, no, Walter."

"Excellent. If we could, Astral, will you help please..." he fumbled with the wiring and EEG machine. "Please follow Peter over to the piano, just there, and put your hand on his shoulder while he plays."

Peter settled at the piano bench. "Any requests?"

"Freebird," drawled Mulder, causing a glare from Scully and a chuckle from Peter. The two men, thought Olivia, would probably get along very well.

There was a silence as Peter tickled a few bass notes out, then grinned. With a crescendo that caused several of those in the room to jump, including Billy, he launched into a frenetic piece Olivia didn't recognize. While Walter and Scully seemed absorbed in the EEG results, everyone else in the room was focused on Peter's hands, flying on the keys. Olivia couldn't stop watching, though she had no idea what she was seeing or hearing; she was not well-versed in music, and had no idea Peter could play like this.

There was quiet when he finished, and she was almost tempted to clap. It was Mike who asked, though, sparing her, "What on earth was that?" She supposed he, like her, had expected something simpler, "Over the Rainbow" or the Moonlight Sonata.

Peter grinned sheepishly, hanging his head just a bit over the keys. "Stravinsky. It's from 'The Firebird.'"

Billy turned, releasing his grasp on Peter's shoulder and searching out Mike in the crowd. "Can I take piano lessons when we go home?"

Mike whooped out a laugh. "Sure, buddy. But you learn to play like that, you'll scare the bison!"

Moving over to the boy's side, Walter led him back over to one of the lab tables, leaving Astrid and Scully to keep the mass of wiring from ensnaring the rest of the room's occupants, or sweeping a mass of pipettes and beakers onto the floor. "Come here, one last thing. It might be a little unpleasant."

A row of three covered boxes sat on the countertop. Walter lifted the sheet covering them to reveal three caged rats. Olivia hoped fervently that he wasn't going to do something to the rats.

"These three are all parts of clinical trials going on here. Each has something wrong with it, something you can't see."

"You want me to tell you what's wrong with them." The boy didn't look up, but stood, studying the caged animals.

"That's right. You can reach in and touch them, I've been assured they're quite friendly. I believe there may be some kind of fruit we could use as a treat...."

"That's okay. My friend Aiden has a pet rat. I'm not scared of them."

After the rollicking piano music, the lab's silence seemed even more profound as Billy opened the first cage and picked up the white rat within. The animal rested placidly in his hands, nose twitching. "Her stomach hurts. Not like too many sweets, but like something too spicy."

The second rat had been moving constantly in the cage and it took a moment to capture it. Counterintuitively, he said, "He's tired."

The third rat allowed itself to be picked up and held, and appeared quite friendly. For several moments, the boy petted it, looking puzzled. "I don't think there's anything wrong with this one."

Walter nodded like a bobblehead. "Yes, very good. Always have a control! That's a perfectly healthy young rat. And you have correctly identified rats from an ulcer study and a sleep deprivation experiment."

"And what's all this tell you?" Mike had risen and made his way over to the table of rats, one hand coming to rest on Billy's shoulder, as the boy continued petting the rodent.

"Well, this gives us a place to start. We know what areas of the brain appear to be hyper-activated when accomplishing certain tasks or sensing certain things."

"What does that help?"

"It gives us a place to start, Mr. Van De Kamp," said Scully, still looking almost incredulously at the EEG printout. "Billy seems to display activity in the brain in a way that implies he's actually experiencing what someone or something else is feeling. For instance, when Peter was playing, we'd normally expect to see activity in the auditory cortex of a listener. However, he shows not just this, but increased activity in areas like the parietal lobe and motor cortex, as we'd expect to see in a reading of someone actually playing. Billy also displays an astonishing amount of activity in the corpus callosum."

"Indeed," agreed Walter. "It's most unusual. I believe the next step should be imaging."

"Which will illustrate the where, but not explain how," protested Mulder.

"Unless the increased activity in these areas, which are often the areas that control emotion, cognition, and autonomic functions, is the reason why. If we know what areas are most active, we may know what talents he possesses."

"Don't we already know that? Isn't it why he's here?" Mike looked confused.

"We established something unusual was going on, which is why we arranged for you to come here," clarified Astrid. "But this will allow us to understand the extent of Billy's abilities. He may be able to do things he doesn't realize."

"Imaging won't hurt him?"

"No, it won't," reassured Scully, who looked rather relieved herself. "If Agent Dunham could call over to the medical center and see if we can arrange for use of the fMRI, that could tell us a great deal." Her voice sounded steady, but she quickly slipped out of the room, Mulder following after.

"In the meantime, there are some puzzles around here that you may enjoy. Unless you'd rather have some more candy?" Walter was digging through a pile of boxes, Red Vine in one hand.

Scully sat on an old wooden bench, head down, drawing long, deep breaths. He approached cautiously, halting when he knew the tips of his sneakers would be just inside her field of view. He let her have a few moments in silence before asking, "Scully? Talk to me."

When she looked up at him, Mulder almost regretted asking. Frightened blue eyes stared up at him, edged with wrinkles of worry. She extended a hand and tugged gently, urging him to join her on the bench, and he came without hesitation. In this public place, he refrained from pulling her into his arms the way her expression would have warranted at another time, and instead settled for the reassuring press of his side against hers, from shoulder to thigh, fingers interlacing and resting in the valley where their knees met.

"I've only seen EEG readings approaching anything like that once before." She looked him in the eye. "Yours. After you were exposed to that artifact, when you were hospitalized. But your increased brain activity wasn't specific the way William's seems to be." Sucking in a deep breath, she paused, and he knew that she was trying to reconcile the science she held as truth with the facts of what she knew he had experienced. "Yours, though, showed increased generalized activity. His is very obviously specific."

"Specific to what he's perceiving from someone, or something, else." He couldn't help but clarify. "He's not getting an undisciplined static of information bombarding him. He has to chose it."

Haltingly, she asked, "Do you think this is..inherited? And simply refined because he's lived with it all his life and adapted to it? Because genetics don't work that way, Mulder. You don't pass on something that's acquired."

He shrugged the shoulder not pressed against hers. "Well, the potential exists in all of us for more or less functionality in the brain, as you well know. Developmentally, activities like exposure to music or language can affect the way the brain matures." He drummed his fingers on her thigh for a moment, trying to figure out how to explain his theory. "Some of the things we were exposed to over the years, we really never understood the mechanisms of. Why couldn't retrovirus exposure at some point have changed the DNA I was able to pass on? Even though women are born with a finite number of eggs, men continually are producing sperm. So while anything you were exposed to wouldn't have been passed on to our son--"

"What are you talking about? Your son?"

Their heads snapped to the left, to see Mike Van De Kamp standing in the doorway to the lab, William just behind him and Peter Bishop to his left. Mulder fought the urge to gape like a cartoon character, while he felt Scully draw a deep breath beside him and straighten her posture. It wasn't fair to leave this to her, but he knew she'd be much more tactful about it than he would be.

"Mr. Van De Kamp, I think it's time that Mulder and I had a conversation with you privately. If there's somewhere we could talk, perhaps Mr. Bishop could keep an eye on Billy for a bit?"

There was a flash of discomfort across Peter's face, so fast that anyone other than a behavioral psychologist wouldn't have noticed it, then that urbane mask slipped back in place. "Of course. There are a couple classrooms down the hall that should be empty at this hour. Billy can hang out here in the lab." Man and boy vanished back behind the heavy wood and glass doors, leaving the trio alone in the hall.

It seemed the time to contribute something to the confrontation, so Mulder rose and gestured down the hallway. "Shall we?" He led the way, not looking back to see if they followed, though he knew Scully would. Opening the door to classroom B110, he felt a pity for the students who had to suffer classes in the dim, chilly room. He awkwardly settled in behind one of the student desks in the front row, unwilling to take the psychological advantage of a position at the professor's desk. Scully, however, was, and settled for resting against the edge of the old wood desk. Mike Van De Kamp looked between the two of them, face a mixture of anger and concern, and seemed to be considering standing, before finally sitting down two desks away from Mulder.

Scully tapped one nail on the polished edge of the desk before beginning, "Mr. Van De Kamp, there's a story you need to hear." Scully was not, however, a storyteller but a recounter of facts, and Mulder let her recite the history of their William to him. To a third party, it must have sounded cooly rational, but he heard the emotion under her careful words. Her voice did break, finally, as she concluded, "And so I made the decision to give him up, anonymously and confidentially."

The room was quiet after she concluded, the heavy silence inside broken only by the sound of coeds outside the high windows. Mike was looking at the pair of them, staring, as if seeing their faces contrasted with his son's for the first time, and processing everything Scully had said. "You believe my Billy is the son you gave up?"

"No," said Mulder, breaking his silence. "We know he is. Agent Dunham has the adoption records."

"I thought those were sealed?"

"They were. But that doesn't mean they can't be accessed, by the right person." Or wrong one, he thought.

Mike was quiet, but his silence was interrupted by noise from the hall, rattling wheels and the soft sound of Astrid's voice, warning someone to be careful.

"What about Billy? Do I tell him? You don't...this isn't because you want.... You're not going to take him from me?" Anger tinged his voice.

"No, we're not," said Scully, firmly. "Does he know he's adopted?"

"Yes, but we never made a big deal out of it. I don't know how he would react to finding out about his biological parents."

The sound of young laughter echoed into the room from the hallway, where the clatter of wheels had multiplied.

"We're glad he ended up with someone like you, Mike," said Mulder. "He's obviously a happy, well-adjusted kid, which is something we don't want to interfere with. But speaking for myself, I'd like to be able to tell him who I am, maybe come visit on vacation."

Mike slumped back in the creaky wood desk chair. "You don't think he'd be upset to find out that you're his parents, but that you don't want him back?"

"It's not that we don't want him. There's nothing I want more. But I also can't take him away from the only home he's ever known, where he's happy. When I spoke with him last week, he mentioned going away for high school. Maybe then, if he's gotten to know us a bit more, if you want him to...."

"I'm sure admission to my former prep school could be easily arranged," mentioned Mulder, the idea springing to the fore for the first time. He'd managed to forget a lot of those years. For a normal kid like William, it might be a great experience. "If that's something you both want."

"It's a lot to think about. I don't know about high school, but I don't object to him knowing where he came from. How far we want that to go, I'm not sure. But he deserves the truth." Mike rose and headed for the door. When he opened it, they saw Billy go whizzing by on a pair of old metal roller skates, Walter creeping along after. After the grief he'd gotten over the years, Mulder couldn't believe the FBI was paying for this.

"Billy? Stop goofing around and come in here, please."

The air seemed to suck out of the corridor as skates squealed to a stop, and those on from the Fringe team turned to stare at Mulder, Scully, and Mike. Walter, on skates too, skidded into a bench and dropped onto it in a heap. Mulder saw Scully nod incrementally towards Olivia Dunham, who responded in kind, the hint of a smile on her face.

"Is everything okay, Dad?" Billy looked suddenly concerned. He skated towards the doorway where they stood.

"Yes, we just need to talk to you."

"It's about them, isn't it?" He waved at Mulder and Scully, looking less troubled.

"It is," said Mike, nodding in affirmation.

The hallway was quiet, and the squeaky halt of the practically antique skates reverberated loudly. Billy's voice seemed like a whisper after it. "I already know." He didn't look at any of them, just stared down, seemingly fixated on the worn leather strap holding the skate onto his sneaker.

"What do you know? And how?" Mike looked up sharply, glaring down the hall at Agent Dunham.

"Back home, when Mr. Mulder had me hold his hand to see the cards, I could feel other stuff, too."

"Billy, I'm sorry," began Mulder, trying to find the words. He was not normally at a loss for them. "If I thought about it, I never would have done that. It's not the way we wanted you to find out."

The boy shook his head. "I know. It was okay. A little scary, because you feel a lot. But cool to know who you are."

Mike crouched down, eye level with him. "You're not upset? Do you have any questions?"

"You didn't know," he said, shaking his head again. He turned to Mulder and Scully then, staring up with sharp blue eyes, hard as sapphires. "Why?"

Mulder could hear Scully swallow beside him, then answered, "Let's go sit down and talk, all right?"

As Mulder, Scully, and Billy filed into the classroom, Mike remained in the hall, carefully closing the door behind them. Though the frosted glass, Mulder could see his silhouette, standing guard. Billy suddenly looked less docile, closer to a tantrum or tears as he sat stiffly at the first desk by the door. Scully sat beside him, pulling her desk almost close enough to touch his. Mulder reluctantly dragged the professor's desk chair around, sitting awkwardly in front of them.

"William--Billy," fumbled Scully, looking as nervous as Mulder had ever seen her. "Mulder and I, we used to be FBI agents, like Agent Dunham. We worked together for a long time, and made a lot of enemies. But we also fell in love. We never thought we could have a child, because of some things that had happened to me in the line of duty. So we were thrilled when you came along. But just after you were born, Mulder had to go into hiding, and there were several attempts to kidnap or harm you."

The boy's eyes grew wide, and he looked as if he wanted to interrupt with a question, but thought better and remained silent.

"These were people," said Mulder, picking up the simplified story from Scully, who was obviously having difficulty. "People who had tried to kill Scully and me for years, and had almost succeeded. More than once. We knew they wouldn't stop until they had you, because they thought then that you might possess the kind of abilities we're seeing now that you do."

"But what did they want me to do for them?" He looked confused, which was at least an improvement over angry or upset.

"We don't know, but we thought it was related to--"

"We think it might have been related to experiments done on Mulder a long time ago. At one time, something was done to him that allowed him to hear people's thoughts and feelings, but everyone's, all at once."

"Whoa. That would be too much."

"It was." He didn't elaborate, or bother correcting Scully's explanation of why they feared for his well-being as a baby. Springing parents on him was enough for one day; the story of a coming universal showdown would have been too much, even for him.

"So you put me in hiding too? Why didn't you send me to hide with Mulder?"

"By that time," Scully said, seeming to gain reassurance, "Mulder was close to being captured, and it wasn't safe for you to go with him. You were still just a baby. It was better for you to go somewhere else, somewhere we didn't even know about. We both ended up on the run and hiding for a couple years. As much as I missed you, and prayed for you every day, I was thankful knowing you were somewhere safe and stable."

"Are people going to try and hurt me, now that they know about me?" The fearful look was back on his face, and he cut a glance at the shadow of Mike, still just outside the door.

Mulder shook his head slowly. "I don't think so. The people who wanted you were...ruthless. If they'd wanted you, they would have found you eventually. From what Agent Dunham has said, they are exploring other options, now."

"Then why am I here? Are you taking me back?"

That, thought Mulder, was a pair of questions for which there existed no good answer. Scully, being Scully, would try, though. "You're here voluntarily, Billy, which means that you don't have to do anything you don't want to do. The how and why of your abilities is something we'd like to better understand, but that's not going to change the fact that they exist. And no, we're not going to take you away from your dad, but we'd like to see you sometimes, if that's okay."

"Like my friend Andy goes and spends holidays with his dad?"

"Maybe. That's up to you and your dad to decide." The words stuck in his throat just a little.

Chapter 7

Olivia looked up from the computer monitor as the door to the Bishop lab swung open, and the Van De Kamps walked in, followed by Mulder and Scully. They'd been in the classroom down the hall nearly half an hour, and she'd nearly gotten the MRI scheduled in the meantime. Broyles had strong-armed the hospital with the might of the federal government, and they'd agreed to fit them in at the end of the day. It just remained to be seen how late that would be. The clock's hands were sweeping up on six already.

"I'm just waiting to hear back from the radiology department on what time the MRI will be freed up for the evening. Walter's off gathering up a few safe tests for you to do while you're being scanned."

"Could I speak with you, Agent Dunham?" Mike paused, halfway across the room, with Billy hovering behind him, looking as if he wanted to slink back out of the room.

"Of course," she nodded. His tone was not auspicious, nor were his hesitant movements as he crossed the room.

"Dr. Scully should probably stay too. I think she can help explain."

Olivia watched as Mulder silently took Billy's hand and slipped back out the door, with just a quick whisper in Scully's ear. While Mike crept across the room, Scully moved with confidence, coming to stand in front of Olivia with shoulders squared, as if preparing for battle. At that moment, she realized what conversation was coming, not that it surprised her.

"You've decided you don't want Billy to participate any further," she said, looking at Mike, not Scully.

"The MRI is fine. But after talking with Mr. Mulder and Dr. Scully, they don't think that whatever is going on is something that will show up on any of your tests. And if he's not done anything wrong, I don't know that it matters. Does it?"

She wanted to tell him no, tell him that it didn't matter at all. Even she wasn't sure that it did. But it did, this ability to understand and to heal, to empathize with a rat and a man. "What Billy has is unique, and understanding it can't be undervalued. But he's under no legal obligation to do anything for us. Dr. Bishop's tests don't always fall within the bounds of traditional science, so he may be able to find something that normal testing wouldn't, once we know what we're working with."

"Agent Dunham, I know you've read Mulder's file. You'll recall that he was institutionalized briefly, proclaiming the ability to hear the thoughts of others. At that time, it was claimed that unused portions of his brain had been activated. I think William may have inherited some of this ability, only in possessing it since birth, he's been able to adapt to it. I'm not denying that there's something unique and invaluable there, but I also don't think that it's something replicable, even if we do learn how it works."

Olivia nodded slowly, gathering her thoughts. What Scully said was true, and she knew it, had known it since the beginning, though the information about Mulder's temporary abilities only fell into place once she'd realized who he was in relation to Billy. "I understand, Dr. Scully. But the abilities he possesses have the potential to help people, to diagnose illnesses, maybe even to cure them. Isn't that worth investigating?"

"He's shown the ability to read people, but not to affect them. He told us as much. If he can diagnose, then let him grow up and decide to go into medicine for himself."

Mike was looking between the two women like a spectator at a particularly volatile tennis match. He spoke slowly. "I want Billy to grow up and help people, but it should be because he wants to, not out of some sense of obligation. He's always said he wants to be a vet. Maybe he will, or maybe he'll change his mind in the next ten years. But you can't expect a boy to save the world."

"No, we can't," she agreed. While it was a lovely idea, she'd seen enough of the world to know that reality rarely worked out as well as theory. Especially in the areas that the Fringe team had investigated. Despite Broyles' suggestion, had it been wise to involve the boy in the first place? "If you're willing to let us do the MRI and get a few more results from that, our team would appreciate it. The EEG told us a lot." She was not looking forward to returning to the office and explaining this situation, but having something to show for it might help.

"That's fine. I'm sorry you've brought us all this way, but the more I think about it, the more it worries me. And after talking with Mulder and Scully...."

"I understand, Mr. Van De Kamp." She managed a weak smile, because she did, really.

"Thanks, Agent Dunham."

"Come on, Mike. Let's go meet Billy and Mulder for dinner," said Scully. The two of them left quietly, but their opening of the lab door let in the echo of Walter's voice down the hall, arguing with Peter about something. He would be disappointed, Olivia knew.

Before the men entered the lab, her phone chirped, with the hospital's number on the caller ID. As they made their way across the lab, she finalized the MRI time, while eyeing the bags carried by Peter, who so often ended up playing assistant. "We've got the MRI after 7:30."

"Most excellent. I've managed to assemble a few tasks for the boy to complete which should be safe with the magnets. Now, if we can procure a few more of the rats--"

"Walter, there's something else you should know."

He stopped in his tracks, one hand on the cage housing the sleep study rat, now dozing soundly. "Yes?"

"The MRI is the only other test we're going to be able to run on Billy. His father is worried about him." She wondered how much sway that would have with Walter.

For a moment he was still, then nodded shakily. "I believe that if we do this properly, we can get all the information we need for me to try and replicate the patterns of mental activity in other animals. Peter, do you think you could get a rhesus monkey?"

Peter looked at him for a moment, looked at Olivia, and shrugged. "Sure Walter. I'll just call up the monkey hotline."

"Excellent! Maybe they can get one here by tomorrow. We should have plenty of results by then...." He disappeared into his office, a stack of printouts from the earlier EEG in hand.

Olivia shook her head, smiling at the look of consternation on Peter's face. He did eventually smile, wagging his head, "If only things were as easy as he thinks they are."

Her smile faded. "Do you think he'll get enough information from the MRI to tell us anything?"

Tilting his head just a bit to the side, she could feel him assessing. "Does it matter?"

She let out a long, slow sigh. "No, it doesn't."

"Then don't worry about it. Let the kid go home and have a normal childhood. If he wants to embrace his unusual talents as an adult, he can come work for you."

Nodding slowly in agreement, she let a smile slip across her face. "Work for me? Are you giving me a promotion in my old age?"

He returned her smile. "You'll deserve one. Come on, let's go get a sandwich. Walter? You want something?" His voice echoed in the lab, bouncing off the metal and masonry.

"Cheese steak!"

For a moment, it looked like he might offer her an arm in assistance rising from the stool where she sat, but the moment passed, and she stood, checking her coat pocket for ID and cash. As they crossed to the door, she wondered, "They're from Wyoming. I wonder if the little boy would enjoy the aquarium. The whale watching tours are still going on for the season, I think. Ella loved it last time she visited."

The grin on his face was the most genuine she'd ever seen, and when he really smiled, she thought, he was quite handsome. "He'd love it. But get them four tickets."

"Four? Oh. Good idea," she said, as they slipped out of the lab, door closing heavily behind them.


Concord, MA
October 2015

Mulder slid his finger down the tablet screen, looking over the last of the edits on "The Mystery of the Mayan Vase." Initially, he hadn't realized the steady income to be made from young adult serial mystery novels. But for the last seven years, he'd easily written one every quarter, and pulled in nearly as much as profit as Scully did from her current position at the Children's Hospital. One finger traced along the bottom of the screen, signing off and emailing the manuscript back to his editrix.

He'd just closed his eyes and reclined in the adirondack chair, appreciating the autumn sun, when he heard the crunch of wheels on the drive, followed by the slam of a car door. His eyes opened, but he stayed in the chair, watching the geese scatter out across the pond as swift footsteps crossed the resonant boards of the porch. When something heavy crashed onto the ground a few feet away, he turned to see Bill, not quite smiling.

"Hey. You guys are back early."

"Yeah," was the dull response, as limbs somehow lankier than he remembered them being when last seen in August contorted themselves to collapse into a chair next to him. "No traffic. She wouldn't let me drive though."

"You know the rules. Just because you can drive around the ranch at home doesn't mean you can drive here. Up the lane only, at least until you get a permit. How are classes? Lots of work this weekend, or do you have time to do some reading for me?"

"A lot harder than last year. They gave us extra homework because of the holiday weekend, but I might be able to make time for you. Depends on what young Harry is up to, and whether it's more interesting than 'A Farewell to Arms.'"

"This time the great Herodotus Williams is investigating the sighting of a mysterious creature at Lake Columba while on vacation with his parents and obnoxious sister."

"That sounds way better than World War I." He reached for the tablet on the arm of Mulder's chair.

"School work first, boy detectives second," said Scully, sneaking up behind the pair.

"Aw, Mom!"

She smiled and rested a hand on Mulder's shoulder. "Until dinner, then. You should get most of it done, unless he's written a lot more than he let me read yesterday. Have you decided what you're doing for Thanksgiving, yet? We can make flight reservations for you this weekend, if you know."

Already navigating through the introduction to the story, it took a minute for Bill to respond, and he refused to look at either of them as he did. "Oh, yeah. Aunt Pam's doing turkey day at her place this year, and Dad's going down there. I thought since I see more of you guys now that I could, too." He looked hopefully between the two of them.

"Of course you can," said Mulder, feeling Scully's fingers dig into his shoulder just a little. "We can pop by Andover any time we want. Not that we would," he amended at Bill's worried look. "Go be with them for the holidays."

"Thanks, Mulder." He waved the tablet in the direction of the pond. "I'm going to go read this on the dock, okay?"

"Sure. You go read, and Scully, you sit down right here and relax while I finish up dinner."

"Please don't let it be more of that tuna surprise from last week."

"I promise, you'll like this. It involves vegetables other than peas." She raised a brow at him as she sunk down into the chair. "Really. Not from a can, either."

"Who are you, and do I need to call someone to see if they've finally got that cloning thing straightened out? Because I might keep you over the real thing."

He laughed, and it echoed out over the water, Bill turning around to look at them curiously. "I'm sure you can call someone down at Fringe. They've called us often enough."

"On the drive over, Bill said he might like to go work for AD Dunham one day."

"She'd have him in a heartbeat."

"He'd be good at it, too. It's not the way it was when we were there. They've got a lot more funding, since the appropriators down on the Potomac realized that they really are doing work to avoid the end of the universe as we know it. Astrid's running an excellent lab operation."

"You know he wouldn't want to be in a lab."

"I can wish though, can't I?"

"Yes you can, and you can give him time. He's got years for us to change his mind."

She smiled, and caught his hand, kissing the palm. His fingers brushed her cheek and tucked an errant lock of hair behind her ear, then pulled free. With a glance at the young man down on the dock, feet skimming just above the water's edge, he turned back to the house, where the scent of dinner called.

"Every parting gives a foretaste of death, every reunion, a hint of the resurrection."
-Arthur Schopenhauer

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