Title: The Places that Scare You

Author: Rose Campion

Warnings: This story has more warnings than I've had hot dinners. Male pregnancy and slash story. If you're squicked by that kind of story, don't complain to me about it, just don't read this! Go read something else. Very serious angst. DoggettTorture. MulderTorture. Main Character deaths. AU. This story may not be your cup of tea. My beta Jo says I have to give this story a three hanky warning. Very NC-17. No, really, I mean it. There were scenes that made me blush to write them. Includes some scenes that some readers may consider 'het' in nature. Negative feedback of any kind- I don't wanna hear it.

Special thanks to my beta Jo for daily doses of encouragement and generally going above and beyond the call of duty.

Disclaimer: I'm pretty sure CC and company would be very appalled by this story, but I'm not doing this for them. This is for the benefit of some of my like-minded fellow fans. Like most things I do well, I make no money from this.

Series: not part of a series. A stand-alone story. Don't ask for a sequel 'cause ya ain't gonna get one.

pairing: Mulder/Doggett; written for one of the challenges on the DTA website.

Archiving: Basement. SlashingMulder. Wherever. Just let me know. Diandra- you can't tell me you don't want to archive this.

Category: Drama, Angst, Male Pregnancy

Summary: "I suppose I was just a little emotional. And scared crapless. Sure, it's not a manly thing to admit. Fuck that. If you were in the situation I was, you'd be lying if you said you were anything but crap your pants scared. This kind of shit isn't supposed to happen, and if it hadn't been happening to me, I wouldn't have believed it for a minute."


"Are you ready for the thing called love? it don't come from you and me
it comes from up above
I ain't no porcupine
take off your kid gloves.
Are you ready for the thing called love?

I ain't no icon, carved out of soap
sent here to clean up your reputation.
Baby, you know you ain't no prince charming.

We can live in fear or act out of hope
of some kind of peaceful situation. Baby, how come the cry of love is so alarming?"

Thing Called Love- John Hiatt

We were two days out from Dallas, heading north. We hadn't exactly made the fastest progress we could on this trip. Right now though we were pulled off the side of the road, standing on the shoulder of the road as no one, and I mean no one, drove by this back of the boonies, Godforsaken middle of nowhere state highway through the near desert of Oklahoma in a drought year. Which was a good thing considering I was holding a gun aimed directly at Fox Mulder's head.

"This is all your fault, Goddamn it!" I yelled at him.

"John, put the gun down, please," he pleaded at me.

Sweat dripped into my eyes and I used my right hand to wipe my brow clean, but my gun didn't waver. "Asshole!" I told him. "You did this to me."

"I know you feel that way. We've talked about this before. But I think it would be more productive to have a rational discussion about it," he said. His hands weren't held over his head like I'd told him, but they were held out to the side so I could see he wasn't going to pull any crap on me.

Somehow or another, the man was going to pay for what had happened to me. What was still in the middle of happening to me. For what would continue to affect me for the rest of my life.

"There's nothing fucking rational about what's happening to me," I said.

It was too goddamn hot for this BS, to be standing outside of the car by the side of the highway, gun trained on my only companion, wiping sweat from my forehead, but I really couldn't see what else I could do at the moment. It was Fox Mulder's fault. He'd ruined my life. You couldn't put the blame any place else. The search for him had sidetracked my career into the X-files. His rescue from that military base had put me securely on the losing side against forces that had the power to destroy all of humanity. Rushing out to warn him in that desert had torn me away from the last of my old life. I hadn't seen the east coast since then, much less my house. Or my truck. You know, I missed my truck. I really did.

This wasn't the first time I'd pulled my weapon on Mulder since we'd started this trip north. He'd talked me into putting it away the other two times it had happened. I suppose I was just a little emotional. And scared crapless. Sure, it's not a manly thing to admit. Fuck that. If you were in the situation I was, you'd be lying if you said you were anything but crap your pants scared. This kind of shit isn't supposed to happen, and if it hadn't been happening to me, I wouldn't have believed it for a minute.

You see, Fox Mulder's aliens had knocked me up.

They abducted me. It happened not long after I warned Mulder in that desert in New Mexico. One minute I was parked, taking a leak by the side of the road, Monica waiting in the truck. Next thing, bang, I wake up. It turns out it it's six months later. Mulder is rescuing me out of the hold of some alien space craft and not only do I have a newly installed set of female plumbing, I'm in my second trimester. I mean, it was obvious already that I've got a tadpole getting ready to hatch.

You can imagine that a man would be a little unsettled by this.

"Please, just put the gun away and we'll talk about it in the car," Mulder pleaded again. "I'm trying to help you as best I can, but I can't do that if you put a bullet in my head."

He looked just about as lost as I was feeling. I shook my head. I didn't care. Let him deal with his own damn feelings. He wasn't the one who had to take a leak every five minutes it seemed. He wasn't the one who had lost sight of his own dick. He wasn't the one with his body doing things that a man's body was just never meant to do. He wasn't the one with a full measure of hormones meant for a woman's body. He wasn't the one freaking out every time he felt some weird ass fluttering feeling inside his freaking body. He wasn't the one worried out of his mind by the fact that he could be carrying some kind of monster.

Or even worse. What if I weren't? What the hell was I going to do if this was a normal human child I was carrying?

And Mulder wasn't the one throwing up his guts at the least provocation. Hell, without provocation. I was suffering from so-called "morning" sickness like you wouldn't believe. I counted every instance of it against Mulder. And against my ex-wife. Ms. Perfect complained about the nausea in the mornings for maybe a few weeks during her first trimester, but I know she never once threw up, much less was reduced to helpless retching heaves so bad that she bust blood vessels in her eyes.

That was how we ended up here by the side of the road, with me holding my gun to the man's head. I'd had him stop the car so I could vomit by the side of the road, losing the saltines and ginger-ale that I'd been so hopeful about keeping down. Then Mulder said something. It probably was innocent sounding. But the way he said things made me want to kill him. I think it was, "Are you done yet?" A supposedly neutral question, but one that can be delivered with such impatience and snideness. How I made the leap from to being angry to being quite literally ready to kill him, I don't know. I suppose it lacked a certain logic, but it felt so right.

"You are a total bastard," I told him. Hardly my most original insult of the day, but I was rapidly running out of fresh invective. Old standards would have to do.

"I know you think this is somehow my fault," he said, "And I can appreciate that you might feel that way. But I really am trying to help you. Please. Just put the gun away and get back in the car."

I didn't have time to answer. I was racked by another wave of nausea, this was as debilitating as the last, but without anything more in my stomach to throw up, was just dry heaves. The dry heaves were the worst. I was helpless against them. A prisoner to my own body.

The bastard took advantage of my weakness. He danced close and had the gun out of my hand before I could protest. So I knelt there by the side of the road, humiliated, the sour taste of my own vomit filling my mouth, asphalt hard on my knees, feeling weak from heat so intense that it was a smell too. And I yelled, or at least I whined with feeling, "Give it back. You bastard. Give it back."

"No," he said softly. You could tell he was Mr. Rationality. He was obviously angry, but he was able to keep his fury reigned in well within bounds. "I'm sick of playing this game, John. You're not getting it back until you're more emotionally stable. I can't risk the chance that you might actually pull the trigger instead of just threatening me. So just get back in the fucking car and we'll talk about this like two rational human beings. We'll get to Sioux City, Iowa soon. I'm doing the best I can to get you some help. We'll be meeting people there. People who can help."

"Scully?" I asked. It would have to be Scully. Who else could take what had just happened to me in stride? And who else would have any chance of understanding how I felt? She too had gone through the doubt of not knowing if the child she carried was even human.

Mulder got a pained look in his face but smoothed it over in just a minute. "No, not Scully. We're going to meet Skinner. He has old friends in Iowa. There's a place out in the county where we can hide."

"No!" my reaction was as automatic as it was vehement. I'd have sooner ripped out my own guts with a dull spoon as let Skinner see me in this condition. I could have cried. Except John Doggett did not cry. Not unless someone was dead or dying. A man had to have whatever tattered rememnts of his pride were left to him. "No! Not Skinner."

"Well, then you figure it out! I'm trying to help you, John, but frankly, I don't have a lot of options left. Maybe you're forgetting the fact that I'm a convicted murderer with a pending death. It's the bald guy or nothing. The Gunmen are dead. Monica is still missing. Scully is...we just can't go to Scully. Our friends are kind of thin on the ground here. You'd rather I call Kersh?"

Shit. Double shit. I didn't know who the hell else besides Mulder I could go to. You can appreciate that this was a real delicate situation. With Mulder, I'd only lost the shame because he'd been around, he found me this way. I couldn't let anyone else I knew see me like this, as some kind of freak and monster. Mulder, he knew monsters, so it was almost okay. But where the hell was Scully?

"Get in the car John," Mulder snapped at me. He pulled the clip from my pistol and stuck it in his pocket. Then he stuck the unloaded weapon in the waistband of his jeans. I could have killed him for that. Not just that he had my weapon and was treating it so carelessly. Hell, I was angry that he had jeans. And a waist. I'd been wearing the same pair of sweats day and night for a long time now, since Phoenix and we hadn't exactly taken a direct route from Phoenix to Dallas. They were tight already, just barely covering me. I think they were Mulder's. I hated him for that. Next sign of civilization we came to, I was going to insist at stopping at a Wal-Mart and getting real pants.

I held my ground. Or rather, I held the ground. I was not getting into the car. I wasn't going to do a damn thing the bastard told me to. This was my bus ride and damned if I wasn't going to be in the driver's seat.

"Fine. Fucking walk to Sioux City for all I care. It's too hot for this. Bastard."

"No," I said nastily as I climbed to my feet again. "This will be a bastard." I pointed to my belly. "I'm a son of a bitch. A mean, nasty son of a bitch and I am not getting in the car."

He didn't say anything. He just stared at me, We waited at this impasse for a while, until I started to feel woozy. I kind of swayed and almost went down. Would have went down, except Mulder caught me. He half guided me, half shoved me into the car. He put a bottle of water in my hands.

"Rinse your mouth out first," he ordered. "Take a sip. Swish it around. Spit it out."

I did what he said only because I'd been planning to do it anyway. The water was warmer than lukewarm. Blood temperature. Body temperature. Hot. I felt a tinier bit better without the taste of acid in my mouth.

"Okay. Shit. You're dehydrated, John. Take small sips. Okay, let's buckle you in and get on the road. Skinner said there was a doctor he could trust. An old Marine buddy of his."

Fuck! I was not going to let a fellow Marine see me like this, no way, no how. Almost as if he could read my mind, Mulder said, "Look, I know this is difficult for you. You're going to have to swallow your pride, because you need more help than I can give you. Semper Fi. It means something, right? Always faithful. Well, loyalty's a two way street. You can trust Walter to stand by you. And if he says you can trust this doctor, then you can. We'll get you taken care of."

With that, he pulled the seatbelt over my body and clicked it into place, just like he'd buckle in a recalcitrant kid. He adjusted the belt so it sat under my big belly. He tapped the bottle of water I was still holding and said, "Try another sip. Small sips, every couple of minutes."

I could have just cried from the humiliation. Except John Doggett did not cry. I had to keep telling myself that. Mulder shut the door and walked around to the driver's side. He sat down behind the wheel but didn't start the car yet. He rummaged in the back seat until he found something. He handed me a little foil packet. One of those wet wipe things. As he started the car, buckled himself, then took off, I tore open the packet and wiped my face clean. It was comforting, the cool feel of the alcohol evaporating off my face, with the air conditioning blowing on me.

"You didn't tell Skinner..." I started.

"I only told him that you're very sick and that it's an extremely delicate situation for you. It's okay, John. Since the trial, he's seen things far stranger than your situation. And he understands the need for secrecy. One thing Skinner taught me is to remember who my friends are and who I can trust."

"Am I a fugitive? For helping you escape," for the first time I put words to suspicion that had been nagging me ever since I'd started on this road trip from hell with Mulder.

"No," Mulder said, then paused. He looked out at the landscape. Flat and brown as far as the eye could see, a sere landscape that matched what I felt at this moment. "I don't know how to put this except plainly. You're dead. They found an SUV. It had crashed and caught fire. There were two bodies in it, along with yours and Monica's FBI shields and Bureau issued firearms. And some other identification. I didn't go to your funeral. Skinner did. He said it was nice. All your buddies from the Bureau, the NYPD and the Marines were there. Your ex-wife even."

Shit. My old life really was gone. I tried to remember if I'd updated my will since after our divorce. If not, my house and truck were probably already sold. Gone. Not sure where the hell it was coming from, I started laughing. Somewhere in between my hysterical laughter, I found it in me to say, "Shit. Dead? I feel like hell. But I didn't think I was that bad off."

Mulder stared at me as if I'd gone off the deep edge, then he started laughing too. He kept driving though. I think probably I had. I wondered what I'd find on the way down. Finally our laughter trailed off and we kept an uneasy silence for a long time. I sipped warm water, slowly. A sip here, a sip there. Maybe I could trick my body into keeping some water down if I kept this up.

"You must have been surprised to find me then," I said eventually.

"No, not particularly. By your situation. But I knew you were alive," he said. He didn't explain why. I wasn't about to press either.

Somewhere further down that lonesome road we were travelling, I fell asleep. Mulder had found a station on the radio and was tapping his fingers on the steering wheel in time to an old Bonnie Raitt song, kind of whistling tunelessly along with it as well. The man had many talents, but music was not one of them, not that I had much room to talk.

I was calmer for the sleep and for getting a little bit of fluid to stay down. I started to reach for the water bottle. I'd dropped it while I was sleeping. I couldn't quite reach it comfortably, not able to bend down like I used to. Without comment, Mulder grabbed another one from the back seat and handed it to me. I thought for a minute about how just a little while back, I'd been about ready to kill the guy. It seemed like it had been another person who'd been doing that, that I was removed from the fury, feeling it only as a distant annoyance now.

As I took the bottle of water from him, I said, "I don't understand why I'm doing the things I'm doing. It's like I'm someone else. I am not a violent man, Mulder." It was about all the apology I could offer at this moment. And even just that cost me a lot of pride.

"I know, John. Otherwise I would have disarmed you after the first time or not given you the gun in the first place."

Mulder drove. I sat, staring out at the landscape, thinking. Nothing else to do but think. I hated this fury of mine, coming out of nowhere like it did. Hormonal. It was probably hormonal. I remembered the oceans of tears that would appear from nowhere when my ex-wife was pregnant with our son. Except I was a guy. I remembered reading somewhere that too much female hormones could make a guy violent. Maybe that was it. They couldn't be good for me, that was for sure. I wasn't by nature a violent guy. I didn't hit people for the hell of it. I'd gone, first into the Marines, then the police and finally the FBI in hopes of making the world a better, more peaceful place. I would get a hold of myself, I promised silently.

I was still angry at Mulder. I still hated my situation. I hated being stuck in this car, headed only to more humiliation. I hated that the car was currently one big rolling garbage can, littered with the remnants of the fast food and snacks we'd been able to grab on the road. I hated that, with rare exceptions, most of the radio we'd been able to tune in was country music crap. I hated the fact that I was still alive and that I was too damn stubborn in my clinging to life to do anything about that fact. I hated the fact that I didn't have real pants. As shallow as it was, as shitty as my life was, I think probably that was the thing that bugged me the most. It's the little things that really worm their way under your skin and stick there, like burrs.

At least Mulder hadn't taken up with the damn sunflower seeds again. Not after I had, a couple of days ago, grabbed the damn package out of his hands, opened the window and thrown them out, letting them scatter on the breeze as I told him that he was driving me crazy with the damn crunching and that I'd kill him if he didn't stop. Thus far, no more seeds. Thank god for small mercies.

I wondered, as I watched him drive, if I had my choice in the matter, was there anyone else in the world I would have chosen to make this trip? Scully maybe, just because I know she would understand. But no, not Monica. I wouldn't subject her to this. Skinner? I thought of absent friends, family members, all of who thought I was dead. I couldn't think of a single one of them who would have understood. I suppose this situation of mine really wasn't that much stranger than having been buried for three months then come back to life. Perhaps Mulder was not such an inappropriate companion for me right now, that he was the right person to be taking this journey with. I still hated the bastard though.

I think his strange moments of solicitude were even worse than the times he was just cold. I wished that I knew for sure that he hated to be saddled with me just as much as I hated to be dependant on him. Instead, I got glimpses of a man who was truly concerned for me, who had it in him to act in pure tenderness. A man who, strangely, seemed to embody something I'd idealized for myself- that a man could be both strong and gentle at the same time. I didn't want to like Fox Mulder. I never had, yet the longer I knew him, the greater my grudging respect for him grew.

After we stopped by the side of the road for both of us to take a leak, I fell asleep again. That was one of the worst things about being knocked up. I was tired constantly. At least during the day. In the fleabag hotels we stayed at during the night, I tossed and turned, staring up at the ceiling in the dark, unable to sleep for the worry. I dozed easily in the car though.

I was woken by Mulder singing along badly with the radio. The song was the irresistible "Brown Eyed Girl," always one of my favorites. It was impossible to feel totally rotten so long as Brown Eyed Girl was playing. And so I found myself joining in on the chorus, both of us off-key and warbly and not caring damn about it, "Do you remember when we used to sing sha la la la la la la la la ti da? La ti da." and for a brief moment of perfect time, I was totally happy, everything else forgotten.

But when we got to the line about making love in the green grass behind the stadium, I thought suddenly about my own brown eyed girl. Monica. Mulder just called her missing. But if the car caught fire. And they'd found bodies. Monica, dead. I didn't like that thought, not one bit. Suddenly, I did lose it. I was crying.

Was Fox Mulder a fucking mind reader? He reached over and put a hand on my forearm. Then he said, "It's okay. Monica isn't dead. We just haven't found her yet. We will." Perhaps I just believed him because I had to, that if he wasn't telling the truth that was more terrible than I could cope with at the moment. Another one of the wet wipes was in my hand, and as I wiped my face clean, putting a stopper on the damn tears, Mulder said, "We crossed the border into Missouri while you were sleeping."

The landscape was changing, just slightly. It still seemed baked by the heat, but perhaps there were hints of green, trees here and there to break up the landscape, clustering around the occasional stream. There were farms now, pastures. We must have been headed slightly east too, because the land now rolled, foothills of the Ozarks, I thought. Eventually, after the sun crept down below the horizon, shrouding the hills and everything in black, Mulder found a truck stop area, one of the big ones. He found us a hotel room, perhaps a little nicer than the places we usually stayed. To conserve cash, we only ever got one room and shared it. A double room with two beds, one of us to a bed.

Tonight though, the only hotel around was completely booked, except for one room with only a single king-size bed in it. Mulder sighed but handed a small pile of cash over and took the room keys, without consulting me. I made my way to the bathroom first thing, to relieve a bladder that felt like so full that it hurt. As I could have predicted, it was only a weak trickle of piss though. But I'd gotten most of two bottles of water down without throwing them up, so that was progress. When I got out of the bathroom, Mulder and I stared at each other over the expanse of polyester bedspread covered bed.

"I'll take the floor," he offered. Maybe I was a greedy bastard, but I didn't disagree with him or offer to let him share the bed. "I'm going to go out and find us some dinner. You want to come? You up for trying any kind of food yet?"

I looked at the bed. The television, which probably had cable. The bathroom which had a shower. I was about ready to kill for a shower. The shower at last night's fleabag dive had been filthy and I'd skipped a shower rather than use it. The bathroom in this place looked moderately clean. And most importantly- some time without Mulder at my damn elbow.

"I think I'll risk the saltines again," I said. "You got quarters for a coke from the vending machine?"

"I'll get it for you," he said. I was surprised when he reached into a bag and got out my gun. He handed it to me butt first. Then he handed me the clip. "I don't want you to be vulnerable while I'm gone. Do me a favor though. Promise me that you'll give this back to me when I get back. Can you do that for me?"

I thought back to my earlier behavior. It'd be humiliating as all hell to give the gun back, but if I thought rationally about it, and I was mostly thinking clearly at the minute, no, I couldn't be trusted with a gun, could I? I wouldn't trust a person behaving like I had been with one. That thought scared me. That I wasn't myself so much that I didn't trust myself with my own weapon.

"Yeah, I can do that," I conceded. I didn't slide the clip home, but I set them both beside me as I sat down on the bed and reached for the remote. As I turned on the television and began the perpetual quest for something decent to watch, I said, "See you soon."

"Is an hour and a half long enough for you?" he asked. Of course. Fox Mulder, mind reader that he appears to be, seemed to understand my need to be alone for at least a little while. You know, he probably needed his space away from me. I'm more than convinced that I've been no prince charming to be with these couple of weeks.

It was long enough to take a shower, watch a little television while nibbling a few crackers and drinking a soda, then maybe possibly fall asleep before he got back. "Yeah, long enough."

Before long, Mulder had brought me a sleeve of saltines from the car, two more bottles of water and two Sprites from the vending machine. I still remembered the scene we'd had the first time he'd gotten me an actual coke, not realizing that what I'd meant by coke was just a regionalism for a soda. "Sorry, they didn't have ginger ale," Mulder said, cautiously, as if he was sure I was going to blow up on him. "Best I could do. Make sure you drink the water too. You're still dehydrated. We can't take you to a hospital if you collapse."

"Fine, I'll drink it. Get out," I said, brusquely.

Once I was certain he was gone, I stripped down for a shower. Off came the huge flannel shirt that I thought hid my condition a bit better than just a t-shirt. For a while I could still bend down and untie my shoes. I could tell that someday soon that wouldn't be the case any more. I'd have to switch to slip-ons. As I pulled off my socks, I noticed that my ankles were a bit swollen. Then the t-shirt, and finally the sweat pants. I didn't look in the mirror when I went into the bathroom, averting my eyes. I didn't need to know anything it would tell me. I knew already about how my face looked gaunt and haunted, my eyes had red patches from blown blood vessels and my belly was more swollen than you'd think, even considering how far along we guessed I was. I was always a slender guy, and it'd been hard work to put some muscles on my frame. They'd pretty much disappeared during my abduction. And there was no where but out for the tadpole to go, nowhere for it to hide.

The shower was claustrophobically small, but the water was hot and the water pressure generous. I scrubbed myself clean with one of those little bars of soap found only in hotels, washing away road grime. Then I just leaned back and let the water run over my body, comforting me. The little things can make your life hell, but they can make your life a moment of heaven too. I found myself singing the chorus to Brown Eyed Girl again in the shower, not knowing many other words besides the Sha la la part.

Then the tadpole moved.

Sometimes I forgot for whole minutes at a time that I was so screwed that there were no words strong enough to cover the whole snafubarness of my situation. That had been one of them. But when the invader in your body chooses to make itself known, you can't help but remember. It wasn't what I'd call a kick. Just a fluttery feeling in my belly, the strangest thing. I understood now what my ex-wife had said about how it was a sensation you couldn't entirely describe, that you had to experience it for yourself.

Now that I had, I wish I hadn't.

I shut the water off and pretended nothing had happened, even as the tadpole continued to flutter around inside me. I dried myself off and even though I was loathe to put on my dirty clothes, I did. Anything was better than that Mulder would come back to the room and still find me naked.

Still, the tadpole was using my gut for a lap pool. As I settled down in front of the TV to a fine meal experience of soda and crackers, I talked to it. I almost never talked to it. I usually tried not to think about it as an actual entity separate from me.

"Stop it," I told it. "I hate that. I hate you. Soon as I get a chance, you're coming out. Got that? Ripped right out. And don't you dare send these crackers back where they came from."

Yeah, it was hypocritical as hell of me. I'd been pro-life for forever. But yes, I was going to abort the tadpole. Don't tell me you'd do anything differently. I think, if I found out it was a normal human child, it'd be harder to do, but I was still going to do it. I knew my limits. This was a place I could not go.

I didn't make a decision to carry this child. Hell, I'd never even made the decision to have sex. Other than my own left hand, there hadn't been anyone since my divorce. Fantasies about various people. But nothing approaching actual sex. Yes, if I'd made the decision to have sex and been caught this way as an accident, then yes, I would have buckled down and carried the tadpole, until it became obviously too medically dangerous or until it was old enough to be born. But I hadn't. I don't even remember how or when this happened to me or anything between my abduction and my rescue by Mulder.

Would it be a different decision if I'd had longer to think about it? If I'd been awake and conscious of it from the very start? I don't know. All I know was I couldn't do this. And yes, I did hate the tadpole. For all I was suffering because of it. Because it was making me make a decision I wasn't one hundred percent sure I could live with either way. For making me scared. Crap in my pants scared. More scared then I'd ever been, even during the times I thought I was going to die. Death would have been simple compared to this.

Threatening the tadpole didn't work to stop its motion. It was still fluttering around, starting and stopping, when Mulder came back to the hotel room to find me lying curled up as best I could on the bed, cursing to myself and saying, "Stop. Stop it."

He dropped the couple of plastic bags he was carrying and rushed over to the bed. He dropped on his knees beside me and said, "John! What's the matter? Are you in pain?"

"No, it's moving again," I said.

"We're maybe a day from our rendezvous with Skinner," Fox said. He took in the room with that look of his. One look that missed nothing. He took in the fact that the package of crackers wasn't yet opened, that none of the liquids he'd gotten me had been touched. He subtly reclaimed the gun, sliding it out of my reach first, then back into the waist of his jeans, the back of them. I'd have to go around him to get to it. Then he reclaimed the clip.

"We'll get you taken care of. Soon," he promised. He knew of my decision. When he'd heard it, just hours after I took that first pregnancy test that he forced me to take, even though I thought he was insane, he'd just nodded grimly and said the same thing he was saying now.

Mulder cracked open one of the sodas, probably gone warm by now. "Just a few sips, okay, buddy?"

He put the can into my hand and went to retrieve the bags he'd dropped. A couple of them had the familiar Wal-Mart logo on them. "I figure you'll only use them for a couple of days at most, but I thought you'd appreciate them," he explained as he pulled a huge pair of jeans out of the bag. Store brand. Who cared? They were real pants. And he brought out a belt for them too. He pulled out another flannel shirt, this one red and white plaid, with western style detailing. And then another pair of sweats. "I had to guess for size. I hope it's big enough."

I took a few slow sips of soda. It had gone warm but was not disgusting enough to trigger my gag reflex thankfully. Then I collected my new clothes from Mulder and went into the bathroom to change. Mulder had overestimated my size and I had to belt them up. The flannel shirt was similarly oversized. Who cared? Clean clothes and especially real pants were a real treat and I wasn't about to complain. When I got back out into the room, Mulder was already stretched out on the floor next to the bed. He'd claimed one of the bed's pillows and the bedspread. And the remote. He was flicking rapidly from station to station, not satisfied with anything he found. Just looking at the way the image was changing so fast made me kind of queasy. He sighed when I held my hand out for the remote but he handed it over without protest. We'd had this discussion a number of times before. Not only does he have crappy taste in TV shows when he does settle on one, he'll flip the channel on me just when I've actually got interested in something.

I flicked through the channels, looking for something. There was a limited number of things I could watch these days. Any kind of sport, with the exception of car racing, made me obsess about the fact that I was a freak and I'd lost a build that once had been nicely athletic. The news just plain made me uncomfortable and usually angry. Any kind of sitcom or drama that revolved around a family was out of the question too. They sometimes made me so irrationally angry that Mulder had once had to restrain me from bashing in the television. The TV talk tabloids seemed to hit the same emotional buttons for me as well.

The next channel I hit was that home decorating channel. Oddly, it was usually a fairly emotionally neutral choice for me. I could watch and make fun of Christopher Lowell or whoever was putting up a fuss over the color of some sofa or the walls. Perhaps it was because I'd never cared, never understood why anyone ever did. Still didn't. It was funny sometimes. Mulder did a wicked Christopher Lowell imitation. Tonight though, they were decorating a baby nursery. I stared like you might compulsively stare at a car wreck on the interstate, fascinated even as you feel sick to your very soul.

"Uh, John," Fox said, interrupting my downward spiral, "How about the history channel. I'm sure they'll be running that thing on the Civil war again. I didn't get a chance to watch the end."

"War of Northern aggression you mean," I said, grateful to have my attention pulled away from the emotional wreck that was about to start. Not that I believed the whole South will rise again crap, romanticizing a system that was horrible beyond comprehension, but a boy doesn't forget that he was born and raised in Georgia either. I changed the channel without looking back.

"Whatever. Never pictured you for the good ol' boy type," Mulder said. It was not the Civil War thing, but something on Pearl Harbor. Either way, it was far enough removed from present reality that it held no mood triggers for me and I could watch the old news clips and listen to the serious, studious narrator without feeling much of anything. Mulder shut up and listened as well.

Eventually, the tadpole quit with the synchronized swimming display and I had the illusion for the moment that my body was entirely my own. I reached for the crackers and opened the pack. One cracker at a time, small bites. That worked sometimes and I used the tactic again now. I washed the dry crackers down with the soda as ship after ship had destruction rained down from above on it. I couldn't have watched this if it had been in color, I decided. It would seem real. As it was, it seemed like a bad movie.

"So, how about you?" I asked during a commercial. "Did you ever picture that someday your life would be this much in the crapper?"

"I don't know. It's bad, sure, but not that bad. I'm a free man. I've got a roof over my head, a meal in my belly and a friend at my side. I'm not complaining."

"How much cash do we have left?" I asked, knowing that the room and then clothes and everything must have set him back quite a bit. I didn't know where he was being bankrolled from, but at my insistence, we were paying cash for everything, and I mean everything. We were moving without a trail as much as I could make us. I used to be a professional fugitive chaser and I know how people mess up and create a paper trail where they don't mean to.

"Enough. Don't worry on that front," Mulder said.

Some time or another, I drifted off to sleep, after a good portion of the crackers had disappeared. When I woke up again, the room was dark with only the bathroom light left on as a kind of nightlight, the TV turned off, though the remote was still in easy reach on the bedside table. And Mulder was talking to people who weren't there again. I'd caught him doing this a couple of times before and never mentioned it to him. He wasn't talking to himself. He'd say something, softly as if afraid of waking me. Then he'd wait, obviously listening to his imaginary friend's response. There was a definite conversation going on there, half of which existed only in Mulder's mind. It seemed natural somehow, fitting, that the only person around to help me should be so lucid most of the time and yet obviously completely insane. I usually tried not to listen when he did this but tonight he was talking about me to whoever it was he was imagining.

"I'm so worried about him, Scully. I think he's probably actually lost weight since I found him. He hasn't kept anything solid down at all hardly."

There was a pause of Mulder listening to his Scully of the imagination. Where the hell was Scully anyway? Why couldn't we go to her?

"Okay. I'll give it a try. Nothing else has worked. At least he seems to be sleeping well."

There was another pause. Then Mulder said, even more softly, with an edge of grief to his voice that I hadn't heard before, "I'd have given anything in the world to be there for you when you were going through this. You know that, don't you?"

I wanted to remain still. I wanted to fall back asleep. To pretend that I didn't hear Mulder talking to people that weren't there. But my bladder was demanding my full attention and I couldn't put off relieving it a second longer. I moved as if I was just then waking up. I made an immediate beeline for the toilet, sighing with relief as I finished draining the little lizard. My piss was no longer so dark, a good sign that I wasn't quite so dehydrated anymore.

When I went back to the room, Mulder had turned on one of the lamps and was sitting, leaning against the wall. He brushed at his face and I swore I saw tears being wiped away. For the first time, I noticed that he was wearing a necklace. The gold glinted in the light of the lamp. It was a small cross, familiar. I'd seen it before many times. Around Scully's neck.

I got a cold feeling in the pit of my stomach that had nothing to do with nausea, though I did feel sick. It was a soul sickness though. "Where's Scully, Mulder? What happened to Scully?"

"Don't ask me, John. I can't talk about it. Please." I was used by now to Mulder pleading with me about one thing or another but there was a definite edge to this plea.

Just how he said it confirmed the realization I'd had when I saw the necklace. It was like hitting a brick wall at fifty miles an hour. It was like somebody punched me right in the gut. I sat down heavily on the bed, remembering again how grief could feel just like physical pain. "She's dead," I whispered. "She's been killed. Hasn't she?"

"It's not the end, John," he said. "She's become a part of something far bigger than any of us. She's still fighting the good fight. She's not gone."

"Don't feed me any of that crap about Heaven. It's just stories that people make up to make themselves feel better about the inevitable. If you want to make yourself feel better by pretending to talk to her," There, I had it out. He knew that I'd heard him talking to himself. "Then fine. But don't expect me to believe that you're anything but crazy."

"If it makes me feel better, what skin off your nose is it?" he snapped nastily. I'd pressed a button or two of my own I could see. He continued to berate me. "You've never thought I was anything but crazy as a bedbug from the start, so why does it matter to you? People have thought I was fucking nuts since you were still tracking fugitives for the NYPD. I don't see why it should matter that you're telling me this now."

He stood up and invaded my space. He didn't hit me, though I could tell that he dearly wanted to. I almost wished he would. His face was deadly still in anger but his eyes flashed and his voice grew low and menacing. He did poke me in the chest with his forefinger. "And I was right about everything else, wasn't I? So maybe you might consider believing me when I say that the dead are here with us and that if you can listen right, you can hear them. Why does it matter to you if I believe that? That there is something bigger than us that has the power to save us?"

Why? Why should I care if he was insane, so long as he was functional? Because I was fucking dependant on him. That I probably wouldn't make it to the next town without his help.

What if it was worse than that? What if he was right, that if I listened in the right way, the dead would talk to me? What if they'd been trying to talk all along? What if my son had spent all these years desperate to say something to me? I had to believe, needed to believe, that there was nothing left of him to care what happened to him, that he had found the peace of oblivion. I had found some closure by finding his killer, knowing that the man was dead. But there was a huge jagged hole in me where he'd been, scarred over so I didn't bleed anymore, but still there. I was scared by the thought that he could still need me in some way, no matter how small and that I hadn't been there for him. I tried not to think about it.

"What happened to her, Mulder? What happened to Scully?"

"I was going to tell you as soon as you were in a better state of mind. We were trying to break into Mount Weather again. She was shot. She died in my arms." The words were delivered in the flat monotone of someone who has moved beyond grief. For a little while, I almost wished we weren't arguing. That I could say something to him. That I could find something in my scorched heart to offer him. I found nothing, though I looked.

"It's okay," he said finally. "She's happy. She doesn't hurt any more."

No, maybe not. But he did. I did. It wasn't okay.

Did I love Scully? Not carnally. But a little bit like you'd love your sister and a little bit like you'd love one of the guys in your unit. We'd been to hell together. I'd have done anything for her. Given my life for hers. I'd done a lot to protect her in the past and I should have been able to have protected her this time. God. I shivered and shook but for some reason, I was unable to cry. It felt too huge for that. I curled up on my side and just stared at the nubby beige pattern on the wallpaper. Mulder stood over me and stared. I could see him out of the corner of my eye though I didn't look directly at him.

A long time passed, Mulder in silent vigil over me, hours maybe even. Finally, he grabbed me by the shoulder and shook me. "Cry, damnit," he ordered. "Just cry already. I know you're a big man and you don't do that. But just cry already before you explode. Because I have to be able to trust you with a firearm. I can't leave you alone thinking that you might just leave me alone, with nothing a big mess to explain and clean up."

"Fuck you, Mulder," I grumbled. Did he really think I was going to shoot myself? He didn't know me, did he?

He pulled me up to a sitting position using a good bit of force. I wasn't exactly struggling against him, but I wasn't helping in the slightest. Then he wrapped his arms around me, pressing me into his chest. He was crying again. Maybe he needed this more than I did. If so, maybe I could let him hold me. I had literally nothing in the world left to offer him or anyone. Even the clothes on my back had been purchased by Mulder. I was a dead man with no identity, no official existence. My body only partially belonged to me, shared in joint tenancy at the moment with an invader.

When my own tears started falling, it was a surprise to me. And a relief. The grief was no longer so overwhelming, it was just ordinary, not a void of cosmic size. I could see, not the end of it, but how each day would happen. How I would get through the future in day-sized portions of despair.

Somewhere near dawn, I found myself asking Mulder, "Why? Why are you doing this for me?"

"Because other than Skinner, you're all I have left in this world. I can't do this alone. I need you. I need you whole to fight this fight with me."

I fell asleep again, exhausted by my sorrow, as I tried to think about this, that the great Fox Mulder, official bane of my existence, cause of all this trouble in the first place, should be ripping open his soul for me like this and admitting such vulnerability. And maybe, I might have to find it in me to be strong for him. Because some basic decency in me demanded it. Because he'd risked his life taking me out of that ship. Because he risked his freedom, being weighed down by me as deadweight. Because in the face of my anger and threats, he'd never been anything but decent to me.

Mulder was still in the bed when I woke up. He'd claimed a small corner of the huge space, all the way on the other side and was laying on top of the blanket. I don't remember inviting him to stay, but, whatever. I was too busy to fuss about it. My stomach and my bladder were calling for attention in equal measure, though the nausea wound up being the more compelling. I threw up the little fluid that was in my stomach and then spent a while just resting my head against the cold porcelain of the toilet tank. My mostly sleepless night had left me exhausted and feeling drained. I could have done without the wakeup call of morning sickness. Eventually my bladder forced me to stand and empty it. Mulder started stirring in the other room. I heard the exterior door to the room open then shut.

I gathered up the handful of things that I could call mine and shoved them back into one of the Wal-Mart bags, wondering where the hell Mulder had gone to. I looked out the window. Still fairly early in the morning, the dew just starting to burn off, it looked for now like it'd be a nice day, but would probably get wicked hot.

When I opened the exterior door, I found Mulder sitting on the concrete, bag of sunflower seeds in hand, busily cracking away. He looked up guiltily, like I'd caught out a secret smoker sneaking out for a butt. I thought for a moment about relenting and telling him he could eat the damn seeds in the car, if they were important enough to him that he was sneaking around to eat them. Then I heard him make that awful crunching noise, the full equivalent fingernails on the black board, if you ask me, and I decided I wouldn't.

"I'm ready to go when you are, Mulder," I said.

"Give me a few minutes, then we'll hit the road," he said, pouring himself another small handful. It appeared we were going to pretend that last night didn't happen, that we didn't cry ourselves to sleep in each others' arms. And that was just dandy by me. Except one thing he had to know.

"Mulder," I began. "No matter how bad it gets. No matter what happens. You ain't gonna find me with a gun in my hand and my brains splattered all over the place. Just not gonna happen. You can trust that much."

He nodded then said, "Thank you."

I shrugged. It had nothing to do with him. It wasn't for him. It just was something that wasn't in me.

I asked for, and got the car keys. I could do something about the rolling garbage can effect. I wasn't that helpless. I could control a little corner of my world to some extent. I gathered wrappers, empty bottles, bags and so forth from the back seat of the SUV. I retched a few times at the smell of some of the wrappers. They'd gotten kind of ripe sitting there. But I avoided another bout of nausea mostly. Eventually, I felt a presence behind me.

"I can take care of those," Mulder said, holding his hands out for the trash.

And so it went, the both of us saying no more than we had to, just enough to attend to the business of getting us on the road. Last night had been too much, too wrenching. We were busy covering up the raw, tender bits again, after having shown them to each other. I didn't like knowing the needy, all too human parts of Fox Mulder. I wished I hadn't seen them. He appeared embarrassed that he'd given so much away.

"Did you want to drive at all?" he asked as he put the last of our stuff back into the car.

I shook my head. Nausea was threatening again, and the effort of cleaning the car out had been a lot for me. I think maybe I still hadn't recovered from the abduction, beyond just the fact that this pregnancy was drawing on reserves I didn't really have. I think maybe if I'd been able to get some adequate nutrition down and staying down, it would have made a big difference. As it was, I was weak as a baby.

The landscape changed as we drove north and east. The rolling hills were now covered with farms, fields of corn mostly. My first impressions of Iowa were nothing but field after field of corn, as far as the eye could see, broken by the occasional farmhouse and dividing row of trees. The country no longer seemed so baked, though it was still seasonably warm. Gone was austere, dry Oklahoma and here was the land that fed the nation. Iowa. Though the corn was yellowed, most everything else was green, and despite the heat, it seemed so fresh compared to where we had been. You could almost get hopeful. It always seemed in Iowa that around the next curve of the road, the next rise of the hill, that there must be something new and wonderful coming. Some kind of redemption to this landscape of nothingness.

Hours of landscape passed us by. We stopped only for the bare necessities and then hurriedly. After weeks together in this car, I'm sure Mulder wanted to get this over with, get out of this confined space. Hand me off to Skinner. Wash his hands clean of me. And I'd be glad to get this over with. Find Skinner's doctor. Get this abortion. Pretend that my body hadn't been altered. Make a fresh start of it. I don't know what I would do, but I would put this behind me. I wanted to be done with this.

Day slipped into night and still we drove silently. I noticed that Mulder didn't turn on the radio at all. I wasn't going to break down and admit I needed music to fill the silence either. We didn't talk, the uncomfortable intimacy of the night before between us so palpable that it could be touched.

Finally, Mulder pulled into a grocery store parking lot. Hy-Vee was the name of the store. Mulder said, "This is the place."

I was relieved to have this trip be over and yet facing another round of dread. At the end of this trip was Skinner and I'd have to talk to him. See him. Have him see me like this. What made it worse wasn't just that he was a fellow Marine, a guy I looked up to, but that I once had a one of those crushes on the guy. The kind that make you act like an idiot. You find yourself doing anything in hopes of catching the guy's attention. You skulk around the office just hoping to catch sight of the guy. You get all butch and macho, putting on a display for him. Like I said, it made me act like an idiot.

I was over it now. Had been since sometime after we found Mulder. But yet it still flavored my interaction with the guy. He never knew a damn thing about it but I couldn't forget that I used to jerk off to fantasies of him at the gym. It was all about sex, nothing else. And then to have to come before this guy and have the horrible thing that had happened to me revealed to him. You can see how this might make me worried.

Mulder parked. He got out of the car. "Stay here. I'll take a look around."

"Mulder," I said. I couldn't do this. If nothing else, I'd never be able to say the words, to tell the truth about what had happened to me. Not to Skinner. "You find him, you tell him first before you bring him to me. If it's a problem with him, I don't want to know what he says. Don't tell me, we'll just go."

"It'll be okay, John. I promise. Skinner will stand by you."

Then he disappeared into the night, moving inconspicuously among the cars. I dozed in the seat.

I don't know what Mulder said to Skinner. I never will. I didn't ask and I don't ever intend to. All I know is that an hour later when Mulder came back he had Skinner in tow. And Skinner's face, though I could tell even in the dim parking lot lights was troubled, his voice was also soft with concern when he said, "It's okay, John. We'll do the best we can to get you taken care of. We'll meet my friend in Harlan."

And that was all I saw of Sioux City, Iowa.

Mulder climbed back in the car. He'd picked up a few things from the grocery store. As we pulled out of the parking lot, following Skinner, he pulled something out of the bag and handed it to me. It was a lumpy brown vegetable-like object. "It's ginger root," Mulder explained. "Scully suggested it. She says that it's very effective at calming stomachs as well as being totally safe. You chew on it."

I rolled down the window and chucked to object out. I wasn't going to humor him. I wasn't about to pretend that Mulder not only could talk to dead people, but that they might actually be helpful to him. Fuck that.

"Fine! Be miserable!" Mulder snapped. "I'm just trying to help."

"Go to hell," I muttered. I curled up in my seat again, miserable, feeling hateful. You know, I used to have an iron stomach. Nothing phased me, not MREs from my Marine days, not bad road food, not kabobs made from God knows what kind of meat bought from roadside vendors in Beirut, nothing. Didn't even get heartburn. I wondered if I would ever get it back.

I wondered how I would find the man I used to be- tough-assed, phased by nothing. This was not me, petty, pissy, scared, and weak. And a big jerk.

The next three hours were filled with a silence so icy and palpable you could have sliced it and served it for dinner. We'd come to another one of those limits of our ability to deal with each other and I didn't talk because I had no idea of what to say to the man next to me that would back us off this edge. Meanwhile, we drove down narrow state highways to this place called Harlan. The darkness was unrelieved, almost elemental. Only occasionally would the crest of one of the rolling hills reveal the headlight beams of a car going the other direction. Here and there farmhouses were lit up, but otherwise, nothing. A long time ago, we'd pulled off onto a gravel county road which crunched under our wheels and threw up rocks which pinged against the car. Here and there, I would gag slightly as we got a hint of the distinctive, acrid odors of a hog farm we were passing.

Sometime just before we pulled into the last turn, Mulder found it in him to talk to me. "Who'd have thought Skinner comes from the ends of the earth like this?"

"He's from here?"

"He's taking us to his late aunt's house, though the house he grew up in is just down the road a few miles."

With that, we passed a couple of mailboxes mounted crookedly on their posts, as if they'd been nearly knocked off. Then we turned down a driveway that looked like it was longer than my old block back in Falls Church. Finally, the cars were parked beside a big old farmhouse with the porch light left on.

"My sister's here," Skinner said, indicating a battered pickup truck parked in the drive just ahead of us. "She'll be fine. I had to tell her how I was going to be using the place. She lives here."

Before we could turn to the door even, it opened and a big woman swept out, targeted dead on for Skinner. "Wally!" she cried. "You're home!"

Even in the half darkness, I could tell that she looked just like Skinner, other than the chrome dome, even down to the glasses. It was, unfortunately not a real good look for a woman. Also, where his bulk came from muscles, she was just fat. She wasn't quite as tall, but she definitely weighed about the same. They had the same steel gray hair. Her hair was long and straight and pulled back from her face in a single braid. And whereas Skinner was all glares and scowls, she practically radiated warmth and smiles. It made me inclined to trust her. She hugged the big guy. I don't think I've ever seen anyone do that other than Scully clinging to him when we were burying the man who was now standing beside me. I wonder, did Mulder embrace Walt when they buried Scully. Hell, I didn't even know if they'd been able get her body back to her family or not. That hurt, knowing I might never be able to visit her grave.

Oddly, the inside of the space craft Mulder rescued me from seemed only marginally weirder than the sight of Walter Skinner, Assistant Director of the FBI and total hard-ass, getting the top of his chrome dome rubbed by a fat woman in floral print and suffering her to call him "Wally". He seemed to be lapping it up like a cat would cream though.

"Enough, Georgie," he said indulgently after a few minutes, pushing her aside reluctantly. "Georgeann, these are the men I told you about. Mulder and John, this is my sister Georgeann."

I hung back in the darkness as Mulder stepped forward. "Pleased to meet you, ma'am," he said, holding out his hand.

"Just Georgie. You boys must be hungry. I stocked the fridge. Won't be a problem to whip something up for you."

You could forget at times just how charming Fox Mulder can be when he sets his mind to it. Most of the time I was around him, I was so irritated with his singular ability to be a pain in the ass. As I watched how he smiled at Georgeann and generally had her eating out of his palm in a few short minutes, I wondered if part of it was me. If something in me brought out the worst in Mulder.

"Well, Georgie, I'd appreciate it. And I'm sure Walter would. But I think what John needs more than anything is some sleep," Mulder said.

She narrowed her eyes and looked at me as closely as she could where I stood in the shadows. Her jaw dropped slightly as if in shock, but then she closed it and decided not to notice that anything was amiss. I could definitely see signs of Skinner's famous iron will in her. It must be a family trait. She carried on like a trooper.

"Of course! Wally, you show John on up. I made up all of the beds. I'll take care of some supper for you boys."

And so, she led Mulder into the house, leaving me standing there with Skinner. I was grateful. It was well after midnight. I didn't think I could even contemplate food at the moment without feeling nauseous. It had been a bad day and I didn't even try the usual crackers, just had been sipping at ginger ale all day. Skinner and I stared at each other awkwardly, neither sure what to say to the other. Comparatively, my time with Mulder had been an easy, comfortable silence, companionable even. Finally, Skinner shrugged and reached for the door without saying anything. He walked inside and I followed, my legs aching from disuse.

The house still bore evidence of having been lived in by an old person for years, though mostly it smelled disused, dusty, rather than of that peculiar smell of old people. It was run down, never a fancy, proud house. Just a humble farm house that was filled with worn, cheap furniture. Linoleum was the preferred flooring material, a pattern in pink and green, much faded and worn now, looking like a remainder of the fifties. The living room had a huge wood burning stove, set on bricks. Though cold now, the lingering smell of wood smoke surrounded it. Houseplants on the windowsill. One bookshelf packed with reader's digests and a couple of bibles. The television was one of the big console types and it was going now, the color picture bilious green, the sound turned way down. Overall, though, it seemed comfortable, like someone's nest.

"There is central heat," Skinner said. "My aunt just never trusted it entirely."

"Your sister is nice," I said.

"She gave up a career in nursing to take care of my aunt. This house and the land should have gone to her instead of me."

One of the door's off the room opened up to a narrow staircase with painted wood steps. Skinner started up these. At the top was a narrow hallway, also covered in linoleum. Four doors led off it. "Bathroom through there," Skinner said, indicating one of the doors. He led me into another bedroom, this one with a simple iron bed, plain as could be. White sheets, plain blue blanket, white walls. "Your room."

Then we stared at each other, having nearly drained our supplies of words, as scarce as they were. Suddenly, I was angry that he couldn't find anything to say to me. All I had been through and he couldn't even say that he regretted it. I let myself fall down on the bed and started to get comfortable for another long night of staring at the ceiling in the darkness. I toed my shoes off and dropped them off the side of the bed.

"John...I," Skinner began. "I'm not often at a loss for words. I'm used to dealing with crisis situations. But be patient with me. This is so far outside my experience."

"Well, it isn't exactly something I've done before either," I said. "Or ever intended to do."

Shoes off, I laid down. The pillow was cool and comfortable on my face. I wanted to be left alone, not having to face these silences that told me everything I needed to know about how Skinner was feeling. That he was horrified. That he saw me as some kind of monster. That his view of me had been forever tainted. I didn't crawl under the blanket, because the night was too warm for it and the farmhouse didn't have air-conditioning, or even a fan in the window. But I curled up on my side and hid my face with my arm.

"Goodnight, sir," I said.

"Not sir," he said. "I quit right after Mulder's trial. I got sick of being a pawn, impotent to do anything. Walter. And I was pallbearer at your funeral. I think that puts us on a first name basis if nothing else."

He left me alone then. I thought it would be for the night, but he came back a little while later with one of those box fans. He put it in the window and plugged it in. He turned it on and a gentle breeze cooled the room, making it tolerable. Only then did he turn out the overhead light and go. I dozed but I did not fall deeply asleep.

Sometime, hours later, a figure appeared silhouetted in the doorway. Mulder, watching me sleep. I looked over at a clock on the bedside table. It was three in the morning, assuming the clock was correct.

"You don't sleep much, do you?" I asked. He'd gotten every bit as little sleep as I'd gotten the night before, but he'd then spent the day driving from Missouri to western Iowa. I'd have guessed three or four hours of sleep for him in the last twenty four. Maybe less.

"No, not when things are happening to people I care about. They call it situational insomnia. It's a kind of stress reaction. Sleep researchers think it might function as a mechanism to force a person to fully process their reactions to any kind of significant stressors, in this instance, the fact that my partner has died within the past few months and that someone I care about is going through an event so unusual and distressing that it doesn't exist on the standard life stressors scale."

He sounded impersonal, as if talking about someone else entirely in a clinical kind of voice, like giving a briefing for a case. Not like he was talking about himself and me.

"Do you need anything?" he asked when I didn't respond. Like Walt, I was caught out speechless.

"Starving," I said. I was. Over the hours, my nausea had calmed completely. I wasn't sure if my stomach was going to tolerate anything, but I certainly was going to try. I might spend the next several hours bent over the toilet, but for now, my stomach was rumbling and I actually had an appetite. I levered myself upwards and prepared for a trip to the kitchen.

"Want me to come with you? I'm up for a post-midnight refrigerator raid." Mulder said.

I shrugged. I made my way downstairs again, Mulder following close behind. The steps, I decided, were dangerous. Steep and with painted treads that felt slick under my stocking feet, I could see someone slipping and falling their straight descent right down to the door that closed them off from the living room. I made it down safely though.

The kitchen was still softly lit with one light over the range hood. We didn't turn on the overhead. There was a screened porch just off the kitchen and a kitchen window open to the porch. Skinner and his sister were sitting out on the porch, talking. I listened for a minute, because they were talking about me.

"What's wrong with the boy, Wally? Really. I know you don't want to tell me. But if I didn't know better, I'd say he was pregnant. He certainly looks it. Is it some kind of cancer?"

Skinner's struggle with himself was so obvious I could almost hear it. Finally, he broke down and said, "There are things I've never told you about, things about the government. Things that no decent person should have to worry about. Cover ups. Conspiracies. Secret medical tests and tortures that the government has conducted on its own citizens without their consent. Or even informing them. Things that you wouldn't believe possible. I have seen things that I can neither explain nor deny."

"You're saying that the man is a victim of some kind of tortured medical experiment?" she asked. Her voice was softly outraged. And I knew that I had an ally in her. "He is pregnant, isn't he? I've read some things. That they thought it might be possible some day to do it."

"Yes, if I am to believe Mulder," Skinner said, his sister's outrage echoed in his voice. He seemed choked with a kind of fury. I didn't like the way it sounded in his voice though, as if he were talking about me as if I were already lost. As if I were as dead as whatever body they'd buried in my place. "He's a good man, Georgie. For them to have done this to him...I just can't even say."

I turned away from their conversation, towards the refrigerator which Mulder had already poked his head into. "Turkey sandwich maybe?" he asked. "She made a peach pie that was pretty good. There's still some left. You want a ginger ale?"

Before I knew it, Mulder had set me up with plain turkey sandwich and a ginger ale. I ate it slowly and sipped at the soda. If I'd learned anything, it was that my best chance at keeping something down was to take it in small bites. I was doing pretty good.

Until the last couple of bites. Something changed. The turkey suddenly felt slimy in my mouth and I started to gag. I dropped the remainder of the sandwich and bolted. I almost didn't make it all the way through the downstairs, up those steps, then to the room Skinner had indicated earlier. Up came chunks of mostly undigested turkey sandwich. The worst part about throwing, I'd decided long ago, was that between bouts, you were left with plenty of time to contemplate just how humiliating it is.

I also had time to contemplate the pattern on the sheet vinyl and the sickly pink of the fixtures. The room probably had last been redone in the fifties.

I felt a presence in the doorway and I prepared some blistering comment for Mulder.

I looked up. It wasn't Mulder. It was Georgeann, looking at me with concern. "You must feel terrible, sweetie."

"Let me guess, you know just how I'm feeling," I was sarcastic, even cruel in my discomfort, nothing but a wounded animal lashing out at the hands trying to comfort me. I hated this person I'd become.

"No, I can't imagine half of what you're going through, but I have been pregnant and I remember sitting exactly where you're sitting and puking my guts out. Right into that exact same toilet."

"How old is your child now?" I asked aware only after I asked it that it wasn't a good question to ask.

"Back then it wasn't like it is now with all these girls keeping their babies. That was thirty-something years ago. I didn't see I had a choice. It wasn't legal, but that didn't stop me. Back then, they didn't call it rape when you knew the boy and he had your parents' permission to take you out."

Perhaps she did understand at least part of what I was going through. She had been made pregnant against her will, though by more conventional, earthly means than I had. And she had the abortion I was planning. Her words were plain, not quite harsh, not ornamented with dramatics but not exactly forgiving either. They were the words of someone who has seen reality and is compelled to tell it like it is. No sugarcoating would be forthcoming from her. I could trust that.

Shamed by her words, I hid my face, not finding it in me just yet to make an apology. She bustled around the bathroom for a while. I felt a cold cloth on the back of my neck. It was comforting. So was the light weight of her hand on the back of my neck. I thought maybe I might be able to accept this from her like I couldn't from Mulder.

"August is an absolutely miserable month to be pregnant in," she said. "I did ob/gyn nursing a while before I did ICU. You must be beside yourself."

"Words can hardly express," I said.

"All done for the moment?" she asked.

I let her help me to my feet. She got me water to rinse out my mouth. I didn't try and brush my teeth. The feeling of the toothbrush in my mouth kept setting off my gag reflex. She wanted to put me to bed, but I protested that I wouldn't be able to sleep again. So we ended up heading downstairs again, to the living room.

The TV had a VCR that I hadn't noticed my first couple of times through the room. "Not much to watch at this time of morning unless you're interested in preaching on the religious channel or infomercials. Or my aunt's tapes. Probably not much to interest a guy like you."

Whatever they were, it had to be better than a particularly virulent form of a religion that at best I couldn't believe in and that I suspected was nothing but lies of the worst kind. Either way, Georgeann settled on the sofa in an indentation that seemed to be her exact shape and I took the recliner directly across from the television. We ended up watching tapes of George Burns and Gracie Allen from the golden age of television. I found that the part of me that knew how to laugh wasn't frozen entirely. That, creakily at first, but more robustly as the show went on, I could laugh at the jokes and even have a good time.

When we got to the end of a show and the classic lines came on, "Say goodnight, Gracie." and then, "Goodnight, Gracie," I got a little misty in the eyes, just because.

"My Gram's name was Grace," I explained as I wiped these inexplicable tears off my face. "Gracie. She used to think that joke was the funniest thing ever. She passed while I was in country in Lebanon."

"It's such a pretty name. Better than Georgeann by far."

I just noticed that someone wasn't around. "Have you seen Mulder? Did he go to bed or something?"

"He went for a drive. You know, your friend Fox feels terribly that there's nothing he can do to make you feel any better," Georgeann said. "How's your tea?"

Georgeann had taken some time to make me a cup of tea. It was kind of spicy and peppery, not exactly unpleasant, but nothing I would have picked either. I'd sipped most of it down because she gave me baleful looks anytime I looked like I was going to abandon it. I decided that Skinner must have learned his AD glare from his older sister. She was a pro, could have stepped into his place in a minute.

"It's fine," I said. "What is it?"

"Secret Skinner family recipe. I'm sworn never to tell," she said, mock solemnly, making the motions to cross her heart and hope to die.

Sometime around dawn, after another cup of the secret recipe tea, I found my way to bed again.

Mulder:

The universe is irrational. And perverse.

There can be no other explanation for the fact that at six thirty in the morning, I was passing through Omaha, Nebraska and arguing about John Doggett with my old, now dead, boyfriend, Alex Krycek.

You would think that death would be merciful enough to keep the living fully separated from the dead. Not so in my case. Once I had loved this man dearly, then hated him with a rage that could be borne only of betrayal. Now? Who knew exactly how to describe what he meant to me other than that he now was one of my beloved dead. In Mexico, once a year, they celebrate a Day of the Dead, where they honor the dead, bring them sweets and decorate their graves. Every day, I spoke with the dead, whether I walked in their world or they walked in mine, I did not know. Suffice it to say that somewhere between us was an intersection, a moment of time where we interacted.

"Skinner and his sister will take good care of him," I said. "He's safe now."

"You really think that, do you, Mulder?" Krycek said. "You know these people. They'll stop at nothing."

"There's nothing more I can do for him. He won't accept my help. He hates me," I protested.

There was no answer. All of my beloved dead, but especially Alex Krycek, are intensely disturbing in their casual comings and goings. They appear with no warnings and disappear again with even less. I was alone in the car once more with nothing more than my cowardice for company. I was running away. Not permanently, I told myself. Headed to points west again, digging for clues, any kind information that might help us in the struggle against the inevitable. The date of humanity's doom had been set even before I was born, yet only the burning hope that I might change it somehow kept me going, now that everything I once valued had been stripped from me. My family, my home, the woman I loved dearly, my profession, my son, good friends- all gone.

I would never have called John Doggett my friend. Once, I had called him interloper, accused him trying to discredit the X-files. I had grown to respect him quickly, because his sheer competency and straightforwardness demanded it. If I could use such an old-fashioned, and mostly meaningless these days, word the man was honorable. Of course, he was also a closed-minded, tight-assed son of a bitch, so closed off to the same strange possibilities that I accepted naturally that he could hardly believe the evidence of his own eyes at times. We'd had something approaching mutual respect and co-operation at one point. Until I'd done the inexcuseable.

I'd found the man at a moment of profound weakness. And I had shown him, again and again, that I was not afraid to admit to my own weaknesses. For this, I was sure he would never forgive me. All those untidy, messy emotions like fear and sorrow that can never truly be contained, blocked off by walls of thought, he covered them with anger. I had seen through his defenses for brief, blinding moments, to find a man quaking to his very soul. He hated me for it. I think I could have faced anything besides his hate, which was all he was letting me see.

Worse was my impotence in the face of the very real crisis facing the man. I was sure that it was no monster, not in the conventional sense, that he carried in his belly. Such a creature would have eaten through his internal organs and burst out of his chest long ago. No, whatever he carried, it was bound to be something so close to human as to be hardly discernible. I could see no solution though than to encourage him into the abortion he professed to want. Yet, I could also see that it would have the power to destroy him.

I intended to what? Stay away until such a time as the medical procedure could be performed and it was seen how the dice had fallen, whether or not he survived it with his mind and sanity fully intact. What would I do if he fell apart? Hope that destroyed like that he was of no more use or interest to the forces that ripped him apart in the first place and settle him someplace where he could be cared for with some of the money from the bank accounts Krycek had given me numbers to.

The only face that Doggett had let me see before his abduction was that of a strong man, a warrior. A man who would be hero given the appropriate circumstances. Now, the man I had gotten to know after finding him in that hold was merely human, and a suffering human at that. These were not Doggett's finest hours, which we both knew. I could forgive him, but he could not forgive himself.

Made uncertain of my plans by the naggings of Krycek and my own mind, I pulled into parking lot of a Denny's. A few moments later, I was settled in a booth, mind given fully over to the task of decided which of the fat-laden, feasts of eventual death by coronary artery disease I wanted. I wanted, for the moment, no decision more difficult than cream with my coffee or not. The restaurant was quiet, even considering the hour. I could hear myself think far too loudly for comfort.

The waitress could have been any waitress in a diner, working the morning shift in Nowheresville, Midwest, USA. She seemed an archetype more than a person, with her permed hair and rotund figure. She took my order with little comment, leaving me alone again having to face the far bigger issues like where I was going to go next, and could I continue to live with myself.

As she set down the combination of eggs, bacon and fried potatoes that I'd ordered, she said, "You look like you have the weight of the world on your shoulders."

Time for Atlas to shrug? Not likely. Still, she seemed like a sweet and anonymous confessor that could absorb some of my troubles. And she was out and out asking me to unburden myself. "I'm just thinking about someone I know," I said. I changed the sex of the person in question, to make it more understandable. I'd been thrown out of enough bars and other places by people who thought I was drunk to have learned my lesson on that front. "This woman. Some guy, not me, I swear, got her pregnant. I suppose you can only call it rape, I don't know how else you'd describe it. She's not exactly what you would call a friend of mine, because she hates me. One time she threw a full soda can at me just because it wasn't the right kind."

"She hit you?"

"Beaned me right in the gut."

"I don't think she was aiming for your gut. She was just a little high, probably. I know what I'd be aiming for if I were her," the waitress said. "So, why are you abandoning her?"

"I'm not. I just dropped her off at her aunt and uncle's house," I suppose that was a good enough way to describe Skinner and his sister. "She's safe now."

"You care for her at all?"

"Of course. I love her...like a sister I suppose. I'm furious about what happened to her," I said.

The waitress picked up my plate before I'd even taken a bite and she said, "I'll go wrap this up to go. When I'm done, if you know what's good for you and your Jesus-loving soul, you'll get your skinny ass back in your car and drive right back to her uncle and aunt's and stay by her side all the way through this. Be strong for her."

"But, she doesn't want me there. She hates me."

"Don't mistake her pain for hate, sweetie."

With that, the waitress took my plate and left me alone. Well, alone for just a minute.

I was confronted by a new face in my standard repertoire of ghosts. The one that I had hoped so much not to see ever since I'd found Doggett. I'd so hoped that someday soon I'd be able to find her for him.

"Monica," I whispered softly. I was learning not to talk too much in public to people that most would agree weren't there. Passing over to the other side, even if it was just my imagination filling in the details, always agreed with people. As a ghost, Monica was radiantly beautiful. Her pale complexion glowed under her silky dark hair. I was struck by the serenity in her eyes. She and the rest of the dead were at peace, even if I was not. I wondered how she had died. I'd learned not to talk about that with my beloved dead. They never seemed to remember how it happened. Most pain in their lives was forgotten. Only love seemed to remain.

"That waitress is right," she said with a little half-smile. "Go take care of him for me. Would you want to be stuck with no one but Skinner for company for this one?"

Monica disappeared. I dropped a twenty on the table and was out the door even before the waitress could get back with my breakfast packaged to go. I wondered sometimes at my singular ability to be blind to what was going on in those closest to me, especially myself. I drove around Omaha for a while, ostensibly in random directions, not entirely certain of my decision. I found myself heading further and further east every moment. On the eastern edge of town, I came across a big shopping center. The typical huge parking lot surrounded by big box stores. On an impulse, I pulled in and parked in front of one of the electronics store.

Doggett:

Sometime long after noon, I drifted to consciousness again. I was alone in my new room. Drawn curtains revealed an utterly perfect blue sky, not a cloud in sight. The fan blew in a smell was distinctly rural. I'm not a farm boy myself, but cousins of mine were farmers. I'd spent summers with my uncle and aunt on their farm. I knew the smells intimately. They brought to mind long, hot days of hard work at chores and sneaking away from those chores whenever possible for the sweetness of a cool skinny dip in the nearby river. Not exactly unpleasant, but with obvious undertones of animal shit. The smell of dirt over that was more pleasant.

I almost missed the obvious. That the distant scent of pig shit in the air wasn't making me nauseous. I should be making my morning race for the porcelain right now. My bladder was nagging though. That was the thing that had gotten me up in the first place.

Downstairs, Skinner and Georgie were sitting at the kitchen table, talking quietly to themselves, a conversation which ended the minute I came into sight, probably they were talking about what to do about me. "Put the kettle on, Wally," Georgie said, getting up from the table. She guided me by the elbow to sit down.

"It seemed like you needed the rest more than anything, so I asked my friend not to come until tomorrow," Skinner said as he filled the kettle from the sink.

"Where's Mulder?" I asked, not having seen any evidence of the man yet today. I guess I was concerned, that having dropped me off safely into Skinner's care, that Mulder was going to take off. And I was starting to be pissed that he hadn't had the decency to say goodbye even.

The back door opened. Mulder bounded into the kitchen. The man had the damndest sense of timing. He was carrying a couple of bags. "I went to Omaha. Bought a present for you. I figured you're going to be laid up for a while, recovering," he said. He dropped one of the plastic bags onto the table in front of me. I peek inside. About two dozen DVDs and box sets. It was one of the oddest lot of entertainment I'd ever seen gathered in one bag. I sorted through it: the Marx brothers, highlights of the 2002 NFL season, Dirty Harry, Ken Burn's Civil War, Iron Chef, a couple of bad chopsocky flicks, Ed Wood movies. And something called "Queer as Folk."

As I looked in puzzlement at that one, Mulder tore it out of my hands. "Sorry," he said, ears turning pink. "I forgot to sort it out. I got that one for myself."

"Hey, you left it in the bag, seems like it's my present after all," I said, more to embarrass him further, especially in front of Skinner, than any interest in the box set. I figured it had to be porn or just as good for him to be so furtively trying to cover up what it was. I was able to reclaim the box set from his grabbing hands.

"My aunt didn't have a DVD player, Mulder," Skinner said.

"I know. Help me get some more stuff out of the car, Walter."

They went out and a few moments later, they reappeared. Walt was struggling with a big TV box, Mulder hefting a couple of smaller boxes and bags. "Living room okay for now, John?" Mulder asked. "I figure if you end up confined to bed for a while, after the procedure, we can move it upstairs then."

"Fine," I said. By this point, Georgie had finished making a cup of tea. She set it front of me and looked at me with purpose. I got the point and took a cautious sip, blowing on it first. The same spicy tea as she'd made me drink last night. In the other room, Mulder and Skinner wrestled with boxes and wires, setting up the new TV and DVD player. I wanted to get up and go help them with it. I suppose a typically male reaction when confronted with the sounds of something that has the instructions, 'some assembly required.'

"You might as well wait here," Georgie told me. "Knowing Walter, two of them is about one too many, as is."

She was right. Immediately I heard a muffled "Mulder!" coming from the direction of the living room.

"Did I tell you or did I tell you? Drink your tea, sweetie," she said.

At Georgie's insistence, I parked my ass in front of the television more or less the whole day. While Skinner and Mulder finished arguing over the TV setup, she permitted me one brief stroll around the property, a short tour that skirted the cornfields, with her at my elbow. I'd activated the mother hen instinct in her.

"The land belongs to Walter," she said. She seemed not at all bitter about the fact that her brother was the one with the inheritance, not her. "Came with the farmhouse. But it's been leased out ever since my Uncle died in the seventies. I don't think he ever gave up hope that Walter would come back to the land and take up farming again."

I ventured too close to the cornfield itself for her comfort and she put a restraining hand on my shoulder. "I don't think you want to go that close. I don't trust all the chemicals the farmer uses."

We turned back to the house after that, passing the chicken coops. We came across Skinner, dressed in what I thought of as full country regalia. Jeans, a flannel shirt and somewhere or another he'd dug up an old John Deere gimme cap. He'd been busy in the coops, pitching out old bedding.

"How's the great TV setup project going?" Georgie asked.

"I left Mulder to it. I thought you said you hired a boy from the town to come out here and take care of the hens," he said to Georgie.

"I did. He's taken care of them. Just not to your standards I guess. Walter, it's a hen house, not a kitchen. Doesn't have to be spotless. They're laying just fine."

Skinner grumbled under his breath, but retreated back to the chicken coop instead of standing up to his big sister again. I don't think I've ever seen Skinner so meek as he was when his sister spoke to him.

The strangest looking cat I ever saw came limping across my path as we started for the house. She was a calico, but missing one of her eyes, only a fold of scar tissue where it should have been. She was a skinny little, tiny thing, but with a swollen middle. I've been around barn cats enough to know when one is with kittens. And this one was, nearly ready to drop. She wove herself around my ankles, mewling, but when I knelt down to pet her, she bolted away.

"Poor thing," Georgie said. "I've been trying to catch her and take her to the vets for weeks, but she's too clever for any of the traps I've set. I call her Sadie. She obviously craves human company, but she's so scared of us. I think she was a pet for a while before she was dumped out here."

Ignored, Sadie reappeared, sitting on the porch railing, still acrobatic despite her burden and her missing eye. "She's hardly more than a kitten herself," I said. She seemed scrappy, a survivor and a fighter. I could admire that in a creature. There'd been a while before my abduction where I'd seriously thought about getting a cat and never had. Monica had always said I was a dog person, but I disagreed.

Sadie leaped off the railing and twirled herself around my ankles again, rubbing frantically. I didn't reach down for her this time and she stayed there for a while, happy to have made my acquaintance. I didn't mind. She was a sweet thing and I felt sorry for her, so burdened down with kittens and so hurt already. A moment later, she reached the limit of her courage and retreated back in the direction of the outbuildings.

I shrugged and headed back inside the house. Mulder had set himself up in front of the TV, remote clutched in hand, in what I already thought of as my chair. I stared at him and then cleared my throat in a way that clearly suggested mayhem if he didn't move.

Georgie had followed me into the house and as he said, "oh," softly and got out of my chair, she shook her head. She went into the kitchen. I held my hand out for the remote and got it with only a roll of Mulder's eyes. The bastard could be so infuriating and I nearly whipped the remote at him, aiming right for between his eyes. I probably would have hit him too. I've got good aim and how could I miss at such close range? But it might have meant Mulder reclaiming the remote. I settled into the recliner and stopped the video he'd been watching. It was the NFL highlights.

"Between being in prison and on the run last year, there wasn't much chance to keep up with sports," Mulder said as he settled onto the well-worn sofa. "Which one did you want?"

"Marx Brothers," I said. Laughter seemed to be the easiest thing these days to get me out of myself.

So began one of the longest TV marathons I'd engaged in for a long time. Georgie brought out snacks. A plate of crackers and cheese which she set on a battered TV tray right at my elbow. Oddly, I found myself hungry and willing to risk some food again. I started with just the crackers. Though my stomach felt a little unsettled, nothing seemed on the verge of coming back up. A while later, I tried a few nibbles of cheese. Georgie kept me well supplied with that darn tea and made noises if I didn't drink it. She'd started adding honey to it and that made it taste a bit better. Walt eventually joined us in the TV marathon and we spent the hours laughing to the Marx brothers, having found other movies by them in Skinner's aunts stash of videos. I noticed that I was the only one that Georgie catered to. Indeed, Skinner was deferential to his sister, asking her if there was anything she wanted when he got up.

When the afternoon slipped into evening, Mulder slipped into the kitchen. He spent a while in there and eventually came out with a carton of ice cream and some bowls. "Anyone else want some? John?"

"What flavor?"

"Vanilla."

What I really wanted was peach, like Gramma Garnet used to make as soon as the peaches were ripe, but I realized that any store bought peach would be a pale imitation of that. Chocolate would have been good. Coffee maybe. I must have made a face or something at Mulder.

Mulder put the vanilla down on the coffee table and reached for his car keys. "What flavor did you want, John? I'll go get some."

"Fox, sit down. Nothing closer than Omaha is going to be open at eight on a Sunday evening," Georgie said, firmly, "It's all I bought, John. You want something different, put it on the list next time I go shopping, but don't give me any crap right now. You want ice cream or not?"

She dished out and I accepted a small bowl without further complaint. It was just plain vanilla, but the mere fact that I didn't immediately feel like tasting it a second time, on the way back out, was a real treat. It was smooth, creamy, and sweet and I savored every drop slowly, not wanting to push things, even as I celebrated a little bit of freedom from the nausea that had haunted me constantly for weeks. I was satisfied with another moment where I could forget that everything was all wrong and never would be right again.

I was almost happy, until the tadpole decided to move again. The flutters seemed to grow stronger all the time. I thought I put a good face on it. I didn't want Skinner to see me freak out. I put the footrest on the recliner down and stood up. I announced, "I think I've had enough. I'm going to bed."

The other occupants of the room were immersed in the Dirty Harry movie they were watching and hardly looked up. Mulder nodded but turned back to the TV. I made my way through the room, which by now was lit only with the bluish light of the TV. I ascended the stairs silently, shutting the door that separated them from the living room. When I got to my room, I turned the window fan up to the highest setting, not just because it was warm, but for the noise. I laid down on my bed and pounded a pillow as hard as I could as the tadpole continued its dance in my belly. "Stop it," I muttered again and again through clenched teeth.

A substantial silhouette appeared in the doorway. Georgie left the room light off but entered my room, leaving only the yellow light of the hall fixture to illuminate this little scene. She sat down next to me on the bed, a weight that caused the whole mattress to slope to her. A gentle, but authoritative hand was placed on my fist, ending my assault of the pillow. She asked in a tone that would brook no evasion, "What's the matter, John?"

"It's moving. I can feel it. Why can't it let me forget that this is a living creature I've got inside me?"

Georgie placed one of her big hands on my swollen belly and closed her eyes for a moment. I had never let anyone else touch me there, not since the first time Mulder had done so in the hold of the alien ship. Even then I'd brushed him off weakly.

When she spoke, there was some ghost of comfort in those words, but mainly it was that steel in her voice, the plain talk that made me trust her. "Because it is a living creature, John. Make no doubt about that. You aren't going to want to hear this, but you need to understand this. You are going to be killing something. We don't know if it's a human or something else, but I suspect that doesn't matter as much as you think. You were a Marine. You understand that sometimes there has to be death to defend something important."

"Are you trying to talk me out of this?" I asked, more troubled than when she'd first spoken. She made sense, but it was harder than I could anticipate to hear her describe my situation with such unvarnished truths. Not that she was bringing doubts to me and my decision, but merely making me look at the ones I already had, that I'd been so steadfastly, willfully blind to. Would I be better off if she'd never said those thing? No. I would hate to be lied to. I would rather have truth than comfort.

"No, nor trying to talk you into it. You'll be the one sitting by yourself at two in the morning, wondering if you did the right thing, no matter what your decision is. John, you need to defend your own life and your sanity, but there will be a cost. The rest of us can only be sorry that you were put in the situation where you had to pay the cost. I made the decision. I have no regrets. I know what I had to do to save my life. I would do it again in a minute. But I still wonder sometimes."

"Georgie, did Walter know? About yours?"

"He paid for it. Gave me every penny of money he'd been saving up for his first car without question. Borrowed a buddy's car to drive me to Des Moines. Held my hand. And I don't really know exactly what happened, but Walter had words with the boy that did it. And the boy moved out of town in the middle of the night.

She slid down until she was lying on the bed with me. She held me close against her big, soft body. I laid my head on her chest, perhaps the only time I've ever done that with a woman and not thought of her sexually. It was definitely sisterly, or motherly perhaps. Only sweet comfort without an iota of sex. She held me as I shook, an anchor in my storm.

"You know," she said after a while, "You might want to stop being as mean as piss to Fox. I don't think you realize it, but he's willing to do for you what Walter did for me, even down to beating the crap out of the boy that did it. Even if in your case, the 'boy' is this conspiracy in the government Walter's telling me about."

Well, this 'boy' was a long time enemy of Mulder's to start with, surely that had more than anything to do with it. I thought about the futility of one man on a crusade against vicious forces that had penetrated even the highest levels of law enforcement, perhaps even the highest levels of government in this country. I wondered whether to admire the burning belief I saw in the man or just laugh in hollow, humorless mirth at the vast stupidity of it all. As I tried to decide, I eventually fell asleep.

I woke alone, my nightmares forgotten except for the weight of cold terror that sat heavily on my chest and chilled me to my core despite the muggy August night. I was out of bed in an instant, sleep an impossibility. I headed first to the bathroom, thinking that my churning stomach might mean that I need to throw up. I did, a little, just a few retches. But I got myself under control before long. I was a little more awake, but the unspecified feeling of horror I'd woken with still clung to me. I thought I vaguely remembered killing Luke in my dream, but truth was, the terrors were even greater, more nameless than that. Surprisingly, this was the first nightmare I'd had since Mulder had found me. I certainly hoped it would be my last. I couldn't stand waking in a cold sweat like this all the time. The tadpole was doing the shimmy again, perhaps disturbed because I was.

Back in the hall again, I planned to go downstairs to watch some TV, but one of the doors was open and the room light was on. I looked in. Mulder was sprawled out on top of a made bed, clothes still on, not even attempting to sleep, though it was about three in the morning. He was reading a fantasy football magazine. He looked up from his magazine at me, "Are you all right, John?" he asked, setting his magazine down when I didn't answer. "Nightmare?"

I shivered but didn't answer. What could I say? Was there anything anyone could say that would make it all better? I didn't protest though as Mulder got up from his bed and put an arm around my shoulder. I let him lead me to the bed. We laid down together and he held me. I was so soul empty, so defeated that nothing, not even Fox Mulder cuddling me, mattered to me at the moment. A mean-spirited part of me wanted to hate him for it, but most of me couldn't find the will to do so. Slowly, his warmth leached from him to me, calming me with simple body to body comfort and I stopped shivering. "I killed him," I whispered so softly I wasn't even sure I'd said it. "In my dream I killed my son."

"John, it's okay," he said as he stroked my hair, my face pressed into his shoulder. "It may have seemed real, believe me. I know nightmares. But it wasn't. You didn't kill your son."

"No, but I'm going to kill this...whatever it is in my belly," I said. The way we were laying, side by side, belly to belly, I know he could feel the movements of the tadpole, which was still kicking up a tempest in its teacup. If he was surprised by this, he hid it very well. "Why isn't any of you trying to talk me out of this? This...thing. It didn't ask to be put here anymore than I chose to put it there. It's an innocent. And I want to murder it."

"Innocents die in war all the time, John. No one's going to try and talk you out of it because you're so obviously traumatized by having this...thing inside you."

"Just having it gone won't mean that it was never there. I hate it, Mulder. I hate this thing in me. It would be easier if I didn't feel anything at all."

I don't know what I wanted from Mulder. I don't know what I wanted him to say to me. Did I want the sugarcoated reassurances from him that everything would be all right? I certainly didn't expect what he said next.

"That's because the opposite of love isn't hate. It's indifference. There are some, both religious writers and psychologists, who say that hate is love seen through a mirror of fear. And what you're going through is one of the most legitimately frightening things that could happen to a person."

Mulder stopped talking for a minute, as if hearing what he'd just said to me. Then he started again, "Shit. I'm sorry. I shouldn't be saying things like this to you. You didn't need to hear that."

I was angry. He was right. He shouldn't be saying anything like that to me, especially because it was total BS. Total psychobabble crap and I didn't want to hear it. "Get out!" I snapped, forgetting in my fury this was his room.

Mulder leaped out of the bed, away from me. "Fuck. I'm sorry, John. I'm an idiot."

"Just get out!"

He did.

Mulder:

I bolted from the room, a strategic retreat, furious, not with Doggett in the slightest, but with myself. I stormed through the house, downstairs and out the front door of the dumpy little farmhouse. I think I intended to head for the car and get in and drive again. The miles pounding under my wheels could only be soothing.

But Scully was waiting for me. She was leaning against the car, arms crossed. She raised an eyebrow at me and said, sardonically, "It's good to see that despite everything that's happened, you're still the same old Mulder. You weren't going to run away again, were you?"

"I'm an idiot, Scully," I told her. No doubt she knew what happened. She knew me inside and out, far better than I knew myself. Only Scully seemed to have the power to save me from myself at times when I was danger to myself, too clever for my own good. She had the power to make me believe in myself again when I could see only the shattered failures I left in my wake. She was still my one in five billion.

"I know John better than you do. He'd rather hear the plain truth than anything. Even if he is uncomfortable and angry with the answers, he wants them," she said. Archetypal mythology tells us that angels are winged creatures of fire and awesome power. Mythology is wrong. My angel is short and red-haired. She still watches over me.

"So, what do I do now?" Out of frustration, I picked up pieces of the gravel that paved the driveway. I flung piece after piece of it into the endless cornfields that surrounded this desolate hell we'd hidden ourselves away in. I think it was good for John to have this stable location, something that could become something like home for him, but for myself, I felt trapped. Even though I had been here less than two full days, part of which had been spent on the road to and from Omaha, I was a pacing animal in a cage. Ever since my time in prison, the road had meant freedom.

"Give him time. Mulder, think of how hard it was for me. And I wanted a child more than I ever wanted anything in my life, even to the point where I made decisions that weren't wise."

I'd wanted that child too and when I thought about him, there was an ache that ran through me. I understood what Scully had to do, but I think there would always feel like a piece of me was missing. One of the things I'd taken time to do was track down the family he'd been adopted into, I even spied on them a little. I could rest assured, I'd thought, that he'd gone to a family who wanted a child as much as Scully and I had. I would not be so cruel as to take him away, even if I had been in a position where I could.

Before I could think of an answer to her, Scully was gone. So tantalizingly brief were all of the visits of my beloved dead. I wanted more than anything to just sit down and be with her, with any of them, to watch a movie with them, to talk for hours about nothing. Instead of their company, I had their help.

Feeling lost, old and defeated, I looked to the car again. No, I wouldn't take off, not now. Maybe later. I was too tired. Yet sleep still seemed elusive. The front porch had a swing on it and I took up vigil on the swing, watching the sky for, I don't know, some sign of activity. There was nothing, just the ordered patterns of the stars, their relative motion so slow and ponderous that it seemed hardly motion at all. There was once where I could trust the stars, their stability a constant in a life that seemed in chaos. Yet, as I knew more and more of the truth, every time I looked at them, it was a reminder of the betrayal- from them came only death and peril.

I fell asleep on the swing, for a few brief hours. When I opened my eyes again, stiff from sleeping sitting up and disoriented for having done it at all, the dawn was approaching, a rosy glow tinting the gray. It was quiet, a peace that felt not entirely earthly. I felt a small body nestling against mine. My rarest visitor out of my beloved dead. I didn't look directly at her. It seemed if I did, she went away that much sooner. I felt small, girlish arms wrap around them, a sensation difficult to describe. It was not as if it were faint. Or a weaker version of what physical arms would have felt like. No, it was feeling entirely removed from normal, physical reality, though no less strong or real for being so. It always felt good, sweet and safe to be with her.

"Fox," I heard Samantha say softly. "Tell John that she forgives him. That if he's not ready for her now, she'll wait until he is."

"Who?"

"John's baby. One of them."

"One of them?"

"He has two."

Twins. That would explain why John was so huge. Simply lovely. That would make it even harder for John to do what he needed to do, knowing there were two souls on his head, not just one. Surely any doctor we could find to do this abortion would insist on an ultrasound. I wondered about the possibilities of keeping the image from him. Would he want to know, insist on seeing it?

Sam's presence slipped away from me. I didn't reach out for her, knowing the futility of it. And these moments, as rare and brief as they were, were enough. I was assured that she was at peace. When I knew I was alone on the porch again, I stood and went into the house. It was quiet, no one but me up for the moment. I went up to the guest room that had been given over to my use.

John was still in it. He'd fallen asleep again, face pressed into the pillow, on his side, belly held protectively with one hand. The furrows in his brow, even more prominent these days, failed to fade away while he slept. I wondered. If one of the babies forgave John for what he was about to do, what about the other one? Was it angry? Was that the one seemed intent on beating John up from the inside out. I could never let him know, not that he would believe my source in the slightest.

I was tired. I thought perhaps I might be able to steal another short while of sleep, a few winks of it. I climbed back into bed, with John. Keeping as much as possible to the other side of it, I laid my head down on the pillow and let myself drift.

Doggett:

I woke in Mulder's arms. Had I dreamed that I yelled at him to get out of the bedroom? Sometime during my sleep, he had spooned himself against my back and draped a arm over my belly, his other arm forming a pillow for my head. His knees were pressed against the back of my own knees. The most disturbing portion of this whole scenario is just how comfortable it felt to be held by him. This was, in no way, good. I did not want to feel comfortable about Mulder. I tried to remember how angry I had been at him when I'd thrown him out of the room and it wasn't working.

"What the hell are you doing in here?" I snapped, trying to pull myself out of his arms. It's one thing to let yourself be held in the middle of the night, haunted by dreams. It's another thing entirely in the bright light of morning to let yourself be snuggled by another man, no matter the situation. He wasn't letting me go easily though. He was tenacious and I just wasn't as strong as I used to be.

"It's my room. You don't want me around you, go to your own room. But first I have to ask you something."

"Then you'll let me go?" I asked. I laid back into the spoon again, no longer protesting Mulder's arms around me.

"So, what kind of ice cream did you really want yesterday?" Mulder asked when I stopped struggling.

He wanted to know what kind of ice cream I wanted?

"No point in saying. Can't get it any more," I told him. I might as well tell him the truth. No harm in that. "Gramma Garnet died in '87 and nobody can make peach ice cream like her."

"Okay, was there something a bit more obtainable that you'd rather have than vanilla?"

"Coffee," I told him. "Plain coffee ice cream. None of that java chip jamocha cappuccino swirl Starbucks crap."

"Okay. I was thinking of heading back to Omaha later today after Skinner's doctor friend has seen you. I'm going to look into maybe getting internet service for the laptop I bought for you. It'll depend on how much of a false paper trail I can throw up if I can do it or not. I'll stop on the way home and pick up some for you."

The room's door was open, and at this point, Georgie looked through it. If she thought there was anything unusual about me being held so intimately by Mulder, she certainly didn't say a thing or even look surprised. "There you are. I worried for a minute when I saw your empty bed. Doctor Jensen is here. Are you ready?"

Was I ready? Strange, how the moment I'd been waiting for weeks impatiently, seemed suddenly a terrifying thing. I knew that it would just be an exam, that probably this doctor friend couldn't perform the procedure himself, that he would have to line up some kind of specialist somehow, but still, this would be the start of the process to rid myself of my burden. Mulder sensed my fear and impulsively, he kissed me on the back of my head. It was the oddest sensation, so tender, the feeling of lips brushing my hair softly. I found it impossible to take exception to this strange act of affection. One of his hands found mine and squeezed gently. Then he let me go. "Brave heart, John," he said.

Yesterday, I had changed into sweats again, but now I decided I wanted to get dressed in my real pants again, to put on what little armor, what little dignity I had at my disposal. "I'll be down in a minute, Georgie," I told her, getting up and walking out of Mulder's room. "I want to get dressed."

She just pressed a mug of tea into my hand and said, "We'll be waiting downstairs."

The nausea was nagging again, just slightly. As I got dressed, I sipped at the tea. Slowly, I'd been making the connection. Whatever was in the tea, it helped. I wondered if it was ginger. Had Mulder told her about it? Or was he just right and it was something a lot of people knew? Eventually, my mug was emptied and the encounter could be delayed no longer. I went downstairs.

Georgie, Mulder, Skinner and this Dr. Jensen were waiting, sitting all around the kitchen table. Dr. Jensen was not exactly what I'd been expecting. One of "Skinner's old Marine buddies" does not bring to mind a ruddy-cheeked woman with close cropped curly hair like a gray scrub pad. Her eyes widened a moment when she got her first good look at me, but otherwise she just rose from the table and held out her hand to me. "Mr. Doggett, Arlene Jensen. Sorry we couldn't meet under more normal circumstances."

I let her take my hand. Her grip was firm, strong for a woman. "I could say the same," I said.

Georgie pulled out the empty chair next to her and motioned for me to sit down. I did.

"So, Walter has told me that you're possibly pregnant," she said, dryly, as if she didn't quite believe this. I knew that tone. I'd been the skeptic myself. Hell, I wouldn't believe it myself except for I've felt the tadpole myself, swimming around inside me.

"There's no possibly about it. I've gotten positives on four different brands of those home pregnancy tests. Something is alive in there. Feel that," I said. Then I reached out and grabbed her hand. For the first time I willingly put someone's hand on my belly. The tadpole had been kicking up a storm ever since I'd entered the kitchen.

Her eyes widened again, "I'm also given to understand your plans are, if possible, to terminate this...pregnancy as soon as possible."

"Yes," I said flatly.

"Well, I can tell right off the bat that this will be no simple procedure. I'm a simple GP. Usually I treat strep throat, tell moms I can't pass out antibiotics for colds and do school physicals. Occasionally, I do a bit of baby catching, for low risk cases. This is something beyond my experience. You're looking at possibly major abdominal surgery, definitely beyond a simple D and C for sure. I suppose the first step would be a basic physical examination. Mister Mulder tells me that you haven't had any medical care since your abduction experience."

She looked at me as if I'd committed some unpardonable crime. Of course, you know doctors, convinced that they are essential to every aspect of life. I, in turn, tried to convey just how crazy I thought she was with my returning look. Like we could have trusted just any doctor with this thing. Honestly, right now the only thing keeping me in the same room as her was that Skinner seemed to trust her.

"Maybe if there's someplace we could go for a bit of privacy?" she asked.

Skinner and Mulder got up to go. There was one thing I wanted to tell this doctor, before the exam began, so she wouldn't be shocked by it's discovery later. Not that in my current condition it didn't seem somewhat logical that I would have one, but you never know. I knew from the troubled look on her fact that she must be picturing some very complicated internal arrangement, that might very well kill me should the tadpole be dislodged.

"There's something you should know. I have a vagina," I said, flatly. Mulder wasn't surprised. He'd seen me naked, getting me out of the ship. But Skinner's jaw literally dropped in surprise. I don't know what he expected. Then he fled out the back door, just shocked maybe, though possibly grossed out by the thought.

Not that I'd made a very close acquaintance with this new orifice I had of my own. It made me feel queasy just to think about it. I'd made one preliminary, uh, investigation into it, feeling around and deciding it was the most disturbing thing I'd ever felt, to be able to stick my own fingers inside of me like that, touching slick, moist, somewhat spongy tissues. I hadn't done it again and I wasn't planning to. Since then, I'd ignored it as much as possible, pretended it didn't exist. "I have what felt like a cervix. As far as I'm concerned, I have no reason to believe I don't have the rest of the equipment."

The doctor seemed almost relieved, but she still said, "Well, that may or may not make things less complicated. We'll take you upstairs and get a better look at you."

Mulder started heading for the back door. I suddenly took a mind to make him just as uncomfortable as I was going to be. I'm a bastard. But it would make me feel better to have him feel worse. "Where do you think you're going?" I asked him.

"I thought you'd want some privacy," he said, hand hovering on the door handle.

"I want you there with me."

"I thought you'd rather have Georgie."

I liked Georgie. I really did. I trusted her far more than I could have thought possible to trust someone in such a short time. But Georgie was a girl. She'd never seen me naked. I wanted to keep it that way. Mulder had seen me naked already. And while there were times where I just wanted to kill him, fate or whatever you want to call it had seen fit to throw us together into this mess that had taken over my life. I could trust him to watch my back for me.

Mulder wasn't looking at me, but at some point behind me, watching intensely. He was doing it again, I was certain, having one of his little conversations with someone who wasn't there. I saw him mouth something that might have been 'fine', then his expression changed, from his frown to a resignation. "Fine, whatever you want, John," he said.

We went upstairs, the three of us, Mulder, me and the doctor with a black bag. To fill the awkward silence, Dr. Jensen talked, "When I first met Walter, I was just a nurse, Walter one of the patients on my ward. I'd always dreamed of being a doctor, but had settled on being a nurse as being an obtainable goal. We got talking, Walter and I. We had a lot in common, two kids from the middle of corn country Iowa. Became pen pals when he was shipped back to the states. He was the one who convinced me that I could make it through medical school."

I let her into my room and sat down on the bed. She stood beside me and Mulder closed the door after us. Mulder stood, leaning against the door, arms crossed, watching the proceedings with guarded interest. Dr. Jensen started out with just asking questions. All the usual ones that they ask you when you go to a doctor. You know, heart problems, diabetes, this that and the other conditions. Anyone in your family, etc. She asked about any problems I'd been having. I told her about the morning sickness, about how it was letting up on me finally I thought. She did some of the basic poking and prodding around, looking down my ears, my throat, etc. Then she got out the blood pressure cuff. I thought I might have to worry about that. The last time I'd been to the doctor for my yearly, sometime I'd gotten back from that weird experience in Mexico, the doctor had warned me that my blood pressure was creeping up and we might have to start thinking about watching it closely. After a minute, she announced the numbers. They didn't really register with me nor could I even remember what was dangerously high.

When Dr. Jensen noticed my blank look she said, "I'd say that's pretty good for a guy of your age, especially considering. Okay, let's take a listen."

She got a regular stethoscope first and gave my lungs a listen. "Sounds good and clear," she pronounced. Then she got out a doptone stethoscope. I remembered them from my ex-wife's pregnancy with Luke. I didn't get the chance to go to many of her appointments, but I did a few. Even got to listen to Luke's heartbeat once before he was born. Back then, they didn't do ultrasounds routinely, so I never got to see him that way. Dr. Jensen held the end piece in her hands a moment. "It's pretty cold, let me warm it up for you," she explained. Then she put it on and asked me to pull up my shirt. I unbuttoned it from the bottom up, exposing the taut, pale skin. I hated the sight of my own belly these days, not that I could avoid it these days. She pressed the end piece to my belly and listened for a while, frowning. She shifted it around several times, still frowning.

I wished she would say something. A guy might get to worrying with his doctor looking like that and not saying anything. I was convinced that she'd somehow found evidence that this tadpole was a monster just by listening to the heartbeat.

Finally, she said something. "I'm not going to draw a conclusion until we get a good look with an ultrasound, but I did hear two distinct heartbeats. The simplest explanation is that you're carrying twins."

Twins? Two of them? I sputtered and choked on nothing. "Jesus Christ! Twins?! Tell me you did not just say twins," I said, standing and starting to pace around the room. Mulder didn't even have the decency to act surprised. He just watched me pace, shaking his head, arms still crossed.

"Mr. Doggett, would you come with me to my office, so we can do an ultrasound?" Dr. Jensen asked. "It's only about two hours from here."

Suddenly, the last thing I wanted was another trip through the emptiness of Iowa farm country, up and down the rolling hills that might just activate my nausea again for all I knew. I hated Iowa, I decided. I hated it as if it were to blame for everything, for this unexpected trip out to the world, for the, not one, but apparently two tadpoles swimming around in me, for being stuck with Mulder, Skinner and this weirdo doctor with brillo pad hair.

Mulder spoke up before I could protest that I wasn't budging an inch from this farmhouse. "Sure, I'll get the car started. Sooner we get this over the better, right, John?"

"Right," I muttered. I wondered if it were possible for things to get any worse. I buttoned myself up again. It looked like I wouldn't be required to get naked just yet. "You're coming with me," I said pointedly at Mulder. "You drive."

We went downstairs. Georgie was nowhere to be seen. Skinner hadn't slunk back from his retreat either. When we went outside, I caught sight of both of them. They were up on ladders, scraping at the peeling paint on the farmhouse. Skinner was up high, perched right under the eaves, Georgie down lower just on a step stool. Skinner didn't pause in his work, seeming not to notice us, but Georgie got down from her stepstool and put down her scraper.

"You take good care of him, Arlene," Georgie told Dr. Jensen.

"No worries there, Georgeann," Dr. Jensen said. Then she went to put her black bag into the back of her old truck. It was a nice one. If I believed my eyes, it was an International Harvester Travelall. One of the rarest of the rare. Not so much because it was ever a luxury car or rare to start with. But it'd been a hard working country kind of car and most of them had rusted to death long ago. This one was obviously a pampered toy, polished to within an inch of its life. My fingers were just about itching to look under the hood. Just to see what it had.

"That's a Travelall," I said, dumbly. She had to know what she had. It wouldn't have been taken care of so well if she didn't.

"Nice, huh? It was my uncle's. He always loved it. Didn't drive it in the winter ever. I discovered it in his barn when he died. Want a ride in it?"

Maybe Dr. Brillopad wasn't so bad after all, but I looked to Mulder. Mulder had already started the engine on his car. It was one of the smaller Ford SUVs, he'd traded down from the big ass Excursion he'd driven away from the ruins in. It might not have been as fun as the Travelall, but it would ride like a car. The Travelall would have the distinctly hard ride of a truck. "Some other time, I'll go with Mulder," I said.

Mulder:

Dr. Jensen's office was in one of the few buildings in the minor conglomeration of humanity that passed for a town this far away from the city. The biggest, most prominent building was the Casey's convenience store and gas station. I thought about ducking in and seeing if they had coffee ice cream. John would need a bit of cold comfort after today and as the hours rolled away, it was looking more and more like Omaha wasn't on the agenda.

We hadn't said much on the way to this two horse town. Just every now and then, John would sputter, "Two, there's two of them." He didn't seem to want a response, more perhaps gradually trying to accustom himself to this new reality. Once though he did ask, "You weren't surprised at all, were you?"

To this direct question I answered something wasn't quite a lie, and yet it bore my usual hallmarks of evasive rearrangement of the known facts in such a way that the truth was safely concealed, "You seem particularly, well, huge. It occurred to me as one possibility."

The good Dr. Jensen's office was in the front of a small ranch house, with only a shingle hung out front to announce her services and a slightly larger than average gravel parking pad out front. The building was closed and dark. She led us into an empty waiting room in what must have been a living room once. There were plenty of toys heaped in a chest in the corner and furniture that could have been any living room furniture. Only the Formica intake counter in one corner distinguished it from a house's living room. That and the brightly colored posters pushing the importance of immunizing your child for chicken pox and hepatitis. I had memories about immunizations, from someplace that seemed very far away and long ago- small pox, Tunguska, all distant terrors with little power over me now.

The exam room was a standard enough set up. As she weighed John on one of those scales with the balance beam, she said, "I never see patients on Monday, unless it's an emergency. Okay, what's your usual average weight?"

"One-ninety," John said.

She frowned. I caught a look at the numbers on the balance bar. He was at one seventy-two. I wasn't surprised. He'd lost a lot of muscle during his abduction. And being able to keep little down besides water was bound to take its toll on a person. John frowned at the numbers as well, the furrows in his forehead becoming more prominent. I know that he knew he'd lost some weight, but this was the first time he'd been confronted with proof of it.

Definitely the man was getting ice cream as soon as I could provide it. As much as he wanted. Whatever flavor. I thought for a moment that it was a shame I could only speak with my own beloved dead. If I could have, I would have tracked down his grandmother, interrogated her until she yielded up the recipe for that peach ice cream and made it myself if I had to.

"Height?" the doctor asked.

"Six-foot even," John said. She measured him, and he was, indeed, six feet tall. At least that hadn't changed. Then he said, "I gotta use the little boys room. Where is it?"

"For the ultrasound, ideally you should have a full bladder. I know there's a lot of pressure on your bladder, but do you think you can wait a while? I was also thinking you should take on another couple of glasses of water."

He frowned then said, "Trust me, doc. That's not necessary. I'm at capacity here."

From a cabinet, she found one of those lovely hospital style gowns without the backs to them. With his belly poking out like it was, it would leave John even less covered than usual in that crucial backseat area. Poor guy. "I'm going to ask you to change into this gown," she said, "You might want to keep your socks on. Sit up on the edge of the table. We'll be back in a few minutes."

With that, the doctor led me out of the room, to give John the privacy to change. "Can you tell just what he means when he says he has a vagina?" she asked me as soon as the door was shut.

I paused a moment to sort through my words and the memory of the very brief moment I'd gotten a close look at the man's new anatomy. "It's very definitely an orifice. My sample group is very small when it comes to natural born women I've see naked and in person," I said. Well, in person it was small. I would say I've seen a larger than average sample when it comes to pictures. "But it appears exactly like a woman's would in some aspects. There are labia minora, but not majora. No separate clitoris. He still retains his male genitalia, unaltered as far as I know. I obviously never saw him before this happened, so I have no baseline for comparison. I didn't get a very close look or a very long one. You can imagine that he objected when he came to."

"Walter said this was a result of some horrific medical experiment that was conducted on Mr. Doggett against his will?"

"You could say that again. Look, whatever you do, don't let him see the ultrasound. This is hard enough on him as it is. If he thinks he's aborting monsters or something, it might be easier on him. Just don't let him know."

"I won't lie to the man. He deserves the truth," she said.

She didn't know what I knew about the truth. Sometimes, I wondered if it would better that I never knew the truth. If I'd spent my life deceived and misled. Perhaps I'd have had a chance at happiness, found a wife or a lover to take care of and take care of me. The truth was a bitch, and it hurt and it didn't make things all better, just knowing it. "Fine," I said, not sure what else I could do. "It's what he thinks he wants. But try not to let him see. He has doubts that he's doing the right thing, but I think letting him go through with the pregnancy to term just might kill him."

She stared me down, then without saying anything more, entered the room where John was waiting. He was sitting on the edge of the table, shivering in the air-conditioning, looking generally miserable. It was a baking hot end of the summer kind of day outside, but the good doctor kept her offices frigid. "I'm not an ob/gyn, but as the only doctor for miles around and a GP, I do plenty of gyn exams and like I said, I deliver babies unless they're high risk. So, I know my way around the block, so to speak," she said, managing to sound reassuring even to me. "Mr. Doggett, I'm going to ask you to lie back on the table and put your feet up onto the stirrups."

She draped a sheet over the lower portion of his body as he laid back and then she pulled out two extensions to the table, the stirrups she'd mentioned. I moved so that I no longer had a good view of his lower half, but was looking at him directly in the face. He grabbed my hand and held onto it. Laid out like this, he was docile. So strange and unnerving to see him docile. Not fighting with me. Not angry. Not even pissy. It scared me more than anything I'd seen yet. I thought about trying to taunt him, just to see the John Doggett I knew and well, not loved. Expected I suppose. I'd even have liked it if he threw a soda can at me right now.

"Okay, good. Scoot your bottom down a little so I can get a good look," the doctor said. If she was shocked or even surprised at what she saw, she hid it well, her voice never wavering. I didn't see her face though.

"Good. I'm going to get a speculum," she said. She went to a cabinet and from a wrapped that indicated it had been sterilized, she pulled out something that looked like it could only be a torture device of some kind. She turned on the tap in the room's sink and ran hot water over the torture device for a while. "This is the extra-small size and I'm warming it up for you, so it shouldn't be anything more than a bit unfamiliar and uncomfortable. I just need to get a better look at things."

She did something. I wasn't looking. I didn't see. But John's face tensed up as if he was expecting pain, then relaxed only slightly when it didn't happen. He didn't cry out, but he looked...stunned somehow. "Okay good, that wasn't so bad. Tell me if it pinches or hurts at all."

"Just feels strange," John said, voice sounding kind of strangled. I could only imagine how that felt. Not like anything I could compare it to.

"Yes, I definitely can see a cervix there. Okay, just a few minutes more. I'd like to do a pap smear," she said. I looked at her and she'd gotten something that looked like an overgrown mascara wand. "This will be uncomfortable most likely. What I'll be doing is basically scraping a few cells off the cervix. We'll take a look and see if anything is unusual, any abnormal cell growth."

John winced once as she was talking and for a moment he squeezed my hand so hard it hurt. After a moment, he relaxed. That must have been her taking the scraping. "Everything looks normal down here. Well, normal considering. You might expect a few drops of blood in the next day or so. But if it's anything more than that, I'll want you to call me, understand? And tell Georgie immediately. I'm going to submit these to the lab under a female name. We'll see what we get."

I watched as she made a slide from the bit of red on the mascara wand. I'd seen Scully make plenty of slides. But usually they were tissues from dead people, almost never from live ones. Then the doctor withdrew the torture device thing and put it aside. She worked a little more, making motions like she was palpitating John in places where men definitely shouldn't have places. I was prepared to stop her the instant John showed signs of any pain. He didn't though, just confusion and perhaps a little shock.

"Okay, ultrasound time." She took off and came back in a moment, wheeling a cart with a screen and various machines on it. She picked up one wand from the cart. It was about the diameter of a penis, maybe just a tiny bit smaller than average. She got one look at John's face and put it down. I hadn't realized until after looking at John where she'd intended to put it to get her reading, but John obviously had a clue. Oh, brother, that would have been too much for him. This was all too much for him. I wondered what kind of mess he would be by the time this was through. I was a mess just watching him.

Dr. Jensen picked up something that looked like a really old fashioned scanner, one of the handheld ones. She pulled up John's gown, exposing his belly, the sheet still concealing his genitals. Though he was pale, and it was, indeed, a very odd sight to see such swelling on a male, it was also strangely beautiful, the perfect roundness of it. Dr. Jensen spent a few minutes arranging the cart so that the screen wasn't easily visible from where John was. Unfortunately, there was no way she could work the controls, do the procedure and have the screen be completely turned away from John.

He caught on to what she was doing, even though I'd thought his mind was a million miles away. He'd been staring away, at the wall, but he turned now and looked Dr. Jensen straight in the eyes. "No, I need to see it. Them," he said.

"John, no, don't do this to yourself," I said softly. I stroked the hand I still held. It was rigid, hard as iron. Strange that despite his big, round belly, I never had any doubts that this was a man before me. His hands, besides being muscular, with prominent tendons, were calloused.

Sometimes I am irrational. And perverse.

I have always loved the unusual juxtaposition, the ripple of the strange through normal reality. I always saw beauty in the odd and unique. And at this moment, I didn't think I'd ever seen a man more beautiful than John. I was, for the moment at least, in love with him, with his crazy insistence at seeing these fetuses. With the beautiful swell of his belly right next to the slender hardness of his masculine arms. With those blue eyes, so clear and piercing. Like hard sky and ice. So sane and sorrowful.

Oh, God. I hoped this would pass. He'd kill me if he knew what I was thinking at this exact moment. And I, as much as I thought it was a mistake, could not deny him any single thing at this moment. I wished I could hold him like I had found myself holding him this morning when I woke up. He'd struggled so much to get out of that hold. I despaired that I'd ever be able to hold him like that again. "Okay, it's your body, your decision," I told him.

With a nod of her head, Dr. Jensen readjusted the cart so that John could see what she was doing. Then she coated his belly with a clear gel, explaining it was for better contact with the transducer. She swept the transducer over his belly and a picture started to form on the screen. At first it was just static, but slowly, an image started to form. Arms and legs could be distinguished, definitely something that could be a head, then another head. I turned to look at John, to gauge his response, see if he was doing as badly as I feared he would be. John watched with the same fascination as some people watch the remains of car accidents, except there was devastation there too, as if the car wreck he was seeing was of someone near and dear.

The doctor wasn't paying any attention to John's reactions. "There's something that definitely looks like an ovary," she said. But I was watching John. I had thought I'd been prepared for the eventuality, but when tears started running down his face, and he started shaking, tears of my own appeared.

I turned on the doctor, "That's enough for now. Stop."

I was still surprised though when she actually shut the ultrasound machine down and took the transducer off John. "I'll give you two a few minutes," she said. Then she left us alone.

Perhaps he would look less helpless, less docile if he was sitting up. I helped him sit up, but he still just shook at first. Then he started to pull it together. He brushed at his face roughly, wiping away tears, but also seeming as if he was trying to punish himself. I dried my own tears because I had to be strong for him.

"John, it's okay. You don't have to make yourself stop crying. John," I said, and I pulled him into my arms. He didn't resist, which surprised me. His face pressed into my chest, dampening my shirt.

"I'm still going through with it," he whispered into my shoulder. "I have to do this. I cannot do anything else."

"I know, John, shush. It's okay. It'll be okay. I'll be right here with you, right by your side, buddy."

"Mulder, I'm scared," he said. This was a major admission for him and a sign of a new found trust in me. That and the fact that he wasn't trying to rip himself out of my arms for once.

"I know. It'll be okay. Let's just get you through this test, so the doctor can see what she's dealing with here. Then we'll talk about what comes next. I think maybe you shouldn't look at the screen this time."

"No, I gotta know. I need to know exactly what it is I'm doing. What damage I'm causing. What's the price I'm going to pay."

I couldn't argue with him, as usual. Not so much for his logic, which made it's own kind of sense, but because I couldn't deny him anything in this state. If he thought that plunging the depths of this truth would lay it all out before him and ease his passage through it, then I would allow him that without protest. Was it better to know the whole, bitter truth of something that had the power to destroy you even if it tore you down to nothing a pile of your weaknesses or was it better to face one's doom a happier and stronger person?

"If that's what you need," I told him. "It's what you need. Just consider it more carefully. I don't want this to traumatize you any further. I'll get the doctor and we'll go on."

What I hadn't expected was the doctor crying. I'd thought she'd be of sterner stuff and that John's plight hadn't really penetrated her, that she didn't understand the full dimensions of this things impact on him. She did. She dabbed at her face angrily with a piece of gauze she'd gotten from somewhere.

"I don't understand," she said between sniffles. "Why do this to him? Why? Why destroy a man this way? I saw the look in his eyes. It's going to kill him to do this."

"I'm going to find out why," I said, as certain as I'd ever been about anything. I would do it too. Persistence, thy name is Mulder. I would find out why if it took me years. And I would take down those responsible. "Let's go back to him. You and I have to be the strong ones for him. "

We went back into the exam room. John was shaking again. I reached out to sooth him, stroke his brow. He did not protest and after a while he was no longer shaking. Not coincidentally I stood between him and the screen of the ultrasound, blocking his view of what was going on. The doctor worked in silence. I could hear her scribbling notes occasionally. I guess I was used to Scully, speaking her notes into her little tape recorder. I missed that.

Scully appeared behind me, watching the ultrasound with interest. I didn't see her except peripherally, but I alone heard her say, "I'd say what we have here Mulder is two perfectly normal appearing human fetuses. Obviously we wouldn't be able to tell if they had an abnormality similar to the one William had. One of them is a girl. The other isn't giving us a good view of his or her perineum. Classic presentation of fraternal twins though. Placentas low on the uterine wall, but not dangerously so, definitely you couldn't call it placenta previa. Placenta always covers larger area with multiple births."

I wished she would shut up. At least John couldn't hear her. But I didn't like to be reminded that this was two normal children we were talking about here. Planning to sacrifice for the sake of one person

"From what I can see, he definitely has a chance of carrying them to term. Perhaps he would have to be delivered by Caesarian."

I couldn't tell her to cut it out with the play by play. I didn't dare turn around to even acknowledge her presence. With John in his current fragile state, to see me talk to Scully might be the thing that would push him over the edge again.

John spoke up again, for the first time in a while. "I want a copy of one of the pictures," he said. "To remember them by."

"Are you sure?" the doctor asked cautiously. John looked at her like she'd said something really stupid. I knew that look. He'd given it to me often enough, especially when we'd first met. Dr. Jensen sighed and then printed off a copy, then found a file to put it in. John didn't look at it or take it, so I did.

"Okay, we're through," the doctor pronounced. As she talked, she wiped John's belly clean of the gel. It twitched here and there as she touched it and I was jealous. I wanted to be the one to touch him like that. He obviously didn't seem entirely comfortable, touched by her. "I'd have to say, I'm astounded. If I didn't see that you are obviously male, everything else about this pregnancy would seem totally normal. Perhaps I might still put you in the high risk category just because of the combination of your age and multiples. But maybe not even. You seem remarkably healthy, given what I've heard you've been through. What we're dealing with appears to be two normal, human fetuses. I'm giving you a preliminary date of about twenty weeks maturity, which is a little far gone in the pregnancy for a simple procedure. I'm going to ask your permission to consult the ob/gyn that I send all my high risk cases to. He won't be happy to do the procedure, but he's always put the health of the, umm, mother first. We'll discuss options then. If after your abortion, you want to discuss reconstructive surgery to return yourself to your normal appearance and physiology, we'll probably have to find another specialist for you."

"You'll call us after you've talked to this doctor?" John said, pulling his gown down to conceal his belly.

"In a few days." she promised. "You can get dressed now. I'm going to suggest a vitamin pill, and I'm going to also suggest that you eat as much as you want when you want, whenever you feel you can keep it down. I'd like to see you gain back to your former weight before too long. A bit of mild exercise would be good. You," she pointed at me, "Watch him. See that he doesn't take it into his head to start out with the Marine Corps workout. I'm thinking a little walking, a little prenatal yoga."

"Yoga?!" John was irate. It was good to see the old John for a moment. Especially when it wasn't directed at me. He sounded as if she'd proposed he paint his nails pink and get a perm. "That's for Oprah watching, decaf skim latte sipping, minivan driving soccer moms. I do not do yoga!"

Monica appeared beside me, with a bemused look on her face. "Poor John. He can be so funny about things sometimes. He brought polish sausages to me once. You should have seen him when I tried to make him eat off a plate."

"Really? That's too bad," the doctor said sweetly, as if she just hadn't heard his pique. "It's really relaxing. It'd be very good for you. You know, Walter used yoga to regain some of his range of motion after he was shot. I'm a big believer in its therapeutic value."

Monica stood behind John and put her hands on his shoulder and then laid her head against his neck. He shook and shivered, as if feeling some kind of touch, a ghostly one. But he didn't look behind him. I wondered about that. I couldn't decide whether that meant that he had some connection with the world of the dead, like I did, or whether anyone could feel their presence when they wanted to make it felt. I do know that after a moment, John was no longer shivering at Monica's touch, but relaxed, like he was comforted in some way. "You said Walter's done yoga?"

"Some, years ago. I don't know if he continued. You'd have to ask him."

Yeah, like that was going to happen. Walter bolted every time he was expected to say more than four or five words to John, or whenever something reminded him of this thing that had happened to John.

"We'll figure something out exercise wise," I promised the doctor. Heck, I'd do yoga with John, if I thought it would help. I'd tried it before, back in my college days in England. I'd decided that human bodies weren't meant to be twisted into such noodles, at least not my human body. But prenatal yoga was bound to be milder, right?

The poor man was finally allowed the opportunity to drain his bladder. He was all but hopping from foot to foot by the time he got to the bathroom door. Then we left, with promises to call her if even the slightest problem cropped up. After we left her office, I pulled up to the convenience store. "I'm going to see if they have any ice cream," I said. "You stay right here."

I also planned to see if they had any of those panty shield things. Just in case John had any spotting like the doctor said he might. I'd gotten feminine products for Scully before. It didn't bother me or impinge on my masculinity in any way. John would be peeved to see them even, I could tell in advance. But he'd be even more peeved to have his jeans ruined. I'd have to get him another pair. This whole process was taking longer than I thought.

I found the ice cream he'd wanted. Coffee. Plain coffee. Haagen Dazs. I hoped that would do. I didn't find panty shields, but I found regular pads. The cashier, a pimply faced kid of about college age gave me a look of total pity as I put my purchases on the counter. And he even said to me as he rang them up, "Man, she's really got you whipped, hasn't she?"

I decided to shock the kid. "Better pussy-whipped than no pussy if you know what I mean."

He looked at me like I'd just said that I had a fetish for midgets in clown costumes. I shrugged. If the disdain of the whole Federal Bureau of Investigation for a decade had failed to wear me down, what chance did a loser clerk in a small-town convenience store have? Now, if only I really were getting some, well, it didn't have to be pussy, but something, it would have been perfect.

I suspected that in the unlikely event that John would ever return my feelings, he would never feel so comfortable with his body in its new form that he would let me touch that newly created portion of his anatomy.

I stopped at the coffee counter on the way out and found a plastic spoon. Back in the car, I got the ice cream and the spoon out for John and handed them to him. His eyes widened as he realized that I'd listened to him and gotten him what he'd wanted. He'd been slouched against the window, eyes half closed, but not sleeping. He almost smiled.

"Your stomach doing okay?" I asked.

"Fine for the moment."

As I drove us back to the Skinners', he slowly ate the ice cream. I worried that he might get sick from it, but he went slowly, tiny bite by tiny bite, definitely a man who knew how to defer pleasure. He stirred the ice cream until it was mushy, and by the time he was finished with the pint, it was liquid and we were only a few miles away from our new base.

John shrugged off Georgie's welcome and trudged right up to his new bedroom. Walter was still up on the ladder, scraping at the eaves, though he'd moved to another side of the house.

Georgie looked to me for explanation. "He got a good look at the ultrasound," I explained.

Georgie cursed under her breath. I didn't really hear what she said, but I thought I might have caught a few obscenities involving the Virgin Mary.

"You Catholic, Georgie?" I asked.

"Was, long ago. You a believer, Fox?"

"I believe in...something. I can hardly say what." What could I tell her, that I saw the appearances of my beloved dead as proof of some higher power, but one that could hardly be bothered to be involved him or herself. That such a power was indifferent to us, that we had only ourselves. But surely, that could be enough. It had to be. They loved me. And love could conquer anything.

"I'm still a believer," Georgie said. "I just can't be a church goer. Would you help me get started with dinner, Fox?"

"Sure, Georgie," I told her. I liked Georgie and would have done the most menial of potato peeling for her.

As we went indoors, I heard a window scrape open. This was the side of the house that John's room was on. John looked out of the window directly at Skinner and said, with a snarl, "Hey, Wally! Would you mind cutting that out? Some of us are tryin' to nap here."

Skinner bristled visibly. But he lowered his scraper and said, much more mildly than I would have expected, "Don't call me Wally."

Then he climbed down the ladder. He lowered the tall extension ladder and moved it to another side of the house, muttering to himself. Georgie chortled to herself.

"How much older are you than Walter, Georgie," I asked when she set me up at the table with a pile of green beans to snap.

"Now, why do you say that?"

"Because I've never seen a clearer case of someone being a big sister."

"I'm not that much older than Walter. We're what they used to call Irish twins. Less than a year apart. Ten and a half months to be exact. And I had an older sister who passed a few years back. Our poor sainted mother had three in diapers at once at one point."

"So Walter's the baby of the family?"

"No, we had a much younger brother as well. He passed away a while back," she said, with the ghost of old sadness from long ago in her voice. She still mourned this baby brother, perhaps more in some ways than the older sister she'd mentioned.

"Is he going to be okay, Fox?" She asked.

"Someday, I'm sure. He'll heal. If we can help him to be flexible and bend, not break under this."

"He's not a flexible man, is he? He knows what he knows, don't confuse him with the facts."

"Not quite that bad, but you'd damn well better have the physical evidence to back up those facts."

Doggett:

I slept right through the afternoon and through dinner. I vaguely woke up the number of times that various people looked in the room to check up on me- Georgie a few times, Mulder a few times and even Skinner once. But I couldn't pull myself into full wakefulness though, even the times I had to go to the bathroom, I managed to do that half asleep.

When I finally woke up, it was dark out, the cicadas buzzing to beat the band and I was hot and uncomfortable, even with the fan blowing on me. Why couldn't our secret hideout have had air-conditioning? I turned on the light and looked for my shoes. I saw that Mulder had put the file with the ultrasound picture on the room's desk. I didn't, couldn't look at it yet. I found my shoes and went to put them on.

They didn't fit. My feet and ankles were swollen and I couldn't put my own damn shoes on. I was also hungry and yet balancing on that edge between nausea and hunger. Saltines would have been good, but I'd run out of the pack I'd been keeping in my room. Cursing, I stopped trying to put the damn shoes on and went in search of saltines and someone to bitch out. Mulder would do nicely.

He wasn't in his room, so I went downstairs. He was in the living room, parked in front of the television, not, I noticed, in my chair, but stretched out on the sofa. I remembered his apartment, how the bed had no signs of someone sleeping on it, but the sofa was obviously slept on. He had the DVD on and was watching something, but he sat up as soon as he noticed me. Before I could start bitching at him, he was up off the sofa and at my elbow.

"Why don't you sit down, John? Are you doing okay? Are you hungry? Can I get you anything?" he asked. He was so sweetly solicitous that I was taken off guard. My tongue never had a chance to be sharp. It was blunted by some mysterious force.

As I took my place in the recliner, I gauged my nausea. Not doing well. "I want some of that tea Georgie makes me. With honey," I demanded. Well, he was asking what I wanted.

"I'm not sure what she puts in it. I'll wake her up and ask her," Mulder said.

"Don't you dare," I said. It was one thing to send Mulder fetching here and there, but I wasn't going to be having him wake Georgie up. It was nearly midnight. She needed her rest. "I think it has ginger in it. It helps with the nausea."

"Oh. Okay. Hold on a minute. Let's try something," he said. He left me behind to go into the kitchen and I got a good gander at what he'd been watching. On the screen, two guys were in bed together, a little blond hottie who looked about seventeen, a real twink, and an even hotter guy who was older. Well, they were hot if you didn't mind your boys looking like boys. When my eye went roving, I preferred a more mature look, with actual muscles. I like a guy who looks like a man. Like I said, I used to jerk off to fantasies about Skinner. Not that my eye went roving very often and it'd been years since I'd done more than look, since before I met Barb. I'd been more than satisfied with sex with her, and the handful of other women I'd been with. I suppose this makes me a bisexual. But I was no faggot, if you know what I mean. I'd never fallen in love with any of the guys I'd slept with. Honestly, I didn't think too much about it these days. And it wasn't like I was going to have sex with anyone else but Rosie Palm and her five daughters ever again.

At first I thought Mulder had been watching some kind of gay porn flick. He'd had an impressive collection of porn in his apartment, though from what I remembered, none of it was gay, all of it featured the usual assortment of silicone enhanced women. Could a man really be so paranoid that he censored the videos he kept in his own apartment? Anyway, the video I was watching now wasn't a porn movie because it wasn't very explicit, more suggestion than action, and then, when they're doing it, the phone rings. That never happens in porn.

Mulder came out just then. He was bearing a glass of ginger ale, a sleeve of saltines, and a little plastic bag filled with some kind of sugar coated dried fruit. "Try this," he said, giving me the bag first. "Georgie and I went shopping while you were asleep. Candied ginger. It might work."

I remembered throwing the raw ginger root out of the car window, just because he'd been the one to suggest it. God, I was a rude bastard sometimes. I shrugged and took a sip of the soda. It had a lot more bite than the usual kind I liked. I was about to kick up a fuss until I realized I liked it better than the blander stuff. It had a real taste to it, it wasn't just fizzy sugar water. Mulder settled himself on the sofa again. "Let me know if you need anything."

"You know, I'm pregnant. I'm not an invalid. I can get my own damn soda. My ex-wife worked until the day Luke was born," I said. I know I was as weak as a kitten when I got here, but I was feeling stronger all the time. Starting to feel more like my old, feisty self.

"Yeah, but your ex-wife is a woman. And I'll bet she didn't have morning sickness like you've had or having been abducted by aliens to complicate matters."

I didn't have any good answer back to that, so I stuck to my soda. Mulder went back to the television, started the scene again where the telephone rang as the two guys were in bed and the phone rang. From what little I'd caught so far, this wasn't porn, but some kind of damn soap opera about gay people.

"You some kind of queer, Mulder?" I asked, catching sight of the DVD box set. Queer as Folk.

"Yeah," he said softly. "Some kind. That a problem?"

"No, no problem," I said. I wasn't sure what kind of reaction I'd been expecting from the man. It would have been hypocritical of me to have a problem, considering I suppose, viewed from some angles, I was a kind of queer myself. "Just wanting some clarification."

"I had one boyfriend. Someone who used to work at the Bureau. It turned out badly. I haven't gone on the down low since, to borrow a phrase."

The way he said it, I knew there was a whole lot more to the story. I could hear hints of pain, betrayal and longing in his voice. Yeah, a whole lot more there. I didn't want to hear it.

I shrugged and went back to watching the television just in time to see Brian, the older of the two guys in bed, drag his new twink boyfriend off to the hospital with him, for the birth of the baby of the lesbian couple. I was okay until they brought the baby out on screen. I really was. Then the tears started out of nowhere again. Mulder realized what was happening too late, but he turned off the DVD anyway.

"I'm sorry, John. I forgot about the baby. I really did. I should have remembered."

This got me angry at him, irate. If I'd had something convenient to hand besides my crackers, I'd have thrown it at him. "I'm not fucking made of glass, Mulder. I'm not going to have fucking nervous break down every damn time I see a damn baby on the television or in real life. Turn the fucking show back on and let me watch it. And give me the damn remote."

He seemed relieved almost to surrender the remote over to me. Just to make a point, I watched the damn show, mostly stoically, doing my best not to let just the simple idea of a baby upset me. If I couldn't even watch one on the TV, how was I going to handle what was happening to me in real life. It was kind of too bad though, that I had to watch the damn show to make the point. Because by the end of the first episode, I was hooked.

Even so, I fell asleep in the recliner sometime during the fourth continuous episode we watched. I dreamed uncomfortable dreams, not quite full blown nightmares, but uncomfortable enough that my sleep didn't feel quite restful. My mind got no rest, busy with driving my truck around from dream setting to dream setting, looking for something that I could never find. All through the early morning hours, I searched through junk yards, weird garage sales, outdoor appliance yards, strange houses, and driving my truck from each place to the next. I didn't even know what I was supposed to be looking for, only that I'd let it go before and couldn't find it now.

When I woke up, it was a bright, hot morning. I seemed to be alone in the house, but I could hear Skinner and Georgie talking just outside the house, scraping on it again. I could hear him climb down from his ladder, even saw him through the open window. He offered to go inside and get drinks for the both of them. I couldn't bear the thought of having to say something to the man, so still half asleep, I climbed out of my recliner and with my bedroom in mind, I headed up the stairs. My foot was on the first stair as Skinner entered the house by the front porch. As he was most of the way through the living room, I was halfway up the stairs. He called out to me, "John, did you need anything?"

Half fuzzy with sleep, and feeling off balance with my big belly, I should have known better than to turn as I was about to place a foot on the next step. My stocking feet were slick on the painted steps. I slipped and then I was falling down those stairs. I hit with my shoulder first and felt a big burst of pain spread out from there. It was amazing, looking back, how instinctual it was to curl around my belly as I made the rest of the fall, do anything I could to protect it. Still, I know I took a hit there. I ended up laid out on my side at the bottom of the stairs, hardly able to breathe from the pain. My abdomen was already starting to cramp up as Skinner knelt by my side.

"Can you sit up? John?" Skinner asked. I shook my head, unable to speak. Shaking my head hurt. Everything hurt. He gave me a quick glance over, I guess just to see if I was bleeding and if I were still breathing. Fuck, I'd dislocated my shoulder again. That wasn't such a big deal. I'd done it often enough that it popped right back in with only a little help from me. It was painful, but not the main problem here, not by far. "Don't move, John. I'll be right back with help," he said. Then he rushed off calling, "Georgie! Georgie!"

Move. Like I could even consider moving. The cramping in my belly got worse suddenly and I realized that I might not have to wait for that abortion, that I might be losing the tadpoles right now. No, I thought, as I tried to breathe deeply and slowly. No. This cannot be happening. Not like this.

Mulder:

I just had had to make a break for the road, just for a little while. I was starting to feel that kind of claustrophobia that could only be helped by the feel of the road under my wheels and the big sky overhead. I really wanted to head out west and see if I could track down any alien ships. I wanted to go soon, and search for Monica's body and for any hint of why John had been so abused. But for now, I was only intending to go to Omaha and take care of those errands I'd been going to run yesterday. Alex Krycek appeared in the empty seat beside me when I was about an hour out from the farmhouse. "Turn around," he ordered me.

"Why?"

"He needs you."

"He doesn't need me. If you hadn't noticed, he now knows I'm a queer. And didn't seem overly impressed by the fact." The fact was that John had a strange look on his face when he'd asked that question. Not one of disgust, but of something else that I couldn't quite understand. But his voice had been sour. I don't know what I'd been expecting? For him to open up and admit that he liked getting it on with guys as well? He'd seemed to like watching Queer as Folk far better than I'd imagined he would, but that was proof of exactly nothing. I'd been a fool to let myself get hooked on it in various hotel rooms across the country.

"He needs you, Mulder. He can't do this alone. Turn the car around and go back to him now. You and I were doomed from the start but I'm not going to watch you screw this one up. He needs you right now."

There was something in Alex's voice, some revenant hint of menace, some darkness that always remained, but now it was even more tinged with urgency. Perhaps he didn't know exactly what was happening, perhaps he just wasn't telling me, but it was an emergency. I pulled into the first available turnoff off the two lane state highway and then turned the car around, retracing my trail back to John, only this time going so fast that I prayed to a God I didn't really believe in not to get caught.

I made it back to the farmhouse in fifty minutes. Everything seemed normal. Skinner's Blazer was parked behind Georgie's old Ford pickup. Neither of them were up on ladder's working on the house like I expected, but it was the hot part of the day, the sun directly overhead and I broke out into a sweat as soon as I parked my car and stepped outside. Underneath that sweat though was a cold sweat that had nothing to do with the blistering warmth of the day. They might have gone in, just for lunch. They might have.

Inside, Walter was pacing back and forth through the whole downstairs, like one of those bears you see at the zoo, unable to accept the confines of its environment. He stopped when he saw me. "You're home from Omaha early," he said.

"I never made it to Omaha. I got a warning that something was wrong and I turned around immediately. What happened?" I'd told Walter about my ability to communicate with those who had gone to the hereafter. He took it stride much the way he'd started taking all of aliens and conspiracies.

"John fell down the stairs. Arlene is on her way right now."

"Where is he?" I demanded, not waiting for an answer, but heading back out into the living room again.

"He's upstairs," Walter called after me. "Georgie is with him."

I flew up those steps, practically levitated. From the top of them, I could hear John. He must not be dying at least, I thought. He wouldn't be so irritated sounding if he were dying right now. "I want to see Mulder. Where is he, dammit?" he demanded as I could hear Georgie make softly comforting, shushing noises.

"I'm right here," I said, looking in on John's bedroom. He was lying in bed, face pale and drawn. He was in obvious pain and I wondered if he were in the middle of a miscarriage. If he'd hit his abdomen on the down, depending on how hard and far he'd fallen, that could be some serious damage. "Heard you took a tumble, buddy."

I hadn't given those steps a second thought before now. Sure, they were steep and worn smooth with the passage of feet over the years, but I was steady of foot. John sometimes still didn't seem like he'd entirely adjusted to the weight and bulk of the sprogs. He was far from clumsy naturally, but it was a lot to ask out of a person, to adjust in two weeks to carrying an extra twenty-pounds or so, in a place where a man was never designed to carry extra weight like that, with a body that was doing far from optimal.

Georgie was sitting beside him, holding his hand. She wasn't doing anything else, so that meant he was in stable condition, right? Not in immediate danger. That, or she didn't think there was anything that could be done to help him.

"John's hemorrhaging, not much, but some," she told me. She was trying to sound reassuring, but I wasn't buying it. "He dislocated his shoulder, but that self-reduced. He'll have some real beauties of bruises. It's the cramping we're worried about now. Dr. Jensen is on her way. John's been asking for you."

Georgie got up and motioned me to take her seat. It was one of those little upholstered vanity chairs like you sometimes see in a woman's room. This one was kind of ruffled and pink, very girly. It was warm from her body still as I sat down. I pulled it as close to John's bed as I could get and took his hand in mine. I thought it would be limp and weak, but his grip was strong, punishingly hard even. To my surprise, Georgie left us alone to talk.

"I was wrong, Mulder," he said once we were alone. "I could never have done it. I could never have killed them. I was laying at the bottom of those steps, while Skinner ran for Georgie, telling anyone out there that would listen to please not take them, that I would give my life for theirs."

He was so grimly certain sounding that it was sobering. This could not be the same man who just a few days ago was telling me how much he hated the fetus inside of him. Had seeing the ultrasound effected this change? A gradual adjustment to the reality of the new life within him informing and changing his attitude? The sudden break of trauma forcing him to reprioritize as it did with so many people?

"You have to help me. Don't let me lose them, Mulder," he begged me.

"I'll fight with you," I promised, not certain if I could do anything, if indeed, he was going to miscarry. That was all I could, to promise to fight with him. I would do everything I could. Hold him as he cried if we had to bury their little bodies. Let him throw anything he wanted at me. Let him call me any name. Let him accuse me of not being there when it happened, of not doing enough.

I examined my own thoughts carefully, allowing myself cautiously to wonder for the first time what I would do if these babies were born, if they made it. I'd be there by his side just as closely. Be a good Uncle Mulder to them. Learn to change diapers if he wanted me to help. Buy them lots of presents with the cash stolen by Alex from the Consortium. I found myself marginally hopeful and very pleased by the idea of two new, small people in the world.

He rolled over from his back, to his left side, facing away from me, but he looked over his shoulder at me. The invitation was clear. He wanted me to crawl into bed with him and hold him. I kicked off my shoes and crawled right into bed with him. I wedged myself behind him, his head using my arm for a pillow. It would probably fall asleep soon from the pressure, but I didn't care. I grabbed another pillow and handed it to him to prop up his knee. He leaned against me and heaved a sigh. My other hand found its way to his big abdomen. They were moving still, the babies, just a gentle fluttering, but otherwise his belly was hard. I could feel the individual spasms and he breathed harder with each one. This was not good. Was he going into premature labor?

I rubbed his belly softly, long strokes, and spoke to him many words, soothing, relaxing, repetitive, trying to get him to put himself almost into a hypnotic state, some place where he could relax his whole body. I don't even hardly know what I said, just that after some time, even if his belly remained hard, the rest of him seemed to soften, to not be rocked so much by each contraction. I might have been kidding myself, but I thought they seemed to be getting further and further apart.

When I felt the presence of one of my beloved dead, I just looked up and talked. I didn't care if John would freak or get angry. "Monica," I said. "Can you talk to them? Tell them to hold on. That if they make it, he'll let them be born."

John didn't seem to hear me, or so I thought, until I felt another bit of fresh dampness on the arm he was using as his pillow. Was he seeing her? Or just reacting to what I was saying.

"They know, Mulder," she told me. She touched John again, hovering over the pair of us. She put her hand on his cheek. I almost cried, just to see how much she loved him. "Oh, John, John. It's going to be okay, John. I'm watching your back."

When she disappeared, he put a hand to his cheek where she had placed her hand, but he didn't say anything. Had he seen her? Or just felt some kind of touch, some presence. I wondered if I would ever know or if he would deny that anything had happened. None of my other beloved dead had seemed to get any kind of reaction from him. But I wasn't fooling myself that Monica was hanging around me primarily because of John. I'd liked her well enough, she was a good woman and a good agent. But she loved John, and I could tell that John had loved her. How was I going to tell him that she was gone, if he didn't know somehow already?

I was still holding John in this spoon when Dr. Jensen walked in. I had to get out of the bed to let her examine him. He did everything she asked without protest as she did all the usual. I was familiar with most of it, having been the subject of such an exam many times in the past. She checked his eyes for dilation. Palpitated him here or there. Listened to his heart beat and the fetuses. She touched his right shoulder which apparently was the one he'd dislocated and she seemed surprised that it was in good working order.

"Happened a lot when I was a kid," he explained. "I used to be able to pop it in and out at will when I was a teenager, but the tendons and ligaments got stiff again. I just put it back in place. It's fine. A bit sore."

I was impressed. I'd had a shoulder dislocation before and getting it back in place was a complex, painful emergency room visit with a professional torturer, i.e. an orthopedist, yanking it into place and a crowd of interns looking on like I was freak show, then a couple weeks in a sling.

"That's not what I'm worried about, Doc," he said. "The tadpoles. Tell me the tadpoles are going to be okay."

"I found two heartbeats still. They're both still alive. But Georgie says you're hemorrhaging. That's not a good sign."

She didn't go for protecting his modesty this time. Just had him get undressed for her to do the exam, had him pull down the sweats he'd changed into. They didn't look like mine, but maybe an old pair of Georgie's or Skinner's. I saw that they'd put those pads I'd gotten to use. He hadn't hemorrhaged that much, just enough to stain the pad but not saturate it. She cleaned him up, wiping away the little blood there was and did a quick exam. "You're not dilated at all," she concluded. He didn't seem to be bleeding any more. "I think your hemorrhaging is slowing down to a trickle. I don't think you're in immediate danger, Mr. Doggett. The uterus and amniotic fluid are there for a reason, as a cushioning against these kind of blows. I've talked to my ob/gyn. I've scheduled a consultation for you tomorrow evening. I'm going to call him and see if he'll come out here, maybe tonight if he can swing it."

"Cancel it. I'm not killing these babies."

There was a brief flash of smile on her face, then the set of Dr. Jensen's face got serious again. "Mr. Doggett, if you decide you're carrying these fetuses to term, you'll still need to consult with this doctor. I thought I made it clear to you that I don't deliver high risk cases. That includes any multiples or primagravidas over forty or anyone who's got a good chance of needing a c-section. You're all three. Now, if you're serious about carrying them to term there's something you're going to need to do."

"Anything," John said, without hesitation. I'd heard that determination in his voice before. Once, when I'd been whining about how the whole game was rigged, that there was no way that we'd win that trial, that it was fixed from the start, he'd said that we should shove it up their ass. He said this with that exact same tone of voice.

"Total bed rest until your contractions stop entirely, then after that we'll see how you're doing, and work your way back up to some activity. I think a sling for your arm might not be a bad idea. The hormones of pregnancy soften the ligaments. It's to help the pelvis stretch a little for the delivery. But one of my patients once dislocated her hip a couple of times during her pregnancy. If you're not careful, you may dislocate that shoulder again."

John just laid back in bed, without protest. He must have been exhausted. "Bed rest. I can do that," he said, sounding more like he was convincing himself. He must not have been happy about the thought. He was an active man and he hated being in any situation where he couldn't do something. It was bad enough for him being limited by his belly, but I could see how being in bed for a week or more might be entirely intolerable. Even when I'd first gotten him out of the ship and he was disoriented and could hardly stand, he'd insisted on walking part of the way to where I'd had my car concealed.

She left, to go talk to Georgie presumably. I got John put together again, fresh clothes from the small stack he had of them, a fresh pad from the pink box of them. Someone had found a pair of old briefs for him and that's what the pad had been attached to. It was then I realized, I never even remembered to buy underwear for the man. He'd been going around commando for the past couple of weeks without complaint. Maybe he went that way all the time. He hadn't complained, or maybe he was too embarrassed to do so. Okay, if he was keeping these sprogs for now, another trip to the store for more clothes was in order anyway. I got in bed with him finally, back into the position we had been.

"It hurts, Mulder," he said softly.

Doggett:

"It hurts, Mulder," I said. Damn, I sounded pathetic, but my voice was harsh from crying.

"What? Do you need me to get Dr. Jensen? There might be some pain reliever she can prescribe," he said, sounding anxious.

"No, knowing I can't go through with this," I told him. He was holding me again, that position which felt so comforting that I usually hated it, but now I craved it, wished he could get closer somehow, that I could disappear entirely into his embrace, that I could absorb his strength from skin to skin contact. "What you said, the other day, about how hate was love, looked at with fear. How do you stop being scared, Mulder?"

All my life I'd gotten through fear just by brazening through it. Pretend I wasn't afraid. Just do it anyway. Put on the good face, acted like the good Marine and nobody ever knew I was a coward and was still shaking in my boots when it was all over and that it hadn't changed me a bit or made me a braver man. This time though, I didn't think that was going to work. It went far too deep for that. Because this terror wasn't going to go away in a few hours or a few days. It would go on for months, until the tadpoles were born.

"Fear exists as an adaptive defense measure. Letting us take appropriate actions to fight or flee in the face of danger," he said, in a voice that was an odd combination of concern and clinical. He pulled me closer. "A phobia is a maladaption of this process, that same fight or flight response but towards something generally recognized as harmless. Phobias can be treated through a behavioral therapy of gradual desensitization. As for something that is a legitimate source of danger, then the fear response is healthy and you shouldn't try and stop it. Analyze it. Determine whether it's a legitimate cause for concern or an irrational phobia. The first step is determining exactly what you're scared of."

The next sentence came to my lips and slid out before I could stop myself. I felt, what? Like an idiot? Like I'd exposed far too much to him? He knew that my only son had died, disappeared and been murdered, the killer dead but not truly brought to justice. It was public record. In the newspapers even. He'd seen the files, I was sure. "Have you ever lost a child, Mulder? You think I can just rationalize my way through that? Analyze it and make it all better. And me lying at the bottom of those steps, terrified it was going to happen again. And worse, knowing I was planning to do it on purpose?"

"I know, John," he petted me, as if he were trying to still a wounded animal. Worse, it was working. I relaxed under his hands as he talked to me, saying little nonsense words. He kissed me again on the back of my head, that odd gesture the last time we were in bed like this.

"Can you know? Can you understand?" I asked a long while later, not angrily, but sadly, my mind not here, but on a Long Island beach, spreading a box of ashes that had once been a little boy, consigning him to the winds. My heart had flown away with him, leaving me barren and empty.

"My son is being raised by a nice couple. He will never know me. I will never know him. I don't dare try and reclaim him. I know he is still alive, but I will never see him again."

He spoke with such genuine pain branded across his voice that I moved my hand to stroke one of his. If his pain was even a shadow of what I had felt, then I wouldn't have wished that on my worst enemy, much less a man who had been so good to me. Who I was starting to feel might not be such a pain in the ass, but my steadfast ally. Who I, yes, I will not fool myself here, cared for. Even though he was Fox Mulder. I didn't want to care for him, but I did.

"Could you stand to go through that again?" I asked him. "Knowing how it could end up, would you do the same thing again?"

"Yes," Mulder said. "I would do it again in a minute."

I must have drifted off. When I woke up, Mulder was setting up the TV and DVD on the dresser which was directly across from the bed. I'd easily be able to watch while I was laid up. I started sitting up, intending to tend to the call of nature.

"Hey, where do you think you're going, guy?" Mulder asked, keeping his tone light.

"Do I gotta ask permission to go to the little boys room now?" I said.

'You heard the doctor. Total bed rest," Mulder said. "I'll get the jar, or do you need a bedpan?"

I wondered how he did it. He made it sound humorous without making it into a joke with me as the butt of it. Still, a guy had to protest being stuck in bed, not even able to get up and take a piss.

"The jar and then get out for a while," I snarled.

"There you go," he said, handing me the plastic object in question. I wondered where they'd gotten one on such short notice, but then Georgie was a nurse and she must have had her sources. "I know exactly how you feel. God knows I've been flat on my back in a hospital bed for more than my fair share of time. Look at it this way. It could be worse. Georgie used to be an ICU nurse. I bet she's still got a fine hand with a catheter."

I pondered that. Yes, things could be worse. Still, I frowned and said, "Get out already. How am I supposed to take a piss with you staring at me like a goober?"

A while after I emptied my bladder, there was a knock at the door. "Hey, Prince Charming, is it safe to come in yet?"

The last thing I would have figured from Fox Mulder is that he could cheerfully take a jar full of another man's pee and empty it without complaint. But he did it, then set it just out of sight, but still in reach of the bed.

"Now, what do you want to watch?" he asked. "You've got about an hour and a half before that OB is going to be here. Not really enough time for a movie."

"I think I fell asleep at episode four of that thing we were watching yesterday."

Mulder, damn him, raised an eyebrow at that. "You some kind of queer, John?" he asked, echoing my words back to me. He said it in such a tone that I could have turned it into a joke, made light of it.

But confronted with a direct question, I cannot lie. It's just not in my nature. There's right. There's wrong. There's not much in between. I wasn't sure I wanted to tell him, but I also knew that I didn't want it to seem like I gave a damn what he thought about me.

"Before I got married, I sucked dick a few times and liked it," I told him, the utter, unvarnished truth. There'd been a couple of guys in bars and one guy while I was in the Marines. "Got a problem with that?"

God, it's fun to shock Mulder. I swear, if he'd been drinking something, it would have spewed out his nose. As it was, he kind of choked and sputtered. I'll give him this much, he got himself under control pretty quickly. He calmed down, then started with his clinical voice, "I'm not sure why I should be surprised. If one credits the researches of various sexologists, a statistically significant portion of the population has engaged in sexual activity at least once with a member of the same sex."

"It's been years. Like I said, I got married. I like women best. I'm no faggot. Big fan of pussy, you know," I said, feeling like a dumbass that I found myself putting on the face of macho stupidity. I was not exactly in the best of positions right now to be claiming staunch masculinity. But I had to cling to what I could.

Luckily Mulder didn't seem to take offense. "Well, what's not to like about that?" he said, smiling. He put the DVD in the player and started it up. The chiropractor that one of the main characters had just started dating, I decided, was kind of hot. Mulder stretched out on the bed next to me as we watched, but didn't move to pull me back into the cuddle. I guess I wasn't sure I wanted it at this moment so I didn't invite it. I was feeling better, even a little ashamed of my earlier weakness. The cramps had slowed down significantly. Perhaps every twenty minutes I felt them again. The tadpoles had stilled and that worried me, but I didn't panic. They were usually quiet at this time of day anyway. Nap time I suppose.

After a while, Georgie brought up a tray with food on it. A bowl of chicken noodle soup, a tuna sandwich and a pair of pop tarts. Had Mulder told her about that? He must have. Just behind her stood Skinner. He was carrying a teapot.

"You think you can eat a little, sweetie?" she asked, setting the tray down on the table next to the bed.

"Some, I think," I told her. Despite everything, I was hungry and also looking forward to a pop tart. Skinner set the teapot down and fled without meeting my eyes. I wanted to stop him and say something to him. He looked guilty, as if he were blaming himself for my fall. I didn't blame him. I'd just been clumsy. I had a feeling we were going to have to some blunt words, sometime soon, get down to brass tacks so to speak. For the moment I just watched him rush away. Georgie decided that just for eating, it would be okay to prop me up to a nearly sitting position. She and Mulder went off to grab what must have been nearly every pillow in the house.

I surprised myself. For the first time in a while, propped up in bed, I ate. Like a starving man. Like I wasn't afraid I was going to toss my cookies somewhere in the middle. The tuna sandwich disappeared in short order, so did the soup. Oddly, the pop tarts weren't nearly as good as I imagined they would be. What I wanted was another tuna sandwich. I didn't care to push my luck as far as my stomach was concerned. When you spend as much time as I have over the past couple of weeks leaning over a toilet bowl, you learn not to push it. I set the tray aside and asked Mulder for a cup of tea and got it. I couldn't quite reach the tea and Georgie had made me promise not to move from my spot. I sipped a bit at it, but mostly I laid back on the pillows, exhausted by the simple act of eating.

I despised the OB the instant I laid my eyes on him. He was a pudgy little man with a superior attitude, a real arrogant SOB. He walked into my bedroom without knocking, though Georgie was just behind him and she did knock on the door frame, pointedly, as if point out to the doctor what he'd neglected. Dr. Jensen was just behind them, and as she entered, she looked at me apologetically. She obviously thought that the man was a bastard too. I wondered why she kept working with him.

"John," Georgie said, "Dr. Abbott is here. Let me get that out of the way."

Georgie took the remains of my meal away. She squeezed my hand and seemed generally pleased with how much I'd eaten.

"Uh..." the OB started, obviously made uneasy by being confronted with a male patient. He'd been told what to expect, but I guess he hadn't expected me. He finally started, holding out his hand for me to shake, "Mr. Doggett. Bob Abbott. Dr. Jensen has given you my credentials I assume. I understand you've found yourself in a most unusual situation. I've reviewed Dr. Jensen's file and the ultrasound pictures. Amazing."

He shook his head.

Then he said the thing which made me realize why Dr. Jensen continued to work with him, even if he was a certified, 100% grade A asshole. "Before you start in with any questions, let me give you some of my answers first. As far as what sort of things I believe in and allow for labor, walking around, squatting, water birth, doulas, any of that. I believe in anything that will create a positive outcome of the birth experience, that is to say, living mother and living baby or babies. And I take pride in the fact that, if you adjust for the fact that I take on so many high-risk pregnancies, I have one of the lowest c-section rates around. I'd like to examine you now. Without so much of an audience, please."

The last was said so dismissively, obviously directed at Mulder and Georgie, that I felt a bit of fury when I'd been sure I was too tired for it. "Mulder stays," I said. Then I dug around in my memory for a good reason for him to do so. "He's going to be my birth partner."

Mulder looked shocked and pleased, obviously not expecting this. He reached for my hand though and said, "That's right."

Call me prudish, I still didn't care to have Georgie see me naked, even though she'd now seen me that way. She understood and she took a strategic retreat, picking up the tray to take it back downstairs.

Dr. Abbott turned his attention to Mulder, with a look that was obviously meant to skewer, to wilt Mulder. Someone should have warned Abbott that Mulder hadn't wilted under the meanest son-of-bitch AD the FBI had to offer and hardened serial killers didn't phase him. Mulder was hardly going to be affected by the glare from a tubby little OB. "You are the father?"

"No," Mulder said firmly. "John here is the father. The children's other genetic source, if there is one, is a person or persons unknown. I'm just a good friend of the family, so to speak."

Dr. Abbott made a few noises that weren't exactly pleased, but we eventually got down to the exam. "Amazing," he murmured from between my legs as he got the first good gander at my equipment, some of which was factory installed, some was post-production, so to speak. "The way I understand it is that most intersex persons have a leaning towards one gender or another with mere vestigial traces of the other gender's organs. You appear to have two complete sets of sexual organs, complete enough to be functional."

"Almost functional," I corrected, then kicked myself for even starting to bring it up, wondering if there was so way I could get around saying this. It was. Well, how could you admit this sort of thing? To two other men. One of which was a near stranger for all that he had a couple of fingers up inside me at the moment, the other who was my near constant companion.

"Oh?" Dr. Abbott said. "Explain almost functional."

Damn him. Of course he'd want to know. He was an obnoxious bastard and was thinking of me as just another interesting science experiment and piece of meat.

"My balls are just decorative," I brazened through. "I don't ejaculate any more."

I wasn't about to explain how I knew this. They could connect the dots. I hadn't, not many times. I'd been too miserable to even contemplate it most of the time, but I'm still a guy and some urges just don't go away. Rosie Palm still made a good date, not too demanding, always eager to give it up. Orgasm was quite attainable, it's just that nothing came out any more. At least not out of my dick. Orgasm left me positively soggy and dripping from my vagina. I'd had a nice quiet freakout about this the first time it happened and just kind of took it in stride since then. Compared to other things that had happened to me, it wasn't such a big deal. But thank God Mulder had been gone for a couple of hours the first time it happened.

"I doubt they're nothing but decorative," Dr. Abbott said, taking his fingers out of my vagina and choosing then to palpitate my testes. I nearly snarled. If Mulder hadn't been holding my hand, and therefore holding me back, I might have ripped the guy's head off. I might have imagined it, but Mulder gave the doctor a look which should have melted steel. The doctor was oblivious though. "You retain almost all of the secondary sexual characteristics of a male. I'd like to run some blood tests to check the levels, but I suspect you've got fairly high testosterone levels still. You're in need of a shave, yes."

Well, yes. I did. My face was pretty full of stubble at the moment, but it's not like they were letting me out of bed to take care of that.

"The testes, in addition to producing sperm are the body's primary factory for testosterone. It'd be interesting right now to get a bird's eye view of what's going on inside yours at the moment," he said, then he left off his exam of my balls and zeroed in on my vagina again. "I think sometime before the birth, I'd like to see you in my office. I'll want to remove your hymen. It's a simple procedure. A bit of local anesthesia, a few snips, a few stitches."

"Hymen?"

"Didn't Dr. Jensen inform you? You're a virgin, Mr. Doggett. At least by the archaic definition of having an unbroken hymen. Your vaginal opening is fairly large, but there is a distinct ring of tissue around it. I don't care to take the risk that it would rip during the birth. It might lead to further tearing."

"Birth? I thought I'd be an automatic candidate for a c-section," I protested. I'd seen a birth before, my son's. And I'd felt up inside of me. Two fingers had felt a little too full. There was no way something the size of a small cantaloupe was going to be coming through that. Two somethings. No way. Uh-uh. Just not going to happen.

"I understand from Dr. Jensen that keeping you out of a hospital is something that should be done at all costs and that no other people are to be involved beyond me. I can empathize, due to your unusual circumstances. But there's no way I can keep you out of the hospital if we c-section you. At the minimum we'd have to involve an anesthesiologist and a surgical nurse. From what I can feel, your pelvis is wide enough to allow for a vaginal birth and that's what my hope is for you."

Fuck! I was fucked. No two ways about it.

The doctor continued, not noticing that he'd broad sided me. "I see no further sign of hemorrhaging and no sign of dilation. Contrary to popular story, miscarriage from blunt physical trauma is fairly rare. And the fetuses are nearly at the point of physical development where a neonatal unit with the latest advances available could save them. But I'd like to see you on bed rest for a few days, just to be on the safe side."

Not that I'd expected him to release me from it, but I still sighed and tried to negotiate. "Does it have to be total? Can I at least get up to pee?"

"Starting tomorrow morning," he told me. He gave me a few more warnings and admonitions. About eating. Resting. Keeping my feet up. The usual. But who he thought I was going to have to avoid having sexual intercourse for a while, I don't know. Mulder? Ugh. That was something I'd rather not think about.

I might like dick. But there was no way I was going to let any man's dick anywhere near there. No way. Not going to happen. Not ever. It was just too gross to think about. So, why did some internal muscles I'd never been aware of before make a little clench at the thought of it? No, don't think about it. Especially not this image that came suddenly to mind of Mulder fucking me there. No, not that. Not Mulder.

At last I'd absorbed all the humiliation I would have to for the day and could get back to watching some TV. Mulder was on the bed with me and we were into about our seventh episode of Queer as Folk when I said, "You know what would be nice, Mulder? Satellite TV. Looks like I'm going to be doing a whole lot of nothing for the next couple of months. I'm going to run out of DVDs pretty quick."

"Okay. I'll look into getting one of those mini dishes. We'll have to ask Walt if he minds having one bolted onto his house. And I'll have to see how anonymous I can make the bill be. If I can't swing it, don't worry, I'll keep you supplied. Just write me a list of things you want to see."

"Wait a minute, Mulder," I said. I'd just been thinking out loud. If I thought about it. The DVDs he'd already bought. The TV. It was pretty big screen and a nice one. He said he'd bought a laptop computer for me. That was starting to add up to some big figures and I didn't like it. "Mulder, where are you getting the cash for all this. Last I heard, you were a fugitive from death by lethal injection. And I've seen your financial records. You were broke to start with. As far as I could tell, you pissed away a substantial inheritance on porn, expensive suits and airline tickets."

"Don't worry about the money, John. I've got plenty and nothing more important to spend it on at the moment."

"Mulder!"

"I just looked broke. When I realized something might be going on, I started moving as much as I could of my inheritance into off shore accounts and various piles of just plain cash. You should know better than anyone how money can be disappeared. I've got most of what I inherited from my dad still. And I have access to certain numbered accounts that Alex Krycek used to fund his operations. Consortium money belonging to people who aren't around to claim it any longer."

"Mulder, I don't want you to be buying entertainment for me with dirty money!" I said. A man had to have principles. Believe in something. "I'll do without."

"John, think of it as child support," he said, indicating my belly. "Maybe these exact people who did this to you never owned the money, but trust me, they are one in the same. They can pay for a few DVDs and baby booties."

I was not mollified, but I didn't know what else to say. "Bastard!" I muttered at Mulder, just on general principle.

"Stubborn, hard-assed son of a bitch," he sassed back, but the way he said it, it was almost affectionate. Like he was happy about the fact that I had enough spunk to be calling him names again.

I tried really hard not to be thinking about the thought I'd had earlier. About Mulder and me getting it on. It was especially hard during the occasional scene on the show where they showed the guys having sex. At the end of the episode we were watching, I said, "Uh, I've had about enough of this. Why don't we watch that thing on the War of Northern Aggression."

I said that more to get a rise out of Mulder than anything. I did not want to be comfortable around the man. I didn't want to like him. And for God's sake, I didn't want thoughts of him to be making my shorts damp. I wanted to keep him at arms length and if I had to pick fights with him to do it, I would.

Funny though. It was as if Mulder saw right through me. But he decided to play along. He got a grin and he said, "If by that you mean Ken Burn's Civil War documentary, then by all means, let's watch that."

The next morning, I was woken early to the sounds of cursing and hammering, then by the sounds of Skinner and Georgie having a little spat.

"Quieter! Don't wake him. For God's sake, Walter Sergei Skinner. You couldn't have waited until after ten?"

"I want this done before he's on his feet again," Skinner said, in his calmly pissed off voice. He hammered as he talked. Not heavy framing type nailing I decided. He was tapping tacks down into place. What was he doing out there?

"Well, that'll be a couple of days."

"It was my fault, Georgeann. It's inexcusable that I left a hazard like those stairs when I could have done something about them. This is my house, my liability. I should have done this first thing."

So, he was fixing the steps so they weren't so dangerous somehow. Carpeting them, maybe? Walter Skinner knew how to lay carpet? Who was helping him? I checked the clock. Eight in the morning. Plenty of time for me to be awake, even if I couldn't get out of bed.

I rang the cowbell that Georgie had left for me, to summon her or Mulder when I needed something. A moment later, she poked her head into my door. She was dressed in flannel and jeans, work clothes and she had a tack hammer in her hands.

"What's going on out there, Georgie?"

"My brother, in his infinite wisdom, has decided that the upstairs hall and stairs will be carpeted by noon today, so help him, God."

"Skinner knows how to lay carpet?"

"He did one summer while he was in school. Besides, my baby brother thinks he knows how to do everything. Did you need something, sweetie? I'd better get back to work if you don't."

"Can I get up to use the little boys room yet?" I asked.

So, with her assent, I got out of bed. I don't think I've ever been so glad to rise in the morning. At her insistence, she was at my elbow for every step of my traverse across the small expanse of partially unsecured mottled oatmeal gray berber carpet. It was certainly a practical choice of color and texture, but boring. Just like what I'd expect Skinner to pick out. I may not have Mulder's spooky ability to read people, but I still have good instincts about people.

When I was done with the toilet, I allowed Georgie to escort me back to bed, then get back to work, helping Walt. She left the door open so I could see and hear them. They made quick work of the carpet in the hall, and moved on to the stairs. Those were more complicated and with even less space for them to maneuver in, they ended up spending more time getting in each other's way and arguing than they spent working. I realized, suddenly, I missed my own sister. I hadn't thought about her for a long time. I wished for a way to contact her and my mom, to let them know I was okay. And to let them know that nieces and granddaughters were on the way. My ex-wife, I could have cared less about, but I couldn't stand the thought of Sissy and Ma crying over me for no good reason. I'd have to ask Mulder when he showed up.

Over the course of the morning, with many strong words exchanged, Skinner and Georgie finished up with the carpet, then put up handrails on both sides of the stairs. When they were done, I heard Skinner pronounce, "Well, that will have to do. If I could rebuild them entirely without cutting the upper half of the house off for a week, I would."

Well, now was as good a time to have it out as any. "Hey, Walter," I called out.

It was turning out to be a real melter of a day. Not so much hot, but the humidity was building until I swear it was as bad as it got back in DC sometimes. Just that thick, heavy air. My sweats were intolerable to wear, but my only other choice was jeans which would have been worse. The fan was going on high, but it just stirred around hot air, baking me in a convection oven. I was miserable. Every bit of skin that was bare was sticking to the bare skin it contacted. The DVD I'd been playing earlier had finished and I'd watched all the stupid special features even. I wasn't sure if I were allowed to get out and change it. I had the regular TV on and the best thing I could find was a rerun of Oprah. Oprah! I was a sad, sorry son of a bitch to be reduced to watching that blabbermouth and her pathetic guests.

Outside, the sky was getting darker with clouds. Skinner walked into my room. First he cast a suspicious eye out of the window. "They're saying tornado watch for the whole county," he said. "What did you need, John?"

"Sit," I told him, indicating the girly vanity chair which hadn't been moved out of my room yet. Let me tell you, the humiliating sight of Walter Skinner, one time scourge of the FBI perched on the edge of a pink, vinyl vanity chair was almost worth the whole thing. Just a smidge of pay back.

"You think I'm some kind of pansy, don't you?" I asked. "Some kind of faggot freak."

I've always been one for telling it like it is.

"I think," Skinner said, softly after a long time of awkward silence where my accusation hung on the air like the smell of rotten eggs. "I think that you are one of the bravest men I have ever known to go through with this."

With that, he got up and walked away, down the stairs. Probably out of the house to that outbuilding I'd seen him go into on occasion.

I was left to lie there and curse him, Oprah and that Dr. Phil yahoo too. Get real, my ass.

I was almost grateful when the storm broke and I had the sound of the rain on the roof to keep me entertained.

Mulder:

Over the next couple of weeks I watched John get stronger and slowly Georgie allowed him out of bed again, a few hours at a time, watching him carefully for any sign that he might be having even the slightest cramping or bleeding. I now believed the doctors that it wasn't likely that he would have lost the babies just from falling down ten steps.

I also watched John's appetite grow in leaps and bounds and the morning sickness leave him almost entirely. Could there have been an emotional component to it? The man unable to swallow what had happened to him, at a literal level. Either way, he had accepted his fate and was the better for it in a way that surprised me.

At least he'd lost the haggard look that haunted him for those first weeks after I'd found him. He began to fill out a little, his face no longer so skeletal. We had cheered yesterday, Georgie and I when he hit 180 on the scale.

I'd finished my lunch but I was sitting at the table watching him demolish his second tuna sandwich. He paused, set the sandwich half he was working on down and pulled the top slice of bread off then the slice of tomato. He grabbed the salt shaker and liberally salted the tomato before eating it separately from the sandwich. He salted the top of the sandwich before closing it then eating the rest of it. I'd watched him, every chance he got, put salt on nearly everything. He'd salted the watermelon we'd had last night. Georgie nearly had a fit the time she caught him raiding the fridge, eating pickles out of the jar. Salting them first.

"John, you'll retain fluid if you keep eating salt like that," Georgie scolded. She was cooking, doing something with peaches. I hoped. I'd mentioned to her what John had been really craving and she said she'd try and dig her aunt's ice cream maker out of the basement. For now though, she had a big pot of water going on the stove, steaming up the room on a day where it didn't really need that kind of help. She plunged peaches into the boiling water for a while, then into a bath of cold water before peeling them. Even though it was bloody hot for her to be doing that, the room smelled good, like cooking peaches.

"Ah, Georgie," he grinned at her in a way that was obviously meant to be charming to her, but came off as adorable to me as well, "You know I retain fluid no matter what I do. and I'm just craving it so bad."

He'd had swollen feet for a while now. I'd gotten him new shoes, so that he didn't bitch about having to walk around barefoot. Barefoot and pregnant. Who'd have guessed that you would one day find John Doggett barefoot and pregnant.

Georgie and I had gone into the city together too pick out clothing that might have a better chance of fitting him. It wasn't easy. Clothing for big men went over his belly, but were ridiculously huge every place else. Maternity clothes for women ended up fitting over his belly, but being too small in most other dimensions, especially too short for him. I guess six feet tall women weren't expected to get pregnant. Not to mention often available only in the most feminine of patterns and colors. I didn't think he'd appreciate t-shirts in pink with scoop necks. We ended up getting him some jeans and jean shorts in what we thought was his usual size, then stopping at the fabric store. Georgie bought some panels of knit cloth that could be used to turn normal clothes into maternity clothes. And she bought elastic. We bought men's shirts in plain oxford cloth in John's neck size, then searched out matching oxford cloth yardage at the fabric store. She made gores in the sides to accommodate his belly. We'd have been sunk though, if Georgie didn't know how to sew. I'd never been so glad that some woman had been stuck getting the stereotypical female education.

John seemed happy with the clothes, happier with his situation and almost content at times. And kept me at arms length. I guess I was good enough to scare away the monsters, but not good enough otherwise. Ah, well, I didn't expect anything else from him. When ever I got too friendly with him, he got mullish or crabby. Or bossy. Suddenly I'd find myself retrieving sodas, looking for the remote, getting him glasses of water or being sent to the store for ice cream. Then having him yell at me because it was the wrong kind. I was not invited to his bed to snuggle again nor did he show up in the middle of the night, stressed by nightmares and seeking comfort.

I found myself missing his unique combination of shapes, the hard, almost stringy masculine limbs, the round, smooth belly. I missed the odd scent that was his alone. Not like a woman's scent, but not like a man's either. Something in between. I missed the way my body seemed to mold so perfectly to his when we spooned.

Meanwhile, I was going slowly crazy. Every day I looked with longing at the long gravel road that I had to travel in order to get to even the grocery store. I went running, every day, long, hard miles, as if by punishing myself, I could put John out of my mind for good. As if I could make myself so tired that I wouldn't think about him when I went to bed, just collapse into sleep. I worked out other ways as well as the running.

I had discovered Skinner's inner sanctum, the place he retreated to whenever he got too uncomfortable around John. It was one of the smaller outbuildings, a big garage basically. It was part woodshop, part substitute living room, part gym. He'd moved the old console TV from the living room out here, and found a disreputable looking recliner somewhere. There was an old fridge, well stocked with beer and other necessities. And he had a set of free weights, barbells and dumbbells and a bench. I insinuated myself into his workout routine.

"Look, Walter," I had said as I watched him do some, for him, low weight, high rep sets with a fifty pound dumbbell. "If I spot you, you can do higher weights than you would otherwise. All I ask in return is your permission to use the weights."

He'd done more than that, of course. He couldn't bear to watch me work out in a way that was less than optimal. I found myself with a former AD of the FBI for a personal trainer. He spotted for me, I spotted for him. I'd never been much for weightlifting before, always been a runner or a swimmer. But Skinner showed me how to get the optimal force out of my body, how to build strength. Before I knew it, I could see a difference in my body.

Not that I'd ever get anywhere near as built as Skinner. The man was built like a brick shithouse and solid as a wall. Sometimes I feared that should he actually drop the barbell he was lifting, I wouldn't be able to stop it from crashing down on him. He lifted weights silently, with great concentration. All the gym monkeys I'd seen before made animal grunts and roars as they heaved their weights upwards. The only sounds Skinner made was his breathing. He was a handsome, handsome man. But Walter Skinner was as straight as an arrow. One drunken, despairing night a long time ago, I'd made a pass at him, something beyond my usual tease, something which couldn't be mistaken, couldn't be missed. He gently peeled my arms from around his neck, pushed me away to arm's length and softly said, "I'm flattered, Mulder, but I'm not interested. It's nothing personal. Men just don't get my dick hard." And nothing more had been said about it and as far as I could tell, it hadn't affected anything between us. He certainly didn't report the incident to anyone in the Bureau.

I looked at John who was eating a tomato like it was an apple, stopping now and then to salt it. A delicate trickle of red juice dripped down his chin, but he seemed to be savoring the moment. They say that pregnant women glow and I would have to say, at this moment at least, the one pregnant man I knew glowed as well. I sighed and looked out the window at the blue sky of a late August afternoon, and at the seemingly infinite fields of corn. I thought of running with Scully through a cornfield once, one that we'd found mysteriously in the desert, chased by a swarm of genetically altered bees and helicopters. I thought of Scully period. Her doubt, her sly humor, her tenacity. I missed her so badly. I slammed my hand on the tabletop and stood up. "I'm going for a run," I announced.

"You ran already this morning, Mulder," John said. "You said you were gonna do that damn yoga video with me this afternoon. If I gotta do it, so do you, bastard."

"We'll do it when I get back," I snapped. "Or Skinner can do it with you. I'm going running. Don't nag me or try and tell me what the fuck to do."

I was out of the kitchen before he could say anything more, but I paused in the living room, just on the other side of the swinging door, to listen to John said, "What was that about? Who peed on his cornflakes?"

Georgie answered, her voice filled with humor, like she was laughing at the pair of us, with our petty disagreements and minor bickering. "I told you that you should stop being as mean as piss to the man. He can't help it if he bites back sometimes the way you talk to him. I don't blame him at all."

Still fuming, I shook my head and went upstairs. It took only a moment to claim my running shoes then head to the outside for another punishing ten miles or more. I was getting lean again, losing the softness around the middle that a routine of nothing but driving and road food will give to a person. This could only be a good thing. I needed to be strong to fight this fight. I pushed myself so hard that everything zoned out, that I was in that state where I thought about everything and nothing, and yet when I was through my mind felt as blank as a fresh washed slate.

When I finally turned back up the familiar gravel driveway of the farmhouse, the sky was purple with twilight. There was a little nip in the air, a hint of the fall to come, a promise that the heat, sometime soon, would break. It teased delightfully on my wet skin, chilling me in a good way, a relief after the day. It was September tomorrow, I realized suddenly. We had been here at the farmhouse for most of a month. It might be time for me to move on for a while, I decided. John was well and truly settled. He'd be happier without me around. After all, I was the only one he argued with, the only one he got angry at.

Skinner and Georgie had finished painting the house. After much discussion and debate on the matter, with a veritable flurry of those little paint chips from the hardware store flying around the kitchen table, they had settled on a bright yellow. Now in the settling twilight it just glowed a warm, grayish beige.

I approached the side porch that led into the kitchen. John was sitting on the stairs and I would have diverted to the front entrance except he saw me and hissed out, "Mulder, stay right there. You'll scare her."

It was then that I got a good look at what he was doing. Feeding ice cream with a spoon to the scrawniest looking calico cat I'd ever seen. The cat was one among the many barn cats that roamed around the place. Neither Skinner nor Georgie acquired any of the cats, they just seemed to come with the place, and over time, they drifted on and off the property. I was sure many of the ones that left actually went on to the big litter box in the sky, so to speak, killed by hawks or cars or even the occasional coyote that found its way up here. Georgie, when she discovered a new one, would trap it in one of those humane traps, haul it off to the vet to be fixed and have the rudimentary vaccinations, then would bring it home and release it. None of the cats were housecats or owned any of the humans personally. They were feral cats, shy of humans, not likely to be domesticated again. Sometimes they suffered a few strokes of a human's hand before streaking off again.

John Doggett was about the last person in the world I would have guessed was a cat person, but there he was, feeding ice cream to a feral cat. I laughed, something about the earnest concentration on both his face and the cat's. The sudden noise startled the cat. She jumped first, then bolted and ran for the cover of the small barn where most of them seemed to live.

"Damn!" John said, then set his spoon aside. He reached for second spoon. Obviously he'd planned to be feeding the cat. As I approached the porch, he said, "She's got kittens, you know. Needs the extra calories just to keep them fed. Hey, Mulder. I got something to say to you."

I wondered what it would be. I couldn't read his face in the rapidly descending dark. The inside of the house looked inviting to me, the light spilling from the windows golden against the purple night. The shower waiting for me upstairs. I sat on the steps beside John, as far away as I could get, leaning against the wooden post. I dragged the tail of my t-shirt across my face to wipe away the worst of the sweat.

"We're okay, right? I mean, I didn't piss you off too badly this afternoon, did I?"

"No, we're fine," I said, meaning fine in much the same way as Scully always used to say it.

She'd be half dead from that cancer and still she would be fine. I don't think he had any clue, that he'd never quite fully knew Scully the way I knew Scully. As it was, I could hear Scully over my shoulder, saying, "If you two were any more fine, they'd be drawing up the divorce papers even as we speak."

"We're friends, right? Nothing but. I mean, you're a bit of a queer. I'm a bit of a queer. But that doesn't mean anything. Doesn't affect us one way or the other. Just friends."

"Just friends," I agreed. Yes, it was definitely time to move on until I got my rebel heart under better control.

"You missed dinner. Georgie made peach ice cream for dessert," he said, picking up his bowl again, digging into it with his second, clean spoon. He was delighted, I could tell. Pleased beyond measure by this simple thing. I was going to miss him, but I wasn't going to miss having my heart trampled on like this. I couldn't make him love me if he didn't and that's all there was to it.


Doggett:

I looked in on Mulder. His door was open. I was bored, curious as to what he was doing.

Pushups were what he'd been doing. A lot of them. He was counting out loud as he did them. He'd gotten up to just over a hundred. He was wearing just loose shorts and between the heat of the afternoon and his activity, his torso was dripping with sweat. Mulder had never looked so good. The shorts had slid down his hips nearly to the crack of his ass, letting me see where the swell of his buttocks started. Nice, very nice looking.

He'd always been of an athletic build, but definitely on the lean and slender side. A runner's body. Now, I'm not sure how it happened, but Mulder was starting to get buff. He hadn't bulked up a lot yet, but he was getting very toned. Yes, if he kept up doing whatever it was he was doing, he'd definitely be getting even more appealing than he was now.

I almost turned away. I was getting a woody looking at him, and my shorts were getting damp. My traitorous body had a mind of its own. It was embarrassing, but there were times where I walked around half hard. I'd asked the doctor about that. I guess there's increased blood flow to the pelvic area when a person is pregnant. And I was just plain horny these days. Rosie Palm and me were very good friends as of late. But I didn't want to be horny for Mulder. Even if he was looking mighty good wearing nothing but shorts, giving me an excellent view of his muscular back.

Lucky for me the altered shirts I wore were full and long at the bottom. My hard on was easily concealed. I silently watched Mulder finish his pushups. Finally he dropped to the floor, then rolled up to his feet in one smooth movement.

"Did you need something, John?" he asked, not even breathless. I was impressed.

At the moment, I just dreamed about doing pushups, real ones. I did modified ones, against the wall and a few other modified exercises, in addition to the damn prenatal yoga. I should have gone walking more often, but more and more I hated to go off the property because I was so huge. I felt so obvious, like some kind of freak.

"No, don't need anything," I said. I had no real excuse to bug him. He'd set me up real good, dropping big bucks on things to keep me entertained so I didn't have to talk to him. We'd gotten one of those little satellite dishes, and the internet access that Mulder had promised, plus the latest game system.

But somehow Resident Evil edition whatever just wasn't as entertaining to me these days. And there was nothing new on the internet pregnancy forum I'd been reading and posting on, posing as a woman named "Jackie". The depths I was stooping to these days! Well, Jack is a nickname for John and Ma did call me Jackie when I was a boy.

Mulder said, "Then I'm going to hit the shower. I figure if I get on the road in an hour, I can hit Kansas City before I have to stop tonight. I'm leaving."

"You're doing what?!" I interrogated Mulder.

He told me again, his words ringing in my ears. "I'm leaving," he said.

That was when I hit the ceiling. The son of a bitch was leaving. I know things had been kind of tense between us since he'd blown up at me for nagging him about the damn yoga tape, but I thought we'd gotten the air clear on that one. I didn't think he was ready to abandon me. "You can't do that to me, you bastard! You said you'd be here all the way through this for me. You're my birth partner, dammit. You can't just leave. You made a promise to me. Or are you planning to make a habit of ditching pregnant partners?"

That was a low blow even for me. I knew perfectly well that if Mulder could have been there for Scully's pregnancy and William's birth he would have. Those were extraordinary circumstances, extraordinary days. As if these weren't.

"It's just for a few weeks, John," Mulder said, trying to placate. "One of things I'm going to do is see if it's safe to get in contact with your mother or sister like you wanted. "

"Bullshit! Georgia is the opposite direction from Kansas City if you hadn't noticed. I know you can be dumb Mulder, but that's simple geography."

"Calm down, John," Mulder said. "I never said I was going to Georgia first. I'm going to track down some leads I have in New Mexico first. I'll bring back a present for Zippy and Fletch."

He'd taken to calling the Tadpoles that when I refused to consider to talk about names just yet. Zippy was the girl. Fletch was the one whose gender was not known at the moment. I figured that Tadpole One and Tadpole Two were good enough for the moment.

"Like that's supposed to make me feel better!"

"I'm going, John. I've got things to do. You don't like it, too bad."

Stung, I left him alone, to shower or whatever. I retreated to my room and spent the next couple of hours watching stupid things on satellite TV. When I finally ventured out of my room and downstairs, I was sure he was gone. A quick look out the window let me see that his car was missing from the driveway, though when I went into the kitchen I asked Georgie just to be sure.

"He took off in a righteous tear. What'd you say to him, John?" she said.

"Nothing. I don't see why he had to leave," I gripped. At the same time Skinner walked into the house carrying a big bowl filled with vegetables.

"Don't you want to find out who did this to you and why? If anyone has a chance of finding out, it's Mulder. Here," he said, putting the bowl into my hands. "Make yourself useful. Mrs. Admunson down the road sent me home with them for fixing her fuses."

I sat down at the table and started sorting through the assortment. It was mostly beans. "Snap the beans for dinner, sweetie," Georgie said. "Wally, you know, if you don't intend to follow through you ought to set that woman straight. She's sweet on you. I know damn well that Lucille Amundson has never needed a man's help to change her fuses before and she's a widow these fifteen years now."

Skinner winced when Georgie said that woman was sweet on him. "Mrs. Admunson is over nineteen years older than me and she was my kindergarten teacher."

"You know perfectly well that you're the most eligible bachelor to come through in years," Georgie said. "A handsome man like you. All the ladies are dropping like flies if you didn't notice."

Skinner frowned and retreated again, muttering something about some work out in the shed he needed to catch up on. I wondered what the hell that could be. In the month I'd been here, Skinner had maintained this place to within an inch of its life and Georgie had had to restrain him from starting in on major indoor renovation projects, telling him that I surely didn't need all the noise, fuss and dust, not to mention the kind of lead dust from the paint it would surely kick up.

I steadily worked on the beans, but after a while, I started uncovering. Yes. I could hardly believe my eyes. Yes. "Georgie?" I asked, holding out one of the vegetables in question. It was something I'd been craving for a while, but I knew Yankee types like Mulder just wouldn't understand. But it was one of the tastes of home that I'd been missing. "I don't suppose you know how to make fried okra, do you?"

"Of course, John."

We made ourselves busy in the kitchen. I swear Georgie was trying to teach me how to cook. Succeeding some. I wasn't the most domestic of people. When my ex had left me, I survived on microwaveable stuff for a long time. I could perform a few basic maneuvers in the kitchen, though Georgie seemed set on teaching me everything. Skinner too, surprisingly, could cook, though most of the time, Georgie managed that department. But a few days ago, on her birthday, Skinner whipped out a respectable lemon chiffon cake. Who would have thought Skinner capable of making a chiffon cake? With that boiled icing? He'd really looked funny wearing an apron though.

"I'll finish up here, John," Georgie said finally. "You go get Wally and tell him dinner is ready."

I headed out to the shed. It was nearly dark already. It was getting dark earlier and earlier at an increasing pace. The door stood open, so I walked in. The shed was something that I usually stayed away from. Mulder and Skinner hung out together in it, but there was a kind of mental boys club only kind of sign hung on the door, and I guess I didn't exactly qualify at the moment. Skinner needed his place away from me. I could respect that. That he let Mulder in was irritating, but understandable. They lifted weights together. I'd expressed interest and had been given some lighter weight dumbbells to be used in the house, the biggest ones about twenty-five pounds. About as much as I could handle at the moment.

Skinner wasn't working out now, nor sitting on his recliner. He was at the work bench, sanding on a piece of a project he was working on. It didn't take me long to figure out what it was. A nearly completed one stood next to him on the floor, just waiting to be finished.

Ever since that day I'd nearly lost the Tadpoles, baby things had just started appearing. First it was just small things. Packs of onesies. Little knit caps. I didn't protest because they were small. Then there were the car seats. I think Mulder bought them, but I wasn't sure. They just appeared one day. I hadn't protested because that was practical. We'd have to drive them somewhere, no matter what.

But I couldn't let this go. Skinner was making cradles. Not just any old cradles. They were made out of cherry wood. The kind of thing that's an automatic heirloom and you know is going to get handed down from generation to generation. He had a fine hand with the woodworking equipment, and apparently, the soul of an artist. Even incomplete, I could see that they were going to be beautiful, kind of mission style, but softer, with some curves. And he designed them. Tacked up to the wall were all the drawings, from the initial sketch to the full schematic.

"What are you doing, Walter?" I asked, brushing the stupid, idiotic tears out of my eyes that seemed like they were my lot in life for the moment. "Why is everyone acting like I can even consider keeping these babies?"

"All you've been through and you were going to give them up for adoption? Frankly I can't believe I'm hearing you say that," he said, continuing to hand sand a railing. I was hearing Walter Skinner, AD, for the moment. It was that authoritative tone, so dry it could be almost caustic at times. The one that he could use to rip people new assholes without so much as raising his voice.

"Maybe you don't know, Walter, because you've never had kids. But you don't just have them. You have to have to be able to take care of them. A man has to work to support his family. And I'm a dead man. What kind of job could I go out there and get? I don't have a house for us to live in or a car to put those damn car seats into. The clothes on my back were bought by someone else for me. I don't have the cash in my pocket to go buy a box of diapers. I don't even own so much as my own identity anymore."

"Is that the only obstacle you can see to keeping them?" Skinner asked carefully.

"No, but it's the major one. The rest I could probably figure out."

I knew exactly how hard it was to put together a new identity that was so good that someone as determined as I was couldn't track it down and tear it apart. That was the thing I was hung up on. It was all fine and well for me to be fugitive, on the move enough that no one was likely to question who I was, but you couldn't do that with kids. They need stability. They need to know what's going to happen next week, next month.

"Mulder and I are working on getting you a seamless new identity. We'd have to figure something out anyway, to be able to give the adoption agency a story. Or were you just planning on dropping them off on a church doorstep with a note that says, 'take care of us'? That doesn't seem like your style, Doggett."

I almost said, 'it's not, sir,' but I just looked at the mostly complete cradle, stepped up to it. Ran my fingers along a railing that had been sanded until it was satin smooth. The spindles were close together, just enough space for two of my fingers. I rocked the cradle and it went back and forth smoothly on its rockers. If Skinner was constructing me a new identity, it would be as carefully crafted as this cradle. He had to have resources I hadn't thought of, something in mind. Maybe he knew people in WitSec. I wondered who he would make me into. I couldn't speak, rendered mute with the gratitude that swelled inside me.

Luckily Skinner spoke for me, "Georgie probably sent you out here to fetch me for dinner, didn't she?" I nodded. "Let's go in, then. And don't let me hear any more of that kind of nonsense coming from your mouth. You and yours will be taken care of until you can take care of yourself."

The next couple of weeks with Mulder gone passed very slowly in a drawn out anticipation. Every time I heard the rumble of car tires on the gravel road, I automatically went to the window, to see who was coming out to our little deserted corner of the world. I paced restlessly every evening, feeling nervous, penned in, but not sure exactly why.

But I'm stupid. I'm a real idiot sometimes. I didn't even realize I missed Mulder until one night about three weeks into his absence when Georgie said to me, "John, sit down. All this fretting is not going to make that man appear one minute sooner."

"But what if something happened out there. We might never know," I said, giving voice to a fear that had been nagging me in the middle of the night, that Mulder might die or just disappear. He hadn't so much as made a five minute phone call in all the time he'd been gone. Skinner had said that Mulder didn't want to compromise my location in any way, no matter how slight.

"I asked Wally that, and he said that Mulder has a checkpoint system arranged with someone who will contact us indirectly, should he fail to check in. Don't borrow trouble, John. Apparently he's fine so far. So relax."

Still, I didn't rest well with him out of the house. Two in the morning more often than not found me either watching TV, having given up the attempt to sleep or staring up at the ceiling still giving it the old college try, remembering the times I'd slept so peacefully when I'd been held by Mulder.

A few more days passed and it was time for another appointment with the asshole OB. Rather than make me drive the three hours to his offices, this time he made the concession of coming out to see me.

After the invasion of my space he called an examination, he pulled his gloves off and said, "You're doing well, Mr. Doggett. I'm still astonished, honestly, but everything is progressing well. Very well indeed. Your fundal height is exactly what I'd expect it to be for your date. Your weight gain is good. You're looking significantly healthier every time I see you. Your hormone levels seem to remaining steady. I'm pleased with your progress. I see no obstacles to a normal delivery."

"Doc, you mentioned you wouldn't be opposed to a water birth. I've been researching it on the internet. I'd like to discuss it more."

The way it sounded, it was one of the best options for reducing pain outside of an epidural. And they weren't going to be giving me an epidural because of needing to keep this outside of the hospital. I'd stumbled onto a lot of glowing reviews of water birth when I'd been reading birth stories. Just researching so that I could find out what I was getting myself into here. Been gotten into.

"That's certainly a good option. My average patient doesn't get to use it very often because of medical complications. But yes, it can certainly ease a delivery."

So with the doctor approving, all I had to do was see if Skinner minded me setting up a pool with 1600 pounds of water in it up in the guest bedroom of his aunt's house. His house now.

Another week passed. The weather steadily cooled day by day. Though, when I looked back over the days of this past month that Mulder was gone, I remember mostly perfect crisp mornings that warmed to golden afternoons. I remembered sitting on the porch, that little calico cat slowly warming up to me, letting me pet her finally, watching the road for Mulder's return. It was a surprisingly happy time for all that I missed Mulder and was worried constantly about what I was going to do with myself, now that the next two decades or so seem to have been spoken for. Hell, I was going to be sixty before the Tadpoles were ready for college. I was definitely too old for this.

Mulder finally reappeared on one of the rare rainy afternoons that forced me inside. Somehow, I could sense that something was different the instant I first heard the tires on the gravel. Like usual, I went to the window to check and waited until the car was in view. Not Mulder's car, not a small SUV but a Honda minivan. I nearly sat down, disappointed again. Then the car turned into the driveway and I became alarmed. We just didn't get visitors usually, and if we did, almost all of the local people drive pickups. Neither Georgie nor Skinner had mentioned that someone they knew was coming over. A strange vehicle could be nothing good. I nearly headed upstairs, to hide while Georgie or Skinner dealt with stranger. The minivan was parked. And Mulder got out. As he dug around in the back for some bags, my heart was racing.

I'm stupid sometimes. A real idiot. As he pulled a couple of bags from "Babies R Us" from the back of the minivan, I realized why I'd been such a wreck this whole month. Why I was looking out of the house at every sound of car wheels. And why he'd been slowly creeping into my fantasies, masturbatory and otherwise. You've probably already reached the inevitable conclusion, but it took me a while sometimes.

I was in love with him. In love with Mulder.

How it had happened, or when, I wasn't sure. Perhaps it had started when he held me the first time after that nightmare. Perhaps it was his calming words and embrace after I fell down the stairs. I didn't want to be in love with Mulder. Or any man for that matter. I was always a 'three tequilas away from bisexual' kind of guy more than anything else. I do not fall in love with men. Or so I had always told myself.

But there it was, as unavoidable as a road-killed armadillo in the middle of the highway.

I was out the door before I could think much more. He was on the porch about the same time I was. I nearly threw my arms around him before I had a nasty, lurching realization.

Just because I was in love with him, didn't mean he was in love with me.

He'd agreed too easily when I fed him that line of crap about us just being friends. I could trust that Mulder was direct, honest, couldn't I? If he were going to make a move, he would have made it a while back. He's had more than enough opportunity. And obviously didn't care that much about me. He'd been gone a month without sending so much as a coded postcard.

And honestly, what kind of man would be attracted to me in the state I was in? I was a freak, a monster. I was an unattractive lump with a swollen belly and swollen ankles. I was even starting to get breasts. Just small ones, but there definite growth there, little bitch tits like a fat guy would get. I could only hope they would go away once I'd had the babies. No way Mulder would want to jump these bones of mine.

I let my arms drop uselessly to my side, struggling to get ahold of myself, feeling like I was drowning. Feeling like an idiot. "Hey," I said. "Need a hand with any of that?"

"No, let's just get inside, wet and cold out here." he said. "I've got some presents for Zippy, Fletch and you."

"Lot's of presents from the look of it," I said, indicating the bulging bags from the baby store.

"Oh, this is just baby junk. I've got real presents," he said.

Once we were in the living room, he set all his bags down with a weary sigh. Then he got out his wallet. He handed me a credit card.

"What's this?" I asked. The card was made out to one George E. Presley and was a platinum card.

"Your credit card. I thought maybe you might like to order some baby stuff off the internet or something. It's completely clean. No way to trace it to you. It'll be paid off in full every month automatically from an account set up in Wilmington, Delaware. Your credit limit is forty-five hundred dollars."

I turned the card over and over in my hand stupidly until Mulder said, "Put that away somewhere. I've got another present."

I put the card up on a shelf while Mulder dug through wadded up dirty laundry in his duffel bag. At last he pulled out a rough, otherwise nondescript rock and tossed it at me. The tadpoles started kicking and fussing immediately, clearly not happy about something.

"Don't let it get near any electronics or magnetic media," Mulder warned. "It's magnetite."

Something in me made a connection with memories past of supersoldiers being imploded, the indestructible being destroyed by this stuff. Then my babies wrestling around in me. Oh, shit. I tossed the magnetite back at Mulder.

"Sorry, Mulder," I said, feeling a strange kind of hope and devastation rolled up into one. My babies weren't normal humans after all. I had thoughts of William and the trouble surrounding his birth. On the positive side, I wouldn't have to worry about all the usual ways they could get hurt. "The Tadpoles don't like your present. Makes them pretty upset."

Mulder looked at the rock, looked at my belly and understood. "In that case, I'll let their Uncle Walter keep track of it until maybe someday they'll appreciate it."

Mulder stuck the rock back into his bag. "Can't win 'em all. I'll bet you'll like this though," he said.

He brought out a ziplock back full of red-brown dirt. How had he remembered? Why had he taken me seriously? One night, before he'd left, I'd admitted an odd craving to him. Something I was ashamed to even be feeling. Dirt. I'd wanted to eat dirt. I hadn't given in to this craving. Somehow, it wasn't the rich loam that you could dig up around here that I was interested it. It was the dirt from home. Georgia clay. For a couple of days, I thought nearly constantly about eating the Georgia dirt. I'd shyly mentioned this to Mulder, hoping he wouldn't freak. He'd just gotten this grin that made me want to knock his block off and he said, "Pica. The craving for things that are not normally considered a food substance. Very common in pregnant women. Usually attributable to a mineral deficiency."

Reassured by Mulder, I'd mentioned it to the damn OB, who had confirmed what Mulder said, then recommended more iron and other minerals, in addition to the big horse pill prenatal vitamin I was taking every day already. Since then the craving had gone away. Mostly.

"Jerk," I said. Then, "Thanks."

"Hey, I missed you," he said, there was something soft and tender in his voice and for a minute, my heart rose a little, hopeful just slightly. Then he added, "I don't know how I got along without someone to call me names all day."

"I missed you too, asshole," I said, brusque to cover the suddenly ache I felt, thinking about him. Mulder hadn't really missed me at all. It was obvious. What else could that smart ass crack have meant?

"I wasn't able to contact your mother or your sister," he said. "I'm still not sure if your family connections are safe at all. Does the name Col. Phillip James Doggett mean anything to you?"

"Uncle Phil," I said. "My father's brother. It was his idea that I go into the Marines. To straighten me out."

I'd been a wild child all through high school. Got good grades, but only because I was smart enough to fake my way through classes stoned off my ass. Rumor had it that Skinner himself inhaled a few times, but I was a definite stoner, as well as good buddies with a guy who had alcoholic parents and a liquor cabinet without a lock. I'd been picked up by cops more than a couple times. They knew my dad and as a favor to him just brought me home, not to the station. My parents had been sick of my behavior and certainly weren't going to shell out hard earned money for me to piss away at the local state college with me acting like that. So the Marines it was. And when I finally got to college, I'd been straightened out and was more than ready to buckle down. Nothing like the Marines to teach you to be a man. Everything I'd achieved could be credited to my Uncle Phil's insistence that I give the Marines a shot.

"Well, he's currently director of a something they're calling the Zodiac project. Just another face for the alien infiltration of the DOD. They're working on the production of more supersoldiers, like your late buddy, Knowle Rohrer. I'm not surprised. I knew if I dug a little, I'd find the family connection. People are drawn into this thing for a reason. It wasn't a fluke that you were pegged to lead the search for me."

"No," I couldn't believe what Mulder just implied. "I could just maybe see Uncle Phil doing this someone else. But not to family. Not to family."

"I'm not saying he did this specifically."

Mulder held his hand out in the direction of my belly, as if he wanted to touch it. I took a few steps closer, brushing my body up against his hand. He petted me there a moment, then said, "But the fact remains that you have at least one family member in this up to his neck. I'm wondering if just for now we err on the side of caution and continue to let your family think that you're dead. Until Zippy and Fletch are born at least."

There was a certain logic there. And I suppose I would have to wonder how I was going to explain my expectant state to my family, should I be able to get in contact with them. Too many people already knew about it as it was, if you asked me. I guess for now, I was willing to forgo talking with my Ma. "I guess I'd have to agree with you for now," I said.

"There's one other thing I need to tell you," he said. "I think maybe you might want to sit down first."

I settled myself into my recliner. It was getting hard to sit down gracefully and get back up again. Getting up again particularly made me feel like I was in the beached whale category. At least the recliner had big, stable arms to use to lift myself. Meanwhile, Mulder was back to digging in his bag. Finally, he pulled a simple wood box and brought it over to me. I didn't need to open it up to know what it was. I think I knew already and had known for some time. This was mere confirmation. I thought about dreams I'd had and the strange sense I would get that someone was watching me. The lingering, phantom scent of her perfume on the air. Samsara. One of the few times I'd been to her house I'd seen the bottle in her bathroom.

"Monica," I whispered, stroking the smooth wood of the box, even as I started to cry. Mulder positioned himself on one of the chair arms and wrapped his arms around my shoulders while I wept for the woman I should have fallen in love with. I'd tried on the idea of making her mine, thought about kissing her at least once but never did. Somehow, something just never gelled between us. Mulder, though, was strong, solid, my support. He smelled, just a bit, of days on the road, and something dusty, as if he'd just come from the desert.

"I'm sorry, John. I really am. I kept hoping I would find her alive for you. She died at a research facility. They weren't even using the women for research though. Just harvesting them. Don't worry. The place is shut down now. It's taken care of. I found her body with dozens of others."

The way he said the last thing was strangled, as if he were repressing something. It broke me out of my grief. I saw him, really saw him. I looked him in the eyes and knew that he was sick to his soul from this, either from what he had seen or from something he'd been forced to do. He was grieving just as much as I was. More even. I moved my arms around so that he was no longer just holding me, but we were holding each other. I pulled him against me, so his hair was in my face. Then we were crying together. Skinner looked in for a moment then retreated quickly when he realized what was going on, either made uncomfortable by our emotion or just letting us have our privacy, I didn't care which.

Mulder's tears lasted long after mine, perhaps just because I'd gotten a head start on him. At last, we were both calm, our faces wiped dry and I said, about the box with her ashes, "Shouldn't these go to her parents?"

"Her parents think that they've already buried her once. I think it would be cruel in this case to let them know that she didn't die in a car accident after all, but like this. I think it would be kinder to let a stranger lie in her grave."

"What do you think we should do with these?" I asked. I'd kept my son's ashes for years, the only thing I had left of him, as a reminder that I wouldn't really rest well until I'd found his killer. And when I had, I was able to let them go. We'd scattered them to the wind. Monica's killers had already met their retribution, if I believed Mulder. Yet I found it hard to imagine scattering these ashes to the wind. It had been so hard to release my son, let him go. Could I do that to my former partner?

"We don't have to decide now," Mulder said. "If you think it's morbid to keep them around, I can keep tabs on them."

"She needs a funeral," I said. "A real one. Not some mockery with a stranger in her place."

"We'll talk about it later," Mulder said. "For now, I'm starving. I hardly stopped on my way back. Georgie have anything good in the fridge?"

"Just the usual. Let me get you a sandwich or something," I said. After all the toting and fetching he'd done for me, I could do a little for him. Besides, I could do with a little snack myself. Funny how not too long ago, the mere sight of food was enough to make me gag, now I was pigging out whenever I had the chance. Mostly on healthy stuff, but not entirely. "Georgie and I made a sweet potato pie too."

Mulder made a face at that for some reason. When he didn't explain, I asked, "What?"

Mulder just shook his head and, with a shadow of a grin on his face, said, "Nothing. Lead on, Prince Charming."

Mulder:

For a brief, shining moment, I had been so hopeful. John had rushed out to the porch to meet me before I'd even reached the door, a sure sign that he'd been watching for me. He'd smiled at me. His arms were open, as if he had been planning to pull me into a big bear hug.

Then, when I'd stepped onto the porch, he scowled and dropped his arms. His face became guarded, wary again. We were back to where we were before I'd left- at an uneasy detente without much warmth. Him pushing me away after allowing me some closeness. We'd cried in each others arms over Monica, but that night I'd slept in my own bed, alone. What could I do? I couldn't make him love me if he didn't. And to let someone know you love them when they don't return the emotion is a burden I would not wish on him. I did the sensible thing. I acted as if I hadn't noticed his scowl, just played it cool. I didn't push myself at him.

I hadn't been surprised to see him throw the magnetite back to me. He'd frowned as if they were having a barroom brawl in there. That's certainly what it had felt like when he'd allowed me to touch his abdomen. I suspected, but could not prove yet, that John's progeny were part of yet another project to make supersoldiers. As to why they had chosen a forty something male as their test subject was still a mystery, though I was going to continue my investigation of his family connection. John claimed his uncle wouldn't do this to him, but in my experience, family can be capable of the worst betrayals, made all the more vicious by the idea that "they wouldn't do this to family."

The next day, I was heading back from a run. While I'd been gone on my cross-country trip, late summer had turned into a rainy fall and today was a prime example of the natural progression of the earth through its orbit. Yes, it definitely was early October in the upper Midwest. A cold driving rain bit hard and drenched me to the skin, even though I had a rain jacket on. It leaked through the neck adding its moisture to that which I'd generated from my own sweat. My feet squished inside my shoes. Even so, it felt good to run down familiar roads again, even if I'd known them only a month before I'd left.

As I approached the porch, I noticed John. He was sitting on the old rocker on the kitchen porch, well under the shelter of the eaves. He had on a thick wool cardigan sweater that Georgie had dug up from somewhere. And he had a cat on what was left of his lap. That same scrawny calico he'd been feeding ice cream to that one time. The cat was cautiously accepting the affection. At the same time, John was feeding it nibbles of tuna.

"So, is that what you meant when you said you were a big fan of pussy?" I teased, stopping to wipe the water off my face and wring out the worst of the rain from my t-shirt. As I did that, I started planning to get a better rain jacket.

For once, John didn't snap at me like I expected. Nor did the cat bolt at the sight of me. Then I noticed something strange about the cat. It was definitely sleepy. About falling asleep in John's lap. It was very still, very quiet.

"Monica always said I was a dog person," he said, sadly. "I still think she was wrong. Never much saw the point to a dog. Can you tell Georgie that the plan is falling into place."

"What plan?"

"Drugging the cat. Sadie's nearly asleep. I feel bad to betray her like this, but it's for her own good. And for the good of the local songbird population. The world does not need another batch of kittens without a home. Georgie is going to take her in to get fixed and vaccinated"

For a minute, again, I loved him so badly it hurt. That he should feel regretful about duplicity of any kind, even the mild tricking of a near feral barn cat made me admire him. The gentle regard he showed to the sleeping, tiny cat body in his lap made me want to hold him, made me want him more than ever. Was this all love would ever be for me? This painful longing that rocked me to my soles and drained me out, making me feel hollow?

"I'll tell Georgie in a minute. There's something I want to ask you."

"Shoot."

"I heard from Walter that you're considering giving up Zippy and Fletch for adoption."

I'd been shocked when Walter had told me last night that John had even mentioned it, much less sounded so convinced about it. He thought he'd talked John out of it, but I wanted to make sure there was no doubt in John's mind.

"I was considering it. Two babies, one parent, no income. It's a bad combination, Mulder."

John lifted his hands from the cat. She remained still on his lap. He looked at his hands, as if wondering that there was truly nothing that he could do to change his situation. Like he felt helpless. He shrugged eventually and I wished more than ever that he loved me. That he could look at me and know for sure that he wouldn't have to go this alone. That I would always be there for him and his children. I could tell him that, but I didn't think he would believe me.

"John, you should know better by now. You aren't doing this alone and there's more than enough money to set you up for the rest of your life. You could live comfortably on that credit card I gave you. And you've got Georgie and me and Skinner. I don't know about the two of them, but I'm going to be mighty disappointed if I don't get to change some diapers."

I wonder if he would ever have any clue how much I loved kids, that I'd been craving a baby just as badly as Scully had when we made those attempts to get her pregnant. I was feeling my biological clock, that natural imperative to reproduce, again. It didn't matter that they weren't mine, I was impatient for the pair to leave their watery cradle, so I could hold them in my arms. I humbly hoped that he would let me take some part in raising them. Did he know? Would he truly believe me?

"You say that now, but it's a hell of a lot more than changing a few diapers. Are Georgie, Skinner and you going to help me nag them about their homework or be up worrying with me on the night of their first date? Or God, what if I have to bury one of them? Will you be there to have your heart ripped to shreds like that? Will you love them the rest of their lives, Mulder?"

I moved my hands towards his belly, but waited a received permission to put my cold hands on it, through the sweater of course. "John," I said, "I will love them for the rest of my life. I'll go tell Georgie that the Mickey Finn has worked on your cat."

"And get changed. You're soaked, you'll catch a chill," he said, reaching out to brush a seaweed like lock of hair that straggled over my forehead. I shivered and swallowed hard at this unexpected touch. He pulled his hand back as if he'd been burned. "And you could use a haircut."

It'd been a couple of months since I'd gotten one. I suppose he was right. My hair was all but dragging into my eyes. "Next time I go to town," I promised, wondering when exactly his good opinion had become so immensely important to me. I'd never once cared, not really, what Scully thought of my hair. It was just the stuff on top of my head. Sometimes I got lucky and found a barber who could make it lie perfectly. Other times, I got a hack job. But either way, it was just hair. Could love do that to you? I'd loved Scully, but my hair had never mattered to her.

Doggett:

He went inside and I kept expecting to hear Georgie scold him not to drip on her nice clean floors. A little while later, she came out with a cardboard box for the cat, already dressed in her rain slicker. We deposited Sadie's limp little body in the box and closed the lid carefully in case she came to on the way to the vet's.

"She'll be back tomorrow, John," Georgie said as she gave the feline a soft stroke just before we closed the lid. It was the first time anyone but me had touched the beast. "I know you're fond of her."

"More like she's fond of my food," I said gruffly, to cover my worry. And I wouldn't want anyone to think I loved a kitten. That's what Sadie still was, for all that she had kittens herself already.

Georgie loaded herself and the box into her big Ford pickup, then tried and failed to start it. It just failed to turn over. Sounded like the starter motor. Not a big fix at all. She tried a few times more. And a few more times. The Ford still didn't start.

"Jesus, Mary, Joseph!" she swore as she finally got out with the box. She sloshed through the rain back to the porch. "I guess I'm going to have to ask Fox if he'll drive us, then ask Teddy Foegle to bring his tow truck out."

"Georgie, you're not going to tow the truck for what's probably a simple fix," I said. I was almost looking forward to getting my hands a little greasy again. It'd take me less than half an hour, once I had the part, I was sure. Yes, a nice, pleasant thought, providing that we could roll the truck into one of the outbuildings, or at least get the hood part under cover. Having fixed a few cars in my day, out under a pouring sky, I can say with confidence that there's nothing to recommend it.

"I wouldn't, but with Wally gone. I hate to say it, but I don't know the first thing about cars," she said. Skinner had gone back to DC for a brief spell. I guess he'd finally managed to sell the condo in Crystal City and was needed at the closing. And he had a bit of other business to attend to.

"It sounds like the starter motor. If there's a parts store in town, just stop and get one. I'll pop it in for you, no fuss."

"John Jay Doggett!" she said. It was eerie just how much like my Ma she could sound at times. "I am not about to allow you mess around like a grease monkey in the state you're in. I don't think it's safe for you to be doing that. Besides, isn't your big, old belly going to get in the way?"

I hadn't even considered that. It was like that for me. I just did things like I always did, never considering that I might not be able to do some things any more or might have to do them differently. I wouldn't think about it until I came smack across one of these difficulties. Yeah, she was right. I probably wouldn't be able to reach into the engine compartment very well. "I can tell you how to do it, Georgie," I said. "It really is a simple fix. Actually, no, I've got a better idea. Mulder can do it."

She grudgingly agreed to my plan. "You wait out here," I told her. "I'll go get Mulder and tell him you need him to take you to town."

I went inside and up the stairs. I heard the definite sounds of the shower going. As I listened at the bathroom door, I could also definitely hear the sounds of someone in the final stages of masturbating in the shower, the faint, but unmistakable noises of moaning, audible just over the water. I listened, guiltily enjoying them, feeling myself be aroused in response. It wouldn't be long for him, I thought. And it wasn't. There was one, last groan and then just the sound of the water running.

After I heard the water shut off, I rapped loudly on the door. Mulder opened it, dressed in nothing but a towel. His nipples stood straight up in the cold air. He must have found some way to continue working out while he'd been gone for that month, because his torso showed definite signs of it. Yes, he was getting very defined. I could even see a well-defined six-pack. Nice. I tore myself away from my appraisal of his body and said, "Georgie's truck won't start. She needs you to run her into town."

"Okay. Tell her I'll be down as soon as I get dressed. A minute or two."

Hours later, they were back and we had the truck pulled halfway into a small pole-barn that was mainly used for storage. Georgie had made me promise to not actually touch anything under the hood at all and I'd mostly kept that promise. Mulder, instead, acted as my hands. Sort of.

This was possibly one of the most irritating situations I'd ever gotten myself into. Just getting the truck under cover had been ordeal enough for me, even with both Mulder and Georgie pushing the truck. Luckily the drive was well graveled so there wasn't much actual mud to splash around in.

Currently Mulder was not working on the car. He was ranting at me.

"There is a thing called money, John, of which I may remind you we are currently endowed with plenty. The thing to keep in mind about money is that it may be exchanged for goods and services," he said, bitterly. "This is a basic economic principle, somewhat on par with the idea that people act to best maximize their economic advantages. For two, three hundred dollars, we could have had the truck towed and the problem taken care of by a trained professional in town. That's exchanging money for a service. A trained professional could have had this part in a quarter of the time it's taken us so far."

"No, a trained professional could have had the part in place in a quarter of the time it's taken you to bitch about doing this. We're almost there. Shut up and fasten that wire there to the last remaining lead and we're good to go," I said. I'd taken us four or five times the amount of time it would have taken me to talk Mulder through doing it. He was a reluctant grease monkey. A very reluctant one. And though I knew he was a bit colorblind, I somehow hadn't thought it meant that he'd get the color coding on the truck's wiring wrong. He did as I said. "All done. Now, start it."

Mulder got out from under the hood. I wasn't going to ask how he got that smudge of oil on the tip of his nose, or maybe it was mud. It was kind of attractive, in an odd way though. He stepped around to the cab, climbed in, then started the truck. It rolled over beautifully, sounded gorgeous, just like silk. He closed the truck door and then carefully backed the truck out of the outbuilding. I followed.

The rain had dried up a couple of hours ago, and it was now night. Heavy clouds still covered the sky, but instead of glowing orange like they would have in the city, the sky was just dark and oppressive. The temperature was dropping from the just barely tolerable way it had been this afternoon to even lower. I was not looking forward to this winter, not in the slightest.

Mulder and I went into the house together. Georgie was talking on the phone to Skinner. "Okay, Wally, I'll be sure to let our friend know. You take care now and come home soon," she said. She listened a while then said, "You be sure to do that. Send me a postcard from Fiji or Bali."

After saying, "Love you too, Wally," she hung up. She set the phone down and turned to us. "Walter was just threatening to run away to the South Pacific and spend his days painting naked Polynesian ladies rather than come back to us. Look at you two, you're a mess. I heard the truck start. Thank you, sweetie." She swooped down on Mulder and kissed him on the cheek.

"Hey, share the wealth," he protested. "If it weren't for John, I'd still be out there, trying to find my ass with both my hands and failing."

Georgie gave me a look that scolded me for getting dirty at all, but she hugged me and said, "Thank you, sweetie. I just heard from Walt. Your estate has finally gotten out of the whole pile of legal complications it was in and has been settled. Your ex-wife is having an estate sale of your things this weekend. He wanted to know if there was anything in particular you wanted from your house. If there was, he'd try and buy it for you."

I thought long and hard about that. Most of the stuff in that house was just stuff, of no real significance. The stuff that was of significance, like pictures, especially ones of Luke, my Marine insignia and commendations, I couldn't imagine Barb selling. There was nothing there I needed or wanted, I concluded at last. Nothing that couldn't be replaced. Oddly, I couldn't bring myself to care that Barb would be getting everything. That was another time, another reality. It was as if my life had started from the moment Mulder got me out of that ship.

"You know, the only thing I really miss from my old life is my truck," I said finally. You know, I wasn't even sure if I'd take back my job with the Bureau, if it were offered to me again. The months of forcible leisure had sat surprisingly well on me and I had little, if any of the headaches and acid indigestion that had been my near constant companion on the X-files. With the stress gone, so were the symptoms caused by it.

The temperature continued to drop that night. The bottom fell right out of it, if you ask me. Yeah, I'd spent some years in New York, both the city and up in Syracuse, you think I would have gotten used to the cold then. But I was still a Southern boy at heart and my blood was just too thin for this. Hardly seemed logical that less than a month ago, I was running the fan in my window all day. But tonight, the windows shook and rattled in their frames as a northwest wind gusted. The weatherman had predicted a frost tonight.

I went to bed that night dressed not just in sweats but with that old sweater on as well, and a couple of extra blankets. I was still freezing. My hands, in particular, felt like blocks of ice and I just couldn't burrow deeply enough into my nest of blankets to make a difference. Midnight found me shivering and turning in my bed, which I suppose was a refreshing change from the usual kind of insomnia.

I crawled out of bed and wandered out into the hallway, wrapped in a blanket. I didn't see my breath, but dollars to doughnuts it sure seemed cold enough I should have been able to. Mulder's light was on and his door cracked open. He had a sweater on, but didn't seem overtly freezing. He had on a pair of little wire rimmed glasses and was reading through some file on a notebook computer. The glasses definitely added something to his look, made him look young, even more gorgeous than normal. True to his word, he had gotten a haircut in town. A good one, short and respectable, but leaving a little fringe across his forehead. He looked good, so good.

"It's freezing," I said, amazed that my teeth weren't chattering too much for me to speak. "You think the furnace isn't on or something?"

"It's on," Mulder said. "The house just isn't insulated very well and Skinner hasn't put the storm windows up yet. You're obviously a Southerner. This is hardly cold, just a bit nippy."

Says the native New Englander. I stared at him.

"You want one of my blankets?" he asked.

I stood there shivering for a while, looking at him. Finally, I broke down. "Look, do I gotta beg?" I asked. He just looked at me quizzically, waiting for me to continue. "Let me spell this out for you. I'm cold. I'm tired. My back hurts. I just found out my ex-wife is selling off my possessions at a fucking tag sale. I haven't been sleeping well lately. Did I mention that I'm cold?"

Mulder shut down his computer. He set it and his glasses aside. Then he turned down the blankets on his bed and crawled in, patting the mattress beside him as an invitation. I settled myself in beside him slowly. It was getting to be a bit of a procedure. No longer could I just throw myself at the mattress. No, now I had to lower myself to a sitting position, then let myself into a controlled fall onto my side. I could then scoot on my side into a more or less comfortable position. I rolled over so that I was facing Mulder as he pulled the blankets up over us.

Yeah, this was the right decision. He was hot, like a furnace. I started to thaw out, slowly. My hands were still icy though and they sought out the obvious source of warmth- Mulder. I slipped them up under his sweater without really thinking about it. He just about jumped right through the covers. "Jesus, John!" he said, pushing my hands away from his bare skin. "Did you stick those in the freezer first or something?"

"I told you I was cold."

"Okay. How about under the sweater, but over the t-shirt? Your hands are like ice," he said, rubbing one of my hands between his hands. He then lifted up his sweater and allowed me to stick my hands up there, not directly on his bare skin this time though. My feet kind of ended up getting tangled up with his. He kept moving his feet away from mine. Not, apparently from not wanting to play footsies or something, because he said, as he was reaching for the lamp to turn it off, "Your feet are icy too. I'll get you some wool socks next time I'm in town."

I laid there a little while, my feet entangled with his, my hands under his sweater, feeling his abs all but ripple every time he breathed. It occurred to me suddenly that maybe he hadn't totally bought the 'just friends' line. This was a situation far more intimate than most friends ever found themselves in. Once upon a time ago, I'd been married. And I'd had a wife who used to like to stick her cold feet on me to warm them up. I'm slow sometimes, but I think I was getting the hang of this.

"Mulder, can I ask you something?"

"Of course, John."

"You're a direct kind of guy, right?" I asked. Might as well be blunt. It wasn't like he could avoid realizing that we were in a compromising position here. "I mean, if you had feelings for someone, you'd let them know, wouldn't you? If you had thoughts about wanting to slip someone a little prick, you'd just go for it, right?"

He drew in a sharp breath. Shit. I'd hit some kind of target. Now, I had to wait for return fire to see just what I had hit. "No, John, I'd have to say that's not the case with me," he said. "Believe it or not, I've always waited for the other person to make the first move unless I'm drunk or my judgement is impaired in some other way. I'm sort of...shy. Believe it or not."

"That so?"

"Yeah."

"In that case," I said. At this moment, I didn't care that I was a big lump of ugly, that there was no way he could logically be attracted to me. Something about his breathing told me otherwise though. I was sure that if I reached down into his pants, I'd find that Mister Happy would be darn happy indeed. As for myself, lately I'd been needing just the slightest excuse to get hard and wet and well, this was more than a good enough excuse.

I snaked my hands around to the small of his back and pulled him as close as my big belly would allow him to get. Then I plastered a kiss right on his lips. He seemed shocked for all of about two seconds. Then he responded enthusiastically. More than that. He was like a starving man allowed in at a banquet. His hands found their way to my face and caressed my cheeks as we kissed for long minutes. It was everything I'd been fantasizing about and more.

"John? Are you sure?" he asked as he pushed me away for a moment. I used the break to stock up on oxygen again. I was intending to dive right back down into that mouth as soon as he stopped talking.

"Never been more sure. Just shut up and do me, Mulder."

"Fox. My lovers call me Fox," he said as his hands started to roam downwards. My belly was awkward. It got in the way. It was frustrating, because I couldn't grind my groin against him. Mulder pushed me flat against the bed. His mouth started travelling downward, covering every bit of exposed skin, my adam's apple, my chin. When he licked the bit of skin under my earlobe, right at my jawline, I shivered at the wet warmth and writhed with frustration. I needed more a more direct touch, that talented mouth on me where it would do the most good.

Meanwhile, I was trying to tug down his clothes and mine, get them out of the way and not succeeding very well. Finally, Mulder took some initiative. He pushed my hands to the side. He knelt on top of my legs and pulled my sweats down. Then he went down on me. He'd only just put his mouth around my cock when I was orgasming suddenly, over the edge. Though I was generally pretty good at stifling myself, this time, I cried out wordlessly as I came. It was a good job Georgie's room was on the ground floor. I wouldn't want to wake her.

"Well, one advantage to this change of yours is that I'm not burdened with that eternal question- spit or swallow," he said, pulling himself up until he was lying full length next to me. He held me and managed to pull the blankets up over us again at the same time. It was lovely, cozy and warm, being held by him. I was glad I took the chance and after a moment's rest, I'd be up for seeing what other kind of fun we could have together. I still wasn't quite satisfied.

"Mul- uh, Fox, you wouldn't do something so mean-spirited to a guy as spit, would you?"

"My first time I did. It was kind of a surprise, how much there was." he said, sheepishly.

My hands started roving, intending to reach for Mulder and give him at least a good hand job. His sweats were still up around his hips, given my earlier clumsy attempts to pull them off. The front of them was wet and his earlier erection was gone. He was soft again. "I made you come in your pants," I said, proudly. Just like he was some teenager. Score one for me.

"I'm sorry. I've wanted you for so long it was almost unavoidable," he said, pulling my hands off his body. He kissed the fingertips of both hands, just a nip of his lips on them, but so soft I hardly felt it. Then he said, "Goodnight, John. I'm going to change, I'll be right back."

Then the bastard tried to leave the bed, even though I reached for him to pull him back to me. Looked like I wouldn't be getting a second round after all. Still, it wouldn't hurt to try.

"What?" he asked, half in, half out of bed.

"We ain't done yet," I said, giving him a tug so that he fell entirely back into bed. Not like he struggled at all, mind you.

"But..." he started, but trailed off when I guided the hand I'd grabbed to my still hard erection. "Oh. No ejaculation, no refractory period, I guess. Multiple orgasms are quite attainable for you now I would imagine."

"You could say that," I said. Actually, more like it usually took a couple until the edge was worn off of my arousal.

Even though the room was mostly dark, I could still tell that Mulder was smiling. He rubbed his hand up and down my cock, stopping for a moment to lube me with spit. He kissed me tenderly as he jerked me off. They that a man who wants to make love to you when he has a hard-on is just expected, but that a man who wants to make love to you when he doesn't have a hard-on, that's truly flattering. It took me a little longer the second round, but when I was nearly there, gasping and making helpless little moans, he stopped kissing me and started talking.

"You're so beautiful," he told me. I found it hard to believe, but his voice was so sincere. So soft, almost a whisper. I came again, just as he said this. I shuddered and cried out. When I came back to myself, Fox was holding me tightly, nuzzling me. His hair was soft against my cheek and I was content to let it tickle me. I realized suddenly how lucky I'd gotten. That Mulder had turned out to be a thoughtful, considerate lover, more than I could have imagined. Having sex with a man had never been like this before. In fact, I don't think you could even say that I'd ever really cuddled with a guy afterwards before. Most of the time, I'd never even made it to the bed. But this was different, so different.

"Thank you," I whispered to Mulder. "Thank you."

"Believe me, the pleasure was all mine," he said.

This time, when he left the bed to change, I didn't stop him. His side of the mattress settled when he got in, then he was nestling up beside me, spooning into my back. By this time, I was already drifting off to sleep. When Mulder got back to the bed, he pulled me back together. I sleepily helped him tug my sweats back up and smooth my sweater back down. Then he spooned in behind me, pulling me close.

"Love you, Johnny," he whispered into my ear. "Can I call you that?"

Something about the sweetness of being cuddled on a cold, dark night and being told I was loved, it only seemed natural that he be allowed to call me something besides John. And Johnny was never a nickname of mine, had an older cousin who was called that. "Not Johnny. Jack," I mumbled, half asleep already. "Ma used to call me Jackie."

"Love you, Jackie," he said.

"Love you too," I murmured, even as I was hardly able to say anything. Sleep followed momentarily.

Mulder:

I slept surprisingly well, and a flawless blue sky greeted me as I looked out the window when I opened my eyes. The sun had already well started it's appointed round across the dome of the sky and I glanced over at the clock, stunned to have slept so late.

I'd had to look over a shoulder to see the window. Yes. John was still here in bed with me. I found myself wondering if last night had truly happened or if it was merely some particularly fevered dream of mine. Had John Doggett, the man who unapologetically murdered my name, pronouncing it Mul-dah, really asked me to call him Jackie? Said that he loved me too when I confessed my love to him? It hardly seemed probable. Or if it truly happened, that it would last. John started to stir and I wondered if he would wake with the heeby-jeebies and deny that what happened last night meant anything. That I would be, yet again, good for comfort, not anything else. And to my shame, I was sporting a particularly fine specimen of morning wood. If he was going to engage in the 'it was just one of those things' game, I didn't want to be showing such need.

Or maybe he wouldn't.

As he woke, John ground his hips back against mine, obviously feeling my hard-on with his ass. No, enjoying it. "Morning, Sunshine," he said finally. I looked over his shoulder and saw his grin. This was a man who looked like he'd won the lottery. No, he wouldn't be playing the 'let's pretend this never happened' game I decided. He said, "You want I should take care of this for you?"

He reached awkwardly behind his back and rubbed my hard-on through my sweats. Oh, yeah, that was good, even through the fabric. I moved his hand off my dick for the moment, just to give me some blood to send to the big head. I'd come in my pants last night, so crazy with need had I been. I didn't want something like that to happen again. I wanted to think about how this should go, how I could really show him a good time.

For this second time, we would take more time, I decided. Actually get undressed. Maybe engage in more than a few seconds of foreplay. And kiss. Yes, there should be lots of kissing involved. Unhurried hours of it. I thought back to our first kiss, last night. To the brash, domineering way he'd taken my mouth, the strong, yet smooth motions of his lips. There might be some things about him that were normally only associated with females, but kissing John Doggett was definitely kissing a man. No, I would never get tired of him ravaging my mouth.

"What's the rush, Jackie?" I said in my most charming voice. He rolled over onto his back and I started to kiss the fingertips of the hand I was still holding. He smiled at me, the warmth lighting up those gorgeous blue eyes of his and I was assured that last night was no aberration, that he wanted this here in the daylight and not just not in the night when he was cold, scared and needy. I planted a kiss right in the center of his palm and he started to melt, squirming at my touch. He closed his eyes.

"Georgie," he said, opening them when I let go of his hand. "She's going to wonder why we're in bed so late if we don't get moving soon."

I chuckled a little. "After the noise you made last night, I don't think she's going to be bothering us this morning."

"You don't really think Georgie heard me, did you?" John said. He sounded mortified. It was kind of cute and almost funny, the modesty complex John had about Georgie, like she was his mother. No, like she was his big sister too.

I wondered, was the sister that he'd wanted me to look up, was she John's big sister? Would my own life have been different if Sam had been my big sister and not my little one? If I hadn't been the big brother in the position of being the one to watch over her. If she had been babysitting me the night of her abduction, and not the other way around. Would I have been so obsessed, so driven to find her? Would I have pursued the X-files to the point of mindless obsession?

John noticed my sudden quiet as I pursued this thought stream. "Mulder? Earth to Mulder. Come in Mulder. Do you read me?"

"Affirmative, Houston," I answered back. I tried to cover my momentary melancholy by stealing a kiss.

Alas, it's impossible to steal something from someone quite willing to give it to you. And it was sweet, and passionate. I was beginning to find out just how passionate John was. He was fire to my airy intellectualism, a demanding force to my receptivity.

But when I reclaimed my lips for my own again, he asked, "What were you thinking?"

"About family and responsibility," I said. Honest, but not entirely the truth.

"What about family and responsibility?"

Of course he wouldn't be willing to just let it rest. I wrapped my arms around him and started to talk, my head cradled on his shoulder.

"It's kind of a staggering thing, isn't it?" I said. "How much it can demand from you. It's more than a compelling biological imperative. You've heard about my little sister Sam, haven't you? I was babysitting her the night she was abducted. It shaped my whole life, became the touchpoint to an obsession. Because of the responsibility I had for her that night."

"I've been through it before," John said. "And that makes it even scarier. Knowing how easy it could be to totally screw it up. Things could have been so different. I could have taken the day off. I was a workaholic. Barb was always after me to take some time off and I thought about calling off that day, but I didn't. If I'd been there, I'd probably have ridden around the block with him, instead of Barb just watching him from the porch. If I'd been there, I could have done something. He wouldn't have been grabbed."

John shuddered occasionally as he spoke about his son, Luke, but the words were calm, though still sad sounding, the words of a man who had experienced much, but is starting to heal. I understood, I thought. I struggled so long with thinking that it might have different somehow, that there was something I could have done.

"It will different this time," I promised him, stroking his round belly through the shirt he was still wearing. "We can't waste the time we have thinking about what might have been."

"Fox," he said, putting his hand on top of mine, on top of his belly. I could feel a delicate fluttering. The babies' motions had been getting stronger and stronger, until they were definite kicks. But now it was just a soft reminder of their presence. "I gotta know. Are you in this with me for the long haul? Are we going to be a family?"

"Well, you and me and babies make four doesn't really have a poetic ring to it, but I'd have to say that, yes, if you'll have me, I'll hang on you like a cheap suit for the rest of our lives. So, when's the wedding?"

He got a funny, screwed up look on his face, like he was going to laugh. Then he snorted.

"What?"

"I could wear white," he said, then snorted again. "I'm. You know. Qualified still. A virgin."

"I thought Dr. Abbott was going to take care of that for you?"

I could think of one simple cure for the virginity John still possessed, at least in the one sense. But I wasn't about to go knocking on that door until I got a clear invitation.

"He was. He had to cut that appointment short because one of his other patients went into labor. I still have a hymen."

I wondered again at the alien technology that had wrought a transformation on the man so complete that they included not just altering his pelvic bone so that it was wide enough to allow for childbirth, but giving him a hymen. I wondered if the change went chromosome deep, but with the gunmen gone, there was no way to conduct genetic tests through secret channels. At least not at the moment. I was looking into opening some new channels with some new allies I'd found on my last trip

"You could have it, you know. If you wanted it. My cherry."

There was something both earnest, but scared sounding in his voice as he offered me his virginity. You know, I'm not sure how we would work it in his present condition, with his belly getting in the way, but somehow, I'd always figured that if there were any fucking involved, he'd be doing me. I'd love to have him fuck me, certainly. I'd fantasized about it for months now.

Now that I'd got a closer look at him without having to be careful that it didn't appear I was staring too long, I'd say he had at least an average-sized penis, that it hadn't been shrunk probably. His testes were about average-size as well, though it seemed that all the time they rode up closer to the body than normal, tucked against his abdomen. Probably for all but missionary position, they'd be mostly out of the way. Yes, thinking about penetrating him certainly made me hard.

"You know," I said, unable to stop myself from smiling. "I'm flattered, but I'm finding it hard to imagine someone who's so obviously in the family way a virgin."

"Jeez. I thought you were a believer, Fox. If you're a woman in Palestine two thousand years ago, I guess they take your story at face value and start a religion around you. But if you're a guy in the present day, nobody believes you when you say you're a virgin with child."

I had a sudden, sobering thought. "I do believe you, Jackie. And I'm glad you've still got your original good housekeeping seal of approval, so to speak. It means that Zippy and Fletch were almost certainly conceived in a lab, rather than in vivo without your consent, during those months of time you lost. The implantation might have been without your consent, but at least they didn't seem to accomplish it with overt violence."

He literally paled at what I said, and I was momentarily sorry I'd said it. It was hard, sometimes, for me to keep my mouth shut. I say things impulsively. Maybe it hadn't quite occurred to John so vividly that his children were the product of a kind of rape, and that he very well might have been raped in the actual sense. Had the hymen been left in place to assure him that he hadn't been? He certainly didn't need that kind of trauma in addition to everything else. John seemed to have made an amazing adjustment to his reality. It spoke of a resilience that I could only envy. But the fact remained that his equilibrium was still at a delicate balance point.

Clenching at my wrists so hard it hurt, John spoke, his voice low, but full of repressed fury, with an occasional catch in his throat. "Don't you ever again suggest to me, or anyone else, especially not the tadpoles, that they are the product of rape. Do you understand me? Maybe I don't remember how they came to be here. Maybe something bad happened. I don't know. I don't remember any of it. I didn't make a decision to get pregnant. But damn you, I made the decision to continue to be pregnant, and that's the only one that matters. I am consenting to having these children. I am choosing to be their father. Do you understand me?"

"I'm sorry, John, I spoke without thinking," I said. He released my hands. He was not a violent man by his nature. No, though he had a temper that ran high sometimes, he was a man of intense gentleness. I reached out to him. I caressed the side of his face first, then ran my hand down his neck, to his chest, then finally rested it on top of his belly. "You're right. Their origin is irrelevant. They'll be beautiful babies and beautiful children and that's all that matters."

I lifted myself up so I was kneeling over his belly and I kissed it gently. There was an answering kick to my touch and I laid my cheek on John so I could feel the babies better. I'd wanted to do something like this for months now, but had always been afraid that John wouldn't let me. Until he had accepted his pregnancy, he hadn't even allowed people to put hands on his belly at all. Now though, he ran his fingers through my hair and said, "Damn straight they'll be beautiful babies. Our beautiful girls."

"We didn't get a good look at the other one. Fletch might well be a boy," I said. It seemed we'd gotten sidetracked from the possibility of making love again this morning, but that was okay. This was almost better, this cuddling and talking, hashing out issues that had to be hashed out eventually anyway. There would be plenty of time for sex later. Now though, it seemed important to have this time to just hold each other, to strengthen these emotional bonds that we'd been tentatively building all along.

"Nah. Fletch is a girl. I'm sure of it," he said.

"How so?" I asked.

"I don't know. I just am," he said. He sounded perhaps a little confused to be confessing to something so illogical. This was, after all, a man who wouldn't testify that a stop sign was red unless he'd seen the exact stop sign in question. "I got a boy's name picked out just in case, but I doubt we'll be using it. John Wallace after my dad."

"Have you decided on girls' names then?" I asked. John Wallace sounded like grand name for a boy. I hoped it went along with the last name Walter was deciding on as he set up John's new identity. I know Walter was working on it, but he'd refused to give me any details.

"I can't decide. Either Gracie and Garnet after my grandmothers. Or Dana and Monica. After..."

Immediately, Monica and Scully appeared. "Aww, that's so sweet," Monica said. "John's wants to name one of them after me."

Scully made a face. "You know, I always liked Scully a lot better than Dana."

No wonder she'd put up with me calling her Scully all those years. Another woman probably would have strangled me with my own necktie calling her by her last name as close as we were. That was my Scully. I never really could think of her as a Dana. It wasn't a name that was strong enough for her. It didn't seem really to contain her magnificence, her uniqueness.

"I think he really wants to call them after his grandmothers though," Monica said. "Mulder, you should tell him that he doesn't have to name one of them after me."

"And definitely he shouldn't call the other one Dana."

How was I supposed to talk to them and to him at the same time? When he was going to give me crap about admitting that I talked to the dead. Well, I suppose, he was just going to have to learn to deal with this aspect of me.

"Jackie, Monica says it's sweet, but you don't have to name your daughter after her. And Scully says she'd prefer that you didn't name the other one Dana. She always liked Scully better."

He looked at me like he thought I was crazy. He didn't tell me that though. He just said, "There is no way in hell I'm calling a daughter of mine Scully."

"As a middle name, maybe? It is an old tradition to give girls a family surname for a middle name."

"Grace Scully or Garnet Scully?" he mused.

"Grace Monica and Garnet Scully," I said. "What do you think?"

Scully nodded, satisfied. Monica smiled as well, then they both disappeared. John seemed satisfied and he said, "Okay, call it a tentative plan. Grace Monica and either Garnet Scully or John Wallace. I'm sure it's a girl though. So, now that's settled, why don't we get back to the matter at hand."

He reached over and kissed me, then started massaging my cock through my sweats. Though my erection had flagged with waiting, it sprang right back to attention again. Oh, yeah. That subject. One I didn't think I could ever tire of, not with my new lover.

Doggett:

Two days after the night Fox Mulder became my lover, Walter Skinner returned home to Iowa, and, for a little while at least, all hell broke loose.

His return home went smoothly enough at first. We were all glad to see him, and even though it was raining again, when he and Georgie pulled into the driveway, both Mulder and I went out to the porch to greet him.

He was tired, as you'd expect, from a day of travel, but also, as you'd expect, he wouldn't let me help with the unloading of his luggage from the truck. I'd have to talk with him about that sometime. Just because I was pregnant didn't mean he had to treat me like I was a lady or something. I recognized the behavior. I might have been nearly ten years younger than him, and many men my age weren't raised that way, for instance, Mulder. But I was from the South, so that added to my own atavistic tendencies. Skinner was definitely treating me like a gentleman treated a lady. He even held doors open for me. If he did something like that again, I was definitely going to have to snarl at him and prove for once and for all that I was no lady.

There was one, big flat cardboard box that I noticed especially among the other boxes he brought with him. He'd brought a bunch. I guess he had a storage unit in DC that he'd cleaned out as well as bringing the last few things that had been in his condo.

"I know Georgie said you didn't really want anything from your house, but I brought a few things for you anyway," Walter told me, setting the big box at my feet. "I saw this sitting lonely at the estate sale. In the house. I figured that a bicycle kept in the house when a garage is available is one that's cared about or ridden a lot."

I was speechless. Walter had bought my bicycle for me. I'd figured it was a lost cause to wish for it. No way I could ride it anytime soon, but someday I'd be back in the saddle. Then, Walter brought me another box. In the box was a trainer. A high quality fluid trainer. It would turn my bicycle into a stationary bike by hooking up to the bike's back wheel, providing resistance and stability. "You were complaining that you weren't getting enough exercise because you didn't like leaving the house to go walking. I thought this might help."

"Thanks, Walter," I said, touched by his thoughtfulness again.

There was a lot of fussing and so forth as all of Walter's things were brought into the house. Then, having sent Mulder off on some errand with Georgie to get him out of our hair, Walter unpacked my bike from the airline box, and put it back together again. While he worked on the bike, I read the instructions for the trainer. I'd want to set it at a nice, easy resistance. The OB had been quite clear- easy, light exercise only. A stationary bike would be ideal, I was sure, but probably it wouldn't be a good idea to do hill training intervals or gear up for a century ride.

"I had the bike shop that packed your bike adjust the stem so that your handlebars are as high as they'll go," Walter said as he tightened the nut that held them in place. "I figure it'll be a while before you go down to the drops again anyway."

Once he was finished, I tried it out. Even adjusted high, I couldn't use the handlebars at all. I had to sit straight up, balanced on the saddle, no hands. Even so, it felt good to do a little riding and remember, earlier, happier days. The bike had been with me for years. I'd had it even before I'd gotten married. I stopped though, when Skinner came back into the room with another cardboard box of things. He opened it and started handing things to me. I recognized my own things immediately. It was interesting to see the assortment of things Skinner had picked out, thinking they might have been significant to me in some way. There were several books, including that big picture book about the Marines I'd used to keep on my coffee table.

Walter pulled a couple of ties from the box, a handful of muted silk, mostly blue and red. I guess it made sense to have picked them out, out of all my clothing. They were small and easily packed. Too bad I couldn't imagine wearing them ever again. I hated the monkey suits I had to wear for work, and now that I was well shut of the Bureau, I was never going to wear a suit again if I could help it, so help me God.

"I remembered you wearing these more than any of the others," Skinner said. Then he got out my can opener. "I know you hate the one Georgie likes. I've noticed people sometimes get strange, personal attachments to their particular style of can opener."

It was an old can opener, again, something that predated my marriage, just an old, mechanical one I'd picked up at a garage sale years and years ago. Barb insisted on an electric one, but I'd stubbornly kept this one and used it. I smiled at seeing this old friend, so to speak. I suddenly thought it odd that Skinner noticed so many of these small things about me. But he'd been a good agent. That attention to detail is what had gotten him promoted in the Bureau.

Then he put a handful of pictures into my hands. Just snapshots, but I could have cried with gratitude. I looked through them. A couple of ones of old Marine buddies were there. A candid snapshot from my wedding, of me in the penguin suit dancing with my sister, both of us looking like we were about three sheets to the wind. And most importantly. Oh, God. A snapshot of me and Luke at the beach. He must have been about six at the time. I did have to brush away a few tears at that. I'd thought I might never get a chance to even see a picture of Luke again.

"Your ex-wife allowed me to come over before the actual sale, because I said I'd been a friend of yours. She was just packing up your photo albums. She got distracted by a call from a realtor, so I stole them," Skinner explained. That was a real risk he'd taken for me. Barb was sharp. She didn't miss much. "I'm sorry they're a little random. I didn't have much time. I just had to grab."

I didn't care. He couldn't have done better if I'd told him the exact ones I wanted. I could hardly speak and just clutched them in my hands, looking at them over and over again until it was dinner time.

After dinner, Walter sat me down at the kitchen table. He got out a big manila envelope and dumped out a big assortment of the various kinds of documentation that make up a person's official existence, as far as the government was concerned. There were both a driver's license and passport among them and before I could reach out and pick one of them up to look, Walter took the passport, opened it up, showed me that my picture was in it. Where the heck had he found the photo? Maybe he was still in good with someone in personnel at the Bureau and was he able to get it out of my file? He started talking. "This is about as good a false identity as you're going to get, John. It's not entirely bomb-proof. A professional with real talent could dig in deeply enough and find it's false. I don't think you'd want to risk the kind of background check you'd face if you wanted to work for the police again. And you won't be able to use it around here, but I imagine once the babies are born, you'll want to be moving on anyway. It should do for just about anything else. Birth certificate."

He pushed a green slip of paper at me and spoke as he did. "Jasper Ivan Skinner, born December 12, 1961, Harlan, Iowa. Known to friends and family as Jack. Parents Anna and Florian Skinner, long time residents of Harlan. You were a mid-life surprise to your parents. Your living siblings are older by about ten years. Education, graduated public high school in Harlan, 1978."

One of those official looking certificate books was pushed at me, the kind they put diplomas in. I opened it up and sure enough, it was a high school diploma. It, like the birth certificate, looked genuine and old, like the paper of the vintage that the documentation. Oh, God. I suddenly realized what he'd done. He'd given me the identity of the younger, now dead, sibling that Georgeann had mentioned. It would be so good because there were two people willing to swear that I was their sibling, should anyone ask.

Skinner continued talking as he pushed an envelope at me. "A transcript. From Iowa State University. You were a smart boy, you did well. A 3.75 out of 4 GPA, with a declared major in Math. But in 1980 you withdrew, to return home and work on your uncle's farm, because he passed away and you were needed," he said. At this point, his voice got a little strained, but he continued, "At this point, we have to get a little creative, because the real Jasper Ivan Skinner died in a car crash not far from here in January of 1981. I've set the paper trail up so that for most of the eighties and nineties, you worked as a farmhand for my aunt. Your official address for that period is this one. Your pay was mainly room and board, but you were given some money and managed to save most of it."

He pushed a battered passbook for a savings account at me. This one was more obviously faked. It was from a local bank. I wondered how he'd pulled that one off. It showed regular deposits that varied from several hundred to just a couple of hundred dollars. Still, the amount added up to a nice little nest egg. The deposits stopped in late 2001.

"In early 2002, the aunt who owned the farm you were working died. The terms of her will divided the property equally between her husband's brother's three living children," he pushed another stack of papers at me. I looked at them. It was the supposedly last will and testament of one Roselle Wilder Skinner. It was also fake. It had to be. I knew that Walter was the sole heir. Georgie had told me. I was going to say something, tell him I couldn't let him give me a third of his inheritance, or any of this, but he said, "Don't protest, John. Georgeann and I discussed this at length. I'd have done something about getting her a share no matter what. Don't think of it as a gift for you, if that helps. It's a gift from Georgeann and I to your children. Something to help you get a good start at a life for them. We'll be selling the property in the spring.

"I thought long and hard about this. I thought especially about the wisdom of making your identity be someone so closely related to me, in case I was being watched still. I decided that it didn't matter, that if they're watching me, they know where you are now and that if they wanted you, nothing would stop them from taking you back. They have their fingers everywhere. I decided it's more important you have an identity that couldn't be exposed as a fake by a casual investigator. Oh, and the death certificate has disappeared from the county courthouse. The only record of Jasper's death is in a newspaper that shut down it's presses long ago. The local library doesn't even have a copy anymore."

Walter really had gone to significant lengths to set up this identity. I wondered if he knew someone in the county clerk's office. I tried on the idea that I was now Jack Skinner, Walter and Georgeann's baby brother. It was a good last name for a guy, sounding vaguely dangerous, but I wasn't sure I liked it with the names I'd picked out for the girls. Gracie Skinner?

I thought about what he said, that they knew where I was, that they were just letting me go. Was I a bug in their cobweb, ignored for the moment, but in the end, unable to escape their clutches? Just a toy, not worthy of being played with at the moment, shoved to the bottom of their toy box? I was scared, suddenly, that like Scully, they would come for me when I was giving birth, threaten me. I didn't care about my own life, but they'd have to harm my children over my cold, dead body. Suddenly, I was crying again. Damn tears. Damn hormones. It took so little to set me off some days, and this was no little thing. Walter looked uncomfortable. He petted my hand, then dug a clean, white handkerchief out of a pocket and handed it to me. I wiped my face and managed to blurt out, "Thank you, Walter. I don't believe it. But thank you."

"It's the least I could do," he said, gruffly. Then he scooped my new identity back into its manila envelope and handed it to me.

Now that Skinner was back, I tried to keep it down when I had sex with Fox, but he must have heard us. He must have figured it out. Not that Fox and I really changed any of our behaviors out of the bed. I wasn't about to become physically demonstrative with another guy, at least not around Skinner. We didn't cuddle in front of him. Even though I tried to change, I still called Fox by Mulder most of the time, just out of habit. Still, Skinner knew. I found out for sure he knew about a week after he returned home.

Georgie sent me out to track down Fox and Skinner for dinner. They were in Skinner's little boys' club hangout. The weather had turned mild again briefly and they had the door propped open for air. I paused at the door because I could hear them talking about me.

"Just what are your intentions with John, Mulder?" Skinner was asking. He was using his best AD voice, leftover from work. The one that demanded answers and got them, and promptly too. Though from what I'd seen, it never worked on Mulder before and didn't seem to be working now.

"I love him, Walter," Mulder said. Out of everyone from back at the Bureau, Mulder alone had never seemed phased by Skinner and the whole AD routine. "And through some miracle, it seems that he loves me back. My intentions are whatever he thinks is best for him and his children. That seems to include me in the equation."

"I think you need to back off. He's bound to be confused, sexually speaking, after what's happened to him. His change probably affects his orientation somewhat, but he needs to get that sorted out on his own. He's in a vulnerable place right now. You need to respect that space. Something terrible has happened to him and changed all the rules."

That really tears it, I'd thought. I just about exploded. Time, I decided, for Walter and I finally to get down to brass tacks and just have this out, for once and for all. If I heard once more that these babies were 'something terrible' or anything like that, I was going to kill someone. I was scared as hell of the delivery I was going to have to go through and of what could happen to them as they grew. But otherwise, this was just about the best thing that ever happened to me. And Fox was part of that.

Screw it. Forget about being discreet around Walter. I walked right in. Strode up to Fox. Planted a big kiss right on his lips as Walter gaped. I said, "Hey, Fox. Georgie says dinner is ready. Tell her Wally and I will be a few minutes. I got something to say to him."

When Fox had retreated, obviously recognizing the signs of me about to go on a tear and smart enough to duck for cover, I said to Skinner, "Retirement obviously doesn't agree with you, Wally."

"Why do you say that?"

"Because you're so bored, you got time to be stickin' your nose into things it don't belong in. Like Fox and me. None of your damn business if I'm getting it on with him. Got that? And I'm no more confused about my sexual identity than you," I said. I poked a finger right into his chest. "And furthermore, just because I have a cunt now, doesn't mean I didn't like sucking dick all along."

He winced at my crudity. So what about his poor, delicate sensibilities. I continued. I was on a roll.

"And furthermore, just because I have a cunt, doesn't mean I'm some kind of woman. If you don't stop treating me like I'm some delicate flower of a lady, I'm going to haul off and beat the crap outta you. Got that? I'm a guy. A man. That didn't change. Let me paint a picture for you. I like trucks, and I miss drinkin' beer and I don't cry at Hallmark commercials and I don't talk about my feelings. Unless I'm really fucking angry, which I am right now. I'm a guy. That clear?"

I thought he might have some snappy comeback. He was always thought fast on his feet. Instead, he just nodded mutely. It seemed, for the moment, I'd gotten the best of him.

"And lastly," I continued, feeling the wonderful power of self-righteous wrath. Yeah, it felt great telling Walt off like this. I grabbed his hands and put them right on my big belly, forced him to keep them there when he wanted to tear them away. He'd never touched me, there, not once out of curiosity. "This pregnancy is not some terrible thing. Got that? It's the most frightening, terrifying, miraculous, wonderful thing that's ever happened to me. You feel them moving, Walter? That's my daughters in there. Or, if you believe Mulder, my daughter and my son. Maybe all kinds of crazy things had to happen to me to bring them into existence, but I don't care about that now. This isn't a terrible thing. It's babies on the way."

I'd never verbalized these feelings exactly before, but as I spoke the words in anger, I knew that it couldn't be more true. Yes, I was frightened, but I found that as I faced my fears, each and every day, my heart seemed to grow a little. That once I opened my heart to feeling love for these babies, that the fountain of passion and compassion for them seemed more and more to be a surging river. That I had stumbled into a miracle, one that left me in awe. And my protectiveness seemed to grow with each passing day too. That anything should harm these children was unthinkable, even the stigma of being a "terrible thing that happened" or as Mulder implied, the product of a rape. No, everyone around me was going to be quite clear that these were probably the most wanted children around. I might not have felt that way at first, but it was inarguably the way it was now.

"And you're their uncle, Walter. You had to be thinking that when you set me up with the papers saying you're my brother. That means you and Georgie are their guardians, should something happen to me. That means you gotta accept them and me just the way we are."

"I'm sorry, John," Skinner said. He still hadn't taken his hands off my big old belly, even though I'd since stopped holding them there. "I've just been trying to do what seems to be best for you."

"Well, I'm a grownup, Walter. A grown man. Time you trusted me to know what's best for me."

"You don't know Mulder like I do, John. He can be a bit much sometimes. He's brilliant. He's one of the bravest people I know. But he's not the sort of man a smart person would settle down and raise a family with."

"I don't always do the smart thing, Walter," I said. I thought, but didn't say that Mulder might have been a bit much, but he was also sweet, strong and tender, that I could easily see him as the other parent to my children. That I'd seen him a couple times with William and I knew that Mulder had it in him to be a great father. "And you're just going to have to accept that he's going to be your brother-in-law."

"You love him?" Walter asked, shaking his head. I suddenly got the impression that I wasn't the only one that Walt was concerned about protecting here. I knew that Walter had always shown concern for Mulder that went above and beyond that which you'd show to a subordinate. Even beyond that which you'd show a friend. Walter had done things to protect Mulder and Scully that maybe he shouldn't have done.

"I do," I said. "And I know when I got a good thing going. I don't think there's anyone else out there that would put up with me."

"Good. C'mon, Georgie'll have our scalps if we make them wait for supper an instant longer."

Mulder:

I was astonishingly, miraculously happy for once in my life. Every time I looked at John, it was as if my heart had wings. It was too bad that I could see no way around leaving him again, just for another couple of weeks. But I wanted to make contact with a few people and I didn't think I could safely do that from the farmhouse. John was going to kill me when he found I was leaving again. I kept putting off telling him.

Things seemed to have boiled to a head, then settled down between John and Walter. I don't know what John said to him, but suddenly Walter looked at him with a respect and near wariness that had been missing ever since John and I had arrived at the farm. Walter still opened doors for John, but John made the point of opening them for Walter whenever he got a chance to do so. And I had seen them talking occasionally over the past couple of days. And once, I had walked in Walter's shed to find John there. Walter was building a rocking chair to match the cradles he'd made. John was hand sanding it as Walter tended to the fire in the little wood burning that heated the shed. They were actually talking too, discussing different cities in the Midwest. Skinner kept trying to sell John on one or the other. I guess they were starting to discuss where to settle John down after the babies were born and the farm was sold. I kept out of the discussion. I pretty much figured I would just follow wherever John decided on. It wasn't exactly as if my career was in the way or something.

Today I was returning from an afternoon run. It was nearly dark as I turned into the driveway. The mid-October day had been crisp and it was chilly already. When I was nearly to the house, a car pulled into the drive. I looked. It was Dr. Abbott's. I rushed into the house, to find John in the kitchen, tending a pot on the stove. Walter was in the kitchen too, peeling apples. Georgie wasn't in sight.

"Are you okay, John?" I asked, concerned. "You didn't mention that Dr. Abbott was coming. He pulled up into the drive."

"I'm fine. I'm not supposed to see him until next week," John said, looking concerned and puzzled.

Walter meanwhile, had gone into the living room. I could hear him call to Georgie, whose room was off that room. "Georgie, Bob's here," he said.

"Tell him I'll be out in a minute," Georgie said.

As Walter walked back into the kitchen, the dots suddenly connected into the picture. The two of them were going out on a date. John made the trip from a to b to c too and said, "Oh, no! She is not going out with my OB. Uh-uh. Can't you say something, Walter?"

Walter muttered under his breath, "Like I could ever tell Georgie anything." Then he went to answer the knock at the door.

Georgie appeared. She was dressed to the nines. Never thought I'd see her in a dress. I didn't think she owned a dress. It was red knit fabric and flattered her, making her look lush and female without being overly feminine. She wore flats. I guess her concession to being so tall, especially considering her date for the evening was shorter than her by about five inches. She addressed herself to John, "I hope you don't mind, sweetie. I thought about it a lot and I couldn't see the harm and who else could I bring here without giving away your secret."

Dr. Abbott walked in. He addressed himself to Georgie first, "Georgeann, you look radiant tonight."

"Why, thank you, Robert. I think you have to promise my boys here that you'll have me home before midnight turns me into a pumpkin," she said.

He was different tonight. I guess the asshole routine was strictly his professional guise or something. Or maybe this was some veneer of charm he was putting on to impress Georgie. He actually smiled at her and the rest of us. Then he turned to John, and said, "Mr. Doggett, you're looking well. Is everything going well?"

"Just fine," John said, looking up from his cooking again for the moment. He sniffed the air from over the pot. I'd have said that if anyone here looked radiant tonight, it would be John. He was looking so good these days. He'd gained back to his pre-abduction weight and then some, even managing to get back some muscle. His haircut was an at home job, done by Georgie, but his hair seemed to be thicker than it used to be. He smiled a lot and it was sweet to catch him talking to Zippy and Fletch when he thought people weren't looking. He pointed the wooden spoon he'd been stirring with at Dr. Abbott and said, "You show Georgie a good time tonight."

I heard the "or else" that he implied, but had left off. I wondered if someone ought to have warned Abbott that there were three ex-Federal agents in the room who would hunt him down if he harmed so much as a fingernail of this woman we all cared so much about.

"She asked to go out dancing, and what the lady wants, she gets," Abbott said smoothly. I decided that this good behavior wasn't the veneer, that he could be a decent person. I wondered how he'd decided to ask Georgie out. The few times I'd seen them interacting, it'd been like cats and dogs. Perhaps it was one of those situations where there was so much sparking there, they were bound to like each other, opposites attracting. In a few minutes, with a few more promises from Abbott that he'd treat our Georgie well, they were gone for the evening.

After they left, John turned to Walter and demanded, "You knew. You could've stopped her. You could've said something at least."

"Last I checked, she was an adult woman, Jack. He's an adult man. Neither of them are married. She's not his patient. And if there's one thing Georgie knows, it's her own mind. I couldn't think of a single, logical objection."

Instead of answering Walter back, John just sulked. Eventually we ate the dinner that John and Walter had produced, beef stroganoff with noodles, baked acorn squash from the widow Amundson's garden and fried apples. John continued to be mulish through dinner though, and especially afterwards, cleaning up, he threw pots around in the sink and slamming cabinets, muttering under his breath when I was far enough away that I couldn't hear what he was saying. Once Walter had completed the minimum amount of chores he could get away with, he wisely retreated to his workshop leaving me to deal with my lover and his bad mood alone. I almost shouted, "Coward!" at Walter as he slunk away through the kitchen door. Instead, I just smiled at my lover and prepared for him to possibly throw something at me.

"What's wrong, Jackie?" I said. Actually, I had a working theory going as to his problem, but I wanted to hear what he perceived the problem to be before I put any plans into action.

"If you don't know, I'm not going to tell you," he snapped.

"Hey, Prince Charming, you need to talk to me. Communicate. I've been a mind-reader before, and it wasn't pleasant, not in the slightest. And at the moment, I'm no Gibson Praise," I said, as soothingly as I could. I walked up behind him and took his hands out of the dishwater. First I reached for the dishtowel and dried his hands off, then I laid my chin on his shoulder. We were about the same height, so I had to slouch a tiny bit to do this. "Now, tell me, so I can see if there's something I can do about it."

"Nothing you can fucking do about it. I'm trapped in this fucking house until December at least, nothing you or anyone can do about that. Everyone in this fucking house can go out into the world but me. I'm trapped here. You know, the sad thing is I'm almost looking to my appointment with that asshole, even though I know at some point he's going to have his fingers up my cunt, just because it's the only time I get out of the house. Can you even understand? And then Georgie gets to go out dancing with that asshole. God, I'd love to go dancing."

I'd been afraid he was going to start crying again, but he didn't. We'd had this discussion before, a couple of times actually and though I was willing to take him out into the world, to someplace big, like Omaha or Des Moines, in the end he wouldn't go. With a heavy jacket on, he might pass as just having a huge gut, or at least he would have earlier. He was so obviously pregnant, with his weight centered so completely in his belly, the rest of him so lean. He'd always decided he didn't want to take the risk of discovery.

"You want to go dancing, I'll take you dancing," I promised him. "What kind of dancing do you like?"

I hoped he was just gripping and not going to take me up on my promise. I could only dance the old ballroom dances, the waltz, the foxtrot, from forced lessons for country club dances when I was kid, the legacy of having been born into a family with money. Anything else I felt awkward and gangly trying to dance.

"It'd probably be a waste of time, takin' me out. I'd probably get tired after just a couple of dances. My feet hurt anyway. I just want to dance something nice and slow," he said, leaning back on me.

"I have an idea," I said. I took his hand and led him out to the living room. I shoved the coffee table out of the way, then dug through my small pile of CDs, until I found the one I was looking for. Yes, that was the one. I put it into the player and flipped through the tracks until I found the right one. The soothing, velvet voice of the one and only Elvis Presley filled the room. I took John's hand and crooned along with the King, even though I sounded more like a strangled chicken. Still, it's the thought that counts.

"'Wise men say, only fools rush in, but I can't help falling in love with you,'" I sang, as we slow danced across the small area open in the living room. The world seemed to shrink for the moment to just this room, to just the few square feet around us. We stared at each other as we danced. His blue eyes seemed deep, like oceans. I realized suddenly that I'd let him take the lead and that it didn't bother me at all. He was leading us in something that was sort of like a waltz. His big belly meant we couldn't dance very close, but I squished up against him as best I could. Zippy and Fletch provided their own counterpoint to the rhythm. "'Take my hand, take my whole life too, 'cause I can't help falling in love with you.'"

When the song was over, the next track was the classic, "You ain't nothing but a hound dog."

I let go of John to turn it off and as I turned back to him, he smiled at me and said, "Tonight."

I wasn't sure what he meant, but I was so glad that I'd made him happy. "What?"

"Tonight. You. Me. The big I," he said, snuggling up to me. We'd figured out a couple of positions for snuggling where his belly didn't get in the way. Right now he was standing to my side, arms awkwardly wrapped around me, but still leaning into me. He nibbled a little at my earlobe, then he said, "You takin' my cherry."

Oh. Oh! We hadn't yet. There were times over the two weeks since we'd become lovers where I'd been sure he would have let me, if I'd made the move. But we hadn't had intercourse yet, just exchanged blowjobs mostly. I'd been waiting for a clear invitation to even touch him between his legs and it hadn't been given. This invitation was like crystal. Hearing it made my cock stiffen in automatic response.

The invitation thus clearly given, I decided to step up my seduction to the next level. I was going to take this slow, make it good for him. I'd never had a virgin before, as far as I knew. My own virginity, in the standard heterosexual sense, had been claimed by an older, more experienced girl. As for my virginity in the homosexual sense, Alex Krycek had been a practicing, enthusiastic cocksucker long before I met him.

I led John to the couch and helped him sit down. He was starting to need just a little help to sit up and down gracefully. I claimed the corner opposite him, then directed him to lift his feet onto my lap. I pulled off his shoes and dropped them on the floor. Size twelves, two sizes up from his usual to accommodate for his swelling, though I'd also heard that feet spread during pregnancy and many women find themselves unable to go back to their pre-pregnancy shoe size. I debated as to whether to leave his socks on or off. If I took them off, his feet might get cold, but the skin to skin contact would definitely feel better. I decided to start off with the socks on and move up to peeling them off. Starting off with his left, I rubbed my thumb firmly down his instep, nothing that might feel ticklish. As I predicted, he started melting under my touch quickly. I had him moaning before long, even before I got his socks off. In turn, he'd rub my cock through my pants with whichever foot I wasn't massaging at the time. Oh, yes, he was seducing me as surely as I was seducing him. Leaving me no room for doubt that he wanted this, wanted me.

"Upstairs," he said, as I started to tug on one of his socks. I ignored him and continued to de-sock him. "Upstairs now."

"Yes, sir," I said, letting go of his feet. I tucked the one sock I'd managed to claim into the corresponding shoe, then I stood up. He took both my offered hands and I was able to pull him upright without too much effort.

"I'm gettin' to be big as a house here," he complained.

Of course, it would do no good to verbally try and talk him out of those kind of deprecating words. He just didn't believe that I found him as beautiful this way as if he weren't pregnant. I'd just have to show him. I led him upstairs, to the room that once was mine, but now was ours. I'm not sure why we settled on this one out of the two, but we'd both gravitated towards it. Perhaps it was the coziness of it, the way that the old cast iron bed was tucked into a little alcove formed by the eaves of the house. Perhaps it was the subtle wallpaper, a print of flowers, but in blues and greens. John's old room had plain white walls with little ornamentation. There was one of those old chenille spreads on my bed and under that, a couple of wool blankets. Cozy and sweet. I'd miss it when the house was sold and I couldn't come back to it any more.

We laid down on the bed together, under the blankets and started kissing. Slowly, garments were shed, one item at a time. I wanted to draw this out, make it last as long as possible. Once he was mostly naked, I latched onto his cock, laving it well with spit, then swallowing him as deeply as I could. My goal was to bring him to orgasm at least once before I tried to penetrate him, my rational that if he were relaxed, it'd be easier on the both of us. I was flying, never before quite this free of my inhibitions and worries. Flying like this, I was able to act with a confidence and passion I never normally felt.

As I sucked him, I held his balls out of the way with one hand, and with my other hand, I parted his legs and explored. He was wet between his legs. The smell was hardly describable. Yes, there was definite male musk there, strong and delicious. I sniffed harder, trying to pull in as much as possible. But there was also that indescribable, but beautiful smell of a woman who is turned on, sort of blended in to his maleness. It was just the smell of sex. I also got my first good, detailed look at his female parts.

Tucked away between his legs normally, it was not quite like anything I'd see before. The labia that framed it were hairless, glistening with his juices. I ran a tentative finger along one side and they were soft in the way that only sex organs can be. He shuddered at my touch. I followed the labia up, to where it joined the base of his scrotum and just played with his balls for a little while. Then I teased his labia again, running a finger along the interior side of it, spreading his fluids around some as I did. I kept rubbing closer and closer to his opening, even as I continued to suck his cock. He hardly seemed with me, one hand sort of mindlessly playing with my hair.

My first penetration of him was accomplished with just my index finger. He definitely seemed tight. Just out of curiosity, I crooked my finger a little and felt for the patch of slightly more textured tissues. I found it and rubbed him good, even as I increased my tempo on his cock. I was rewarded with a shout, a hand that pulled my hair, a clenching of the vaginal walls on my finger, and more vaginal fluids drenching my hand. My own arousal increased at these sights and sensations. I wanted to just throw his legs apart and push myself into his cunt, then fuck him until I came. But no, I controlled myself.

He looked down at me through blue eyes gone hazy with desire and arousal. To see him so turned on like this, yet to have all the obvious signs of pregnancy made him seem utterly debauched. His first word, after he caught his breath, was, "More," then a moment later, "Need more. Just fuck me, Fox."

He was probably ready for me. Endorphins must be flowing. The pain, if there was pain, hopefully at this point would be forgotten quickly. I rolled over onto my back and said, "You have to control this. You on top. I don't want to hurt you, even a little."

It was awkward. He couldn't move freely. I had to lift up on his hands to give him something to balance on. But he knelt over my supine body, directed my cock to the right spot, then just threw himself down and onto me with one swift motion. Oh, God. I hissed in pleasure at the sudden, demanding feeling of being encased in slick, tight flesh. It was smooth and wonderful and I had to force myself not to thrust up into it.

Because John had cried out as he'd thrust himself down, and not, I thought, from pleasure. "Jackie, are you okay?" I said, worriedly. I all but rolled him off me and withdrew.

His eyes were closed and his face had scrunched up in pain. "Yeah. I'll be okay. Just give me a minute here. Feels strange. Hurts a little still. Distract me."

At my direction, he leaned back. I propped up my knees so he could lean back against those. Then I grabbed his cock again. Though it had been hard when he'd been penetrated, it had shrunk from the pain. I rubbed it now, paying special attention to the sensitive head. Soon, he was at full attention, any discomfort forgotten. And he was rocking back and forth on me, trying to get more sensation. He was always on a hair trigger and now was no exception. I think I felt his orgasm almost before he did, as his internal muscles clenched around my cock. Then he cried out and threw his head back. Oh, God, it was always beautiful to see someone come because of something you're doing, but it was even more so at this exact moment. It took only a moment or two more of thrusting into his limp, post-orgasmic body before I too, cried out triumphantly and released my semen into his body.

I wondered, just for a brief moment, what it would have been like if I'd been the one to impregnate him. What it would be like to purposefully plant my seed in him, in the hopes that it would catch and produce a child. I'd never had a chance to do that before, to purposefully make a new life with someone, in this time-honored manner. The thought fascinated me. The time I'd masturbated to get Scully her sample for the IVF was perhaps something close to this kind of excitement. It was fruitless, though, to wonder about impregnating John again. He'd never willingly go through this, I thought. And even if he would, would I be so foolish as to put him at this kind of risk, this kind of confinement again?

He rolled off of me and then looked at where his body had been in horror. I looked where he was looking. Blood smeared both our bodies, especially around my cock, but also on my thighs, on his thighs and even dripping some onto the sheets. "Do you feel okay?" I asked, in concern. I was sure it was just from the hymen, but I wanted to be certain we hadn't done him damage or disturbed Zippy and Fletch in any way.

"I feel wonderful, but it's a lot of blood," he said. Actually, probably it was a lot less than he thought. It seemed lighter than blood, as if it were mixed with plenty of other fluids. Semen. Natural lubricants.

"In some cultures, at this point, the grandmas come in and get the sheets to display them to the wedding party. It's probably only an average amount of blood from a hymen. Let's clean you off first," I said. "If you're still bleeding in a while, then we'll call Dr. Abbott. Maybe we shouldn't have done this."

"He didn't say I couldn't," John said. "And it just didn't feel right, somehow. Being a virgin still when my girls are being born. It doesn't hurt at all. Feels incredible."

He laid down on his side and sounded like he was falling asleep. I got up to get a washcloth from the bathroom. I wet it down with nice, hot water and returned to my room. John wasn't quite asleep and he murmured soft words about love when I cleaned him off, lifting his leg to get at his vulva. I'd brought a dry washcloth to dry him with. He squirmed as I touched the rough terrycloth to his labia, sensitive, still from his orgasm. When I took the dry cloth away, it was still clean, no hints of blood, so I guess he hadn't been seriously injured. I cleaned myself off, then snuggled up behind him into our usual spoon position.

"You need to do something for me, Fox," he said.

"Anything. What?"

"I loved this. I don't want to give up this kind of sex with you. And don't get me wrong, in some ways, I'd love to have your baby, but I'm not doing this ever again," he said, touching his belly. "I don't want there to be the tiniest chance I could get knocked up again. I want you to get a vasectomy. If you do it before the Tadpoles are born, you should be shooting blanks by the time I'm ready for sex again."

What he said made the greatest sense. I recognized the reality that he couldn't get pregnant again. I accepted intellectually that I was the logical candidate for sterilization, being as it was the least invasive of the two possible surgeries. A tubal ligation was still a major procedure, plus the difficulty of this all being secret. I knew that a vasectomy was simple procedure, done in the doctor's office most of the time even. But I still shuddered at the thought of anything sharp and pointy near the family jewels.

"Goddammit!" he snapped when he felt my shudder and I didn't say anything. "It's not like I'm asking you to do something I haven't done myself. I know exactly what it feels like. It ain't as bad as you're imagining."

"You? You had a vasectomy?" I asked.

"After Luke was born, Barb decided that one was enough. It seemed the gentlemanly thing to do rather than make her take a pill every day and worry every month until she got her period. I got snipped. It wasn't that bad. You know, they do give you anesthetic and painkillers for afterwards. I was sore and bruised for a bit, but otherwise, no problems. I was back at work the next day."

"Okay. I'll do it, soon as I can," I promised. Still, I couldn't help but feel a little cheated somehow. Not that it had ever been promised, or even implied that I'd get a chance to have a baby with him. Not that I wouldn't be happy raising the two that he was currently pregnant with. Not that, despite the ovaries that he supposedly had, plus all the rest of the necessary organs, we could even be sure I, or anyone else, could get him pregnant without technological assistance. But some rebel part of me sure wanted a chance to try. Definitely it was a primitive and atavistic urge, this feeling of wanting to spread the old semen around. To be the conquering alpha male who got to mate.

"But you can't fault a guy for getting sensitive when sharp metal objects are mentioned in the same sentence with his cojones."

He seemed to read right through my bluster and he said, "I wish I dared to let you knead up a bun to put in the old oven, but you know we can't. I wish I were pregnant with your daughters, not some strangers."

"You are," I said. I rubbed his belly, relishing each and every kick back I felt from the pair. "They will be ours. Yours and mine. Our beautiful Zippy and Fletch. Two's probably going to be more than enough for us to handle, right?"

"Ours," he agreed, sleepily. "Our Garnet. Our Gracie."

Doggett:

The conversation had started neutrally enough, thought I should have guessed how bad it could get. The day after we first had intercourse, over breakfast, he asked me, "What can you tell me about a woman named Lois Runtz and a man name of James Bond, known as Jimmy?"

"Friends of the Gunmen," I said. "She usually goes by a cover name that's some anagram of Lee Harvey Oswald. Yves Adele Harlow is her favorite. Supposedly she's fighting some terrorist organization run by her father. Jimmy's got more good nature than he has brains, but he's a good egg. Why do you ask?"

"I've met Jimmy before, briefly and I agree with your assessment. But I'm unfamiliar with Ms. Runtz. The more allies I can gather, the better. The Gunmen have given her a good recommendation, but I want to be sure before I go to meet her."

That was total BS. I knew better than to think that what I said to him really mattered. He'd made up his mind already. He was going to go meet her. He was just asking me because it was an easy way of breaking it to me that he was leaving again. And he had to leave me to go meet her. Yves. Even though it'd been a short time she'd known me, that whole time she never let me forget just how much she thought I'd really dropped the ball on that case that ended up with the Gunmen dead. The worst thing about that, is I thought she just might be right. I wasn't sure what else I could have done, but thinking about her, about them, always made me feel guilty, as if I could have prevented their deaths somehow. They were weirdos that made Mulder look normal, but they were also an odd breed of heroes, and strangely, I'd liked them. They shouldn't have died.

"You ain't going anywhere, buddy," I told him. "Got that? You are not leaving me stuck without you here in the middle of ass end nowhere again."

"I don't want to go, John, but I have to. It's not like it's exactly going to be a vacation," he said, defensively. "You think I want to leave you?"

"Obviously. I ain't seeing anyone pointing a gun to your fool head, making you leave. Seems to me like if you didn't want to do it, you wouldn't."

"There are exigencies here that go beyond the obvious, Jackie," he said, reaching for my hand. "There's a war going on that you're never going to hear about on your satellite TV and you and I are among the few people on the opposition side that even know it's going on. You were in the military. You know that sometimes men are deployed, even when their wives are pregnant and stuck alone in the middle of nowhere."

That just sparked a deep vein of anger in me somehow and I reached for my orange juice, forgotten along with the rest of breakfast. I threw it at him, wetting him liberally. "Bastard. I am not a fucking wife. I'm a man, I can't be a wife," I told him as I struggled to my feet. He wiped juice out of his eyes but didn't reach for a napkin to dry himself. I was reminded suddenly of how Scully had thrown water at me when we first met. I hadn't been as much of a jerk to her then as Mulder was being to me now, but at least water didn't dry sticky.

"I never meant to imply you were," Mulder said. "Just that this sort of thing happens sometimes. I don't want to go and I'll be back as soon as possible. Just another couple of weeks then I won't leave again until after Zippy and Fletch are born."

"Gracie. And Garnet. The names are Gracie and Garnet."

"Boy, are you going to be surprised when it turns out to be Gracie and John Wallace," he said. I recognized what he was doing, trying to deflect and redirect. Fuck that.

"Garnet," I said, emphasizing the name, "Gracie and I are going upstairs to watch some satellite TV because there's nothing else to do in Ass End Nowhere, Iowa. If you come to your senses, you can join us, otherwise, why don't you just get the fuck gone now and not come back until you're ready to stick with me for the duration."

I had no clue why I was so certain it was two girls, but the further and further along I got, the more certain I was. I'd already started calling them by their names. Zippy and Fletch were starting to sound so flippant, so casual that I hated the nicknames. It was just a side issue, one that was distracting from the main issue- how betrayed I felt that he'd just pack up and go when I needed him. You know, he looked like he'd been prepared for me to cry. Fuck that. I was furious. I changed my mind. I didn't head upstairs. Instead, I went out to Walter's boy's clubhouse.

It was an Indian summer kind of day, warm and golden and Walt had the door propped open for air, so I couldn't slam it shut behind me. Walter was still sanding on the rocking chair. He looked up as I stormed in, took one look at me and pronounced, "Mulder just told you he's taking off for the outside world again, didn't he?"

Walter put down his sanding block as I said, "Fuck you, Wally. You knew?"

"We've been discussing it. He really has tried to come up with ways to avoid this trip, but in the end, he and I both think that there's some crucial information gathering that has to happen before the birth of your children," he said. "I know you must be angry. Here."

Leading me to the corner of the room, Walter, damn his eyes, remained calm and even tempered. He handed me a pair of boxing gloves and pointed at the punching bag he had hung from a ceiling beam. "You can come in and use it anytime you feel the need. It's good for getting the aggression out. Be careful, but hit as hard as you can without hurting yourself."

Walter, as much as I hate to admit it, was right. It felt good. I thought back to the first couple of weeks after my rescue, the times I'd been so angry at Mulder that I'd pulled a gun on him. I was easily that mad now, though admittedly a bit better in control of my emotions. Shooting him would do me no good, would it? So I pretended his face was looking at me off the punching bag and went to it. Walter watched me. I went as long as I could, working the bag hard and heavy, probably pushing myself more than was wise for the sake of the babies, but it felt good. Necessary. I tired quickly, unable to sustain my fury. I was nearly ready to call it quits. I socked the bag one last time, muttering, "Bastard."

Then I sought out Walter. "What the hell kind of trouble does he think he needs to stir up out there anyway?"

"Why don't you ask him. I'm sure he'll be glad to tell you," Walter said.

Now, there was an idea- have a logical, reasonable discussion about this? Nah, it'd never work.

Walter was back at work on the rocker, so I left him behind and decided to seek out Mulder again. My anger was mostly gone, but I was still feeling as if I were going to be abandoned, already lonely and sad, even though he hadn't yet gone.

Mulder was still sitting at the kitchen table where he'd been when I left him. He hadn't moved. He hadn't done more than wipe the orange juice out of his eyes. The rest he'd left on, to dry sticky. You could see the little flecks of pulp on his shirt. He was crying. Staring into the distance, with big, wet tears flowing down his cheeks. Shit. I'd done that to him. I never made a guy I liked cry before. And I always felt shitty when I'd made my wife cry during arguments. This wasn't any better. I got a rag and dampened it at the sink. I approached him and started blotting off juice from his face, cleaning him up. Wiping his tears away.

"Jackie?" he asked. "Please be okay with this. I need you to be okay with it. The fix is in. The date is set. Their plans are made. And I've got to do what I can to stop them. The invasion is coming and our own government is so infiltrated that it's going to help, not hinder it. I want our girls to have a normal life, a normal world to grow up in. I want them to play soccer and dress up and go to high school dances and be able to have little daughters of their own. Do you understand? I need to be getting out there and making it a better world for our girls. One they'll survive, not one where they'll be tools of forces malevolent beyond our comprehension."

I thought about all the times Barb had stayed at home when I'd been off working. I'd expected it. It'd been a given that she'd just arrange her life around mine. Mulder was asking me to do the same, wasn't he? Could I do it? Did I honestly have much choice. What was I going to do? Tie him to the bed with those damn ties that Walter had brought me and keep him prisoner? He was going to go and I could take it badly, or I could let him go gracefully and hope he'd come back.

I'd been a Marine. I'd been a beat cop in New York City. And Barb just had to face the fact that my job was facing danger, that I might not come home one night. Could I face the same with Mulder? I suddenly realized, like it or not, that while I was no woman, no wife, by virtue of what had happened to me, that I was now in a more passive position. One of those who wait. Even after the babies were born, I'd be tied down, at least for a long time. Could I accept this? I didn't think I had much choice. I would be the one to stay close to home and protect my babies. Could I let Mulder go out into the world and be the one to fight for our future together?

I had to.

I could see that keeping him smothered close to me, when there was danger for him to face, was just about going to kill him. I couldn't do that, I thought. I loved him. And if that meant being alone for a while, well, I could do that. And if it meant he might not come home to me, I had to accept that, like my wife had once accepted it.

In matters of the heart, I'll be the first to admit- I'm impulsive. Once I make the leap from distrust to caring, I love hard and fast. Somehow, I'd fallen in love with Mulder, as unlikely as that was looking at it from a logical perspective. It seemed necessary to be with him. To stay with him forever. And it was intoxicating to be with Mulder, because the way he looked at me, as if I were the great love of his life. Perhaps I was. He loved Scully, no doubt about that. But I'd seen them. I'd seen nuns more passionate than Mulder around Scully. Yet, in the past few days, I had my proof of Mulder's passionate nature. Ergo, he'd never been in love with her. He was in love with me. I was in love with him. It only made sense to call it forever. I was married to Barb within six months of meeting her. I'd say, with Mulder, I'd gone comparatively slow.

"So, I'm not saying I'm not pissed still," I said, handing him the washcloth to finish wiping himself off with. Then I sat down heavily in one of the sturdy kitchen chairs. "But when were you thinking of leaving?"

"A week and a half or so from now. I was hoping to go to your next appointment with you," Mulder said. He got a wry half grin then added, "I figured you didn't deserve to face Dr. Bob on your own. He's going to take one look at you and know you're no blushing virgin anymore."

Shit. I hadn't thought about that. I suppose that an OB, by definition probably has more knowledge of one's sex life than any other kind of doctor. I wouldn't be embarrassed, I promised myself. I wouldn't care what he thought. Besides, it's not like he didn't already seem to assume that Mulder and I were lovers. And you couldn't expect a person to have an orifice like that and not use it.

"Besides, you promised you'd drive," I reminded him. Dr. Abbott's office was about two and a half hours from here and while I could certainly drive still, it was hard to stuff myself behind the steering wheel anymore. And we'd all agreed that I'd always take at least one other person with me, preferably armed, whenever I left the house.

"I did, didn't I? he said. "We're okay, right, Jackie?"

"Yeah, we're okay. Tell Jimmy and Lois I said hi, if you think you can risk it."

"I have your blessing to go?"

"You do. One more thing I gotta say to you. I'll never be your wife. But I figure, I'd be glad to be your husband."

"Does that mean I have to take your name? Fox Skinner is even less euphonious than Fox Mulder. Mrs. Jasper Skinner?"

"You said, it, not me, Mrs. Skinner," I said, then laughed a little at his grimace. Guess I'd found a good name to tease him with then.

With that, Georgie walked into the kitchen. I'd never seen her still in her bathrobe before, except a few brief times on her way to the toilet in the earliest morning hours. Now though, she looked like she had a rough night of it last night. Her hair was down out of it's habitual braid and her eyes were rimmed with red. I'll bet she'd gotten in really late. She rubbed her forehead a little, as if fending off an incipient headache.

"Is the shouting over?" she asked, starting for the coffee maker. "Is it safe to come out yet?"

"Sure, Georgie. Can I get you anything?" Mulder asked. "If I'm not mistaken, you look like you really tied one on last night."

I had sudden, uncharitable visions of Abbott getting her drunk and taking advantage of her. You know, I'd never thought she was much to look at when we first met, being as how she looked so much like Skinner, which wasn't what a guy normally looked for in his women. But over time, I'd gotten used to her strong, stern expressions and her thick, solid body. She was a different kind of good looking, handsome, rather than pretty. If you could call a woman distinguished in the same sense that men were, she was. And I cared for her. And if Abbott had harmed so much as one single gray hair, I'd hunt him down and shoot him, not caring about the consequences.

She just gave a deprecating laugh and poured herself coffee. "Nothing of the sort, Fox Mulder. I hardly call three glasses of wine 'tying one on'. It was just a late night for me. I'm a lark, not a nightowl."

"Did he show you a good time, sweetheart," I said, struggling to rise from my kitchen chair. Between bracing myself on the tabletop and the back of my chair, I made it up. "I made breakfast. Waffles. You want anything?"

I opened the oven where I'd left the extra waffles to keep warm for her. I'd fried slices of ham as well. I was getting so domesticated. It made me a bit afraid sometimes that I really would end up as Mulder's little wifey.

"Yes, we had a fine time last night, Jackie," she said. Since Walter had come through with my new identity, they'd all taken to calling me Jack, so as to get me thoroughly immersed in cover. And Georgie had taken to calling me Jackie like Mulder did. I liked it a lot from her lips.

I settled her at the table and got her a plate of food. "So tell me all about your date, Georgie."

She laughed a little, got an undeniable grin on her face and said, "A lady never kisses and tells, Jackie Skinner."

A week later, we were travelling to Abbott's office, Mulder and I. He was driving. I was sitting in the shotgun position, Georgie was reading in the back. She didn't have to come along, but I guess she'd just wanted a chance to see her new boyfriend, however briefly.

"I appreciate the gesture of the van, Fox," I said. "I really do. I know it's supposed to be the ultimate family vehicle to have a minivan. But I hate to say it, but I'd feel safer in a big sedan. Maybe a retired police cruiser. Chevy Caprice. Ford Crown Victoria. That kind of thing."

I would feel safer. The taller a vehicle the easier it rolled over in a crash. And if we could get our hands on a retired cruiser, that'd mean better brakes and a lot of other features. Before the Bureau, I'd been a beat cop for a while. I knew cruisers. I felt comfortable in them. True, I missed my truck. But a pickup just wasn't a vehicle for a man with a family. I was thinking a big sedan would be just about right.

"I'll look into it. Maybe Walter could give us a line on a Bucar that hasn't seen too much action. We'll have to vet it first, for bugs, that kind of thing."

Sometimes, just sometimes, in all my thoughts of setting up housekeeping and making a safe, cozy life for my children, I can almost forget about the fact that the Bureau I used to work for and place my trust in had betrayed me and my partner. That my lover was a fugitive wanted for murdering a man that couldn't be murdered by normal means. I was reminded of that now and I wanted to scream. I wanted my life to be back to normal. I wanted to not be going to a fucking obstetrician, for God's fucking sake. I squeezed the door handle as hard as I could in anger. Mulder's eyes left the road for a moment, recognizing my fury, acknowledging it. He reached for my hand and squeezed it. I decided to soldier on, act as if nothing were extraordinary.

"So, Walter and I have narrowed down a list of places to go, once Gracie and Garnet are born," I said. Walter had talked me into agreeing that we'd move together. Not necessarily living together, but in the same town, close enough that he could be there in an instant if I needed help. I wasn't pleased with the thought, but I recognized both the logic and necessity of it. A younger brother who spent his whole adult life in Nowheresville, Iowa wouldn't strike out for the big city on his own with two newborn girls, though he might go to the city following his big brother. Planning an elaborate cover like this took significant thought and preparation.

"Neither of us want to stay anywhere near Iowa. I'd wanted to go back to the east coast, but Walter talked me out of that."

"Too dangerous," Mulder said. "Too many chances you'll run into someone who knows you."

"I know. I didn't want to go out to the West Coast. Just not my kind of place," I said.

Mulder added, "Too much UFO activity. Oregon especially. We don't want you to attract any notice on that front."

I didn't like to thing about the possibility that Mulder had mentioned once or twice, that I might be abducted again. That people abducted once tend to be taken again. So, I continued, "So, we agreed on the Midwest. Our top five choices are Cleveland, Kansas City, St. Louis, Chicago and Indianapolis. What do you think?"

"You didn't consider the Twin Cities?" he asked. "They're nice. I've been there on a case or three."

"Considered them and ruled them out in thirty seconds," I said. I pointed out the window at the flurries of snow blustering past as we drove. "It's even worse up there."

"So I take it Alaska is out of the question then? Anchorage and Fairbanks are surprisingly nice. Out of the way. Not many chances you'll run into someone you know."

I looked at him in a way that I hoped convinced him I thought he was crazy for even mentioning it. The Midwest was going to be bad enough.

"Okay, forget I mentioned it," he said. "What's your first choice?"

"Chicago," I said. I'd been couple of different times over the years, for work, as a tourist once. I loved the view from the Sears Tower. And an original Maxwell St. Polish sausage was the best, no doubt about it. One of the agents working out of the regional office there had taken me out to lunch at this little place that served the best Polish. Oh, yeah, it'd been really good. Thinking about it made me crave one now.

Mulder made a face though. "Chicago?"

"Yeah, Chicago. You got a problem with Chicago?"

"I had a really bad time there once. I ended up spending the weekend in five point restraints."

I dug through my memory, trying to see if I could come up with any X-file that I'd read through that was out of Chicago. The best I could come up with was one of the ones Mulder had recreated after that fire. "The bug thing in Oak Brook?" I asked.

"Yeah," he admitted.

"Well, that's not Chicago. That's the suburbs. You'd almost expect scary monsters in a suburb like Oak Brook," I said, thinking of the tangle of roads and traffic that choked it. Worse than the DC area for traffic that was for sure. The road rage alone would produce some monsters.

"So you're talking about the city itself?"

"Yeah. Nice place. I like it."

"You really want to doom yourself to flying out of O'Hare for the rest of your life?"

"We'll always fly out of Midway," I promised.

"Okay. We'll look into Chicago," he promised me. We talked about more consequential inconsequentials for the rest of our way to Abbott's office. We started to shape our life together, one conversation, one shared dream at a time, just like any other couple would.

It was all fine and well to be brave about facing Abbott before hand, but lying on your back, bottom half naked and your legs spread, your bits hanging open in the breeze is another matter. I was suddenly bashful about him discovering that I was no longer in a virginal state. I nearly clamped my legs closed so that he couldn't look. It took all my manful willpower to keep them open and my feet on the stirrups. He didn't take the time to warm up the speculum like Dr. Brillopad had. If she would have had me as a patient, I'd have gone back to her in an instant. She'd come to a couple of my appointments, just to see how things were progressing and she was here today.

It wasn't as bad as I anticipated though. When he saw, he just lifted an eyebrow. He got a bigger speculum. I guess I didn't need the extra small now that I didn't have a hymen. Meanwhile, Dr. Brillopad turned on the warm water on the tap and then proceeded to grab the speculum right out of Abbott's hands.

"I think maybe I ought to stick something that's been in the fridge for a while right up your where the sun don't shine, Bob," she said. "How many times do I have to tell you it's just not nice not to warm it up first?"

Together they examined me and Abbott eventually pronounced that I looked good, the babies looked good and my weight gain looked good. Everyone had almost cheered when the scales had just tipped two hundred pounds today. Two hundred pounds and a couple of ounces. I was starting to feel a little more substantial again, not so weak and I guess the scales were agreeing. There'd been some disagreement as too how much weight was healthy for me to gain during the pregnancy, especially considering how much down I was from my healthy weight when I'd first been weighed. Forty pounds? Fifty? Abbott said he wasn't going to conclude it was too much gain until I hit two-forty. Then finally, the inevitable, that had been hanging over me like a booby trap, was mentioned.

"I'm going to recommend that you abstain from vaginal intercourse from now until I give you the clear after the babies are born," he said, clinically after I was sitting up on the table again. I'd been afraid he was going to smirk or something but he didn't. "It's a standard precaution with multiples and you're in your final trimester now. You don't want to do anything that might disturb the uterus. We want those babies as close to full term as possible. The prognosis would probably be good, should they go pre-term, but we want to keep everyone out of the hospital."

Damn. I'd just discovered the best sex of my life and now I was being warned off it. Women, I'd decided, definitely get the better end of the deal. The orgasm from a combination of penetration and exterior stimulation was far more intense than anything I'd gotten from being the penetrator.

But, if it was for the health of the babies, what was I going to do? I could wait a while, couldn't I? For their sakes, I'd do anything.

"Okay. Not a problem, Doc," I said. I couldn't believe I was about to ask this, but well, I wasn't going to wait until after the girls were born to get this matter in hand. And I was feeling a bit guilty about pressuring Mulder into getting snipped. "I want to ask you, about birth control. Once this pair is born, I don't want to ever have to use your professional services again. No personal offense."

True, the best thing I'd been able to come up with was asking Mulder to get a snip job. But he'd reacted badly, and maybe if I could come up with something nearly as effective, I wouldn't need Mulder to get snipped.

"None taken, I do understand," he said. Actually, he would probably be relieved to be well shut of his most difficult patient. "Of course, you understand, the only one hundred percent effective birth control is total abstinence. That means no semen from your partner anywhere near your genitals. Splash over pregnancies aren't common, but there have been documented cases of them."

Okay, that wasn't a good option. I liked giving Mulder head, I liked getting it. But I liked being fucked even more. We'd done it a couple times since my first, and it got better every time.

"I'm reluctant to even discuss hormonal birth control with you. You're so unique, as is the balance of your hormones. I'd fear to play with it in any way. We can discuss a copper T IUD, but your most effective option, if you truly don't wish for any more children is sterilization."

Mulder was there, holding my hands. "Don't worry, John. I'll take care of it."

Yes. He would take care of it. Of me. I could trust that much.

Mulder:

My first hint that one of my beloved dead was a poltergeist was in Chicago. I'd decided to stop by and check it out on my way back east to meet Yves and Jimmy, since both Walter and John seemed inclined to pick it. Walter, apparently, dreamed of living in "the big city" of Chicago when he was boy in rural Iowa. I guess DC was only a stop off point along the way for him.

In any case, I was in Chicago. I'd decided to check out the neighborhoods, not just the downtown and tourist areas, but the places where the locals actually lived. It was on North Ave, just east of Damen when it happened. I was confronted by the men in black. I wasn't paying sufficient attention. No, I was coming out of a Starbucks, enjoying the comforts of big city life again, deciding that maybe Chicago was still shitty, but that at least I'd like to be somewhere I could get a decent coffee again. I'd always said I'd wanted to settle in the country, but now that I was living there, I'd have to say that the fact remains that pig shit smells like pig shit. And simple country life just isn't what it's cracked up to be.

I was sipping foam off of my grande latte. It was a late Saturday afternoon and dark already when I felt the barrel of a gun in the small of my back. I don't know how I could have gotten so lax that someone would have been that close to me without me sensing it, but there it was, hard, cold even through my jacket. Unmistakable.

"Mr. Mulder, come quietly and these good people around you will never have to be traumatized by the sight of you being gunned down like a dog in front of them."

I stiffened. I was a dead man either way. And the guy was right. I didn't want innocent people around me harmed.

I didn't have time to make a decision though. Suddenly, the gun was no longer at my back. A harsh wind was howling in my ears. And the guy with the gun at my back was thrown up against the dumpster in the nearby alley. His black suited compatriots stared open mouthed as his trachea appeared to collapse on its own. I'd seen this before. The dead, protecting the living with a display of psychokinetic energy. I ran, knowing that I had to disappear quickly, wondering how they had tracked me down and if that meant that John's location was compromised at all.

I didn't dare call home and find out though. I ditched my car yet again, leaving it in long term parking at O'Hare when I'd parked it coming into the city. I was on foot, having picked up the El at O'Hare and taken it into the city. I'd been able to spend a few hour travelling around the city since I'd gotten into town and I'd noticed a bunch of used car dealers on Western Ave. I headed back that way on a roundabout route, mentally counting the cash in my pocket. It would be a bit of a pain, but I could pay cash for a decent car. I had another stash of cash that I could tap into not far away in a bank just outside of Memphis. I could make it there on the cash that would be left after I bought another car.

My roundabout route included jumping back on the El, taking it downtown. Walking across the loop. Catching another el. Getting out near Lincoln Park. Catching a cab that took me to the part of Western that I'd seen the car dealers on. Then walking up and down until I'd seen the right car.

I rolled out of town in an ex police cruiser, one of the last of the Chevy Caprices, bought from some guy who specialized in old police cruisers and wasn't at all surprised to see me pull out seven thousand dollars in cash. The decals had been taken off, but it was obvious that the vehicle used to be driven around by Chicago's finest, even though it was just a plain white Chevy. The car was bought under the assumed name on the driver's license I was currently using- David Reynard. The gunmen had shown me how to acquire false identification and it had proved to be a very valuable skill. And John had a touch with tracking fugitives that I'd just never had. His advice on how they were caught had been proving me good stead in avoiding notice. The guy I bought the car from didn't seem any more interested in asking questions about who I was and why I wanted this car than I was in providing him with answers. All in all, a satisfactory business arrangement. I planned to "borrow" someone's permanent plates on the way out of town, in place of the temporary plate I drove away with.

It wasn't until I was on my way out of town on I-57, that I stopped to breathe even. Somewhere along the lines, I acquired one of those cell phones where you pay by the minute from a Wal-Mart. Using a credit card made out to a third false name.

Back in the car, I waited until I was two hundred miles away from the city before calling my checkpoint.

I dialed. I won't go into the kinds of subterfuge we used to keep his line more or less secure, though I suspect the reason it remained so is that the powers that be had discounted this man as a possible player. They counted him as among those too damaged to resist. They underestimated the strength of those betrayed and seeking vengeance. And they underestimated the strength of my family's genes. Definitely we pass the genetic muster. Well, aside from that pesky trait of getting involved in global governmental conspiracies.

"Jeff?" I asked.

Our disagreements had been laid to rest and somehow, we'd ended up fighting on the same side. Genetics and adultery had conspired to make us half brothers. Fate had not seen fit to make us so in the emotional sense, but nevertheless, we had achieved a certain feeling of being comrades in arms. That was worth something. I forgave how he had sold me down the river regarding the X-files in that old life of mine that seemed so long ago. That anger seemed no more mine than the basement office and no. 42 in Alexandria were now. He was the only family I had left, aside from the new one I was forming now with John.

"Yes?" he asked. His voice was now rough, barely recognizable. He'd suffered more at the hands of our father than I had. He always had.

"I'm past the third stop off this trip," I told him. "Anyway you can inquire with the folks at home? I ran into an incident, made it out clean, but I need to know if there's any trouble at home."

"I'll be in touch with them," he told me. "Hear from you again after your fourth."

We didn't take long on our conversations ever. Partially because the shorter the conversations, the less the chance of discovery, partially because, despite what we had in common, we had little to say to each as of yet. When there's time, when there's peace, I promised myself. I will make up to him some of those things I said. I will learn to treat him like a brother and I will make us have something in common beyond our hatred for that cigarette smoking bastard, may he finally rot in hell for good this time.

I hadn't seen old smoky, though that wasn't conclusive proof that he wasn't dead. I had seen how completely the ruins had been destroyed. Nothing human could have survived that firestorm. Was the old man still human though?

The trip to Memphis itself was uneventful, even boring. How little you expect that some day you'll crave boring as much I did. the wheels turning on the road did my soul and peace of mind good. So much good that I wondered if I would be able to properly settle down with John, living with him, staying with him, like he seemed to expect. Being on the road had always seemed natural to me. One week investigating a case in Oregon, the next week Florida. Now, the road was my middle name, it seemed.

Once in Memphis, I checked into a cheap hotel. Once, I'd come to this part of the world to see one of nature's own places of power. A monument to a man, partially, but like many places in this country, it had its own power. As popular as Elvis Presley was, even I found it hard to explain the throngs of visitors that crowded this shrine. I had called it a spiritual journey when I announced my intention of going, intending that in jest, yet on my arrival, I could tell how true that was.

Now, though, was not the time for such an interpersonal connection with divine power. I was here to meet two potential allies.

As I sat in the appointed park on the east side of town, on an unseasonably warm fall evening, I reviewed what I knew about the pair I was going to meet with my three best friends in the next world. I barely needed the jean jacket I was wearing, but I kept it on because it was a good place to conceal my weapon. A warm wind stirred through the trees though, and was getting stronger as time passed. It smelled wet and held the promise of rain. Definitely the weather was shifting.

"Whatever you do, don't slip Gigantor sensitive information," Langly cautioned me. "He ain't exactly the brightest bulb on the string of Christmas lights."

"Jimmy has more intelligence than people credit him for, and he's got a heart more than big enough to make up for what he does lack," Byers said defensively. He always defended Jimmy. I had a theory about Byers, though it was too late to test it now. Even if I were available, and if I could touch the dead in that way, the dead seemed immune to such things. Their love became agape. Eternal. Platonic in all senses of the word. Pure. Even so, I suspected that Byers had worshiped at the same church as John and I, so to speak. He'd never dropped so much as a single hairpin, but yet his continual defense of Jimmy spoke of something that must have been love.

"Byers, as much as I hate to admit that hairboy is right, Jimmy is on the dim side," Frohike said. For all of his small stature, Frohike always had been the natural leader of the band. Even dead, he exuded a kind of confidence that I envied.

"And Yves?" I asked, wanting to turn the conversation away from Jimmy. The point of his intelligence, or lack thereof had been belabored enough already. "What about Yves?"

"As slick as an eel," Frohike said. Had he not been the most unlikely angel that had ever been a runaway from the choir invisible, I got the distinct feeling that he would have said she was hot, just like he used to describe Scully. "You definitely want her on your side."

At that moment, the pair in question strolled up to me. Yves, I could see in the orange light from the streetlights, was dark, elegant and slim. She looked more like a supermodel rather than someone running a one woman war against a massive terrorist organization. Jimmy, on the other hand, looked exactly as I remembered him.

But he saw them. He saw the three stooges. He managed to get out a, "Hi, guys!" before Yves clapped a hand over his mouth.

"Jimmy, no," she said. "Not here."

Whether she just didn't want him to make a further fool of himself in public, or whether she was truly spooked by the idea of him seeing men that were dead, I didn't know and I didn't care. Proof, finally, that I wasn't crazy, that I really do see dead people. Someone else saw them too.

"You see them, don't you Jimmy?" I said. "You see Byers, Frohike and Langly, don't you?"

"Yeah, I see them," he admitted. He was a big guy, and in the dim light, he looked ridiculously sheepish. And he obviously put a lot of stock in what the elegant woman thought because he looked at her first before saying what he said next. "Yves says I shouldn't tell people that I see them. That they'll think I'm crazy."

"You're not crazy, Jimmy. I see them."

"Only the guys keep trying to tell me something, but I can't hear them," Jimmy said.

"We've been telling him to find you," Byers said. "And help you."

"They've been telling you to find me, Jimmy," I said. "That you should help me."

"Can we conclude this meeting of ghostbusters anonymous?" Yves said. "It's not safe for us to remain in an unsecured outside location. And even the trees in parks have ears these days."

"I agree. We'll meet in private. I'm at the West Side Motor Lodge on Main," I said. I handed Yves a crumpled slip of paper- a note written on the stationary from the hotel I was really staying at. It looked like I was just shaking her hand, but her eyebrow raised as she felt me palm her the paper.

She palmed it smoothly, far more smoothly than I'd passed it to her, but then if I understood the guys correctly, Yves was a real pro. Espionage and terrorism were the family business. She'd probably been making sub rosa assignations since she was a teenager.

"I don't think so. This meeting has been nothing but a waste of my time," she said. Then she mouthed "half hour" silently, broadly enough I couldn't miss it. "Let's go, Jimmy. We've spent long enough humoring your crazy friend."

She stalked away, Jimmy at her heels calling out, "Yves? Yves!"

I waited for a few minutes, kicking at rocks, wishing that I had a basketball with me. I was right next to a court. It would have felt good even to just dribble the ball for a few minutes. You know, where ever John and I ended up, it would have to have a basketball hoop over the garage in the driveway. I couldn't imagine that John would protest that. I remembered that case I worked in Arcadia, not so long ago. The covenant and restrictions didn't allow people to even have a portable hoop out in the driveway. Yes, if we made it through this, we definitely wouldn't settle in a suburb where that sort of thing could happen.

After I judged sufficient time had passed that people wouldn't think I was leaving with the pair of them, I made my way back to the ex-cop car. It started raining, a surprisingly cold drenching rain that got me totally soaked even though it was just a minute or two I was out in it. I wove through the parking lot, back to the street. The hotel wasn't far away and I made it there first. Before Yves and Jimmy were set to arrive, I had time to change into dry clothes and spread my wet ones out to dry. I'd have to take time soon to run them all through a laundromat. I was running out of clean clothes again. For all that I needed this time on the road, it had it's disadvantages, including sitting in strange laundromats all the time.

While I waited, I thought about Jimmy seeing the guys. He must have had some special bond with them. Eyewitness account after eyewitness account existed, of people interacting with the dead. Usually it was the recently passed on. I was the only person I know though who interacted with the dead in such an intimate and in depth way with the dead. It was usually a struggle for them to get out a single, understandable message to the living. Me, I had conversations. Still, it was comforting to know that Jimmy was haunted as well.

There was a knock on the door. I looked through the peep hole. Jimmy.

I opened the door and he walked in, Yves following. She started looking around the room. I could tell what she was looking for.

"Room is clean," I said. "I checked it out when I checked in."

"Did you get the bible?" Jimmy asked. "The guys told me once about the bible in hotel rooms. There might be a bug in it."

"Taken care of," I said. Actually, for all of the Gunmen's talk about the Gideon Bible being the perfect place to conceal listening equipment, I'd only found a bug in one out of twenty hotel Bibles that I'd run across. Yes, I still checked out every one in every room I stayed in. Paranoia, thy name is Mulder. Hell, paranoid or not, I definitely knew they were out to get me. Still, no matter how broad the conspiracy was, they couldn't listen in every cheap motel room in every city across the country.

"So, Mr. Mulder," Yves said. "Jimmy leads me to understand some our enemies might be the same, making us possible allies. I believe the resources I have to offer are a good bit more significant now than the last time I was in contact with you X-files people. Speaking of which, how is Agent Doggett?"

"Officially speaking, he's dead," I said, cautiously, still not sure that I shouldn't play that card close to my chest. "His rental car was discovered after a catastrophic car fire, two bodies in it. What remained of Agent Doggett's and Agent Reyes' FBI shields and firearms were found in the car.

"Really now. That's too bad. I'd wished to apologize for my behavior after our mutual friends passed away. How's he doing, unofficially then?"

"Unofficially, he's hidden away somewhere in the upper Midwest. Yves, what I'm hoping you can do for me is some genetic testing. I have reason to believe that he's been made into some kind of hybrid," I said. I held up a small vial. Inside was a small amount of reddish brown substance. Even though the vial was sealed, it'd been weeks since I'd convinced John to let me prick his finger and take a small amount of blood. I probably could have gotten Georgie to do a blood draw for us, but I didn't want to tell her what I wanted it for. The amount that I got out of John's finger would have to do. It would. Death sentence convictions had depended on less.

"I'll do what I can," she said. "You're looking for the same kinds of things the Gunmen used to look for?"

"More or less. Anything anomalous," I said.

"I may be difficult to contact. My position is not as secure as it might be expected, after my father's death. On one hand, my main enemy is gone. On the other, my father had a lot of friends, who seem to assume that I did the deed."

I wondered, did she? I'd heard a number of conflicting things about Yves, but no doubt, she was a dangerous woman, though from other accounts, she'd pulled the Gunmen's bacon out of the fire more than once. Would she kill her own father though? Did I want to know? I know that while I could not hurt Bill Mulder, given half a chance, I'd plug Cancer Man so full of bullets that he looked like swiss cheese.

"These are difficult times all around I guess," I said.

Suddenly I was aware that the gunmen had been listening for a while. "You can say that again," Frohike said.

"We can't risk staying in Memphis much longer," Yves said. "You know how to get in touch with us?"

"Same way as before?"

"If the details change, I'll contact you. I assume you're still in touch with your friend from the Bureau? The big, bald, beautiful one?" she smiled as she said that. I suspected that I was not the only one who thought of Walter Skinner as a handsome man.

Yes, I'd once called Skinner a big, bald, beautiful man, right to his face. Admittedly, it was a situation that I was sure I wasn't going to walk out of alive. Word had gotten around. Walls talk or something. Regardless, I'll stand by that statement in court. The man was beautiful in ways that extended far beyond the broad shoulders and kind, intelligent eyes. I had John, I didn't want anyone else, but a guy could fall in love with a guy like Walter Skinner given half a chance. Sometimes I wondered, in some parallel universe somewhere, that drunken night when I kissed him, had Skinner opened his arms and heart to me instead of pushing me off?

I saw Yves and Jimmy out the door, promising to Jimmy that I would send his greetings to John. I turned to the Gunmen and looked at them in a way I hope they took as a question.

"How come you never called me a bald, beautiful man, Mulder?" Frohike asked.

"How do you know, Frohike? Maybe I just never said it to your face. Maybe I'm afraid of my love for you. Any way, you're not bald, you're just balding."

"Mulder, Yves is right," Byers said, ignoring my interchange with Frohike. He was always the one to get to the point, be forthright. "You shouldn't bother her unless you can't avoid it. She's having to swim like a shark right now. If she stops, she dies."

I remembered how once, someone had said something just like that to me. My first informant, Deep Throat. He'd traded his life for mine, one of the many sacrifices that had been made to my quest. I'd found the truth and look where it had got me. Alone in a cheap motel room in Memphis, with three ghosts who might or might not be candidates for a poltergeist, states away from my lover, who might be having our babies even now, or any time soon, and I wouldn't know. Twins went early all the time and I knew I was pushing my luck being gone this long. God I hoped I'd find some answers before long. I needed to get home.

Not back to Iowa. Home. Home was where ever my Jackie was.

It was in Portland, Oregon that they caught up with me. I'd been to the Oregon hinterlands again, looking for space craft, or any sign of alien activity. Anything that might give me some answers as to why John had been made pregnant. I was finding nothing. My trip had been successful in so far as I had made contact with two allies, but otherwise, I had found nothing, only added thousands of miles to my recently acquired car. I was preparing to turn around and go home, acknowledging that this trip had been mostly futile and I was returning home with empty hands this time.

The washer was just completing its spin cycle. I had decided that I couldn't wear my jeans again one more time before they would stand up on their own, so I'd found a run-down at the heels laundromat and started a load. I was feeling like hell, with a bad headache and a lonely, empty heart. The end of November was already yapping at my heels like one of those poofy little dogs. And I needed to be getting back to John, the babies could be coming any minute now. And I missed him the way a flat soda misses carbonation.

As I was transferring my wet clothes from the washer to one of the dryers, they walked into the laundromat. It was late night and otherwise I'd been alone in the dingy, yellow light. The three of them were obviously military men, even though they were in civies. But their bearing gave them away. I could read only one thing in the way that the younger two of the three looked to the older one for every move.

As for the older man, he seemed very familiar somehow. No, not that I'd ever met him before. I knew someone related to this man, knew that someone intimately. There were some differences, of course, but the family resemblance was almost uncanny. I could almost imagine John looking something like this when he grew older. The brow furrow must have been genetic. This man's eyes were a blazing blue. His hair was white and probably with time, John's would turn that same white. Here and there I was already seeing strands of gray in with his brown.

Dressed only in a t-shirt and sweats, I'd taken off my main gun earlier and it was hidden out of sight under my jacket, but there was no way I could reach it in time. I had a beretta strapped to my ankle, concealed under my sweats, but I was uncertain if I could even reach that before I would be fired upon.

You know, I think cadence and general sound of voices must be genetic as well. When the older man spoke, it was, again, uncannily like John, for all that he was lacking the over-veneer of a New York accent that John had picked up during his time there.

"You're a difficult man to find, Mr. Mulder," he said. Then he turned to his two soldiers and said, "Go. Wait outside. Mr. Mulder and myself will be having a conversation. Just that. Only a conversation. I believe I can trust him to keep his hands off his weapons if I promise to do the same."

The pair of them seemed inclined to protest, but eventually, like all good soldiers, or in this case, I would guess, good Marines, they did as they were ordered. Leaving me alone in the laundromat with the man who could only be John's great uncle, Col. Phillip James Doggett, USMC.

"You don't mind if I finish this while we have our chat do you?" I asked, trying to conceal any trace of sneer or anger from my voice. I wanted to walk out of this laundromat alive, perhaps even richer in information. This could be exactly what I'd gone looking for. Of course, it could also be the death of me. "I want to get it done and back on the road tonight. I hope that fits in with whatever your plans for me are."

"Like I said, Mr. Mulder. I am here to have a conversation with you. Nothing more," he said.

"So talk," I said, as I shoved the last of the clothes into the dryer and then loaded it with quarters. "You want this conversation. I don't possibly know what I know that you don't."

"How is he, Mr. Mulder?" Col. Doggett asked. He sounded desperate. Lonely. From what I gleaned from John, Col. Doggett was no longer married, and his brother's children were the closest relatives he had, no children of his own to carry on his line.

"How is who?" I played ignorant for the moment. This might suddenly turn out to be a very high tight rope I'd be walking on. Everything might drop away from me in mere seconds, leaving me and my lover, in mortal danger. I couldn't let it be known that I even knew John was alive.

"My nephew, Jack, Mr. Mulder. How is he?" This was not the Col. speaking suddenly, I thought. This was the uncle. The family patriarch worried for one of the family.

"I don't know what you're talking about," I said. "And I'm not Mr. Mulder."

I had a driver's license in my pocket to prove it.

Actually, stashed in various places, I had about ten different driver's licenses from different states. All with different names, none of which were Mulder.

He drew himself up to full height. This was not a guy used to being disobeyed, either in his professional, nor apparently, his familial role. Ten to one he was the big brother of his family.

"Whatever you're calling yourself these days, Mr. Mulder, don't take me for a fool. You know where my nephew is and the least you can do is tell me how he and the babies are doing. Have they been born yet?"

So, he knew about John's pregnancy. Yet another piece of evidence for the case that he had something to do with his nephew's abduction and consequential transformation into something never before seen by modern science- a true intersex being capable of giving birth, while still being a man.

I didn't answer any further. I just leaned back against the dryer, feeling its welcome heat on my back. A few coins had escaped my search of pockets and I could hear them ping around the sides of the dryer drum.

"Do you really think that you made it out of the hold of that craft on your own power?" he demanded. "You just waltzed right out of there with the most successful subject of a project that even the givers of the technology which we accomplished it with weren't even certain it could be done? And you encountered only token resistance to your escape?"

He was right, of course. I'd never talked about this with John, but the mystery of how I'd been able to rescue him at all, much less without either of us getting hurt was one that had never been resolved to my satisfaction. Part of it I thought was due to their reluctance in injure a successful test patient. But they had ways of separating people and I hadn't been harmed either. Ergo, someone or something had wanted John out of there, and I had been a convenient way to get it done.

"My squad and I got the pair of you out of there. Don't you forget that," he said. His face, which had been a stone-faced mask, had crumpled for half a moment. A tear escaped. I realized I was getting a sudden, rare glance into the real face of Col. Doggett. "I just need to know that he's safe, that he's alive and well."

I was flummoxed. Was he the one that had done this thing to his nephew? Or was he the one who had helped his nephew escape alien captivity? Or both. His concern for John was obvious. No, his love for his nephew.

"He's safe. He's surrounded by people who care for him deeply, who love him and would do anything to protect him and his babies," I said, thinking of Skinner and Georgie. "Any more than that, we trade information. Project Zodiac. Tell me everything you know."

"I can't. Don't be a fool. You know I can't do that."

"Then at least tell me how you knew that your nephew was in a position where he had to be rescued." I demanded. "And how you know about what was done to him."

Col. Doggett drew in a deep breath and looked like he was preparing to spill his guts. Yeah, I knew the look of a guy about to break down and give a confession. It was this look.

"It was like it was before. They wanted a....a sacrifice, a hostage from each of us. A family member. A spouse. My closest family is my brother's family. I knew what was going on, I thought. I thought they were going to make him into a supersoldier. Invincible. All but unkillable. Our lineage, living on forever, nearly immortal. I knew that none of my nieces would be strong enough for the process. So, the choice of John seemed obvious. I know he wouldn't say no if he were asked. You can imagine my shock when I found out the true purpose of the experiments. They were making more supersoldiers, true. But not out of the subjects. Your son William was merely meant for a prototype. This was to be production. Using as many humans as possible, for the fastest possible production of the soldiers. That meant using men too, apparently. Though, part of me wondered if they were doing it just to see if it could be done."

"Is John safe? Do they know his whereabouts?" I asked. "Are they still looking for him."

"No, Mr. Mulder. The scientists who led that project are gone. Dead," he said. I somehow thought he had something to do with that. I wondered, how had he gone renegade though, without losing his life, much less his position in the Marines.

"They had deemed the project a failure, Mr. Mulder. The only man who failed to die during the initial process or sometime before the first trimester was over was my nephew. They had one successful test case, but they were unable to replicate their success. They were just about to commence cleaning the project up. Killing my nephew. And his unborn children. I had to do something."

"So you or someone working for you contacted me?" I asked. The information that had led me to the UFO had come from an anonymous source who had contacted me indirectly at first. We only ever talked through phone calls and honestly, I'd been a lucky fool to take that information at face value. it could easily have been a trap and cost me my life. But this was in the early days not long after Scully's death. I might miss her and grieve her still, but words can hardly express the kind of suicidal loneliness that I was facing then. The chance of retrieving even one of my former friends had seemed worth any risk. I'd been lucky. My risk had played out well. I'd gotten John out, getting myself a lover and family in the process.

"And saw to it that his memory was wiped of the last year. You don't know the kinds of things they put those men through, Mr. Mulder. He needed to forget. If nothing else, he needed to forget the miscarriages. It took four tries for the pregnancy to take."

Well, that explained one mystery. They didn't keep John knocked out for those months. He just doesn't remember them in the same way that I don't remember a number of things either. John had never shown any inclination to go digging through his mind for those lost memories though, unlike myself. I had tried hypnosis, anything to get them back. Suddenly, for the first time perhaps, I found myself not wanting to dig further into a mystery. Unless John himself wanted to reclaim those memories, I didn't want to dig for them. If a man like Col. Doggett who had willingly submitted his own nephew to testing and experimentation by aliens, to being turned into one of those creatures, thought that what he had been through was a horrific experience, then maybe John was better off not knowing. Four tries? Three miscarriages? I wondered if what had happened to John while in their labs wasn't worse than an actual rape would have been.

I wondered if on some level if John remembered that? If those losses informed his fears on an unconscious level. I was full of fury for John suddenly, looking at his uncle who looked so much like him. "You son of a bitch!" I hissed. Only cognizance of his two goons waiting for him outside stopped me from throwing him against the bank of dryers. "Sure you got him out of that alien ship. Hooray for you! You put him in there in the first place, you bastard! You delivered him into their hands and I'm supposed to congratulate you that you rescued him? You were willing to sacrifice him. Did it ever even occur to you that maybe he wouldn't have wanted to be a supersoldier any more than he would have chosen what did happen to him?"

John has said on more than one occasion that he is not a violent man, and I believe him. I, on the other hand, know my own capacity for violence all too well. It's an inherent response for me. Yes, I am a violent man. It's a dangerous drug, an intoxicating pull to me. I try and balance it with tenderness to the ones I love and to those weaker than myself.

At this moment, John's uncle must have seen and understood what I was capable of, some threat in my eyes, some anger that flared beyond my control. I saw fear in his eyes. I didn't touch him though, just stared at him.

"Mr. Mulder, you of all people know what we are up against here," he said. He'd stepped a good two steps back from me. I knew I could have backed him up against the dryers, just by stepping closer to him, but I chose not to. He continued after swallowing. "You know that the only chance we have against these....entities is soldiers of our own, that answer only to us. I was told, we were told, that this would be subversion from within. That we would get the technology and be able to turn it against them. All I saw was co-option. I have learned that the master's tools cannot be used to pull down the master's house."

I prepared to walk right out of that laundromat, grabbing only my jacket and gun. The clothes could be replaced. I was sickened, and not just by my own urge to rip this guy's head off and stuff it down his neck. He had done the very thing that my parents' had done to Samantha. John hadn't died, but he had been transformed to a state hardly within the realms of possibility. And apparently three embryos had died to get a pregnancy that stuck. Three babies, maybe even six if it were natural for John to get pregnant with twins.

"Can you honestly say that you're any better?" I asked. "You turned him over to them knowing they were going to change him beyond recognition, even if you didn't know it would be exactly the way it turned out. You are culpable, every bit as much as the scientists that performed the experiments and the superiors that ordered you to chose one of your family members."

He shook his head slowly. It was hanging in shame. He looked at his hands, as if expecting to see blood there, staining them and was surprised not to see it. He turned his hands over and over again, holding his fingers splayed wide. "I am far more aware of that than you can comprehend, Mr. Mulder. I have made a grave error and I have attempted to atone for it as much as I can without losing my position. From here, I can help you fight the future, Mr. Mulder."

I picked up my jacket and grabbed my gun. Stalking to the entrance of the laundromat, I said, "Then get in contact after they're born. And do something constructive between now and then, as a proof of your bona fides."

"Mr. Mulder, how do I get in contact with you?" he asked.

"You tracked me down to a small laundromat in Portland, Oregon. You figure it out."

I got in my car, leaving behind most everything but the clothes on my back. He could be telling the truth. Or I could be leading him back to John, setting up a trap. Either way, I was heading back to Iowa, where John waited, planning to drive straight through as much as humanly possible. I'd been gone long enough. Assuming I could trust his uncle, I had my information.

And if I couldn't, well, that wouldn't stop the babies from coming. And my place was right there by John's side when they arrived.

Doggett:

At least this time, Fox sent some proof that he was still alive and kicking. First was the cryptic phone call from a man I was morally certain was Jeff Spender, basically asking if we were okay. Was Spender jr. Fox's checkpoint?

Then there were the postcards. One from the city. Not of the skyline. Not of the Sears tower. No. It was of Wrigley Field. It said, "Did you know that there's a special rule about what happens when a baseball gets stuck in the ivy because of this place? Finally, a hometown team with a record slightly better than my old team," it said. And it was signed, "Mrs. Skinner."

Both Walter and Georgie were confused but I snorted at that and said, "Private joke."

I guess that was his way of saying that maybe Chicago wasn't so bad, if he was willing to consider the Cubs as his hometown team. The old team he had to be referring to would be the Boston Red Sox, a team which supposedly was cursed and hadn't won the pennant since 1911 or something like that.

I wished dearly I could write back to him. I missed him. Besides, I figure, I had to let him know that I was probably a White Sox kind of guy. At least the town had only one football team and basketball team so we wouldn't have to disagree about that.

Then there was a postcard from Graceland. I guess he'd stopped in Memphis for a while. It said, "Elvis never liked being referred to as "The King" because he said that there is only one King and that's Jesus. Mrs. Skinner. P.S. 007 says hi."

The postmark on that one was from Georgia, not Tennessee. I wondered whether he'd met Jimmy and Yves in Memphis or elsewhere. And what the hell he was doing in Georgia again. If he did too much poking around, he was going to get caught. I wasn't ready to face my family, even if they were safe, until after Garnet and Gracie were born.

Weeks passed. He was gone longer this time than he was the time before. October passed. So did most of November. I was starting to wonder if he was ever going to come back. Just as I'd start to curse him for making me so anxious, the next postcard would come. Always signed Mrs. Skinner, so I couldn't get too angry with him.

I was beginning to fear he wouldn't be home in time for Thanksgiving. We'd had our first couple of inches of snow by then, at least that stuck around for more than a day. We'd had a few dustings before that melted as soon as they fell. Winter was starting to settle in for good though. Preliminary weather reports were saying they thought this would be a warmer than average winter, but that a lot of snow would fall, so they thought.

More snow was falling on the Wednesday night before thanksgiving. I was in the living room, curled up in my recliner. The TV was on, but I wasn't watching it. I had the lights dim and the sound low. Georgie and Walter had both gone to bed, which left me the problem of getting up out of the chair and up to bed on my own. Trust me, that was starting to get to be problematic. A real struggle. I might end up sleeping in the recliner tonight. It would be easier. I could call out to either Georgie or Walter, and they'd get up and help me to bed. But I wouldn't. They deserved their rest.

No, I wasn't watching the TV. I was watching out the window, hoping against hope that Mulder would make it home for Thanksgiving. Stupid hope. The last postcard he'd sent was from Oregon and it arrived about a week and a half ago.

This was a familiar vigil. Probably, he wouldn't come tonight. He hadn't any other night I'd kept it. I watched the snow fall. I huddled under the crocheted afghan. The room was pretty cozy. Before he'd gone up, Walter had stoked the big wood-burning stove so it would be hours before it burned down to ashes. I spent a lot of time in the living room these days, because when the stove was going, it was the only warm room in the house. Plus, it was like, well, it sounds stupid to say it, but it was like my nest. We were planning on me having the babies in this room. It made the most sense. It was the warmest room. And when I'd broached the subject of a water birth to Walter, explaining about the pool. He'd just nodded his head and said, "Well, how about putting it in the living room instead of your room? I can easily get to the joists under the living room, to check out if they can support that much weight." So, the living room it was going to be. We'd used Dr. Abbott as an intermediary to rent the birth pool and it was currently packed up in the corner of the living room, waiting to be filled when I went into labor.

Occasionally, I flicked through the channels with the remote, as if keeping up the pretense of watching TV. I thought about the nightmares I'd been having lately, all about giving birth. Sometimes, I gave birth to two beautiful, pink, human babies, and then minutes later, to a wrinkled, hideous gray alien baby that proceeded to kill my human babies, one after the other, right before my eyes. Sometimes, I had nightmares about hemorrhaging and dying after I gave birth, my life gushing away in a shower of red. Sometimes the dream was just that I gave birth to a dead baby. Always though, about once every couple of days, I had a nightmare about giving birth. The nightmares were as bad as the ones that I experienced around the time I was working on the case with the axe murdering cult leader. You tell yourself that it's just the brain processing, that they're just pictures. But that doesn't matter when you're waking up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat. There's no kind of lonely and scared like waking up in the middle of the night, in a bed by yourself, still half thinking that you'd just killed a baby.

I remembered Mulder telling me about this tribe in the Asian rainforest, that their whole culture was centered around dreams. Having them. Sharing them with each other. Talking about them. Supposedly no adults ever have nightmares. They teach the kids that when a scary monster invades your dreams, you have to confront it. You have to beat it back, physically if necessary. And once you've beaten the scary monster, you could demand a gift from it, a song or a poem, that sort of thing. It's a nice idea, but sometimes the things scariest in life can't be isolated and destroyed. There were no easy answers to most of my nightmares.

In his absence, I grew to understand just how much I'd gotten to love and depend on Mulder. I won't say anything sappy or goopy like I felt like half of me was missing without him, or that he completed me. But when he was gone, there was a kind of emptiness I felt and when I thought of him out there in the world, my stomach kind of clenched. Despite the fact that we hadn't heard anything from Mulder's checkpoint, and that in this case, no news was good news, I worried about him. He should have sent more postcards. Or better yet, he should haul his ass back here. It was cold. I was always cold. They'd gotten me an electric blanket for my bed. And a down comforter. Despite that, there was still something that just wasn't warm about the bed with Mulder gone.

I needed Mulder to be here, to be my chaser away of nightmares. I wasn't sleeping well without him again. I got plenty, but it was broken, the nightmares, or the babies dancing on my bladder or just general discomfort waking me up multiple times in a night. The kids had discovered a new place to kick just recently. I've got a long torso, so I'd carried the girls pretty well, but recently, they'd gotten big enough they could reach my ribs when they kicked. It didn't hurt. Much. Abbott said that I was about thirty-six weeks and that I could go anytime now, though he was hoping for at least one more week. And thank God that this was nearly over. I wasn't ready to give birth, but I sure was ready to be not pregnant, more than I could express. I was starting to be afraid that Mulder wouldn't be home in time for them to be born and I needed him for that. I wasn't sure I could do this, much less do it without him.

I had a very real fear that something would go wrong, terribly wrong. We had plans to transfer me to a hospital in Omaha if something went wrong and I needed a c-section or whatever. It'd been agreed that my life or my babies lives were worth the necessary revelations that a medical transfer would bring about, even if saving their lives this way put us in further danger, that we might be putting ourselves into enemy hands this way. Perhaps it was this fear that fueled my nightmares. Every time I had seen Abbott over the past month, he'd assured me that I was quite astonishingly healthy under the circumstances and that I had every hope of a normal, natural delivery.

Somewhere during my long night of cataloging all my worries, I fell asleep, drifted right off even as I was calculating the effort of getting out of the chair and putting more wood on the fire versus the payoff of a warmer room.

My dream was unusual in that I realized I was dreaming. Lucid dreaming was something that rarely, if ever happened to me. I was in a room something like the living room only bigger, emptier, colder, giving birth alone. The pangs and pain tore through me like nothing else I had ever experienced, like my insides were being torn from me. It was my most frequent nightmare these days. The room was cold, like it was refrigerated as cold as a meat locker and it stank of death. Nearby was the decomposing body of the child I'd already lost, Luke. There was nothing for me to give birth on but the floor, and that floor was bare, hard concrete. First one, then the other baby was torn from my body with a agonizing, short labor. Then the third baby. The alien. Small, gray, wrinkled. Vicious already at just minutes old. After I laid it on the concrete far from my other babies, it pulled itself up on its hands and knees and started to crawl towards them, growling, slavering in malevolent intent. I laid nearby, exhausted, watching in terror. I suddenly knew what I had to do. I had to confront this monster, destroy it. I forced myself up. If I didn't stop it, it would kill my babies. I nearly screamed as I bent over, but I managed to pick up that alien baby. When I held it in my arms, it suddenly wasn't so terrorizing. It was a baby, a mewling, scared baby, and I couldn't hurt it, alien or not. "Hey," I told it, stroking it gently. "Don't cry. It's okay. Shhh."

At that moment, in my dream, I loved the alien baby as much as I loved my own, two perfect girls. I'd given birth to all three of them. It fell asleep in my arms and I suddenly knew that I had conquered my demon with far more finality than if I'd beaten it, or thrown it to the floor to bash its head in. And I didn't need to ask this demon for a gift. I was receiving its gift right now- this moment of sweet, peaceful calm. The nightmare had been stripped of its power, and suddenly, I was not afraid of giving birth.

When I woke, the room was flooded with the bright light of the day after the snowstorm. The sky was flawless blue and we were going to be having a decidedly white Thanksgiving. The sunlight reflected light off the snow, making the north facing living room brighter than it had ever been before. Someone had thrown the curtains completely open, stoked the fire high and thrown another blanket over me. I had no choice about getting up. One of the girls was dancing a tango on my bladder and the need to empty it was urgent.

I groaned and threw my blankets off. The house smelled wonderful. Besides the sharp fragrance of wood smoke, cinnamon and sweet smells drifted from the kitchen, definite signs of baking going on. It was Thanksgiving, though I was finding it hard to feel happy about that with Mulder still gone. Outside, I heard laughing and shouting. As I released the lever to put down the footrest, I looked out the window and saw Georgie throwing a snowball. I hauled myself up to the bathroom and took care of business.

When I went downstairs again, I headed to the kitchen, intending to get just a little snack to hold me until later. Walter was in the kitchen, checking on the pies in the oven.

"Morning, Jackie," he said, shutting the door carefully on the pies. "Almost done. Did you sleep well?"

"Yeah. I had a dream. A good dream. About giving birth. I..." I said. I tried to remember more but the dream had mostly faded by this point. "I...I can't remember. But I don't know. I feel ready."

He looked me up and down, his warm, brown gaze lingering when his eyes met mine. Then he turned back to the stove, as if embarrassed by his close scrutiny of me. A couple of finished pumpkin pies sat on top of the stove already, in addition to the ones in the oven. I wondered how much pie they thought three people could eat in the course of one holiday. There wasn't going to be anyone else but us here. Walter cut a couple of slices and handed me one without asking. He sat at the table with the other slice.

"Georgie won't mind if you have a slice or two," he said. "Just don't tell her I'm spoiling my appetite too."

When I sat down with him, I discovered that Walter Skinner eats pie from the crust to the tip, and today was no exception. I was also starting to get the feeling like he really did think of me like a kind of brother, that there was that kind of protective affection there between us as well as the harmless conspiracy of younger siblings against the eldest. After several minutes of silent pie eating, he spoke again.

"I think you are ready," he said. "You've got the look of a man who has looked at the dark things inside of himself. You have seen the places that scare you. And you are no longer afraid of them. You're a brave man, Jack, and I'm proud to call you family."

If he didn't hold himself so stiffly, I might have hugged him just then. He was a self-contained man, not given to many shows of typical affection. I understood that this stone-faced exterior concealed a deep, passionate nature though. It was evident in all the things that he did. He wouldn't say the words. Giving me a hug was probably beyond his powers of expression. But he'd opened up his house to me, hell, as much as given me one third of it. He'd given me a dead brother's identity. He'd made two cradles that were works of art, same for the rocking chair. And he'd done so much more for me. His words, as sparse praise as they were, were as treasured by me as any fevered declarations. I knew what he meant. I brushed away a couple of tears that escaped without my permission. They were odd tears, not sad at all, but proud ones, like they were an overwhelming love that couldn't be expressed any other way.

"Thanks, Walter. I'll do my best to do the Skinner family name proud," I said. "You ready to be an uncle?"

"It's something I've always wanted and never hoped for."

"Lucky I got knocked up then, right?" I said. Strange how a few seconds ago I was crying, now I couldn't wipe the grin off my face. It was a strange kind of happy I was experiencing. "Hey, you don't suppose Georgie would mind if I had some ice cream with my pie, would she? You want some?"

"No. She and Fox will probably come inside in a few minutes anyway. Best dispose of the evidence first," he said.

"Hold on! What did you say? Fox is here? Why didn't you tell me before?"

I didn't wait for his answer. I started to struggle to my feet. Walter had to help me up. I all but ran for the back door. I guess I had continued to hear the raucous noises of a snowball fight continuing. I should have wondered who Georgie was fighting once I'd found Walter in the kitchen. I made it out to the porch. They both decided to drop current hostilities between them and turn on me. I was plastered by wet, soft snowballs from two different sides.

Who'd have thought that Georgie had such good aim? Or that she had the stamina to keep going so long. After nailing me with his snowball, Fox came running up to the porch. He wrapped me in his sweet arms and kissed me. Oh, yeah. I'd missed that. I wasn't even angry in the slightest that he'd nailed me, that cold, wet ice was dripping down my face and I was shivering. Or that he'd been out in the yard playing when I woke up and hadn't gotten me up as soon as he'd arrived. All that mattered was his sweet lips, his arms tight around me, the mere fact that he was here again, a real, physical, solid Fox, alive and well. Well, almost all that mattered.

I took advantage of his distraction. I scooped up a handful of snow from the porch railing and used his inattention to shove it down the collar of his jacket. I expected him to get mad or something. But no. He squeeked, a repressed sound, as if he had been going to scream like a girl but stopped himself. And then he shook the snow out of his shirt as best he could, and went back to kissing me thoroughly. Oh, yes, it was good to have him back. So good that I couldn't find words, only a catch in my throat every time I attempted to speak.

Thanksgiving was just exactly like you'd expect it to be. All the usual food was present, including at my insistence, cornbread dressing. As we sat down, Georgie said, "I know I'm sitting down with two non-believers, but I'm going to say a prayer. It is Thanksgiving, after all."

I bowed my head slightly and kept silent. I know I've been disdainful of other people's piety before, but this wasn't the time. I still think religion is a bunch of stories that people tell themselves to make them feel better, but I respected Georgie.

"Thank you, Lord God," she began. "For Thy bounty and the gifts on this table. As well as for bringing us together in the blessings of family. For bringing my brother to sit at my table for Thanksgiving for the first time in twenty years, and for two new-found brothers to join us. And thank you for the miracle of the two children soon to join us. You bless us so profoundly, we can hardly fathom the depth of Thy grace and love. Amen."

There were three Amens echoing hers.

As a nod to Walter and Georgie's Russian mother, there was borscht for a first course, which I took a few polite sips of then pushed away. Georgie laughed a little, kind of sadly though. Then she said, "Jasper never liked beets either. Though admittedly, Walter's borscht is a lot better than Mama's ever was. She was a terrible cook."

"It wasn't that bad, Georgie," Walter protested. This was a long standing argument. Walter remembered his mother's cooking a lot more fondly than Georgie did.

We weren't a picture postcard kind of family, but still, the holiday held all the normal trappings for us, except that it was Walter and Fox who ended up washing dishes in the kitchen after we ate ourselves into stupidity, while Georgie and I watched the game. Walter had no patience for televisied sports, preferring to do, rather than watch. I suspect also that he and Mulder were talking about how Mulder's trip to the outside world went. I didn't worry. There would be time to talk about that with Mulder later.

Sometime just before the first half was over, the clanking in the kitchen stopped. I heard the back door open and close. Probably Walter heading out to the workshop. Mulder came out of the kitchen, rolling his sleeves down. He looked about dead on his feet.

"I pretty much drove straight through from Oregon, as quick as I could," he explained. "I never thought I'd hear myself say this, but I think at this moment sleep is more important than football. I'm going up to bed."

I held out my hands, hoping he'd get the clue that I wanted his help getting up. I hated to ask people, even when I needed the help. Too damn proud I guessed. He took my hint and grabbed my hands. Together, we levered my big, fat, pregnant body out of my recliner. As I gained my feet, I wondered how many more weeks of this I would have to endure. The doc kept saying, "any time soon," but for some reason, the girls didn't seem inclined to shift. I was so ready to be not pregnant.

"I'm just going to go sleep, Jackie," Fox said. I definitely believed him on that count. He had that glazed over kind of look. He'd shaved off his stubble before dinner and showered as well, having desperately needed it after all that time on the road. Despite that, he still looked disheveled somehow, and he had dark rings under his eyes.

"I need a nap too," I said, thinking of my short night of sleep that I'd spent in the recliner. It hadn't been very restful, what with all the dreaming I had done. I was really looking forward to my life settling down to something approaching normality, so that I'd stop dreaming. I always felt cheated when I dreamed, robbed of that blissful oblivion. Dreams, even good ones, perturbed me. They were something I couldn't control, something not quantifiable or provable.

Soon, we were upstairs in our room together. Fox was helping me into bed, letting me use him as support as I lowered myself to the mattress. I wanted us to get undressed, not out of hope for sex, but just to feel his bare skin against mine. It was too cold to get undressed in the bare air. I swear, even with the storm windows up, I could see frost starting to form on the inside of the window.

Once I was buried under the covers, on my side, knee propped up with pillows, Fox burrowed under them as well, still fully dressed. He snuggled himself up against my back. I marveled again at just how perfect he felt there.

I couldn't see, but I could feel him bury his face into my back. And he hugged me tighter and tighter with each minute, as if I might slip away, as if afraid he might lose me. He shuddered and I wondered if he was crying.

"Fox, you okay?" I asked. "What did you find out there?"

"Later. I'll tell you later," he said. "Sleep now."

His hand snaked under my neck and wrapped around me. I reached for that hand and held it. Eventually, his shudders stopped, and we were drifting off together.

Sure enough, we talked later. We made love as cautiously as our enthusiasm would allow, not intercourse, but it was sweet to hold Mulder and bring him off with my hands, to make him shudder and moan. To know that I was the one doing that to him. To have him do the same to me. Then, afterwards, both of us satisfied, he held me his bare skin hot against mine. We talked in the quiet stillness of the winter night, in our warm nest of blankets.

"I talked to your uncle," he said, his voice coming from behind me as he held me in a spoon. His voice was soft, tentative, as if he wasn't sure it was a good idea to bring this up.

"What? My Uncle Phil? I thought you said he was neck deep in this conspiracy." My voice rose. I was concerned. No, alarmed almost.

"He is. He sought me out. I didn't seek him out. Your uncle claims you aren't in danger, that the project that did this to you was shut down and that all of the scientists are dead."

"But you don't know if you believe that either," I said. Ever since hearing that Uncle Phil was part of some project to make more supersoldiers, I hadn't known what to think about him, about my family. I thought I'd known them all. That I could always count on them to back me up, to be my safety net. That's what family was supposed to be like. Not that crazy web of dysfunction that I'd heard about from Fox, that his own family was.

Every family had its own secrets, of course, things that just weren't talked about. But I'd always trusted that my families secrets were of the mild type- you know- that cousin Alice wasn't so much an invalid as an alcoholic, that Great-Great Aunt Esme didn't really die in that big flu epidemic, but ran away to the city, leaving her husband and children behind. The usual closets in the skeleton, not this frightening betrayal of all I'd been raised to believe about America, truth and justice.

What Fox said next was more wounding than I thought it could be. I didn't want to believe it.

"Your uncle admitted to me that he set you up to be abducted. That they wanted a hostage and subject for experimentation from each of them, and that he chose you. Just like my parents had to chose between their children."

"No," I whispered through a tight voice that hardly seemed mine to control. I believed Fox though. I didn't want to, but I did.

"He claimed he didn't know exactly what kind of experiments they were going to use you for. He claimed he thought they were going to make you into a supersoldier and that you wouldn't have said now, if you'd been asked. That you would do anything to serve your country."

I thought about that. You know, once upon a time ago, he would have been right about that much. I would have done anything for my country. But since the X-files, I had seen too much. I had seen things, that if I can quote Scully, that I couldn't explain. Phenomena that lacked a rational explanation. And I had seen exactly how corrupt this whole conspiracy made even the best of human institutions. Not that the FBI had ever been perfect, but it had once had ideals that I could support, that I could stand for. But this conspiracy had rotted it to the core. And I suspected that anything to do with the government was tainted with it as well. So, no, now, I could not, would not do anything for my country without asking and thinking about it. I guess Uncle Phil hadn't known me since that change came to me.

"Once he would have been right," I said. "Not any more, but once, I would have done anything for my country. I was a Marine, Fox. I believed in my country and my government the way people believe in God. Not any more though."

"It doesn't make it right though. Or forgivable. How dare he?"

I decided I was going to shelve any thoughts I had about Uncle Phil betraying me until later. I had enough on my table to deal with now. And anyway, regardless of the way it happened, the result was something that was looking like it would be the best thing that ever happened to me.

"Okay, so it's his fault. So what. One thing I learned as a cop is that the people most likely to do bad shit to each other are family and other people they know. What else did he tell you? Did he give you any good information otherwise?"

"He said he couldn't give me information about the Zodiac project, but I think I can break him down. Jackie, he thinks he's working against the Conspiracy from the inside. That they can gain Supersoldiers that will fight against the aliens. He seems to think of himself as some kind of hero. I don't think he's any better than the rest."

I could hear the bitterness in his voice, but the words themselves were sweet to me. I understood. That was the Uncle Phil I knew. A tough Marine, willing to make any sacrifice, fighting for his country. That his sacrifice was me wasn't so important anymore. But swear to a God I didn't believe in, if the man tried to touch my babies, I'd kill him myself.

"Fox, once Garnet and Gracie are born, I want to see my uncle again," I said. I wanted to hear straight from the source. I wanted to listen to him and know if I could forgive him for doing this to me. "I don't want the girls to see him. I don't want them at risk. But I want to see him."

"I don't think that's an acceptable risk, Jackie," Fox said.

"Fuck acceptable," I said. "I want to see him. I need to talk to him."

"We'll talk about this later," Fox said.

We talked about other things, inconsequential things, until we fell asleep again. I had a feeling that Fox had far more information than he was giving out, but it would wait.

Mulder:

We never did settle whether John would meet with his uncle after the babies were born. Any time I tried to bring up the topic of his relatives, John just said that he didn't want to think about it now, that we'd talk about it after the babies were born, but that for right now, he had more than enough on his mind, thank you very much. Willful denial had always been one of his strong points. After a couple of arguments I decided that my unstoppable force had nothing on his immovable object and called it quits for the moment.

The Monday after I came home, I had to leave the house again, thought I sought John out and made sure he knew it was just for part of the day, and that I would be back later. He was in the living room, doing some of the moves from the pregnancy yoga video I'd gotten him, though I guessed by this point that he knew the darn video so well he didn't need the video itself. In fact, he hated the video and I'd more than once heard him muttering about the "dumbass new-age crap music" on it. At this moment he was in a deep squat, legs spread wide, feet flat on the floor, elbows resting on his knees, back straight. It was an easy enough pose, I knew from having done it. At least for the first thirty seconds. John held it for several minutes, perfectly still, eyes closed.

When he opened them and stood up, I said, "Hey, I gotta go to a doctor's appointment with a guy that Abbott recommended. The place is in Des Moines, so it'll take a while to get there."

I wasn't prepared for the look of guilt that immediately clouded John's face. I mean, he was the one who had demanded this of me, wasn't he? "I spoke without thinking, Fox. You don't have to do this for me. I'll get an IUD. Abbott says he's pretty sure it'll be a good option for me."

Trying to sound smoothly assured and calm, even though I was jittery as a room full of monkeys unleashed on the local Starbucks, I said, "If it makes you feel better, you can get an IUD too. You seem like a belt and suspenders kind of guy. I said I would do it. It's not a problem."

"Only if you're sure. I don't want you to feel as if it's something I'm forcing on you, something you'll regret," he said. "I feel bad that I talked you into something like this in a vulnerable moment."

"It's okay, Jackie, it really is," I said. I kissed him on the forehead, as if something as simple as my lips pressed to his skin could smooth away those furrowed wrinkles of his. "I'm a man. I live up to my responsibilities."

And so, hours later, I found myself sitting across from the urologist that Dr. Abbott had recommended. She was a definite surprise. If it's strange to find an middle-aged man who tends to women's most intimate medical needs, then it was even stranger to find a pretty woman a good ten years younger than me prepared to take care of my own intimate needs. I was not looking forward to her handling my manly parts. She seemed far too unrelentingly cheerful to be someone who spent her days examining prostrates.

"So, you're certain you want a vasectomy," she said. She'd looked me over once and seemed surprised at what she saw. She raised one of her eyebrows a moment and for a moment, for all that she was a blonde not a redhead, she reminded me of nothing so much as Scully. Perhaps Scully's sister in spirit. I wondered sometimes how someone chose the steps that put them on the path of their life, like at this moment, I wondered how this spiritual sister of Scully ended up looking at men's potty parts for a living and not, say, in forensic medicine.

Before I could think better of it, I said, "certain of it."

"You need to understand that despite the advances they've made in reconstructive surgery, that you have to consider this procedure for all intents and purposes to be irreversible. You're a young man, Mr. Hale. You might wish to have more children."

I'd been using one of my favorite pseudonyms. Abbott knew to some extent that I was a fugitive and that I had at least this one other identity that I used. Perhaps we trusted him with more than we should have, but so far he had proved to be trustworthy. I thought sometimes about how Scully had used a doctor for the first two-thirds of her pregnancy that turned out to be neck deep in the conspiracy and turned out to be dangerous to her. I don't think we were risking that with Abbott.

Today's appointment was just a consultation. I guess the doctors feel the need to have a chance to dissuade you from getting the procedure before they'll actually do it. I don't know why they just won't take a person at face value when he says he want's to get a vasectomy. In any case, once I talked the doctor into allowing it, the plan was to have Walter drive me into Des Moines, then for us to stay overnight in a hotel and drive back the next day.

"I understand. It's important that I get this done. If my lover gets pregnant again, it could be a medical disaster," I said. "I believe Dr. Abbott may have mentioned that you to you."

"He was vague, but yes, he did. You know, there are forms of birth control available that are nearly as effective- depo provera, implants. If you and your lover break up, you may find yourself with a woman who wants to have children."

I almost laughed. I managed not to. I told her, "I've already fathered another child, in addition to my lover's children. I believe it would be irresponsible of me to have any more."

And so, I finally convinced her to give me the damn vasectomy. It was a bit of a shock when I got up to the front desk again, to schedule it, to find out that the next available slot long enough wasn't until mid-January. I guess I would have assumed that the doctor wouldn't be particularly popular, that if I wasn't thrilled by having a young, pretty thing cutting my vas deferens, that other, older men would be even less thrilled to have her, but she was pretty fully booked.

"Okay, fine," I said. "If that's the soonest, then I'll take it."

Great. John was going to kill me. First for not getting this done before the babies were born. Second for leaving him alone for a night when they were going to be so young still. Served me right for procrastinating, I suppose.

A few days later, I'd been sipping on some tea when John said something that made me almost choke and sputter out hot liquid on myself.

"What was that you said?" I asked. I couldn't quite believe what I'd just heard John say. Not that I wouldn't be more than glad to help, if I had heard him right.

I was helping John bathe. He could still step into the shower on his own, but he'd decided he'd wanted a bath, so that required assistance getting into and out of the tub. I could have left him alone to soak, but it seemed more social to sit on the toilet seat and talk about nothing in particular while he enjoyed the hot water. I won't say that I didn't the view.

We had a little electric heater going so that the pink bathroom was warm and steamy. John was in the tub, belly sticking out of the warm water. It glistened with moisture, as pale and round as the moon. He was huge. Hard to believe that he could have expanded that far. Any time now, the babies would come, within days.

"I was hoping you'd help me do some perieneal massage," he said. "It's supposed to help prevent tearing. The ladies on my internet forum really recommend it for first time moms. I've been doing it myself, but it's not really comfortable to reach down there. I'm too big."

Yes, I'd heard correctly. Hello! After being denied access to that sweet, unexpected part of his anatomy for so long, hell, yes I was going to help him out with that.

"So, show me exactly what you want me to do," I said. I'd massage anything he wanted, but had no clue exactly how one would massage a perineum.

He spread his legs, propping one on each side of the tub. He looked so strangely inviting, so sexy.

"I have some massage oil in the medicine cabinet. Little bit on your fingers," he said. I found the small bottle he was talking about. It looked like something from a health food store or fancy toiletries shop, with a label that said, "Mother's Love," on it. The label also declared it was good for helping decrease stretch marks. As far as those went, John was going to have some real beauties. They flawed his abdomen already angry, red streaks.

"No smart aleck comments," he said as I looked at the flower printed label. "Georgie bought it for me."

I poured some on my fingers, over his belly, so that extra would drip on that. It was strongly florally scented, definitely lots of lavender in the mix of odors. Very pleasant but definitely something I could picture in the ownership of Scully, not of my favorite ex-cop. "Now what?"

"Two fingers in about an inch and a half deep, back of the vagina, make a motion like this," he said. He hooked both his index fingers, then moved them back and forth, apart from each other and together again, and also out and forward, as if stretching something.

I did as I was told. "How does that feel?" I asked. His face remained placid, perhaps with a little smile. It obviously didn't hurt, though he didn't seem to be getting any great pleasure from it either.

"Fine. You can stretch me a little more. Maybe add a finger. Bit more oil."

It was awkward, kneeling on the hard tile floor, bent over the tub, reaching in between his legs. But I still relished the soft, hot feel of his cunt around my fingers. He smelled, over the floral scent of the oil, of sex, pure and simple. As I worked the massage, he ran his fingers through my hair.

He wasn't hard, but after a few minutes of this, I sure was, my cock straining against my shorts.

"More," he said. "Four fingers."

I wasn't sure that it would fit, but I slipped a fourth finger in. His perenium was stretchy, flexible and that fourth digit was easily accommodated. You could definitely tell that his body was making itself ready for childbirth.

"More pressure with your fingertips, and then hold them in place" he said. He breathed in hard a little when I did as he asked. "It's okay. It's supposed to burn a little. You're supposed to be stretching me."

A few more minutes of this, he smiled and said, "I think that's enough for now."

I was going to move my hands from between his legs, but he put his hands on my arms, not wanting me to take my hands away just yet. I could see that slowly, he had, indeed gotten harder. His erection bobbed

"You remember why the doc said no intercourse," he said.

"He didn't want any uterine disruptions to cause the babies to go pre-term."

"They ain't pre-term any more," he said. He was right. The projected due date that Dr. Abbott had given had come and gone yesterday, without any sign that they were on their way.

"You're right," I said, getting what he was hinting at.

"What say we hand these kids an eviction notice?"

Doggett:

Fox got a big old grin as he realized what I was hinting at. God I was horny. Strange that I could feel that way when I was so huge and ungainly. But I was. And it was Fox that I wanted. And there he was. Seemed obvious to have him.

I was lubed up plenty from the oil, but I hardly needed that. Oh, yeah.

"Okay. Not in the tub though," he said. "I don't know about you, old man, but I'm too old for tile on the knees."

It took a while for us to get me out of the tub, then dried. Fox insisted on toweling me off.

"This is just an excuse for you to fondle me," I mock complained.

"I'm very fondle you," he said, just before he kissed me.

A few minutes later, we were in the bedroom, under the covers. And I was both laughing between kisses from Fox's demanding mouth and frustrated. "How the hell do you think we're going to manage this?" I asked between bouts of tongue wrestling. God knows that no way could I manage on top like we had last time I'd tried this.

After a lot of fussing, we finally ended up with me on my side, knee propped up with a bunch of pillows. Fox snuggled in behind me. I felt his erection first press against my backside, then travel down and forward, seeking an entrance. I opened my legs as much as I could to accommodate him. And he found his entrance in just a few moments. He easily slid into place. I breathed in hard, just starting to fly. There is a moment just at first penetration whenever Fox is making love to me where it just feels so right for him to be there, as if he were made to fit into that strange absence. I've heard it said before that there aren't nerve endings inside the vagina, but that is such bullshit, at least in my case. I could feel every inch of the short trip from the very first breaching until he buried himself fully to the hilt.

This time, with Fox stroking my cock and penetrating me, with me having been deprived of this for so long, I came for the first time almost immediately. Once I came down from this high and let myself lie wrapped in his embrace, I heard him laugh a little. "You're on a hair trigger today," he said, and kept fucking me.

I wished again that the girls were Mulder's, that they had come from his body and mine combining. I imagined almost that he was making the girls his with the softly furious way he plowed into me, making me his with the insistent reality of his body finding its place inside mine. It was where he belonged, with me. Beside me. Inside me.

I would have thought that he'd feel as deprived as I was and that his pace would be fast and furious, but it wasn't. No, it was slow, methodical, yet intense. Demanding. He was going to take his sweet time getting his pleasure out of me and I was happy to let him do it. As he slid home relentlessly again and again, he kissed my neck and the back of my head. I tried to turn my head to kiss him back as he was fucking me, but the best I could manage was giving him my cheek to kiss. I was envious, a little, of his control. He brought me to orgasm a couple of more times before he let lose.

Afterwards, I rolled around to look him in the eyes. He smiled, tired, about to fall asleep and said, "You think that did the trick?"

"I hope so," I wished fervently. I kissed him, then both of us napped.

Despite multiple bouts of lovemaking over the next couple of days, the girls seemed inclined to remain firmly entrenched in their safe little world. Can't say I blamed them, though I was getting impatient. Christmas was approaching fast.

Fox and Georgie had started making various suggestions. "I hear eating spicy food induces labor," he'd say. So it was spicy food for the next meal, scorch your taste buds off spicy. Still, no go.

"Nipple stimulation," had been another one of Fox's suggestions. We tried plenty of that. The only thing resulting from that was a bit of yellow fluid that Dr. Abbott had assured me was normal- colostrum. I guess along with the ability to gestate, I'd also gotten the ability to lactate. I was still undecided if I would try to nurse the girls.

"There's an old wives tale that says that eating eggplant stimulates labor," Georgie had said.

Sorry, a man has his limits. I was getting pretty darn impatient, but there are some things that are just too gross to contemplate. Eggplant!

Dr. Abbott started making worried noises. "I'll give you another week, but if they haven't come by the twenty-sixth, we're going to have to start talking about inducing you. Maybe even a C-section."

Despite this talk, the girls stayed in place. Neither of them had even descended. At least the last ultrasound had revealed that they were both head down. That was a relief. Though it hadn't confirmed that they were both girls. One of them was pretty much hid completely behind her sister, though I grew more and more certain all the time that they were both girls.

Meanwhile, Christmas was coming. There was much disagreement among the four of us as to when or even if we should set up a tree. Skinner family tradition had one being set up on Christmas eve and taken down the day after Christmas. Walter was for this option, or even not having one, because the only place to set it up was the living room and "what if the babies came while it was up." Georgie was inclined towards a real tree up as soon as possible, and left up, until at least new years, if not Epiphany. Mulder said, "Don't ask me. We never had a tree. My family was all either Jewish or atheists. Or both."

I was inclined towards having a real tree, but I wasn't sure I wanted it in the living room. Even though it seemed like I'd still be pregnant forever, the kids would have to come out eventually and I wanted a minimum of fuss to set up when they did come.

We were batting this idea back and forth one afternoon about four days before Christmas. Georgie had gone so far as to get boxes of her aunt's decorations out.

"It's important," she said. "I just have a feeling it'll be the babies first Christmas."

I was looking out the window. They'd planted a row of pines as a windbreak and privacy measure towards the front of the lot. They were still pretty small, only twelve feet each. "I've got an idea," I said, thinking back to something Gran Garnet used to do. "We can decorate the outside trees. With cranberries and stuff for the birds to eat."

And so it was settled. Some bright idea. It was decided that I'd stay on the inside, doing the stringing of popcorn and cranberries. Do you have any idea how hard it is to string popcorn without the little kernels crumbling?

This was the first Christmas I'd celebrated since Luke and since my divorce. I thought things would hurt worse than they did. For years, the season had been something to be endured, perhaps spent anesthetized by a small, but steady stream of alcohol.

Now though, as Mulder, Walter and Georgie strung lights on one of the big pines in the front yard, with small flakes of snow drifting as they worked, I was at peace, even almost enjoying myself, except for the damn crumbling popcorn. They were having a wonderful time out there. Stopping to laugh and talk. Mulder would come in now and then to get more supplies and he'd kiss me each time, swoop down on me and steal a kiss, all the time looking at me like I was the best damn Christmas present he'd ever gotten. Do you know what it does to a guy's ego to have someone look at you like that?

Later that day, after the tree was decorated and the sun had slipped away, leaving us in darkness, we got a phone call. This wasn't very common. The outside world had been very good about making itself scarce in this small world of ours. We'd been indulging in some hot cocoa made by Skinner, who'd started out with cocoa powder and milk, doing it the old-fashioned way. As the phone rang, a audible intruder to our happy, little life, we looked at each other over the rims of our cups. Walter was the one who put down his mug and got up to answer it.

Walter picked up the phone with a twitch of the jaw, and said, "Skinner residence."

He listened then said, "You're certain?"

Then, "No, I have no idea where he is, but yes, I'll talk to them."

Then, "Of course I'd want to see that his name was clear. He wasn't just a client or a subordinate of mine. I respected him tremendously. He was a good friend."

Then, "I assume nothing is going to be done until the holidays are over. Yes, keep me posted on the progress. The minute you hear something."

Finally, he hung up, looking shocked. All of us had been in the living room, watching the Grinch Who Stole Christmas, the animated version. While the call had taken place though, we'd been watching and listening to Walter with rapt attention, old, familiar show no match for this strange intrusion.

Walter turned to Mulder and said, "That was a friend I still have at the Bureau. Someone I believe we can trust. The military has contacted the Bureau about you, Mulder. I guess there was suddenly some question as to the simple legality of having tried you in a military court. Apparently, it's illegal to try a civilian that way. And there's some question as to evidence that should have been admitted, but wasn't. There's going to be an inquiry into that mockery that called itself a trial. The charges may be dropped, pending the results of the inquiry. You may be a free man, Mulder."

Mulder breathed a heavy sigh, as if momentarily away of the heavy burden it was to be a fugitive wanted for murder. "I won't be a free man until the threat is over, Walter," Mulder said, looking at me. I knew he was thinking about my children and their future.

"But you'd be able operate above ground. You wouldn't worry constantly at the sight of every police officer."

"I know. And that would be appreciated. But I'm not leaving hiding just for that chance. It's too dangerous. It very well might be a trap and you know it, Walter. And I'll still be a wanted man, just not so obviously. I've been a wanted man ever since I first looked into the X-files."

"You don't have to testify at this hearing. It's a hearing about the legality of the process itself, not another trial of you. I just want you to trust me to find someone who's an expert in military law this time, to help me represent you."

"No," Mulder said. He put his cocoa down on the table and stood up, as if he was going to leave the room. "No. I trust you, but not some stranger."

"Maybe this is a trap, Mulder. Maybe it's not. But maybe it really is a chance to get this conviction thrown out. And that's not going to happen without some help. The military lawyers, even if they're honest ones, are going to run rings around me again. You trust me, Mulder, but I'm a retired administrator with a law degree that's decades old and I never specialized in military law in the first place. I'm not going to let you railroad me into this again."

I listened to their interchange with great interest. Back then, at that trial, I'd still believed that justice would be served if everyone just told the truth and presented the evidence we'd found. Mulder should have been cleared. The evidence was more than adequate to do so. I'd thought that we could turn the game on them, that we could shove it up their ass. That trial and the fiascoes afterwards had been a disillusionment to me, a stripping away of an innocence I hadn't even been aware I still had until it was gone. The last bit of faith I had in justice and my government had been taken from me. That was why I wouldn't have taken reinstatement at the Bureau, had it even been an option.

Now though, perhaps there was someone, somewhere that was willing to admit that maybe they'd made a mistake. That justice had been not just not served, but downright raped and made a mockery of. At that moment, I had not hesitated to go to Mulder and Scully in the desert and warn them, regardless of my responsibilities to the Bureau, because I knew that it was all a big joke. The game was rigged. The fucking justice department, for god's sake, was filled to the brim with conspirators.

"Fox, listen to me," I said. "You know Walter is right. If he's willing to take the risk to leave here and go talk to these people, the least you can to is trust him enough to find someone that knows their way around the block. Maybe I can't, but you could have your identity back."

"Think about it at least, Mulder," Walter said. "They haven't set a date for the hearing. Not until after the holidays."

Georgie didn't say anything, perhaps feeling out of league when confronted by this thing that we all had in common, that she knew so little of, but she looked Mulder in the eyes and some kind of non-verbal communication passed between them. I really think that nothing Walter or I said made a difference. It was Georgie. One look from her and Mulder was saying, "I'll think about it."

Even so, Mulder was broody right through the remaining days until Christmas. I think maybe the holiday might have contributed to, rather than alleviated his funk. I know he spent a lot of time going back and forth between the farmhouse and Omaha. I got the hint that he went to a cyber-cafe there and had email contact with various people. He'd come home and study downloaded satellite pictures and big files. He'd shut himself in our room for hours, often coming out only for meals and to go out running, even when it was snowing. Of course, he never locked me out, but I ended up feeling like an intruder in the room when he'd get onto these jags. Sometimes he'd look up from the files. I could see him work at putting the mood aside, then he'd smile at me, and we'd make love.

On Christmas Eve, in the afternoon, as we lay in each other's arms after one of these lovemaking sessions, I asked him, "So, who peed in your cornflakes? Your mood has been a real pisser these days."

"I'm worried," he said.

"About what?" I asked, knowing full well some of the things he had to be worried about. Hell, I remember how I was during the days immediately before Luke was born. Fatherhood itself is a serious undertaking, a real chance to foul-up in a big way. And that doesn't even count any of the very real problems unique to our situation. Hell, everyone was saying that it looked like I could deliver these babies, no problem, and I even believed that myself. But we didn't know that for sure. I was about to do something no guy had ever done. What if I couldn't do it? What if they died?

"Everything, Jackie. Everything. Just hold me," he said. Then he buried his face into my shoulder. I held him as he shivered, and even cried a few tears. I could feel their wetness on my naked shoulder. Somewhere in the middle of it, we both fell asleep.

We were woken by a soft knock on the door. It was dark. A quick glance at the clock revealed that it was five in the evening. The room was cold and I would have been really suffering if I weren't under a thick comforter with my own personal furnace. Georgie called softly through the door, "You boys decent?"

"Not really," Fox replied. "But we're under the blankets, so come in."

"I just wanted to know if you wanted dinner."

Again, we'd had arguments about the type of Christmas celebrations. The Skinner family had always waited around for midnight mass, then come home and had a big, late dinner, then opened presents late at night. To me, it seemed wrong somehow to open them on Christmas Eve. In my family, it was very clear that you had to wait until Christmas morning, until well past sunrise, to open presents. Nothing else was right. Mulder, of course, was no good as a tie-breaker. As a compromise, we were having a big dinner tomorrow and opening one present each tonight. Dinner tonight was just simple chicken pot pie, which I guess was traditional for the Skinner's.

Without a tree indoors for them to accumulate around, the presents had sort of sprawled over the whole downstairs, piles of them here and there. I had the most, though one was obviously a big double stroller from Fox. I couldn't see that it could be anything else. The box was huge. I suspected that a lot of the other presents addressed to me were actually for the girls, baby stuff and the like. As if we hadn't accumulated enough of that already. It felt downright weird to be buying presents with money that had been given to me, for the person that had given to me, but I'd used that credit card to buy presents not just for Fox, but also for Walter and Georgie. Nothing elaborate. The Jasper Skinner I was creating for myself, from information passed on by Walter and Georgie, was in most things, thoughtful and practical, but not extravagant at all.

I was pleased to see Fox pick the package I'd gotten for him. I'd had Walter go to Omaha to buy part of it, but some I'd gotten from the internet. He shook the big, rectangular box. It gave an impressive, metallic rattle. He looked puzzled and not exactly pleased as he tore through the wrapping and opened the box. He took out the big, red metal tool box first. Then he opened that up and looked at the ordered rows of the different, basic tools that I'd picked out as essential to keep in the car. Under the tool box was an emergency kit, including one of those reflective blankets. And last he lifted out a bright yellow and black book. Car Repair for Dummies.

There was another, more fun present waiting for him later, but I wasn't about to give him that in front of Georgie and Walter.

"Thanks," he said. He wasn't looking exactly enthused.

"I worry about you, driving all over creation, with a used car and the weather like it is," I said. "You could get stuck out in the middle of nowhere.

He did seem a little bit more pleased when I kissed him.

Walter picked a big, brightly wrapped present that I knew was from Georgie. He tried to lift it and failed on the first attempt. "Lord love a duck, Georgie, what did you wrap it in this year? A safe?"

With a concentrated effort, Walter managed to lift the package and brought it over to where he'd been sitting. He methodically pulled away gift wrap to reveal a plain cardboard box. He opened that and looked in the box. He didn't lift his gift out, but broke into laughter. I peered over and got a look. It appeared that Georgie had given her brother a solid block of concrete.

"What'd she give you, Walter?" Fox asked.

"A toupe," he said, with a hybrid between laughter and resignation. Georgie was snorting with suppressed laughter. Finally she could bear it no longer and broke out into rich, bell-like peals of it.

"Doesn't look like a toupe to me," I said. "Looks like a block of concrete."

"That's just the wrapping paper, so to speak," Skinner explained. "About, oh, too many years ago, just after I started going bald, Georgie gave me this horrible toupe. It didn't even match my hair color. It's blond. So the next year, I wrapped it up and gave it back to her. Only I spent about an hour wrapping it in duct tape first. She gave it back the next year, only nailed into a wooden crate. It's kind of escalated since then."

Then Skinner looked at Georgie and pointed at her, "Yuck it up now, Georgie-porgy, because next year you'll be crying, trying to figure out how to get it out."

Georgie simply laughed some more. It was strange. The holiday had turned these two serious, responsible, even boring adult people into kids again. Eventually, everyone regained their composure and we finished unwrapping gifts. Georgie picked a box from Walter. It was much nicer than her present to him- a new, thick, quilted robe. She seemed pleased. Except for with the fluffy, pink bunny slippers that Walter had put in with the elegant, red, velvet and satin robe. She bounced one of the slippers off his bald head. The gift I picked to open was from Mulder. It was a small box. I figured I didn't want to spoil the good stuff for tomorrow. He'd gotten me a pair of slippers. Not just any slippers. Down filled booties. I guess he was serious about taking care of my cold feet problem. It was sweet, but I was oddly disappointed. I wasn't sure what I could have asked for, but something, I don't know. Say, a nice set of tools to replace the ones I'd always kept in my truck. Tickets to the Brickyard 500. Or a gun safe for the place were going to buy once the farmhouse was sold.

I gave him a kiss of thanks any way and tried to be as enthusiastic as I dared with Georgie and Walter in the room. It was then that he palmed a small box in my hand. Small velvet box. I opened it and stared at the ring inside. Made of silvery, burnished metal, it was the simplest, plainest band you could get. At first I thought it might be stainless steel, because it sure didn't look like white gold or platinum, nor even silver.

"Aircraft grade Titanium. Hardest damn metal I could find," he said. "You probably don't want to wear it right now. I bought it sized for what I thought would be your post-pregnancy finger size. You're a little bit swollen. It won't fit."

I tried it on my pinky finger and it was a bit loose. I decided there was a good chance it would fit on my ring finger when I wasn't retaining water like I was. I put it carefully back into its box. I wouldn't have thought about getting us rings at all, much less one that seemed so perfect for me. Somehow, as I thought about it, titanium seemed far more perfect than any kind of gold or precious metal would have been. It was tough, hard, nearly indestructible. The band was thick, substantial, without any decoration at all. And I was grateful to get this confirmation of his commitment to us, even thought I hadn't realized I'd wanted this kind of physical token of it.

"Thank you, Fox. It's beautiful," I said, as I kissed him again.

We stayed up for a while, drinking hot tea, and looking out at the tree we'd decorated in the yard, lit up with the little white lights that we'd up on it. Watching them slowly get buried in the snow that had started falling during the course of the evening. We went to sleep, worrying about how the snow was turning from a gentle fall to an outright storm.

Sometime, during the middle of the night, I woke up, feeling cranky and restless. My back hurt. I headed into the bathroom, suddenly craving a hot shower. I knew I should probably have woken Fox up to help steady me in and out of the bathtub, but I didn't want to disturb his sleep and I reasoned it was just a shower. Not like I was going to be settling into a bath, though that sounded much better than a shower at the moment. I was having very mild contractions too, so mild that I thought that it couldn't possibly be labor. I thought it was just more Braxton-Hicks, like I'd been having on and off for a while.

However, just moments into my shower, I felt an extra gush of warm liquid from between my legs. It flowed away quickly in the running water, but I was utterly certain that my water had broken. Oddly, I didn't feel panicked like I thought I would. No, a strange calm descended over me. I finished my shower, no, lingered in the shower, wanting to be alone for this part of it for some reason. The contractions, though they were getting closer, didn't exactly hurt. They weren't entirely comfortable, just more like muscles clenching. This was a kind of warm up for the work ahead of me, it seemed.

After I finished my shower, I waited in the hot, steamy bathroom, enjoying the warmth put out by the little heater, and oddly, enjoying the new found sensations of labor. The contractions grew steadily stronger over the course of the hour and a half that I remained in the bathroom, until they started to be almost painful. No, not exactly pain. Like I was doing such hard work that their closest resemblance was pain. I finally decided it was time to rouse the household. Fox first. I dried myself off fully and wrapped myself back up in the clothes that I wanted to keep off, but forced myself to put on because off the cold, then went back to our bedroom. I checked the bedroom clock before waking Fox. Two-thirty-five a.m.

I shook his shoulder, and said, softly, surprised at the excitement I heard in my voice, "Fox."

He woke immediately, sat straight up in bed, the action of a man too used to being in danger, I thought. "What? What's happening?" he asked. Then he got his bearings and realized it was me. "Santa Claus come during the night or something?"

"Better," I said. I could feel the big grin on my face. Couple of more hours and they'd be here. Best present a man could wish for.



Mulder:

The instant I heard John say, "Better," I knew and I sat straight up in bed, ready for action, but I let him continue speaking. Then I started putting our oft talked about plans into effect finally.

"You go wake up Georgie and call Dr. Abbott," I told him, throwing off the covers even though the room was freezing, even for me. "I'll wake up Walt and we'll start setting up the pool."

"No need for hurry. It might be hours yet, my contractions are still five minutes apart," he said. Then he huffed in suddenly. He sat down heavily on the bed that I'd just abandoned and worked his way through the contraction, breathing in and out and massaging his belly. For a few brief moments, this person didn't seem like my lover anymore, but some other entity, a creature of instinct. Perhaps that was just because it is at these most human of moments- sex, birth, death, that we are also at our most animal like. I realized suddenly that John, the mind that was my lover might have prepared for this birth by pouring through books and on the internet, searching for fact after fact, but that when push came to shove, it was his body that was going to be delivering these babies and it was that body that had known what to do all along. I could suddenly imagine him giving birth alone in the wild, with only instinct for a midwife, some bushes for cover, the night sky overhead for a ceiling, doing what was most human and animal by starlight.

I had thought that this moment might seem strange, unnatural. Instead, it was a normal panic that I felt watching the person I loved torn in pain by forces I could neither control nor even want to hinder.

When it was over and John was back with me, he said, with a rueful grin, "Make that about three minutes. They're getting closer fast."

"Jackie, how long have you been in labor?" I asked. "Why didn't you wake me sooner?"

"The shower felt too good to leave. I think maybe two hours. Maybe longer. I was having a weird backache most of the evening, but I didn't think it was anything."

Two hours? Hell! "You'd better call Abbott now. Look at it out there. It's going to take him forever to get here. Assuming he even can."

John looked out the window and saw what I'd gotten a quick glance at- one of the worst winter storms outside of the Arctic that I've been in. The snow was blowing practically sideways. I'd say we'd gotten another twelve inches since we'd gone to bed, to add to the six inches that had fallen over the course of the day before and the foot or so of accumulation from earlier in the week.

He must not have realized it was so bad. He looked out the window with horror. Then his brow furrowed and he got a look of intense determination on his face and he said, "He's got a four by four. Dollars to doughnuts, he'll get here sooner that I want anyway."

"Jackie, I thought you were okay with Abbott."

"This is going to sound strange, but I don't want anyone but you around me at the moment," he said.

"No, that doesn't sound strange at all. It sounds completely normal. This is one of the most private and personal moments a person can have. Go on, wake Georgie."

He went downstairs and I got dressed quickly, throwing on the first pieces of clothing that came to hand. I was bouncing off the walls practically, hardly able to think anything other than a chorus of "the babies are coming, the babies are coming!"

Thank God we were having these kids here. I don't like to think about what a hazard on the road I would have been at this moment.

It was only a few moments and I was rapping on the door to Walter's room and calling to him. Strange that all these months I'd lived here in his farmhouse, like part of his family and I'd never been in his bedroom. I guess in some things, Walter still maintains a glacial distance.

"Mulder, what is it?" answered a gruff, sleepy voice, door still firmly shut.

"Babies are on the way, Walter. Hop to. Time to get busy."

"Hold on," I was told. Walter's voice transformed from half asleep to completely awake in about half a second. "Let me throw on some clothes. Is he anywhere ready to need the pool yet?"

"I'm getting the feeling that if we don't start filling it now, he won't get a chance to use it at all," I said as Walter emerged in a flannel shirt and jeans.

We'd done a practice run with the pool earlier in the month, just to make sure we understood how it went together and so that we could be sure that the floor wouldn't collapse under the weight of the water after all. We weren't exactly the smoothest working of teams, but Walter and I had managed to put up that pool and get it filled with warm water in short order.

"We'll probably have to heat some water on the stove," I said as we walked downstairs. "Sounds like Jack took a long shower before getting me up and that must have depleted the hot water tank."

The pool had a built-in heater, but things went much faster if you filled it with warm water in the first place. It takes a lot of time to heat up that much water.

And so we got to work. John was kneeling on the floor of the living room, resting his arms and head on the seat of his favorite recliner, breathing deeply, partially through another contraction. I moved to his side, to massage his back or do something for him, but he snapped at me, "Get workin' on the pool, dammit."

Georgie was tending to the fire in the wood stove while talking with Abbott on the phone. As Walter and I unpacked the box with the pool, she was hanging up. As she shut the heavy iron door to the wood stove, she said, "I checked John's dilation. I wouldn't be surprised if at least the first one gets here before Bob does. He's already at three centimeters."

It took multiple contractions to get the last of the plastic framework pieces snapped into place and the lining fully secured. Each contraction my attention was torn away from my work, watching how my lover was doing, how his body would heave with his heavy breaths, how his brow would furrow even deeper. How he would make a noise that wasn't quite a scream, but louder, more heartfelt than just a moan.

"We're starting to fill it," I was finally able to tell John, while he was resting between contractions. Labor had hit him fast and furious and I wondered maybe if the babies would be with us before full morning light. We had put big pots of water on the stove to heat and add to the mostly tepid water of the birthing pool and for the moment, there was nothing left to do but wait.

Walter had suddenly made himself scarce, I noticed. I supposed that after everything, it was asking a bit much to expect him to stay for the birth. I suspected this was more than not wanting to see John naked. Walter had once told me that he was scared to look beyond his one experience with things that went beyond normal reality, and that might have something to do with it. Either way, one could forgive Walter his squeamishness. The situation was hardly believable in a rational universe.

We were not alone, I realized suddenly, looking around. No, the room was crowded. A veritable Grand Central Station of the dearly departed. Monica watched John the closest, hovering over his shoulder as he leaned his upper body against the chair, occasionally brushing his hair. Scully was close by as well. Once, I heard Monica murmur something to Scully. "Isn't he beautiful?" she asked.

A little boy with blondish hair watched intently. I recognized him from a picture in a file I'd seen once. He was John's son Luke. The Gunmen hovered in the corner, my three unlikely guardian angels. All of them, all of my beloved dead were here at this moment and more, persons I did not recognize, two old women that I could only assume were John's grandmothers, the one's that we would be naming the children after. There were others, perhaps spirits connected with the house, members of the Skinner family tree that we had been grafted onto.

Realizing we were not alone, I lost my panic, suddenly as calm as John seemed. The room was filled with such a sense of blessing and love that the path from life to death, the eternal, unbroken circle of existence was palpable. It seemed, at this exact moment that nothing could go wrong.

It was a beautiful, serene moment, perfect in all respects, until John finished with a contraction, got up and walked over to me. In the full intense seriousness that only he can convey, he said to me, "I swear to God you'd better go through with that appointment of yours, Mulder, because if you ever put me through this again, I swear I will rip your fucking balls off. As slowly and painfully as I can."

I tried not to take it personally.

"I love you, John," I told him. "What do you need me to do for you?"

He wanted me to hold him up as he labored in a squatting position. I did, rubbing his shoulders as he gripped my waist or alternatively, anchored himself by pulling down on my hands. One particularly bad contraction he grabbed my hands so hard I was afraid he would break one of my bones. And then I saw Monica lean over his shoulder and say, "Breathe, John. You can do it. Breathe."

It wasn't until she'd said that that I realized he'd been holding his breath against the pain. He relaxed slightly as she spoke to him, brushed her hands against his body. And then he inhaled, deeply and steadily, and exhaled slowly.

Eventually, the water in the pool was ready, a nice, warm, body temperature. I helped John pull his clothes off and climb into the water. He seemed to ease into the water immediately. The furrows on his brow never disappeared completely, of course, but they were not quite so deep. The pain had obviously eased significantly just from his being in the water.

I would have crawled into the tub with John, except Walter called me from the kitchen. "Mulder, get in here," he said. I'd heard him come in and out and couple of times, but hadn't been able to think about it. I went to go see what Walter wanted.

Walter had, at the point of a very deadly looking military rifle, a fully uniformed Marine, in winter combat gear. Walter had a Smith and Wesson in hand as well, one that looked like a FBI service weapon. The Marine wasn't trying anything, just standing at attention. If it had taken a scuffle for Walter to capture the Marine, they sure didn't look like it.

"Walter, I appreciate the thought. I mean, a Marine of my very own is what I've always wanted, but since I already have one, you'll have to send this one back," I said. I couldn't help making the crack. Walter was seriously not amused. "Really? What the hell is going on here, Walter?" I asked. "Who is this?"

"I was hoping you might tell me, Mulder," Walter said. "I think there are more of them out there. I caught this one between the chicken coop and my workshop. He won't tell me anything but that he's on patrol, under orders, but he won't say from who."

I thought I had a pretty good idea of what he was doing out there. Images of the night William was born came to me. Scully being hunted because of the child she carried. It'd been a night of death and destruction, in addition to a night of new life.

"You're under orders from Col. Doggett, aren't you?" I asked. I got no verbal answer, but there was a flicker of surprise on his face, enough answer for me. "Walter, give the man his gun back, kick him back out into the blizzard and let him get down to his business. I suspect there's as much out there for them to worry about as there is in here for us to worry about."

I'll give Walter this much credit. Over the years, he's learned to trust my instincts, sometimes even more than I trust them myself. He threw the rifle at the Marine, hard, but the Marine caught it neatly. "You heard the man," Walter said, with that famous reined in fury that had served him so well in the Bureau. Walter had been a man used to saying jump and seeing people fall all over themselves to see how high they could go, myself the obvious exception. He still had it. "Get back out there. I don't want to see you or any of your men. Just go do your patrols, hear me?"

"Sir!" the Marine snapped straight to attention, then turned towards the door.

When we were left alone, Walter holstered his weapon so it was concealed under his parka. "You'd better be getting back to Jack," he told me, then he turned to the door. "I'm going to get more firewood onto the porch, in case we need it."

"Be careful out there, Walter," I said. I suspected that the Marine, if you'd looked, would have some very interesting looking bumps on the back of his neck. One of Col. Doggett's men. One of the supersoldiers that were being subverted to our side, if the Col. could be believed or trusted. I hoped for all our sakes that he could.

And if the supersoldiers didn't get Walter, the weather might. It was near whiteout conditions out there. Only the fact that Walter grew up here kept me from protesting that he went out at all. He knew, had to know, how dangerous it could be and wouldn't risk himself.

"I won't be long," Walter promised. "We probably have more than enough. I just want to be sure."

I left him to it and went back to John.

John was in the pool still, looking, for lack of a better word, radiant. People have written often over the centuries about the transformative power of some kinds of suffering, but never had I seen it illustrated so well. This was not pointless pain. Instead, it had a beautiful purpose and you could see that reflected in John's eyes.

"It won't be long now," Georgie said as I approached John. "He's already entered transition."

He was fully dilated then, and getting ready to start pushing. Labor was nearly over. I stripped quickly and got into the pool with him. The next couple of hours passed in such a distortion of time that I could hardly account for them. Moments like one of John's guttural moans could take an eternity, other times passed in the blink of an eye. I had the feeling, for the first time that I was not only in the center of something bigger than myself, but that I was an active maker of events, not being buffeted about in a storm made by others, as I had been my whole life.

John and I were at the center of a maelstorm, holding fast to each other. His hands were hard on my body, demanding my support, no, that I be his rock fast center. For these brief hours, nothing else existed for me but John. Everything else faded from my attention. Even Georgie was just an occasional presence, mostly ignored except for when she checked on how John was progressing. Rapidly was how he was progressing.

At four-thirty five in the morning, the head of our first baby was just crowning. My first glimpse of our child, a view stolen quickly as I dunked my head underwater, was of thick, black hair. It took only a few minutes more and our daughter was free in the water, tethered only by the umbilical cord that still provided her with oxygen.

She seemed to accept her new world with aplomb, perhaps because it was just a bigger, less crowded version of the womb she had been swimming in so long. Babies born in the water instinctively do not breathe until their face breaches into the air.

I caught her up in my arms and slowly brought her to the surface, turning her so that her face could be in the air and the rest of her body in the water. Once out of the water, she took her first breath, not a scream, just a gentle opening of herself to the world. Her eyes opened as well. They were hazel, like my own. I'd thought that most babies were supposed to be born with blue eyes that change to their permanent color later, but I didn't stop long to wonder about this. Eye color was hardly the most mysterious circumstance of her birth. Those eyes should have been unfocused, instead they seemed to take in the world with avid interest, looking all around her. They seemed so innocent and young, like she was a new soul.

I wasn't sure which name John wanted to use first, so I just said, "Welcome to the world, baby girl."

Astonishing, how small and perfectly formed her body was. Each little part a masterpiece, from the sharply defined dent just under her nose to her full arched lips, to the flawless light brown skin just starting to be visible under the vernix that covered her. I marveled at the utter perfection of her as I lifted her slowly up to John and set her on him, chest to chest.

He'd been resting, eyes closed, leaning back against the wall of the pool, but he opened them at the touch of her weight. He smiled at her and rested a hand lightly on her back.

"Hey, Gracie baby," he said. I felt a momentary surge of jealousy at the sight of him falling in love with her. He would never be entirely my own again, I realized, but hey, who wouldn't mind sharing their man with such a beautiful brunette? He couldn't hold her long. He was in thrall to labor pains again in seconds. Georgie moved in fast, to tie off the umbilical cord, clamping it in two places. Then, she had me cut it, freeing her from her father, so he could get on with the crucial business of birthing her sibling.

They say that the average time between the births of twins is seventeen minutes, and on that one thing, John was right about on par.

Just before five, another baby girl was born into the world. Instead of Gracie's pale caramel skin and black hair, Garnet Scully Skinner was born with pale skin that was alarmingly, angrily red at first. She screamed when I brought her face up out of the water and didn't stop until I took her completely out of the water and held her against my chest. She had almost no hair at all, just the faintest hint of strawberry blond fuzz on her bald head. Her eyes, when she finally opened them, were deep blue. Those eyes seemed so old, almost tired already, and I was left with the instinctive feeling that I had known this person before. This was an old soul come back into my life for some reason, for us to learn something from each other, for us to love, in a different way yet again. The last time I had felt so certain about this was in a field in Tennessee. I wondered who this soul was and how I'd known them before. Had it been a lover, husband or child of mine that had consented to be born into my life? Perhaps it was this more than anything that drove home to me the awesome responsibility I was facing. Because Gracie was new and sweet and I would fall in love with her very soon, just like John had.

But this one, this life currently known as Garnet Scully Skinner, I loved her already, and had for time untold. And she had trusted me enough to consent to be born as my child. It was a staggering realization.

Compared to Gracie's compact, round form, Garnet was a long, skinny baby. She, too, was every bit as perfect as her sister, in her own way. What finally wrought creatures we humans can be, I thought as I traced one of my fingers over each of her tiny ones. I held her until the afterbirth had been delivered and Georgie had pronounced John and Gracie to be perfectly fine. Garnet, in turn, was content to be held by me. Georgie finally demanded I hand Garnet over so that she could be looked over and I did so reluctantly.

Finally no longer focused exclusively on John, I looked around the living room. Apparently satisfied that all had gone well, our beloved dead had slipped away back to whatever place it is that they wait between manifestations.

Not long after came a rattle on the door. I was already out of the pool and dried off. I was helping John out, a difficult procedure because he was holding Gracie and wouldn't let go of her. Georgie handed Garnet back to me and went to answer the door.

There was a draft of cold wind suddenly, that was mercifully brief, then the soft sounds of Georgie and Dr. Abbott talking in the next room.

"You missed out completely, Bob," she said. "Not a thing left for you to do except congratulate the lucky fathers and fill out the birth certificates."

I'd been helping John get dry and before Abbott burst into the room, I managed to assist John in shrugging into a robe.

"Gentleman! Congratulations! And there's nothing I like better than a birth so quick and so easy, I don't have to do a single thing," Abbott said. He was beaming like he'd been the one to deliver the babies himself.

"Lord God, you think that was easy?" John asked, though he was too tired for the snap to have much venom to it. No, John's expression was a kind of tired bliss. His endorphin levels would have been sky high right then.

"Not at all, Mr. Doggett," he said. "But assuming you were in labor only two hours before I was called, you had a labor of just under five hours, significantly shorter than average. And no tearing according to Georgeann. I'd say you're pretty lucky."

John had sat back in his recliner and he leaned back. He took one look at the baby in his arms, smiled and said, "Yeah, you're right about that. Hey, somebody oughta tell Walter that the gross part is over and he can come back in now and meet his new nieces."

Abbott examined John, just be certain he was all right, an examination which John accepted grudgingly. Then the babies were looked over, weighed and fussed over, given a first sponge bath and dried off. We wrapped them in diapers and blankets, then put one of those sweet little knit caps on each of them. Gracie was a mere seventeen inches long and weighed six pounds, five ounces. Garnet was nearly twenty-one inches long, but weighed only a few ounces more, clocking in at six pounds, eight ounces.

Gracie was such an easy baby. She accepted anything that happened to her with perfect equanimity. Garnet, on the other hand, squalled at the top of her newborn lungs anytime she wasn't being held by either John or myself. The whole time Abbott was looking her over, she was screaming.

Before the birth, there'd been much debate, most of it between John and himself about whether he'd try to breastfeed the girls or not. At first he wasn't sure if he could, then when the colostrum made it's appearance and it was obvious that he probably could produce at least part of their diet, he wavered between wanting to try it for a while and not wanting to get them started. His reason for not wanting to do it was that he didn't want to be stuck at home until they were weaned. They'll be babies, he had argued. They wouldn't know why he couldn't nurse them in public. In the end, he decided to give it an experimental run, at least for the first few weeks, switching them over to formula supplements as he started feeling like going out into the world again.

Babies have a natural rooting instinct. Held against a chest, they tend to seek out the obvious, traditional source of nourishment. John started first with Gracie, holding her close, supported by pillows in the so-called "football" position, guiding his small nipple into her mouth in the way that we'd read about. She took it eagerly and sucked hungrily. John looked kind of surprised at first. Finally he said, "Okay, hand me Garnet, I think I should be able to do both of them at once."

Doggett:

The pressure of Gracie's mouth on my nipple had been greater than I'd anticipated, but it wasn't so bad. After a moment, I realized I could handle it. She seemed to be taking it pretty smoothly. My breasts had swollen a little more during the last month of my pregnancy, but they were still very small and it didn't seem possible that they'd produce enough for the girls, even though I'd been assured again and again, by books, by the internet, by Georgie and by Abbott that the size didn't matter. Now that I was experiencing it, I thought I might be a little bit more comfortable if I had a little more breast to offer. Things seemed like they were pulled kinda tight, like she'd managed to pull the whole darn tit into her mouth.

I asked for my other girl. I hadn't had much of a chance to hold her yet, what with Mulder holding her tightly and staring at her like she was the greatest thing since sliced bread. Hell, forget bread. Like she was best thing ever. Georgie practically had to pry Garnet out of Mulder's arms with a crowbar in order to examine her. When he finally surrendered her, I realized that Mulder would no longer be entirely my own. He belonged to a little girl now. Two little girls. But hell, who wouldn't mind sharing their guy with such swell-looking gals?

Garnet was starting to fuss even though she was being held. She must be getting hungry. Mulder handed her over and with his help, I got her positioned, propped up and under my arm. I put my breast up to her mouth and she popped on immediately. Only it wasn't smooth like Gracie. It was like somebody had applied a vise grip to my nipple. It hurt so much I could only gasp in pain. "Lord God, that hurts," I managed to get out.

"I don't think she's latched on right," Georgie said. "Why don't you try popping her off and positioning her again."

Georgie showed me how to break the suction by sticking my finger in Garnet's mouth. But the instant I did that, she started screaming again. Which set off her sister who spit her side out, then added her voice to the general ruckus. I tried to think clearly. Not easy with two human sirens going off right in your ear and being exhausted from the hardest night's work I'd ever done. You know, I had a new appreciation for my ex-wife, I really did.

Before I could come up with a solution, Fox said, "Jackie, why don't you give me Garnet for a little while. Focus on one at a time before you try both."

Fox claimed Garnet again and her screams dropped to a whimper the instant she hit his arms, and stopped altogether as he started walking her around the room, whispering sweet nothings at her. If I heard right, he called her 'Princess'. Somehow I suspected, we were going to have a real big problem not spoiling these girls. Freed from Garnet, I was able to position Gracie right back on the nipple and she went to it eagerly, a real trooper. I was surprised my let down was so good. As Gracie worked one nipple, generous dribbles of colostrum leaked from the other at the same time. Then Walt finally made his reappearance, poking his head cautiously into the room as if still afraid of what he might see.

Fox took charge of him, came up to him and presented him with Garnet. "This one's Garnet, Jackie has Gracie," Fox said. "I see a distinct family resemblance, Uncle Walt. I'll let you hold her, but don't take it personally if she screams. She's done it for both Georgie and Bob."

Then Garnet was handed over, Fox showing Walt how to support her head. Walt gingerly took her into his arms, like she was a bomb, and perhaps she was. A ticking-time bomb of fussiness. In his big hands and arms, she just about disappeared. Surprisingly, she didn't erupt into screams immediately. As Walt held her, any remaining traces of surliness melted right off his face, replaced by pure wonder. I don't think I've ever seen the man smile quite like that. "It's a miracle, Jack," Walt said. "Somehow, I just didn't quite believe it until now."

A few minutes of being held by Walt set Garnet off into fussiness, not full blown screams yet, just whimpering. Walt handed her back off to Fox before she even got going. By this time, Gracie had drifted off to sleep, my nipple still in her mouth. "You want to hold Gracie while she sleeps, Walt?" I asked.

I carefully popped Gracie off, afraid I was going to wake her. I did, but amazingly, she didn't start crying. She just looked at everything around her with unfocused eyes. She accepted being held in her Uncle Walt's arms just like she had everything else. It was as if she had a perfect trust in the world- that no matter what, it would continue to take care of her and provide for her like it had so far. As far as Gracie was concerned, I thought, there would always be strong arms to hold her, and warm rooms for her to be in and good milk to drink.

Taking Garnet from Fox, I decided that she was already doubtful that her needs would be met. I wondered why her and not the other. I prepared myself mentally for her clamping mouth to be placed back on my body. I was kidding myself that having done it successfully with Gracie, I'd be able to do it with the other. Guiding my still aching nipple more carefully into her mouth this time, I held her close to me and sweet talked her, hopefully into not hurting me so much this time.

It didn't hurt quite as much, but it still nearly caused tears to roll down my cheeks. The pain eased a little bit when I managed to push more of my breast into her mouth and her hard little gums weren't directly on the nipple anymore. I think she must have let up just a little when she realized she didn't have to work so hard to get results. I just about fell asleep, despite Garnet's vacuum suction mouth, except Abbott decided to bug me just then about the birth certificates.

"We're still going through with the plan we discussed earlier?" he asked.

We'd decided, Fox and myself, with some input from Georgie and Walter, that even if it was the truth, or as close to the truth as covered my situation, you just couldn't put my name down on the mother line, nor could you get away with putting, "Unknown" on the mother line and my name on the father's. A genetic father might easily be a ship passing in the night, so to speak, especially in today's moral climate. But a mother is always known. We'd decided that some name or another would have to go on the mother line, and that mine would go on the father's. We would tell the truth to the girls as they got older and were able to comprehend it. For the moment though, the "mother" of my children was going to be "Monica Reyes", a cover story I was even more glad of when I realized how much Gracie, with her black hair and brown skin, looked kind of Mexican. The story would be that we weren't even sure it was the woman's real name. She was just passing through, looking for work and caught I caught her eye, she decided to stay a while and got in the family way, but as soon as she was able to limp off after the babies were born, she hit the road again.

"Yeah, unless someone can think of a better story," I said.

I just wanted to get some horizontal time, even if I might have been too wound up to actually sleep. Walt had claimed the rocking chair he'd made for me and was sitting with Gracie, rocking her. From the looks of it, he was even getting her to sleep. Even though I didn't make it back up to our bed like I'd wanted, as the sun rose on a perfectly blue sky, the storm having blown over during the night, I eventually drifted off to sleep in the recliner. One baby was in my arms, one baby was in good hands. Yeah, life was good. Somebody had been making vague noises about opening presents, but somehow that seemed kind of anticlimactic comparatively. Presents could wait.

Mulder:

After catching up on some sleep, I joined Walt on a look-see around the property. Much as I thought, there was no evidence, no matter how slight, that there had been a Marine patrol on the grounds last night whether supersoldiers or mere human. Not even a footprint. Those had been covered by drifting snow that had blown to drifts five feet high in places, scoured to bare earth in others. As often happens after a big storm, the temperature dropped drastically. Bad weather happens in midst of transitions- clashes between warm and cold. In this case, a mass of cold Arctic air had bullied its way down this far south. But because of this, the air was clear, the sun brilliantly reflected from the infinitesimal little mirrors of the snowflakes. Yes, the weather was perfect and crisp. I guess I couldn't see why John hated it.

He'd spent the majority of the day so far huddled in the living room, with the fire going as high as we could make it, and still he hid under thick blankets with one or both of the babies at a time, depending on who felt like holding the other. All his attention was divided only between the two of them, with occasional breaks to sleep, mostly when they did. I wondered if John would kill me if I went for a run. I felt cramped, the need to stretch having invaded my muscles. Restless. I was restless.

Walt meanwhile was looking around shaking his head. He looked a dignified kind of ridiculous with one of those rabbit fur-lined hunting caps on top of his bald head. I suppose with so little hair, he was probably more susceptible than average to heat loss through the scalp. "You'd think we'd see at least one footprint. Something. Who were those people, Mulder?"

"Special forces from Project Zodiac. Under direct command from John's uncle. More supersoldiers. Supposedly fighting against the aliens. God. I don't know. They're gone. I guess we're safe," I said. I had no real idea whether that was the truth or not. Hell, you'd needed a score card to keep track of the conspiracy before the supersoldiers had arrived on the scene. There was so little I knew to be absolute truth these days. Only one or two things I knew for sure, and one of them was that I loved John beyond reason.

"For now," Walt said, looking out over the cornfields that surrounded the farmhouse. The wind continued to sweep over those gently rolling hills uncovering the stubble at the heights of them.

"What do I do now, Walter?" I asked. For so long, I had been focused on the simple task of getting those children into this world safe and alive. It seemed almost unreal that it had actually happened and that if I were to close my eyes and walk back into the living room of the farmhouse, when I opened them, John and they would vanish in a sudden, malevolent reverse miracle. For so long, I hadn't really believed in the future and yet here it was, in the form of two perfectly shaped girls. That future stretched out before me too wonderful and terrible to contemplate without feeling my soul tremble within me.

"You live, Mulder. That's all. You just live. You have a family now and they need you," Walter said.

Could I do that? Was that possible? I had no more chosen this family than I'd chosen any other family members. No, the insistent and perverse demands of the heart, that organ that had reason of which reason knew nothing, had directed my every coming and going until I had no more control over loving John than I had over needing oxygen, and loving our daughters followed as naturally as gravity. But yet the same perversity of life that had given me a reason to live had given me far more to fear than ever. I didn't know what to say to Walter, a man who had trusted me at times when even Scully barely did. A man whose authority had been my shelter, a man I loved in ways too complex to explain. He had become family as well, by virtue of the generosity of his heart.

I think Walter understood my reticence as fear and uncertainty. "You just do the next thing, Mulder," he told me. "You just love them."

Would that be enough though? When Walter turned back to the house, I followed him, leaving behind the shining, Christmas day, with its cold that was bitter right down to the bone. Someone had once told me, not kindly, that it's my instinct to jump first and expect the parachute to materialize on the way down. When I got back into the house and saw John stretched out on the sofa with our two babies laid out on his chest, I felt suddenly like I was plummeting very fast, to a hard ground miles down. And the parachute hadn't yet made its appearance. It was a cold, cold feeling indeed, like I hadn't shed the frigidity of outside, even though I'd come into the hot room that smelled intensely of wood smoke from the stove. No, this fear had settled right down into my bones for the moment.

As if he sensed both my presence and what I was feeling, John's eyes popped open. "Hey," he said. "You want to hold the girls for me? I gotta hit the little boys room."

I figured that I could hold one in my arms while the other lay across my lap. I took Garnet from him and sat down at the foot of the sofa. As he got up and laid Gracie across my lap, he leaned close to me and whispered in my ear. "We're okay, right," he said. "You, me, the girls, we'll all be okay."

"Yeah, we'll be okay," I told him in a voice that wasn't quite a promise. I wasn't ready for promises, especially not ones that I didn't know I could keep.

Doggett:

I wish I could tell you that everything was all better after the girls were born. That everything came up goddamn roses and lollipops. That we had a happy ever after starting right then. Well, life doesn't work like that. It's always something.

And what made it worse was that this time my worst enemy was myself. In the months immediately following the girls birth, my own brain tried to kill me.

The fog, the wall of gray that descended over me started early, within the first few days after they were born, and ironically, not as the lassitude I would have expected from depression, but as anxiety. Instead of sleeping while my babies were sleeping like I should have, I would lie awake, irrationally fearful that they would just plain stop breathing on me. Or that supersoldiers or some other enemy force would break into our little, private world and steal them away from me. That Fox and I would be helpless to prevent this. Worse were the times I woke up from nightmares, convinced that I would be the one to hurt my children. These anxieties could be banished by force of will mostly. I could separate out the true, real frightening things we were up against and rationalize away the fears that were strictly from some depths within me. Except no matter how much I chased away my own nightmares, there was still the flavor of those fears, tainting my thoughts.

In this way, I learned that sometimes the scariest monsters that you have to fight aren't external, aren't anything that could be hunted down or chased with a gun. No, they are immaterial, internal. So pervasive that you hardly know they've penetrated your defenses until it is too late.

Every minute worry added up, like individual words add up to pages which add up to books. And it was in this way that the fog descended on me so slowly that I had hardly seen it until one day I looked and I could hardly see anything else. It robbed me of every feeling but anxiety. It took every pleasure I took in my children, in my lover, in this remote little farmhouse that was calling itself home at the moment. I think my insomnia had something to do with it. I think the insomnia fed on the fog and the fog fed on the exhaustion resulting from my insomnia.

More importantly than my pleasure, the fog slowly robbed me of my ability to function, as a parent, even just as a person.

It really didn't help that I had two such small, helpless creatures depending on me for everything. I am morally certain that all three of us would have been dead within the first two months if it weren't for Fox, and to a lesser extent, Walter and Georgie. But it was Fox who saved me and taught me how to fight against the monsters I couldn't even see.

Gracie would have been such an easy baby, if she ever slept at all. Her disposition was naturally sunny and easy going. She didn't cry much and when she did, it was usually for good reasons- like a soiled diaper. But in those first couple of months, I don't think she ever slept more than an hour and a half solid. She was a cat napper and a grazer. She'd feed a little, sleep a little and then wake, wanting to be fed again. Consequently between this and the anxiety, I don't think I slept at all for a while, not more than minutes at a time.

Garnet was another story. Thankfully, she was a sleeper. I worried about it even. She'd nurse deeply, almost sucking me dry, then she would sleep for five, six hours at a time, through the night almost from the get go. Which was a relief. Because whenever she was awake, she was a clingy, needy baby. She'd cry and cry so hard that you couldn't calm her, so hard occasionally that she threw up. Most of the time, she was okay if you were holding her, but put her down and you'd set her off. I learned to juggle her in my arms when I took a leak. I learned to eat with her in my arms. And forget about her sleeping in that beautiful crib that Walter had worked so hard to make. She could be fast asleep, but the second you'd put her down in it, she'd snap awake and then instantly into scream mode. First Garnet, out of sheer necessity, then Gracie out of convenience found their way into our bed, the cradles beautiful, but mostly unused. Surprisingly, Fox took their presence in our bed with good humor and no complaint.

Still, it was hard, so hard. I think I had my first intimation that something was seriously wrong with me the night, about three weeks after the birth, when Garnet woke at about five in the morning, crying to wake the dead. And I couldn't do anything about it. I lacked the ability to reach out to her. It was as if some great and unseen force, like a gravity almost, had settled on me like a blanket, heavy and stifling. I was awake, cognizant of the fact that my child needed me. All I was able to do was stare at the ceiling in the absolute darkness of our bedroom. It felt almost like I had been stricken with a stroke or something, but I knew I hadn't. This was far more dangerous than a simple vascular accident.

After a little while of this, Fox stirred. First uncomfortably, as if still half asleep, then moments later, he sat up, completely awake.

"Jackie?" he asked, snapping on the lamp closest to him. He looked at me, taking in that I was awake, but unmoving. The light hurt my eyes, but I didn't blink. "Are you okay?"

I wondered what he thought. He sounded seriously worried. "Yeah, I'm okay," I told him.

He immediately ignored me then and reached for the crying child. Gracie was still sleeping. I'd just got her settled down into one of her catnaps and nothing would disturb her until her natural short cycle had brought her out of it.

"She's dry," Fox said, trying to hand me the writhing, screaming mass of infant. She was mad, oh was she mad, arching her back, little hands clenched in tiny fists, red with the effort of screaming. If anyone but Gracie was asleep in the household I would have been surprised. I didn't reach out for my girl. I couldn't.

"I know you can hear me, Jackie. And if you can't hear me, I know you can hear her. I can't give her what she needs. I'm not the one lactating," Fox said, still attempting to foist her off on me.

He seemed like he was about to snap on me. I wasn't the only one who was seriously sleep deprived these days though I was bearing the worst of it. Still, something was wrong with me. Seriously wrong. I shouldn't have been able to hear my baby crying like that and not be moved to swoop her up and take care of those tears any way I could. I didn't understand what was happening to me, only that it felt like I'd been buried alive.

"Jackie?" he asked, sounding unnerved by my silence.

My heart was strung out, being dragged across the broken glass of her cries. But all I could think about was how hard it would be, getting up, letting her feed. How hard her damn mouth would be on my nipple, the kind of discomfort she was still causing me. Then, in all likelihood, her getting so upset again that she'd throw up all that milk that my body had worked so hard to produce. I couldn't do it. I just couldn't.

Fox saw something in my eyes maybe, some begging. He was Mister Rational again for the moment. He put aside his temper. "Okay," he said, not quite pleasantly. "I think maybe you need the sleep. I'll go see if I can get her to take a bottle."

He took her downstairs, away from me. I couldn't feel relief, I couldn't feel anything. He didn't return to bed that night. As dawn made an appearance, and the gravity slowly lifted just enough for me to escape the bed, bringing Gracie with me, I made my cautious way downstairs. He and Garnet had fallen asleep on the sofa together, empty bottle dropped on the floor beside them.

I settled down in the recliner to nurse Gracie. Fox woke eventually. "Are you okay, Jackie?" he asked, this time his voice soft with concern. He sat up, still holding Garnet and walked over to me. He sat on the arm of the chair and gently stroked my hair, then down my scratchy cheek. It'd gotten too hard lately to make the effort to shave. My beard looked like hell, patchy, with bare spots in places, and thinner than it used to be. I figured the female hormones were starting to play havoc with my body. I don't know. Maybe the beard was more than just sheer laziness, but trying to prove to myself that I was just as much of a man as I used to be.

"Yeah. I think so," I lied. "I just need more sleep than I'm getting."

"I'll help more than I have been," he promised.

And he did. Oddly, as time passed and more and more often, I found myself unable to even reach out a hand to gather my child to me, he got more and more patient with me, not less. For every coldness I found myself unable to avoid showing to my lover and to my children, he answered back with a greater tenderness. There were many nights where I would lie in bed, listening as he paced the floorboards and comforted Garnet, saying, "Don't cry, Princess. Daddy's right here." He wore both those babies as much as he could, worked so hard to stop their cries before they could even disturb me.

When I say he wore them, I mean that literally. One day, he came back from a shopping outing bearing a sack from one of the fancy mother and baby shops in Omaha. Inside was an assortment of cloth objects. He pulled them out one by one, saying as he did, "I told one of the ladies at the shop about how Garnet just won't stand to be put down and how hard it is to carry her all the time. The lady thought one of these might help. I bought them all. I figured one of them will work best. Baby Bjorn," he said, pulling out a set of navy blue cloth straps. "A regular d-ring sling. A snuggli. Guatemalan style sling. Kangaroo style pouch. Baby Trekker."

There'd been a couple more that he didn't name, but all of them were some kind of arrangement of cloth straps meant to tie a baby to your body. And so Fox Mulder, one-time hunter of serial killers, chaser of little gray men, the only real threat to global takeover, strapped Garnet to his body with the baby bjorn and wore her just about every waking moment, unless he was handing her over to be fed. It cut her fussiness considerably to be carried constantly in this way. If I had been in any kind of better state to appreciate this, I probably would have been stunned by the level of devotion he showed to both the girls and to me. I should have been welling with returned love. Instead, I felt nothing.

Mulder:

Watching him was like watching a man drown slowly and standing on the shore, unable to help. Looking back, I should have said or done something sooner. It wasn't that I didn't see what was going on. It wasn't that I didn't know what was going on. It'd been so long since I'd thought about any kind of psychology, except maybe forensic, but this was obvious. The presentation of his illness was textbook perfect. I watched him struggle for weeks, helping as best I could from the sidelines, taking as much of the pressure off him as I could, hoping that he would snap out of it. That I was wrong. That he just needed some time to adjust. That this wasn't anything but minor "baby blues." It was denial, simple denial on my part.

It was hard to be struggling though, with two babies, when he stared at the wall, not moving to help me as I changed diapers. He still fed them when I handed them to him, but did little else to care for them. Thankfully, I was too tired from being up all hours with the babies too, because any time I made a move to anything more intimate than a kiss on the cheek was met with either outright refusal or were deflected by being ignored. We no longer slept in our spoon, but with the babies separating us. Any attempts on my part to talk to him about his situation were met with silence and a weak, cold anger on his part. He never told me directly, but he didn't want to talk about it, and that message was crystal clear, albeit non-verbal.

About a month after the birth, I tried to tempt John out of the house. He hadn't been further than the front porch of the house sometime since December, Abbott having come to him for all his latest examinations. It was an unexpectedly mild day, sunny and warm enough to melt the top couple of inches of snow. No bad weather was expected for a good four days. It would be as good a day as any for the girls first outing. First thing in the morning, I dressed them warmly, in sweaters and little overalls, with knit caps on their tiny heads. Gracie's hair continued to grow thick, glossy and black, with hints of curls, but Garnet remained bald other than the fuzz. I thought she might be a red head in the future. It might be months before she had a full head of hair though. Either way, both of them still needed the extra warmth of the hats. Then, I went to go see if John could be tempted to get dressed.

"I was thinking about heading to Omaha," I told him. He was sitting on the side of the bed, unshowered, not having shaven in days. John was staring at the wall. Somehow, that was worse, more horrifying than if he'd spent all his time watching television. "Why don't you come? I was thinking maybe we'd do a little clothes shopping for you, get some lunch, then catch a matinee."

"Uh-uh," he said, shaking his head slowly. "The girls aren't ready to be left alone with Walt and Georgie yet."

Well, I agreed with that. My hands were currently resting on Garnet, who I had strapped to my chest. Gracie was fine, for the moment, laid in her crib. But somehow I doubted that either of them could face an afternoon without John or me. "We'll bring them with us. I figure if we time it right, the girls would sleep right through a movie."

"No, there's no movie I want to see and I don't need anything," he said. The former was, of course, subjective and I could hardly evaluate it for the truth, but the latter was decidedly a lie. He was still wearing the maternity clothing that Georgie had made for him by altering clothes. Only now they hung loose on him in a way that only underscored how gaunt he was getting. He looked, frankly, like hell, without even a tiny trace left of that 'pregnancy glow'.

"Jackie, please," I said. "I want you to come with me. What's the matter? A month and a half ago, you were itching to get out of the house and go just about anywhere."

I reached out and stroked his cheek gently, still able to love the feel of stubble and skin under my hand. He slapped my hand away roughly and gave me a dagger stare. "Give it a fucking rest, Mulder. I don't wanna go. Period."

I thought I understood the anger. It was easier to deal with than the sadness he must be feeling. Anger gives energy, makes you feel alive. Sadness drains you. It is a passive, waiting feeling. One doesn't escape it, really. You can't run away from it forever. The only way to truly find one's way through sadness is to travel all the way through it, a long, hard, uneasy process. I know. It was far easier to brutalize Alex Krycek than it was to cry for Bill Mulder, the man I knew as my father. Anger was easy, but fury could sustain a person for only a short time. It left one empty, burned. Hollow.

"Okay, Prince Charming," I said to him. "Maybe tomorrow. Maybe next week. Whenever you're ready, we'll head out. Just let me know what you need, I'll get it to you."

Meanwhile, the wheels of military justice ground slowly. Walter fielded more calls, made more calls. Mostly solemn, deadly serious calls that consisted more than anything of listening to things that he did not tell me. He made one, brief trip back to DC that had him grumbling about having to dig suits out of the back of the closet. He returned a few days later with no more conclusive reassurances than, "I think I've found our military law expert. Sean Granville, up until recently, a Captain in the Marines."

"He's one of them, Walter," I said, my hackles rising suddenly at the mere mention of the Marines.

"He's the son of my lieutenant in 'Nam. He's young. Sharp as they come, Mulder. The time comes when you have to trust someone and something beyond what you can hold close to your chest. If you really think that nothing and no one are beyond suspicion, what do you have that is left fighting for? His dad was a good friend. Not everything is corrupt in this world."

Actually, I truly feared that it was. That I had truly come to believe something that I had been warned about for years, to trust no one. Well, no one beyond a few chosen people and the dead.

I trusted Walter. What he was asking me to trust his judgment of character. I knew he was trying to do his best for me. The softly bewildered look in his eyes as we sat across from each other over the kitchen table, the weak gray light of a winter dawn limping through the windows, let me know that once again, Walter felt out of his depth. That he no more trusted his ability to find me a way out of the snafu that my life had become than I trusted my ability to provide a safe future for my own children.

"Okay. You think he's one of the good guys, that's good enough for me," I said. I suddenly heard Garnet crying again. I'd left her upstairs with John and Gracie, thinking she was sleeping, down for the count. I didn't hear any moves on John's part to comfort her. I stood up and said, "I've got to get her."

Even Walter had noticed that something was not right with John. "Is he sick?" he asked. "Have you talked to Dr. Abbott?"

"No, Jackie doesn't want me to," I said. "If I were a practicing psychologist, I'd diagnose depression, I think. But I'm not sure it's chemical yet. It may be situational. He's had a lot to adjust to, and if you haven't noticed, these aren't exactly the easiest of kids. Scully says William was a lot easier."

I didn't know that for sure. I'd missed the beginning and the everything after of his life. I wasn't going to miss it for my girls. I headed upstairs. John had put both the girls in their cradles. Gracie was happy. The solar system mobile that I'd hung over her cradle was spinning around lazily, though it was hard to tell if it was doing that because of her, or because of the fact that her cradle rocked slowly, seemingly of its own volition. Garnet's cradle was moving as well, but not rocking. No, it was shaking, as if an invisible hand was pounding on the floor next to it. Inside, Garnet was red-faced, with her all too familiar arched back. John was curled up, sitting on the bed, knees pulled to his chest, staring at the pair of moving cradles. His face was white, his eyes as wide as a saucer.

Steadying Garnet's cradle with a well-placed hip and a foot on the rocker, I reached for Garnet. "What's the matter, Red?" I asked. I guess I'd started calling her red, not so much because of what I thought her hair color might be, but because of the red face she got when she cried. "Cubs not win the pennant this year either? You think your sister will be okay with Dad while we go down to the bar and get you a double? You okay, Jackie?"

Garnet's cradle had stopped its poltergeist act, but Gracie's was still describing its slow, regular pattern back and forth, with the planet's of her mobile making stately revolutions around each other. This wasn't the first time we'd seen signs that the babies were something out of the ordinary but it was the biggest manifestation of it thus far. Funny. Once upon a time ago, a man who shared the same name and face as I do would have killed to have such proof positive of the supernatural to shout to the world, but now that such proof was coming from my daughters, the only thing I wanted to do was conceal it, for their safety.

"I don't know, Fox," he said. "I don't know what I was expectin' but it wasn't this."

Doggett:

One day in early February, he was sitting, looking at me. He had a bag packed, waiting by the door. Walter had a bag packed by the door. Fox had Garnet in his arms. He was, I could tell, evaluating me, trying to decide if he could leave me for the night. He'd already rescheduled his vasectomy once, the first time because he thought I wasn't ready to be left alone for the night so soon. He obviously wasn't sure if he could leave me for the night yet. I wasn't sure if he could leave me for the night yet.

I must have looked like hell. The baby weight had melted off me, leaving me with a slightly flabby middle, but otherwise, skinnier than I'd ever been. I mean count my ribs skinny. I wasn't eating well, in addition to not sleeping well. Georgie had given up trying to tempt me with my favorite foods in favor of just pushing the highest calorie foods at me whenever I seemed distracted enough to eat. I was wearing the same sweatsuit that I'd worn yesterday, and the day before. Hell, that I'd worn all week.

"Just go get the damn vasectomy, Mulder," I told him. "I ain't having sex with you again until it's done."

I had been cleared a week ago, to have intercourse again, should I want it. I didn't. My libido had been shorn off at the roots, no remaining trace of it left. I had allowed Mulder very little bodily intimacy at all, nothing more than kisses. I had only just recently stopped bleeding entirely, having bled on and off for weeks, in amounts that varied from simple spotting to amounts that worried me. Abbott had assured me it was normal, just the uterus shedding the last of its lining. But more than the pregnancy itself, or even the birth, this bleeding had made me feel uncomfortable and vastly uncertain of myself. It made me wonder, would I get a period? Go through menopause someday?

"Okay," he said. "I'll go. You know you have Georgie here if you need anything."

I knew that she and Mulder talked, softly, worriedly between themselves about me when they thought I wasn't listening. I knew something was very wrong with me, but I lacked the ability to explain it, or even to admit to it.

Garnet started fussing in Mulder's arms and so I reached out for her, to pop her onto me for a feeding. I knew that's what she wanted. It had been hours since she'd eaten. Mulder didn't hand her over. Instead, he got up and started warming up a bottle for her.

"There's something I want to talk to you about, Jackie," he said, as he started mixing the powder into the water. It was a foul smelling thing, the formula, and it made their diapers smell far worse than they did when they were strictly breastfed. Worse, every bottle of formula they drank rather than milk from me made me feel more of a failure. It'd been hard to sell me on the breastfeeding thing at first, but once I hopped on the bandwagon for something, I was on for good.

"Listen to me. I know this will be hard for you to admit to. But I think you're depressed. Clinical, chemical depression. You more than meet the criteria in the DSM-IV. I want you to understand that it's nothing you've done, or thought about or anything like that that makes you feel this way. It's a chemical imbalance, brought about, probably in this case, by the sudden fluxes in your hormone levels after the girls' birth. What's happening is your serotonin levels have dropped seriously and that interferes with your abilities to do a lot of things, including sleeping even. I want you to call Dr. Abbott and make an appointment. I want you to consider going on an antidepressant. Only none of them that I researched are safe for nursing mothers. You'll have to wean the girls to bottles."

"I'm fine," I told Mulder, with the shadow of anger flaring up under the relentless gray of my feelings. "It's been hard to make some adjustments and I'm still not getting enough sleep. But things will even out soon enough. I don't want to talk about this any more. Give me the baby and get going."

I held out my arms for Garnet and, ignoring the bottle that was offered alongside of her, I popped her onto my body. She sucked eagerly at a nipple that was sore and cracked already. The pain, at least, reminded me that I was still alive.

Fox and Walter left finally. Nobody in the house that night got a wink of sleep. Not the babies. Not Georgie and especially not me. I'd had to give over Gracie's care entirely to Georgie. Gracie wasn't happy about that, but she was less unhappy than Garnet was when I put her down. Despite my holding her, offering every kind of comfort I could think of, Garnet still spent most of the night crying.

"I think she's colicky," Georgie said as we both tried to quiet the babies. She'd taken over the rocking chair and had Gracie mostly calmed. Except that Gracie broke out in squalls at any hint that she might be put down. Garnet, on the other hand, hadn't put a stopper to herself in an hour, though she was wound down to tired sobs at the moment. Except every time I thought she'd give up the ghost and go to sleep, she started up again, just as fresh as before. She was perfectly dry. She refused both breast and bottle again and again. She didn't have a fever. I'd tried dressing her up more in case she was cold and that didn't work. I'd tried stripping her down some in case she was hot. Nothing worked.

"No," I said. "I think it's that Fox is gone and she knows it."

You know, I had an all-new appreciation for my ex-wife since the girls were born. I used to think I was a pretty involved father. I'd loved my son. I'd changed diapers. I'd gotten up in the middle of the night more than a few times. As much as possible as my work allowed, I'd been around, helping out.

But that was just it. I'd been helping. The buck hadn't stopped with me. If I couldn't get Luke to stop crying, I always had backup. I could wake Barb, hand the problem off to the expert. She expected it even, often relieved me of my duty before I'd had a real chance to play daddy. I thought I'd been involved, but I knew now just how much she had borne the brunt of child-rearing.

Just like I was now. The buck stopped with me. It was my responsibility to get her to stop crying long enough to eat something, to fall asleep. Here she was, screaming as if she was in terrible pain, and I wasn't able to do anything about it. I was a failure, I realized. A fuck-up. I couldn't function as a person anymore. I couldn't even get my own baby to stop crying.

Hell, I couldn't even stop the subtle and insidious thought that threaded its way through every thought I had, that I could stop her crying with a well-placed pair of hands over her mouth and nose.

I nearly dropped her as the thought finally came to the forefront of my mind and I realized just exactly what I had been pondering.

Oh.

God.

The thought suddenly, obsessively starting flashing before my mind, of her sad, still, dead little body, held in my big hands.

If she hadn't been screaming in my ear at that moment, I would have had to shake her awake, prove to myself that I hadn't killed her.

"John? John!" Georgie stared at me, knowing something was wrong, but unable, obviously, to tell what. Because the emergency was all in my head.

I stood up and as much as I hated to put it all on her, I had to. I placed my screaming baby on her lap, with my other one, who was now fussing.

"I'm sorry, Georgie. But I have to get away now. I'm going to hurt them," I managed to get out, before I stuffed my hand in my mouth at the horror of the thought. I could still see myself doing it. Putting pillows over both their faces. Snapping their delicate little necks in my big, masculine hands. I could even hear in my mind the soft crack that their bones would make, the tender flesh powerless to resist under my fingers. Holding my babies under bath water like that one woman had.

I'm not a man to run from danger. I face it. Charge headlong into it. But this horror was something I couldn't fight. The monster had so invaded me, become such a part of me that I couldn't even see where to start, what way to face it. I had to get myself away, not from the danger, because I was the danger, I had to get myself away from those I would cause danger to.

Georgie watched in pained silence, with my two babies clutched closely to her, one in each arm, as I rummaged around the house, until I had found a coat, shoes and a random ring of keys, not even sure whose keys they were.

Out in the bitter, starless night, I fumbled around until I found a key that matched a lock on one of the cars. Fox's police cruiser was the winner. I got in and started it. I said a little prayer as it turned over, then caught. Not bothering to buckle myself in, I drove down the driveway, into the seemingly endless Iowa night, taking whatever turns presented themselves to me.

Mulder:

We were on our way back already. I had been unable to rest in the Des Moines motel room, worried about how things were going back at home. I think my restlessness must have infected Walter as well, because as I tossed and turned in my bed, unable to get comfortable, despite the painkiller I'd been given, he moved from bed to chair, to window and back again, unable to settle.

It didn't help when Scully made an appearance. "Mulder," she said, sitting down on the corner of my bed. Walter didn't see or hear her. He was looking out the window again at the parking lot. "I know you're in pain, but I think you should consider heading back right now."

"Let's go home," I said to Walter at about ten o'clock. I wasn't exactly in pain, but my groin felt it had been unjustly abused. Definitely that kicked in the balls feeling, but I didn't think that tossing and turning in some strange bed was going to make it any better. My tormentor, the coolly efficient doctor, had been swift but without much compassion. She had approached me in much the same way as I remember Scully approaching her autopsy victims, snapping on the latex quickly, as if to say, let's get this over with. I was in and out of the office in less than an hour. I had been pricked, cut, snipped, stitched, shaved and bruised. Yes, my whole groin, especially my penis, was dark with spectacular bruising. I deserved the comfort of my own bed, I thought, but given Scully's warning, I somehow thought it would be a while before I got it. Oh, well. I'd functioned in far worse pain and levels of health.

I was surprised when Walter agreed, not just readily, but eagerly. I hadn't thought that he'd be so eager for a multi hour drive so soon. "I'm worried," he said, as I questioned him on this. He stuffed the few things we'd packed back into the bags, and added, "John's not himself entirely, is he?"

"No," I said, thinking about how empty his eyes had looked when I'd said goodbye to him this morning. I thought that I knew that place where he was right now all too well. I had been there, getting ready to eat my gun. I hadn't seen him try that just yet, but he was close. I shouldn't have left him.

"Depression will do that to a person," I said.

"I don't like leaving Georgie alone with them," Walt said as he pulled on his shoes finally. "In case you didn't notice, she's not really much of a baby person. It's hard on her."

"Let's go," I said. By then I'd managed to put on enough outer wear to make the trip through the sub-zero windchill to the car. It took only a few more minutes for us to get out to the car, get checked out of the room and get on the road.

I was able to drift asleep, finally, in the car, lulled to complacency by the steady rhythm of the wheels on the pavement, but I was woken instantly when Walter's cell phone jingled at him.

"Georgie?" he said, then listened. Silently. Gravely. Something in that silence made my guts tangle in fear. "You'd better talk to Fox. We're on our way home already, just another two hours or so. It'll be all right."

Walter handed over the phone and I said, "Georgie, what's up?"

She seemed, for the first time in the months I'd known her, like she had been crying. She was such a solid, strong, rock hard even, person, that I could hardly imagine what had happened. In the background, I could hear the wailing of not one, but both of the girls. "John has gotten worse since you left. I believe he's in a dangerous state."

"Georgie, if you haven't already, I want you to hide all the firearms in the house," I told her, imagining the worst. "Sit on the clips if you have to."

"He's gone, Fox. He got in your car and he left. I don't think he's going to harm himself. He said he was going to hurt the girls. He looked...I can hardly say. I was scared by it though. I let him go. I think I really was afraid that he would hurt them."

Fuck. Double fuck. I noticed that Walter had increased the speed of the car significantly, as fast as he probably dared to go on small, dark state highways that made sudden curves without warning. He drove with a grim expression that I could see in the green glow of the dashboard lights.

"He has access to a firearm in the car," I told her. "I don't know if he knows it's there. Under the driver's seat. With a clip in it," I said. "Georgie, look. I want you to call Bob right now. Make an appointment for first thing in the morning. Tell him you think that John is definitely suffering from severe postpartum depression, and that we're afraid he might have snapped into postpartum psychosis. Or if you can get Bob to come out tonight, that'd be even better."

"I've called already," Georgie said. "Bob is on his way."

I had already decided, all personality quirks aside, that push came to shove, Bob Abbott was a good man. An arrogant son of a bitch sometimes, but a good man. My judgment was reinforced again.

"Good," I said. "Look, I don't think John is going to hurt the girls. I think he left to stop himself. If hurting them was what he really wanted to do, he would have taken them up to his room or the bathroom or something. Found some excuse to send you out on an errand. I'm not afraid for the girls. I'm afraid for him. He just might decide he needs to punish himself for having these thoughts. Hold tight, Georgie. we're on our way."

It was a long, grim trip home.

When we pulled into the driveway, after first making a survey of the immediate neighborhood to make sure he hadn't driven the car into a ditch or something, I noticed that Abbott's car was already there.

In the house, I decided that Abbott probably had decided to become an OB because he liked babies. He had braved the foul beast that was my little, bald-headed screamer. And I thought he just might be winning. He was walking her around the house, cooing at her, bouncing her up and down as he walked. It was a funny sight, this fat old man, soothing a baby like that. But her sobs appeared to have died down a good bit, with periods of quiet in between. She seemed on the verge of falling asleep on his shoulder.

"Any word from John?" I asked immediately. "Did he call to tell you where he was going or anything?"

"No, nothing," Georgie said. She was baby-free at the moment, though she looked over at the cradle containing Gracie every now and then.

I was torn. I should be heading out, searching for him. I was exhausted. I was in pain. The bumpy ride from Des Moines had not been good for my general state of well-being or the comfort level of poor, abused groin. Georgie looked at me and said, "You sit down, Fox. Bob and Walter will go out looking for John. You take care of the children. I'll stay here with you."

Abbott held out Garnet to me. She seemed grateful to be back in my presence. With a few whimpers, she settled into my arms and proceeded to sleep, something I gathered she hadn't done since I'd left the house well over eighteen hours ago. It looked like I'd have to stay with her and trust that Walter could find John, and once he found him, talk him off that ledge that he must be wavering on.

Doggett:

I hadn't really gone looking for the Glock. My hand just found its way under the seat and there it was, in the same place I'd have put it if it were my car. The gun found its own way into my hand and I'd driven for miles and miles with it sitting on my lap. Its weight was heavy on my legs and cold through my sweats. Occasionally some more rational portion of my brain would kind of pick at what keeping that gun close to hand meant to me, kind of like a kid would pick at a scab. It felt like that too, raw and tender, and part of you thinking that if you could just pull it off, it'd feel better.

I'd taken the county roads kind of as they came to me, each time I came to a turning, I took a random chance on left, right or forward. But once I hit the highway, I found myself presented with less choices. The road stretched out before me, my options limited to where the builders had decided to put exits. I could go to Omaha. I could go to points beyond. I could stop at any number of small towns in between. I headed to Omaha, a place I hadn't yet been during my time here. Once I'd passed most of the way through it, I decided if nothing else, I should stop someplace, get a coffee and try and clear my head, decide what I was going to do. Except one thing, I thought. God, I'd better not get pulled over, because I didn't have my wallet. Not that there was much in there at the moment, just the fake driver's license and the credit card Fox had gotten me. No stopping. No coffee. Unless.

When I pulled into the first restaurant I found off the highway, I reached under the seat again. Not as obvious, but after a moment of digging, I was able to pull out a roll of cash- twenties mostly, probably, two, three thousand dollars. I peeled off the top most couple of twenties and stuck the wad back where I found it, along with the Glock. It made me feel slightly better knowing it would still be there when I got back to the car. I didn't have any pockets on the sweats I was wearing and I couldn't even tell in the dark if they were anything approaching clean. Probably not. I stuck the money in my shoe for lack of a better place to put it, and headed to the diner.

The restaurant was a Denny's, surprisingly empty, despite it being nearly two in the morning by this point. I found my way to the nearest empty booth and claimed it. There was only one waitress working the joint and she seemed kind of bored. I realized, suddenly, that it was a damn good job that the place was so empty. I don't think I could have handled the full crowd, just because it had been so long since I was out of the house, other than briefly being ferried to the doctor's offices, off hours, for appointments that couldn't be done at home. I hadn't so much as ordered a simple cup of coffee in a restaurant or seen strangers since before August.

The waitress was fat, with frizzy hair. She looked like hell. I could identify with that. She was yawning. "Sorry 'bout that," she said. "I just got switched shifts. Still not used to this late night thing. What can I get for you, sweetie?"

A way out of this hell that's calling itself my life? To set back the clock so none of this ever happened? The quiet peace of the grave which had to be better, could only be better than a life filled with obsessive thoughts about suffocating one's own children?

"Coffee. Black," I said. "For now."

"Right up," she said and left me alone with my thoughts.

I didn't know what I was going to do. What I wanted was to die. My family, my girls, would be far better off without me, their murdering father. The simplest, most obvious solution at the moment was looking to be that Glock. Everyone in law enforcement knows if they're going to take their own life, they ain't gonna mess around with pills, or trying to drown themselves or cutting their wrists. No, someplace nice and quiet and a nine-millimeter, in through the mouth, up through the brain was what did the trick, quick and simple.

"So tell me about it," the waitress said, as she turned the cup at my place setting over and filled it with coffee that smelled as strong as diesel fuel, like it'd been on the burner a while.

"About what?"

"About whatever troubles has got you sitting in a dump like this at one in the morning, away from your baby and family."

Was I going to even try and explain it to a total stranger. When the pain was so profound, so wrenching that I couldn't even begin to speak it to those I loved the most.

"How did you know I..."

"Have a baby? You've got throw-up all over your shirt, sweetie. I remember those days like they were yesterday. Oh, that was yesterday. I had to switch to the nightshift because it's the only time I can get my mom to watch my baby boy. Must have been some night for you to walk out looking like that," she said. Then she indicated the phone with a nod of her head. "You want to call your wife, let her know you're okay?"

"I don't have a wife. I was never married to my kids' mother and she walked out on me right after they were born. It's just me and the twins."

She looked at me like she suspected I was one of those people that would leave their kids in the car while they went in somewhere.

"I left the girls at home with my sister," I explained. "I just had to get away for a little while, you know."

"Oh, believe me, I know. Must have been one of those nights where the kid just would not stop screaming and you wanted to throw that baby right out the window. Hold on, sweetie, I'll be right back," She said, as the door opened again. Some stranger walked in and sat down.

I felt suddenly overwhelmed again, by the kindness, by the thought that maybe she understood something of what I was going through, and yet that I couldn't explain it to her, because I was so different. I couldn't tell anyone except the small circle of people who knew already that I was going so haywire because those babies had been birthed from my body. As she talked to the stranger, my breath felt choked and heavy. I had to get out. Abandoning my coffee, I stood up. I threw one of the twenties from my shoe on the table without waiting for change and just left.

Once back in the car, I didn't start it, not knowing where I wanted to go next. Even thought it'd been only twenty minutes since I'd left it, the car interior seemed nearly as cold as it was outside. Bitter. Bone chilling. Leaving me feeling like I was ice. My hand found its way automatically to that Glock again. I sat with it in my lap watching my breath turn into white clouds for hours, trying to make some kind of decision. She'd be the one to find me, I knew. The kind waitress would hear the shot and rush out to the parking lot to find my brains spattered all over the windshield. Actually, there'd be a whole chain of strangers who would have to deal with my death if I took it here. The cops who'd be called out. I knew that, having been on the other side when I was a cop. I'd had to break into some sap's car who'd decided to take this way out a few times. There'd be the EMTs who'd end up having to take me to the morgue. The medical examiner who'd be puzzled by the fact that I was neither fish nor fowl. There'd even be some poor sap car detailer who'd be the one to scrub my blood out of the upholstery.

All these reasons not to do it, but nothing presenting itself as an alternative, nothing that would end the pain. You know, I think I almost preferred feeling nailed down to my bed, unable to do anything to this feeling like I was choking on quicksand, drowning in it.

Sometime a while after dawn, there was a rap on my windshield. I'd had to break down, eventually and turn the car on, just for the heat, after I had started to shiver so badly that I knew I wouldn't even be able to pull a trigger. Even so, the windows were icy from condensation and I couldn't see through. I switched the heater to defrost and swiped at the windshield in the direction of the rap, wondering if it would be a cop telling me it was time to move on or something.

It wasn't. It was Walt. I could see his worried face through the little hole in the frost that I'd made.

I guess they'd worried about me. Not that I deserved their care. I reached out to unlock the car. Walt walked around to the passenger side and got in, allowing the cold in for a minute. I shivered as he sat down. He didn't say anything for a long time. Perhaps gathering his reserves to give me a good reaming out like I deserved.

Instead, he pulled his cell phone out of a pocket and handed it to me. I took it and stared at it a while, not because I didn't know what he wanted me to do with it, but because I didn't know if I could find it in me to talk to Mulder just at this minute. Even though duty nagged me, I still felt as if I were lost in my cold, gray fog.

"You scared the hell out of our sister," he said, finally. He was reminding me of the connection that we had made between us. "Not to mention the rest of your family. Two on the speed dial."

I suppose one of the good things about family is that they don't let you get away with crap. Just from the determined set on his face, I could tell that neither of us was going anywhere until I'd made that call. It was ridiculous, really. Me. John Doggett, now Jack Skinner, sitting in the frozen wasteland of a Denny's parking lot in Ass End Nowhere, Nebraska, grounded by the man who'd elected himself my brother, because I was afraid to make a call to my lover, because I was scared that he would tell me something I already knew- that I was sick. Finally, Walt made the decision for me. He reached over, grabbed the phone out of my lax hand and pressed the buttons for me. He handed the phone back to me before I could protest.

It rang for a few times, then was picked up, by a very tired sounding Fox Mulder. "Hello," he said. Then when I was silent in response, he said the same again a couple of times.

"Hey, Fox," I said. My voice, normally kind of raspy, sounded gratingly harsh to my own ears.

Mulder's voice though, was sweet softness to me. His relief at hearing my voice came through the phone loud and clear, even if he spoke at a near whisper, as if afraid of waking someone. "Hey, Prince Charming. When you coming home?"

"I'll leave soon as I'm done talking to you," I said, aware of the gun on my lap. Guess that no longer was an option, if it ever really was. No doubt they'd have me on a suicide watch back at home. Oh, they wouldn't be obvious about it, but my every step would be watched. I put it back into the place I had found it, remembering to put the safety back on first. "I'm on the far side of Omaha, I think. Walter's with me. Fox...I...I want to know if you can call Dr. Abbott for me. I think I need some help. I wanted to hurt them last night. That's why I left."

"Bob's out looking for you too. I'll call him as soon as I get off the phone with you," he said.

"He is?" I was surprised.

"I get the feeling there's very little he wouldn't do for Georgie," Mulder said. "Just like there's nothing I wouldn't do for you. We'll all talk when you get home. See you soon, Jackie."

He hung up on me, leaving me, for the first time in a while, hungry to be with him again, to talk to him some more. I wanted to know that my daughter's were okay, that the reason he'd been quiet is that they were sleeping and he didn't want to wake them. I handed the phone back to Walter and waited. I expected to get the royal treatment. The full ream out. It didn't come. Instead Walter was all business, deciding that though the obvious choice would be for me to drive the car back home, that I wasn't up for that. Talking to the people inside the restaurant, asking if it would be okay to leave Mulder's car there for a while.

Somewhere along the line, after I'd been deposited into the passenger seat of Walter's truck, I fell asleep. It'd been a good thirty-six hours since I'd had any sleep by that point, and though I'd once prided myself on being able to work round the clock, it was a rough time, considering I'd just come off a whole month and a half of virtually no sleep. I didn't wake up until I heard the crunch of gravel under the car wheels as we turned onto the county road that led to the farm house. It was starting to snow again, just a few flakes here and there at the moment, but with promises of much worse in the dark clouds overhead. I wondered if this winter would ever be over. Bob Abbott's car was waiting in our driveway when we pulled in. We were at home, sweet home, which somehow or another, had gotten to be a run down farmhouse in the middle of nowhere.

Mulder didn't rush out to meet me, but I got the feeling that he would have, if he weren't currently wearing Garnet. He met me at the door. He must have been watching me since the instant he heard the crunch of car wheels on gravel. Garnet was sacked out, limp in the baby carrier. Finally getting a little sleep. I suppose all that screaming really takes it out of a girl. Mulder didn't wrap me in his arms right away, but gently stopped me as I was walking past him by touching me under the chin. He looked into my eyes for a long time as Walter brushed past us. Of course I had to return the look. His eyes seemed dull, tired. Concerned, of course. But without that lively sparkle of potential mischief. These past weeks had been hard on him too, I thought. Though it had been the longest time since I'd wanted to be touched in any way, I pressed myself close to Mulder. I took my chin out of his hands and rested it on his shoulder.

"I'm so tired of this, Fox," I said. I was also suddenly aware that my breasts were uncomfortably full. The proximity of the girls caused it I suppose. I could feel the let down starting, soaking little wet spots in the front of my much abused sweatshirt.

"It's not you," Fox told me. "It's a sickness, but one that you have to take responsibility. God knows I don't believe in medicating away every bad feeling, but this is an obvious case of organic dysfunction."

Gracie chose this moment to wake. Even though she was in another room, I could clearly hear the tiny whimper that meant she'd woken hungry. My let down picked up again, soaking my shirt even more. I moved towards her, then stopped, remembering what Fox had told me yesterday, that I'd have to wean them. I didn't want to do that. Gracie, at least, had turned out to be an easy nurser. I wouldn't call it exactly pleasant having that suction pump and hard gums on my nipples, but there had been a certain peace I had gotten when I nursed her.

"Let me get her," Mulder said.

"No, just a few more times before we switch them to bottles entirely. Please," I said.

"Well, you haven't started the medication yet," Abbott said.

He'd come to the kitchen, bearing Gracie with him and he must have listened silently for a moment or two. He handed me Gracie. She'd been watching me, her whimpering shifting up to nearly a full cry once she realized I was in the room and she wasn't in my arms. It was almost an automatic response to shed my jacket, drop it where I stood, and pull up my sweatshirt. She popped onto the nipple almost like a sunflower turning to the sun. Her eyes closed as she suckled and as I walked us to the nearest chair to sit down, her little hands waved around. Then, when I held my hand near hers, she grabbed one of my big fingers with her tiny ones, holding tightly to me.

This is love, I thought as she nursed and I examined her. Everything just as it had been, each little dimple, each black curl. Love was the warm weight of her in my arms, the subtle but distinctive smell of her. I lost it. I tried to tell Mulder how much I had missed him too, but there was a catch in my voice that swallowing hard wouldn't make go away. Then I was crying, at least I have no other excuse for the streaks of wetness on my face. It was the first time I'd cried since before their birth. Fox held me. He didn't offer any overt comfort, just his presence as he held me. and his lack of judgment. A man could cry in Fox's presence and not feel any less a man for it.

Later, after I'd cried myself out and we'd fed both the girls, Fox and I had slept from the morning into the afternoon. I had my talk with Abbott.

Or rather, he talked at me and I gave the occasional monosyllabic grunt when he seemed to demand some answer. Eventually he pronounced, "We'll try you on Zoloft first."

I think some part of me must have been grateful, but it wasn't at the forefront at the moment. I didn't growl at Bob when he prescribed the antidepressant, but I wasn't pleased either. I guess I'd had some secret, futile hope that maybe he'd say something like, "It's all insomnia. Get enough sleep, it'll go away" or "All new mothers go through this. Wait another month and it'll go away."

No. I guess with not just Fox, but another professional diagnosing me, I had little choice but to accept that I was depressed and that it wouldn't go away on its own.

After Abbott gave the prescription, Fox held his arms out for both the girls and said, "You go shower and shave. After that, we'll go out and pick up your prescription."

Fox handed a clean shirt at me pointedly until I pulled my dirty sweatshirt over my head and changed into the clean one. Fox held the filthy shirt out at arm's length and said, "I think I may have tried to arrest this thing in a New Jersey sewer once."

"I don't think washing it is going to save it," I said. "May as well put it on the burn pile."

With us having to haul all our garbage to the dump ourselves, anything that was flammable practically, we burned. It was one of Georgie's favorite chores, so she claimed.

"You just might be right," Fox had said, but he chucked the shirt in the laundry anyway.

It'd probably been a week since I'd showered, as for the beard, it'd been longer. I thought about keeping it, but as I evaluated the man in the mirror, I decided that only nice clothes separated him from looking like a street person, with his hair and face looking like it was. My bangs had grown so long that I was having to push them out of my eyes. Yeah, I'd say a haircut was in order as well as a shave. Get myself together into something I recognized as myself.

After the shower, first I had to use scissors to cut the beard down to a length I could shave. As I pulled the safety razor down, stripe after stripe, revealing pale skin from under white foam, I wondered, was this myself emerging again? Understand that I still wanted to die like I had in that car, but sometime during that night, I had made up my mind to fight this thing.

Finally clean shaven again, I left the mirror behind. I could almost feel Fox on the other side of the door, even if he was a room away. No matter. Wherever he was, I could tell that he was wondering just what I was doing in the bathroom, why it was taking me so long. If I was going to harm myself, in other words. Oh, nobody would out and out call it that, but I'd earned myself a suicide watch, at least for a while. Not that I didn't deserve it.

Once back in our bedroom, I reached for some of my familiar, now comfortable clothes. The ones I'd been wearing since I'd been pregnant with the girls- one of those big oxford cloth shirts and a huge pair of sweats that I had to pull tight on the drawstring to keep up on my hips these days. Huge on me, but comfortable and they hid the fact that while the rest of me was gaunt, my stomach was still kind of flabby with loose skin. And that my hips were obviously bigger than they ever had been before.

"Uh-uh," Fox shook his head while digging in his own drawers, an awkward exercise for him even with Garnet in the baby bjorn. He held out a pair of jeans, his jeans, and a thick sweater at me. Fox and I used to be something along the same size. We wouldn't have been comfortable wearing the same suits, but for casual clothes, we once could have raided each other's drawers with impunity. Now, though, he was looking better than ever, his abs slim, buff, toned, his upper body bigger than it had been. And I was a physical wreck. He seemed to understand my hesitation. "Give 'em a try, Jackie. It's time to pack away your big clothes."

I'd been contemplating just wearing them until they fell to rags. That, or burning them. I don't see why he used the words, 'pack away', because it wasn't like I was going to use them ever again. I was never, never, never going to go through with this again. He'd even shown me the bruising to prove that he'd gone through with the operation.

"They're my loosest pair," Fox said. "They might work."

In face of such obstinacy, I thought it might just be easier to give in and try the damn things on. I pulled them on. I was skinnier than I thought, perhaps my body image still distorted by my pregnancy weight, but I was able to easily pull them over my hips and zip them up. They fit kind of funny, with plenty of room in the waist and not quite enough room in the seat, but they did fit. With the sweater over top, I almost looked normal again.

"You could use a haircut," Fox said, brushing a strand of drying hair out of my eyes. He reached up on tippy-toes to give me a kiss on the forehead, then said, "But other than that, you look great. Let's go. Daylight's burning."

Actually, there was very little daylight left. We'd slept most of the afternoon away. We'd be driving home in the dark for sure.

Walt was going to drive out with us, to retrieve the car we'd left in Omaha. Fox also wanted to bring the babies. I tried to put my foot down on that, but he kept wrapping Gracie up in one of those buntings that he'd bought. She took it in fairly good grace though she looked like a little pig in a blanket. Her sister was already wrapped up and waiting in her baby bucket, entertained by her own hands.

"They haven't had an outing yet," Fox said, soothingly. "We can't keep them here all their lives. Don't you want to share these adorable babes with the rest of the world?"

"Not really," I said, thinking about what I knew of the rest of the world. Keeping my girls hidden on an Iowa farm seemed like a good plan to me.

"If we take them, we'll have every cashier and the pharmacist cooing over them. We'll have to fight them off with sticks. What do you say? Just a quick run to the drug store and back?"

And so he wore me down and I finally relented. As the sun was finally setting, we were fitting the as yet unused car seats into Walt's car, borrowed for the trip. You know, when Luke was born, car seats certainly were available, but it wasn't unheard of for parents to ride with infants in their arms either. Now, I was thinking that it might be a good idea to get another set of car seats for, maybe even a third. See, I was thinking that once I was more myself, I'd get a car for myself. If I accepted that the money in that savings account that belonged to Jasper Skinner was mine, I had the money for it.

As if reading my mind, Fox said, "You know, if we go to the Wal-Mart, we can pick some things up while getting your prescription. Some clothes for you. Another set of car seats maybe. It'd be a longer trip though."

"Sure, fine," I said. "Whatever."

I wasn't quite ready to deal with going out yet, especially not with the girls, but I might as well make good use of it while I was out. The trip was mostly silent. Walt and Fox were in the front, I was in the back, wedged between two car seats. Even after we dropped Walt off at the Denny's parking lot and watched him drive away, we were quiet until we hit the Wal-Mart parking lot.

"You want Red or Gracie?" Fox asked, as he parked the car.

Tough question, really. It was going to be hard not to favor Gracie, considering the way that Garnet glommed onto Fox any chance she got. But Gracie was easier to handle, quiet and sweet. Garnet was a more difficult child to love, which somehow made the times she slept on my chest more sweet- they could be hard won victories.

"Garnet," I said. "You've been holding her all day. It's my turn. What is it with you two, anyway?"

"Do you believe in reincarnation, Jackie?" he asked. He'd opened Gracie's side and had gotten her out of her car seat. He started to strap her to him. She liked the classic style sling better than the baby bjorn.

Oh, no, not that supernatural bullshit again. I gave him a look that I hoped communicated exactly what I thought of that theory as I slipped into the tangle of straps that was the baby bjorn. Even in the yellow and shadows of the parking lot lights, he could read my skepticism.

"This is something I couldn't prove to Scully's satisfaction. I don't think I could prove it to yours either. But again and again, I meet people with whom I have an immediate connection that I can't deny. The same players meet on different stages, again and again. I believe that Garnet and I have known each other before and that we have come together again in this life. Perhaps in the past she has protected me. Now it's my turn to protect her."

At least he turned off the faucet of bullshit as we entered the front doors of the store. The greeter was a pudgy, white-haired woman, who, if she wasn't someone's grandmother, should have been. She seemed like one of nature's own Grandma's. It seemed natural almost to let her approach the girls as we took off the blankets that were protecting their faces from the cold.

"What a beautiful little girl," she said, of each of them. I'm not sure she got it that they were twins, or that Fox and I had even walked in together. We didn't correct her, just headed towards the corner of the store that probably had the pharmacy.

Fox had been right. Nearly everyone we ran into cooed over the babies. It was a curious kind of anonymity. We were so noticed, yet only as the impersonal bearers of these babies. If we were asked any questions at all, it was "Where is her mommy?"

Part of me wanted to lay claim to them, to say out loud, damn you, I am their mommy. I brought them forth after months inside me by hours of pain and work. But I didn't. I couldn't. Fox answered for us, with the simplest of lies. "She's not with us anymore," he said, refusing to clarify when asked more questions.

My biggest surprise of the day arrived as we were pushing a cart up and down the baby supplies aisle. As I was reaching for a big bag of diapers, not really watching, suddenly another hand was on the package, helping me guide it into our cart. I was surprised, because I'd thought that Fox was behind me.

He was. I looked up. It was my Uncle Phil. The hell? I had always assumed that once he'd caught up with Fox in that laundromat, that despite any evasive maneuvers Fox had taken on the way home, Uncle Phil knew where he was going, and therefore, where I was. But he'd ignored me thus far. Had he, or someone close to him been watching the farm. Had he been waiting for the opportunity to make some kind of move. I looked first at Uncle Phil, then at Fox. Fox kind of shifted where he stood, as if feeling for the familiar weight of his holster and gun. I'd studied everything about Fox once, when I'd been searching for him. I knew his record of firearm discharges. It was rare for him to pull his weapon, but when he did, when he took a shot, it was almost always decisively fatal.

I decided to take a casual approach to this confrontation. Acting like it'd just been last week since I'd seen him, I said, "Hey, Uncle Phil."

"How's it going, son?" he asked, taking the cue from me, keeping his voice light and neutral sounding.

"We're getting by," I said.

"And the girls?" he asked.

This was where I took the opportunity to convey my feelings on that subject. My voice as low and menacing as I could make it, I hissed at him, "You touch them and you're a dead man. That clear?"

Then I raised my voice back to pleasant and conversational. I added, in the voice of an appropriately proud pappa, "Aren't they beautiful?"

"The loveliest little ladies I've ever put my eyes on," he agreed. He turned to Fox and held out his hand, "Good to see you again, as always."

Fox seemed kind of suspicious, but took my Uncle Phil's hand and shook it. Something seemed kind of funny. I'm pretty quick on the uptake and I was sure that he was palming something off on Fox.

"Well, it's good to see the both of you again," he said, stepping away. "We'll have to get together sometime. I'll bring a proper baby gift."

Then he walked away, leaving me feeling frustrated. He disappeared into the aisles even as question after question that I wanted to ask him popped into my head.

"Don't worry," Fox said, "I'm sure we'll be hearing from him again sometime soon. He seems to have taken a personal interest."

It wasn't until after we were back in the car, babies locked into their car seats, and on the road again, that Fox showed me what my uncle had palmed to him. It was about the size of a fat pen, with cords coming out of one end.

"Some baby gift. If I'm not mistaken, it's a USB drive," Fox said. "I wonder what sort of interesting tidbits are on it. I'm sure, considering the kind of risk he took to get it to us, they must be good."

Later that night, I nursed both the girls to sleep for one last time. Then I sat on the edge of the bed, staring at the little, amber plastic bottle that was supposed to take my mental pain away, at least enough of it that I could think clearly again.

"You won't be on them forever," Fox promised. "Take it and then we'll hook the USB up to my computer and see what's on it."

I wrestled with the childproof cap for a minute, then shook out one of the little pills. It seemed like such a small thing to do everything that I'd been promised it would do. I took it with a glass of water. Then Fox hugged me. Just like I'd said to him once, right after the girls had been born and he'd come in from the outdoors looking vaguely shell-shocked, as if he couldn't believe what had happened, he said to me, "We'll be okay, Jackie. You, me, the girls. We'll all be okay. We'll make it through this. "

Then he added, with grin on his face, "So, should we flip now for who has to wait up all night on prom night?"

"We make it that far and both of us are going to be up chewing our nails and you know it," I told him as he got out his laptop computer. It took him a few minutes to get everything hooked up and for the information to be scrolling across the screen.

"It's garbage," I said, looking at the random seeming streams of characters that filled the window.

"No, it's encrypted," he said. "Damn. I wish the Gunmen were around still."

He looked at something over my left shoulder, then looked to me. I could see him making some kind of decision. Then he talked to the empty space behind me. "Yes, I know your kung-fu is still the best, Langly, dead or alive. But can it help me out with this mess on the screen?"

"What are you doing?" I asked as Mulder set the computer aside on the bed. I knew what he was doing. Acting crazy. Thinking he was talking to dead people again.

"Watch," Mulder said.

I've seen some strange things in my time. I've seen monsters. I've seen a blind guy nail a shot through solid walls. I'd seen my daughters cradles' rock back and forth, seemingly on their own power. I've never seen anything like this.

The computer seemed to take on a life of its own. The keys depressed like someone was typing, but there was nobody there. We waited. The nonsense strings on the screen changed, and changed again.

"That computer is haunted," I was finally able to admit. I couldn't think of any way else to describe it.

"No, more like I'm haunted," Fox said.

Mulder:

I was mildly surprised to find out that the three stooges could still hack with the best of them. No, perhaps even better than they ever had. I had known that my beloved dead are able to bring me physical objects. The man I knew only as X brought me the address of Marita Corvarrubias on a small slip of paper. That they are able to manipulate the physical world in other ways shouldn't surprise me. But to see them engage in such complex tasks seemed unlikely.

Past projects I'd worked with the gunmen had always gone smoothly. They easily worked as a team, their whole greater than the sum of their odd parts. But now, Langly was the center of their trio, the one at the keyboard, but the other pair stood at his shoulders, still, as if lending their power to him somehow.

I remembered how they'd picked up Jimmy as a fourth once, and I thought about that now. Groups of four are more stable, politically speaking. But I thought that a grouping of three is more powerful somehow. As if the tensions in the uneasy groupings produce a current that is not possible with a more stable arrangement. If nothing else, Western culture seems to recognize the potential inherent in threes. The chief power symbol of one of the still strong hegemonies of western culture is a trinity, after all. Trinitarianism possesses cultural supremacy while Unitarianism remains a footnote, a near fringe religion for liberals.

At long last, John spoke again. "So, the Gunmen are returned from the grave for one last hack?"

"No," I said, softly. Not that I could disturb the trinity now, I was sure, but the situation seemed to demand some kind of solemnity. "They, and the rest of the ghosts, come back to help me. I think if anything will save us, it will be them."

"I don't believe it," he said. But his eyes were telling me otherwise.

Over time, even the computer lost interest for us and we slept. I woke sometime in the dawn's light. John was changing Garnet and the Gunmen were still at work. But a few minutes later, Frohike said, "A few more keystrokes, then, sure as bob's your uncle, we're in."

"That was a brilliant hack," Langly said, at last.

"All you need now, Mulder, is someone who reads Russian," Byers added.

"Russian?" I asked, looking at the screen. They were right. The ASCII characters in nonsense strings had changed into Cyrillic text. It might or might not have been further encoded in the text.

"It appears to be, to all appearance, research notes of some kind," Byers said. "Our expertise ends here, Mulder."

I had once known someone who spoke fluent Russian, though I hadn't seen him around for a while. I had my own suspicions as to what happened to him, and if that were the case, then for damn sure, I'd rather have him where he'd gone than available to be my translator again. Look what happened to the both of us last time I used him as a translator anyway. Perhaps I was now getting my chance to make up to him what I now recognize as unnecessary cruelty and violence.

"It's really a damn shame that Walt's father wouldn't let their mother speak any Russian to their children," John said. She'd been allowed to transmit only the smallest amounts of her culture to her children.

We were, for the moment, at a dead end with this information. I shrugged.

"Breakfast?" I asked. There was nothing else to be done for the moment.

We left the computer behind and went downstairs with the girls. I was pleased to see John take the time to shave, then dress. And dress in the new jeans we'd gotten him from Wal-Mart. And a shirt that wasn't already permanently stained from baby throw-up. It was the little things that made me hopeful. Little things like taking his pill without argument.

After breakfast, I went upstairs, and got a surprised. I was disappointed to see Alex Krycek sitting in front of the computer now.

"Thought you'd finally managed to ditch me for good," he said, when he caught sight of my fallen face. "Too bad. I'm back like the proverbial bad penny."

"No," I said. "It's not that. I just hoped that maybe I was getting a second chance with you. A fresh start."

"You thought I'd risk coming back into a family where one of the parents has a temper like yours?" he said. "Fat chance, Mulder."

"If you'd come back to me as a child, I'd never hurt you, Krycek," I said. No, it was a solemn promise for all that I didn't phrase it that way. I don't believe I really have a bad temper. Krycek always just brought out the worst in me, a situation made worse by the betrayal I'd suffered from him.

"I'll take that under advisement," he said. "Now, shut up and let me get back to work."

Doggett:

I didn't ask what was in that document. Mulder would tell me when he knew and at the moment, my own problems seemed more important than whatever was happening in the wider world. He told me that he had found a translator who was working on it. I left it at that even though I knew that whatever it was, it was serious. Fox's mood passed quickly from almost jubilant to guarded and worried. He didn't sleep much during the next couple of days, even when the girls would let us get sleep. He was decidedly keeping something from me. Only, I didn't have the energy to go prying just yet.

For a couple of days, I struggled just to keep my head above water- to do the things I needed to do. Taking care of the girls, getting dressed, taking my medication, this was about the limits of my ability at the moment. Anti-depressants don't work instantly. My problems weren't gone with one magic pill, though I did feel better in the sense that I felt like I was taking action against the fog, rather than allowing myself to sink into it.

I knew that something was extremely important it the information that my uncle had given us even before Fox told me what it was. I saw it on the news, just as a sidebar item, just barely mentioned. Three days after I'd seen him in the Wal-Mart, there was a military helicopter crash, an 'accident'. A Blackhawk went down. The fatality list, though short, included then name Col. Phillip James Doggett. It hardly seemed real. I had just spoken to him days ago. He'd promised me I would see him again. I wouldn't get the chance to go to the funeral and I would never get the chance to ask him why he'd done what he'd done. Why he'd chose me. I watched the brief news item slack jawed, then went to find Fox. Thankfully, for once, both girls were napping, Gracie in her cradle, Garnet in the baby bjorn. I quickly threw a blanket over her before I went out into the cold. Hopefully, I wouldn't be long.

"How much progress have you made on those files?" I asked, when I found him in the chicken coop. Over time, he'd taken on some of Walter's chores, including cleaning the coop.

"Some," he said, guardedly. I knew that he knew more than he was letting on. His mouth was closed tightly, an almost frown.

"It's incendiary, whatever it is," I said. "Uncle Phil gave his life to get it to me. I just saw it on the news. A Blackhawk went down, for no reason, near Camp Lejeune."

"I was going to tell you later today. It's hard to find the words. Let's go inside and talk," he said, pitching one last fork full of used bedding out of the coop, then stepping out and closing the door behind him. We headed back to the house. When we were inside the house, shedding our boots and jackets, Mulder said, "Bedroom."

That was the place we went when we were having any kind of discussion we didn't want Walt and Georgie walking in on. I loved them, but I was really looking forward to getting a place with just Mulder. The farmhouse was a pretty big house, but it was still crowded with four adults and now two babies living in it. I almost considered seeing if we could have this talk in the living room, where it would be warmer next to the stove, but I thought Mulder wanted to have this conversation in bed. Probably with his arms around me. He was touching me again and again as we walked upstairs, guiding me gently to the stairs, just letting me know he was there. It took a while for us to get settled in bed, Garnet, still sleeping, in between us, but finally, he buried his face in my shoulder for a short while. His voice, when he talked, was a low rumble that I felt against my skin. His hair was silky under my fingers. It seemed right to run my fingers through it.

"You don't need any more bad news, in the state you're in. But you also need to know what I know. My source is not done translating the document, but I know this much. It's not just information. It's a warning. We have to find my brother as soon as we can. We need to get him to give our girls the same gift that he gave William. We have to go to him. We can't wait until he can travel to us."

"The magnatite? What's the hurry?" I asked. We'd discussed this before and we'd both come to the same conclusion, that when the time was right, if we could get our hands on it, we would administer the magnatite solution. Then hopefully, our little girls would grow up to be just normal girls. "William was months old when it was given to him."

"We need, as quickly as possible, to drive out anything in them that's alien," Mulder said. "The thing I've been looking for. The thing that has the power to prevent colonization. The thing that will end the conspiracy that's here now. It's been found. By the Russians. And they've unleashed it already."

"What?"

"It's a virus. They conquer us through viruses. Now somebody in Russia has finally figured out the way to use the master's tools to tear down the master's house. I guess they were seeking to perfect the vaccine against the oil but they surpassed themselves. It's deadly to any of the aliens. The grays. The oil, you know like we ran across on the oil rig turns to dust when exposed to it. The bounty hunters. Any of the aliens. The supersoldiers even. All of the aliens, what they have in common are several key proteins making up their organic structures. These proteins are unlike anything found in terrestrial life forms."

"And anything that has them..."

"Dies when it comes into contact with this virus. We win. Endgame. Humanity lives happy ever after. Except our girls..."

"Fuck."

"Precisely."

I'll give Mulder one thing. He sure knows how to scare a guy. And I didn't want to think that the universe was so cruel as to give me something so precious to love as my children and then would just take them away again. Except I knew for a fact that it did that kind of thing all the time. I'd seen it done before. All the time. It'd happened to me. I pulled him as close as I could, hoping I wasn't disturbing Garnet too much.

"There's nothing we can do to stop it's release?" I asked. It might have been selfish, but yes, I would have sacrificed humanity's chance against the aliens for the sake of my girls.

"Too late. It's been released already. The only thing we can do is get our daughters the magnatite injection and hope that's good enough protection for them, that it destroys the part of them that's alien. The document gives a release date of a few days ago."

"Have you contacted your brother?" I asked. Personally, I still didn't trust the slimy weasel, but Fox did. But hell, everyone has an in-law that they don't like but they put up with for the sake of family harmony. Besides, if anyone knew where to get that stuff, Jeff Spender did.

"I did. We're just waiting to see if he can get his hands on what we need. He'll know soon. If he can, we'll be meeting somewhere in Tennessee, which is about in the middle of where he is now and where we are. We'll leave as soon as we know. There's other arrangements we need to make too," he said. Then he wasn't able to speak anymore for a while.

What do you mean, arrangements?" I asked finally, impatient in the face of his silence. The way he said arrangements was the way people usually said funeral arrangements.

"I just want to have things in order. In case," he said. He composed himself. He must have done the exact same thing hundreds of times when facing Skinner with some completely ridiculous report. "I want to get you the information on where all my various safe deposit boxes are and the couple of other places I have cash stashed. And I'll need to get you access to my various off shore accounts. And then, if there's a chance that I could be exonerated, I'll want to update my will, so that's what left of my assets can go to the girls. In case..."

"Cut the crap. What are you trying to say here, Fox?" I asked. I was getting more and more worried with each sentence. Sounded like he was planning on dying. That was not something I was going to hear.

"The virus doesn't just affect the aliens, Jackie. It affects hybrids. Like myself," he said. And then, just in case I didn't get it. Just to pound the nails into the coffin a little deeper. Just to twist the knife boring into my heart a little more viciously, he added, "There's a very good chance, no, an almost certain chance that this virus will kill me."

The universe is perverse. And cruel. The universe is a goddamn, mean, nasty, son-of-a bitch.

You'd think I'd be used to having the rug pulled out from under my feet and finding myself standing out over a chasm like in the goddamn cartoons. It'd happened enough in my life so far.

I couldn't accept this. There was nothing about this that was even vaguely acceptable. To have talked myself down from a ledge a couple of days ago, still sometimes wishing that I would just die in my sleep, mind you, then to find this out. To know that the person who I trusted most in this world, the man I'd grown unexpectedly to love, would be taken from me, along with my daughters possibly.

No. It wouldn't happen.

I did the only sane thing a man can do at a time like this. I denied it.

"You're trying to tell me you're an alien, Fox? What kind of BS is that? In the hospital, after you were dug up, Scully cured you. All those anti-virals. You trying to tell me that it didn't work?"

"Oh, they stopped that particular transformation," Fox said. "But they couldn't cure what's been part of my genetics all along. I am a hybrid, Jackie. I can't deny that. Alex Krycek confirmed that I am at risk for this virus."

"Great. So what I hear you telling me is that at the drop of a hat, we're going to have to set out on a cross country trip, with two infants who may or may not get sick and...and...and.." I couldn't finish for a minute.

"As long as I'm breathing, Jackie, that will not happen," Fox said.

"And that at some point during this trip, you will almost certainly get sick and die. And there's nothing we can do to stop that, and that even if we could, we probably shouldn't."

"That's about the whole of it," he said finally. I wondered, how many of the past couple of days had he known about this and kept it from me.

"I refuse to accept that. I wouldn't let you go down without a fight before, and I'm not doing it this time."

It seemed impossible, that in this warm bed, cuddled into the man's strong arms, the baby nestled between us, all evidence of the man's physicality surrounding me, from his masculine smell only tainted a little by chicken poop, to his velvety skin still cold under my hands from having been outdoors, that something should happen to him.

"It's not acceptable," I said again, holding him as if I could stop him from going.

"Life is rarely acceptable," Fox said. He was holding me back exactly as tightly as I was holding him.

"What are we going to do?" I asked. As always, I was more comfortable with some concrete plan, something to do. Something to investigate. An action to take. Something to fight against.

As for plans, I knew exactly what I would do if I lost both Mulder and the girls. No thoughts of waitresses finding my body would stop me. Not even thoughts of Georgie and Walt, having to bury their youngest sibling, again, would stop me. If just Mulder was affected and the girls survived, oh, it would be hard, but I would be obligated to continue. They deserved at least one parent.

"Have you told Walt?"

"Not yet," he said. "He's got enough on his mind."

Walt was busy, on the phone all the time, planning the hearing that might exonerate Mulder with that military lawyer he'd found. Tomorrow, he'd be flying back to DC for the hearing.

"He probably won't be able to go with us to meet your brother," I said.

"No. I don't think we should bring Georgie with us either. I don't want her in any kind of situation where she could get hurt. I think it'll be just me and you. I'll make sure you have numbers. People you can call if you have to go it without me. People you can trust. And my ghosts will always watch out for you."

Mulder:

And they would. Indeed, the house had started to take on that grand central station of the dead look again. Everywhere I looked, every place I glanced, there was some spirit or another.

I think I would have known something was about to happen to me, even without the news from John's uncle. I was in danger. It was clear from the constant attendance of my beloved dead. Besides Alex Krycek still hovering over the laptop computer, translating the last scraps of that document and looking for any hint, any information at all that might save me, Monica was hovering over Gracie's crib as she slept. Monica was singing softly some lullaby type song, in Spanish. I didn't understand a word of it, but Gracie continued to sleep. Monica was rocking the cradle in time to the music.

It would have been so peaceful. A wonderful loving scene. Except for I knew the axe that hovered over all our heads. There have been times before where I have thought I was going to die. That brain disease had been a frightening time. When Scully had been dying of cancer, I thought that I too, might die. But never before had the stakes been so great.

Strange to realize it now. For so long I had denied that my personal life even existed. The quest for the truth had seemed the highest stake there could be. That there was a danger threatening the lives of every person in the United States, in the world even, had been more important to me than the comfort of human company. If I'd known then what I knew now, I would have taken Scully to bed years before she died. We wouldn't have been so lonely together for so long.

Because you don't really love people in the abstract. That's not love. It's duty. Or something. No, you love people in all their glorious, banal reality. You love them and their petty irritations and their beautiful, solid, physical forms. You could feel a kind of hollow righteous anger that someone could threaten strangers' children with smallpox bearing bees. But you loved the weight of your own daughter against the crook of your arm, the particular pitch of her cry, the soft whimpers she makes in the night. And the mere thought of her being harmed is something that knives straight into your gut.

And perhaps in the large scope, my problems, my terror at being separated from my beloved family, might not be worth a whole lot, not even a hill of beans compared to everything that was going on out there. But for me, these stakes were higher than they had ever been.

"John, listen to me," I told him. "If this thing gets me, I will wait for you. We will meet again. Somewhere. Somehow. It may be a different stage, but it will be the same players. You and I will love each other again. And as long as you need my protection, I will haunt you, like my ghosts haunt me."

"No, I don't believe it," he said. "There has to be something we can do. Someway we can fight this."

As always, he was beautiful, strong-headed man. And by all the things I hold sacred, I wished that I could believe as he did- that I was not doomed. That some struggle against my fate would be fruitful and I would end up growing old with him. But who would know best who is fated to join them next than the dead themselves and they were hovering around me like turkey vultures around a road-killed deer. John held each other the rest of the day, until Georgie came up to find us. I guess John had volunteered to cook dinner earlier in the day. And she was wondering when he was going to get started, being as it was nearly seven already.

"I don't think either of us is going to be hungry, Georgie," John said to her. "Bad news."

Then he told her.

And I had my proof that his strength had come through his depression unharmed. He held Georgie as she crumpled, let her cry in his arms. She didn't cry until after she had asked the same questions he had. Isn't there anything we can do? How can this be happening? Why? Only when our helplessness in the face of this microscopic, but very virulent threat was confirmed did she let herself slip from her normal, stoic self. She let herself have about five minutes before she gathered herself up again.

Somehow, like always, life carried on. Somehow or another, we got dinner on the table, while juggling the babies, making bottles for them. Somehow, Walt was told, his only response a tightening of the jaw and a looking away, over my shoulder at the wall beyond me. I could almost see him wishing for someone like that black-lunged, cancer-riddled bastard or any other devil to make a deal with for my life. When dinner was served, it was in a terrible quiet we looked at each other over our soup and grilled cheese. The times were too profound for mere words, perhaps.

The ringing phone was a relief. Not the house phone, but one of my cells. I answered it sitting at the table, knowing it was the call that I'd been waiting for. The one that might bring salvation to my daughters at least.

My half-brother's damaged, raspy voice told me, "I have the packages you requested. I'm already on my way to the agreed delivery point."

"Understood." I told him. After that, he hung up. We didn't risk anything more than that. I shut down my cell and stuffed it back into my pocket. Then I stood up from the table, looked at my companions, especially John, and said, "We leave tonight. As soon as possible."

He shoved his bowl away, the vegetable beef unable to hold any more interest for him. "I'll start packing," he said.

I'd somehow expected him to protest, to demand that we start out in the morning with a good night's sleep behind us. Instead, he stood up from the table and was about to head upstairs immediately, when he remembered that it was time to take his pill. He grabbed the amber bottle with a few foul words whispered under his breath. "You know, if I didn't have to be on these, we wouldn't have to worry about packing all of this crap," he said, indicating all the bottles and formula paraphernalia. It was going to be a logistical nightmare, driving straight through with the babies but I couldn't see what else we could do. We had to get them to that serum as quickly as possible.

Packing was a rushed affair, with the both of us grabbing as much stuff as we could and putting it in bags. Most of what we grabbed was baby stuff. The average invasion of Europe has nothing on the sheer amount of impedimenta it requires to take a baby anywhere. Then double that. I'd gladly wear the same jeans for several days in a row, but babies are messy and inconvenient. Their diapers leak from the legs and make their cute little pink rompers disgustingly dirty. They throw up. They can't blow their own noses, I remembered as I grabbed the little bulb syphon thingee.

Georgie agreed, after much persuasion, to be the one to stay home, keep the home fires burning, so to speak. She wanted to go with us so much, but it was too dangerous. Anything might happen on this midnight ride of ours. Sometime after nine, we were finally buckling the twins into their seats, after warming up the car for a long time. John took Georgie into his arms one last time and then said, "We'll be home soon. Everything'll be fine. I'll take first shift driving, Fox. You can sleep."

Walt hung back, but when John got settled behind the wheel, seatbelt on, he tried to find something to say. He failed, shook his head. Finally Georgie said, "Godspeed." Then Walt nodded his agreement and shut the car door.

It closed with a final sounding thud. We were sealed inside a little world, in many ways, just the two of us again. Yes, the girls were there, but the car seats seemed to work some magic on them and almost the instant John put the car into reverse and pulled out of the farm's long driveway, they were asleep. It had been less than twelve hours since Krycek had translated the document enough to get a full sense of what was in it. Since I'd gotten a death sentence that was more real, more perilous than the one I'd gotten from the military tribunal. John drove with silent purpose and intensity. His face, just barely illuminated in the dashboard lights, was lined, the furrows between and over his brows deeper than they ever had been, a topographical map of worry.

"You know," he said finally, long after we'd hit the highway. "I've heard people say before that God doesn't give you any more problems than you can handle. I'd have to say, that if I believed in God, that he trusts me entirely too much. You can't leave me, Fox. I can't do this alone."

I wished that he had some kind of faith. That I could tell him that he would never be alone, far from it, that the girls would have the most motley assortment of guardian angels you could imagine. I wished that I could tell him this and have him believe me. Instead of trying to break through his brick wall of disbelief again, I just reached out an arm and slipped it behind his neck as he drove, a gesture that I wished could someday become familiar, but comforting even as it was new. I fell asleep not long after.

Waking in a stopped car hours later was disorienting. John wasn't in the driver's seat. I shook sleepiness out of my head and looked around. I saw the yellow, harsh lights of a gas station canopy, the kind that cast more shadows than illumination. John reappeared a few minutes later. He pushed a few things at me. A cup of coffee first, then a cellophane bag with sunflower seeds in it.

"Your turn to drive. I've been driving for hours. We're nearly to Illinois," he said. When he got back in the car, it was in the back seat with the girls, squishing himself between the two car seats. "I took them in and changed them while you were sleeping. Fucking truck stop has one a them changing tables in the women's room but not one in the men's room. Had to do it on the six square inches of counter not taken up by the sinks. I'll feed them while you drive."

I don't know how he did it, what inner reserves he found. But the man who only days ago barely had it in him to get dressed was taking care of me. Perhaps he did his best in crisis mode. I looked at the bag of sunflower seeds. I had cut down on them ever since he'd thrown a bag of them out of a car window and threatened me with bodily harm should I partake of them in his presence again, sneaking out to the porch to eat them, or stocking up when I was on the road. It seemed a small enough thing. I'd never really told him what they meant to me.

Sticking the coffee into the cup holder, I got out of the car and walked over to the driver's side. The night was still cold, but somehow seemed milder than it had been, the air smelled almost moist. The sign of a thaw perhaps. I opened my bag of seeds as soon as I'd started up the car and got us on the road.

"You know, when I was growing up, I'd sometimes wake up in the middle of the night. I had a nightmare that I was the only person in the world. Like everyone else had vanished. I was scared. I was a kid, you know," I said. "And then I'd hear my father in his study down the hall. He'd be crunching seeds. And then it was okay. It's reassuring to me, the sound."

I tried to catch a glimpse of his face in the rear view mirror, but I couldn't in the darkness. But I felt a hand reach up from behind and rest of my shoulder. He was such a good man and what I felt right now was nothing but anger at the universe, at anything that was out there, that was putting him through this. The inextricable relationship that I was in with him was not accidental, yet it was not in my control either. I would not ask this of anyone, that they first love me, then have to watch me die.

Doggett:

State after state, we drove, stopping only when we had to, just for the demands of our daughters. Our own needs were strictly incidental, taken care of at the same time their cries made us pull over for a diaper change or a feed. I wouldn't have thought we could do it, drive straight through to Tennessee from Iowa, but with two drivers, we made it. Our progress was still slow though.

Nevertheless, we arrived in Tennessee. The sky was a dull gray, about the color of lead. It was early morning, but the heavy cloud cover promised that the sky would get only a little lighter with full daylight. It was chilly, but above freezing, maybe even up into the forties. More like the kind of winter I'd prefer to tolerate. Fox was at the wheel as we turned off the interstate, onto first a smaller state highway, then to a county road.

"Where are we headed?" I asked.

"Apison," Mulder said.

Neither of us were much in the mood for conversation. It'd been a brutal trip and both of us were cranky, liable to snap at the other. I was wearing the same clothes that I'd left Iowa in, so was Mulder. Neither of us had taken the time to shave either. I shrugged. Before long, we were pulling up to someplace that looked just like a big field, with a farmhouse. There were extensive outbuildings, but the whole place looked abandoned. The doors to the buildings hung open. Dead and brown with the winter, weeds grew waist high around the yard. No graffiti though. It looked like no one had even stepped foot onto the property in years. Mulder stopped the car on the side of the road, not heading into the driveway.

"What is this place?" I wasn't going to get the girls out of the car at such an abandoned and creepy place without making sure it was safe.

"One time home to the Temple of the Seven Stars," he said. "Currently property of the county for back taxes. Nobody will touch the place, not even at tax auction. It's rumored to be haunted."

"They did a Jonestown, didn't they?" I asked, thinking about what I'd heard about that little debacle. I hadn't been involved in the raid, and a good thing too. It was bad news all around. Hard to imagine every single member of the cult taking a swig of poisoned kool-aid without kicking up the slightest fuss.

"After the ATF and the Bureau continued to search for their weapons, after I warned that the Temple would take this action if they persisted," Mulder said. He got a sour look on his face, as if tasting something nasty. Perhaps this was the sight of a man facing up to one of his more regretted failures.

"This is where we're meeting your brother?"

Mulder checked his watch. "He'll be here soon. We're a little early."

There didn't seem anything for it but to get the girls out of their car seats and dress them up in buntings. After so long in the car, a little fresh air would do them, and me, good. Mulder was already going for Garnet, who'd starting fussing. She all but burrowed right into his shoulder. Once Garnet was in place, he patted himself down, then shifted a little, as if having to move his holster slightly out of the way of the baby. I checked my own weapon before reaching for my baby, moving the holster so it was almost in the small of my back. I'd been given the weapon by Mulder as we packed to leave. He'd handed it to me solemnly, and he didn't ask for my promise not to use it on myself. I just nodded and took the gun. Gracie was temporarily asleep and surprisingly didn't wake when I transferred into the sling. I set off on a stroll, more like a patrol. Mulder seemed to avoid the house, so I did on principle. I wanted to keep him in eyeshot, just in case.

I seemed to lose him soon though. I don't know where he disappeared to, behind some tree. Meanwhile, I was getting the strangest impressions. I swore I heard things that shouldn't have been there. Men shouting. Gunfire going off. But not in reality. I could tell that I hadn't really heard those sounds. They kind of rang hollow in memory, like I hadn't really heard them, just thought I did.

Mulder:

I hadn't meant to lose track of John. I was just wandering around, wondering at the wisdom of having arranged to meet Jeff here at this place, the field where I had once died. There were many memories here, most of them bittersweet at the very best, heart rending at the worst. I had not lied to John. It was a place that was haunted. I remain convinced that there is some power inherent in the place that causes those who are susceptible to it to recall memories long past, perhaps even some that were not their own. There had been a witness that had been arrested on that raid- Melissa. I had known her. I had loved her. No, I didn't fall in love with her. I just loved her. It had been a fact about her that was no more variable than her height. It just was.

The cold damp was, in its way, worse than the dry cold of the Iowa winter. It seeped into my bones. Garnet managed to fall asleep, but I was restless. I wandered aimlessly until I heard a noise.

John calling out to me. Only he didn't call my name. Or I suppose it would be accurate to say, he didn't call me by the name I went by this lifetime.

"Sullivan!" John called out. "No! Sullivan!"

As best as I could burdened down by my daughter, I ran to the sound. When I found him, he was kneeling on the ground, actually in a patch of mud, staring in horror at something that wasn't there. I put my hand on his shoulder and when he still didn't look up, I shook him gently. "Jackie, you'll catch a cold or something," I said.

His attention snapped from whatever inner world he was looking at to this reality immediately. I watched him struggle, to reconcile that inner truth with the proof of his eyes, that he was here in the winter of 2003, in the cold mud. Not, as he probably was remembering, a battle field during 1863. I saw him push that other reality down, tamp it away with all the other things he refused to believe. The evidence of his eyes won out and he stood up.

"I don't know what came over me," he said. "I don't know. Maybe some weird side effect from the medication."

"This was a battlefield during the civil war," I told him. "I believe that the emotions of that day were so strong that they remain still. Sort of a haunting of the whole field. So many people died that day. Young men, who weren't expecting that kind of end."

I didn't tell him for some reason, that I believed that I had been at this place, that I had been a young soldier named Sullivan Biddle. Somewhere, still in my personal files, if they survived intact in the storage unit I'd rented, were pictures that Scully had borrowed from the county records hall, that somehow never found their way back. Showing a young Sullivan Biddle, and Sarah Kavanaugh, who had loved each other. I wondered, had John been here as well? Had he been one of my friends, one of the comrades that had fallen with me. The man I had once been would have done everything in my power to drag John into a hypnotherapist's office, to get him to recall everything he might be able to remember about this fleeting memory of a life long past. Now, there wasn't time. It was interesting. But the life we were living now was in peril. One life at a time was about all I could deal with.

A lone figure got out of a car that parked next to ours. I strained to see who it was. "Looks like it's Jeff," I pronounced as I turned to meet him.

He'd had some kind of reconstructive surgery since I'd last seen him, and was starting to take on the semblance of a human being again. But it was just the start. He was still horribly disfigured, the sort of person who would scare small children. I hurt for him. I did. When we met up, halfway between the house and the road, I held out my arms to him. I was still honestly surprised when he let me wrap him into an embrace.

"It's been too long," Jeff said when I released him.

"Too dangerous," I said. "I wish we could see each other more and not under such dire circumstances."

Jeff looked suspiciously at John, giving him the hairy eyeball, so to speak. I guess they had some kind of history. John for his part just snapped impatiently, "Do you have it?"

Holding up a small duffel Jeff said, "Right here. We can do it right now. It's better if we do it immediately. I have to get going. Panic is already starting to spread you know. They know they're doomed. People with nothing to lose tend to do rash things."

It was the longest five minutes of my life. We ended up moving back to the cars to have someplace to sit down. Jeff pulled two syringes and vials of milky fluid out of the duffel. Garnet went first. He swiped at her head with a disposable alcohol swab, right over one of the fontanelles, one of those soft spaces where the skull doesn't meet yet, leaving a baby's brain protected only by skin and fibrous tissue. I felt compelled to watch, like a train wreck, as he jabbed the syringe right in, then plunged the fluid into her little body. She howled like a little banshee. Gracie joined the chorus even before we got to her. I felt like a ferocious ogre to listen to them, even as I tried to soothe Garnet. She spit out her pacifier in favor of crying. She refused a bottle. A few minutes later and Gracie was done. This time, knowing what would happen, I couldn't look. I averted my eyes, screwed them shut tight.

"That's it?" John asked.

"That's it," Jeff answered as he packed the syringes and the medical trash back into the duffel.

"Thank you," John said, holding Gracie tightly to him. He was having much better luck getting his half of the gruesome twosome to quiet again after this torture we'd inflicted on them. In an impulsive gesture utterly unlike him, John reached out and embraced Jeff. "Thank you. Thank you."

"We don't know yet if it will be enough protection," Jeff protested.

"Doesn't matter. We tried," John said.

"I should go," Jeff was uncomfortable. I wondered, if by some circumstance, we should all survive this, if he could be convinced to become part of our lives somehow. He undoubtedly had risked much in order to get the serum that might save my daughters life and he had done so without comment or complaint. He had never asked to have Spender as his father, any more than I had.

"Thank you, Jeff," I said. "You know, if you need anything, just ask."

"I'll be in touch," he said. Then softly, almost so I didn't hear it, he added, "Don't rush me, Mulder. It's hard. So long all that kept me going was hate for him. It's hard to learn otherwise."

"Good luck," I said.

Jeff slipped back into his car, then drove away, leaving John and myself standing in a field in Tennessee that I never wanted to see again. It was starting to drizzle, a cold, driving drizzle that got into your skin almost. "Now what?" I asked.

"We get a hotel room. A nice hotel room. Not some fleabag place. And then we get as much sleep as these little darlings will let us," John said. I didn't disagree with him.

Doggett:

We ended up spending a day in Nashville, spending the full twenty-four hours alternating between sleep and short periods of taking care of the babies. We occasionally turned on CNN and caught the news. The deaths had started. It was very subtle, but suddenly there were a number of deaths of highly placed government officials. I found myself surprised at how high it all went. Okay, so I can't prove that the suddenly death of the vice-president was anything but coincidental, but it was awfully convenient, especially considering most people hadn't really heard of the guy when Cheney died of that heart condition of his. Also, the CDC was warning that there was a sudden influx of a particularly virulent strain of the flu. They suggested that people who normally wouldn't get vaccinated against the flu do so this year.

"The flu shot isn't going to do any good. Because it's not the flu, that's just how they're spreading it," Fox said. "It acts like the flu. Only if you're human, once you get it, you become a carrier. A living, breathing defense against the aliens. And if you're an alien, you're dead. Quickly."

"Wait a minute," I said. I hadn't yet read the translation of this file we'd been given, just had Mulder tell me bits and pieces. "You mean I'm going to be breathing this stuff in and out for the rest of my life probably?"

"In all likelihood," Fox said. "Once they realized what they had, the creators of this virus wanted to make sure it would spread as far and pervasively as possible, so that humanity would never again be vulnerable."

"Good," I said, thinking of everything that had been ripped from me because of these creatures. If my lover was going to die, at least I would be breathing vengeance until my dying day.

We'd been lying cuddled in the middle of the bed. We each had a baby on either side of us, currently sleeping soundly. He squeezed me tightly, so hard I could hardly breathe for a minute. Then his lips were on mine, kissing me passionately, desperately. He was a man drowning and I was his life jacket. I found myself, for the first time in a long time, responding to his touch. Growing hard and wet as he ground his hips against mine. We'd shed our clothes earlier after taking a shower and just never gotten dressed again.

He broke off just long enough to say, "John, let's put the girls in their car seats or something."

Their baby buckets sat alone and unused in the corner of the room. Seemed like a great idea to stick them there. No way they could get in trouble locked up in there. If we could just get Gracie into hers without waking her up, we'd be all set. Luckily, Fox had Garnet on his side, I had Gracie on mine. I lifted her carefully, my hand supporting her head. I held my breath as I cradled her in my arms and walked across to the other side of the room. She fussed a little as I first set her down in the baby bucket, but her eyes never opened and she quickly settled back down. Fox, of course, had the easy job. Once asleep, you could set a bomb off under Garnet. Fox was back in bed while I was still hovering over Gracie, to make sure she didn't wake.

"Come back to bed, Prince Charming," he said, with a look that was both lustful and needy. The bed was unmade and he sprawled out over it, his erection tenting the sheet that he'd drawn over him.

As I crawled into bed and into his arms, I couldn't help think that maybe this might be the last time I ever made love to him. I banished that thought as quickly as I could. This was just the first time I'd made love to him since the girls were born. I would make it good for him for that reason alone.

We spent a long time on foreplay- holding each other, kissing, nipping, teasing. I think that was almost more important to Fox at this moment than the actual act. There were times where he would grasp me so tightly it almost hurt, as if I were slipping away. He'd be shaking and I thought he might cry, but he never did.

At long last, Fox produced a tube of lube. I guess he'd stuck it under the bed while I wasn't looking or something. I guess he'd been planning just this very thing. I didn't need it though, not by far. I was so dripping he'd be able to easily slide right into me. To my surprise though, he didn't slick up himself, but me.

"My turn," was all he said as he directed me to lay back. He had a smile on his face. Big smile.

A pang twisted my guts as I realized what he wanted me to do to him. I'd never done it before, not even with a woman. Barb was too uptight to do more than squirm if I'd even mentioned it.

"It's okay," Fox said as he gauged my hesitation. "I'm no virgin. Not by far. I want it."

He showed me how to stretch him. He directed my fingers to an opening that seemed impossibly tight. But he accepted one finger easily, bearing down on in, breathing in hard with pleasure when I hit some internal sensitive spot. Two fingers were almost as easy, though the third had him whimper in pain for a minute before it became good for him.

Eventually, he directed me to lie back on the bed and he slowly guided himself onto me. I gasped and nearly came right then just from the tightness of him around me. It was so sweet, so right to be in him like this. He held still, partially so I wouldn't come, partially so he could adjust to the feel of me in him. He might not have been a virgin, but if he was right, and that he'd only had one male lover before, it'd been a long time since he'd done this. Soon though he was rocking on top of me and I was finding it hard to hold back. I'd been nearly painfully hard by the time he'd impaled himself on me.

"It's okay," he told me. "You can let go."

I didn't though. I was going to make sure he felt as good as I did. I understood just how it could feel to be the one being penetrated. I wanted him to feel it too. I reached for his cock and stroked it. It took only a little bit and I was rewarded with his come. His shout was hoarse and wordless. That and the glazed look in his eyes let me know that he was feeling the orgasm just as intensely as I felt it when he fucked me. The clenching of his muscles around me was all it took to drive me over the edge I'd been teetering on.

He collapsed onto my chest. I slid out of him reluctantly. Fox rolled over onto his back and then got up out of bed. "We really should clean you up," he said. "Just in case."

We probably should have put a condom on him actually. He'd had the vasectomy over a week ago, but the vas still has plenty of sperm in it that have to be released before a guy is sterile. And I was paranoid that I was just about a fertile as the proverbial rabbit. Afraid that a drop or two in the right place would be all that it took to knock me up again. His come was all over my stomach and chest.

Fox got a warm wash cloth and cleaned me gently. Then we snuggled in bed together, holding each other tightly. "Sleep," he said. "Sleep now."

For once I couldn't argue with him. I was certainly ready to concede that point.

I awoke finally to find Mulder in the bathroom giving Gracie a quick wash up in the bathroom sink.

The scene was so beautiful. He'd stripped down to the waist and had the heater fan running. He'd propped Gracie up on towels so she wouldn't need to feel the cold, hard porcelain under her skin. "Who's Daddy's beautiful girl?" he asked her as he ran a washcloth over her belly. She waved her arms and legs excitedly at the feel of it. Swear to God, the kid was smiling. No, not just smiling. Grinning with delight almost. "You're a heartbreaker for sure. Most beautiful brunette I know."

Then, turning for a moment when he saw my reflection in the mirror, he lifted her out of the sink and wrapped her in a towel. "Hey Prince Charming, would you get me the powder and diaper from the bag? The princess here needs a change of royal garments."

Mulder indicated a small pile of baby clothes shed onto the bathroom floor. They'd just have to go into the bag we had of other clothes that they'd managed to soil in the short couple of days since we'd left Iowa. I was thinking about suggesting we hit a laundromat before we headed back, just so that the clothes wouldn't get ruined by sitting with stains on them. I went and dug in the bag and got the requested items as well as another sleeper. We'd brought a bunch with us, so we weren't running short of clean clothes for them yet. But all of the ones left were light colors- pink, yellow, light green. Ones that would stain easy but couldn't be bleached like white could. I thought about chucking all the damn pastel baby clothes and going out and buying nothing but denim overalls or something similarly indestructible for the girls to wear. I thought Fox might object to that though. He liked to dress them both up in the girliest outfits that I'd put up with, he even put those little headbands with the bows on the girls. A girl should look like a girl. I'm old fashioned like that. But a man should have to put up with only so many ruffles.

"I was thinking," Fox said as he diapered and dressed Gracie. "We might want to stop somewhere and get family pictures taken. It might be our only chance."

Oh, we had a couple of snapshots. The problem was, nobody around the house was much of a shutterbug. We didn't have one good, clear picture of the four of us. "I think that's a great idea, Fox," I said, thinking of what clothes for the girls we had that were pretty and clean. "I'd love to have some pictures while they're so young and small. And more of us all as they keep getting bigger."

I'm sorry. I just couldn't admit, especially not to Fox that I thought that he was going to die. I wouldn't let him leave us like this. He didn't say anything, just gave me a look I couldn't quite read, perhaps part hope, part misery. He took Gracie and laid her next to her sleeping sister on the bed. Then he dug in our luggage and pulled out another sleeper. This one was pale green, but otherwise matched Gracie's. Both had the same flower print. Then he found two matching little knit caps.

"They'll hide the bruises," Mulder said. Actually, Gracie's bruise wasn't visible, hidden by her hair, but Garnet had a big, livid one right on top of her head, right on the soft spot. Anyone in their right mind who saw it would probably call child protective services. Only the fact that they both continued to behave normally stopped me from worrying. Mostly.

Fox and I just dressed in clean jeans and sweaters that sort of matched. As we walked out the door of the hotel, I noticed that Fox had put the green cap on Gracie and the pink cap on Garnet. "Did you do that on purpose?" I asked, starting to switch the caps.

"What?" he asked. Then as he watched me, he said, "Sorry. I'm red-green colorblind remember?"

"How the hell did you ever get into the Bureau?"

"I think you'd find that a lot of rules were bent or just plain ignored to get me in the Bureau. I was also the only profiler in the BSU without a PhD. Let's get going."

After driving around a while looking for someplace to get our pictures taken, we ended up having to settle on a big Wal-Mart. Our photographer was a dull-eyed woman who acted like she didn't have the intelligence to be a high school dropout. Either that, or she just couldn't wrap her narrow, little mind around the fact that two adult males, not apparently related to each other wanted to have their pictures taken together with two little babies. It had seemed a simple enough proposition at the time.

"So, let me get this right, you want me to take your picture with both of the babies, then his picture?" she asked.

"Yes, then all four of us together," Fox said, patiently. I personally was beginning to wonder if we would end up with anything like decent pictures. This was in improvement over just a minute ago where she wanted only to take pictures of us each with only the baby we happened to be carrying.

"You guys brothers or something?" she asked, as she started finally to have Fox sit up on the little platform.

"Something," Fox said.

"Kind of unusual that you'd both have babies the same age," she said as she pointed the camera at the right spot.

"Not really. They're twins," Fox said.

"Really? I thought, you know, that the one in pink was adopted. Because she's so dark. Maybe like she's one of those babies from the third world."

Honestly, I had stopped thinking of Gracie as having skin that was any darker than her sisters. She just was my beautiful little girl. Hearing her discussed this way made me angry, like she was being dismissed. I vowed that I'd protect her from every bit of this prejudice that I could.

"The girls' mom is Mexican," Mulder said, placidly.

And I was given a lesson in just how good Fox can be with people when he feels like making the effort. I just let him do all the talking for us for fear I'd get angry and snap out something I'd regret. As we were walking out with the proofs, having picked out some of them for a more complete order and arranged for them to be sent to the post office box in Omaha that we were using, Fox said, "Well, I suppose that's about what you could expected when two queers try and get family pictures from a Wal-Mart in the middle of hicksville."

By that point though, the irritation of it all had been forgotten. I was still paging through the pictures. I especially liked the ones that had just Fox with the girls. He hadn't been looking directly at the camera, but down at them when the girl had taken the picture. The girl had tried to talk me out of ordering any from that shot, because it was 'bad.' But I thought that the sweet tenderness he had for the girls had been captured perfectly and that the girl had managed to take a good picture in spite of herself.

"I'm glad we did it," I said, as I buckled Gracie into her car seat. By now, with all the time we'd wasted, it was about four in the afternoon. "Get another hotel or move on?"

"Move on," Fox said. "I want to get headed homewards at least."

That night, we chose to move on. We didn't get far, just a couple of hours on the road north before we decided to call it a night. We spent the night in a motel just off the interstate somewhere in southern Indiana. We were going to head back to Iowa through Chicago this time.

"I didn't get a good look at it last time I was through. I got chased out of town by Men in Black and didn't have time. Nearly got killed but one of my ghosts did a poltergeist on me," Fox said, then realized he was rambling. He simply added, "I just want to make sure you'll be happy there."

Whatever. For the moment, I was letting Fox drive this particular relationship bus and I was a passive passenger. He wanted to go to Chicago, we went to Chicago. I wasn't going argue if he wanted to talk about poltergeists and Men in Black, or even vampires, for God's sake. Whatever he wanted. After a short night in an anonymous hotel room, we were on the road to Chicago. We made it to the outskirts of the city by early evening. We could have avoided the city itself, passing through its suburbs to the south and then catching I-80 west to Iowa. But Fox drove us straight to the downtown.

We drove around for a while, gawking like tourists at the bright lights and the skyscrapers and I remembered why I'd liked the city. It was big, loud and unapologetic. Its skyscrapers reached straight for the sky, no fooling around. It had none of the veneer of civilization that DC did. It was an all-American city, no bones that it was anything but.

"Let's get a room," Fox said after we'd driven around a while. "Shouldn't be a problem. February isn't really peak tourist season here."

Indeed, it wasn't really cold out, but it had snowed earlier in the day and the streets were kind of slushy. We had ended up hitting town at the tail end of "rush hour", which actually stretched for about four hours. It had turned dark long ago except it was cloudy, so the reflected lights of the city turned the sky orange and purple. The traffic in downtown crawled, but that was fine by us. More time for sight seeing.

We ended up at the hotel Burnham, a fancy place built into an old skyscraper from the turn of the previous century.

And it was there, in Chicago, that Fox got sick finally.

The twins caught it first. By the time we'd checked into our room, they were feverish and fussy. I was furious at first, hardly able to speak. Fox was beside himself as well. He trashed both of the wastebaskets in the room, kicking them until the plastic one in the bathroom broke in a flurry of plastic splinters and the wooden one in the bedroom was splinters as well. We dosed them with the smallest doses of baby Tylenol, Fox claiming to be advised by Scully on this. Then, as the night wore on and they failed to get worse, we both breathed a huge sigh of relief.

It was just a normal cold, we decided by five that morning, after a long, sleepless night. Oh, I can't say I was happy to have my little girls sick and uncomfortable. I wasn't happy to be suctioning out their noses with the bulb thing. But I was so glad that they were just my normal, human little girls that I could have hugged any one I'd seen passing in the hall to get to the ice machine. The serum stuff had worked. They were just human, just normal.

But later in the morning, Fox got sick. Quickly. So quickly I knew that the girls couldn't have been infected with just a garden variety cold, that this was the real thing that they'd managed to pick up. One minute he was fine, then he was coughing. Only an hour later, he was on the bed, knocked flat on his back by this illness, coughing so hard that I was afraid he was going to break a rib. He was feverish as well, burning hot to the touch.

"I think it's supposed to kill me more quickly than this," he said. Then he was racked by coughs again.

Half an hour later, as I was juggling both of the girls, trying to hold one while suctioning out the nose of the other, he stopped coughing long enough to say, "Call doctor. Can't breathe."

He didn't have to tell me twice. I picked up the phone and got connected to the switchboard.

"Can I help you?" said the pleasant sounding woman on the other end.

"This is room 1013," I said, working hard to keep the tremor out of my voice. "We're going to need an ambulance. My partner has gotten very ill suddenly. We need to get him to a hospital."

"Right away, sir," she said.

She got a few more details from me about Fox's symptoms then hung up to call 911. Meanwhile, Fox had crawled out of bed and digging through one of his bags. He handed me a plain notebook.

"Numbers," he said. "People to call. Jeff. Lois. Jimmy. Other people."

As I waited for the ambulance to come, I packed the diaper bag with fresh necessities and plenty of clean diapers. I checked on Fox, thinking that there probably wasn't much I could do and I was right. I changed the warm damp cloth on his forehead to a cool one and that was about it. I had the thought suddenly that the hospital wasn't going to want to admit Fox unless he had insurance. Being a fugitive, he probably hadn't kept up his cobra payments, so that meant he had none. I mentally sorted through the resources I knew I had available to me. I had that credit card. Credit limit up to $4,500. There was a start, though it wouldn't go far if he was hospitalized. There was a couple of thousand in cash in the car. I knew there was more than plenty of money, probably enough for even a major organ transplant. It was just a matter of getting to it. I knew what I could do. It was illegal, but I didn't care at this point. I flipped through the notebook Fox had given me until I found Lois Runtz's number. I dialed it on one of Fox's cell phones.

"Yves?" I asked. I wasn't sure how much I dared give away over the cell phone. "This is a, uh, friend of Fox Mulder. We've met before."

"Oh, yes?" she asked, sounding interested. And I could tell that she recognized my voice. "Is there some trouble?"

I explained the situation as quickly as I could. She made little noises of agreement as I talked, letting me know that she was aware of something that was going around, something strange that was taking out certain people who should have been invulnerable. If nothing else she could probably hear poor Fox who was hacking out a lung about four feet away, and the girls who were crying.

"Okay, read me the numbers of the credit card and I'll take care of it," she said. I did. Over the phone, I could hear taps on a keyboard, then she soon said, "Okay. Taken care of. You'll find that you now have a credit limit high enough to cover a multiple day stay in an ICU. I'm on the run and I have to go now, but take care. Let me know how Mulder is doing."

And then suddenly, there was knock at my door and the EMTs were here.

I put both the girls into their baby buckets as the EMTs worked on Fox. Before long, they had him prepared for transfer, on oxygen. Fox was pretty out of it at this point, but before I picked up the girls, I squeezed his hand and his eyes opened slightly.

"Don't you dare do this to me," I told him. "You die, I'm following you into the next life, just so I can kick your ass. Don't you dare die on me."

He mumbled something in reply, it sounded vaguely like, "I wouldn't dream of it."

It was a nightmare, the trip from the hotel to the hospital. The EMTs didn't want us to ride along, but I wasn't about to let them just take him away without me. I'd heard stories from Fox, about how the conspiracy had taken Scully under the guise of an ambulance. I just didn't trust people anymore.

When we got there, there was a nurse who stopped me from following Fox in. "You have to wait out here, sir," she said.

I know things weren't exactly right with me. I swore I heard Scully say, "It's okay, John. I'll watch him."

But that couldn't have happened, could it. I must have imagined it. I was just sick with fear and worry and as the door swung closed, for the first time, I thought just maybe that Fox might be right, that he was going to die.

Soon, another nurse was accosting me. "Does he have insurance?"

"No," I said, drawing out my wallet. "I'll pay for it. Credit card."

Somewhere along the line, the original credit card that Fox had gotten me had been changed for one with the name of new identity on it. This was the first time I'd used it in person, and the bill was going to be a doozy.

There was a lot of dickering. They didn't want to accept my card. It was a private hospital we'd been taken to, and they wanted to transfer Fox to Cook County Hospital because he didn't have insurance. I don't know about Jack Skinner, but there was still enough of John Doggett in me that could be a total son of a bitch when I needed to be. Soon, they were calling the credit card company and suddenly treating me a lot more respectfully. I wondered just how much my credit limit had been upped to.

After that, it was just a waiting game, played by me alone with two small, crying babies. And Garnet cried. Screamed like she did that one night. I could understand how she felt, but that didn't make it any easier.

I called Georgie first. "It's happened, Georgie," I told her. "The girls are okay, but Fox is in a bad way. We're at Northwestern Memorial Hospital. Things look pretty bad."

"Oh, God, John. I'll be right out, soon as I can get the truck started," she said.

"Georgie Skinner, you are not driving that rattletrap truck across two states," I told her. "You stay right there. I'll call you with any news."

We argued for a few minutes more and when I got ready to hang up, I still wasn't sure that I'd won. she ended the call with, "I'll pray for you two, Jackie."

I thought about how once I would have brushed off a remark like this, maybe even been a bit offended. but now, I figured, it couldn't hurt, who knows, maybe it might even help.

"Love you too, Georgie," I told her. And then after I hung up, added, "And don't you do anything stupid."

Surprisingly, not long after I hung up on Georgie, the phone rang. "We're about to take off from BMI," said Lois. "You'll need some help, of course. Mulder warned me of this possibility. We have a plan in action, help is on the way. Have to go."

"What do you mean, you're coming here?" I asked.

But instead of answering me, she just said, "Got to go. They're telling us we have to turn off all phones." Then the phone line clicked off.

It appeared I wasn't going to be alone for this, even if it was just Jimmy and Lois. No doubt Walter would come as soon as we could, though we'd agreed previously that the hearing was more important than him coming, and would probably lead them to Mulder to boot. I wondered briefly who else I could count on. I looked at the notebook that Fox had given me, but I didn't open it yet. I had other things to deal with.

There was more paperwork to fill out over the red-faced cries of my babies. I felt painfully aware of just how much I didn't know about my lover. Did heart disease run in his family or not? Had he been vaccinated? I knew that his medical files probably could take up a whole drawer in a file cabinet. And how did any of that translate to a medical history form? The form was completely inadequate to describe Fox's history. Just how did you put "once spent three months dead" into any neat category on a form? There certainly wasn't anything like that you could check off. In the section for "race" there wasn't category for "half-human alien hybrid."

I settled on leaving most of the form blank and just put down that as far as I was aware, he wasn't allergic to anything and that he'd never had any of the major diseases they listed. After I turned in the forms to the nurse in charge of the intake desk, I asked around until I found a microwave where I could heat up bottles. I could tell that despite their being miserably stuff up, the girls were both hungry. A microwave wasn't the best choice, but I shook the bottles carefully so that there weren't any hot spots and tested it on my wrist. I ended up in the hospital cafeteria, feeding both of them at once, or rather, feeding Gracie, trying to feed Garnet. She kept spitting out the nipple of the bottle. They both stayed in the baby buckets. I felt badly about that. They'd been in there a lot lately and it added to Garnet's fussiness in particular.

"Lord God, what am I going to do with you if we really do lose him?" I asked her. In my own defense, I'll say that I was on the edge and hadn't had more than a few winks of sleep the night before. I can't explain what I said to her next in any other way. It just seemed the right thing to say. I talked to her as if she understood me, like she was an adult. "Sweetie, Princess. I know you love him. Maybe even you can feel his pain. Fox says you came to us in this life because you loved each other in some other life. We're going to take care of you and love you forever, but right at this minute you have to be strong for him. He needs you to be calm for him, okay?"

Amazingly, she drank the rest of her bottle without complaint, then settled to sleep immediately afterwards. Poor little thing. It was a lot to ask out of both of them to be in this strange new scary place while they were sick. Once they were fed, I carried them back to the emergency room waiting room, thinking that the baby bucket things were a big pain and bulky compared to wearing the in the sling. I couldn't wear both of them at once, though, not and carry the diaper bag. Eventually, one of the doctors came out to talk to me.

"Mr. Skinner?" she asked. I nodded. "We're moving him up to the critical care unit. I thought at first this was some aggressive strain of pneumonia. His lungs are filling with fluid. But I think what we have here is a severe viral infection of unknown type. It's beginning to attack other organs."

"Can I see him?" I asked.

"Do you have someone who can come and take care of your children for you?" she asked, indicating the two angels sleeping at my feet. "You don't want to expose them to whatever this is. Their immune system is still weak when they're that young."

"They've been exposed already," I said. "People are on the way, but I don't have any family or friends in Chicago. Just let me see him briefly."

"We only allow family members in the ICU."

"We are his family, me and the girls," I told her. "His mother, father and sister are all dead. He doesn't have anyone else."

For a brief instant, I wished I were a woman, if only because no one would have questioned my presence here if I were. They'd have accepted the fact that I was his wife at face value. I'd be up in that ICU already, holding his hand. Some strange movement near where I'd set the girls down caught my eye. I turned to take a look, wondering if one of them had woken up and was waving her arms or something. No, but there was a strange manila folder sticking out of the diaper bag that hadn't been there before. I pulled it out. There were papers inside. Legal papers. I scanned them quickly. That wasn't my signature on them, but it was my name, and I wasn't about to argue. I waved the papers at the doctor. "I have his power of attorney," I said. I flicked through the papers, as if I were making sure they were in order, rather than looking through them for the first time. "I'm the one who makes any important decisions about his care."

Before I could go back and forth any more with the doctor about this, an attractive young woman in a professional looking suit approached me. She had a just barely noticeable bulge at the waist though that immediately made me think firearm. I wondered briefly if she was Bureau or some other kind of government cop. "Mr. Jack Skinner?" she asked, holding out her hand. "Lily Martinez, with LG Services. My employer, Sheela Vera Lydow, gives me to understand you're in need of a temporary nanny."

I almost missed the anagram, yet another variation of Lee Harvey Oswald. Lois had sent this woman. Yet, could I trust my girls with this woman? This stranger? They might be all I had left. For that matter, what reason did I have to trust Lois Runtz. She might very well wish me no good. Once a long time ago, I'd contributed to her buddies getting themselves killed, or so she believed. She'd told me. The woman, this Lily, sensed my hesitation.

"Ms. Lydow says to tell you that she believes her words at your last meeting were somewhat hasty on her side."

Okay, so the woman could admit she was wrong. So what.

That's when I started seeing things that couldn't have been there. It had to be the stress. Maybe I was going crazy. The three stooges appeared over the woman's shoulder. Mulder's goofy friends. The gunmen. Byers, the one who looked so serious but was all kinds of crazy weird on the inside, was the one who spoke. "Ms. Martinez is bona fide. You can trust her. And you can trust Yves."

"Besides, she's hot," Frohike, the short one added. Never thought a dead guy could leer before. I decided there had to be weirder things in life than to be able to see your lover's dead friend undress some young woman with his eyes, but I couldn't think of any of them at the moment.

"She's the real thing. Top-level private security with one of the firms that Yves runs to fund her other operations," Langly said. "And she put in two years as an actual nanny before she went into her current field. Her last assignment was nanny slash bodyguard to Michael Jackson's kids for three months. Before she quit and went back home to Chicago."

I didn't know what was crazier- the fact that I could see these guys or that my gut was telling me to listen to them. I gave Ms. Martinez another looksee, to gauge more accurately what my cop instincts told me about the woman. Tougher than first impression for sure. Definitely armed. Yeah, take her out of the professional suit, undo the tightly pulled back hair and add a cut off baseball bat and you could almost see her as the head of a particularly dangerous girl gang. But she melted as she got her first look at my babies. She looked to me for permission first, but quickly knelt by their baby buckets, and smiled down at them.

"Gracie and Garnet," I said, indicating which one was which.

"Eh, Graziella," she said. At first it seemed that she had no accent, but as she talked to my baby, she slipped into a soft Mexican accent. Gracie had started to wake again and would need to be tended to. I guess I'd decided. I indicated with a look that she could pick Gracie up and she did. She carefully held Gracie to her shoulder. Martinez pressed her face close to Gracie's and then said, "What a precious little bonbomceito you are."

"Follow me up to the ICU waiting room," I told her, then turned to the doctor. "When can I see him?"

"They should be through transferring him in a few minutes," I was told, finally, but not until after the doctor had looked through my papers and been satisfied.

It seemed forever until I was finally admitted into the ward where Fox strung onto about a million machines, with about million lines coming in and out of him. He was unnaturally still underneath all of that and I was brought back for a minute to the just after he'd been exhumed, but hadn't been completely revived yet. He was just as still then as he was now, like he was already dead. His skin was pale and waxy, with a few, red, angry sores here and there, like it was starting to break down.

"We've started him on a strong anti-viral and sedated him for the pain and so he won't fight the equipment," I was told. "We're doing everything we can, but the prognosis is not good. He's starting to go into organ failure. I have to tell you that a couple of our researchers in the genetic medicine section came down with something that looks like this. Only they didn't survive. They passed very quickly from it."

"He's not going to die," I said, bravely as I could, trying to convey a total certainty that I didn't feel. I took a seat on the hard plastic chair by his bed. "He knows I'll kick his ass if he does."

A few more words from the doctor and then we were left alone, well, to the extent that anyone is alone on the ICU. There was definite sense of nurses hovering, ready to leap in to adjust machines at any minute. I reached out for Fox's left hand. Neither arm had an IV in it. They'd gone straight for a chest line. Not a good sign. It was the sort of thing they did for victims of major gunshot wounds. Fox's hand might have been as still as death, but it was warm. No, hot. The fever had been greatly reduced, but it still burned. I wanted to crawl into bed with him, to hold him close, but that'd be a big no-no on the ICU. Might disturb one of the lines.

"You can fight this thing, Fox," I told him. "You're fighting it already. You should be dead already but you're not. That means you can beat the virus. Your body can shake it off."

I talked like this to him for what seemed like hours. I was surprised that the ICU nurse didn't try and shuffle me off. Eventually I drifted to sleep, had a really strange dream. We were in some starry place, surrounded by infinite night- thick, black, velvety and almost tangible. Fox was there talking with an old Native man who had long white hair. There was the feeling that we were surrounded by others, but they kept back in the shadows, watchful, concerned. There was something familiar and peaceful about the place, like I knew it, like I'd been here many times before, but I couldn't say exactly when.

"What I have learned, Fox, is that when they are needed, the holy people will come. The ceremony pleases them, but when it is the rightful place for them to be, they come here. The Blessing Way is all paths and places."

"Please, let me join you," Fox was saying to the man. "I'm tired. So tired. I fought for so long. I lost so much."

"We all lost things, Mulder," Alex Krycek said as he stepped out of the shadows. He put both his hands on Fox's shoulder. I suppose if it weren't a dream, I might have bristled at this intimate gesture. "You move on. You find new things. You run into the old things again, maybe they look different but they are the same. Nothing is ever truly lost. Nothing is truly forgotten. And nothing truly dies. You know that."

"I know that," Fox said, softly. His voice was weary, like he was carrying the weight of the world.

"Mulder," Scully said as she too stepped from the shadows. "You are trying to step away from the thing that you craved more than anything. The underpining of your whole quest, the heart of it. Your family was once broken by acts of evil men and all along, you sought the missing pieces. You found them. The grail you sought is not here in infinite possibilities, but back in the waking world of finite truths."

"Scully!" Mulder said, an anguished cry that gave voice to grief that must have been so profound that he could hardly speak it. He hadn't, not since that one time in the hotel, cried for her. She allowed him to take her into his arms and hold her close to him. "Scully. I need you, Scully. I can't do this without you. Let me stay here with you."

"We traveled together a long time, in search of our own truths, in search of the greater truths. But now we walk separate paths, close but separate. We will walk together again and walk separately again. As was before, so is it now and so it will always be."

"It is hard for him," the old Native man said. "He has walked in this place too many times in this lifetime. It calls to his soul as home does to the lost, but it is not his home."

"You made me a promise, Mulder," Alex Krycek said. "I intend to hold you to that. He's here. Go to him. Let him take you home."

This was the first time anyone had noticed my presence. Scully gently let Mulder go, turning him to my direction first and drifted back into the infinite shadows. Fox turned to me finally, but hardly saw me. I walked up to him. I don't know how I knew, but with some kind of dream logic, I knew I would have to drag him back to the land of the living. That whatever I said to him in this dream was crucial.

"What is this place, Fox?" I asked, because somehow, this seemed that much more real than any dream, any nightmare I'd ever had. It was like I was even more awake than I was when I was really awake. "Is it a dream? Is it real?"

"Yes," Fox said. "Let me stay here, John. My quest is over and all but a few shining minutes of it was a cup too cold and bitter to drink. I fear that that golden cup I found at the end will only contain more of the same. More death. More lies."

"What kind of bullshit is that?" I said. I shook his shoulders. "You made promises to me. To the girls. And maybe there will be bitter things you'll have to face. But you can do that, so long as you remember the good things. Are you really gonna trade in making love to me and Gracie's smile when you wash her belly and the smell of fresh coffee in the morning and holding me in a spoon for this?"

I don't know how I knew, but I knew that my tack was working. He seemed somehow more present to me, less part of the shadows of this place. I kept up with more of the same.

"Won't you miss carrying those babies around? The way they're so heavy and sweet in your arms. Won't you miss the hours on the road with me, chasing down the moon, headed to some place, the only sound the tires on the road? You really gonna give up seeing the girls tear open presents on Christmas and going to the beach and running behind them when they learn to ride a bike? Are you really going to leave us unprotected? You know, it's pretty obvious that Garnet's here because she wanted to be your baby. Can you disappoint her like that?

"Come home to me, Fox. I'm waiting."

I didn't say that I loved him. He knew. This was more profound than that. This was connection. Commitment.

Suddenly, I found myself talking, easily, about things that had I been any place more normal, it would have seemed crazy. Like I was remembering things I couldn't have possibly remembered and known things that I couldn't have known.

"Fox, don't you want to grow old with me? Don't you remember how nice that was?"

I remember another time, another place. It must have been long ago. Lying in bed together with Fox, spooned together as had always seemed so natural. There was no electric light, nor candles or lamplight. Just the soft silver of a full moon shining through lattice windows on a mild night. I had been Fox's wife, he my husband. His chin was tucked so agreeably on my shoulder like it seemed it always had. We were old. We were farmers and we had been lucky, times were peaceful and prosperous and we had had many fine sons and a few, beautiful daughters. The ancestors had looked favorably on us and we were now provided for generously. In the other parts of the house, soft noises of sleep could be heard, our extended family. Our children and our children's children lived with us under one roof and looked to us with the rightful respect we had earned by our age.

It had been an arranged marriage, but we had started with respect for each other that over our decades together had grown to love and contentment. That was love- the hand that reaches out in the middle of the night to calm your rest. The life that grew so entwined that each little act of kindness was a steel cable that bound us.

Fox was remembering too. "China. Not far from the banks of the Yang-tze. The middle years of the Tang dynasty. A period of unusual peace, culture and prosperity," he said softly. "We have not been lovers since. I missed you. Oh, I missed you."

"We can have that again, Fox. It's within our reach," I said. "Just come home with me."

"I'm so tired. It's too late," he said. "It's over."

"No, it's never over," I told him. "I don't believe that. You missed me, so come home with me. We have children to raise. Besides, you promised me you'd take me dancing and you never did."

For the first time in this strange place, I saw the old Fox Mulder sparkle in his eye. "We never danced in China."

"So we'd better take our chance now, don't you think?"

"I'll be there soon," he promised me.

Then I felt a shaking of my shoulder. It was a nurse. "Sir, sir?" she said. "I'm sorry, sir. I'm going to have to tell you to leave. You've stayed long past visiting times as is. I should have woken you a long time ago."

"Why didn't you?" I asked. I looked over at Fox. Not quite devastated, but more than disappointed. I don't know what I was expecting to see. Him awake, miraculously recovered. He wasn't. He was still lying there, tubes running in and out of him. Only a machine letting us know that he was alive, not dead.

"It's just that his vitals were so much stronger with you close. They're very strong now. I think that's a good sign."

I shook myself and stood up. I was so tired. Though according to the clock, I had been asleep for five hours, I felt like I had been working the whole time. Had it been a strange dream filled with wishful thinking? Had it been real on some level? What I remembered from the experience was fleeting. Impressions of talking to Fox about people and places far away and long ago. Fox clinging to Scully, trying to stay away. China. The Tang dynasty. Those words stuck in my mind for some reason.

I reached out to stroke his cheek, and as I did, strange words fell out of my mouth, tonal and harsh to my ears. I didn't speak them. They just happened. What I said fell out of my memory the minute it was said.

I looked up and I saw them. Scully and Monica. The Gunmen. Alex Krycek. A woman I recognized from pictures as Mulder's mother. A girl who could only be Mulder's sister. More people who could only be dead. I was seeing them. A small hand slipped into mine and a small voice I thought I would never hear again said, "He heard you, Dad. He loves you too. Go and take care of my sisters."

"Luke," I whispered, then he was gone. The ICU nurse was waiting for me to leave, so I did. It was okay. He was being watched over. He would be okay.

Lily was with the girls in the ICU waiting room. Only she'd been joined by a big, jovial lunk of a guy- Jimmy Bond. Jimmy was walking around with Garnet, bouncing her gently every now and then.

Lily was rocking Gracie's baby bucket with her toe, singing a lullaby in Spanish. I swore I heard two voices though. I looked again and to Lily's right was Monica. After the song trailed off, she looked up and said, "It actually is a terrible song. It's a momma talking to her daughter, telling her that she's her pearl, but that if she get's her dress dirty, she'll slap her. I suppose it's not really any worse than Rockabye, Baby."

"Your girls are little angels, Mr. Skinner," Lily said. "They've been so good, even though they have such a terrible cold."

I couldn't disagree. "I think he's going to be okay. I'm exhausted. Let's go back to the hotel."

Mulder:

Last thing I remember was the hotel room. The EMTs sticking the oxygen mask over my face. I woke up, God knows how much later, feeling like someone had been using the inside of my lungs for a campfire pit. I felt dry and scorched and wrung out to dry. And I recognized the inside of a step down unit when I see one. Far too well.

You know, this getting pulled back from the edge of death thing was getting really old. It was really going to have to stop. It really took it out of a guy. John was sitting in a chair by the side of my bed, watching me.

"Hey, Sleeping Beauty," he said. "Welcome back to the land of the living."

I couldn't talk. I still had a tube down my throat. I gave him a look though. Sleeping Beauty?

Almost as if he read my mind he said, "Well, if I'm Prince Charming, that makes you Sleeping Beauty. Relax. You're still in pretty sad shape. That virus punched some pretty big sized holes in your lungs. I guess it may be a while before you're fully healed. You're going to make it. You're going to be okay."

He sounded even more relieved than I felt. I was going to make it through. I had cheated death once more. Hopefully, it was over. I wouldn't have gamble with my life anymore. I could have the quiet life I now knew I wanted more than anything.

He didn't have the girls with him. They had to be all right, didn't they? He seemed in entirely too good a state of mind for them to be anything but. So where were they?

"The girls are in good hands," he said. "Friends and family are here. Including Walt. By the way, congratulations, you're a free man. I guess it wasn't looking good. Until three members of the panel up and died one day and had to be replaced. Walt also managed to dig up a witness who testified that she saw Knowle Rohrer walking around a couple of days after his supposed death at Mount Weather."

So, this was it. Happy ending time, I suppose. Or rather happy beginnings. My greatest hopes and things I hadn't even dared to hope for had come to pass. I was impatient to get out of this hospital bed and start our lives together. I wondered how long it would be. Again, as if reading my mind, John answered.

"Doctors say probably it'll be a while before you're fully up and at 'em. Like I said, you got a bunch of holes punched into your lungs. You lost some kidney function. You're gonna have some scarring on your heart that you'll always have to look out for. You lost a couple of toes and you'll need skin grafts on some places where the stuff ate away your skin. You are a man who's damn lucky to be alive."

I had recovered from things that were worse. I could do it again. I was tired, despite just having woken up. My eyes started to close.

"It's okay," he said, laying a hand that was warm and welcome on my arm. "Rest."

Slowly, I did get better. I was able to wake for longer and longer periods of time. There was always someone there watching me when I woke. Sometimes it was my beloved dead, more often than not, it was John, or Walt, or Georgie. I guess I'd been in a coma for just over a week, and this slow healing took another week, which passed quickly in a blur of short wakings peppered visits from the respiratory therapist and other doctors and medical personnel. One day when I woke up, they were in the middle of taking the tube out of my throat. I was still on oxygen, the nasal cannulas now. Even so, it still felt like I could hardly catch my breath, as if each inhalation brought in an insufficient amount of oxygen. Though my throat was rough, I could talk after that, sort of a hoarse whisper at first, but it got better as the days went by.

When it was finally easier for me to talk, though it was still a harsh whisper, about two and a half weeks into my hospital stay, I said to John, "I had the strangest dream while I was sick. You were there. Only you weren't you. You were my wife. It was someplace far away. Ancient China I think. We were sleeping together."

When he heard me say that, he stiffened with surprise for a minute and stared at me. "Only I'm not sure that was a dream," he said.

What did that mean? That John was willing to admit that there could be some kind of connection between us that went back to times immemorial? That he had entered my dream?

"While you were sick, when you were first in the ICU and it seemed like you were headed to major organ failure, death in a few short hours, I had an experience," he said. "I don't remember it all clearly. It was not a dream. I think it was a vision of some kind."

And then he told me about it, the dark place of stars, the blessing way. Talking with my beloved dead. As he talked, I remembered it too, though not quite as he did. There was one thing we did agree on though, where our memories meshed perfectly- the memory of growing old together in China, the Tang dynasty.

"I'm not saying I believe just anything," John concluded. "But I've seen your ghosts, when I'm awake too, though I haven't seen them since the ICU. And I'm not saying I believe in that reincarnation crap, but I don't know how else to explain those memories. And, God, Fox. I want to have loved you for that long. I want those memories to be mine. I want to have you for forever."

I'd been holding his left hand. Sometime or another, he'd taken to wearing the titanium ring that I'd bought him for Christmas. It seemed to fit perfectly and look exactly right on him. I spun the ring slowly around his finger. "I got something for you," he said. He dug in his pocket with his free hand. He pulled out a small velvet box. He handed it to me. I let go of his hand and opened the box. It was a ring of silvery metal. Not titanium. Platinum probably. It was similar to the plain band I'd gotten him, but not exactly the same. "I couldn't find a titanium ring like you'd gotten me. And the more I thought about it, I figured that we didn't need to have the same ring. We're two different people."

I wondered if he'd measured my finger while I was asleep or something because the ring fit perfectly. I'd once worn a wedding ring as camouflage, to stop people from throwing themselves at me. This felt nothing like that. It slid onto my finger as if it had always been there, as if it had been waiting in a potential form, a symbol of tremendous power and meaning. I wanted to pull him on top of me and make love to him right then, except that even if we weren't in a hospital, I doubted I was up for it.

"So when do you get to take me home?" I asked. I'd been too busy feeling miserable and breathless to pay much attention to what the doctors had been saying. I figured he would have hung on every word.

"They're thinking maybe another week. You'll have to have a lot of respiratory therapy for a while, lots of doctors visits. Might be another couple of months before we can get back to Iowa. Actually, we might not go back at all, except to settle the farm. I rented an apartment not too far from here when I realized it might be a while. It's kind of an expensive neighborhood, but the rent is nothing compared to your current digs."

"Are we doing okay for money?" I asked. I hadn't gotten everything taken care of in time before I'd been struck down. John had to have figured out how to finance everything though. This was a good hospital.

"We'll have a hell of a credit card bill, but yeah, we're good. Your buddy Lois helped me get access to a couple of your off-shore accounts. She helped out a lot in other ways."

There was a soft knock at the door, then it opened. A young Hispanic woman looked in. "Are you ready, Jack?"

"Yeah, bring 'em in. Fox, we have some special visitors for you," John said. The woman walked in carrying the most special visitors that I could imagine- my best girls. "You have no idea how hard it was to get permission for this. Oh, Fox, this is our nanny, Lily. I guess you made arrangements with certain people to get me help. She was sent."

My girls were put into my arms and nothing else in the world mattered for a long time. They seemed so much bigger than I remembered them. I guess in an infant's life, three weeks is a long time span. I cuddled them as closely as I could, basking in the sweet feel of their heavy, warm little bodies against my own. Garnet burrowed against my chest, trying to get closer. "I missed you too, Princess," I whispered, holding back tears. "Missed both of you. Tell me you've been good for your pappa."

Eventually, they were taken away from me. They had to go home, get fed, taken care of. John went with them. Skinner took John's place watching over me for a while. He watched me with quiet compassion as John took the girls home. Skinner fussed around with getting me fresh water and throwing out some of the wilted flowers from the florist's shop that seemed to have put into my room by mistake.

"You've got a lot to look forward to," Skinner said when he finally sat down in the chair beside my bed. "Something to get better for. It's going to be a lot of hard work."

It was finally sinking in, how seriously ill I had been, and in what bad condition I still was. I was still at serious reduced lung capacity, like I was someone who had serious emphysema, not to mention my other medical problems. The kidney issue was most worrisome, because I doubted there was anyone out there close enough to my tissue type for a transplant, but so far they hadn't needed to put me on dialysis, but I'd have to be careful. They thought I could regain my lung capacity, but it was clear I wasn't going to be going for any twelve mile runs for a while, if ever.

"I can beat this," I said.

"I know you can, Mulder. And you let my brother and my nieces down, I'll kick your ass," Skinner promised. Then he turned on the game. The Bulls versus the Jazz. As we watched the graceful acrobatics of the players, the rhythm of game, we talked about the future, or rather, Skinner mostly talked at me. The farm was already on the market and it sounded like they'd already had a very likely nibble. I didn't expect to hear that. It kind of hurt, the thought that I might never go back there. I said so. Skinner seemed surprised.

"My children were born there," I said.

"We're bringing them with us, Mulder," I was told.

John and Walt had been looking at apartment buildings in the city. They'd been hoping to find something multi-unit, big enough to actually provide an income besides paying for itself. For John. He'd be doing minor repairs and acting as landlord. They figured it would be the easiest job for him to take up without any kind of degree beyond high school, at least not that was on his record. John didn't want to do any significant work that would take him away from he girls anyway. But they weren't going to be able to buy the kind of building they wanted in the neighborhood they wanted. It was more money than they thought, so they were looking at smaller apartment buildings, as well as a couple of larger buildings in marginal neighborhoods.

"I'm a free man, right?" I asked Walt.

"Yes. We've been working on freeing up your legal documented assets as well."

"How much more do you need?" I asked. "My parents' houses. Must be a million of real estate."

"More," Walt said. He should know. When I went into hiding, I'd arranged for him to keep my assets that couldn't be hidden legally tangled such that they couldn't be taken away from me, yet that the knots could be undone when it was safe for me to reappear. He'd gotten good legal advice on how to do it. "I'd say that the house on Martha's Vineyard alone is worth that much. The rest are worth lesser amounts, but I'd say a conservative estimate is more like two and a half million."

"Sell 'em," I said. I was hoping he could do it without my help. I didn't want to set foot in any of those houses ever again. If I was going to regret letting go of the farm where I had such good memories, then I wasn't going to regret in the slightest the passing out of my life these houses of lies, anger and loss.

"I personally would have sold them earlier, when real estate was at it's peak in 2002, but I didn't. I assumed if you wanted them sold, you would have done so earlier."

"Too busy," I said. That was true. It just seemed I'd never had the time to make the arrangements to put them on the market. It seemed like such an ordeal even to think about clearing out the furniture and the gradual accretion of my parents' lives, in four locations. Their lives together and after they'd drifted apart. "Estate sale. Sell it all. Furniture. Everything."

"I'll see what can be done," Walt promised. "What about the contents of your storage unit?"

I pondered that. It was a lot of stuff. All my furniture, all my personal papers, assuming they'd survived the predations of anyone who could jimmy a lock, my damn porn tapes even. Too bad Frohike wasn't around still to give them to. I figured John wouldn't appreciate me having them around. "Can wait," I concluded. Two years had passed since I went on the run. Either my stuff was safe, or it wasn't. It'd be nice to have my sofa again, and my fish tank but that was about it. Yeah, the girls, when they were a little older, would probably love to stare at the fish swimming round and round in the tank. I'd been so long without any kind of permanence, any sense that something could be forever. It would be nice to get some part of that back. But it could wait until I was no longer flat on my back.

I was flat on my back for a lot longer than I thought I would be. Healing from this illness took me longer than springing back from any other injury or illness I'd had. Even being dead, which is really saying something if you ask me. Perhaps that which was alien in me had died, leaving only the vulnerable, fragile human. Perhaps it was just my age catching up with me. Either way, I struggled to regain full strength again. Opportunistic secondary infections stalked me. I got pneumonia. When I was recovering from the pneumonia, I got a staph infection in my foot that nearly robbed me of a couple more toes. I had a hard time shaking that one for good, but in the end kept the eight toes remaining to me.

It was late March by the time I was finally allowed out of the hospital. It was a mild, windy day, all signs of winter having been washed away in the rain. John rolled my wheelchair down to the car while Lily, who was apparently some kind of semi-permanent fixture now, carried the girls. Walt and Georgie were back in Iowa for the moment, cleaning out the farmhouse of the last of their aunt's detritus. Lily settled the girls into their car seats, then turned to us and said, "I'll see you later. I'll be by tomorrow morning. If you don't need me, call."

John apparently wanted to get me home, alone with the girls. It was something I'd been looking forward to for a long time. John drove confidently with a smooth hand and steady temper through the wilds of Chicago traffic. He seemed comfortable here, like he was already at home in the city.

"You know, Walter's been talking with the Bureau some, while you were in the hospital. The new Deputy Director, Jana Cassidy, she was asking about you. I guess she was talking about your possible reinstatement. Once you get your health back, you could have your old job, your old life back, if you wanted it. You could be posted at the Chicago field office."

When I didn't answer back, he said, "You can get your life back. The way it was before."

I wondered, was he projecting. Did he want to go back to that cozy, little house in Falls Church, start climbing the FBI ladder again? I thought for a moment what it would be like, back in DC, working in my basement again.

"You could have yours back too. It'd be safe now. There's plenty of precedent for those wrongfully declared dead to take up their lives again. You could probably even reclaim a large portion of your estate from your ex-wife. You can have your life back."

It didn't take long for him to think about this, though it wasn't quite an immediate response. He'd probably been thinking about it for a while, but not yet given voice to his thoughts. "No, Fox. I can't. That's not my life anymore. This is my life. As crazy as it is, with your ghosts haunting me, and babies given to me by alien technology and all of it. It's mine and I don't want anything else. Besides, don't you remember? We're under contract. I can't leave."

I suddenly noticed that he was driving us further afield than he would be if he were taking us right to the apartment he'd rented. "Where are we going?" I asked.

"It's not far. You'll see," he said. "Don't worry. I won't tire you out. We won't even get out of the car. The current owners are kind of touchy about letting us go into the place without making arrangements through the lawyers. But I thought you'd want to see the place before we close on it, seeing as the biggest hunk of money comes from you."

We'd been able to unload my parents' houses with no problem. Even the summer house in Quonoquatog was snapped up. I turned around and offered every sent to John, to sink into real estate here. I'd offered no more opinion about the matter than I wanted a basketball hoop in the yard.

Before long, we pulled up in front of a huge, brick apartment block. The building was dark red brick, with lots of decorative details in white concrete. it took up a big portion of the block, corner lot too. I counted four separate entrances, each sheltered by a portico with more of the white detailing.

"Walt was thrilled to find that the terra cotta details were designed by a student of Louis Sullivan," John said, pointing out what I'd thought was concrete. There were three stories to the building, screened porches for every unit, it looked like. "Personally, I was just glad to find that everything is more or less in move-in condition."

"How did you find this again?" I asked, knowing that with my money, we'd had a lot of capital to work with, but from what I could guess about real estate costs, we'd also lucked into a real gem.

"Lily's sister Rosa is in real estate," John said. He started up the car again and drove us around the side of the building, down the alley. It was a courtyard building, only centered around a backyard court, rather than a front court. I caught a glimpse of what might be grass and a garden. Wooden porches lined the back side of the building, most cluttered with bikes, outdoors furniture, the like. Most of my view of the back was cut off by a two story garage type building. There were six spaces for cars, and overhead, probably the space for two more flats.

"We're going to take two of the three flats over the garage and combine them, for Walter's unit. The third unit will be Walter's woodshop. You and me and the girls will take the three bedroom unit on the second floor. There's a patio just on the other side of the garage, we can hang a hoop off the garage for you there. If that doesn't satisfy you, the park is about a block that way."

So this was home. Or would be assuming that the complex mess of contracts that made up this deal didn't fall through. Oddly, I wasn't as displeased about that thought than I'd expected to be, but there was still an amount of melancholy I felt about pulling up roots and leaving the last place I'd called home.

"Fox, you okay?" John asked, as I leaned my head against the car window, as he drove away.

"Just thinking about the farm. I don't like to think about the place our children's were born being lived in by some strangers. I can't say I'll miss cleaning out the chicken coop, but I do miss the farm."

"Don't you remember? Or did I just think I told you? We were able to find a buyer for the land who didn't want the house. We were able to swing the deal so that the house was Georgie's portion. She wants to stay there so she can be close to Bob. I think we'll be hearing wedding bells before too long."

"You think?"

And so we talked about little things on the way back to the apartment that John was temporarily calling home. He made sure to point out all the neighborhood features before we left it. He drove us past the parks, and the shops. He showed me the El stop, which was well within walking distance of the building.

"This neighborhood is called Bucktown, but we're pretty close to Lincoln Park, Lakeview, places like that. Not too far from a neighborhood they call "Boy's Town" even. The kind of place that has clubs where we could go dancing together. We also looked at Wrigleyville, but there was nothing this big even close to reasonable. One guy was trying to sell a family home for about the same price, just because it's got a view of the ball park."

Eventually, though, John got us all home, then got me and the twins tucked into bed for a nap. He snuggled in next to me, though he didn't seem tired in the slightest.

"Have you thought at all about what you want to do next?" he asked gently, as if he knew this was a tough question. For so long, my life had only been this one quest. Now that the pressure was off, I wondered, would I be like one of those creatures from the deep ocean trenches. Once you bring them out of the tremendous pressure, they explode, unable to stand it.

"I don't know what I'm going to do. What about you?"

"Raise our babies. Fix peoples toilets. Love you. For once in my life, everything seems that simple."

Could it really be that simple? I wished it could. Oh, did I wish it could be.

Doggett:

Life went on, like it always does. The babies grew and far more rapidly than I would have imagined they could. Fox recovered, slowly, but steadily, until by the end of April he was able to ditch his portable oxygen tank. By middle May, he was able to ditch the cane he'd been using and walk around normally. I guess even small toes are more important than you think and he'd had to learn how to balance again. He couldn't take up running again immediately, but over the summer we took a lot of short walks that grew longer and longer, each of us carrying a baby. I could see what he was doing- forcing himself to gain endurance again. I pampered him as much as he would let me, cooking dinners I knew he liked, letting him control the remote. I even let him eat sunflower seeds in the house, in my hearing range. Actually, it's funny how quickly that sound starts to be welcome, a signal of his presence.

On a bright May afternoon, we finished moving into our new apartment. The girls had a nursery, of course, one which Fox insisted that I paint pink. I was all for leaving it plain white. I had to do all the work. He couldn't even be in the apartment when I was painting, because of the fumes. I even had to pick out the paint chip. He claimed colorblindness. I was strongly tempted to paint it pale green instead and see how long before anyone else tipped him onto the joke.

I thought a lot about making contact with my family. I didn't initiate anything, even though it would be safe. I wondered a lot about the kindness of making myself known to them again while denying the family name. I had become through and through a Skinner. I couldn't imagine being anything else. It was as if it had always been that way. Part of me thought that John Doggett was dead and I should just let him stay that way. In the end, I never did contact them. I couldn't figure a way to integrate this new life of mine with the tattered remains of the old one.

Eventually, Abbott said he thought it might be time to take me off the anti-depressant. Carefully, we reduced my dose to less and less, then eventually to nothing. When the last of the drug was out of my system, I was more the man I used to be, perhaps a little melancholy, but that seemed natural for me. I was okay though, in no danger of hurting myself or anyone else.

Meanwhile, life carried on. It was over. My first, true, visceral understanding that the danger really was over was the day I came home from grocery shopping by myself. It was almost fall. Fox was watching over the girls who were napping, only half paying attention to them. He was sitting on our living room flour surrounded by brochures, college catalogs, the like.

"What're you doing?" I asked.

"I've been thinking about going back to school. I didn't have time to do more than start on my PhD before I was recruited into the Bureau," he answered. "I'm looking at programs that will let me go part-time so I can still spend most of my time watching the girls. I'm hoping I can work it out with the University of Chicago."

Honestly, I'd have been happy to have him be my househusband for forever, if that's what he wanted. But he'd been thinking for months about what he wanted to do with himself. We'd talked about it on and off over the months, at those vulnerable talks we had in the middle of the night when both of us could say things that it didn't seem possible to say at any other time than safe in the comfort of each others arms. I was glad he'd found his answer because I knew how lost he was feeling.

"Once, I went into psychology because I thought it would give me the answers into why I hurt so much. And in a way, it did. I found my answers. Now I think maybe it's time I start helping other people find the answers to their questions."

I thought about it. My lover leading a person in a therapy session. I could see it, how tender and kind he could be, yet unyielding. The compassion that was part of why I loved him would serve him well.

"It's a great idea, Fox," I told him.

Mulder:

I've heard it said before that happy endings are all alike, that it's tragedy that produces the unique situations that catch at the heart and capture the mind. I would argue that happy endings are as unique and sublime as any. That both tragedy and happiness are filled with the spirit that makes any course of human events a wellspring of beauty. I had my happy ending. No, I made it each and every day, forming it anew. I shaped it with each loving word to John, I polished it with every loving gesture. I brought it into being by treasuring each moment, by my careful observation.

The day I truly realized I was creating my happy ending was the first day Garnet talked.

Gracie was a natural chatterbox. From six months she'd started babbling, the nonsense sounds that all babies run through during their sorting out of human language. By the time she was a year old, she'd sorted out a few basic ones, like da da, and she was picking up both Spanish and English, though I doubted we had Lily babysit often enough to account for that. I thought that it was Monica's doing. But Garnet kept her counsel, not even trying out syllables, at least not when she thought we were listening. Only the fact that we caught them both occasionally on the baby monitor, trying out sounds, talking to each other, kept us from worrying as eighteen months crept by without a word from her while her sister was already working on complete sentences. Garnet obviously understood language and responded non-verbally, but nothing could lure her into forming her own words.

She didn't show any other developmental delays, far from it. She was a natural athlete, almost preternatural in her physical abilities. She hated being left on the ground, so she ended up not crawling at all hardly. Putting her on the ground resulted in her shuffling over as quickly as she could to the nearest vertical object, usually one of our legs and climbing up it until she was upright. One day, at just over a year, she pulled herself upright without any help and took off at a run after John's retreating legs. Gracie, who had been watching nearby, perfectly content with her rug rat status, said, "Garnet up, dada."

Well, Garnet came out sounding more like "Gah neh," but the message was clear. It usually worked out that way. Gracie did the talking for both of them and Gracie did all the physical exploring. But for all that Garnet was the faster developer, physically, she remained clingy. That day, John had been getting up to make dinner. Garnet had been going through a John phase, where I just didn't cut it as far as she was concerned. After she ran to him, he tried to pick her up and pass her off to me and she would have none of it. She cried until he picked her up, tied her to his hip with the sling and started dinner, her clinging to him like a baby monkey.

Though Gracie had drifted away to wanting to be carried less and less, Garnet was permanently attached at the hip to one or the other of us until she was nearly three. I supposed we spoiled them both in that way, though with the sling, it was much easier to carry them. Garnet still hadn't spoken yet, not in public by this time and I was starting to think about the speech therapists at the university where I was working on my degree, though I still joked to John saying that maybe she just hadn't found anything she thought worthwhile to talk about yet. And she did have Gracie to do her talking after all, and Gracie chattered more than enough for the both of them.

Then one day, about a week before Thanksgiving, John was cleaning out the cat box. Garnet was tied to his back in the sling, happy to observe him doing the housework. I was in the other room, an open door between us, sorting clean laundry. The girls were long out of diapers, having toilet trained with ease, but they still produced a ton of laundry. Gracie was "helping" me with the laundry. She had dug all of the socks out of the basket and was matching them up by some ordering system that appeared to have an internal logic and reasoned structure to it, even though it had nothing to do with the usual routine of matched pairs. "One for Daddy Fox," she said, adding one of her little frilled ones to a pile. "One for Garnet. One for me. One for Daddy. One for brother."

It was her new thing. She was convinced we were going to give her a brother sometime soon. Like tomorrow. Telling her that her Daddy and I couldn't have a baby seemed to have no effect on her. She couldn't understand that our little family was complete with two daddies, two little princesses, a cat and Uncle Walter, with the occasional drop in by Uncle Jimmy and Aunt Lois.

Yes, we'd ended up with a cat. A bony, half-wild, half-crippled, one-eyed calico cat. It was the cat he'd befriended while we were living in Iowa. Somehow he'd lured it into a crate and brought it home with us. I don't think I saw the thing more than once a month. But it used the box and ate its food and occasionally came out to claim some affection from John. So, he was cleaning out the box. A task that Garnet had never objected to before, even though neither of the girls was a big fan of the cat, which probably had something to do with the fact that the poor thing ran in terror any time it caught sight of them before they even had a chance to try any of the usual toddler manhandling.

I watched as Garnet wrinkled up her little nose. It was a cute little button of a nose. Her eyes had changed during her first year, from that pale blue to a deep brown, almost just like Walter's. Her hair, such as it was, was pretty little wisps of bright red. Other than the red hair, she looked like a Skinner through and through. I'd seen her next to pictures of both Georgie and Walter as little kids and it was uncanny.

Garnet was content to watch the cat box cleaning for a little while, but she got tired of it quickly. She impatiently kicked at John's side.

"Hey, don't do that," he said, patiently as he dug out yet another cat turd. "If you do it again, I'll put you down."

"Let me down, Daddy," she said. Her first words to us were a complete sentence, clear and unmistakable. "It's stinky!"

He stared, at me, as if he didn't quite believe what he'd heard, daring me to contradict it. We'd talked a lot about what we'd do when she did start talking. We didn't want her to get any kind of complex about it or feel any pressure. I shrugged. John gave me a look. What did he expect? I was just as shocked as he was.

Then John straightened up from the box. He washed his hands first, but then he untied the sling and set her down next to me. "Okay, brown-eyed girl, you go help Gracie and Daddy Fox with the laundry while I finish up with this. Sometimes stinky stuff has to be done."

"Icky kitty!" Gracie agreed cheerfully as she dug through the clothes looking for more socks. "Kitty doesn't get any socks."

I somehow expected that once the dam had been breached, that the river of words would just flood the valley. It didn't. Garnet nodded solemnly and sat down next to Gracie. She took a handful of socks and started rolling them. Not into pairs, but individual socks. But she carefully put them back into the piles that Gracie had made, apparently privy to the system of organization.

A few minutes later John was done with the cat box. He walked over to our little party and said to Garnet, "I'm done. Do you want back up?"

"No more sling," Gracie said, but she was looking at Garnet. Maybe this was something they'd decided together?

"Big girls," Garnet added.

I caught the moment of sadness that clouded John's face, but he pushed it away. "Okay, you're right. Why don't you big girls help Daddy Fox with the laundry and then he can help you clean up your room. I'm going to make dinner."

He pulled the sling over his head and flung it at the now empty laundry basket, then turned to the kitchen.

After dinner, we got the girls to bed. I could have settled down to some reading for my dissertation, but instead, I cuddled up to John on the couch. He sat down and I had my head in his lap. He ran his fingers through my hair and watched CNN headline news. It was just so normally sweet. Everyday life.

"How are your toes?" he asked during a commercial break.

Gradually, they'd started growing back. It'd been a shock to see the first pink nubs appear on my foot but got used to it, like you do anything. Over time, they got bigger and bigger. They were almost obviously toes now, though they still didn't have nails. They grew almost imperceptibly slowly and it had taken nearly the full two and a half years since I'd lost them for them to get this far. In response, I just pulled off my sock and wriggled them. They were beginning to be able to move in response to conscious stimuli.

John looked and shrugged. I guess he just tried to take at face value that his lover was capable of growing back lost toes. It was hardly weird compared to some of the things we'd been through. "You know, I keep having this dream. I'm carrying a little fox around in a basket. No, not you. The animal. What are they called? The baby ones. Cubs?"

"No, they're kits," I said. I wasn't going to say anything about the dream. It was so classically Freudian that it funny. I was having a hard time keeping a straight face.

"So I'm carrying this kit around in a basket. And Monica's telling me it's time to find a home for it. Weird dream, huh?"

"I think we've both had weirder," I said. "What did you do? In the dream."

"I took it home with me. I thought you'd be mad if I didn't," John said. Then he paused, gathering some words. Even after three and half years with me rubbing off on him, John was still a more cautious and thoughtful speaker than I ever was. At last he settled on, "She finally talked."

"They're not babies any more, are they?"

I think John understood my moment of antinomy perfectly. I was so proud, so happy to have heard Garnet speak to us finally. But yet, it was the passing of an age. And Gracie pronouncing that they weren't going to use the sling anymore seemed like a particularly pivotal moment. It was sad to know that they were growing up, stepping away from me in the normal separation.

"Nope," John said. I think that when neither of the girls insisted on hanging on him while he cooked and we ate, had sunk home that maybe they were serious about not using the sling. There was a definite touch of melancholy there.

"Too bad we can't have another baby," I said. It kind of slipped out my lips before I could stop myself. I thought he'd be mad at me, but he wasn't.

What he did say, half amused, was, "Tell you what, Fox. You get pregnant this time, give birth, all of that, we can have another baby. Otherwise, dream on."

"Don't tempt me," I said. "You know I would if I could."

We fell asleep on the sofa watching the TV. My idea of a happy ending to a good day. I still hardly believed that I could have just about as many of those happy evenings as I could stand, over and over again.

Six days later, things were not so happy. It was the morning of Thanksgiving. I came in bearing last minute groceries, all the odds and ends that you forget when, like me, you make your grocery list in your head. Memory can be such an unreliable, unpredictable thing. I can remember the phone number of the hotel I stayed at in Oregon the first time I investigated Billy Miles, but I couldn't remember that John wanted sour cream.

John had gotten started on the pies, had them done already actually, and cooling on the countertop but not much else yet. The girls were still sleeping, or least quietly pretending to sleep. Instead of him being in the kitchen like I expected, I heard sounds of him in the bathroom. Saying words that shouldn't be said in households where little pitchers have big ears.

I knocked on the bathroom door and it opened. John pushed his way out past me and stalked into the kitchen. He stood at the sink, staring out into the backyard. It'd snowed last night and some of the tenants kids were making a snowman out in the courtyard.

"John? What's the matter?" I asked, innocently enough.

Something white and sticklike was flung at me. "Bastard!" he hissed as he threw. I caught it. The object was unmistakable, and obviously used. I couldn't tell for sure that the little window had turned to pink, but that's what I was guessing.

"I am never having sex with you again," he said as I looked at it stupidly. Well, it was more of a shout. "This is all your fault."

"Listen, Prince Charming. It takes two to do that particular tango and you know it," I snapped back, more in automatic response to his anger than any anger of my own. Actually, I was starting to feel pretty good. Yup, I was stupidly happy about it, despite the fact that John was pissed. "I don't exactly recall you telling me to leave you alone. You're acting like I did it on purpose."

"You should have thought that maybe if you can grow toes back, something else might grow back too."

"Maybe you should have had that thought too," I said. "You didn't mention it. I'd have worn a condom, or hell, I'd have gone and gotten snipped again."

Walt chose this junction to let himself in. "What's all the shouting about?" he asked innocently. John and I fought in earshot of Walt seldom enough that he probably didn't know he should step out of range of our paint-blistering anger.

He was carrying the turkey in big foil roaster. He'd bought it, but John and I were going to be cooking it at our house. John got one look at it, covered his mouth with his hand and bolted, back to the bathroom.

"What the?" asked one very puzzled Walt.

I held up the pregnancy test. "Congratulations are in order. Once Jack calms down. We're going to be fathers again."

"I thought you..."

"I guess my toes aren't the only thing that grew back," I said and shrugged. The oven was still on at nearly the right temperature, so I took the bird out of Walter's hands, tore off the plastic wrap and put it in the oven. I wondered if Walter and I would have to do the Thanksgiving meal between the two of us. John's nausea had been pretty bad the last time he was pregnant. It might keep him in the bathroom most of the morning. "It's probably safe to say that we're keeping this close to our chest until Jack is ready to talk about it. Especially with the girls. God, this is one talk I am not ready to have with them."

We'd always intended to tell the girls the truth about their birth, it just hadn't really come up yet. We had a couple of months probably until it started to get obvious that Daddy was going to be having a baby.

"Mulder, I'm sure you don't want to hear this, but better you than me," Walt said. I swear, the man was practically smirking. He started poking around our pantry and fridge, getting stuff for the fresh cranberry sauce. We worked in the kitchen together, him directing me mostly. I have to admit to a certain laziness in that area. It was always simpler to let John take care of cooking. He'd gotten pretty good at it over the years, so much so that I was having to run extra hard to keep the nearly inevitable consequences of too much good food from catching up with me.

Slowly, over the course of the day, family started trickling in. First Jeff insinuated himself into the apartment. Extensive reconstructive surgery was helping him a lot, but he still did his best to hide in the midst of the crowd of our family. I made sure to single him out for a hug when he first arrived, other than that, I let him hide out in the corner of our living room and make his contact with us on his terms. Then John emerged from the bathroom. He was fully dressed. He grabbed his shoes and coat and headed for the door.

"I'm going out," he said, frostily.

"Dinner's probably at three," I said, trying to sound unconcerned. He probably just needed the time to think. Hell, I wanted the time to think, as thrilled as I was about the thought of having another baby around. But somebody had to coordinate this family dinner and John was the one who deserved the time, because it would impact him more than it would me.

"I'll be back before then," John said. "I just have to think."

"Take all the time you need," I told him. "Walt and I have things under control here."

He snorted and gave me a look, letting me know that he was sure Walt had things under control and that were I in sole charge, chaos would ensue. He was right, of course. But that's what family is for. Then John took out his keys and headed out the back door. He'd be okay. He just needed some time to think. I could almost feel his simmering anger as if it was going on in my own mind.

A short while later, the princesses awoke. Ignoring Walt and I, they ran straight for Jeff in the living room. I had been pleased to find out that despite his appearance, they adored him. They launched themselves at his lap, happy to discover that for the moment, they both still fit on it. I watched carefully, wanting to catch them and guide them away after a few minutes before their presence got to be too much for the man. He accepted their adoration gracefully for a while. Before I got a chance to scoop them up though, Gracie, being the ringleader in all things, decided for them that they were done with him for now.

"Uncle Jeff is busy reading," she said, as she jumped off his lap, pulling Garnet after her.

I decided take my cue. I descended on the pair and scoped them up in my arms, threw one of them over each shoulder and said over their shrieks and giggles. "And it's time for you two to get dressed. What does her highness want to wear today? Overalls again? A pretty dress?"

Okay, so, maybe we spoil them. Well, I spoil them. I suppose I was the worst offender. Their room was filled with toys. Maybe it just was that way because Garnet wouldn't play with the same kind of toys that Gracie did. Gracie had to have her dolls, her babies, and the furniture that went with them. A toy cradle for the dolls, as well as a miniature dresser for the endless outfits. then also a big wooden dollhouse for the smaller dolls. Garnet's portion of the toy mess was lots of wooden blocks, duplo blocks. There was a big plastic ball that she'd had to have. At the time we'd gotten it for her, she was only just barely taller than its diameter. Her latest favorite toy was one of those ribbons on a stick like they use in rhythm gymnastics.

They had separate closets though they slept together in a double bed that we managed to wedge in between the toys. I dressed Garnet first because, in her own way, she was the easiest. Given half a chance to say anything about it she wouldn't wear anything but overalls and purple shirts. About three quarters of her wardrobe was some variation on these.

"How about the little dress overalls, sweets?" I said, digging for the right one. I held it up and she shook her head vehemently. "But we've got company today, sweets. You should look pretty for them."

"Not pretty!" Miss Garnet said emphatically. I sighed, grabbed a regular pair, plain. Not even embroidered flowers to liven them up. She was in one of her moods and nothing would induce her into pretty. I started to unzip her footie jammies. Then she said, for the first time, something that I would later recognize as a refrain. "I do it!"

"Okay, you do it, Princess," I told her, turning to Gracie. "Let me know if you need help."

If I had one utter tomboy, then I also had a girly-girl. Gracie had already started going through her closet. She had pulled out a mixture clothes which even I could see didn't match, with a smattering of her dress-up clothes to boot. I'm sure she thought that the maribou boa was just the height of fashion, but it's up to us parents to know better and reinforce it. Hey, I may not be a little girl, but I like to think that one of my abiding talents is picking out clothes.

"Okay, Princess Gracie. How about that red dress," I said.

"The dress is green, Daddy," she said. She was smart, both of them were. They knew all their colors already. Gracie could also say the alphabet. And actually, I was almost convinced that Garnet could read a few simple words already. Gracie could read numbers.

"Okay, so the green dress. This one," I said. To emphasize, I picked it up. "But the white tights and we ditch the boa, what do you say?"

So the negotiations began. Everything was negotiable as far as Gracie was concerned. She argued her way into the patent leather shoes, but not the boa. Meanwhile, Garnet had gotten herself dressed completely, except for one of the overall straps had gotten twisted and was stymieing her. I twisted it around right and then she got it in a trice.

I hate to say it, but I parked them in front of the electronic babysitter when we were done. They watched the Macy's parade with rapture while I worked just out of sight in the kitchen. With Walt as chef and me as sous-chef, we were doing pretty well, I thought, when John finally walked back in at noon.

He didn't say much, but held his hand out for the apron and said, "I'll take over here. You go stop our daughters' brains from turning to mush."

I looked. Sometime after the last time I'd looked, they'd gotten out the Teletubbies DVD and put it in. The Tubbies were one thing they could both agree on.

"Hey, I said you could watch the parade. I guess it must be over," I said, before reaching out and snapping the set off.

"Uncle Walter said!" Gracie protested.

"Oh, did he now? We'll just have to see about that."

The guilty uncle in question had been watching them from the next room, getting the pleasure of spoiling them. He hadn't been over enthusiastic about them as babies, but as they grew into interesting little people, suddenly he had found their charm. I think he must have been waiting for years for some children to spoil. I cannot otherwise account for the same man on whose carpet I was regularly called and reamed a new asshole, getting down on his knees and playing dolls with my daughter. Oh, and at Uncle Walt's house it's perfectly acceptable to have ice cream for breakfast.

Finally, the last guests, Lily and her new girlfriend Frida, arrived. The food made it out to the table. We all sat down and I looked at each shining face, in wonder that this actually was my family. That I had gotten this lucky, That I was not some stranger invited to another's celebration, but had taken my rightful place at the foot of the table, opposite of John at the head. We each had a daughter to our right. Walt, Bob and Georgie, Lily and Frida, Lois and Jimmy, our favorite tenants, Carlos and Lee, all surrounded us.

John sat down after he put the last dish on the table, then he looked at Georgie, who had never looked so handsome and radiant since she and Bob had run away to Vegas and eloped. "Would you say a grace, Georgie?" John asked.

John didn't say much to me during the course of the meal, nor during the traditional watching of football afterwards. It was easy not to, with all our guests around.

Later that night though, we were alone. Georgie and Bob had gone back to Walt's apartment. Jeff had slipped out hours earlier. The apartment was dark and quiet. After I tucked the twins into bed, making sure that the fish tank light was still on for their nightlight, I came back to the kitchen to find John washing the last few dishes. The light over the sink turned the window into a near perfect mirror. I looked at John in this mirror, gauging his expression. His brow was wrinkled thoughtfully. Definitely still brooding. He noticed I was watching him in the window but didn't turn. He watched me watch him.

Losing patience finally, he said, "Say it already."

"So, what are we going to do?"

"Well, I figure with only three kids, we might have to buy a minivan, but we don't have to move out to the suburbs just yet."

"I spent a couple of weeks I the suburbs once. It was hell," I said, thinking of an undercover case, posing as Scully's husband. I preferred my seamy underbellies out where I could see them, rather than hidden under a flawless exterior.

"I figure we'll have to turn the study into a bedroom," he said. "I know it'll be hardest on you."

"Not at all," I said. When it seemed that he wouldn't bite my head off, I moved behind him and wrapped my arms around his waist. I touched his lower abdomen tenderly, thinking about the new life, probably just big enough to see, resting and growing in there. Our child. He leaned back against me, allowing himself to rest on my strength for the moment. I was glad beyond words that he had come to accept this so quickly this time.

"So, how do you feel about the name Sullivan?" he asked.

When I asked him about it, he claimed he didn't remember anything strange happening in that field in Tennessee. But things like this made me wonder.

"It's an old family name," he said. "Well, a Doggett family name. Gran Garnet's maiden name was Sullivan. You got any preferences for a middle name?"

I thought hard about this. I hadn't seen my one-time lover, ex-antagonist, Alex Krycek, around for a while. Once, I had made him a promise. As much as offered to be his parent should he wish to be born again. I had vague memories of him saying he was going to take me up on that. Even if he was not this child, even if he hadn't elected to hop on the world again for another go round, I had the urge to honor him. We had fought more than we loved each other, and more often than not, the fault had been mine, my anger unthinking and bitter. Yes, given the chance, I owed it to make it up to him somehow. To love him as honestly as I could.

"How about Alexander?" I said. "Or some variation. Alexandria if it's a girl."

He shook his head. "Uh-uh. This is our son."

"You just know that?"

"Like I knew the twins were girls," he said. "I wasn't wrong then. Besides, Gracie thinks it's a boy too. I know I was mad earlier, but I'm thinking maybe it's not so bad to be pregnant again, especially if it's with your child."

I thought about a lot of things all at once. I thought about how much of a miracle the births of our girls had been, the fierce beauty of Garnet's first cry, the serene unfolding of Gracie's first breath. I thought about how calm and confident a father my lover was. But my thoughts kept coming back to how we had made this baby- the sweet, sweaty mystery of making love to John.

"C'mon," I said, sudden joy flooding through me. "Dishes can wait. What say we go make the bed springs squeak?"

I pulled him to me tightly and nuzzled his ear. He melted against me. The dish rag dropped to the floor from his lax hand. Yes, I still had it. He would soon be putty in my hands.

"Bedroom," I said.

We made our way to our room. A king size bed dominated the room. It was honestly a bit too big for the room, but two tall men and the occasional toddler or two needed a bed this big. Otherwise it was a plain room. Dark gold walls and blue plaid bedding. The only decoration to the room was a pair of antique Chinese lattice shutters that John had come home with one day without explanation. We'd hung them in the windows and when the sun shone through they cast intricate shadows.

We stood just inside the doorway for a minute. I looked at this bed where our new child had been conceived and I felt giddy and weak at the thought of it.

Meanwhile John was getting impatient in the face of my sentimentality. "Fox, if you're not on that bed in thirty seconds I'm going back and washing dishes."

What could a man do but exactly he was told? In a few short seconds, we were pulling off clothes, tossing them at the laundry basket, launching our naked bodies at the bed. John shivered in the cold air then quickly burrowed under the covers. I followed him, wrapping him in my arms. He pressed his whole body close against mine. I was so giddily happy that the only appropriate response was to laugh.

"Ah, that's better," he said, just before he claimed his first kiss. He was hungry for this, not that I wasn't, but he took the lead as he so often did. He rolled me over onto my back and draped himself over me, a pleasant and comforting weight, all the time taking kiss after kiss. I did my best to tear my mouth away so that I could nibble his ear and neck. He slid up and down my body, our cocks rubbing against each other in delicious friction. We were ready in a short time.

It doesn't matter, I've discovered over the years, whether he penetrates me, or which way I penetrate him. It all seems the same in some essential level. That which is truly penetrating is our souls, conjoining in the spiritual and emotional dance of love in a time that is eternal, where the body is left behind for a brief, ecstatic moment. I loved him. He loved me. The joining of body parts was a mere detail.

Afterwards, lying in each other's arms, blankets tucked up to our chins, he said, "I'm glad it's you this time. You know the thing I said, about what I'd do to you if you put me through this again?"

I recalled that clearly. It was a threat on my manly parts that was bound to be more than painful. "I remember," I said cautiously.

"I think that you should take that as an ill-considered statement. I'm sorry I said it. You can't hold a guy to things he says in the heat of the moment," he said. John wasn't real big on gushy apologies.

"I wouldn't dream of it," I said, yawning. Sleep was beginning to claim me. Resistance was futile, and besides, I could see and feel John start to settle into the restfulness of sleep beside me. It'd been a long day, crowded with those I most loved. And it had been another golden, happy ending.

Doggett:

So far, other than my one incident when Walt brought in the raw turkey, I hadn't yet been affected by morning sickness much this time. A bit in the early morning and I was usually fine once I got some crackers into me. Other than that, my only symptom of pregnancy so far this time was that I had to pee all the time. I'd forgotten about that, about how annoying it could be. I worried though, if about nothing else than what we were going to tell the girls. Pappa was having a baby. We'd told them over and over again that Pappa definitely wasn't going to have a baby when Gracie had started insisting that I would.

In fact, only Gracie's vehemence that I was going to give her a brother had talked me into taking the test at all. I'd had a few of the early symptoms, but none that couldn't be attributed to something else. I hadn't had a period for a long time, but that was nothing unusual.

Yes, I did bleed. But not monthly like women usually do. I supposed my hormone levels weren't up to supporting that, being as I seemed to continue to show mostly male characteristics in most things. Abbott had worried that over time, having ovaries might feminize me, but whatever the aliens did to me, my hormone levels were kept in balance and I continued to grow a full beard, my little breasts had disappeared, leaving me with a flat chest, and as I worked out, I easily put on muscle again.

Still, a couple of time a year I did bleed for a few days. I did get the full share of cramps, bloating and general discomfort when my period did come around. I think Fox was very relieved when my period didn't come. I know I had been.

Until I'd taken that test and learned why it hadn't. Actually, in some ways, I was thrilled to be pregnant again. Those days had been happy, most of the time. It was a sweet thing to think about, that farmhouse, first making love to Fox, all those times. And then to think about having a little baby to cuddle again, hold to my body. The girls had been serious about giving up the sling and Garnet's refrain had become, "I do it!" or some close variation. They weren't my little babies anymore.

Actually, right now, they were doing a pretty good imitation of being serious gamblers. Fox was teaching them to play dreidel. Fox had decided it was time to embrace his Jewish heritage a little more seriously, not in the strong religious sense, but culturally. So we celebrated Hanukkah. Sort of. He bought a menorah and a dreidel. We lit the menorah and opened little presents each night. One night Fox surprised us with latkes, but that was about it. Not a prayer was said though. I put up with it because it wasn't like I was going to raise the girls to be Christians.

Garnet spun the little top for her sister Gracie who couldn't quite manage it herself. We all watched carefully as it eventually came to rest. "Half," Fox pronounced, and doled out half of the gold coin candy to her.

It didn't take long for the small supply of candy to have been doled out more or less equally between the girls. They were allowed one each to eat, and then the rest was put up to be saved for later.

After the chocolate was done, it was getting nearly to bedtime for the girls. It was my time for reading the story tonight. You know, I was dreading the day when Garnet was going to seize the book from my hand, call out, "I do it!" then start reading aloud. I suspected it was going to come sooner than I thought.

But before reading in bed, came cuddle time on the couch. I guess the girls still were little enough for this, because they piled on Fox and me like baby cats on their mom. During the cuddle, Gracie rested her head lower on my belly. She patted me there, kissed me and said, "When's brother coming?"

I'd been dreading this conversation, but no time like the present, right? I'd ruminated over approaches again and again in the weeks since I'd discovered I was pregnant again and in the end I decided I was just going to do the only thing I can do. Answer their questions as they arose, as honestly as I could.

"It'll take months and months for him to get here," I said, knowing that a months was a unit of time they couldn't get their brains around, still being so young that a month was still a substantial fraction of their lives.

"An awful long time," Fox added. "Long after your birthday."

Gracie might have been the one asking the questions, but Garnet was listening just as intently to the answers.

"Daddy is having brother?" Gracie asked.

"That's right."

"But mommies have babies," Gracie said. She wasn't quite protesting, but she was confused. Gracie, I'd decided, wasn't psychic per se, but had some kind of ability read people that she didn't comprehend. She could just look at someone and know more about them than she could possibly have known. Whatever this sense, it was telling her that I was having a baby, even though I didn't look it yet, and even though it was in contradiction to her orderly world.

"Remember what I told you, about how you and Garnet don't have a mommy like other little girls? Brother is not going to have a mommy either."

"Daddy is unique," Daddy Fox added. He watched her try and say the word and not quite get it. "It means that no one else in the world is exactly like him. He can do things other daddies can't. Like have babies."

"Oh!" Gracie said, with a nod, as if she had everything explained to her satisfaction. Then she cuddled up even more closely, with a smile on her face. I ran my fingers on top of her raven black curls. Running them through the curls would tug at her hair, which would produce exactly opposite the intended effect.

Garnet meanwhile had buried her face in the crook of Fox's elbow and was very still. "Hey, Red," he said, "You fallin' asleep before our story?"

She shook her head, but didn't release herself from her cuddle. I suspected that she would be on her way to sleep very soon anyway.

"Dreidel song, Daddy Fox. Sing the dreidel song," Gracie added.

I could see Fox working to suppress a sigh. It was his fault. He was the one who'd first sung them the song. He was the one who had the idea of introducing them to Hanukkah.

"Okay," he said. Then he started to sing, in a voice that wasn't quite steady, but could more or less keep a tune, "I had a little dreidel, I made it out of clay..."

It was surprisingly sweet to hear him sing this little ditty, even if he wasn't exactly material for the Lyric Opera. The girls seemed happy with it too. And they actually started to drift off to sleep during the song's second repeat.

Once we'd tucked the princesses into their guaranteed to be free of peas bed, we went back to the living room. Fox knelt down to pick up the dreidel from where it had been left on the floor.

"Nun, gimmel, hay, shin," he said spinning the little square top in his fingers, then translated, "A great miracle happened there. It certainly did. And it's happening again."

He put the dreidel up, and embraced me. "Let's go to bed, Prince Charming," he said.

I couldn't disagree with that. Yes, sleep would be a good thing. And yes, a great miracle had happened.

Mulder:

We managed. We made several trips to Iowa over the course of John's pregnancy, to visit Bob. We got permission from Georgie to stay with her and Bob at the farm once John got further along. Walt would stay in Chicago and manage the building in John's absence. Because John was only carrying one baby this time, it was less obvious for longer that he was pregnant. This time at five months, instead of being huge already, with his clothes on he just looked like he'd acquired a sudden beer gut.

We'd had a few times where we'd had to do some hurried explaining. Not because people thought that John was pregnant by looking at him, but because of something Gracie said. She'd tell a neighbor, or the mother of one of her little playmates that daddy was having a baby. Then it'd be up to me or John to explain, using our cover story. That we were, indeed, adding a child to our family, but that we were using a surrogate mother, a woman we knew in Iowa, and that Gracie got confused sometimes. People were always inclined to buy it, the general person not believing the unexplained even when it was right under his nose.

In the middle of John's sixth month, we moved out to Iowa again, temporarily. I was able to do some of my dissertation work at home, but mostly that ground to a halt, as I was busy chasing children.

Time seemed to rush forward at a precipitous rate during this pregnancy. One day it seemed it was Hanukkah and John and I were explaining to the princesses how it could be that their daddy was having a baby, and then the next, it was summer and their daddy was having that baby.

Sullivan Alexander Skinner was very nearly a fourth of July baby, but he escaped that fate by a mere twenty minutes. This time, with the OB living in the same house, John did not escape having an attended birth, but after 'back off' was snarled a few times in Bob's direction, John was mostly left alone to do the hard work of guiding our son into the world. As happened last time, we were surrounded by a coterie of the beloved dead, watching us. This time, they needed not guard us, but they were present non-the-less. My old enemy, my old lover Alex Krycek was not present, making me believe more than ever that he had elected to shuffle on a mortal coil again, if not in my company, then someplace else. Hopefully, his road would be easier this round through.

At twelve-twenty AM, Sullivan Alexander Skinner unleashed his triumphant cry onto the world. It was loud and lusty and easily soothed. Where Gracie was dark and compact and Garnet had been light and bulky, Sully was tawny, skin tone much like my own, with a light fuzz of sandy brown hair. And he was rangy, tall and skinny. I was already picturing him as a basketball player. With two moderately tall dads, he might make it. He had a hint of the Mulder nose already and my square jaw line and lips.

At dawn, Gracie and Garnet woke up and they were allowed to troop into the living room where John was resting with Sully on his chest. Gracie didn't attempt to climb up on John and join them, though Garnet got kind of upset and clung to me.

"Brother Sully," Gracie said contentedly. She petted her new brother through the light receiving blanket that covered him, gently, even at her young age sensitive to how delicate he was. She seemed content to do this. I was content. John was content, drowsing as Sully nursed. Garnet settled down once she realized that I was still around and that both daddies couldn't hold Sully at once. Sully? Who knew his true state of mind, though he hadn't cried since his first cry. I would guess that it was not just content, but satisfied. He was going to be a passionate one, I could tell. He'd taken to everything presented to him thus far with gusto. Yes, he was going to be like me and like John.

Once he arrived, I understood suddenly that our family was complete. He'd filled an absence I had not been aware of. He was the harmony that when added turns a simple tune into a heart catching song. Yes, this was love, and this was my happy ending.

END




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