Title : Rock the Cradle - Chapter One (revised) By : Medusa

Category : AU, Slash, Mpreg, Angst, MulderTorture. Pairing : M/Sk
Rating : NC17 for m/m relationship and descriptive sexual content. If you are under-age or this type of content squicks you in any way, do not read further.

Archive : Slashing Mulder, Mpreg, DiTB, Mulder in Jeopardy. Others please ask.

Warning : This is a WIP. I don't usually post WIP's but my dear friends on the slashingmulder list talked me into it.

Summary : Needless to say, this is a totally AU piece, although there are elements of canon referred to. Mulder and Skinner have been intimately involved for some time. Scully knows about it and she accepts the situation. Mulder was abducted by aliens. When he is eventually returned, nothing is the same and there are quite a few surprises that he and Walter have to deal with.

Disclaimer : Is there any point? We all know Mulder, Scully, Skinner and other X-Files characters belong to Chris Carter and Fox, because if they belonged to me there's no way Mulder would have been treated like he was in the last two seasons. Don't even get me started! <g> No infringement on their rights of ownership is intended and no money is being made from this work. This is a work of total fantasy.

Medical Disclaimer : I'm no expert, all my knowledge of pregnancy comes from my own experiences and is admittedly somewhat out of date. Creative license is claimed on anything that doesn't seem logical or factual.

Thanks : To my wonderful beta's, Jo, Bertie and Joey. Your editing skills and encouragement have been invaluable. Any mistakes still here are due to my own stubbornness and no reflection on your abilities.

Spoilers : None really, other than general occasional mention of events in the seven seasons of TXF.

Dedication : To the wonderfully talented David. You inspire my imagination, you give wings to my fantasies, yet you show me what is truly real.

Timeline :
Set after season 7. The estimated timeline for the purposes of this story are, of course, different than 'canon' since Mr. Carter and I disagree on the way time moves on, and then part ways entirely after Requiem. As has oft been said, Denial ain't only a river in Egypt. Any resemblance to anything that happened after season 7 is purely coincidental. <g>

When I worked onwards from Chimera, I figured that Mulder couldn't have been abducted in May. It suits my story for it to have been August, say the 7th for argument's sake.

Post Season 7, in my universe, Scully was never pregnant. To fit in with my purposes, Mulder was missing for a total of 8 months, and they didn't bury him when they found him.

Where we start our story, Mulder has been back for about 3 months and is seemingly coping with picking up the pieces of his life. He is back with the Bureau, but not working on The X Files. He and Scully are working together in Violent Crimes.

On with the show...

Sirius, Arizona
June 28, 2001, 1:10pm

The relentless Summer sun blazed down on the Deputies and FBI Agents as they examined the crime scene. There was nothing new here, no fresh evidence. Mulder had ruled that this was one of the earlier murders, which Scully confirmed, stating that she thought the body had been in this old tin shed, the one that the investigative team was currently crowded into, for at least two weeks.

Mulder and Scully had been investigating a series of murders all week in this one-horse town, but it looked like they were getting close to putting enough evidence together, along with Mulder's profile, to solve the case.

The heat was stifling, making the air heavy, and the sickening smell of a well decomposed body had already sent one of the deputies running. Even Mulder was looking decidedly green as he squatted over the body, valiantly trying not to breathe in the stench as he looked for visual clues.

Scully looked sideways at him as he stood abruptly, and then just as abruptly, fainted dead away.

"Mulder!" She made a grab for him, guiding him backwards to prevent him from falling onto the body. "Help me get him outside, into the fresh air and the shade!" She yelled at the deputies standing around with their figurative thumbs up their asses while she struggled with Mulder's weight.

Two deputies jumped forward and lifted the unconscious man, carried him outside and set him down on the shady side of the shed. Scully loosened his tie and undid the top shirt button. He felt overheated to her touch, his skin too dry.

"Dammit," she muttered, turning to the deputy nearest them, "I need to get him to the hospital, I think he's suffering from heat stroke."

Twenty minutes later, Mulder woke up in the air-conditioned emergency room of Lansdowne County Hospital. Strategically placed ice packs were cooling him down and he had an IV delivering chilled fluids into his veins.

He blinked in confusion at his surroundings and his gaze finally settled on his partner. "Scully?"

"Mulder, you're awake!"

"What happened?" His voice cracked from a dry throat.

Scully held a cup of ice cold water to his lips and he drank deeply.

"You passed out. The doctor says you're dehydrated and your blood pressure is way too low. They're giving you IV fluids to treat it so you should start to feel better soon," she explained.

Mulder nodded and winced. "My head aches."

"Heat exhaustion, Mulder. You haven't been drinking enough fluids. In this heat, you know you should drink plenty of water."

Mulder had the good grace to look contrite. "Sorry. I'm feeling okay now, when can I get out of here?"

Scully sighed at his impatience. "Not until your fluid levels are back up to where they should be and your blood pressure gets back to normal. They're just running a few routine tests and we have to wait for the results on your blood work. It's not normal for a grown man to faint like that." She put the cup back to his lips. "Here, drink some more. The more liquid we can get into you, the faster you can get out of here."

Mulder dutifully drained the cup. He didn't tell Scully about the nausea he'd been suffering with for weeks - which is why he hadn't swallowed enough of anything, let alone water lately. He hadn't been able to hold anything down that morning, but he had to admit he was feeling a little more confident of retaining what he was drinking now. The nausea had gone again. It came and went, without rhyme or reason, which was damned annoying. Last week, when his lover had noticed that he'd been feeling off color, Walt had worried that it was a residual effect of his abduction. Mulder had argued that it was more than likely just a touchy stomach and still getting used to being home, and that he was not going back to the hospital for a check up, that he'd be fine in a day or two.

And now Mulder supposed that four days of the 100 plus degrees in-the-shade temperatures of this Arizona desert town had complicated things, causing the embarrassing little show that he knew he'd put on for the local PD.

Deputy Jackson poked his head in the doorway and addressed Scully. "Ma'am? The body's downstairs in the morgue now, if you want to take a closer look." Jackson nodded politely to Mulder. "Feelin' better now, Agent Mulder?"

"Yeah much, thanks." Mulder mentally steeled himself for the expected remarks about how city boys couldn't handle the heat, but no comments were forthcoming. "Scully, go on if you want to. I'll be okay here until I can go back to the motel. I promise to be good and not run off until you get back and the doctor says I can go."

Scully smiled at his promise, knowing how much it took for Mulder to agree to stay put in the ER. She knew he was heartily sick of the sight of medical facilities after spending several weeks recovering in one from the injuries he'd had when returned from his abduction.

As she left, she told the nurse waiting to take Mulder's temperature and blood pressure again just where she'd be if needed and that she'd be back soon. Mulder relaxed into the pillow and closed his eyes. He was glad Scully was going for a while, maybe he could take a catnap while he waited for her. He felt really tired.

Lansdowne County Hospital

The sound of hushed voices roused Mulder from his doze. Rubbing tired eyes and yawning, he saw that Scully had returned and was speaking with someone whom he presumed was the ER doctor.

"Is something wrong?" he asked.

"Mulder! No, nothing serious. This is Doctor Martin. We were just discussing your blood test results. It seems your results are a little anomalous."

That hardly surprised Mulder, given his history. He noticed that Scully seemed to be amused with what the results had shown.

Doctor Martin shrugged apologetically. "It's embarrassing, really. I don't know how the error could have been made, but according to these results you are, um, pregnant, Mr. Mulder."

Mulder laughed, "Well that's a relief. I thought you were going to tell me something was really wrong with me." Mulder would have been more surprised or worried if the tests had actually come up with normal results.

"There may still be something going on that we should be aware of. I'd like to re-run the tests."

Mulder shook his head. "Look, doc, if it's all the same to you, I'd rather just get out of here and go back to the motel. I feel fine now, my headache is gone, I don't feel dizzy or nauseous any more," he looked up at the almost empty IV bag, "and I think my tank's been topped up enough - I'll be fine. I'll just stay out of the sun and drink more water in the future."

The doctor seemed less than satisfied, but Scully reassured him, "I'll keep an eye on him and make sure he rests. I'll call if I think there's a problem. And I think a trip to his own physician when we get back to DC wouldn't hurt." This last she said with a glare at Mulder as if daring him to argue with her. She'd get the AD to back her up if necessary.

Doctor Martin checked Mulder's chart one more time. "Very well, Agent Scully, I'll release him into your care. His BP's stable and he seems to be hydrated well enough now. But please, call me if he develops a fever or gets disoriented. Heat stroke can sometimes cause damage to the kidneys or other organs and might not be apparent at first." He signed the release form and handed it to Scully, then turned to Mulder again, "You can get dressed and go as soon as I have a nurse come in and disconnect that IV, Agent Mulder."

Comfort Inn
Sirius, Arizona

Deputy Jackson had driven them back to the motel and Mulder was now in the shower 'getting the smell of the hospital out of his hair'. Scully set a jug of ice water on the night stand and turned down the bed.

Her cell phone rang and she had to search for a moment to find it.


"Agent Scully. Where are you?" Assistant Director Skinner's concerned voice demanded.

"Sir, we're at the motel."

"Is Mulder all right? I got a message telling me he'd collapsed. I... I've been worried."

"He's fine. In fact he's in the shower. It was just a case of heat stroke, he got dehydrated and passed out. We took him to the emergency room and after they gave him some IV fluids and cooled him down, they let him go. Just hang on, I'll tell him you're on the phone."

The shower had shut off and Scully knocked on the bathroom door. "Mulder? AD Skinner's on the phone."

The door flew open and Mulder stood there wrapped in a towel, water glistening on his chest and hair. He grabbed a second towel and took the cell phone from his partner excitedly.

"Walter? I'm glad you called." Mulder sat on the edge of the bed and absently dried his hair as he talked and listened.

Scully could only hear one side of the conversation. Mulder was sounding up-beat, trying to reassure his lover that he was all right.

"No, I'm fine, honest... Yeah, I didn't think and forgot to drink enough water so I got a little dehydrated, but I'm okay now, just tired." He grinned wickedly at Scully. "In fact, Scully's getting ready to tuck me into bed now." He laughed at whatever Skinner said in reply. "It's really good to hear your voice, too." He turned self-consciously away from Scully and spoke quietly to Skinner for a few minutes more, then finished with, "I miss you, I'll call you tomorrow."

Mulder handed the phone back to Scully, rolled his legs up and under the sheet. Once covered, he dropped the towel that had been around his waist onto the floor. He scrubbed his hair dry once more and that towel also landed on the floor. Scully sighed and picked the towels up.

"Are you sure you feel all right, Mulder? It's not like you to willingly go to bed at this early hour." She poured water into a glass and pointedly held it out to her partner. "Drink this. I'm just worried that you're pushing yourself too hard, too soon."

Mulder sighed and gulped half the water in one swallow. "I'm fine, really. The doctors at Bethesda said I was fine. I feel fine. Like I said to Walt, I'm just tired. Today took a lot out of me and you have to admit it's been a hell of a few days down here. I just need to sleep, I haven't really had a good night since we got here."

That much was true. But Mulder was still recovering emotionally from his abduction. As soon as he'd returned to work, they'd reassigned him to Violent crimes, and this was his first field case. They'd been sent down here to help with finding a serial killer

and Arizona was having one of the worst heat waves on record, which made for very uncomfortable conditions. Mulder had spent long hours reviewing evidence and writing a profile. There had been 3 murders, 4 including today's discovery, and the police now felt that, with the FBI's recent help, they were close to catching the UNSUB. Thanks to Mulder's ceaseless efforts and Scully's forensic knowledge.

"Well, I'm right next door if you need anything." She brought over the room service tray that had arrived while Mulder was in the shower, and set it on the bed next to him. He lifted the cover and sniffed appreciatively at the chicken soup and turkey sandwich.

"Make sure you eat. And keep drinking water, no coffee or soda. I'll take your key and come in to check on you later. Sleep well, Mulder," she said on her way out the door.

"G'night, Scully," he mumbled around a mouthful of the soup.

Mulder polished off all the soup and the sandwich, drank two more glasses of water, used the bathroom and then settled back down under the covers. He really was pooped. It wasn't even 8 o'clock and he was nearly asleep. Still, he could count on both hands the total number of hours sleep he'd had since arriving here, so he really needed an early night. Mulder knew that his insomnia was worse than ever and he hadn't been able to shake the mood swings he'd been suffering since his return. He just needed time to recoup his strength, and he was missing Walter. God, he never thought he would be this emotionally dependant on anyone ever again, let alone on another man. The relationship that he and Skinner had developed had come as a surprise to both of them, but after more than six months they had settled into it as if it were the most natural thing in the world, and he felt that Walter was the only thing left in his life worth a damn, except for his friendship with Scully. Then he'd been taken by the alien bounty hunter, put through a hell he couldn't remember and unceremoniously dropped back to Earth eight months later.

His thoughts wandered back to the previous night, thinking he was justified in feeling a little emotional and needy right now.

They'd arrived back at the motel after midnight. Mulder had wanted to add to his profile notes before turning in, Scully had scolded him about not eating enough at dinner and he was so tired that he'd found himself almost in tears over her berating him. She had fallen into the habit of treating him like a child on occasion.

He'd hurriedly excused himself to go to his own room and the sudden urge to call Walt had overcome him. By that time it would have been around 3am in DC, but Mulder called anyway. He needed to talk to his lover, he missed him terribly. Then the answering service picked up, and Mulder found that he couldn't find the words to leave a message. He didn't want to worry Walter by leaving a message with the service while he was sounding upset, so he'd just hung up. And then he found that he couldn't hold it together anymore, and no matter what he did to try and stop them, no matter how irrational he thought it was, tears began to fall. Once he got himself back under control, he'd decided that he really was overtired to be so emotional and planned to try to get a reasonable night's sleep - until he and Scully were woken less than 4 hours later with the news that they'd found another crime scene. That had eventually led them to the gruesome discovery of the decomposed body and the ensuing events of the day.

As he settled into sleep, Mulder pondered over what Doctor Martin had said about his blood work. He chuckled quietly as he drifted into oblivion. It was amusing how the test results had been interpreted, it was physically impossible for him to be pregnant. Now that really would be an X File. It was absurd. Besides, this was real life, not some cheesy Arnold Schwarzenegger movie. A niggling stray thought sent a shiver through him

the aliens couldn't have, wouldn't have done that to him, would they? It wasn't possible, but then who'd have thought alien abduction was real? Dismissing his thoughts as Ramblings of an exhausted mind, he was asleep seconds later.

Comfort Inn
June 29, 2001

The soft touch of a cool hand on his forehead woke Mulder with a start.

"Good morning. Sorry I startled you," Scully smiled down at him.

He stretched lazily and glanced at the heavily draped window. Bright sunlight could be seen in the tiny gap where the drapes met. "What time is it?" He accepted the water Scully handed him and drank.

Scully, who was dressed and ready to go, sat on the edge of the bed. "It's just before nine. You sleep well?"

Mulder nodded. "Shit, I slept over twelve hours? Open an X File, Scully."

"Yeah, I kept coming in just to check if you were still breathing," she joked back. "Feel up to some breakfast?"

"Yeah, I am kinda hungry." He pulled the sheet around his waist, got up and headed into the bathroom. "What's on today's agenda?"

"Actually," Scully spoke to the now closed door, "we get to pack up and go home."

The toilet flushed and Mulder came back into the room. "Scully, I'm okay - really. We don't need to go home on my account."

"Don't flatter yourself, Mulder. They took a suspect into custody this morning. Looks like they got their guy. Jackson called me a few minutes ago, they're searching his house now and it looks like they'll have enough evidence to convict."

"That's terrific news."

"Yeah, it is. With no small thanks to you, I might add. C'mon. Get dressed, I'll call the airline and get us a flight home."

Walter Skinner's Apartment
Crystal City

Mulder fitted his key into the lock on Walter Skinner's apartment door and jiggled the door open. He stepped wearily inside, dropped his suit pack and bag unceremoniously onto the floor and leaned heavily back against the closing door. It was good to be back on familiar territory. In the end it had taken he and Scully all day to get home after writing up a final report, connections and flight delays, and he was bushed.

Skinner came out of the kitchen, wiping his hands on a dish towel. His smile quickly faded when he saw how tired his younger lover looked. "Are you all right, Fox?"

Mulder dragged his eyes open and nodded. "Yeah, I'm just beat." Walter embraced Mulder, who went almost boneless in his arms. "God, it's so good to be home." He kissed Walter hungrily.

"Come on, let's get you comfortable. Dinner's ready, are you hungry?" He pulled Mulder's suit jacket and tie off him and led him over to the dining table.

Mulder flopped down in the chair, rested his elbows on the table and propped his chin up on his hands. "Sort of," he answered as Walter reappeared from the kitchen carrying a casserole dish.

"Dinner, then bed," Walter promised.

"Sounds good to me," Mulder answered.

Up in the bedroom, Walter helped Mulder out of his clothes. He could feel the tension in Mulder's shoulders. "Lie down and I'll give you a massage," he breathed into Mulder's ear. The answering growl in his lover's throat sent a shiver up his spine. He undressed himself as Mulder stretched out on top of the bed.

Mulder watched, feeling himself begin to harden at the promise of things to come. It had been almost two weeks since he'd stayed over and they had last made love, he wanted tonight to be good for both of them. He reached over to the bedside cabinet and fished around in the drawer.

"What do you need?" Walter asked.

"A ring. I'm not gonna last two minutes without some help." Mulder grinned.

Walter helped Fox fasten on a cock ring, then turned the younger man over and began to massage his knotted shoulder muscles with aromatic oil. He felt his partner slowly lose the built up tension and relax. He worked his way down Fox's back, massaging his legs and feet, kissing each part as it relaxed, eliciting little whimpers of pleasure from the body beneath him.

Finally, he poured more oil into his palm and worked Mulder's butt. Mulder lifted slightly as his cheeks were kneaded, urging Walter to make love to him. Walter painted little circles of oil around Mulder's tight pucker, felt the quivering response. He pressed one finger slowly into the opening, then two. He pressed in and out in a steady rhythm, teasing the muscle into relaxing enough to accept him. Mulder rocked his hips and groaned, "Oh God, yes. Make love to me, Walter."

Walter slicked a little more oil onto his own engorged shaft and pushed into the waiting butt. Mulder hissed at the initial penetration and Skinner waited until Mulder started to rock back onto him, indicating he was ready to continue.

Mulder nearly lost it the second that he was penetrated. Walter knew his body language well enough by now to know he needed to proceed with slow deliberation to make the session last long enough for them both to be satisfied. He let Mulder set the pace, leaning forward and enveloping Mulder into a gentle embrace, running his hands over Mulder's chest, teasing the hardened nipples, working his way over Mulder's belly and down to the thick shaft. When he could feel that Mulder was close to coming he picked up the rhythm until he knew he was close himself. Then he deftly released the cock ring and seconds later they both found release. Mulder, with his usual animalistic scream, came hard in his lover's hand and Walter spurted his seed into Mulder with a strangled growl. After the convulsions of ecstasy dissipated, they both collapsed bonelessly onto the bed.

It took a few minutes for Walter to come back to himself, then he pulled out carefully, got slowly up and went into the bathroom for a wash cloth to clean his lover. When he got back he found Mulder sound asleep. Walt cleaned him up, kissed him tenderly and pulled the sheet up over his young lover's body, then he got in beside him and snuggled up. Mulder didn't stir.

Skinner's Apartment, Crystal City
July 4, 2001, 2:35pm

"Come on, Fox. If you don't hurry we're going to be late," Walter called up the stairs, "and you know how Scully is when you keep her waiting."

Mulder appeared in the bedroom door, dressed in his boxer shorts with his favorite black jeans pulled up but unbuttoned. "My damn jeans have shrunk, I can't get them done up. Either that or you're feeding me on too much healthy food and I've put on weight. Now what am I going to wear? I didn't bring another pair of jeans," he complained.

Walter sighed and went upstairs. He went to the wardrobe and pulled out a pair of his own jeans, "Here. Try these."

He held them out to Mulder who pouted, "They're not black."

With a glare, Walter put the jeans back on their hanger and pulled out a black pair. They weren't a designer brand like Mulder's or as nicely cut, but the younger man accepted them anyway and skinned into them. They were a couple of sizes bigger than his own and the result wasn't nearly as pretty as seeing Mulder's butt in a tight pair of jeans, but they would do.

Mulder preened in front of the full-length mirror that hung inside the wardrobe door and frowned.

"Now what's wrong?" Walter growled.

"I am getting fat." Mulder turned this way and that. "Will you still love me if I'm fat?"

Walter shook his head. He didn't see any difference in Mulder's skinny body. "Just get your damned shoes on and get your butt down to the car." He kissed the back of one sleek shoulder just to show he wasn't really annoyed. Secretly he was relieved that Mulder had put back all the weight he'd lost during the time he'd been missing.

Scully had invited them both to the annual Fourth of July barbecue at her mother's house. Maggie Scully was delighted that they came, although she was totally unaware of their relationship. Mulder felt a little guilty about that, since he knew that Maggie entertained hopes that he and Scully would eventually wind up together. He hoped she wouldn't be too disappointed when she found out that it would never happen.

This year it was just a small affair, with Maggie, Scully, Mulder and Skinner, as well as Maggie's neighbors. Mulder was thankful that Bill Jr. wasn't there this year. He didn't feel up to answering stupid questions and relating his feelings about his abduction to Bill.

It was nice and relaxing sitting in the back yard, drinking beer and talking. Soon it was time to fire up the barbecue. Maggie called on Walter to help start the flame and Scully went into the house to bring out the food.

"Come help me, Mulder." She poked him as she walked past.

Reluctantly Mulder got up and followed his partner. In the kitchen he asked, "What do you want me to do?"

"You can carry the steaks." She shoved a platter with large juicy cuts of meat under plastic wrap, into Mulder's waiting hands.

Mulder stood there and stared at the meat. His stomach did a lazy roll and he suddenly broke out in a cold sweat. He could feel the bile rise in his throat. "Uh, Scully..."

Scully turned from where she was unloading salads from the fridge in time to have the platter shoved back at her and watch Mulder bolt for the downstairs bathroom.

After a minute, Scully followed him and knocked on the bathroom door. "Mulder? Are you all right?"

The toilet flushed, water ran and then the door opened to reveal a disheveled and pale Mulder, face still wet from splashing cold water on it.

"Are you okay? Were you sick?" Scully persisted.

"Yes and yes." Mulder leaned heavily on the vanity. "And no, I don't know what caused it. I took one look at the meat and... bam-o. Maybe it was too much sun again," he suggested hopefully.

"I don't think so, Mulder. You've been in the shade most of the time. Have you still been feeling nauseous since Arizona?"

"No, not really. I've been queasy a few times, but this is the first time I've been sick since then. What's wrong with me, Scully?"

"I don't know, Mulder. You said your stomach has been touchy still?"

"Yeah, but I should be over that by now, shouldn't I?"

Scully ushered Mulder into the cool living room and sat him down. She checked his forehead for a temperature. "Are you feeling sick all the time?"

"No. I told you, the last time I was sick was in Arizona last week. The queasiness comes and goes."

"Have you had any stomach pain?"


"You eating right?"

That earned her a 'Look'. "Of course I am. Between you and Walt, junk food hasn't had a look in lately. Hey, maybe that's it - junk food withdrawal!"

"Be serious, Mulder. I think you should see a doctor. You didn't go when we got back from Arizona, did you?"

"I didn't need to, I'm fine... was fine. I've seen enough doctors and been poked and prodded enough to last me a lifetime over the last few months. Besides, I'm seeing a doctor now, aren't I?"

"I mean a proper doctor, a physician. Unless you want me to dissect you to find out what's wrong," Scully joked, then regretted it when Mulder turned green again.

Maggie called out from the kitchen. "Is everything all right? I thought you two were bringing the food out." She came into the living room and smiled a knowing smile at seeing Dana and Mulder sitting close together on the sofa.

Scully jumped up guiltily. "We're just coming, Mom. Mulder isn't feeling well, so I told him to sit in here where it's cool for a while."

The mothering instinct came out in Maggie. "Oh honey." She felt his forehead just as Dana had done. "You just sit here and rest a bit."

Then Walter came in. Mulder rolled his eyes, the last thing he wanted to be was the center of attention. "Is everything all right?"

Mulder got up and headed towards the back door, "Everything's just fine." He grabbed a couple of salad bowls and went outside with Maggie hovering protectively behind him.

Walter threw Scully a questioning look.

"He was sick again," she explained. "I think he should see a doctor."

"I'll see that he does. Do you think it might be serious?" Walter was worried.

"I really don't know. Has he had any other symptoms, or just the nausea and vomiting?" Scully asked.

Walter looked a little guilty. "I don't know, he hasn't said anything and I honestly haven't noticed anything out of the ordinary. Have you?"

Scully shook her head. "No, he hasn't exactly been his usual self, which is completely understandable. He's been a little moody perhaps - but I haven't noticed anything else. Look, it might be nothing, just his system taking time to settle down again. He said he was feeling the heat, it might be as simple as that."

Skinner dropped Scully off at her apartment later that night after they'd been to watch the fireworks. Mulder went up to his apartment with him and grabbed his overnight bag from the bedroom before heading back down the stairs.

"I'll see you at work tomorrow."

"You're not staying?" Walter asked.

"No. We agreed that we'd only do this on weekends and holidays. I stayed last night, but I need to go home tonight." He headed for the door.

"Fox?" Mulder stopped and turned to face Walter. "Don't I even get a kiss goodbye?"

"I'm sorry, Walt." He dropped his bag and gave Walter a hug, kissed him deeply and stood there resting his forehead against the other man's. "I'm just tired."

Walter put his hands on either side of Mulder's face and looked deeply into those beautiful hazel eyes. "You'd tell me if there was something wrong, wouldn't you?"

"Of course I would. I know you worry about me, but I'm fine."

"I just couldn't stand to lose you again. It's been too close too many times already." He was referring to the times in the past when Mulder had nearly died, and the fear that he was gone for good after Oregon.

"Look, if it makes you any easier, I'll go have a check up. Okay?" Mulder offered.

"Yeah, I'd like that. Just to be sure."

Despite his promise to Walter about seeing a doctor, Mulder put it off. He really did feel fine most of the time, except for being really moody, a little emotional and occasionally queasy. It was nothing really. But it played on his mind. If he was sick he owed it to Walt to find out what was wrong.

He was musing this over in his mind as he walked home from the Metro a few nights later. Passing the drug store, Mulder went in on impulse. He wandered aimlessly along the aisles. He felt more nervous than the first time he'd gone in to a store to buy condoms as a teenager. It was as if everyone in the store knew what he was there for and was laughing behind his back. He glanced nervously around and mentally shrugged. No one was watching him.

'This is ridiculous,' he chided himself and turned to walk out of the store. He got half way to the exit and stopped. The doctor in Arizona's words floated back through his mind. The doctor's nervous apology about the error in the results. Was it possible that it wasn't an error? Mulder took a deep breath and marched up to the section on the shelves that held home pregnancy test kits. Still having an internal argument with himself over how stupid the very idea was, the counter-argument that it wouldn't hurt to take the test and rule it out eventually won. He reached out, grabbed a box and headed to the check out.

Mulder sat on his couch and regarded the innocuous paper bag that mocked him from atop the coffee table. He'd dropped it there when he'd come home, and there it had stayed while he changed, made dinner and now sat picking at the pasta. Unable to stand it any longer, he dropped his plate on the table, picked up the bag, took out the box and tore it open. The printing on the enclosed leaflet was small and Mulder had to find his glasses so he could read it.

He read the instructions once, his nervousness making the words indecipherable, then he read it again. He picked up the cellophane package with what looked like a Popsicle stick inside and scrutinized it. It looked innocent enough, but by simply peeing on it in the morning he could have his whole life changed.

Hours later Mulder turned off his computer and scrubbed at tired eyes. In an effort to distract himself he'd surfed the late night chat rooms, finally giving up when he couldn't concentrate long enough to get into the conversation. He tried to watch the sci-fi channel, and if asked later couldn't have told anyone what the hell had been on. He paced, lay on the couch again periodically trying to sleep, then paced some more when he couldn't. By the time the sun came up he was a wreck. But it was officially morning, so he snatched up the test kit and headed for the bathroom.

After having held his bladder since late the night before, as instructed in the leaflet, it seemed incongruous that he was standing before the toilet now and not able to let his full bladder go. The Popsicle stick sat on the edge of the sink half unwrapped, waiting to be held under his 'mid-stream urine'. Any stream seemed beyond his current capability.

Finally, after resorting to letting the tap run as incentive, he was able to pee. He held the stick under the stream for several seconds then slipped it back into the wrapper. All he had to do now was wait several minutes and compare the color to the chart on the box.

He took a shower while he waited.

After wrapping himself in a towel as he stepped out of the bath tub, Mulder picked up the stick and the box. He held them side by side and tried to make out the color that matched. Then he cursed himself. Why hadn't he bothered to look at the color chart before? With his color-blindness he couldn't make out which color matched the stick. They just had to use the two colors that looked the same to him. He groaned in frustration and threw the whole damn mess into the waste basket, went into the bedroom to dress for work and put the whole thing out of his mind.

As he was leaving the apartment the abandoned test kit cropped up in his mind. Now he just had to know what that result was. He knew he wouldn't rest until he'd found out. He went back to the bathroom and retrieved the kit. But who could he trust to ask to help him?

Mulder tapped on the door to apartment 12. Mrs. Hennessy was a kindly old lady who he occasionally spoke to on his way in or out of the building.

"Who is it?" The elderly lady's voice called from inside.

"Mrs. Hennessy? It's Fox Mulder, from number 42. I need your help with something, ma'am."

The door opened as far as the security chain would allow and bright blue eyes peered at him. When she was satisfied that it was indeed him, Mrs. Hennessy opened the door fully.

"What can I do for you, dear?" she asked.

"Um, I'd like you to take a look at something and tell me what color it is." Mulder held out the strip of cardboard torn from the box and the Popsicle stick in its plastic wrapping.

Mrs. Hennessy looked at him curiously, then at the two items he held together. She shrugged and peered closely at them. "It's pink."

"Pink? You're sure about that?" Mulder's heart sank.

"Yes, I'm sure." The old lady sounded a little cross. "I may be old, but there's nothing wrong with my eyes. Look for yourself if you don't believe me."

"Oh, I believe you, ma'am. It's just that I can't see some colors, and I wasn't sure. Thank you for your time."

Mrs. Hennessy shut the door soundly in Mulder's face as he stood there dumbstruck.

Pink. Positive. It couldn't be. He refused to believe it. He needed further proof.

Office of The Lone Gunmen
July 10, 2001, 7:30pm

"Guys, I need a favor." Mulder held out a vial of blood that he'd sweet-talked Jackie at the FBI labs into drawing from him earlier that day. "I need this analyzed."

Byers took the vial. "What are we looking for? Alien retro-viruses? Branched DNA?"

"Yeah, any and all of the above. Check for any abnormalities at all, including running a, um... pregnancy test."

Frohike stepped forward and looked accusingly at Mulder. "This wouldn't be a sample from one of your little extra-curricular 'contacts' would it, Mulder?"

"What?" Suddenly Mulder caught on to what Frohike was getting at, "No, nothing like that. It's to do with a case I'm working on," he sighed, might as well pepper in as much of the truth as possible. "This blood is from a man. It's possible that he's somehow been impregnated. For obvious reasons I can't run this through regular channels."

Langly laughed, "You mean some poor schmuck's about to find out what it's like to be a mother?"

Byers threw him a glare that shut him up. "How have you come to the conclusion that he's pregnant?"

"Something picked up by chance in another blood test a few weeks ago, and symptoms mostly. And I... uh, he ran a home pregnancy test. It came out positive." Mulder shifted nervously from foot to foot. "When do you think I could get the results?"

"Well, if it's important," Frohike looked at Mulder for confirmation, "a couple of days, you want us to call you?"

"Uh, yeah. But only me. Don't leave messages with anyone else, especially Scully. And I don't need to tell you the need for secrecy."

"We understand, Mulder," Langly answered, "we don't want Dana getting upset over a guy having a baby when she can't... Ow!" He rubbed his arm where Frohike had just punched him. Scully didn't need reminding of her IVF failures.

Basement Office, J. Edgar Hoover Building Friday, July 13, 2001, 5:58pm.

Scully reached for the phone. It had rung just as she and Mulder were preparing to leave the office for the weekend. Mulder grabbed it just as her hand reached the receiver.

"I'll get it."

He'd been like a cat on a hot tin roof all day and Scully was glad the day was over.

"Hang on." He held the phone against his chest after answering it. "It's for me, Scully. I'll, uh, see you Monday." He tried to sound cheerful and normal. As soon as he was sure she'd gone, he returned to the phone, "Okay, Byers, what have you got?"

"Mulder, this is amazing. What are you going to do about this guy?"

Mulder sank down in his chair and closed his eyes, his stomach sinking. "It was positive?"

"Yeah, it was positive. There's all kinds of weird antibodies in the blood sample, and a high estrogen level. This is a medical wonder. I gather it didn't happen naturally?"

Mulder's head was swimming and he felt faint. He'd only heard half of what Byers had said, "What? Oh, no, of course it wasn't natural. I don't think so, anyway." He blew out a breath. "Listen, I need one more favor. I need the name of a good doctor who can be trusted with this, to run more tests."

Byers told him that he knew one he trusted who was an obstetrician and would let him know as soon as possible if she was willing to help. "Mulder? Is there anything else we can do?" he asked sympathetically.

"What do you mean?" Mulder asked a little defensively.

"Um, this might be none of our business, but is this guy anyone we know?" Byers ventured tentatively.

<Shit, shit, shit. They knew.>

"Are you going to tell Scully?" Byers continued, "You don't have to be alone in this. We'll help you any way we can."

"What makes you think it's me?" he demanded hotly.

Byers remained calm, "Blood type, DNA. It wasn't hard to work out. Do you think that this might have been something done by, you know, the aliens?"

"I don't know," Mulder breathed. He could feel angry tears building and rubbed his hand over his eyes. Hadn't he been screwed around with enough already? "I guess it might be. Look, I can't talk about this now. Find out about that doctor and call me, okay?" He hung up and buried his face in his hands. <Oh Fuck, what a mess. Walter. How the fuck am I going to tell him... and Scully.> And what did this mean for him?

Walter Skinner's Apartment, Crystal City Friday, July 13, 2001, 7:50pm

Mulder trudged into Walter's apartment with leaden feet. Walter was sitting on the couch, reading the newspaper. He turned at the sound of the door opening.

"Hey, I was beginning to wonder if you were coming tonight." He stood when Mulder made no move to go any further than the doorway. "What's wrong?" he asked, panic mounting. Mulder looked so pale and that scared him.

Mulder couldn't meet his eyes, the courage to speak deserted him. His natural reflex was to turn and run, but to where? He needed to talk to Walter about this, but how to begin?

In three quick strides, Walter was in front of Mulder and took the briefcase from his nerveless fingers. "For God's sake, Fox, tell me what's wrong! You're scaring me."

Mulder dissolved into tears and melted into Walter's arms. "I don't know what to do," he hiccupped.

"Fox, you're not making sense. What do you mean, you don't know what to do?" He led Mulder over to the couch and sat him down. "Has something happened?"

Mulder nodded and sniffed, wiping his nose and eyes on the handkerchief Walter gave him. "I'm sorry. I don't know why I'm crying, I can't help it."

Walter softened his tone, "Please, Fox, tell me what happened."

Gathering his composure as much as possible, Mulder looked directly into Walter's eyes, "You're not going to believe this, I didn't at first, but I had the Gunmen run the blood work through their own channels."

"What?" Walter's blood ran cold. "What did they find?"

"I think They did it to me." Mulder couldn't say it, he knew he was scaring Walter, but he didn't know how he was going to react. Yes, he did actually. Walter would want to go out and hunt Them down. But that would be an exercise in futility.

"What did They do to you?" Thoughts of Scully's cancer loomed in Walter's mind.

There was no easy way to say it, so Mulder just blurted it out. "I'm pregnant." He watched to see what kind of reaction Walter was going to have.

Walter stared at Mulder in disbelief. "You're preg..."

"Pregnant," Mulder finished the word for him. "I didn't believe it either. But the blood test confirmed it. And I did one of those home pregnancy tests too. That's why I've been so moody and nauseous. It makes sense now."

"Wait a minute," Walter interrupted. "In case it's escaped your attention, men don't get pregnant. It's physically impossible. There must be some mistake. We need to get you to a hospital, you might be really sick or something..."

"No, no hospital, Walt. Byers is going to find someone we can trust, then we can find out more. And it's not entirely impossible for a man to carry a baby, it's been done in animals and the technology exists to artificially inseminate. And we don't know what physiological miracles the aliens are capable of." He was calmer talking about it than he'd thought would be possible earlier. But he'd had a couple of hours to absorb the news.

"But when... how??" Walter still couldn't absorb what Fox had told him.

"I don't know. I'm not missing any time that I can think of." Mulder thought hard. "It might have been while I was..."

"You were what?"

"It might have been when I was still on the alien ship. It could have happened then," he sighed. "But why? Why would they do this to me? I just don't understand."

"I think we should call Scully." Walter suggested. "Her medical knowledge might help us sort this out. Are you sure that you are..." Walter couldn't seem to say the word.

"I keep hoping that the blood test is wrong, so no, I'm not one hundred percent sure. We need the doctor to run some more tests, but all the evidence so far seems to indicate that it's true." Mulder sighed. "Do we have to tell Scully?" Walter's pointed look gave him the answer. "Yeah, I guess we do." He picked up the phone and dialed her familiar number.

She answered after three rings. "Scully."

"Hey, Scully. Are you busy?" He tried to sound nonchalant. "I need you to come over to Walter's, there's something I need to tell you. Can you come now?"

"Yeah, I can come now if it's important. Mulder, is there something wrong?" She sounded worried.

"Look, I can't tell you on the phone. Just come over, okay?"

A half hour later, Scully sat with the same stunned expression that Walter'd had and asked the same questions about how it could have happened, and was he sure about the blood test results.

"My blood work has said the same thing twice now, I don't see how it could be wrong."

"Twice? When was the other time?" Walter demanded.

Mulder recounted the Arizona ER doctor's findings that they'd all thought was a mix up at the time.

Ever practical, Scully asked, "What happens now, Mulder?"

He shrugged, "I don't know. Byers is going to come up with an Obstetrician that's trustworthy and we'll find out for sure, then decide from there."

Scully practically exploded. "Decide? Decide what? It could be very dangerous for you to have a baby, Mulder. No man has done it before to my knowledge. They're just not built for it. It might be a lot safer to terminate now, before it goes too far. You are a man. A man can't give birth, that means a C section - major surgery. You don't know what damage it's already doing to your internal organs since it can't be in a natural womb. Mulder..." she paused and continued quietly, "Mulder, you can't even know if it's human."

Skinner, who'd been pretty quiet up until now, spoke. "Fox, what will this do to you? What will happen to you if the military and their scientists find out? You'll have to stay hidden away, and it'll be too hard to explain to any hospital that you are giving birth. You didn't like all the prodding and probing after your abduction, can you even imagine what they'll do to you over this?"

Mulder felt the pressure building and fought not to explode. "I know I haven't thought it through, it's all so much to absorb. I haven't said that I'm going to have it, but I also don't think I should rush into getting rid of it. I just think we should wait and see what the doctor says. I don't see how any decisions can be made until then." He desperately wanted to avoid thinking of what the mad scientists might do if he fell into their hands.

Right now, whichever way you looked at it, it was a scary situation and he knew decisions would have to be made soon. It scared him even more that he was even contemplating that there were options here; that he wasn't all out for getting rid of what might be growing inside of him. Something deep inside him wanted to have this baby, to give him back the family that he'd lost. As a psychologist he knew that his instincts were unreliable at best right now, and that just left him feeling even more confused. And there was also the possibility that this 'maternal' instinct had also been implanted into him and didn't have anything to do with how he was really feeling.

Later Byers called and said his friend was away for the weekend, but would be back in town and could see them one day next week after normal clinic hours. The wait seemed interminable. Scully wanted to stay but Mulder sent her home, saying there was nothing she could do and he'd call her if he thought he needed her.

Walter spent the weekend dealing with a Mulder who swung from white hot rage over the injustice of being a guinea pig, to tears and depression over what this was going to do to his and Walter's lives, to silent introspection. When Mulder got to the point where he absolutely had to burn off some physical energy or go mad, Walter took him to the Y pool and Mulder swam laps until he was practically exhausted. He would have preferred to run, but in his 'condition' Walter didn't think it would be wise.

It was a long weekend.

Redmond Clinic
Office of Doctor Rebecca Whiting
Monday, July 16, 2001, 6:30pm

"Mr. Mulder?" The statuesque black woman approached the three FBI agents sitting in the deserted waiting room.

Mulder got up and shook the doctor's hand. "I want to thank you for seeing me after hours." He introduced Skinner and Scully.

"Well, it is a rather unusual case. John told me a bit about it. He said that you thought you had been impregnated by some group that experimented in genetics." She managed not to sound too incredulous.

How much more incredulous would she be if she knew what they suspected was the truth. Mulder could picture the tabloid headline "Man says he's having an alien baby."

Scully spoke up. "We can't really discuss anything about the hows and whys, Doctor Whiting, for your own safety it's better that you don't know. We just need to confirm Mulder's condition and have some DNA tests run to see what he is carrying in there."

Rebecca's eyebrow rose in surprise. "You think it might be... what?"

"We don't know for sure," Skinner answered. "All you need to know is that this 'group' have experimented with alien DNA and hybrids before. We need to know what courses of action are open to us, and what effect it will have on Mulder's health to remove this thing." He didn't see Mulder shudder at his words.

"I see." Rebecca was intrigued, "Let me be as up-front as I can, Mr. Skinner. If you want my help, medically, I'm going to have to have access to all of Mr. Mulder's medical history, no matter how secret you think it should be kept. I promise you complete confidentiality, but I have to know if there are likely to be any issues that could affect my patient's well-being."

Skinner and Scully both bristled visibly.

"Okay, time-out, guys." Mulder stepped in before this turned bad and he had to go looking for a new doctor. "I have no problem with you knowing my medical history, Doctor. I don't have too many options here, regarding health professionals who wouldn't be willing to put me on the front page of the latest medical journal. So please - Walt, Scully

we have to trust Dr. Whiting. If Byers is prepared to vouch for her, that's good enough for me."

He looked beseechingly at his two closest friends and they caved, albeit reluctantly on Scully's part.

"Okay." Dr. Whiting nodded. "Well, first things first. I have the results of the blood tests done so far, but I'm still going to need a more complete history and run tests of my own."

Scully reluctantly took a large file from her briefcase. "In here are full details of Mulder's medical history, including exposure to an alien retro-virus, as well as all the information we have on a substance he was infected with three years ago, the case-notes on a brain condition he suffered nearly two years ago, and copies of all the tests done recently when he turned up after being missing for 8 months." Scully watched for a reaction. She got none.

"Very thorough, Ms Scully. John told me you were a pathologist. Your help might be appreciated with some of the tests I'll need to run. Obviously the less people we have involved in this case the better." Dr. Whiting was nothing if not a born diplomat, She continued to show little surprise at the unusual illnesses, a slightly raised eyebrow was the only outward sign. And including Scully in the proceedings did wonders to smooth the FBI agent's ruffled feathers. "John has made arrangements for any lab work that needs to be done to go through private channels."

The doctor turned to Mulder, "Would you go into the examination room and get into a gown, Mr. Mulder? You can leave your underwear on." She indicated a door down the hall, on the left. "I'll be just a minute." She took a seat and indicated to Scully and Skinner to join her, explaining that she wanted to skim the file a little more while Mulder got ready. She also told them that she'd need a few minutes to examine Mulder alone and then they could come in.

Mulder made small talk as he was poked and prodded by the doctor in very intimate places, trying not to squirm when she mentioned performing an internal exam. "You don't seem overly surprised at any of this, doctor."

"I know quite a bit about you, Mr. Mulder. I've been friends with John Byers for years. I know the sorts of things he gets mixed up in with those two misfits he calls partners. If you tell me that this could be an alien hybrid you're carrying, I'll investigate that possibility. It seems you've been put into a situation not of your own making, so now we have to work out the best thing to do. For you." She emphasized that last part strongly.

Mulder nodded, but there were others to be considered also.

"Uh, I'll bet there's one thing Byers didn't mention, that I don't think he knows about me, but you're gonna find out as soon as you do that internal."

"What's that?"

"I'm in a, um, same sex relationship at the moment. I just thought you should know, in case it affects anything, you know, physically. And since I think we shouldn't have secrets if we're going to be dealing with this. Whatever I decide to do will affect him, too."

"I appreciate your honesty. It's something that needs to be taken into consideration, certainly. I'm assuming that your partner is out in the waiting room?"

"Both partners, actually." At the doctor's quizzical look, Mulder clarified, "Scully is my FBI partner and good friend. She also holds my medical power of attorney for emergencies. It's just easier that way."

"I understand. Well, I think that under the circumstances you can call me Rebecca."

Mulder smiled. "Thanks. I prefer Mulder to Fox."

When the initial physical exam was over, Scully and Skinner came in.

First, more blood was drawn. Mulder grumbled and Rebecca replied she wanted tests for different things run. She suspected that Mulder was already anemic and would need iron supplements to compensate for the drain that the pregnancy was putting on his own blood nutrients.

Then she ran an ultrasound. She located where the fetus was situated, nestled in front of the large intestine with the placenta attached to the large bowel, an excellent placement since there were enough major blood vessels there to effectively sustain it. She also decided that by the size of the fetus he was approximately 14 weeks along. There didn't appear to be any obvious abnormalities and it appeared to be human. The tiny heartbeat was plain to see.

Mulder stared at the screen in fascination. That perfectly shaped little thing was living inside of him. He wanted to ask, but didn't, if Rebecca could tell if it was male or female. It wouldn't do to get too personal just yet. But his rapt expression didn't go unnoticed by either Skinner or Scully.

The one test that would give them the most answers was also the most dangerous to the fetus, and potentially dangerous to Mulder. An amniocentesis to draw some of the fluid from the sac surrounding it. They could run DNA and genetic tests from a small sample and know for sure the origins and possible parentage.

It hadn't occurred to any of them before that if it turned out to be a human baby, just who the genetic parents might be.

"There is a small sterile procedure room here in the clinic where we do these tests routinely. We can do it tonight if you're up to it, Agent Scully can assist me. It entails a local anesthetic and placement of the needle by use of the ultrasound. It's painless, although it can be a little uncomfortable." Rebecca explained.

"Is it any worse than a lumbar puncture?" Mulder asked.

"Goodness, no. Nowhere near as bad. Why? Have you had one of those?"

Mulder screwed up his nose. "Yeah, first one was when I was in College. I got sick and they thought I had meningitis."

"Did you?"

"No. Just a really mean 'flu bug."

Rebecca injected the local anesthetic into the skin on Mulder's abdomen where the amnio-needle would be inserted then left him alone with Skinner while she and Scully went to scrub up and prepare for the test. No words were spoken between the two men, but Skinner just sat holding Mulder's hand, not daring to ask what was on the younger man's mind.

Skinner helped by distracting Mulder during the procedure and keeping him still. Scully operated the ultrasound and Rebecca manipulated the needle.

Finally it was over.

"I want you to lie still for a little while, Mulder. We don't want the sac to tear. The puncture will close over quickly if you don't move around for about a half hour." The doctor put a small sterile dressing over the puncture wound. "You might be a bit sore in the morning. In a normal pregnancy I would tell the mother to just take it easy for a few days, because the womb protects the sac, but since we don't have that luxury here, I'm telling you to have twenty-four hours total bed rest to be on the safe side, and then stay off your feet as much as possible for another few days. A rupture could be life-threatening and would require immediate surgery."

Mulder started to protest, but was cut off by Rebecca, "I mean it. If this turns out to be a normal, healthy, human baby and you decide to carry it to full term, you will follow my instructions to the letter. Is that understood?"

Mulder sighed and nodded. Skinner squeezed his hand and Mulder silently asked for understanding.

Scully looked horrified. "Mulder, you can't seriously be considering going to term?"

Mulder answered her, but looked deeply into Skinner's eyes as he spoke. "I don't know yet. I want to know the results of the tests before I decide."


Scully protested, but Skinner cut her off. "Not now, Scully. He's right. We'll wait for the results."

Scully gave in for now, not altogether graciously.

Rebecca continued with her instructions. "Absolutely no strenuous activity at all, no activity at all for the first day

don't even get up to go to the bathroom unless you absolutely have to. Don't put your feet on the floor for any reason until at least tomorrow morning, then stay off your feet as much as possible for another few days."

"We'll make sure he does as he's told," Scully answered. "I have a few days vacation time I can take to be with him during the day."

Mulder scowled, and entered into an argument he knew he couldn't win. "I can manage. I don't need to be coddled."

But even Rebecca wasn't on his side. "Accept the help, Mulder. Keep your feet up and rest for a few days."

Rebecca went to write out the instructions for the tests to be run on the blood and amnio-fluid samples that would be dropped off to the Lone gunmen after she left here, and to write the scripts for iron tablets and supplements that she wanted Mulder to start taking straight away. Any other necessary medications such as hormones would have to wait until some final decisions were made.

Rebecca handed each of them one of her business cards. "This has my pager number on it. If you have any concerns, leave a message and I'll call you back as soon as possible. If it's urgent, I'll get back to you within minutes. My service will be told to give your messages priority. Mulder, if you experience any cramping or your belly starts to feel hard, call me immediately." She hesitated a moment, then continued, "There's one other thing. I'm going to need a little more medical help on this. I'd like to involve one other doctor. She's a general surgeon."

"Can she be trusted?" Skinner asked.

"Absolutely. She's John's sister, my best friend and partner. I trust her with my life."

Scully frowned, "You will be trusting her with your life, and Mulder's. We can't stress enough how important it is that as few people as possible know about this."

Rebecca nodded, "But we will need more help, and she operates here at Oakridge, the private hospital attached to this clinic. We will need surgical facilities at some stage, regardless of what you decide, and she has the resources. Once we know what the plan is, we'll build a hand-picked team to deal with things."

The agents agreed. There would be need for a few more people to be involved, but not until absolutely necessary and then only as few as they could get away with.

Walter helped Mulder dress while Scully went and brought the car up to the front door of the clinic, then he wheeled Mulder out to the car and lifted him into the back seat, much to Mulder's embarrassment and protests that he could walk. Rebecca's glare shut him up and he acquiesced.

Mulder didn't bother to protest when they got back to Walter's apartment building and he was carried up to bed in Walter's strong arms. They'd stopped at the drugstore where Scully went in to have the prescriptions filled and to pick up a few essentials, including a dreaded urinal bottle which she proudly announced would alleviate the need for Mulder to get up even to go to the bathroom. They then picked up some Chinese take out for dinner, since none of them had eaten yet.

It was after 11 by the time they got Mulder into bed and sat down beside him to eat the food. They ate in silence, Mulder too exhausted to do more than pick. Eventually Scully got up to leave, packing away the leftovers and empty cartons.

"I'll be back first thing in the morning, before you go to work, sir." She bent and kissed Mulder on the forehead. "Sleep well, I'll see you tomorrow. Be good."

"I will, I promise." Mulder smiled back tiredly.

Walter got up. "I'll see you out." He tossed the urinal bottle to Mulder. "Make yourself useful while I'm gone," he said grinning.

Mulder shot him the bird.

When they got downstairs, Scully turned to Walter. "It was a mistake letting him see that ultrasound. Did you see his face? He'll want to see this thing through to the end, regardless of what the test results show."

Walter could only agree, "I just don't want to see him hurt, I hope that he doesn't get too disappointed if things turn out badly. I just hope to God we can keep this quiet."

Back upstairs, Walter found Mulder lying back against the pillows, absently rubbing his belly.

"Are you okay?" he asked.

"Hmm? Yeah. A little stunned, but okay."

Walter saw the discarded urinal on the floor beside the bed. "You go?" He bent to pick it up.

Mulder sighed, "Yes, mom. I used the potty like a good little boy."

Walter disappeared into the bathroom and Mulder heard him going through his nightly routine. Eventually Walter reappeared, ready for bed. He held out Mulder's toothbrush, already loaded with toothpaste. "Here." He handed him the basin he'd brought upstairs and put a glass of water on the bedside cabinet, then went back into the bathroom and took care of his own ablutions. When he came back he placed the cleaned urinal beside the bed.

Mulder sat up and cleaned his teeth, rinsing with the water in the glass and using the bowl to spit into. "You know, this staying in bed thing sucks. You don't realize how much you take the little things for granted."

As Walter cleared away the toothbrush and bowl, he said, "Yeah, but think of the perks." At Mulder's quizzical look, he continued, "Imagine the fun we're going to have in the morning when I give you a sponge bath!"


"Brat." Walter climbed into bed and drew Mulder into an embrace. "Get some sleep, Fox." He turned out the light and closed his eyes.

Mulder snuggled up close and kissed his lover gently. "G'Night, Walter. I love you."

"Love you, too, babe."

Mulder woke early the next morning, even before Skinner had stirred. Nature called, so he flipped back the comforter and was about to climb out of bed when a hand landed on his hip.

"Where do you think you're going?"

Mulder sighed. "Just to the bathroom. I'll be right back."

The hand didn't let up. "Uh-uh. You heard what the doctor said."

"C'mon, Walter. I'm gonna walk maybe ten steps."

"No. I'm sorry, but the doctor told you not to get vertical for at least 24 hours, and I intend to make sure you follow orders. I'm not letting you take any risks with your health. Use the bottle."

Mulder groused, but grabbed the bottle from beside the bed. "You know, this really sucks. I can't even go to the goddamn bathroom."

"I know, babe. But I'll make it up to you. I promised you that sponge bath, remember?" Skinner caressed Mulder's cheek, then leaned over and gently kissed him on the lips.

Mulder kissed him back passionately, then drew away. "I'm sorry, Walt, but I've really gotta go. And I can't do it with an audience." He shrugged apologetically.

Skinner rolled out of bed, grabbing his robe on the way. "It's okay, I've gotta go myself. Then I'll get things ready for your bath."

Mulder rolled his eyes. It was bad enough being confined to bed when he was injured or sick. When he felt totally healthy it was just too hard. He didn't know how he was going to survive the day. He sighed dramatically as he was finally able to pee. That was another thing he could never get used to, it just wasn't normal to pee in bed.

Skinner came back to the bedroom and put all the bathing implements on the bedside cabinet, dropped towels on the bed and then went back for the bowl of warm water. He gave Mulder the most sensuous sponge bath he'd ever had, gently rubbing the wash cloth over his limbs and torso. He kissed each body part as he washed it and soon Mulder was blissing out.

"God, Walter. Are you trying to kill me?" Mulder breathed huskily. "I want you to make love to me so much it hurts."

"I know. I'm sorry. But this is so erotic." They were both hot and aroused.



"Rebecca said we couldn't have anal sex, but... oh god, yes, just there..." Mulder groaned with need. "But she didn't say oral sex was out."

"You're sure it'll be okay?" Skinner was dubious of the way Mulder could bend the rules.

"After that bath you just gave me, I'm gonna explode regardless, Walter. May as well make the most of it. Please."

After a moment's consideration, Skinner decided that it probably wouldn't hurt. Mulder shifted position on the bed and pulled Skinner down beside him. He groaned with pleasure as Skinner's hot mouth engulfed him. Mulder started to rock his hips but Skinner released him.

"Uh-uh. Let me do all the work. You just lie back and enjoy."

Staying still was hard. Mulder was so aroused that he just wanted to pump himself into his lover's throat. It didn't take long until Mulder felt his balls draw up and then he spurted into Skinner's mouth. He cried out, hands grabbing fistfuls of the towel under him and arching up before sagging back bonelessly.

Mulder watched through slitted eyes as Walter finished cleaning him up and disappeared back into the bathroom. He was asleep again by the time Walter had showered and gone downstairs, waking only to the smell of coffee, toast and eggs. Walter shared breakfast with him on the bed before he had to leave for work.

Scully arrived a few minutes before Walter left.

"Good morning, Mulder. How are you feeling?"

"I'm not sick, Scully. I'm just fine, and I'm bored already. I hope you've got some ideas on how to fill the day." Mulder winked.

"Actually, I've brought my laptop. I got up extra early and called in at the office, I brought some of those files that you've been wanting to research. I thought we could spend the day doing the on-line stuff."

Mulder's face lit up. "Scully, have I told you lately that I love you?"

Walter came in to say goodbye. "I heard that. Two-timing me, Mulder?"

Scully laughed. "I brought something to keep him occupied." She indicated the files she'd dropped on the bed.

Mulder was already engrossed in one. Skinner smiled. "Well, have a good day you two. I'll try to be home early. And if anyone asks, I can honestly say the two of you are working out of the office on research." He leaned down and kissed Mulder on the head. "Be good."

Mulder pulled a face. "I'm not a two-year-old." He pouted, looking for all the world exactly like what he had just protested he wasn't.

For the third time in an hour Mulder went to get up out of bed. His nose was buried in the file he was reading, yellow legal pad at his side and he was chewing on his pencil. Scully gently laid her hand on his leg, preventing him from completing the act. Mulder looked up at her, confused.


"You were about to get out of bed... again."

Mulder sighed dramatically. "This is no good, Scully. I can't think if I can't move around. I have so much pent up energy..." He dropped the file onto the bed.

Scully smiled at the forlorn look on Mulder's face. "I know. But the doctor said..."

"Yeah, yeah, yeah." Mulder flopped back against the pillows dramatically. "This sucks."

"Do you want to talk about it?" Scully offered.

With a shrug, Mulder answered her. "Not much to talk about, yet."

"We could talk about how you feel about all this."

"I..." Mulder paused, searching for the right words, "I don't know how I feel. It's all so weird. And I'm not sure that I want to feel anything until the test results come back."

Scully picked at an imaginary thread on the blanket. "I know that whatever decision you make, it's going to be hard on you. If this is a human baby, you have to decide if you are going to allow it to come to term. It's not a natural situation by any means, but it is still a life..."

Mulder cut her off. "Stop, Scully. Please just stop. I can't handle any of your Catholic right to life crap right now. I know that it's a life. I know that I'm already out of the first trimester, and God knows, I know that it's a totally unnatural situation." He reached out and took her hand to soften his words, "But this isn't going to be just my decision. This is going to affect Walt every bit as much as it affects me. We have to decide if we have the right to bring a life into this world, knowing the dangers it will face simply because it is my child."

"Mulder, that wasn't what I was talking about. I saw your face when you saw the ultrasound. I think that whether you realize it or not, you've already made your mind up. I just think you should think a bit more about the consequences of having this child."

"We still don't know if it is human, Scully." Mulder's voice was husky with emotion. He couldn't explain it, even to himself, but he did want this child, no matter what. And that scared the shit out of him, because intellectually he knew it was totally the wrong thing to do.

Scully leaned over and pulled Mulder into a hug. "I'll be here for you, no matter what you decide to do. And I'll help you every way I can."

Mulder felt tears pricking behind his eyes and angrily swiped at them. God, he hated feeling so emotionally fragile. He wondered how the millions of mothers out in the world handled being pregnant as easily as they did.

Scully suggested giving up on work and doing something mindless like watching videos and eating popcorn.

When Skinner arrived home from work at four and came upstairs, Scully raised a finger to her lips to shush him. She was sitting on one half of the bed leaning back on the pillows, watching CNN. Mulder was stretched out beside her, sound asleep. She slipped quietly off the bed and padded out into the hallway, pulling Skinner with her and closed the bedroom door.

"He dropped off about half an hour ago."

Skinner nodded. "He hasn't slept too well lately. I'll let him sleep a while longer."

They headed back down the stairs, into the living room. Skinner took off his suit coat and tie, and rolled his shirt sleeves up. "So, did he behave himself today?"

Scully laughed. "Yeah, pretty much. He started getting bored and fidgety around one, so we stopped for lunch and then watched a movie until he fell asleep."

Skinner smiled. "I'm surprised that it took him that long." He wandered into the kitchen, Scully followed. "Coffee?"

"Yeah, thanks." She paused and drew a breath. "Look, Walter, I know this really isn't my place to ask, but what are your feelings on Mulder going through with this pregnancy?"

Skinner handed her a steaming cup. "I don't know. I'm worried about him, Scully. He's been through so much, especially lately - losing his mom and having to face the fact that his sister is dead, then being abducted. Part of me says that he needs this baby to make up for the family he no longer has, and part of me is scared it will drive a wedge between us. We don't know just what he's carrying, and even if it is human - whose genes does it have?"

"Well, at least I think we all have the same concerns. Mulder is including us in his decision making, but when it all boils down, the final decision has to be his. I've already told him I'll support him, no matter what he decides," Scully said.

"That goes without saying. I love him, and I won't let him take any of this on alone. Why do you think I insisted he stay here for now? I don't think he should be alone, he needs the support of his family. But there is going to have to be a lot of changes in his life if he goes on with it, and I guess changes in my life, too." Skinner took a sip of his coffee.

"And how do you feel about that? Making changes to your life?"

Skinner shrugged. "Having children was always a dream of Sharon's. When she found out we couldn't have any - after her third miscarriage - I had to help her cope with the loss. I felt guilty, because I'd never actively wanted to have children. Don't get me wrong, I would have loved them if we had any, but I was on the fast track with the Bureau. My career was the most important thing in my life. That was my problem, and that was why Sharon left me in the end. But now..."

"Now, what?"

"Scully, I am a man in love with another man. Children never entered into the equation. But if Fox wants this child, I want this child. We'll make whatever adjustments we need to. I love him too much to lose him over something like this." Skinner's voice took on a soft quality that seemed at odds with his usual gruff exterior.

A comfortable silence fell over them and Scully gave his arm a gentle squeeze.

Skinner drew a deep breath. "So, you want to stay for dinner? I'm making my mom's lasagna, it's become one of Mulder's favorites."

"Sure. Want me to help with anything?"

"Yeah, convincing Mulder to eat some salad with it."

An hour later, Skinner went upstairs to wake Mulder.

"Hey, sleepyhead. Time to wake up for dinner."

Mulder rubbed his face sleepily. "What time is it?"

"Nearly six. I made lasagna and Scully's staying for dinner."

"You've been home long enough to make lasagna?"

Skinner nodded.

"Why didn't you come and wake me when you got home?" Mulder asked petulantly.

Skinner leaned down and planted a kiss on Mulder's forehead. "Because you needed the rest, and I wanted to cook. I couldn't be up here with you and in the kitchen at the same time. And I wasn't about to trust Scully with my mom's secret recipe."

Mulder reached up and pulled Skinner down onto the bed, kissing him soundly. "I missed you today. I hate being stuck at home, worse, I hate being stuck in bed. Can I get up for dinner?"

"Tomorrow morning, the doc said."

"She said twenty-four hours at least, preferably tomorrow morning. C'mon Walt, I'm getting a numb ass sitting in bed," Mulder pleaded.

Skinner sighed, clearly wavering. "I dunno..."

"I promise to stay quiet. I'll go down, sit and have dinner, we can sit in the living room for an hour or so and then I'll come back to bed. Walt, if I don't use up a little bit of energy, I'm not gonna be able to sleep tonight. Scully shouldn't have let me sleep this afternoon."

"You needed it," Skinner repeated, "You didn't sleep well all weekend." He paused in thought for a minute. "All right."

Mulder dove to the edge of the bed, but Skinner's hand on his shoulder stopped him getting up at first.

"You stay quiet, take it easy."

Mulder nodded his agreement.

"And only for a couple of hours."

Mulder started to protest, but Skinner continued. "We'll get rid of Scully early and we'll come back up here, I'll give you a back rub, we can watch a movie or..." He left it hanging, letting Mulder's imagination fill in the blank.

Mulder was practically salivating. It didn't matter that the doctor had said no sex, there were plenty of other things they could do. He readily agreed, and Skinner helped him up. The very first thing he did was go to the bathroom.

Skinner waited for him so he could walk downstairs with Mulder. He chuckled at Mulder's very audible sigh at being able to pee standing up.

Mulder came back into the bedroom and pulled on his sweats. "Come on, big guy, I'm starving."

By the end of Mulder's third day of staying at home, he was climbing the walls and Scully was about ready to strangle him. Despite being up and around, Scully made him sit a good part of the day with his feet up. They'd done some more research, Mulder had dabbled with playing some new on-line battle game with Langly for an hour until he got bored, then he'd read while she watched the mid-day movie. Finally, Mulder had convinced Scully that a walk to the corner deli wouldn't kill him, so they'd gone out for coffee.

Just as they got back to the apartment, Mulder's cell phone rang.


"Mulder, it's Rebecca Whiting."

Mulder's mouth went dry. "Yeah, Rebecca?"

"If it's okay with you, I'd like to come over and see you tonight."

"Umm, yeah. What time?"

"Say seven-ish?"

"Fine. Okay. I'll see you then."

Mulder stared at the phone in his hands for long moments, until Scully touched his arm.

"Mulder, are you all right?"

"Uhh, yeah. That was Rebecca Whiting. She's coming over tonight." He drew in a deep breath, walked over and sank down onto the couch.

Concern painted itself over Scully's features. "Is everything all right?"

"I, um, didn't ask. We'll know soon enough when she gets here."

Scully looked at her watch. It was just after five now. Two more hours to wait. "What time is the AD coming home?" She waited but Mulder didn't answer. He was staring at nothing. "Mulder?"

"Hmm? What?"

"I asked what time Skinner was coming home."

"Oh, around six." Mulder mumbled the answer, still distracted.

"Why don't I call him and get him to pick up some take-out?"

"Sure, Scully. I'm... I'm just gonna be upstairs."

Scully recognized that Mulder needed a little space and nodded. When he'd gone, she placed a call to Skinner and filled him in. Skinner said he'd leave the office straight away.

At 7:10 Mulder was pacing like a caged tiger. He'd been too nervous to more than pick at his dinner. When the doorbell finally rang, he nearly jumped out of his skin.

Skinner opened the door to find Rebecca had another woman with her. Rebecca introduced her companion as Susan Richards, the surgeon she had told them about, Byers' sister and also her life partner.

Skinner brought coffee and they all settled in the living room, a nervous silence charging the air.

"Well," Rebecca began pulling a file from her satchel, "I've got the results of the amnio and the other blood tests I ran. There are two separate issues we have to discuss. What is best for Mulder and what is the best thing to do about the fetus. I want to go on record now as stating my position. My, our priority," she included Sue in her statement with a gesture, "at all times, will be Mulder's health."

She didn't need to elaborate any further than that, the implication was clear. She would sacrifice the child if it became necessary, if they decided to go to term. Mulder started to protest, but Scully over-rode him.

"She's right, Mulder. Whatever you decide to do, you cannot risk your life on this. God knows, this whole thing is dangerous enough as it is, but if you..."

"I know, Scully." Mulder conceded.

"Okay then."

Rebecca opened the file. Scully fidgeted, itching to read it for herself. Mulder groped for Skinner's hand, needing the strength that his lover could give him.

"The DNA tests indicate that the fetus is human." A collective sigh of relief was breathed. Rebecca continued. "Looking at these results, there are a few of the readings that are a little off, but not significantly so."

Scully frowned. "What do you mean by 'off'?"

"Take a look for yourself." Rebecca passed the results to Scully, who perused them, stopping to search her memory for information about other DNA results that could give her a clue to what the anomalies might mean.

"What, Scully?" Mulder asked, his voice almost failing him. "Tell me."

"I don't think it's anything to worry about, Mulder. All the readings are within acceptable parameters. There's nothing abnormal."

Mulder was visibly relieved, but Skinner noticed that he was still shaking like a leaf. "Are you okay?"

"Yeah." Mulder blew out a breath and scrubbed his face with his free hand. "So. It's a normal baby?"

"By the look of it." Rebecca confirmed. "All you need to do now is decide where to go from here. Mulder, it's up to you."

Mulder stood and paced up and down in front of the couch. Skinner and Scully gave him reassuring smiles. Now that he had to actually decide, all his rationality deserted him.

Scully tried to help. "Rebecca, what are the chances of actually taking this baby to term?"

"Clearly we're working without precedent here, but I'd say there's a good chance that if Mulder stays healthy and takes things easy, we could go to term. I have no idea if Mulder's body will be able to cope, we'd have to monitor things very carefully and be ready to act at a moment's notice if anything went wrong. And as I said, my first priority is you, Mulder."

"Can I add something here?" Sue spoke up for the first time. "The male physiology, as you know, isn't designed to carry a baby. However, it is not beyond possibility. The placenta, from the ultrasound, looks to be placed in the best possible position. It's attached to the large bowel and therefore has a really good blood supply. Without the protection of the uterus there are inherent risks to both parent and child. Any kind of physical blow could rupture the amniotic sac and we could lose the child and Mulder in minutes. Even during the birth, which would have to be by C-section, there are a lot of risks. Peritonitis, hemorrhaging, the risk of damage to other organs."

Rebecca added, "You would have to make a lot of changes to the way you live your life, Mulder. No placing yourself at risk from injury."

"That would mean no more field work, Mulder," Skinner stated.

"What?" Mulder stared at Skinner. He'd only just been cleared to go back to field work.

"I agree," Scully added. "It would be too risky. There's no reason you can't keep working, but anything too physical puts you and the baby at unnecessary risk."

"I hadn't thought of that," ...... said miserably. Could he handle being desk-bound for the next however many months until the child was born?

"And we have to decide how much longer you should be at work at all," Rebecca added. "I'm going to want you to rest a lot, especially in the last trimester. This is going to take a lot out of you, Mulder, so I'm staying firm on that."

"Besides," Scully added, "how are we going to explain all the weight you're going to gain?"

Mulder was even more confused now. There were a lot of considerations that he hadn't even thought to take into account. Could he give up his work? Could he take the months of forced inactivity, well, inactivity compared to his usual daily activities? And would it just be while he carried the child? What was this going to do to his life from now on?

Rebecca could see him mentally wrestling with all the points brought up. "Look, you don't have to decide now, but you do need to decide soon. We're going to have to get you started on some hormone therapy if you are going to carry on or else do the termination. You're already into the second trimester and if this were a normal pregnancy, I wouldn't even be considering aborting at this stage unless it were a medical necessity."

Sue continued, "If you do decide to terminate, that is going to bring its own set of problems and risks. It will be essentially the same procedure as for the birth, and would mean abdominal surgery. I won't make light of it, it will be a major operation with all the inherent risks and recovery time. So you'd be looking at the next month or so off work anyway, and it would probably take you a good three months to get back into peak physical shape."

"It's a lot to think about?" ...... asked.

"Like I said, you don't need to decide right now. Take a few days." Rebecca stood, preparing to leave. "Call me and make an appointment for no later than the middle of next week."

Skinner saw the two women out.

Scully stood and pulled Mulder into a hug. "If you need to talk, call me." Then she left also, sensing that Mulder and Skinner would need time alone to talk.

"Are you all right?" Skinner asked.

Mulder shrugged, he hung his head, not able to look at Skinner directly. Skinner walked over to him and pulled him into a hug. Mulder hugged him back fiercely. "I don't know what to do. I thought I did, but now... I just don't know."

"It's all right, Fox. Rebecca said to take your time. Let's just sleep on it, okay. If you want to talk about it, we will. But you do know that I'm not going anywhere, that I'll support you one hundred percent in whatever you decide."

"But it's not just my decision. This affects you, too. What if I do decide to keep it?"

"Then I'll be here. I'll love your child as much as I love you."

"Our child, Walter. If I have it, it'll be our child. If you'd want that."

"Oh, Fox. Of course I'd want that. How could I not? Now, come on. I think it's time for bed. It's been a stressful evening and I don't know about you, but I'm beat."

Mulder got a sly grin on his face. "If you think you're tired now, how will you cope with midnight feeds and sleepless nights?"

"I'll cope. We'll cope."

Mulder lay quietly in the dark on his side. He watched the luminous digital display on his bedside clock. 3:41. 3:42. 3:43. He sighed. He'd watched it tick over the minutes into hours ever since he'd heard Skinner's breath deepen into sleep hours ago.

He went over in his mind, yet again, all the pros and cons of having or not having the baby that he could think of. The list was heavily weighted in favor of not having it, practically and intellectually. But emotionally... That was his stumbling block. He wanted this child. So he'd have to give up field work. An injury at any time could force that, and very nearly had several times in his career already. He could do consultant work, and when he had to give up going into work altogether, he could use his spare time to write. He'd always wanted to write more articles and do extra research on a lot of subjects but never seemed to be able to find the time.

He knew it would be no picnic, and that it would probably put an enormous strain on his and Walter's relationship, but other relationships had survived under worse odds. And if things didn't work out, well, he'd find a way to cope on his own. He always had in the past, he could do it again.

But was he ready to commit his life to caring for another, one that would be totally dependent on him for years to come? He waited for that inner voice to shout "HELL NO," but it was ominously silent. He was nearly 40 years old, he had no immediate blood family left. Skinner and Scully were what passed for family these days and while he loved them both dearly, it wasn't quite the same.

He absently rubbed his lower belly and finally started to drift into sleep.

Mulder stumbled blearily into the kitchen. It was 6:30am.

Skinner was sitting at the kitchen table, reading the morning paper. "Want some coffee?"

"Yeah." Mulder yawned. "I should make the most of caffeine while I'm still allowed to have any." He sank onto a kitchen chair.

Skinner got up and poured a mugful of the aromatic liquid and set it before Mulder. "Did you get any sleep last night?"

Mulder shook his head. "I think I might have dropped off around four."

Skinner kissed Mulder on the top of his head. "I'll make you some breakfast and then you should go back to bed." It was Saturday so Walter didn't have to go to work although he usually did for a few hours.

"Thanks. I think I will."

Skinner scrambled eggs and made toast. He set the steaming plate in front of Mulder, who promptly turned green and bolted from the kitchen. With a sigh, he took the plate back and replaced it with one containing just toast.

Mulder returned after a few minutes, still pale. "I'm sorry. That was no reflection on your cooking. Damn, I thought I was over that by now." He stopped at the refrigerator and poured himself a glass of orange juice. "I think I'll skip the coffee, too."

"My sister had morning sickness all the way up to her eighth month." Skinner moved the coffee mug over to the kitchen bench so that Mulder wouldn't have to smell it.

"Is that supposed to cheer me up? I guess at least I should be grateful I'm not craving pickles and ice cream."

"That comes later."

"Gee, thanks."

A comfortable silence ensued. Mulder drank his juice and Skinner waited for him to talk. He wasn't going to push things, Mulder would tell him as soon as he was ready, but Skinner could tell that he had made his mind up already, he was already talking in terms of continuing the pregnancy.

Mulder slid one hand across the table and Skinner squeezed it reassuringly.

"Walter, I'm gonna have it. I... I don't know if that's the right thing to do, but it's what I want. I know it's a lot to ask of you, and I'll understand if you..."

Skinner was around the table in a second and pulled Mulder up into a bear hug. "Enough. I already told you that I won't leave you. I love you, and you know? I'm glad that we are going to have a baby."

He pulled back and took Mulder's face in his hands, kissed him deeply. Tears were rolling freely down Mulder's cheeks.

"What are you crying for, babe? Is something wrong?"

Mulder shook his head. "No," he sobbed out. "I'm just so happy, and I can't help it. I don't know why I'm crying."

Skinner held him until he managed to get himself under control again. "I think it's your hormones. Didn't Rebecca say something about you needing some hormone therapy? I'm sure that you'll be less emotional when she gets that under control."

Mulder sniffled and wiped his nose on the hanky Skinner gave him. "Oh, God, I hope that doesn't mean I'm gonna grow breasts and become a soprano."

Skinner laughed. "I'm sure you won't. Everything will be just fine. You'll see. I'll take care of you, my love."

"Walt, there's just one thing. Don't coddle me. I know I have to take things easy, be careful, but please don't wrap me in cotton."

Skinner sighed. "I'll try. But you have to promise to follow the doctor's orders. I know it'll be hard on you, but Scully and I are here to help."

Mulder nodded. "You'd better get going if you want to go into work. I happen to know that a certain AD gets really grumpy when people are tardy. And I need some more sleep." He punctuated that with another huge yawn.

Redmond Clinic
Monday, July 23

Mulder, Skinner and Scully entered the clinic. During normal office hours the place would be teeming with pregnant women and young children, but now it was deserted.

Rebecca took them straight into her office where Sue was waiting.

Now that Mulder had made his decision, they had a lot of medical details to go over and to formulate their 'plan of attack'. They discussed what Mulder's physical restrictions would have to be. These included giving up running, but being able to swim as much as he wanted and lots of walking; no lifting of heavy weights; no over-reaching that would put strain on his abdomen; cut out junk food and eat healthy food; no alcohol; cut down on caffeine; no unauthorized medications, not even an aspirin.

As the list grew, Mulder again wondered if he was doing the right thing. At the rate they were going, there was going to be nothing of pleasure left in his life. He must have groaned out loud at some point because there was an amused snicker from Scully.

"What?" Mulder demanded.

"Nothing. You should just see your face, Mulder. I'm sorry, I know this isn't going to be much fun for you, but look on the bright side."

"There's a bright side?"

"It's only for a few months, and then you will have a beautiful child." Her voice took on a sad note as she finished that thought.

"Oh, Scully. I'm sorry. I'm such an ass. I never stopped to think how all this is affecting you."

"I'm fine, Mulder. I'm really happy for you. This isn't about me. I stopped getting upset about other people's babies a long time ago. Besides, this way I can spoil the child like an Aunt and not have to deal with the consequences."

"Not likely, Scully. His or her Godmother is going to get her fair share of dirty diapers and sleepless nights when she's babysitting."

Rebecca and Sue sat baffled by the conversation between Mulder and Scully. Skinner had leaned over and whispered that he'd explain later.

"Speaking of hims and hers, Mulder, I can tell you the sex of the baby if you want to know." Rebecca teased.

Skinner raised an eyebrow at Mulder in a 'do you want to know?' gesture.

"No, it's okay. I want to be surprised. I'm just going to be grateful if everything turns out fine and it's healthy."

From there, Rebecca went on to explain that Mulder would need to take the iron supplements every day, and the likely side effects from that - namely constipation and nausea - and that he would need to wear a low dose estrogen/progesterone hormone replacement patch to eliminate a lot of the mood swings, and fool his body into thinking that being pregnant was a natural state.

Mulder expressed his concerns for what the hormones would do to his masculinity and Rebecca assured him that the dose was so low that it shouldn't have any real visible effect, other than he may not need to shave as often and his hair might feel softer, grow faster. Rebecca showed him how and where to wear the patch on his inner thigh, and to replace it once a week. She also wanted him to take pre-natal vitamins daily.

Sue wanted to examine Mulder for herself so she could start to get a baseline of his physiology, just in case emergency surgery became necessary. And given Mulder's rather exotic medical history, she also wanted to have him give blood in small amounts every few weeks so that they would have stock of his own blood for when the time came for the baby to be born. It was a precaution in case he hemorrhaged. She explained that they often did this for high risk deliveries and that taking only small amounts more often would not cause any problems provided Mulder kept taking the iron. Of course, the very idea of having a needle poked into him every few weeks did not thrill Mulder in the least.

Mulder submitted to being poked and prodded again, and had another ultrasound so that Sue could check a few things that had not shown up on the previous scan.

By the time they all left the clinic and headed home, Mulder was in a happier frame of mind than he had been a week earlier, and Skinner and Scully shared the resolve that they would get Mulder through this experience any way they could.

FBI Headquarters
Conference Room 4
Tuesday, 31 July, 2001

Mulder fidgeted uncomfortably in his seat. Scully threw him a sympathetic glance and stopped speaking. John Cleary, agent in charge of the investigation, glared pointedly at Mulder.

"Is there a problem, Agent?"

"Uh, no. Not really. I need to be excused for a minute. Sorry." Mulder started to rise from his seat, but Cleary's sardonic voice halted him.

"If you could just be patient for five more minutes, Agent Mulder, we can all be excused. Please continue, Agent Scully."

Scully threw Mulder an apologetic look as her partner sank miserably back down onto his seat, and hurriedly finished up her report. By the time questions were asked and answered it was actually ten minutes before the meeting came to a close. Mulder all but bolted out the door to the nearest men's room.

Scully was waiting for him when he came out.

"Are you all right?" she asked.

"Just peachy, Scully, except I can't sit through a one hour meeting without having to go to the bathroom half a dozen times." He was exaggerating, but not by much. He'd excused himself once earlier in the meeting and had suffered from the need to pee for the last half hour of a briefing that had lasted an hour and twenty minutes. And he'd been sure to 'go' beforehand. "Is this bladder thing going to be a problem all the way through... this." He dropped his voice to a whisper, eyeing the two admin employees who were staring at them from the nearby water cooler.

When they had passed their audience, Scully answered, "I don't know what to say, Mulder. Thousands of women cope with it every day. And it's probably not the only thing you're going to have to deal with."

"Yeah, well I'm not one of those 'thousands of women' in case it slipped your attention. I'm seeing Rebecca tonight, I'll ask her about it."

Scully smiled at Mulder's scowl. It was probably a good thing that men weren't the natural child-bearers or the human race would have died out eons ago, she mused.

Redmond Clinic
Later that evening.

Dr. Whiting had a combination of good and bad news for Mulder. The good news on his bladder was that there was no extraneous cause, but the bad news was it would probably continue throughout the duration of the pregnancy due to the fact that there was no defined uterus to keep the weight off his bladder. The other bad news was that his blood sugar was a little on the high side. This, she explained, could be the result of poor diet and stress.

Mulder looked a little guilty at the veiled accusation. "I try to eat right all the time. Walter and Scully make sure I have 'wholesome' meals when I'm with them." He pulled a face. "And the stress, well, I'm profiling a pretty tough case at the moment."

At Rebecca's alarmed look, he clarified. "Consulting only. I'm working up the profile from my office. No field work. I promise."

"Well, Mulder, you promised me you'd look after yourself. You need lots of rest. Try not to get too caught up in the work. I know that's hard, but you've made the commitment to go through with this pregnancy. Stress isn't good for you or the baby. And I know that your two watchdogs look after you, but what are you eating when you're not with them? Are you eating at regular times? Or are you snacking on all the bad stuff?"

Mulder sighed. He knew when he was beaten. "Okay, I don't always eat properly. With the hours I've been putting in over this case you can't always sit down at regular meal times. Sometimes it's just pizza or a burger with the team."

"And lots of soda?" Rebecca asked.

"I guess. I can't stand coffee right now, and I need something to keep me going." He pouted, sure that his last remaining source of caffeine was about to be denied him.

Rebecca laughed. "I'm sorry, Mulder, but you're going to have to cut down on all that. I want you to eat three or four regular meals a day. Plenty of water, but no soda. No candy, no high sodium take-out foods like pizza or burgers either."

Mulder groaned. He'd only just secretly rediscovered the blissful joy of a decent hamburger and fries, or pizza with the works. After the many months of his abduction, his stomach had only just started to fully accept 'normal' food again without rebelling. Now he was going to have to give it up.

Rebecca continued. "I'm serious, Mulder. We need to keep your blood sugar down. I don't want you developing gestational diabetes."

That got his attention. "You think I might?"

"It's certainly possible, and you have all the early signs. But if you control it with a good diet, we may be able to avoid having to give you insulin injections."

He huffed a resigned sigh. "Okay, okay. You win. Anything to avoid that. Do you have any more 'good' news for me today?"

"No. That about does it. I'll see you again next week." Rebecca smiled at him.

Mulder's Apartment,
Hegal Place

Mulder grabbed the remote control and muted the sound on the TV as he answered the phone. "Mulder."

"Hey. I thought I'd call and see how you went at Rebecca's." It was Skinner.

"Fine. I was gonna call you soon. I wasn't sure what time you'd be home." Skinner had been called to a late meeting and hadn't been able to go with him to his appointment.

"What did she say?"

Mulder didn't really want to tell him. He thought he was being molly-coddled enough as it was and didn't want to give Skinner any more reason to fuss over him. "I probably should watch what I eat a little better and I have to drink a lot more water. I have to cut down on sugar and salt. Otherwise everything's okay." The truth, albeit somewhat watered down.

It seemed to satisfy his lover. "Great. So, how's the case going?"

Mulder picked idly at a piece of lettuce in the now limp take-out salad he'd bought on the way home. "It's going. Based on my profile and the forensic evidence, they've narrowed the suspects down to four. The Jackson field office is doing some more digging and are setting up surveillance. I think they should have it wrapped up soon."

"That's good. Fox..." Mulder heard the hesitation in Skinner's voice. "Have you... thought any more about what I asked you?"

"Walt, I..." he sighed. "I don't know if I'm ready for that yet. I need my freedom, for as long as I can have it."

"I'm not trying to make you a prisoner. I just want you to move in with me. So I can be there for you."

"I know. I know." Mulder felt traitorous tears building and was glad they were having this conversation over the phone and not face to face, or he knew he'd wind up caving in. Damned hormones. He loved Walter with all his heart, but something held him back. "You have to try to understand. I've... been through... so much. I just need some time."

"And I just want to help you."

"You are helping, believe me. I don't think I'd have made it through these last months without you, and God knows I don't know how I could have even considered getting through the next few without either you or Scully. But right now, I just need a little space. Please understand."

Skinner paused, then sighed, "I do. I know this is hard on you. I just wish I could make it easier."

"You do, Walt. You do." The tears were starting to fall in earnest now. He had to get off the phone. "Um, look... I have to go. I'm kinda tired. I'll see you at work tomorrow."

"Are you sure you're all right?" Skinner sounded concerned.

Mulder answered quickly, swiping at his eyes roughly. "Yeah, really, I'm fine. Just tired. I need a good night's sleep so I'm gonna turn in early."

He hung up quickly, angry at himself for getting all teary again. He'd found himself in tears over nothing a lot lately, and this wasn't just nothing. If he'd heard Mulder start to cry, Skinner would be over in a flash and Mulder would let him come. And right now, Mulder felt he had to preserve the illusion he'd built that he was fine on his own. The easy relationship they'd built was important to Mulder and he didn't want to risk it by rushing things just because he was pregnant. He knew that Skinner only wanted to protect him, but he needed to feel in control of his own destiny for as long as he could.

So much had been taken away from him in the recent past, he'd come to feel like his life wasn't his own, and that he needed to reclaim a part of himself. He was lucky that Skinner understood and wasn't too pushy. Most of the time. The time would come all too soon when he was going to have to rely on Walter for everything, at least for a while, when he was closer to having the baby. He was going to hate doing that, so until then, he'd made up his mind to stay as independent as possible for as long as possible.

Skinner's Apartment
Crystal City
Sunday, 5 August, 2001

Mulder had been awake for over an hour, just watching his lover sleep. One hand idly ran over his swelling stomach, now quite noticeable even when he was laying on his back. He sighed loudly.

"Doesn't your brain ever shut down?" A sleepy voice rumbled from next to Mulder.

He leaned over and kissed the bald head laying on the pillow.


Mulder rolled sideways to look at the clock. "Nearly seven."

"God, Fox. I thought we were going to sleep in today."

"Can't help it, I woke up horny."

Mulder snuggled up to Skinner, pressing his erection against the other man's thigh. Dark eyes opened and closed languidly, Skinner's own cock beginning to respond.

"Make love to me, Walter," Mulder whispered, pressing light kisses along Skinner's cheek and down his neck, then lower to one nipple, licking and sucking until it stood up proud. "I'm all ready for you." He delved even lower until Skinner started to moan.

"You're insatiable. Wasn't last night enough for you? I'm still feeling it."

"Not the same thing, champ. I want you to make love to me this morning. I did all the hard work last night, it's your turn now."

Mulder rolled onto his back, pulling at Skinner as he went. Skinner followed, holding his weight up on his hands and knees over Mulder. Mulder's legs opened invitingly, ankles snaking up behind Skinner's ass, pulling him down, his own ass lifting, seeking Skinner's fully erect cock.

There was just no resisting Mulder when he was this pushy. Skinner pressed the head of his penis against the cleft of Mulder's ass. Mulder hadn't been exaggerating when he said he was ready, he'd even applied lube. Skinner eased forward gently.

Mulder was dying with anticipation, and if Skinner didn't get on with it soon he was gonna scream. He hadn't been kidding about waking up horny, and it had taken all kinds of self control to wait a whole hour before waking his lover. He felt the head of Skinner's cock seek his opening and applied more force to Skinner's back with his ankles, trying to speed things up. He felt pressure against his anus, then the pop of entry and a gradual feeling of being filled. He positively hummed with pleasure.

Skinner decided that he was going to take control of this morning's lovemaking session, he wasn't going to let Mulder dictate the pace. He was going to go slowly and drive Mulder mad before letting him come. Despite Mulder's pleas that he go faster, harder, Skinner kept up the slow rhythmic pace, hitting Mulder's prostate at each inward stroke. Mulder sweated and panted under him.

"Oh God, Walter, I'm going to come."

"Not yet. Not until I say you can," Skinner commanded.

He pulled out half way and tucked his knees up until he was kneeling. He pinched Mulder's cock hard at the root, applying enough pressure to forestall the coming orgasm. Mulder groaned, mumbling something about him being cruel. When they were both safely back from the edge, Skinner reached in under Mulder's shoulders and pulled him up into his lap. Mulder gasped at the new angle and penetration. He clung to Skinner, hugging him close and buried his face into the muscled shoulder, then began rocking his hips.

Skinner sighed. Oh God, this felt good and right. He slid one hand down between their bodies, keeping the other tightly around Mulder's waist, seeking the erect penis nestled between them. He brushed against the swell of Mulder's lower abdomen and fondled gently. There was life in there, under his hand. Miraculous life. He felt one of Mulder's hands join his, and together they followed the bump from navel to the base of Mulder's cock. Up and down.

"It turns me on when you rub my belly like that," Mulder growled.

"Oh God, Fox, I love you so much." Walter gasped out.

Skinner grabbed Mulder's hips and lifted him slightly so his own legs could straighten out in front of him and he could lay back. Mulder was sitting on him now, raising up and down, riding his cock. He began thrusting harder, pushing his hips up as Mulder pushed down. Mulder was the picture of pure pleasure, his head thrown back, sweat running down his chest, raising himself up slightly and pressing down hard, squeezing his buttocks around Skinner's shaft. He moaned as his orgasm overtook him, a mere second before Skinner joined him. Mulder stopped moving and let the feel of Skinner's pulsing cock course through him as he milked it with his ass. He sat still for a few moments more with his eyes closed before toppling forward slowly, lowering himself to the bed beside his lover. Coherent thought and words were still miles away.

"Mmmmm, that was... that was... oh God." Mulder ground out.

"Yeah." His lover agreed before sleep reclaimed them both.

When Mulder woke again, Skinner was already up and rattling around in the kitchen downstairs. The smell of food made Mulder's stomach growl, and the need to pee made him drag himself out of bed. He took care of business, threw on some sweat pants and a t-shirt, then went downstairs.

"Hi," he said from the kitchen doorway.

Skinner smiled and stepped closer to kiss him deeply. "How'd you sleep?"

"Fine. Like the dead." Mulder grinned. "You wore me out."

Skinner went back to the pan on the stove. "Hungry? I made pancakes. There's juice on the table and tea in the pot."

"Tea? Since when do you drink tea?" Mulder laughed.

"Since coffee upsets your stomach. It's green tea. Scully said you should be able to drink it, there's no caffeine."

Mulder sat at the kitchen table and poured juice for himself. He lifted the lid of the teapot and sniffed. "If there's no caffeine, what's the point?" he asked.

"It's supposed to be good for you. Scully also recommended raspberry leaf tea."

Mulder pulled a face as Skinner sat down, a huge stack of pancakes on the plate in his hand.

"Dig in, you need to keep your strength up." A wicked grin split his features and lit up his dark brown eyes. "So, what do you want to do with the rest of the day?" It was already nearly 11. "You want to go to the basin for a walk?"

"Sure. Let's get out while we still can, and the weather's still nice."

Violent Crimes Office
J. Edgar Hoover Building
Tuesday, 7 August

"Great work, Mulder." The SAC slapped him on the back as the meeting broke up. "We're all going for a beer to celebrate after work. You coming?"

Mulder caught Scully's disapproving glare before turning back to Cleary. "Sure, why not. The guys in Jackson caught our perp. I've earned it." This last was for Scully's benefit. He was not going to let her mother-hen him out of a chance to blow off some steam. "But just one, I gotta watch my waistline."

Cleary gave him a once over. "You know, you have been putting on weight lately. It's good to see you've gotten over... you know... Gee, how long has it been?" He was clumsily referring to how thin and ill Mulder had looked when he'd first returned to work after his abduction a year ago. A year to this very day.

Mulder went quiet, the good mood of having been part of a successful investigation suddenly tarnished by the memory of his abduction. If Cleary noticed he didn't say anything, he merely went on to the next member of the team, backslapping some more and shaking the hands of the others. Only Scully saw how pale Mulder had gone as he left the room. She caught up with him in the hallway.

"Are you okay?"

Mulder stopped and leaned back against the wall, eyes closed. "Just when I think I'm all right with everything, something reminds me and I start to fall apart again. Cleary just reminded me what day it is today."

Scully frantically revisited everything the SAC had said and couldn't recall him mentioning anything about today. Then it dawned on her. It was exactly twelve months since Mulder's abduction.

"Oh, Mulder. I'd forgotten. I'm sorry. Are you sure you're okay?"

He took a deep breath. "Yeah, I'll be fine. I have to learn to live with it, Scully. Things are going to remind me all the time and I just have to deal with them. I'll be fine, honest."

At the end of the day Skinner caught up with Mulder as he about to leave to join the others from VCU at the tavern down the road.

"Agent Mulder."

"Sir? Checking up on me?" Mulder had the sneaky feeling that Scully had ratted on him.

"Er, no, I just wanted to congratulate you on a job well done."

"Thank you, sir. I was just going to join the others for a drink. I'll pass on your thoughts."

"Have you got a minute, agent? There's something I'd like to talk to you about."

The concern in Skinner's voice betrayed him. Mulder sighed and watched as the last person filed out of the office.

"I'm fine. Really. I'm going for one beer, and I'll even make it a light, then I'm going home. Alone. I can handle this." Mulder put all his effort into sounding sincere.

Skinner didn't appear convinced, but he let it ride. "You'll call me if you need to talk? Or want some company?"

"You know I will. Look, I have to go, they're waiting for me."

McGinty's Tavern
Tuesday, 7 August, 9:35pm

Mulder's promise of one beer, light, had well and truly been broken. He'd had three, full strength, plus two shots of Bourbon. He knew he shouldn't have, but the temptation to have a 'normal' night with some 'normal' colleagues was intoxicating. Mulder laughed at the irony of his own thoughts. He wasn't drunk, but he was certainly buzzed. He shouldn't have drunk that much on an empty stomach, shouldn't have drunk that much, period. Oops. Been a bad boy again, he mused, but he'd needed this and he promised himself this was the last time he'd disobey the 'rules'.

It was time to go home. He said his farewells and went outside in search of a cab. It was dark, and a light drizzle was falling. He walked to the corner, his attention drawn up at the streetlight. The combination of the rain and the light mesmerized him. It was like being caught in the light beam of the spaceship all over again. Mulder felt a panic attack looming. His breath came in short gasps and he wanted to run, but his legs refused to move. No... no, not again.

The sound of other patrons noisily leaving the bar broke into his consciousness just as a cab pulled up in front of him, breaking the spell. He dragged in a huge gulp of air and practically wrenched the car door off its hinges as he scrambled into the back seat, and collapsed trembling.

".... HEY! I asked where to, buddy? I don't mind sittin' here, it's your dime."

"What? Oh. Um..." Mulder briefly considered where to go, home? To Scully's? or Walter's? He gave his own address. He scrubbed his hand over his eyes as he fought to regain control of his emotions.

Mulder barely made it up in the elevator and into his apartment. He rushed to the bathroom and vomited up all he'd had to drink. When he'd finished, he sat on the cold tiled floor for what seemed like hours. Finally he pulled himself up, rinsed his mouth out and shook himself mentally. A sudden bout of paranoia sent him racing to the front door, making sure it was securely bolted. He went to all the windows and drew the drapes tightly shut before wrapping himself in a blanket in an effort to stop his shivering and curling into a corner of his couch - with his weapon drawn beside him, at the ready.

They weren't going to take him again, they weren't. He'd kill himself before he let them do that. He couldn't go through it all again. He just couldn't. Quiet gasping sobs heaved in his chest, and fat tears ran down his face. So much for being fine. He should call someone, but to move would draw attention to himself. If he just sat very still....

The shrill sound of the phone ringing jerked Mulder from the light doze he'd fallen into. The room was still dark, but a stubborn shaft of sunlight had pushed itself through the tiny gap in the drapes, marking a single stripe across the coffee table.

It took a minute for Mulder to orient himself to the sound. The ringing stopped and his answering machine picked up. It was Scully.

"Mulder, I thought you were going to meet me for breakfast. Your cell phone is off, and you're not at your desk either. I've left a message on your voice mail. It's nine thirty. If I don't hear from you in the next half hour, I'm going to Skinner." She sounded worried, and pissed off.

The machine clicked off and Mulder snapped out of his apparent trance. He blinked, looked around the room and couldn't remember why he was still in his suit and overcoat, wrapped in a blanket on the couch with his weapon beside him. He couldn't remember anything after leaving the tavern the night before. He felt like crap. He stretched his long legs out from under himself before trying to stand, then unsteadily lurched into the bathroom, shedding clothes along the way. He desperately needed a hot shower. But first he needed to clean the bathroom, the smell of recycled alcohol nearly made him puke again.

It was nearly eleven when he finally made it into the office. There were several comments thrown his way from other agents saying that he hadn't looked that wasted last night and was he okay, because he looked like hell. He passed them all off with an "I'm fine," and put it down to just not having had a good night, which was essentially true.

Scully found him at his desk around noon.

"Why didn't you call me? I've been worried about you. I was going to come over to your apartment, but Skinner said to give you a little time." She paused for breath, assessing his apparent condition. "You look like hell, are you all right?"

Mulder was grateful for the fact that Skinner was giving him the space, even though it must have just about killed him to do so, but Scully wasn't going to be so easily put off. He debated on whether to tell her the truth, but didn't feel like having to deal with it or her on a tear so he told her that he'd had a bit too much to drink and wasn't feeling too good. He could see she wanted to give him a lecture on drinking while pregnant so he cut her off at the pass.

"If it's any consolation to you, Scully, I threw up everything except my toenails when I got home so I don't think there was much alcohol left in my system to hurt anything. Besides, I didn't really drink that much, you know it doesn't take much to make me sick these days, it really was only a couple of beers. So please, no lecture on the dangers of drinking in my condition. I already called Rebecca and she said it was a stupid thing to do, but didn't think that a one-off would cause any damage, as long as I didn't make a habit of doing it. And I'm suffering for it enough already."

Scully's intended lecture turned to sympathy. "How are you feeling now? Have you eaten anything this morning?"

The very thought of food made his stomach lurch, but before he knew it Scully was dragging him off to the cafeteria for tea and toast. Chamomile tea from her own reserve of teabags no less. He let her mother him in exchange for a promise that she wouldn't tell Skinner the whole truth, and that he'd go home and rest for the remainder of the day, and call Rebecca if he didn't feel better soon. Mulder knew he'd have to deal with an angry or upset Walter later that night for sure, but hopefully by then he'd be feeling a little more human and would be able to deal with it.

Hoover Building parking garage
Friday, 17 August, 2001, 7:29pm

Skinner was going to be worried, he was running late. Mulder had meant to leave the office over an hour ago, but got tangled up reading a new case file and writing a few preliminary notes for the profile. When he'd realized the time, he'd bundled up the file and his notes, shoving them roughly into his briefcase and made a beeline for the parking garage.

Various thoughts tumbled through Mulder's mind as he drove towards Crystal City. He'd called Skinner, explained that he was on his way and that traffic was heavy so he'd be a while. Stuck in traffic, Mulder's mind was freewheeling. He thought back to the last couple of weeks. Things had been okay since the night that was the anniversary of his abduction. He still hadn't talked to anyone about it and had successfully bricked it up in a corner of his mind. His profiles had brought another two cases to conclusion and he was... thoroughly bored.

Rebecca was pressuring him into deciding how much longer he intended to work. He was nearly half way through his pregnancy and if he didn't quit soon he'd need to go upsize all his suit pants again. But he didn't want to stop working. It was all he had, boring though it was lately. He longed for a nice juicy X-File.

<What was wrong with this traffic? Was there an accident ahead?>

Getting back to his train of thought... No, he didn't really want that either. He didn't know what he wanted, but whatever it was, it wasn't what he currently had. Maybe it was time to quit. Or at least go on extended leave as Walter had suggested. He could consult from home. He could write some articles for the guys, hell, he could write a book. The Adventures of Spooky Mulder. Of course he'd have to market it as fiction because no one would ever believe any of it was true.

<Damn. He'd forgotten to go to the bathroom on his way out of the office. And now he needed to go. And he was stuck in traffic. Perfect.>

Saved! There was a gas station just ahead on the right. He pulled in to a parking space near the door and went inside. He got the key and walked around the back, unlocked the door and made a beeline for the urinal.

He was so relieved that his bladder wasn't going to burst that he failed to notice the two men who got out of the dark sedan in the parking space beside his, and he hadn't seen them following him since he'd left the Hoover.

As Mulder left the restroom he was jumped from behind. Something wet and smelly was pushed over his nose and mouth, making it impossible to yell for help, or to breathe clean air. He fought to get loose and go for his gun, all the while trying not to breathe in the fumes from the cloth. But he was held too tightly and finally he just had to take a breath. His head swam and he felt dizzy. Another breath and his eyes rolled back into his head, he was out cold.

The two men bundled him into the rear seat of the dark sedan and one of them returned the restroom key to the attendant, saying that his friend wasn't feeling well so they'd drive him home. The first kidnapper drove off with Mulder and the second one followed in Mulder's car, leaving a slightly bewildered attendant staring after them.

Time and place unknown

Mulder woke with a pounding headache, and the feeling that he was going to be sick. He tried to get up and found that he was firmly held in five point restraints. As awareness became more solid, he recognized that he was in what looked like a hospital room. There was an IV in his arm, an oxygen cannula under his nose and various monitor leads attached to him - on his chest and on his abdomen.

At first he wondered if he'd had an accident, but memory kicked in and he recalled the two men who'd jumped him. Drugged him. Oh God, the baby. Please don't let them have hurt the baby, he silently pleaded. He struggled to sit up and get free of his restraints.

"Relax, Fox. You're quite unharmed, and so is the little one," said a voice just out of visual range.

Sweet Jesus, they knew. He struggled harder, panic overtaking him along with another wave of nausea.

"Please. Let me go. I'm gonna be..."

Strong hands held his head sideways over an emesis bowl and he heaved, bringing up bitter bile. When he was done, he lay back down and his face was wiped with a cool damp washcloth.

"I'm sorry about the chloroform. It does leave one a little nauseous, but it was chosen as being the least harmful method to subdue you, given your current condition."

Mulder tried to deny knowing what the man, a doctor by the look of him, was talking about, but it was clear that he knew it all.

"Try not to worry. We don't want to harm you or the child. We were made aware of your condition quite by accident, you know. Our work with the colonists indicated that they were expecting a great breakthrough with their own experiments on human subjects. Given the interest they've shown in you previously, and closely following your movements the last few months, led us to the conclusion that this breakthrough had something to do with you.

"You and your friends have been very clever in covering your tracks with the medical tests. Not quite clever enough, though, because we were able to access them. There were still those in our organization that doubted it was possible, but now they see the truth of it."

"What do you want from me?" Mulder was terrified, for himself and the baby.

"Want from you? Nothing. We are simply running a few additional tests that the dear Dr. Whiting has neglected to run and we want to ensure that you have a safe and uneventful pregnancy. You haven't been taking care of yourself as well as you should, so we decided that we should take care of you. And then when you have delivered a healthy child, you'll be free to go."

So they did want the baby. But they wanted it after it was born. And they were going to keep him here until then.

"No, please. Let me go. It's an innocent ordinary child." Mulder thought of what might possibly be in store for the baby, in the hands of these monsters.

The doctor laughed. "Do you know the true irony? No one that bears the Mulder name is innocent or ordinary. You, certainly, have never been ordinary. I have all the records from my predecessors, going right back to before you were even conceived. Have you ever wondered about why you were so different from all the other children?"

"I... I wasn't different." Mulder didn't want to hear this.

"So much smarter than all the other kids. An eidetic memory. So good at sports, at anything you did."

"No. I wasn't good at everything." His head was swimming, he was feeling vaguely nauseous again.

"You excelled at everything that was important. Did you ever consider just why you found it so easy to profile? To get inside the minds of psychopaths? Why you empathized with the victims so completely? Did you think it was an accident that you were exposed to the black oil in Russia? The vaccine wasn't really necessary, you know, you seem to have a natural immunity.

"The ability to read minds, yes it was triggered by the rubbing from the alien craft, but the latent ability was always there. Even now, after that smoking bastard tried to take it from you. It's still there. Regenerated by the aliens during your visit with them. Waiting to be turned back on when it's needed by them."

Mulder shook his head, no, at every insinuation. Insinuations that sounded like accusations.

"You weren't just born, Fox, you were engineered. Years of work went into creating you, the perfect hybrid. Not quite perfect enough until the aliens finished our work for us. And now you are carrying the future inside you. If they were still alive, my predecessors would be so proud that the aliens chose you to lead the vanguard of the new generation."

"NO!" Mulder yelled, desperately trying to break free. The heart monitor beside him was throwing wild spikes as he struggled. "It's not true. I don't know why they did this to me! You're lying." Mulder desperately needed him to be lying, saying things to confuse him. It couldn't be true that his life had been controlled since even before he was born. It just couldn't.

"Calm down now. You're going to hurt yourself." The doctor filled a hypodermic from a bottle on the worktop beside him. "I'm going to give you a mild sedative. It won't hurt the baby, but it will calm you down. It has to be given quite precisely, which is why I couldn't let your captors use it, but used in skillful hands we can keep using it without harm."

He swiftly injected it into the IV port as Mulder continued to struggle and curse.

"Fuck you! You lying bastard. Nothing you say is true. It's not... true." Mulder felt the fast acting sedative flood through him, leaving him without the will to keep fighting.

"I know it's a lot to process, but you'll have time, here with us over the next months, to understand and accept your role in the future of mankind. The ones involved with what they called the Syndicate are all dead now. Their policy was to keep you in the dark about everything. We, the new consortium, feel it best to tell you everything. Then you'll see that there is absolutely no point in continuing to fight against us. We have all the records. You can read them all."

Mulder listened to the voice drone on as lethargy overtook him. He turned his face away, not wanting that bastard to see the tears in his eyes. Had it all gone as deep as that? Really? Is that what his parents had subjected him to? Or had they been trying to protect him from it? Did they know about it all? Is this what his mother had tried to tell him at the end? He fell into sleep uneasily as more and more questions formed in his head.

Place unknown
Day unknown

The nearest Mulder could figure, he'd been there at least a day but probably no more than two. They kept him hydrated with the IV and had brought him food a couple of times, which he refused to eat. He wasn't really hungry under the circumstances. He felt languid, so he surmised that they were probably still giving him the sedative. He needed to gain their trust so they would remove the restraints at least, then he could work on getting out of there.

The man who had eventually introduced himself as Doctor Beckman made regular visits and was continually writing things down on a chart. He came in again now.

"My aids tell me you're refusing to eat. You need to eat, for yourself and for the baby. If you don't eat voluntarily, I'll have to force feed you."

"I'm not hungry."

"You need to try. Look, Fox, I want you to feel safe here. You are probably a whole lot safer here than out there with your Dr. Scully and Assistant Director Skinner."

Mulder flinched at the mention of his friend and his lover.

"Granted, you don't have all the comforts of home, but if you cooperate, your time here will pass quite pleasantly."

Mulder decided to go for broke. "It's a little hard to trust you when you have me tied down like this. If you untie me and stop drugging me, I promise to cooperate. I can't eat if I'm not using up energy, and if I'm stoned all the time."

Beckman appeared to think things over for a minute. "I had hoped you'd come round eventually, I just didn't think it would be this soon. But forgive me if I don't trust you entirely. We have more comfortable accommodations ready for you and I'll make you a deal. If you are cooperative, eating and doing as you are told, I'll agree to move you there now. The sedation will stay for the time being at least, until I can trust you."

It was less of a win than he'd wanted but more than he'd anticipated, so Mulder agreed.

Within an hour an orderly arrived with a wheelchair, disconnected his IV and undid his restraints. Mulder struggled into the set of scrubs he was given, refusing the offer of help, until he nearly fell flat on his ass when he tried to stand up. He sat heavily in the wheelchair, his head spinning, but balked when he felt his right wrist being restrained.

"What are you doing?" he demanded. "I thought there were going to be no more restraints."

"This is only until you get to your new room. Dr. Beckman's orders." The orderly informed him as his other wrist was strapped down. Next his ankles were encased in lambskin lined cuffs as well.

Mulder tried to get his bearings as he was wheeled down several identical-looking corridors. There were no signs or distinguishing features to differentiate any of them and he felt disoriented. Finally they stopped in front of a set of glass airlock doors. The orderly punched a sequence of seven numbers - none of which Mulder could disseminate - onto a keypad and then pressed his palm onto a reader. A palm print and another set of numbers were required once in the airlock, and then they were in another corridor. Mulder's hopes for escape were sinking faster than the Titanic.

They stopped at the third door along the corridor and this time the orderly only punched four numbers onto the keypad. The door slid obediently open to reveal a room not unlike a motel room. There was a king-sized bed, a nightstand and bureau, a couple of comfortable chairs, a TV and VCR. A bathroom led off to one side, and a small dining table and two chairs stood beside a sliding glass door that led out into a large solarium filled with potted plants, a couple of deck chairs and a water fountain. All that was missing was actual sunlight, which was artificially provided by way of ultraviolet lights set high above.

Mulder would have been impressed by this home away from home if it weren't just a gilded cage. He was let loose from the wheelchair and immediately headed for the bed.

"Uh, uh." His companion said and led him by the arm to the table, which was set with covered plates, plastic cutlery and plastic bottles of juice and water. It seemed trust only went so far. "Dr. Beckman said you had to eat first, or you go back to the other room."

Mulder sat with a sigh and lifted the lid from one of the plates. Vegetable soup. It smelled okay, and his stomach actually grumbled in anticipation. He began to eat, his jailer watching over him as he did.

"Could you at least sit down," Mulder grumbled. "It's not polite to just stand and watch people eat."

The other man cautiously sat in the other dining chair as Mulder lifted the lids off the other plates. The table was clearly set for one. One of the plates contained fresh bread rolls and the other a salad. He put the lid back on the salad before breaking off a chunk from one of the rolls. He'd eaten half a roll and most of the soup before sitting back in the chair with a sigh.

"You're not finished."

"I'm not really hungry. Beckman said I had to try to eat something and I did. Maybe later I'll be able to eat more. I'm tired." He got up, grabbed the water bottle and headed for the bed to take a nap.

"Later you'll be shown where to exercise. There's a pool as well." His erstwhile companion prattled on. Mulder idly wondered whether the guy had ever been a concierge in a hotel.

"Sure. Whatever," Mulder mumbled as he heard the other man pack away the meal dishes and push the wheelchair now laden with them out the door.

The door slid closed with a metallic swish and a loud and final click. There was no way to open the door from the inside, there wasn't even a keypad. Mulder lazily looked around the room and sleepily waved up at one of the many strategically placed surveillance cameras. It was nice to be able to curl up on a proper bed again, even if he was being watched. Soon he was asleep.

AD Skinner's office
Monday, 20 August, 11:25am

"I don't give a damn how many hours of overtime need to go into this!" Walter Skinner yelled down the phone. "I want some results! One of my agents is missing and I want him found! NOW!!"

He slammed the phone down so hard that the whole desk shook, then sank into his chair, threw his glasses onto the desktop and scrubbed at his stinging eyes.

Scully had been sitting quietly in one of the visitor's chairs while the tirade had gone on. Now she stood and went to stand behind the distraught man. She lay a comforting hand on his shoulder.

"We'll find him."

Skinner turned to look at her with liquid eyes. "What if we don't this time? What if we're too late? I... I don't think I could stand to lose him all over again." Three nights with barely any sleep had frayed his nerves to the point where he was beside himself.

"Why don't you go home and get some rest," Scully suggested. When the AD started to protest, she continued, "I'll be here if anything turns up, and you'll be at home in case anyone tries to call there."

Reluctantly Skinner agreed. He wasn't doing any good sitting here and yelling at people, and there'd been no further leads since the service station attendant had been personally interviewed by Skinner late on Sunday. An APB had been put out on Saturday morning and Skinner'd had agents canvassing the route between the Hoover and Crystal City. Surprisingly, no one wondered at why Mulder would be on his was to see the AD on a Friday night - but then, this was Mulder who did weird things at odd times. They'd left pictures of Mulder at strategic locations all along the route he would have taken, including the service station where unbeknown to the FBI, he'd stopped. The attendant that had been on Friday night recognized the photo when he came back on duty on Sunday afternoon and had called.

It had been their only break, but it was enough for Skinner to intensify the investigation. At least this time they knew that Mulder had been taken by earthly forces, but whether that increased the chance of getting him back unharmed or not was yet to be seen.

Skinner would have sworn that old smokey was behind Mulder's disappearance had he not known the old man and nearly all of his cronies were dead, but without any means to establish whether the syndicate was still in operation or not he couldn't be sure. In desperation, Skinner had contacted Marita Covarrubius, or had tried to. She hadn't returned his calls but he'd left a half dozen messages begging her to tell him if she had any information.

The Lone Gunmen had been onto things since Friday night, when Mulder had failed to show up at Skinner's apartment. They were drawing a huge blank, but were working their collective butts off trying to find any information. They'd called in so many favors and hacked into so many sites that their hard drives were practically at meltdown.

Skinner didn't want to even think what this was doing to Mulder, being taken again. He feared not only for Mulder's physical safety but for his emotional wellbeing. How would Mulder cope, especially if They harmed the baby? He couldn't bring himself to even contemplate it.

Scully was being a rock, even when Skinner knew she was scared, angry and upset too. She'd shed tears of worry and frustration a few times over the weekend, but never when anyone except Skinner was around to see them. She hadn't slept a lot herself, except when he'd insisted she take a break and she'd fallen asleep on the sofa in his office. But at least she'd had more rest than Skinner himself had.

Skinner decided he needed a stop at the boxing gym on the way home to let out some of his frustration, then he could get a few hours rest, and make some more unofficial enquiries before he came back to harass his agents some more.

Location unknown
Time unknown

The next few days, (or was it weeks? Mulder couldn't keep track) passed with a routine monotony and in a semi haze as his brain was fogged by repeat doses of the sedative. He was brought food four times a day, his keeper supervised him while he shaved and then took the safety razor away with him, he was allowed use of the small gym and walking track, and he swam in the pool. TV and the range of videos available didn't interest him and gave him no clue as to whether he was even still in the DC area. He'd tried to scope out any potential avenues of escape, but it looked impossible. All he could do was play along and keep watching, just in case.

But he had plenty of reading material. Beckman made sure of that. File after file of his life history, of the experiments done on fetuses before he himself was conceived, on the numerous tests carried out on him throughout his own childhood - tests he couldn't remember. Tests that continued on during his adult life, apparently without his knowledge also. The documents looked authentic, but he wouldn't let himself believe them. His fogged brain tried to make sense of things, without much luck.

The latest files were copies of reports from Bethesda, where he'd recuperated after his return from the aliens. Reports that tried to explain his rapid healing abilities. Blood work results that had the doctors baffled. They had attributed some things to natural ability and others to exposure to toxic chemicals. Everything explained away without real explanation. They'd completely ignored the test results that showed he'd been exposed to a long period of weightlessness and CGR. New notes had been made on the copies. Scientific terms that he didn't understand were quoted and some had double exclamation marks after them. It seemed that someone found the results exciting. Probably Beckman.

He wanted to be angry, to scream and throw things, but being constantly sedated took that ability away from him. And that just made him even more frustrated. He'd been used his entire life. None of it had been his own. Had any of the decisions he'd made come from independent thought? Or had they been manipulated too? Who was he? Or rather, what was he? And just what kind of monster was in his belly? It was human all right, but was it 'superhuman'? Was he? Did he have the right to subject a child to more of what he had been through all his life? What did they intend to use the child for? And the biggest question of all, why had the aliens done this to him? Even Beckman wasn't sure of the answer to that.

The more he read, the deeper the despair pervaded him. If he could find a way to end it all here and now he would. But his captors had made sure there were no tools or weapons he could use against either them or himself. If any of this was real, he truly was a son of The Project and his life had never been his own. Perhaps he could change that now. Perhaps if he ended it all right here, right now, it would be an end to The Project. He didn't want to die, but how could he continue to live now that he knew?

In a desperate moment he tried to tear the bed sheet into strips, but before he'd torn a second strip they had come to stop him. He was given another dose of the sedative and restrained on the bed. Beckman told him that this was his only warning. If he tried to hurt himself or the baby again, it was back to restraints full time in the other room.

Mulder didn't care any more. Let them do their worst.

Location unknown
Time unknown

It was dark. Not an all-encompassing dark, they never left him in total darkness, there was always a subtle light emanating from the "sky" of the solarium. Several hours had passed since his aborted suicide attempt.

Mulder was still restrained as punishment. They'd brought him his dinner and tried to feed him, but he'd refused to eat and wound up being force fed then pumped full of more sedative. He lay awake now, staring absently at the shadowy camera in the corner. Something was different about it, but he couldn't quite work out what. Wasn't the light supposed to glow red?

A noise at the door didn't even draw his attention. It was a soft, scrabbling noise, like a rat gnawing. It stopped after a minute or two

or was it longer? It didn't matter.

A stealthy figure in black crept into the room. Mulder watched it idly, his attention lazily drawn from the shadowed corner he'd been staring at. The figure was speaking to him, but he couldn't quite be bothered to make out the words. He felt a slight tug at his ankles, then his wrists, as the restraints were undone. He just lay there, totally uninterested.

"Jesus Christ, Mulder. Snap out of it!" The voice demanded, as its owner gave him a shake.

"Lemme alone," Mulder mumbled as he tried to curl up in a ball. A stinging slap to the face brought more of a reaction. "Hey!"

"That's more like it. Come on, you sorry bastard, give me some help here. Get up."

Drunkenly Mulder forced himself up to sit on the edge of the bed. He felt dizzy and light-headed. He wasn't sure if he could make his body follow the commands of the voice. He tried to focus on the face in the semi-darkness. He knew that face.


"Yeah, asshole. It's me. I'm rescuing you, so get a move on." Krycek wrapped his one good arm around Mulder's waist and hoisted him to his feet. "Can you walk?"

Mulder seemed to think for a moment, then slowly nodded. "I think so. Where are we going?"

Krycek grunted as he bore more of Mulder's weight than he wanted to.

"I'm getting you out of here." He pulled Mulder along with him, out into the deserted corridors. "I'm taking you back where you belong."

A snicker escaped from Mulder's chest. "I don't belong anywhere."

Krycek ignored Mulder's mumbling and just kept him walking doggedly along until they eventually got to an outside door. Krycek propped Mulder up beside it.

"I need you to stay put for a minute."

Mulder's attention seemed to be wandering again. Another smack to the face brought him back.

"Are you with me, here? I said, stay put. I'll be back in just a minute."

Mulder nodded again, and as soon as Krycek vanished, he slid down the wall to sit. Staying put was easy, he didn't have anywhere else to go.

Then Krycek was shaking him awake, pulling him to his feet. "Come on, we have to hurry."

Outside it was a mild night, but still Mulder shivered in the light breeze. He stumbled over some rough ground, hissing at the sharpness of the stones under his bare feet. Krycek didn't slow the pace, but was secretly relieved that Mulder seemed to be feeling something at last. Mulder was bundled into the passenger seat of a waiting sedan, buckled in, then the door was closed. A moment later Krycek was in the driver's seat, gunning the engine and they took off like a bat out of hell into the night.

"Where are we going?" Mulder asked after they'd driven for a few minutes.

"Back to DC, to Scully and Skinner." Nothing gave away any emotion in Krycek's voice.

"No," ...... said simply.

Krycek gave him a sideways glance, a muscle twitching in his jaw, before concentrating on the road again. "Then where?"

"I... don't have... I can't go back there." Mulder turned his head to stare out the passenger window into the darkness, not wanting Krycek to see the gathering moisture in his eyes. He tried again, "I don't have anywhere... no... wait. The Vineyard. Take me to the Vineyard. I want to go home." His voice was soft and breathy as he finished speaking.

The sun was coming up when Mulder was woken by the sensation that they'd stopped moving. He stared blearily out the window for a moment before recognizing that they were at the wharf in New Bedford, waiting for the first ferry of the day across to Martha's Vineyard. Krycek must have driven through the night. Mulder shifted in his seat, his bladder telling him he had urgent business to take care of. He started to open the car door when a hand on his shoulder stopped him.

"You might want to grab that bag off the back seat. There's some sweats and a pair of sneakers in there."

At Mulder's confused expression, Krycek continued, "You probably don't want to go out there looking like an escapee from the hospital." He gestured at the white scrubs Mulder still wore. "Here." He handed Mulder a long jacket.

Mulder decided he could quiz Krycek later on why he was being so helpful, but right now he just had to go to the bathroom. He shrugged into the jacket, grabbed the indicated bag from the back seat and ran the short distance across to the block of public toilets that Krycek had thoughtfully parked beside.

When he emerged five minutes later, Mulder had half expected to see Krycek gone. But he was still there, leaning casually against the hood of the car.

"First ferry isn't until six thirty. We've got nearly an hour to wait. The diner over there is open if you want to come get some breakfast." He headed leisurely across the road, not waiting to see if Mulder followed.

Krycek was examining the menu when Mulder slid into the booth opposite him.


"I'm hungry. I've been driving all night while you slept," he answered not even looking up.

"No, I mean why did you help me escape?"

Krycek shrugged. "It wasn't a safe place for you to be."

The waitress appeared and poured coffee into the two cups on the table. "What can I get you?"

Mulder pushed the coffee away. "Just some orange juice, please."

Krycek wasn't so reticent. "I'll have bacon, two eggs over-easy, hash browns, some plain toast and biscuits. Thanks."

The waitress left and Mulder pursued the conversation. "How did you know I was there?"

That earned Mulder a 'puh-leeze' look.

"They'll come after me again. They want the b..." Mulder stopped short, realizing what he'd almost blurted out.

Krycek smiled, knowingly. "I know what they want. Your little secret is safe with me. They won't be coming after you again. Beckman led a splinter group of the new consortium, they were the only ones interested in keeping the Project going, seeing it through to the end. The rest of us are only interested in saving our own asses when it comes time for the invasion."

"How can you know they won't..." Understanding dawned on Mulder. "You killed Beckman, and the others where I was being held." It wasn't a question. Now he understood where Krycek had gone when he left him at the door. There was probably nothing but rubble left, but what of the files that Beckman had on him?

As if reading his mind, Krycek said, "Look, I'd forget everything that Beckman told you. You can't change the past. Just let it go. There's nothing left for anyone else to continue their work. I destroyed it all."

The secrets of his past. He'd seen them, they would forever burn in his memory, but no one else would ever know. Or would they? "Did you kill them all?"

If Krycek was surprised at the lack of emotion in Mulder's tone, he didn't show it. "Not quite. I've still got a little bit of cleaning up to do. But you and..." he pointed his chin towards Mulder's stomach, "are safe. I won't let anyone near you."

Their breakfast arrived and Krycek pushed the plate of toast over to Mulder.

"I'm not hungry."

"You have to eat something," Krycek admonished as he tucked heartily into his own greasy bacon and eggs.

By the time they left the diner forty-five minutes later to get the ferry, Mulder had finished two glasses of juice and eaten the toast.

West Tisbury, Martha's Vineyard
Friday, 31 August

The house was surprisingly dust free and fresh smelling. Mulder explained that someone came in every now and then to keep it clean. Krycek hadn't been back here since the day he'd killed Bill Mulder. That was a day he wished he could live over again, only he wanted to kill the bastard a lot slower this time. What that man had allowed to happen to his children

it just wasn't right.

Mulder stripped the dust cover off the sofa and crawled onto it, curling on his side.

"So, what now, Mulder?"

Mulder shrugged. "You go do whatever you have to do, Krycek."

"What about you?"

"You said I was safe."

"From Them, yes." But what about from yourself? He was worried about Mulder. He'd never seen him so despondent, so ready to give up.

"I need some time alone, to think."

Krycek thought that the last thing Mulder needed right now was to be left alone to think. "I have some time before I need to be somewhere else. I think I'll lay low here for a day or two."

Mulder closed his eyes. "Suit yourself."

Krycek sat and watched Mulder until he was satisfied that the other man had fallen asleep, then he checked the house out thoroughly. It was secure, clean throughout but the only thing it lacked was anything to eat other than some out-of-date canned goods. He figured that Mulder would be out for a while, needing to sleep off the residual effects of the sedative in his system, so he went out to find a market and stock up on a few essentials.

When Krycek returned Mulder was still sleeping, so he took the groceries he'd bought into the kitchen, unpacked them and made coffee.

The sound of someone moaning took him back out to the living room. Mulder was twitching and mewling in his sleep, sweat coating his forehead and neck. Shit. Krycek wasn't sure what to do, whether to let Mulder ride out the nightmare or to wake him. Mulder appeared to be trapped inside the dream, and after watching for an agonizing minute or two, Krycek swore again and knelt beside the sofa. He shook Mulder gently.

"Mulder. Wake up." No response, except more pitiful moaning. Tears were leaking from Mulder's tightly shut eyes.

He shook Mulder harder, said his name louder, and suddenly Mulder woke violently, sitting bolt upright with a half-strangled scream, nearly knocking Krycek off balance and onto his ass. Mulder blinked owlishly in the midday light, confusion evident on his face, then he began to tremble and gasp for air. Krycek still wasn't sure that Mulder was 'with it'. He sat beside him and gently touched the shivering shoulder.

"Mulder?" He gently rubbed Mulder's back, trying to give some measure of comfort.

Mulder turned his head, finally registering a presence beside him, raw emotional pain painted plainly on his face. "Hold me?" he begged, his voice sounding like a very frightened child's. "Please, just hold me?"

"Fuck," Krycek sighed, then gave in.

He wrapped his arm around Mulder's shoulders and pulled him close. Mulder nuzzled his face in close to Krycek's neck, wrapped his arms around the solid body and clung on desperately, his breath hitching as he fought for control. They sat like that together for a long time, Mulder not wanting to let go, his body molded to the other man's, his swollen belly more obvious to Krycek now that he could feel it pressed up against him. Every time Krycek tried to loosen the other man's grip, Mulder would just hold on tighter, until Krycek gave up and just waited it out.

Finally Mulder's death grip loosened, his arms slid slowly down and up Krycek's back, gently caressing, seeking comfort. Mulder lifted his face out from the crook of Krycek's neck, but didn't pull away. He stared up into jade green eyes, then moved forward just a touch. Krycek didn't pull away so Mulder moved in again, until his lips barely brushed Krycek's. As Mulder tried to deepen the kiss, Krycek came to his senses and pulled away, standing up so suddenly that Mulder slid off the sofa and landed on the floor with a soft thump.

Shock froze both men in place for just a second, then Krycek realized that Mulder might have hurt himself falling like that.

"Oh God. Are you all right?"

He reached to help Mulder up to his feet. Mulder pulled sharply away out of reach with a venomous "I'm fine."

"Mulder, I'm sorry. I..."

"Can it, Krycek," Mulder snapped angrily as he got to his feet and practically bolted from the room out onto the verandah.

Shit. What the hell just happened, Krycek wondered.

Mulder had tried to kiss him. But it wasn't being kissed by another man that had caused him to pull away so sharply, it was the fact that the man was Mulder. Oh, he knew that Mulder and Skinner were an item, and that was the trouble. He couldn't afford to get in between the two of them, he couldn't let himself get too involved with Mulder. He'd planned on staying with Mulder for a few days, until Mulder was feeling more like his old self, and then he'd take him back to DC and Skinner. But now he wasn't sure he could trust himself to stay here, alone, with the man that had just come on to him.

Christ, when had he, Krycek, become such a goddamned martyr? He was getting too old to start developing morals.

Krycek stepped hesitantly out onto the verandah. Mulder was leaning on the railing near the corner overlooking the beach.

"Go away, Krycek."

"I think we should talk about this." He took another hesitant step.

"No need. I think you made things pretty clear." Mulder's voice was as cold as ice.

Krycek cleared his throat, swallowed, madly thinking what he could possibly say to put things back on an even keel

well, as even as he and Mulder ever got. Before he had the chance, Mulder stalked off again, then paused at the top of the staircase that led down to the lawn. He spoke without looking back.

"I'm going for a walk. Don't be here when I get back."

Krycek watched him walk off towards the beach. At first he wondered if he should follow, just to make sure Mulder didn't do anything stupid, but then he decided not to. When Mulder was severely depressed he may be a danger to himself, but right now he just appeared to be really pissed off and that meant that others might be in danger if they crossed Mulder's path, but the man wouldn't hurt himself.

With a sigh, he went inside to find his cell phone. He had to make a phone call, then find somewhere out of sight to keep watch until Skinner arrived.

AD Skinner's office
J. Edgar Hoover Building
Friday, 31 August, 2001, 2:05pm

Two weeks.

It had been two weeks since Mulder had disappeared. Fourteen days since Skinner had felt like half of his soul had been ripped away again. Every day he scanned all the reports that came across his desk, hoping for some word. Every day that passed meant it was less likely that they'd find him. The one and only lead that the service station attendant had been able to give

the number plate, make and model of the sedan that Mulder had been taken away in
was a dead end. Stolen number plates on a car that could have been one in ten thousand. Mulder's bu-car hadn't shown up anywhere either.

He was gone. And Skinner had no idea how he was going to put his life back together without him.

Scully had become increasingly quiet as each day wore on. She'd taken it upon herself to let Rebecca know that Mulder had been abducted. She as much as accused Rebecca of being sloppy in maintaining Mulder's secret, of being the reason that Mulder had been taken. A day or two later, she'd called Rebecca back and apologized. Rebecca said she understood, wasn't upset with Scully, and asked to be kept informed.

Now Skinner sat at his desk, working on autopilot as he read through routine reports. He thought that perhaps he should take some time off, it wasn't like he was really accomplishing anything by being at work. But he didn't want to miss any scrap of evidence that might turn up.

His phone rang and he picked it up with an automatic "Skinner".

"It's Alex Krycek."

Skinner sat up straight in his seat. "Krycek. What the hell do you want?" he growled.

"I have something that you want." It was an old game between him and Skinner. He couldn't just come right out and tell him that he had Mulder.

"There's nothing you could possibly have that I wa..." Skinner stumbled into silence, hardly daring to breathe, hardly daring to hope.

"He needs you. But he's not hurt, he's fine physically... Every bit of him is perfectly fine."

The emphasis couldn't be mistaken by Skinner. Krycek also meant that the baby was fine, too. But, fuck, that meant that he knew.

"Where..." Skinner had to stop to swallow the lump in his throat. "Where is he? How did you find him? If you had anything to do with him being taken, Krycek, I swear to god I'll tear your other arm off."

"Trust me, Walter. I had nothing to do with him being taken. I got him out. He'll be safe now, I guarantee it. And don't worry, it's not a debt I'll hold over your head. He's at his father's house on the Vineyard. But Walter," Krycek pushed a warning tone into his voice, "Come alone. I don't think he's in the mood to be dealing with a lot of people right now. He doesn't need a doctor, or an AD, he just needs... a friend."

Something else that Krycek knew, if Skinner's gut feeling was right. Damn him.

"I'll watch him until you get here, but don't take too long. I can't hang around forever."

The phone went dead.

Shit. It was nearly two thirty on the eve of a holiday weekend. It was going to be next to impossible to get a flight out of DC.

Half an hour later and Skinner was ready to double Kimberly's salary. She was an absolute miracle worker. She'd managed to secure a seat on the five o'clock shuttle to Boston and a commuter flight to the Vineyard and a rental for when he landed. Skinner didn't know how she'd done it, but she had. Now all he had to do was tell Scully.

Kimberly tracked Scully down in the forensics lab and told her that the AD needed to see her right away, but didn't know what it was about.

Dread filled the pit of Scully's stomach as she entered Skinner's office. The AD was busy packing up his desk and didn't hear her enter.

"Sir? You wanted to see me?"

"Shut the door." Skinner took three strides to cross the room and practically pulled Scully into a bear hug. "He's been found. He's all right. I'm going to go get him."

It took several seconds for it to sink in, then, "What? Where is he? He's all right? I'm coming with you."

"No, Scully. You can't come. He's safe, he's all right, but I need to go see him alone. Krycek called, he rescued him, but he said that Mulder is a little upset and that I should go alone. Kimberly has booked me the only flight with a seat left so I have to go. I'll call you as soon as I've seen him and you can talk to him then."

"Krycek? What does he have to do with this? Flight? Where? Where is he?"

"I'm not quite sure where Krycek fits in, yet. I'll tell you as soon as I know. Mulder's at his father's house. You can't tell anyone about this yet. Wait until I've seen him and had a chance to find out what happened. It's a long weekend, so no one will need to know where I've gone." Skinner was on his way out the door.

"You'll call me if he needs anything?"

"I promise. I'll call as soon as I can. Thank God he's all right."

"Amen." Scully breathed.

West Tisbury, Martha's Vineyard
Friday, 8:05pm

Skinner's trip had been uneventful, though crowded with everyone trying to get away for the long weekend. He pulled up outside the Mulder house as the sun was starting its downward slide.

There was no answer to his knock on the door so he made his way around the porch, checking in all the first floor windows, but there was no sign of Mulder anywhere. He was startled by a soft voice behind him.

"He's down on the beach. Been there for hours."

The urge to strangle the man speaking to him was almost overwhelming, but Skinner fought it down.

"What the hell is going on, Krycek?"

Krycek shrugged. "I don't know all of it, but part of the new rgime decided that Mulder was the key to the future fight against or maybe with the aliens. They found out about his little secret and wanted the spoils for themselves."

"So where do you fit into all this." Skinner's patience was pretty thin.

"I'm just here to protect him. Some of us don't agree with the others, but that's not your concern. It wasn't in his, or our, best interests to leave him with those that took him. He needs looking after, Walter. He's pretty fragile right now. He needs someone he can rely on. I can protect him from outside interests, but he needs someone close, someone who cares."

Skinner could read the genuine concern in Krycek's tone and body language. What he couldn't figure out was why Krycek was being so protective.

"What aren't you telling me, Krycek? Is it something about the..." Skinner glanced around reflexively.

"The baby?" Krycek finished for him. "Let's just put it this way, the aliens wouldn't have done this without a very good reason. I've told him before, there's a war coming and we either resist or serve. I, for one, have no desire to serve, so we need all the tools we can muster. Even the ones that the aliens think they are building for themselves. Without them, we don't stand a chance and we won't have a choice."

If what Krycek had just told him made any sense whatsoever, Skinner couldn't work it out. He wanted more answers but Krycek disappeared around the corner of the house and by the time Skinner had taken the couple of steps to catch up, he was gone. Vanished into thin air. Skinner sighed. He wished that Krycek would talk straight just once, instead of in riddles all the time. One thing that was clear, however, was that Krycek thought Mulder's child was key to the survival of mankind. Why else go to all this trouble? But what did that mean as far as Mulder's future happiness was concerned? Was he destined to be a pawn of some never-ending game between alien and human factions? Was his child about to follow the same path?

Too many questions and not an answer to be had.

Just then he saw a tall figure making its way up the grass slope, towards the house. It paused when it saw him standing there, stiffening before finishing the walk up. Skinner waited until Mulder had climbed the stairs and was opening the door.

"Fox... Are you all right?" He wasn't at all sure how to approach Mulder all of a sudden. The man in front of him was pale and almost a stranger.

"What are you doing here, Walter?" Mulder asked, walking into the house.

Skinner didn't understand the question. Where else would he be but here? He followed Mulder into the living room. "God, Fox. I came as soon as I heard where you were. I've been worried sick about you."

He wanted nothing more than to take Mulder into his arms and never let him go, but something in Mulder's posture made him hold back.

"I guess a little rat told you I was here." Mulder sat on the sofa, letting his head flop back, closing his eyes. "I also guess I'm supposed to be grateful that he found me and got me out." Mulder didn't even presume to think that Skinner hadn't been given the grisly details of his abduction and rescue.

"Krycek called me this afternoon."

Before or after our little tiff, Mulder wondered.

"Mulder, are you okay? I mean... they didn't hurt you or anything? If we head back now, I can call Rebecca..."

"No." Mulder broke in angrily. "I don't need Rebecca. I'm fine. They didn't hurt me. I don't want to go back to DC. I need some time, alone to think, to put things into some sort of order in my head."

"Fox, I'm worried about you. I don't think you should be alone right now. I'm here now, how about I just stay around, out of your way, until you're ready to talk to me?"

He reached out to take Mulder's hand, but Mulder pulled away as if burned, standing up suddenly and backing away.

"I... I can't talk about... any of it. Not yet. I just need some time to think," he pleaded.

Skinner resisted the urge to just pull Mulder into his arms, hold him and try to reassure him that he was safe now. He knew that Mulder needed time to sort things out, but he also knew that he wasn't going to leave.

Mulder sensed this resolve and sighed. "Fine, whatever. You can take the master bedroom." Mulder stalked off down the hall and Skinner heard a door bang shut.

It was getting dark now, so Skinner turned on the lamp before taking a tour of the house to work out what was where. He brought his overnight bag in from the car and set it on the bed of the master bedroom. William Mulder's room. Further down the hall was a bathroom, the room where Bill Mulder had died. Beside the bathroom was the door that Mulder was behind. Opposite that was another double bedroom, with a somewhat feminine decor.

Skinner made his way back to the front of the house. Off to one side of the living room was a den, to the other a formal dining area, then through to the kitchen and breakfast room. A comfortable house, all in all. He checked the refrigerator and cupboards, noting that fresh groceries had been brought in. Krycek's work, he'd be willing to bet. There was no evidence that Mulder had eaten at all since getting here earlier in the day, so Skinner set about making some dinner for them both with what little he had to work with. A pasta bake would have to do for tonight. If they were staying longer than tomorrow, Skinner figured he'd better find the grocery store, Krycek's idea of a healthy diet didn't match his in the slightest.

Skinner juggled the tray containing the plate of steaming food, a glass of milk and one of water, as he knocked on the closed door. There was no reply, so he cracked it open. It was dark inside but he could make out the shape on the bed.

"Go away, Walter." Mulder's voice was devoid of emotion, tired, listless.

"I brought you some dinner. I don't know when you last ate..."

"I'm not hungry."

"Fox..." The body on the bed rolled to turn away from the door. "Alright, I'll just leave it here." He put the tray on the nightstand. "Just in case you change your mind."

He retreated quietly, closing the door after himself. He leaned on the door and sighed. Time. He just needs a little time, he thought to himself. Then he went back to the kitchen to force down his own meal, despite having no appetite. Then he had to call Scully.

Saturday, 1 September, 8:23am

Skinner woke with a start. It took a minute for his brain to coalesce the unfamiliar surroundings. It was quiet, except for the not-so-far off sound of the shore and the seagulls. He got up and stretched out the kinks gained from sleeping in an unfamiliar bed, alone. Nature called, so he wandered down the hall to the bathroom. Mulder's bedroom door was open, and there was no sign of its occupant, although there was evidence that he'd been up and used the shower.

A quick search showed that Mulder wasn't in the house. The still-full plate from last night's dinner sat on the counter, although Skinner was pleased to see both glasses had been drained, and another glass, that had seemingly held orange juice, had been added to the pile of dishes. He cleaned up the kitchen as a pot of coffee brewed, then sat out on the verandah to drink the steaming liquid.

He was tired. He'd hardly slept the night before. After leaving Mulder's dinner tray, he'd called Scully to confirm that he'd arrived and that Mulder was alive and well. Not quite the truth, perhaps, but enough to stop her from running up here on the next available plane. He'd told her that Mulder was sleeping, again a not-quite truth, and that he'd call again the next day when she could talk to her partner. If Mulder was up to talking to anyone.

Skinner was usually a man of action. In any situation throughout his career where it called for patience and just sitting back and waiting, he had always found himself with an internal battle on his hands. Now was no different. He wanted to go out and kill those bastards responsible for Mulder's current situation, but Krycek had already taken care of that. He wanted to simultaneously shake Mulder and hug the man until he opened up and talked all this through with him. He wanted to do anything other than just sit here and wait. So he took a drive to find the grocery store and brought back the kinds of foods he thought might tempt Mulder's appetite but still pass muster as being considered healthy.

It was now past noon and still no sign of Mulder. Skinner decided to make some sandwiches and take a walk along the beach. Krycek had said that was where Mulder had been the previous evening, so it was probably a safe bet that he'd gone back down there again.

Skinner walked in the warm sand for nearly forty-five minutes before he spotted Mulder sitting high above the beach on a rock ledge. The younger man was lounging against the rocks, seemingly staring out over the ocean, although it was hard to tell as he had sunglasses on. Skinner spread the beach rug out on the sand, set down the picnic basket and sat to watch some children play nearby. With his baseball cap, shorts and sunglasses, he looked like any other late Summer beachgoer. He resisted the strong desire to look up at Mulder, although he felt sure that his lover had noticed his arrival. He was prepared to sit and wait patiently for as long as it took - even if it killed him. He wanted Mulder to know he was there if, no, when he was ready to talk, that he wasn't going to go away but he wasn't going to push too hard either. He got out his book and settled down.

A cursory glance up every now and then reaffirmed that Mulder was still up there, as still as the rock ledge he sat on. Personally, Skinner didn't know how the younger man could bear to sit there like that for so long. The Mulder that he knew seemed to be always moving, using a never-ending energy. This still-as-a-statue Mulder scared him.

At around two in the afternoon the weather changed and a stiff, cool off-shore wind sprang up. Dark clouds began to form and it looked like there would be some rain very soon. The beach quickly emptied of holiday-makers and sun-seekers. Skinner suppressed a shiver and stood as the first raindrops began to fall. This was ridiculous, Mulder still hadn't made any attempt to move and must be getting pretty uncomfortable up there. Skinner pulled on his windbreaker, shook the blanket out, gathered the basket and his other belongings and went in search of a way up the rock face. His worry that Mulder had risked a nasty fall in getting up to his perch was unfounded when he discovered a narrow but easily accessible pathway that led to the ledge. It was raining in earnest by the time he eased himself to sit beside Mulder.

"It's raining and you're cold and getting wet." Skinner draped the blanket around Mulder's shoulders.

"So are you." Came the reply.

Skinner just shrugged. "I've toughed out worse weather than this. But I'd rather be where it's dry and warm."

No answer.

"How about we go back now?"

"I can't go back," ...... said so softly that Skinner almost didn't hear it. "And I can't go on."

"Yes, you can." God, what he said or did now was of the utmost importance. "I told you I'd be there for you, and I meant it. No matter what. I've been so worried about you these last couple of weeks. I nearly went crazy, thinking that you... that I..."

"Don't. Please, Walter, just don't." Mulder pushed himself up against the rock and stood, letting the blanket drop to the ground, taking a moment to get his legs working.

Skinner stood also, picking up the basket and blanket. "Okay. But how about we head back to the house and get you warmed up?"

Mulder was shivering in earnest now, and Skinner felt pretty chilled himself, despite the windbreaker. He tried to wrap the blanket around Mulder again but it was pushed away. Mulder turned and walked back down the path and headed off in the direction of the house. Skinner sighed and followed.

They were both thoroughly drenched by the time they made it back. Skinner took a firm stance and made Mulder go have a hot shower while he heated up some soup and salvaged the sandwiches from the picnic basket.

Mulder wandered into the kitchen, his hair sticking up in spikes from where he'd toweled it dry, wearing sweat pants and sweatshirt. Skinner thought he looked good enough to eat.

"I've heated up some soup."

Mulder looked ready to protest about not being hungry when his stomach growled, betraying him. He gave in graciously and sat at the small table. "Thanks."

The meal passed in silence, however Mulder did manage to down two bowls of soup and a whole roast beef sandwich. Skinner was content to just watch as he ate his own lunch. Mulder would talk when he was good and ready, and not before. He wasn't really surprised when Mulder excused himself, dumped his dishes on the counter and retreated to his room. But it still hurt. He was startled by the sound of his cell phone ringing. He pulled it from his pocket and answered.


"Hi, it's me."

Scully. He hadn't called back and now she was calling to check up. No more hedging or she'd know it.

"How are things going up there? Is Mulder all right?"

Skinner looked down the hall to the closed door then went and sat back down at the table.

"Things aren't too good, Scully. Mulder's fine, at least physically, but he won't talk to me. He won't talk to anyone. I'm not sure I'm doing any good up here, I don't know how to reach him." He rubbed his eyes with his free hand.

"Can you put him on the phone?" Scully asked.

"Hold on, let me see." He went to Mulder's door and knocked, then opened the door. "Mulder? Scully's on the phone. She wants to talk to you."

Mulder was lying down, feigning sleep. When Skinner didn't go away and he could hear Scully's voice pleading with him over the phone he opened his eyes, sat up and took the phone.

"I'm fine, Scully. Now please, just leave me alone," he said, then handed the phone back without waiting for a reply. He lay back down, rolled over and closed his eyes again.

Skinner listened to the barrage sent down the phone line from Scully, mostly aimed at Mulder who was studiously ignoring both the phone and Skinner's presence. He sighed. "I'm sorry, Scully. I'll call you later, try not to worry too much." Like that was going to placate her. She announced that she was going to catch the next available flight up. "I don't know if that will do any good, but I'll see you when you get here."

He looked at the man on the bed, hoping for a reaction. He got one.

Mulder sat up and grabbed the phone from him. "Scully, I don't want you here. Please, just stay away. I can't deal with you right now," she said something Skinner couldn't hear, then Mulder answered, "I promise you I'm okay and that I won't do anything stupid without talking to you first, but please, don't come up here." She must have given the answer Mulder wanted because he nodded and handed the phone back announcing that he was going to take a nap, therefore excusing Skinner.

Scully's voice reminded Skinner that the phone connection was still open. "I'm sorry, Scully."

"Walter, I'm worried about him. Stay in touch, and for his sake I hope you can work things out."

Monday, 3 September, 10:30am

Skinner was at the end of his patience. Mulder hadn't even bothered to get out of bed on Sunday other than for trips to the bathroom. He'd picked at the meals that Skinner took into him, but didn't utter two words. It didn't take an expert to tell that Mulder was in danger of slipping into clinical depression. Skinner knew that if he couldn't get through to Mulder very soon, he'd have to seek some outside help. Professional help. It was time to take one last try. He marched into Mulder's room .

"All right. I've had enough of your sullen behavior, Fox. I know that you've been through an emotional wringer, but Christ, so have the rest of us

Scully, me, your geek friends. I really thought that this time we wouldn't get you back and I just didn't know what I was going to do to cope if that happened." He sat on the bed to make sure that Mulder was listening, struggling to stay in control of his emotions yet desperate to reach his lover. "Talk to me, Fox. Please. Don't shut me out."

Mulder didn't look at him. "I can't."

"Yes, you can. I want to help you, but I don't know how. If you won't talk to me, then you're going to have to talk to a professional. I'm sure Rebecca can recommend someone."


"Please. I love you so much and I can't bear to see you suffering like this. If you keep holding it in, it's going to drive you crazy, God knows it's already driving me insane." Skinner pleaded with him.

"I... I just need some time."

"How much more time? I've been here more than two days. How much more time do you need? You're depressed, Fox. If you can't snap out of it, I'm going to have to call someone, because I just don't know how to deal with this any more. And I can't stand to see you in such pain."

Mulder did look him in the eye then, his eyes filling as he pleaded, "Please, Walter. I just need a little more time. Don't call anyone. I just can't... not yet."

"I just don't know what else to do. I thought that just by being here I could help, that it would make a difference."

"It has, it does."

"But not enough." Skinner couldn't stay in the room any longer or he would lose it with Mulder and that would achieve nothing. He retreated to the kitchen to make yet another pot of coffee.

Skinner was contemplating lunch when he became aware of the wraith hovering behind him. He was still unsure just how the hell to deal with Mulder, so he waited for the other man to make the first overture, and continued chopping salad.

"I'm sorry."

The voice was so small that Skinner almost imagined he'd heard it. He turned, prepared for another outburst but what he saw hurt more than everything he'd already been through. Mulder was the picture of abject defeat. He looked small inside overlarge sweats that pooled around his ankles, his head hung gave a very boyish impression. When he finally looked up to meet Skinner's eyes, it was obvious he'd been crying.

"What are you sorry about? You have no reason to be."

Mulder shuffled his feet and picked at the hem of the t-shirt he wore, his swollen belly overhanging the top of the sweats. With a sigh, Mulder sat at the breakfast table. Skinner tentatively moved to sit beside him.

"Fox, we'll get through this, together. But I can't help you if you won't let me in."

Mulder sighed again, more deeply, and scrubbed at his eyes. "I just don't know who I am anymore, or what I am. I'm a freak, and I don't know how you can bear to look at me, let alone touch me." He pulled away at Skinner's attempt to do just that. "I can barely even look at myself."

"You are not a freak, Mulder." Skinner's words came out a little more forcefully than he'd intended and he saw Mulder flinch. He continued more softly. "You are a beautiful human being, I've never known anyone who cared more about his work, the victims, and his friends than you."

"But my whole life has been a lie, Walter. I wasn't born, I was made. A fucking lab rat even before I was born. How do I know that any of the choices I've made in my life are my own? They've manipulated me from day one. I don't know if I can go on like this."

"But it's over, Krycek told me he's destroyed those who took you." Skinner tried to reason.

"Not all of them. He'll never be able to get rid of them all. I could be taken again, any time, any place..." Mulder unconsciously looked skyward. "And I can't, I won't be taken again, Walter."

There was silence for a few moments, but Skinner realized he had to let Mulder get it out in his own time.

Finally he continued. "I don't remember much about what they did when I was taken from Oregon, but I know it was horrible. I have nightmares, but I don't remember the substance, only that I'm terrified."

"We can get someone for you to talk to, someone who can help you deal with this." Skinner offered.

Mulder shook his head. "If I tried to talk about it, if I started to remember, they'd lock me up in the little rubber room and throw away the key. I don't think I want to remember, but I sure as hell can't just forget. Walter I'm so scared. I'm scared for myself, I'm scared for the baby. I couldn't..." Mulder swallowed hard and another tear fell, "I couldn't take it if They came and took the baby. I couldn't go through losing someone like that. Not again. I just..."

Skinner pulled Mulder into a bear hug and let his lover sob his pain out. After a few minutes, the shuddering stopped.

"I've made a decision, Walter." Mulder pulled out of Skinner's arms and stared at the table top. "I'm going to call Rebecca. I... I'm going to terminate the pregnancy."

Skinner's stomach felt like he just swallowed a lead weight. "Fox..."

"Please, Walter. Don't say anything. I've made up my mind. I think it's the first decision that has truly been my own in... in my whole life. I'm not just being selfish, I won't put a child of mine through what I went through. I just can't do it. I know I'm being selfish, but... I don't think it's fair to let this child be born. I'm sorry."

Mulder stood and walked out of the room.

Skinner was sure he heard, as well as felt, the crash that was two hearts breaking. This sudden decision had to be killing Mulder as much as it was him. He couldn't just leave it there. He got up and followed Mulder into the living room.

"Fox, you're upset and angry at what you've been through. That's understandable. But you have to think this through."

"God, Walter, I done nothing but think it through for the last two weeks! There's no other way. I can't protect myself, how the hell can I protect a child? Krycek destroyed all the files, but I've seen what they did to me, to my sister." Mulder sat heavily on the sofa.

"Krycek has destroyed more than the files, Fox. He's systematically destroyed the men who were involved in all this. He said he'd make sure you and the baby were protected and I believe him."

"He might be able to protect us from human threats, but he can't do anything about the aliens. No one can. Don't you understand that?"

"Yes, Fox. I understand. But is killing the baby the answer? What next? You kill yourself? Kill me? Scully? Just to stop any of us being taken? If they wanted to they could do it. Yes, I know that. But you can't live your life looking over your shoulder. You don't defeat them by giving up."

"I can't fight them any more. I'm just too tired."

Skinner sat next to Mulder. "You're not alone in this now, Fox. You don't have to do it alone. Let others take over for a while and you rest. Krycek said that the new consortium has different objectives. They are working to save their own asses, and by default will probably wind up saving everyone else on the planet as well. God only knows why I believe him, but I do. He says that this child you are carrying is the key to the freedom of all mankind."

Mulder shook his head, not wanting to believe any of it. Skinner took Mulder's hand and pressed it and his own against Mulder's belly.

"Having a child won't be easy. There are no guarantees, but don't you think that it deserves a chance? That you deserve a chance? You said it yourself, this is your chance at having a real family again. This little life, Mulder, could give you that, and could also save us all."

Skinner could see Mulder struggling with himself, indecision and confusion painted on his features. He hated using Mulder's own sense of guilt and empathy against him, but he had to make him reconsider doing something that he knew Mulder would regret for the rest of his life.

Then a miracle happened. The baby kicked for the first time. A good strong kick. Surprise registered on Mulder's face.

"Walter... The baby... It kicked me, Walter."

"See, Fox. It's a strong, healthy baby, and he's telling you that he's not ready to give up on you, so don't give up on him."

Mulder ran his hand over his belly again, seeking out the presence there and was rewarded by a second, smaller kick. Fresh tears ran down his cheeks now, but not ones of anger or sorrow. These were... happy? tears. It was as if the little life inside him knew the exact moment to stamp its presence firmly into Fox Mulder's life. This was another human being inside him, what right did he have to kill it? Damn, he couldn't just get rid of the little brat now.

"Him, Walter? How do you know it's a him? It could just as easily be a girl."

"I don't know for sure what it is. I do know that it's a fighter, just like its... Dad. I know that he or she deserves a chance to fight."

Mulder sighed. It seemed that he was right after all. His decisions weren't his own. He'd just let his child decide his future for him, and something deep down inside said that this was just the beginning. But this was one decision that he was almost glad to have been made for him. He sighed again as he wiped his hand over his face.

"I... I've changed my mind. You're right. I know I'll probably live to regret this, but... take us home, Walter."

Note: I realized that the timeline I've picked for this story encompasses one very significant event in US history - namely 9/11. Since it was an event that affected practically everyone on the planet I've dealt with it in this chapter but only superficially. I do not mean to make light of it but since the events of that day are not integral to the story they bear no more than passing reference. I have endeavored to research and be reasonably accurate with what I have mentioned, however. Please feel free to correct any errors I have made, and my apologies to anyone who may take offence at my making any reference to that day at all. What can I say?  It happened, and I feel I would be remiss to ignore it entirely.


Redmond Clinic
Tuesday, 4 September, 7pm

Rebecca pulled Mulder into a huge hug as he, Walter and Scully arrived at the clinic.

"Mulder, I'm just so damned pleased to see you again. When Dana called and said you'd been found... well, Sue and I were just so happy!" Rebecca said, a grin splitting her face from ear to ear.

"It's good to be back, Bec," Mulder replied, his voice a little flat, not sounding anywhere near as pleased to *be* home as Rebecca had expected.

Rebecca gave Skinner a questioning look over Mulder's shoulder and Skinner gave a little shake of the head, he'd talk to her later, privately. He'd already told her a little of the depression Mulder seemed to be suffering.

"Let's get you inside, I want to examine you and make sure everything is all right." She led the way inside. Scully and Skinner had decided that Mulder should see Rebecca alone at first, hoping that without their presence he would talk to the woman he'd come to see as a friend.

"I'm fine, Bec, really. They didn't hurt me or the baby."

"Yeah, well humor me, okay?"

Dr. Whiting did indeed give Mulder a full examination. He was tense and jumpy during most of it, and only relaxed slightly during the ultrasound.

"She kicked me yesterday. And again this morning," ...... said softly, watching the tiny shape on the screen.

"She? How do you know it's a she? I can tell you if you really want to know."

"No, it's okay. I can wait." Mulder was still unsure he was quite ready to get too intimate with his child yet. "I just call it a she because Walter referred to it as a 'he'."

"Right. So it's just to be obtuse. I should have known better, shouldn't I?" Rebecca laughed.

Mulder just shrugged sheepishly. "So, does it look okay?"

"Looks just perfect to me. The size and development, along with you feeling it move, tell me you're around twenty to twenty one weeks. Half way and right on schedule," she smiled.

Mulder gave a half smile back. *Only* half way? Shit. The ultrasound finished, Rebecca gave Mulder a towel to clean the gel off his stomach.

"What's this?" she asked, pointing to a small fresh scar at the top of Mulder's leg.

"An implant. Beckman, the doctor who took care of me, told me it's instead of the hormone patches. More effective, he said."

Rebecca could see that its presence made Mulder a little uneasy. "I can take it out if you want, and go back to the patches?"

Mulder thought for a second. "No. It's okay. Unless you think it should come out? I actually think it's working better. At least I'm not throwing up any more." Mulder's morning sickness had still been plaguing him right up until his kidnapping. Krycek had taken great pains to assure him that the implant was designed to do nothing more than maintain the correct physiological and hormonal balance that his body needed, and that it would be perfectly safe to leave it in until after the baby was born.

"Okay. Your decision. How about we see how your blood work comes back and then decide, huh? Get dressed and I'll see you in my office in a minute."

Scully and Skinner were already in with Rebecca by the time Mulder had dressed and entered the office.

"So, how's he doing?" Skinner asked, reaching for Mulder's hand as his lover sat beside him.

Mulder gave it a quick squeeze and then carefully placed his hands in his lap

not so much a brush-off as a withdrawal. Scully didn't miss the gesture and a frown graced her forehead. She hoped Mulder was going to be able to get past this latest assault on his life.

"Far better than I would have expected under the circumstances. A little underweight, but nothing that can't be cured by a few good home-cooked meals. I'll have the blood work rushed, but initially it looks fine." She turned and addressed her next comments to Mulder. "I know you've been through an ordeal, Mulder, and even though you are physically fine I'd like you to stay off work for at least the rest of the week to rest up."

Mulder nodded. He wasn't sure he could face anyone at work yet so that suited him just fine.

"I'll organize the forms," Skinner said without thinking as they got up to leave the office, then hastily added, "That is, I can if you want me to, Mulder?"

"Sure. Thanks."

Mulder had to give Skinner his due, since they'd arrived home from the Vineyard the AD had bent over backwards to let Mulder make his own decisions, including about things like where he wanted to stay the night. Thankfully Mulder had elected to stay with him, although other than a quick kiss goodnight, Mulder hadn't let Skinner touch him. Mulder had decided for himself to stay home until after he'd seen Rebecca to see what she said about his health and the baby's. And Skinner had even let Mulder take the aisle seat on the commuter jet and sat cramped in the window seat all the way on the direct flight home from Martha's Vineyard to National Airport.

"I'll call as soon as I get the blood test results, although I'm sure they' ll be just fine. You take it easy now, okay?" Rebecca made Mulder promise that he would.

Back out in the car, Mulder announced that he wanted to go back to his own apartment. Skinner and Scully both tried to protest.

"I don't need either of you to baby-sit me," ...... said forcefully. "I'm perfectly capable of looking after myself, and I'm going to be just fine on my own. You both need to go to work tomorrow and there are some things I need to take care of by myself. I'll be fine," he tried to reassure them.

Skinner gave in almost too easily and Scully kept trying to change Mulder's mind all the way back to Hegal Place. Skinner had to almost forcibly stop her from taking up residence on Mulder's couch for the night. After more assurances that he'd call if he needed anything, Mulder saw them to the door. Then was on his own.

He stared around the quiet, empty apartment for long minutes before even moving away from the door. Then with a deep sigh he turned on the television and lay down on the couch. He just wanted things to get back to whatever posed as normal in his life. The flutter in his belly reminded him that things were never really going to be the same again and he had to find a way to deal with it, just like he'd dealt with things all his life. Only this time it just seemed that it was taking far more effort than he was comfortable with.

Rebecca called on Thursday, confirming that Mulder's blood work was indeed fine.

"Thanks, Bec." Mulder sighed but made no attempt at conversation.

Before he had the chance to hang up, Rebecca spoke quickly. "Mulder, tell me to butt out if you want but, as your doctor, I'm concerned about you. I know you've been through some rough times, but if you don't talk about it to *someone* pretty soon; honey, you're going to just melt down."

Skinner had filled her in when they'd talked on the phone the day before, and Rebecca had said she'd do what she could to help.

"I... I can't. There's no one who would understand. This is something I just have to deal with on my own."

"Walter understands. Dana understands."

He knew that on some level they probably did, but he just couldn't talk to them about things. Mulder shook his head. "No. I can't talk to them. Not about... They're too close."

"I see. You need someone who isn't so close, but someone who would still listen without judging?"

Mulder felt a sudden flair of panic. "I can't... I *won't* talk to a shrink. God, Bec, I can't talk to anyone else about the baby."

"Okay," Rebecca soothed. "It's okay. You don't have to," she sighed. "So, how about an obstetrician whose double major included psychology? Someone who is already sworn to doctor-patient confidentiality? Someone who already knows what you're going through?"

Rebecca felt she was going to live to regret this offer, but Mulder needed someone he could trust. And he was right about a shrink. He'd be in the psych ward quicker than he could blink if he told the story of his abduction and pregnancy, not to mention being put under a microscope and on the front cover of the latest medical digests. Which was just what he'd been trying to avoid all this time.

There was a hesitation before Mulder answered. "Bec, I couldn't ask you to..."

"You're not asking, I'm offering. So, whaddaya say?" Her tone implied that she wasn't taking no for an answer.

"I don't know what to say. Thank you just doesn't seem enough."

"Fine. Tomorrow's my afternoon off. How about you come over to the house around 2, we'll have afternoon tea and just... talk."

She gave him the address and after hanging up, Mulder wasn't sure what he felt more - relieved or nervous.

Friday, 7 September, 2:10pm

Mulder wiped his sweaty palms on the ass of his chinos before pressing the doorbell. He'd sat in the car for the last twenty minutes debating whether to just drive back home or not. He thought it was kind of ironic that he was more terrified of facing what was in his own head than chasing down mutants and monsters.

The door opened and a casually dressed Rebecca Whiting invited him in before he could change his mind and high-tail it out of there. He was shown into a sunny den, decorated with chintz covered furniture and a myriad of potted plants, with a big bay window overlooking a well-kept garden. Mulder sank into one of the comfortable armchairs at Rebecca's invitation while she disappeared then returned with a tea tray laden with finger sandwiches, a large tea pot and chinaware.

"I haven't eaten lunch yet, so there's sandwiches. Help yourself." She indicated.

Mulder raised an eyebrow in a very Scully-esque manner, wondering if the food was really for her benefit or that she somehow knew he'd been too nervous to eat before coming over. Regardless, the sight of the delicate sandwiches made his mouth water and he gratefully took one. Rebecca poured the tea.

Several long minutes passed in idle conversation, Rebecca talked about her garden and love of gardening. Mulder told her it reminded him of some of the English gardens he remembered from his days at Oxford. Gradually Mulder felt more relaxed, like he was there to just have a friendly conversation and wasn't under a psychological microscope. But the truth was that he really should get to the point.

"I'm sorry," he began. "I guess we should really be talking about why I'm here."

"That's okay," Rebecca told him. "Take your time. I'm not going to force you to talk about anything you don't want to. I'm here to listen to anything you feel like you need to get off your chest. No judgments."

"And no men in white coats down the hall?" Mulder half-joked.

"Not unless they're here to redecorate the kitchen!"

Mulder chuffed a laugh and sighed deeply. "I guess it all began when I was twelve. Or so I used to think. My sister was abducted from our home..."

The sun was slipping under the horizon and Mulder was still talking easily. He'd told Rebecca of his family turmoil after Sam had been taken. His efforts to please his father, and how he'd buried himself in his studies and sports. His college days and his post-grad days at Oxford. How he'd gone against his father's wishes and switched to studying Psychology and then Abnormal Psychology before joining the FBI and eventually delving into the X Files.

Rebecca had asked him why the change of direction in College and he'd told her that at first it had been a rebellion against his father's wishes, finally coming to the conclusion it was time to stop trying to impress his father and time he did something he wanted for himself. He'd found a real interest in trying to understand the criminal mind. At that stage of his life, he'd still believed that some sick bastard who preyed on young girls had kidnapped Samantha. He had wanted to stop other families from being torn apart by the same thing that had destroyed his own family. Then he'd stumbled on the X Files and discovered through regression hypnotherapy that aliens had taken his sister

or so he'd thought at the time. He laughed at the very notion now.

"I was played like a cheap fiddle. I now believe those memories were planted and nurtured along just like your garden. I don't know why exactly, but I was set up to be the perfect fool. Fed just enough truth to give credence to their lies. Someone once told me the best way to hide a lie was between two truths, well the opposite is also true."

"So, there were no aliens?" Rebecca asked.

"Oh, they're real enough. And so is the conspiracy to cover up the decades of collaboration by this so-called shadow government that was selling the future of our planet. I don't know if they expected me to find out as much of the real truth as I did. The one thing I hadn't bargained for was finding out the truth about myself."

"What truth is that?" Came the gentle prompt.

"I knew that my father was involved with these men. I found out that Samantha had been taken because of his involvement, and I also found out that it should have been me that was taken. I didn't know why at the time but I later came to believe that it was because Bill Mulder wasn't my real father.

"Now I know that for sure, but what I found out wasn't exactly what I'd expected..."

Mulder went on to describe what he'd read in the files during his latest captivity. "It would seem I'm the successful end product of some very extensive experiments in genetic manipulation. 'A true son of the project' was how it was described to me." He laughed bitterly. "I think I was taken by the aliens to make some 'adjustments', to modify some genetic imperfections. I think they made this baby to create another me."

"So any ideas on why they made *you* pregnant? Why not Agent Scully, or some other woman?"

"I don't know. I think our scientists were trying to replicate my genetics, but only succeeded in creating clones and they weren't perfect. It seems that perhaps the aliens succeeded where the human scientists failed."

"But why create another *you*?"

"Alex Krycek said that this baby was quite probably the key to saving the world."

"I don't understand." Rebecca frowned. "Why would the aliens create something that would ultimately foil their plans for colonization?"

"I don't think they did." Mulder seemed more at ease talking now, the investigator in him taking control. "I told you about the grays, and the rebels? I don't think that they are the biggest threat. Think about it. The black oil has been here on Earth since before man evolved. Why would they need to colonize when they are already a part of all our genetic make-up? They wouldn't. But I think that perhaps the genes have become too diluted for the human race to face an oncoming invasion from a different source."

"So, you think that you, and this baby, are the end result of attempts to... what? Strengthen the gene pool again?"

"Sounds crazy, doesn't it?" Mulder asked.

"Not really. We do it to plants all the time to get a better perfume, or a bigger bud, or whatever. Besides, I've seen your blood work and the results of the genetic tests we ran on the baby. You are both very human, yet different somehow."

"Too human?" As if realizing for the first time how late it had become, Mulder glanced out at the darkening sky. "God, we've been talking for hours. I should be going now. I promised Walt I'd have dinner with him."

"How are things between you two?" Rebecca asked as Mulder pushed himself out of the depths of the chair, none too smoothly.

Mulder was quiet for a moment. He sighed. "Not as good as they should be. He 's trying really hard, but... I dunno. I'm having trouble letting him in. God, I've told you more about myself today than I've ever told him. I just can't..." He shrugged.

"That's okay, Mulder." She gave his arm an encouraging rub. "So, you feel like you wanna come back and talk some more next week?"

"I haven't scared you yet?"

"No." She gave him a soulful look. "I don't scare easily. But I think it helped for you to talk about things. Don't you?"

"Yeah. It did help. And I'd like to come back and talk more."

"Fine, then that's settled. Next Friday, same bat-time, same bat-channel."

Mulder nodded as he headed for the front door. "Thanks, Bec. For everything."

"You are very welcome, Fox Mulder, and I'll see you Monday at the clinic?"


There was a delicious aroma coming from the direction of the kitchen as Mulder let himself into Skinner's apartment.

"Something smells good," he called out.

"Hey." Skinner met him in the living room and gave him a hug. "How was your day?"

"Okay. How was yours?" Subject neatly diverted.

"Boring. Just paperwork and month end reports to look over. None of which are anywhere near as creative or interesting as the ones you used to turn in." Skinner turned back to the kitchen to stir something on the stove.

Mulder grunted. "So, what's for dinner?"

"Chicken with dumplings. Hope you like it."

"Sure, sounds great." Mulder eased himself down onto the sofa and stretched out his aching back with a sigh.

Skinner came back in and sat on the edge of the sofa, placing a glass of orange juice on the coffee table as he sat. "Dinner shouldn't be long. You okay?"

"Yeah. Just a little tired, I guess. I went and saw Rebecca today

at home. She, um, offered a shoulder to go cry on." Mulder tried to make it sound light-hearted. He figured that Skinner probably already knew about the arrangement, even though they hadn't discussed it openly before.

"That's good. She's a good friend, she cares about you." Skinner looked away a little guiltily.

"It's okay, Walter. I know you two have talked, and that you suggested it." At the beginnings of Skinner's protest, Mulder continued. "It's okay. She didn't need to tell me, I guessed. I know that you're all worried about me, but I'll be fine. I just need some time to work it all out in my head. But thank you anyway. It did help to talk to her."

"I just didn't know who else to turn to." Skinner's eyes were a little misty, his voice soft with unspoken emotion. "I didn't know what else to do. I don't want to lose you, but sometimes it feels like the closer I try to get to you, the more you pull away."

"I know. I'm sorry. I don't mean to, but it's just so much to deal with right now. I hadn't even had enough time to fully come to terms with being abducted before finding out I was pregnant, and then the bombshells that Beckman dropped on me..."

Skinner reached down and pulled Mulder into a hug. "It's okay, it's okay. I understand. Just don't shut me out. I want to help you; I want to be here for you, and for the baby. I love you, Fox."

Mulder let himself be held. "I love you too, Walter."

After a minute, Skinner relaxed the hold he had on his lover, leaned back and pressed a gentle kiss on his forehead. "Let's eat."

They ate in companionable silence for the most part, then went up to bed.

Mulder didn't object when Skinner pressed light kisses on his neck, under his ear, down over his shoulder. Skinner wanted to take things slowly, he didn't want Mulder to feel like he *had* to make love, he just wanted to show Mulder his feelings without the need to have anything given back. For the moment, that seemed to be confined to kisses, stroking and a sensual hand job. Mulder let out little sighs as he gave in to the sensations and let himself drift. When he'd tried to reciprocate, Skinner said that tonight was just for him. So despite feeling a little apprehensive, he'd let himself go with it and enjoyed having his body worshipped. It was the first time he' d let himself feel anything in the weeks since being kidnapped and he had to admit that it felt really good.

J. Edgar Hoover Building
Tuesday, September 11 - 9/11

Mulder had managed to relax enough over the weekend spent at Skinner's that it almost felt like old times. He'd gone back to work on Monday feeling ready to start dealing with the next steps in his life. Kersh had been out of the office most of the day, but Mulder finally caught up with him late in the day.

It was time to talk about resigning

or at least taking a leave of absence as Walt had suggested instead of abandoning his FBI career completely. Although Mulder wasn't sure, at this point, that he ever saw himself returning. The X Files were a closed door to him now, and to be honest, with a child to care for Mulder wasn't sure he wanted to go back to them anyway. He was going to need something a little more 9 to 5 in the long term and the X Files certainly didn't fall in that category. And he just couldn't see himself returning to profiling full time
that would kill him for sure. Mulder was still coping with the feeling of not really belonging, something that had plagued him ever since his 'return', and was having a hard time working out exactly what it was he wanted to do with his life from here on.

Walt had talked him into taking time to work it all out with a six month leave of absence. It wasn't too hard a stretch for anyone to accept that Mulder felt he needed some time to get himself back together, given the events over the last year or so Skinner had argued, but Mulder didn't want to use that as the excuse. Finally Mulder'd agreed to requesting the leave but on his own terms. Walt was right, it would give him time to think things through without any added pressure from work.

Mulder knocked on Kersh's door, feeling just a little nervous.

"What can I do for you, agent?"

No 'Welcome back, Mulder. Good to see you', or even the slightest hint of concern showed in the stern visage. Mulder came to stop in front of the big oak desk and stood, almost at attention. There had been no invitation to sit, either in real terms or even hinted at. If Kersh wanted to keep this brief and formal, Mulder could handle that.

"Thank you for seeing me, sir. I just wanted to give this to you in person." He slid the neatly typed form across Kersh's desk.

Kersh's stare didn't even waver from Mulder's face. Clearly he had no intention of reading the form, he was waiting for Mulder to actually tell him what it was. Mulder recognized the tactic and refused to squirm in front of the other man.

After a beat of only a second or two he smoothly continued, "It's a request for a leave of absence. Effective immediately. For six months."

"I see." Kersh almost casually picked up the form and skimmed through it. "You don't state a reason other than 'Personal'. Not medical leave?"

Mulder skipped a breath. Could it be that Kersh knew? "No, sir. Should it be?" His voice held firm, not betraying the nervousness he was now feeling.

Kersh sat back casually, dropping the form back on the desk. "Not unless you *want* to take sick leave, or stress leave. Given recent events."

Mulder squared himself even more as he realized the trap that was being set. He had warned Walt of this when they were filling in the form together. Walt had said he was more than entitled to stress leave after all he'd been through, but Mulder had said that would be giving Kersh too much power. If, *if* Mulder ever wanted to back to the Bureau, Kersh would find a way to use it against him.

"There's no reason to, sir. I'm fine. I just need some personal time. I believe that with 15 years service, I'm entitled to request a sabbatical."

Kersh gave nothing away as he tried to stare Mulder down.

Finally he spoke and broke eye contact. "Alright, agent." He leaned forward and picked up his expensive pen, then scribbled his signature on the 'approved' line. "You can clear everything with Employee Services tomorrow." Kersh didn't wait on a reply and clearly didn't expect one. "Just make sure you hand in your badge and weapon to security before you leave."

Without looking up, Kersh dropped the signed form into his "Out" tray and picked up a file from the "In" tray. Clearly Mulder had been dismissed.

"Hey." Scully greeted him when he got back to his desk. "You okay?"

"Yeah, I'm fine." Suddenly he smiled. "I'm *really* fine. I just gave Kersh my leave request, and he approved it."

Scully arched an eyebrow. "He did?"

"Yeah. After today, I'm officially on leave."

September 11, 2001
A little after 8.45am

Mulder had come into work to finalize his paperwork with Employee Services. That task completed, he was now cleaning out the rest of his personal effects from his desk.

The phones in the bullpen suddenly all rang at once and after a few seconds of excited chatter, the horror of what people were hearing slowly registered and the room fell into stunned silence.

A plane had hit one of the towers of the World Trade Centre in New York.

TV monitors around the J. Edgar Hoover building were tuned as one into CNN. Agents watched, conjecture was thrown around that it couldn't have been an accident. Minutes later came the confirmation that this was a deliberate act. A second plane hit the other tower.

Within a half hour teams were being assigned by Domestic Terrorism and were quickly engrossed in trying to make sense of what had just happened. Automatically Mulder and Scully stepped up to receive their assignments. Scully would, of course, join a team that would be required to examine all the forensic evidence, including autopsies of any victims. Some of the forensic teams would fly up to New York as soon as air traffic was allowed to resume. The rest of them would work shifts at Quantico to process the overflow that would undoubtedly be sent to Washington. As the last of the names were called out, Mulder realized his hadn't been included. He went up to ASAC Bryden.

"Excuse me, Sir. My name wasn't on any of the teams you've just assigned."

"Agent..." Bryden glanced down at Mulder's ID, "Mulder. Let me check." The senior agent ran his finger down the computer lists again. "Nope. You're not on here. Maybe there was a mistake, I'll check."

Deputy Director Kersh chose that moment to make an appearance and Bryden almost ran into him as he turned.

"There's no mistake, Agent Bryden. Agent Mulder is on leave. He's only here to pick up his personal effects. *If* it becomes necessary to start calling agents back from leave, we'll let you know, Agent Mulder."

Bryden looked at Mulder apologetically, not sure what to do in the circumstances.

Kersh's cool tone didn't change as he raised his voice slightly so all in the room could hear. "All visitors are requested to leave the building immediately. That includes you, Agent Mulder."

Mulder was about to say something to Kersh's now retreating back, but Scully 's hand on his arm stopped him. "It's probably better that you are on leave, Mulder. You don't need to be caught up in any of this. I reckon half the Bureau would like to trade places with you right now."

"Yeah, but Scully... I hate to stand by when I could be of some use."

"Well, if there's anything I think of...."

The rest of Scully's words were lost in the thunderous boom that shook the building. Lights flickered for a minute before steadying, and it was silent for the second time that morning as several hundred brains processed what might have just happened. Then a lone voice spoke up, a telephone dangling from the agent's nerveless fingers.

"Oh my God, a plane just hit the Pentagon!"

Motion returned and everyone rushed to do... something, anything. All except for two people. In the midst of the mêlée, Scully stood rock still and went as pale as a ghost.

"Scully?" No one seemed to notice except Mulder. "What's wrong?"

His partner looked up at him, sheet white. "Charlie," she whispered. "My brother is on temporary assignment at the Pentagon."

Mulder pulled her into his arms, heedless of who might be watching and caring less. "Don't jump to conclusions, Scully. He'll be fine I'm sure. Look, since I have nothing else to do, I'll try to find out what I can for you. Okay?"

He felt it as Scully physically pulled herself together and nodded. "Maybe he wasn't even there?" She ventured. "I have to call Mom."

The rest of the morning was a blur of action. The Whitehouse had been evacuated within minutes of the first hit; the twin towers collapsed; another plane crashed in Pennsylvania, brave souls forcing it down rather than let terrorists take out another target; strategic federal and state buildings were evacuated; and a state of emergency was called in Washington. The whole country was put on high alert and the navy mobilized to protect the northeastern shoreline.

When the Hoover building was evacuated, anyone not deemed essential personnel was sent home, which at this point included Scully. The forensic work would begin as soon as evidence started to pour in. The teams that needed to work were sent to Quantico where there were underground facilities designed for just this sort of emergency. There was chaos on the roads so it took Mulder and Scully twice as long as normal rush-hour to reach Scully's apartment. Mulder wasn't even going to try to make it out to Alexandria past the emergency at the Pentagon.

It had taken several hours, but finally Scully received a call from her mother telling her that her brother was safe. In the ensuing chaos, it took some time for all personnel to be located and accounted for, but he was fine and was being recalled back to his ship as soon as transport was available.

Mulder managed to get a hold of Skinner before they were evacuated and told him that he was going to Scully's. For his own part, Skinner said it was unlikely he'd get home any time soon himself since he'd been put in charge of several of the teams. Scully made the offer of somewhere to stay if he felt he could get away and wanted a few hours of peace and quiet. Getting anywhere near Crystal City was out of the question until the mess and security around the Pentagon was cleared up.

CNN blared out the latest reports all afternoon and evening in Scully's living room until finally Mulder fell asleep in front of the TV and Scully felt it was safe to change the channel. Her partner didn't look at all comfortable on her couch and she was considering waking him to get him to move into the bedroom when there was a tentative knock on her door. It was late, nearly midnight, and there was only one possible person who would come calling at that hour.

Scully opened the door to a very tired looking Walter Skinner.

He grinned sheepishly. "I was going to just crash in my office, but one of the teams was using my conference table as their command centre."

"Come on in, Walter. Have you eaten?"

"Uh, yeah. We managed to get some food brought in. How is he?" He indicated the sleeping lump on the couch.

"Okay. I was just going to try to get him to use my bed. I mentioned it earlier and he refused. But now that you're here, he might listen."

Skinner shrugged out of his coat and hung it on the coat stand. "What about you, Scully?"

"I'm fine, Sir. My brother is on his way back to his ship, and as soon as I can shift Mulder off my couch, I'm going to turn in." Scully caught the protesting look that Skinner gave her and held up a hand. "Please, you and Mulder take my room. I'm a lot smaller and can fit on the sofabed a hell of a lot easier than you two." Her tone brooked no argument.

Skinner sighed and realized that she'd made her mind up. He went over and crouched down next to the sofa.

"Hey," he called softly, ruffling Mulder's soft hair.

Mulder blinked owlishly at him as he roused. "Hmmm? Walter?"

"Yeah, it's me. Time to go to bed." He tugged Mulder up into a sitting position.

"Thought I was," Mulder muttered sullenly, but allowed himself to be guided up and in the direction of the bedroom.

A muffled curse indicated that a detour to the bathroom was in order, and then a few short minutes later Scully sighed as the bedroom door closed. She crawled into the nest of blankets she'd made on the sofa and was asleep in minutes, but not before saying a quick prayer for the souls of everyone affected by the day's events.

Rebecca Whiting's Residence
Friday, 14 September

The next few days were chaotic for Scully and Skinner. They both worked long hours and Mulder was feeling kinda left out. And that made him feel a little guilty, knowing that he wasn't being purposely shut out, but also knowing there was nothing he could do to help either. Even the Lone Gunmen didn't have time for him.

On Friday, Mulder made his second trip to Rebecca's house. She'd insisted that they carry on as normal and Mulder had no excuse not to go.

There wasn't so much small talk this time as Mulder felt more comfortable opening up about his feelings and fears.

"Since I was returned by the aliens, I've just felt so... I dunno, like I don't belong anywhere. Even before I found out I was pregnant. I was gone for eight months and life just carried on for everyone else. I still feel like I'm playing catch up. I've missed so much and no one seems to remember that. Even Walt and Scully. We'll be talking and they'll say something and I have no idea what they are talking about. When they realize what they've done, they get all self-conscious and conversation pretty much just stops. I get upset because they feel upset about it, and they're upset because they' ve upset me. And around and around it goes."

"It'll get easier," Rebecca soothed.

"Oh, I know. It already is. But there is still so much missing from my life that I'll never be able to get back."

"From theirs, too. They had to get through those months worrying about you, wondering if they'd ever see you again."

Mulder just nodded, unable to answer as his eyes blurred with unshed tears. He took a sip of his tea before continuing on.

"When I was returned, I was pretty badly hurt. I have no memory of what they did to me, although I get flashes sometimes. Of pain. I think I'm screaming. Sometimes I have nightmares and wake up screaming, but I don't know what the dream was about. I've thought about regression hypnotherapy, but I'm not so sure I want to know what they did. It's enough that it took weeks in the hospital to recover. Weeks of poking and prodding, tests after tests. No one could explain why I healed so fast from injuries that should have left me permanently disfigured. I think it was part of what the aliens did. Gave me the ability to heal faster than normal."

"That could be a good thing. It's probably what has given you the ability to carry this child without too many problems."

"That's the other thing. I still can't understand *why* I'm pregnant. I mean the theories I've heard all make sense

that my enhanced genetic make up will allow a successful pregnancy where other surrogates have failed. I guess it was just inconvenient that I happened to be a guy, huh?" He laughed and absently rubbed his belly.

Then he turned serious again. "But what scares me most is the thought that they might come back to take me again. Or worse, that they might come and take the baby. I don't think I could go through that again. I lost my sister; I can't lose my child that way. I just can't." Silent tears slipped down Mulder's cheeks now, and he sniffed as Rebecca handed him a box of Kleenex. "I'm sorry."

She shifted to sit next to him and pulled him into a hug, "It's okay. You're allowed to be scared. You're allowed to cry. There aren't any guarantees in this world, Mulder. No one can guarantee that these aliens won't come back, but you can't let that fear control your life or it will paralyze you. Can I tell you something about myself?"

Mulder nodded as Rebecca sat back, a sad look in her eye.

"When I was in college my sister drove up to see me one weekend. I was exhausted from cramming for finals but she insisted we go to one of the Frat parties. I didn't want to go but let her talk me into it. She had too much to drink and I had to drive us home. I was over-tired and had no business being behind the wheel. We crashed and my sister was killed."

"Oh god, Bec, I'm so sorry."

"Turns out the accident wasn't my fault, but I was so tired I didn't even remember driving. It *could* have been my fault. For a long time I refused to get into a car again, for fear that what happened that night could happen again, could happen to me. For three years I let that fear rule my life. I did a *lot* of walking, but then one day something happened to make me realize that it didn't matter where you are, there's no guarantee you'll be safe. I nearly got hit by a bus crossing the street. So, it was either stay at home for the rest of my life, or put my fear into perspective. I found that I could go back to driving and live my life normally, but I've never forgotten those fears. And that's okay as long as I put everything into perspective."

"I guess. I know what you're saying is right. Christ, I'm a psychologist, I should know these things," Mulder conceded.

"But when it's happening to you, you can't always be objective. I'm not saying that you should forget your fears, just don't let them take over." She sat for a moment and let that sink in. "So, now what are you planning to do with yourself over the next few months?"

Mulder took a deep cleansing breath. "Well. There are some research papers I want to write. And I guess I'm gonna need a bigger apartment."

"Ooh, house-hunting. Do you know what you're looking for? I can put you in touch with my realtor. She was just wonderful with helping us buy this house."

"I hadn't thought of buying a house. I just thought I'd rent a bigger apartment."

"And raise your kid in a high-rise hell? Where were you raised, Mulder?"

"On the Vineyard. I was born there, well not exactly. My mom was taken to Boston when I was born, but we lived there all my life until I went to college. Then my mom sold the Chilmark house and bought one in Connecticut so she could be closer to me while I was at Yale." Mulder chuckled. "You shoulda seen my dad's face when I told him I'd accepted Yale instead of Harvard. And then when I got the scholarship to do post-grad at Oxford, I thought he'd really flip. Mom wanted to move to England but I eventually managed to talk her out of it. She just didn't want me to be so far away. I think she was scared of losing me, too." Mulder groaned. "You think I'm going to wind up like my mom? Frightened to let this kid out of my sight?"

"That you recognize these things now bodes well for the future, don't you think. I'm not saying you won't be overprotective. A lot of parents are. But I think you'll be sensible and I suspect you'll have a lot of help."

"I miss my mom. I wish she was here now, that she could've been here to see her grandchild." Mulder almost whispered, feeling emotional.

"Family's important, I know, Mulder. And I know it's hard on you when you've lost so many that are close to you. You just need to make the most of those you do have near to you, whether they are blood family or just very close friends."

Mulder nodded. "I guess. It's just not the same, you know? But I'm going to do the best I can to raise this child."

"By raising it in a stuffy apartment? What do you have against living in a house with a nice backyard?"

"Nothing. I just never thought about it."

"Well, think. If you're going to move why not get something that's got a nice private yard so you can sit outside even when you don't feel like going out. If you're going to work from home, you might as well be comfortable and have lots of space."

The space part made sense. Mulder was already starting to feel claustrophobic in his small apartment, and he'd been driven to go out every day when he couldn't stand it anymore. He could imagine going nuts if he couldn't get out and thought ahead to when he probably wouldn't feel like going too far when his pregnancy was well advanced.

The session drew to a close and as he drove home, Mulder started to take notice of the suburban neighborhoods he was driving through.

Faced with the weekend on his own, Mulder decided to do some house-hunting. He called Rebecca's realtor on Saturday morning and was soon doing a grand tour of houses up for sale in areas north-west of DC. Finally, as he was about to give up on the day, they viewed a house in Glen Echo Heights, overlooking the Potomac. It was a new house; the current owners were selling without ever having moved in. Mulder couldn't get the realtor to explain exactly why, all she'd say was that the family had decided against moving from Upstate New York.

Mulder didn't much care about the whys; all he knew was that he loved the house. It had a large formal living room and dining room, separated by a wide entrance hall with stairs sweeping up one side. Walking straight through took you into the brightly sunlit family room, the kitchen to one side and a large den and recreation room on the other. Upstairs were five large bedrooms, the main one with a huge walk-in wardrobe, dressing room and opulent bathroom. Mulder loved the double-sized spa bath on first sight. The yard was very private and large, and there was a great patio with a built-in barbecue. Mulder could just imagine Walter and himself relaxing out here on weekends.

The house was probably larger than they really needed, but that just seemed even more perfect to Mulder, there would be plenty of space so neither man would feel hemmed in by the other. Mulder was already mentally picturing Walter's furniture in the formal living room, which he was thinking could be Walt's private den. The family room would be where they spent most of their time. Mulder could use the den as his office for working at home even after the baby came. It was perfect. And it was only fifteen minutes away from the clinic where he was going to have the baby.

Mulder made an offer on the spot. He didn't want to lose the house to anyone else.

On Sunday, Walter finally had a day off. He was so tired and only wanted to sack out in front of the game all afternoon. Mulder was glad in a way, because he wasn't sure how to bring up the subject of the house. He wasn't sure that he'd made the right decision, or even if he had consciously made a decision at all about asking Walter to live there with him.

They were comfortable, Walter sitting at one end of the sofa, Mulder lying down with his head on Walter's lap, facing the television. Walter's right hand grazed lazily up and down Mulder's right side from shoulder to ass and back again.

Walter noticed that Mulder's attention wasn't really on the game. "Are you okay?" he asked, looking down at Mulder and trying to gauge the other man's mood.

"Hmm? Oh, yeah. Just thinking." He didn't look up, just continued to stare at the screen

"I noticed," Walter quipped. "The gears are turning so loudly you're drowning out the TV." Mulder didn't laugh at his attempted joke. "What are you thinking?"

Mulder sighed. There was so much he wanted to say, wanted Walter to understand about him, but he wasn't sure how to say it.

"You know that I love you, right?" Mulder started. "No matter what happens, I'll always love you."

Walter felt a sudden cold fear in his belly. "Of course I know. And I love you, Mulder."

"There are some things I need to say, and I just want you to listen until I' m finished."

"Okay." This could not be good, Walter was almost certain he *didn't* want to listen. He pressed the button on the remote to turn the TV off, giving Mulder his full attention.

"I've been doing a lot of thinking, lately, about my life. And about the things that I read in those reports that Beckman showed me. I know now that I have been the subject of an experiment my entire life and I can't be sure that it will ever end. My greatest fear is being taken again by the aliens, or that they will want the baby. I don't know if I could go through losing it like I did Samantha. I don't know if either of us could stand it. Krycek intimated that it's not over yet. That there is some greater plan in store for this baby's future." Mulder rubbed his belly absently, staring unseeing at the blank television screen.

"I don't remember what was done to me while I was missing, when I was taken from Oregon, and I don't want to know. The nightmares are enough but I suspect that the truth is even worse. When I was returned, I should have died or at the very least had permanent injuries, but I healed completely. My previous scars have healed completely. The doctors said even my tonsils have grown back. I don't know what that makes me. Have I become some sort of immortal or something? I just don't know. Oh, don't worry; it's one theory I don't plan on testing." Mulder sighed, giving Skinner's knee an encouraging squeeze.

"I've come to accept that I can't change the past and I can't let future possibilities paralyze me. You can thank Rebecca for showing me that. I still have a lot of stuff to work through in my head, but I know now that I don't have to go through it all alone. I have you beside me, and I have good friends who are more like family than my own family was sometimes. I love being with you, just like we are now. I don't want to go home to an empty apartment any more. I want to be with you, all the time."

There was silence for a minute or two, then Walter cleared his throat.

"There are some things I need to say, too.

"When I first realized that you cared about me the same way I cared about you, I was scared. Two men in the FBI, and me an assistant director at that, it was a dangerous situation for us both. I thought that any relationship was doomed to fail, that if anyone in the Bureau found out, your career, mine or both, would be over. But you know what, I didn't care. As long as we were together, it didn't matter to me.

"Then when I lost you..." Skinner's voice caught as he remembered the physical pain that he'd gone through then.

Mulder turned over and looked up into Walter's face, saw the tears spill over. He reached up and cupped his lover's cheek. Walter turned his face and pressed a kiss into the palm, then looked down into Mulder's eyes, caressed his hair with one hand and laid the other over their child.

Then he continued, "I knew then what you had gone through, losing your sister. But I never gave up hope. I think I drove your geeky friends insane following every possible lead. The Bureau was no help, not that they believed what I told them, but I knew what I saw. I prayed for a miracle, and then one day you were back. I don't ever want to lose you again. I know that sometimes I can be overprotective, that it might seem like I'm behaving like I'm still your boss..."

Mulder's knowing smile said it all.

"...Yeah, yeah, I know I can be a jerk sometimes. But I want you to promise me that you'll tell me when I'm being like that. Don't bottle it up. I want to share everything with you, and I hope you'll share everything with me."

"Walter, shut up and kiss me."

Mulder sat up and slid over to straddle his lover's lap, looking deeply into those twin pools of chocolate heaven. Their kiss was gentle, tender, full of love and promises. They broke apart when the baby fluttered.

"I guess someone's feeling left out." Mulder remarked.

"So, Mulder, does this mean you've changed your mind about moving in here?" Walter asked warily.

"No. I can't live here, Walter. This is *your* place."

"It can be ours." Mulder just shook his head. "Well, I sure as hell can't move into your apartment."

"I wouldn't expect you to."

Walter was feeling a little confused. "Wait a minute. I thought that you just said that you wanted to be with me all the time. I thought you meant that we'd move in together."

"Do you feel up for a little drive?" Mulder asked cryptically.

Skinner followed the directions that Mulder spoon-fed him, following the George Washington Memorial Parkway northwest, crossing the Potomac. Before they'd left Skinner's apartment, Mulder had made a call. Skinner had presumed it was to Scully. As they pulled into a quiet suburban street, he realized that he'd been wrong in that assumption.

Mulder made the introductions. "Eileen, this is my partner Walter Skinner. Walt, this is Eileen White. She's a realtor that Bec put me in touch with."

Together Eileen and Mulder gave Walter a tour of the house, Mulder describing what he thought should go where, how the formal living room could be converted into a den for Walter, where he could work in peace or go to have his own space, Mulder's den that would no doubt wind up looking just like the cluttered living room in his apartment, and the rest of the house that they could go out and furnish together.

"What do you think?" Mulder asked. "I know it's a fair way out of the city..."

"I won't mind the drive," Skinner answered, "But I don't know..."

Mulder's heart sank. He loved this house and he'd hoped Walter would too. "You don't like it. I know it's big, but since I'm going to be a virtual prisoner here for a while I want some space."

"No, I do like it. Big is fine. It's the perfect house. It's just," he pulled Mulder away out of earshot of Eileen. "Mulder, I can't even begin to imagine how much this house costs. There's no way we could afford it on my salary alone, with you not working, even after I sell the condo."

Mulder sighed. He'd been afraid of this. He hoped that Walter would accept the solution.

"You don't need to sell the condo. You can let it. We don't need to find the money, it'll be paid from out of my inheritance, as an investment for *our* future, our child's future. Please, Walter, I *want* this house."

"It's not right that I don't pay half."

"Why?" asked Mulder. "If you had the money to buy it for me, you'd do it, wouldn't you?"

"Of course I would. I want you to be happy."

"Then why should it matter where the money comes from, as long as it's legal? If it makes you feel any happier, I could charge you rent, or take payment out of your body," Mulder added with a smirk.

Skinner knew when he was beaten and Mulder was right, it didn't really matter where the money came from as long as Mulder was happy. And Lord only knew that if the money was coming from that left to Mulder by his dead father then it was the least the elder Mulder could do to make up for the past.

The smile that Mulder gave him put the last of his doubts about the house to rest. If Mulder wanted it, Mulder would have it and Walter Skinner was not going to stand in his way.

Mulder got the call from the realtor the following day; their offer had been accepted.

Since the place was empty and Mulder's family lawyer would be paying cash, Escrow could be completed in as little as two weeks. Mulder was anxious to move in, but decided that there was a little bit of work to be done on the house before then. He wanted the Gunmen to install a state-of-the-art security system, thought that a few modifications needed doing, and of course he and Walter had some serious furniture shopping to do.

So it was decided. They would move in the weekend after Mulder's birthday. Mulder protested that it didn't matter about his birthday but Walter was firm. It was going to be Mulder's 40th and he'd already decided to make plans for a special weekend away, not that he was about to tell Mulder anything, he wanted it to be a surprise - a nice surprise he hoped...

Mulder's apartment
Tuesday, 25 September, 10.13am

CNN droned on in the background as Mulder sat at his desk, trying to work on the article he was writing based on one of his old cases. He was having a hard time concentrating. Somehow his X-Files experiences paled in comparison to recent global events, and he wondered why he was even bothering. But deep down he knew - life just had to go on. He was one of the lucky ones, he considered.

Two weeks had passed since 9/11, the date that would be forever etched into the memory of humanity. Two weeks into Mulder's leave. Two weeks where Walter Skinner, Assistant Director of the FBI and lover of Fox Mulder, had been working himself to the bone, sparing only Sundays for personal time. And even then, part of that one day off was spent poring over reports and work brought home.

Scully was working equally hard, splitting her time between the forensic and investigative teams. Even the Lone Gunmen were deeply involved in their own way. They had asked Mulder if he'd like to come over and help them sort through the masses of "information" being fed through unofficial channels. That had gotten him through some of last week but had left him feeling exhausted at the end of each brain-numbing, fruitless day. It was worse than doing wire-tap duty. He'd told them eventually that if they came across something that looked really promising, to bring it to him and he'd see it got into the right hands.

It felt to Mulder like he was in a kind of limbo, thrust into this no-man's land quite cruelly. It wasn't supposed to have worked out like this. Both Scully and Skinner had intended to spend a lot of time with him and help him adjust to a life of leisure. Instead, through no fault of theirs, he was left alone and he was floundering. Not that he really wanted to become enmeshed in the tragic events and the subsequent investigation. Even when part of him felt like he should be doing more to help, it quite simply wasn't his job any more. Kersh had made him painfully aware of that fact.

He was still continuing his weekly sessions with Rebecca each Friday, which helped him keep things in perspective, but it was hard to get used to sitting on the sidelines.

He'd thought that buying the house would at least give him something to focus on, but until escrow was completed in another week, there wasn't much he could start on. He'd packed most of his stuff up ready for the move, and he'd managed to throw out some of the junk he no longer wanted. Frohike had come over on Saturday and taken some of it off his hands, the rest had gone down to the furnace - stuff he didn't trust being taken out in the trash.

The initial excitement of the new house had worn off and now he just felt... bored.

Mulder stretched back, hands in the small of his back to alleviate the start of an ache caused by too many hours sitting in front of his computer. And he had to get up to use the bathroom, again. He supposed he should also shower and get dressed, although even that simple act was becoming more of a chore lately. It was a challenge finding anything that still fit. He was down to one decent pair of chinos that were getting a little tight, or sweat pants. He was starting to detest sweats. Sure, sweats had a use, but they were simply not his idea of casual wear 24/7.

When he was dressed in the chinos and a polo shirt, he surveyed himself in the mirror hanging inside the wardrobe door. At 24 weeks along he looked like he'd developed a beer gut; more like a beer barrel, he wryly thought to himself. His hip bones had vanished completely and bending over to touch his toes was no longer an option. The chinos rode low, his belly hanging well over the top. For someone as much of a clothes horse as Mulder was, the look was definitely not good. As he pulled the polo shirt out to leave it untucked, he decided that it was time he went out to buy some bigger clothes, and he really had no excuse to put it off.


Shopping was probably one of the lowest things on Mulder's scale of favorite things, even though he was actually a bit of a clothes snob. Not that he would ever admit it, and despite the fact that he usually put no thought at all into what he wore when he got dressed each morning. His suits were Armani, his shirts usually Ralph Lauren, and his shoes hand-made Italian. But whatever he wore, even just dressed in jeans and sweater, he wore naturally well. Which was why it made it so much harder to satisfy him today. His new body shape made everything he wore feel strange, not quite uncomfortable just not as unconsciously natural, and he was forced to compromise.

He hadn't gone to his usual menswear store since he wasn't shopping for business suits and, to be honest, he was a little embarrassed to let Henry see him in his current state. Instead he'd ventured out to Georgetown, where he found a store that stocked designer labels in unusual sizes. Five pairs of pants, six shirts and three sweaters later Mulder was ready to call it quits. But first he needed to get something to eat and drink as he was beginning to feel a little light-headed. It had been a long time since he'd eaten breakfast.

He was about to enter the little caf that he and Scully sometimes went to when he heard...


Mulder turned and saw Maggie Scully right behind him. He suddenly, inexplicably, felt like a little boy caught with his hand in the cookie jar. He defensively hid his belly behind the shopping bags he was carrying.

"Uh, Mrs. Scully. Hi," he stammered.

"Fox, I thought that was you. How are you? Dana said that you'd been..." Mrs. Scully didn't seem to know how to finish the sentence gracefully.

"Oh, uh, I'm fine, Mrs. Scully. Thank you."

"Are you sure, Fox? You look a little peaked."

"No, really, I'm okay. I just need to get something to eat." Mulder indicated the caf.

"What a coincidence! I was just about to get a late lunch myself. Do you mind if I join you?"

Mulder had been raised with impeccable manners, so no matter how much he wanted to refuse, he couldn't. He felt a little guilty for even beginning to entertain the thought that he was trying to avoid his best friend's mother before he realized that he really would like some company after all.

They were quickly seated in a corner booth and gave their order to the waiter - Caesar salad with coffee for Mrs. Scully and Mulder ordered a grilled cheese and chicken open sandwich with iced tea. Several seconds passed in awkward silence before they both spoke at the same time, Mulder with, "So, how are you doing," and Maggie with, "How are you, really, Fox?" They both laughed and Mulder insisted Maggie talk first.

"Dana tells me that you've taken a leave of absence from work."

"Yes, ma'am. I need some time off, to, um... I just need a little time away from work."

Maggie gave him a sympathetic smile. Scully had told her that Mulder had been kidnapped again and that there were a few things that he was having a hard time dealing with. She wasn't specific with any details, though she'd sounded very concerned for him.

"Is there anything I can do to help?"

"Oh, thank you, but no, I don't think so. It's just that... I need a change for a while, to get my life back on track, I guess."

Another smile from Maggie. Politely she changed the subject, regaling Mulder with tales of what she did to keep herself busy; her clubs, her volunteer work, her family. Their food arrived and was eaten while the conversation bubbled along like a cheerful little stream. Mulder felt relaxed and comfortable talking to Scully's mom as if they were old friends, and they did have some history together that was unique and personal.

Eventually Mulder mentioned the house, and that he was going to have to do some decorating and, quite frankly, had no idea where to begin.

"It's nice that you're settling down, Fox. I wish Dana would." Maggie stopped as she noticed the look on Mulder's face. It was a cross between guilt and embarrassment, with no small measure of pain thrown in for good measure. "Oh, sweetheart, I wasn't implying that you... It's not your fault that she hasn't married and raised a family. Please, don't think that I blame you for anything."

"You should, Mrs. Scully. I never set out to ruin her life but our work has taken up so much time and energy. There are a lot of things I regret; Dana not having the kind of life you'd like her to have is one of them."

"It's true that I would have liked her to settle down, marry and raise children, but Fox, I don't think Dana would have had that kind of life even if she'd never met you. You know that I used to hope that maybe one day you and she might settle down together, but Dana has made it clear to me that you just don't have that kind of relationship."

Mulder flushed with embarrassment again. He wondered just how much Scully had told her mom. "Scully... Dana is one of my closest friends. I love her like a sister," he said, a little defensively.

Maggie Scully reached across and patted his hands to stop them shredding the paper napkin onto his plate. "I know. She said that you had someone else in your life. She wouldn't say who, and I got the impression that it was a relationship that she didn't originally approve of, one that perhaps I might not be comfortable with either."

There was an awkward silence before Maggie continued. "I'm a woman with very strong beliefs, Fox. Belief in God and the teachings of the Church."

"Yes, ma'am." Mulder now felt sure that Mrs. Scully knew about him and Walter. How she'd guessed, he'd never know, but she knew.

"And you know how much I care about you."

Here it comes, Mulder thought. And wondered why it mattered so much to him that he was going to be such a disappointment to this woman.

"Does this other... person... make you happy?"

A nod and a sigh from Mulder.

"Then that's what really matters. I understand that things are not always as the Church would have them. And I think one of the lessons best learned in life is tolerance and understanding, even when it goes against those beliefs."

Mulder's head snapped up, surprised. He certainly hadn't expected this. "I... I didn't think you'd... I dunno, that you'd be so tolerant of... that sort of thing."

"It's a difficult thing to accept. It goes against all my beliefs, but I care about you as if you were my own family, Fox. You helped me through a very difficult time. You've always been there for Dana. I owe you at least the courtesy of acceptance of your choices. I know that you've been through a very tough couple of years, losing your mother, and everything else that's happened. I just want you to know that I'm here for you, if you need anything. Someone to talk to, someone to be a mother to you, if you want it."

"Thank you, Mrs. Scully. You don't know how much that means to me." Mulder felt a lump in his throat as he spoke. "T-There's more I'd like to tell you about. But I... I don't know if you'll be able to understand it, or that you'll still feel the same after I tell you."

God only knew why, but Mulder wanted to tell her everything. Whether it was wise to do so didn't even come into it. She wanted to be a mother to him, and he really felt like he needed one right now. He felt that if she wanted to give him that kind of support, she deserved to know what she was letting herself in for, so she could decide if she still wanted to have anything to do with him.

The caf had emptied of the lunch crowd some time ago, so no one sat within hearing distance. Even so, Mulder lowered his voice and leaned in close so only Maggie could hear what he said.

"This will be a bit of a shock, it was to me, to everyone really," he started, paused, then decided to get it all out with one breath before he chickened out. "I'm going to have a baby."

Maggie looked a little confused. Had she misunderstood about Fox's relationship? She said as much.

Mulder shook his head. "No, you haven't got it wrong, Mrs. Scully. I don't mean that someone else is having my baby, I mean I'm having a baby." He watched nervously as Maggie absorbed what he'd said, and finally as her eyes grew round in surprised understanding.

"You mean... you are..." she stuttered to a halt, not able to say the words.

Mulder nodded, unable to meet her eyes. "I'm afraid so."

"Oh, dear God." Her hand flew to her mouth.

"I... I thought you should know."

"But how? I mean, it's just not possible..."

"Theoretically it is. I know what you must be thinking, and if you don't want to have anything to do with me now, I'll understand. But please, just don't tell anyone else about this."

"Fox, I don't even know what I'm thinking. How? I mean, how did it happen? Did you do this on purpose?" Mrs. Scully's tone became a little harsh.

"No! God, no. I didn't do anything, Mrs. Scully. You have to believe me. I wouldn't do this to myself," ...... said desperately. "As far as we can determine, it happened during the time I was abducted, before. Some one or some thing did this to me, and by the time I realized what was happening to me, I just couldn't bring myself to get rid of it, not when it appears to be a normal healthy baby."

"Of course you couldn't! Life is sacred, no matter how it is brought into being." Maggie sighed. "This is all a bit of a shock, and I can't imagine how you must be feeling. Oh," Maggie paused, "does Dana know about this?"

"Yeah. She's been helping me through it. I couldn't have asked for a better friend."

"And your... um."

"Partner? He knows. He was as shocked as you are, believe me. But he's been great. I want us to be together, as a family. That's why I bought the house. Although I'm beginning to wonder if I've bitten off more than I can chew," Mulder answered glumly.

Grateful for a chance to change the subject, Maggie asked, "Does it need a lot of work?"

"Oh, no. It's brand new. I just want a couple of things done before we move in," he faltered for a second and felt his cheeks flush, still uncomfortable with admitting his relationship with another man in front of this woman, but Maggie said nothing. "And I need to go furniture shopping. Trouble is, I don't have a clue where to start."

"Would you like some help? I'm not exactly Martha Stewart, but I know a thing or two about decorating."

Mulder was surprised for the second time in an hour by his best friend's mother. It said so much about her that even after the bombshell he'd dropped on her, she would still want to have anything to do with him, let alone offer to help him with the house.

"Sure. I'd love it. Escrow is next Friday and Walt and I want to move in three weeks after that. But he's so busy at work and doesn't have time to go shopping."

"Walt? Your partner?" There was no judgment in her voice as she asked.

"Yeah. Uh, you already know him. He was, um, Scully's and my supervisor. Walter Skinner."

"Oh!" Maggie gasped. "I would never have guessed..."

"If that changes things, I'll understand."

"No. No, it's fine. It was just a... a surprise, that's all."

"It's been a day for them, hasn't it?" Mulder chuffed.

"It certainly has, Fox. And now that the shock has worn off a little, I didn't even ask. Are you really all right? When is the little one due? If you need any advice from a mother, please just ask. I meant what I said before."

"I'm fine, really. As well as can be expected, I guess." Mulder leaned back into the worn vinyl of the booth where he sat catty-corner to Maggie, letting her see his swollen tummy properly for the first time. "It's due in January sometime, so I guess I'm about five months along. And thank you. I think I probably will need your advice. I've got a great Ob-gyn, but nobody has been able to give me any practical advice, taken from experience."

"Well, I think I'm pretty qualified, having had four children."

They chatted for a while longer, discussing what it was like being pregnant, with Mrs. Scully explaining a lot of what Mulder was going through, and suddenly so many things about the way he was feeling made sense to him. He was grateful to Maggie and, by the time they parted company, he felt like a load had been lifted from him.

When he got home, Mulder called the realtor to see if it was possible to have access to the house on Thursday afternoon, so that he could show Maggie around to get an idea of what furniture to shop for and make some notes on the work he wanted done. Eileen was more than happy to comply with his request, so Mulder called Maggie to arrange to meet.

Mulder's newfound state of contentment wasn't even ruffled by the twin shocked exclamations of both his lover and his friend as they both chorused, "You told who?" when he mentioned his lunchtime conversation to them over a shared dinner at Scully's house that evening.

Scully was relieved somewhat, after she'd calmed down, but Skinner was apprehensive.

Mulder tried to reassure him. "Relax. She'll keep our secret. I just couldn't lie to Mrs. Scully, and she's been so good to me over the years. It'll be all right."

"He's right, Walter. You can trust my mom," Scully chimed in.

With a sigh, Walter said, "okay". Besides, the damage was already done.

On Thursday, Maggie checked the entire house out, top to bottom, made suggestions and wrote everything down in a notebook as Mulder told her the ideas he'd already had. She had also brought her contractor along so he could measure up for the shelving Mulder wanted constructed in his den, and for adding doors to the room that was to be Walter's den and to the dining room. It had been the only feature that Mulder hadn't really liked; the rooms off the entrance hall were a little too open-plan. He especially wanted Walter's den to have privacy.

The contractor left, assuring Mulder that the job wasn't too big and could easily be done within the three-week timeframe. All Mulder had to do was pick the style of doors he wanted and the contractor would do the rest. All that was left to do was for Maggie and Mulder to go on their quest for furnishings.

It was almost an anticlimax when, on October 5th, Mulder signed the final papers and collected the keys.

He called Skinner after he left the Realtor's, said he would be waiting for him at the condo when he got home, and not to be late. Mulder was in the mood to celebrate and was looking forward to an evening of seduction with his lover.

Walter arrived home at a little after seven to find his apartment lit with subdued lighting and a delicious aroma emanating from the kitchen. His stomach growled in anticipation of dinner and something else inside of him growled in anticipation of dessert. He called out to Mulder to let him know that he'd arrived home.

"Be down in a second," came the answering call from upstairs in the bedroom.

Walter hung his overcoat on the rack, placed his briefcase carefully in its usual spot by his desk, stacked the mail on the desk, and then shed his suit jacket and tie, draping them carelessly on the back of his desk chair. He was about to go and nose around the kitchen when his lover came down the stairs.

Mulder looked stunning in a forest green sweater and tan cargo pants. Skinner could have been mistaken, but he could swear Mulder was just glowing.

"Hey. How was your day? You want a drink?" Mulder asked, kissing him lightly. He poured Skinner a scotch without waiting for a reply.

"My day was fine, so was yours to look at you. Everything go okay with the house? I'm sorry I couldn't get away. Thanks," he said accepting the drink and taking a sip.

"The house was fine. We've got the keys, the contractors start on Monday, and the guys are going to start wiring the security in. I'm a big boy, I could handle signing a few papers on my own. Although I thought my attorney was going to cry when he handed over the check."

Mulder waited until Skinner had taken another sip of his drink and then kissed him again, more deeply this time. "Mmmm. Tastes good second-hand. Can't stand to drink the stuff, but it's good on you." Mulder paused as if in thought. "Now if I could only get you to drink Tequila."

Skinner laughed. "Not a chance. And I don't think you should be trying to drink, even second-hand. What's for dinner?"

"I stopped at that new Thai place after I dropped Mrs. Scully home. I've been keeping it warm in the oven. You ready to eat?"

"Yeah, I'm starved." Walter cocked an eyebrow at Mulder. "Should I be jealous that you're spending so much time with Scully's mom?"

"No, silly," ...... said, in between carrying several covered dishes in, setting them on the table. "We went for another quick look around the house to make sure that we were all set for our shopping expedition next week."

"More shopping?" Walter asked, piling fragrant pad thai onto his plate. "I thought you'd already been shopping for the stuff you want?"

"Some of it, but there's still a lot to organize. The pieces we've already ordered are being delivered early next week and as soon as they arrive, we'll know what else is needed. I'd like to move my stuff as soon as possible, but I've got to wait until the workmen have finished in my den. That part should be done in a week."

"Sounds like you've got it all under control." It came out a little gruffer than he'd meant it to.

Mulder paused, a spoonful of Choo Chee Goong half way to his plate. "What does that mean? I didn't think you had time to go furniture shopping with me. You said it was fine with you if Mrs. Scully and I went ahead. It's not too late to cancel everything and start over if you want. I'm sure Mrs. Scully will understand."

The edge in Mulder's voice made Skinner sigh. He hadn't meant to sound confrontational.

"I'm sorry. That's not what I meant. I'm tired, and I guess I felt a little jealous at you having all the fun with Mrs. Scully while I'm slaving away at work. Not that I want to go shopping particularly. I'm happy for you to do it and I'll just reap the benefits. I'm no good with picking stuff out anyway. Sharon used to do all that kind of thing, she told me I had no taste."

"I don't know. This place is tasteful. A lot better than the clutter in my apartment. You're probably more qualified to shop than I am."

"Don't you believe it. There's a very good reason that this place is furnished in a minimalistic style. You're in good hands with Mrs. Scully."

They finished their meal with Skinner updating Mulder on all the Bureau scuttlebutt, almost causing Mulder to choke with laughter at some of the goings-on. He was still giggly when they went upstairs to the bedroom, leaving the dishes on the table. Mulder had insisted he'd clean up in the morning, that there were more important things they could be doing to keep themselves occupied.

Mulder pulled Walter close as he backed towards the big bed, pulling him down almost on top of him as he sat and then lay back. Mindful of not landing on Mulder's belly, Skinner took his own weight on his arms and leaned over Mulder.

"Now just what do you want, lover boy?" he asked.

Mulder pulled his feet up to rest on the edge of the bed, spreading his knees provocatively. "I want you, big boy. I want you to make me scream."

He grabbed two handfuls of Walter's dress shirt then he pulled the buttons undone, one by one. Slowly Mulder stripped him, pulling his lover down to lie on the bed beside him as he worked on Skinner's pants. When Walter was naked, he returned the favor, pausing to run his hands appreciatively over Mulder's bulging stomach, placing light kisses up and down it.

"I knew it," Mulder breathed. "You don't want me, you just want my gut." He pretended to be put out.

"Now you know my secret," Walter answered. "God, Fox, you are just so damned sexy."

"You mean that? You're not just saying it? Because I think I'm starting to look gross."

"Never. It's kinda like having the best of both worlds, but in a good way. You'll never be less than all male to me, Fox, but having a baby as well is just perfect."

"Just as long as you never forget that I am all male, Walter. Oh, yes, just like that. That's sooo good," Mulder panted as Walter swallowed down his penis to prove his point.

With both of them considering themselves bisexual rather than strictly homosexual, Mulder sometimes wondered if Walter missed having a female partner sometimes. He knew there were times that he did in certain ways, but Walter usually managed to make him forget, much like he was doing now.

It didn't take too long for Mulder to come with Walter's tongue and lips coaxing him along. But that wasn't enough to satisfy him, he wanted more. He lifted his hips and wiggled them provocatively as Walter leaned up and forward to kiss him. He knew he was driving his lover wild. Walter grabbed two pillows and pushed them under Mulder's hips then positioned himself and let his own cock find its way between the hot butt-cheeks, smiling as he found that Mulder had obviously prepared himself earlier. There were twin groans of pleasure as he slid slowly but surely inside, then pumped in and out until neither man could stand it any longer. It was short and sweet. Mulder came a second time, no less powerfully than the first.

Walter pulled out slowly and fell bonelessly beside his lover. "God, that was good. I love you, Fox."

"Mmmm. Me too," Mulder replied sleepily.

Groping for Walter's hand, he kissed the palm and then rolled over to spoon up against Walter's front. He wrapped the hand he still held around his belly, so that together they could feel the inevitable kicking that would start as soon as Mulder got comfortable. Mulder always groused that the "damn kid" always started up as soon as he wanted to rest. Maggie Scully had said it was perfectly normal. It was disconcerting sometimes, but when he and Walter were lying together like this, he actually quite liked it as it made him feel like they really were a family.

The next morning Mulder stumbled into the kitchen, bleary eyed and mussed. He sank into the chair, folded his arms on the kitchen table and dropped his head down onto the makeshift pillow.

Skinner had cleaned up the kitchen and piled last night's dishes into the dishwasher. He came over and rubbed Mulder's back. "Why didn't you stay in bed? You could have slept longer."

"No, I couldn't," Mulder yawned. "I don't think I'm ever going to get a good night's sleep again," he groused. "I couldn't get comfortable, and I had to get up to pee twice. Thanks," he said as Walter put a glass of juice in front of him.

"I thought you were used to not sleeping, O King of the Insomniacs," Skinner answered.

"It never used to bother me, but I need more sleep now, and I just can't get it. I can't lie on my stomach anymore, if I lay on my back for too long I get cramps in my legs, and lying on my side hurts my back. You need more pillows, Walter. I need more pillows. Mrs. Scully said it might help."

"Then we'll get them."

"Can we go to the store today? I don't think I want another night like last night."

"You should have said so sooner. I don't want you to be uncomfortable, Fox."

"It's inevitable, really. But to be honest, I've only really started to notice it the last week or so. Junior's put on a growth spurt, I think."

It was true, Mulder's belly did seem a lot bigger suddenly. Not really surprising considering he was just about into his third trimester. Mulder looked healthy and made sure he was getting plenty of exercise through walking and swimming. Skinner thought he looked good carrying a few extra pounds, and told him so.

The rest of the weekend was spent watching baseball on TV, they shopped and Mulder bought a couple of long body-pillows. Skinner sat patiently while Mulder described what he and Mrs. Scully had planned for decorating the house, saying he couldn't wait to move in. Mulder was as excited as a kid anticipating Christmas, especially about the part where they would be really living together.

Now that he'd gotten used to the idea, Mulder really was glad, and extremely grateful to Rebecca for helping sort out the stuff in his head. Walt pointed out that they were practically living together now, especially since Mulder was spending every night at his place since he'd packed everything up at his own apartment. But, in Mulder-logic, that wasn't the same thing.

On Sunday night, Walter brought up something he'd been trying to figure out how to mention all weekend. They were lying comfortably on the sofa, Mulder spooned up in front of him - it had become Mulder's favorite position - now with the body-pillow added for Mulder to curl around.

"Fox, don't make any plans for next weekend, okay? I'm going to get away from the office early on Friday and I've got a surprise for you. I'm taking you away for the weekend."

Mulder frowned. "I don't know, Walt, there's a lot to do at the house."

"You can take the weekend off. I want to spoil you."

"What's so special about next weekend?" Mulder thought for a moment, then, "Oh. Oh, no, Walt. It's just another day."

"Fox Mulder, your birthday - especially your 40th birthday - is not just another day."

"It's no big deal."

"For me it is. You missed your birthday last year, you've missed so much... I just want a chance to make some of that up to you, if you'll let me," Skinner insisted.

"You have already." Mulder felt himself getting all misty-eyed, and leaned up for a kiss. He saw the determined look in Walter's eye and gave in. "Okay. Sure. It'll be nice."

Friday, 12 October.

The week went by so fast that Mulder felt he hadn't had time to blink. In between his appointments with Rebecca (who steadfastly refused to come see the house until he and Walt had moved in and settled themselves) he spent part of each day at the new house, supervising deliveries of furniture and listening to the Lone Gunmen explain the new state-of-the-art security system. The contractors were finished in his den by late Thursday, as promised, and there was nothing much to be done now until the paint dried and set, and the fumes cleared, before he could move his stuff in. The doors off the entryway would be done next week. Everything was working to plan.

Skinner arrived home at lunch time on the day before Mulder's birthday to pick up his lover.

"Where are we going?" Mulder asked, and then when he saw they were headed to the airport, he got a little worried. "I don't know if I'm supposed to fly, Walter. It might not be safe."

"Relax, it's okay. I checked with Rebecca when we saw her on Monday. There's no reason you can't fly. It won't be a long trip."

"Oh, okay," Mulder sighed. "So where are we going?"

Walter smiled a knowing smile, which drove Mulder crazy. "You'll see."

They took a commuter flight to Albany, New York, then a charter to Springfield, Vermont, where a limousine was waiting to drive them to a little town called Putney, and the most charming Inn that Mulder had ever seen. The original house dated back to 1790, a grand old house with hand-hewn timber beams, a giant four-poster bed in their room and the most delightful gardens surrounding the house.

Mulder was speechless. "Oh Walter, this is just beautiful!" he exclaimed when he could finally find his voice.

They had what Mulder called 'a traditional New England dinner' in the exquisite dining room before retiring to their room and making passionate love in front of the fireplace.

The next morning Mulder awoke to Walter pampering him with breakfast in bed and showering him with birthday kisses. He didn't usually enjoy eating in bed, but Walter made it such a pleasant experience that they finished off by making love again. After breakfast their limousine was waiting to take them on a drive through the historic countryside. Mulder couldn't resist buying a couple of things from the various arts and crafts stores they passed. They stopped for lunch in nearby Brattleboro on the way.

As the day drew to a close and they headed back to the Inn, Skinner said, "I have one more gift for you, Fox. And I hope that you'll really like this one. Strictly speaking, it's a gift for both of us, because you'll be giving me as much as I'm giving you."

Mulder was puzzled by Walter's riddle. What on earth could he mean?

He found out when they arrived back at the Inn and Walter led him out to the garden near the river, where another man waited patiently inside the gazebo. They stopped under the trees, amidst the golds and reds of the autumn leaves. Walter turned to Mulder, took his hands and looked deeply into his eyes.

"I love you, Fox, with all that I am. I love you so much that it hurts. I don't ever want to lose you again."

"I love you, too, Walter. And I don't ever want to lose you, either. I want to spend the rest of my life with you."

Skinner breathed a sigh of relief. "That's good, I was hoping you'd say that. Do you see that man over there?" he asked, pointing to the gazebo.


"His name is Reverend Alistair Claremont. And he's waiting to marry us. If you'll have me."

Mulder stared at Skinner for a moment, dumbfounded. "M...marry? Walter, I didn't think it was possible... I... I don't know what to say."

"It's not legal anywhere else, Fox, but here in Vermont there is a loophole that lets the minister marry same-sex couples. He's not a minister of any of the mainstream religions, you know, like Catholic or anything. He's a minister of the Free Church of America. Look, I doubt it would stand up in a court of lawif put to the test, but you and I will know we're married. All you have to do is say yes."

"Oh, Walter. Of course I will!" Then Mulder hesitated a moment. "But, what about Scully, and our friends? Shouldn't they be here to share this?" He thought for a moment and then said, "No. No, this is going to be just for us."

"You're sure?" Walter asked.

"Yes, I'm sure. Come on, Walt, let's get married."

Skinner grabbed Mulder's hand and stopped him. "Wait. I want to do this properly." He dropped to one knee and looked up at Mulder, who was now blushing furiously. "Fox, will you marry me?"

"Yes, Walter, I will marry you," Mulder answered in the most serious tone he could muster.

As the sun went down, Mulder and Skinner pledged themselves to each other in front of Reverend Claremont, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, till death do they part. Walter slipped a plain gold band on Mulder's finger.

Inside it was engraved:
Together Forever.

Mulder wanted to cry. "I don't have one for you."

"Well, you're just lucky that these things come in sets of two, aren't you?" Walter chuckled as he produced a matching ring, complete with inscription.

"You think of everything. I knew there was a reason I loved you." Mulder put the ring on his new husband's finger, and then they kissed. "This has been the best birthday I ever had."

"And it's not over yet," Walter replied, with a twinkle in his eye.

Arriving back at Walter's apartment on Sunday night, Mulder said, "I wish this weekend could have lasted forever."

"The weekend may be over, Fox, but the rest of our lives together is just beginning. We move into our new house next week and have a new baby to look forward to in around 3 months. I know it won't erase the past, but I want to fill the rest of your life with enough good memories so you won't have enough space in your head for any of the bad ones."

Walter pulled Fox into a warm embrace. It felt good to Mulder to be held like this. He felt safe and loved, and gave him hope that there could be a happy future for him with this man and their expected child. And with good friends like Scully, her mother, the Gunmen, Rebecca and Susan, he felt like he had the best family in the world.

Friday, 19 October 2001

Mulder could scarcely believe that only one week ago, he and Walter were about to head off for the most romantic weekend of his life. The days that had followed were busy for Mulder. He'd arranged to have movers bring over all his stuff early in the week so he could unpack and set up his den, which he'd done with Maggie's help. They'd spent most evenings packing Walter's stuff, which would be moved today.

On Monday afternoon he and Walter had gone to the clinic for his usual check up. Rebecca had noticed the rings and given them both a warm hug and her congratulations. No explanations had been necessary, she'd been involved in Skinner's little plan and not only on the consultation of whether or not it was safe for Mulder to fly, but also on whether she thought that he was ready for such a big step. She'd told Walter that he should go with his gut instinct.

Scully was taken by surprise when they had told her earlier. She and her mother had met them at Skinner's apartment so they could go to the clinic together. She was genuinely happy for them, but Mulder could still see some shadow of doubt in her eyes. Maggie had come to his rescue.

"Dana, honey, I think it's wonderful that Fox and Walter want to show their commitment to one another. It's important now that there is a baby coming. That child will need stability, a real family."

Of course, that had shocked Scully even more than the news of Mulder and Skinner's commitment ceremony. At the clinic, Mulder introduced Maggie to Rebecca, who greeted her warmly and said how nice it was that Mulder had someone like her to help him through this tough time.

Now, just a few days later, Mulder was standing in the middle of Walter's apartment as the movers bustled about him, lifting furniture and boxes, slowly emptying the place out.

Skinner had taken the day off without a single guilty thought. He'd put in enough hours over the last month and figured he was owed at least this much. As the movers took down the last load, and Mulder did a last check for anything missed in cupboards, he looked wistfully around.

"Sorry to be leaving?" Mulder asked softly as he came up from behind and slid his arms around his lover's waist.

Skinner didn't hesitate as he answered, "No, not when I'm moving on to something better. Although, we've had some... interesting times here."

Mulder snorted a laugh. "That we have. I remember the first time you jumped my bones here. I'm glad you were able to get the stains out of the rug." He looked over at the spot that had needed cleaning with fondness.

The pizza sauce had left an awful mark in the cream rug, but neither of them had cared then.

"I didn't hear you objecting at the time. And I think you actually started it."

"I did not!" Mulder exclaimed with feigned outrage. "I came here that night because... because..." he sighed. "I don't remember why I came here that night."

"You were pretty upset. You felt that Scully had let you down at the OPR hearing by not supporting what you said you saw in Antarctica. I'm not sure why you came to me, but I'm glad you did."

"I don't think I had anywhere else to go. Diana was hounding me, trying to reinvent the time we'd had together. I didn't know what I wanted. I didn't know who to trust. I wasn't even sure I could trust you, not after the Pinkus case."

"I had apologized about that. I think that was when I first really understood how I felt about you. You scared the hell out of me and I handled it badly. I tried to make it up to you."

"Yeah, I know. I think that the Review Board did us a favor, really. If they hadn't transferred Scully and I to Kersh's command, we might never have gotten together. It was your friendship that got me through those months."

"I thought I'd lost you that night. One minute we were eating pizza, drinking beer and watching the baseball play-offs, then I tried to kiss you."

Mulder shook his head. "I freaked out. Ran out of here as if my ass was on fire. I made it all the way down to my car before it really registered what had happened. And then I felt so stupid because I'd run out when what I should have done was just kissed you back. I thought I'd blown it completely."

"You couldn't have felt as bad as I did. No one could have been more shocked than me when you knocked on the door half an hour later, and practically threw yourself at me."

"Yeah, well. I nearly didn't come back. I wasn't sure you'd let me in again so I figured I'd just go for it as soon as you opened up. That and it was the second game of the World Series, Yankees versus Padres! Kinda ironic, huh? That was exactly three years ago, and now we're 'married' and about to move into our new house together."

Skinner was suddenly very serious. "I'm not sorry you came back."

"Nor am I." Mulder gave his lover a gentle kiss that was interrupted by a strenuous kick from inside of him. "This kid has incredible timing. Come on, I think we'd better get going or the movers will be unloading your stuff out onto the street instead of inside the new house."

Sunday, 21 October

At precisely five, the doorbell rang. Mulder went to answer it, knowing that it was Scully with the promised Thai take-out for dinner. He gave her a quick peck on the cheek and a hug as a welcome and led her into the spacious foyer that was now flanked by double doors leading into the rooms on either side.

"Oh, wow, Mulder. This place is fantastic," she enthused, admiring the honey-toned polished floorboards.

Scully had been initially put out that she hadn't been invited to see the house sooner, especially since her mother had been here almost daily with Mulder, but Mulder had said he wanted her to see it when they'd moved in and the house looked "lived-in". Skinner was out in the garage, unpacking all the new tools and gadgets he'd bought for "playing with wood," as Mulder had called his desire to resume carpentry as a hobby.

The tour around the house started with the kitchen, since that was their first stop. They left the take-out in the oven so it could keep warm until they were ready to eat.

The gourmet kitchen was fitted out with modern appliances that came with the house, a mix of items from both men's kitchens, and some new ones to fill the gaps. The kitchen was open plan with a breakfast area between it and the family room. In here was all new furniture, comfortable and practical with plenty of space for a growing child to play. There was a huge L-shaped sofa facing the fireplace and a brand new plasma big-screen TV and surround sound system, which Mulder pointed out was going to be great for watching ball games. And, of course, there was the fish tank, albeit a new, improved, bigger version of the one Mulder'd had in his old apartment.

Off the family room was a den that was all Mulder. His ratty leather couch was in here, and some of his other pieces of furniture he couldn't bear to part with. It was a large room with one wall floor-to-ceiling with the new bookshelves, filled with Mulder's eclectic book collection and a few trophies from his childhood. The trophies had been Walt's idea to put up, as they'd gone through the things that Mulder had kept from his mother's house. Mulder's old TV, VCR and stereo were also in here, as well as a new desk, leather chair, and state-of-the-art computer system complete with high-tech scanner and printer.

Also off the family room, behind big double doors, was a games room with pool table, pinball machine and wet bar. Scully laughingly asked where the basketball hoop was. Mulder mock-scolded her, saying that it was outside of course!

Next they backtracked through the kitchen to the big formal dining room. Scully recognized items from Teena Mulder's house in Connecticut. The antique dining table and sideboard looked perfect in here. Then they crossed the front hall again and Mulder opened up the doors to what was originally designed to be the formal living room. This was the room he'd designated as Skinner's den. Scully laughed as they walked in, it was almost an exact replica of Skinner's living room in his apartment.

"I let Walt arrange things in here," ...... said with a smile. "I knew he'd do it like this, kind of a comfort zone for him. He has his space in here, I have mine so I can work and make as much mess in there as I want, and we have our together space in the family room. This way, when he gets sick of me, he has somewhere of his own to go," he laughed. "Except I think he'll probably spend more time hammering bits of wood in the garage to let out his frustrations."

There was a sweeping staircase that led upstairs to the four bedrooms and a huge bathroom, with a coat closet and delightful powder room tucked under the stairs off the front hall. Two of the bedrooms were set up as guest rooms, a third was empty and Mulder explained that this was going to be the nursery. The last bedroom was the master. It was a bright sunny room dominated by a huge king-sized bed, with a couple of easy chairs and a TV in one corner. The room was definitely very masculine, whereas the two guest rooms had a more feminine feel to them. Off the bedroom was a good-sized dressing room with walk-in wardrobes and the master bath contained a double shower, double vanity and enormous whirlpool bath.

Also on the second floor, above the garage and workshop, at the top of the back staircase, was the fifth bedroom, big enough to be a small studio complete with en-suite bathroom. These were the "Butler's Quarters" that could possibly be used by a nanny - but the jury was still out on that decision.

At the bottom of the back stairs was a short hallway leading back into the kitchen, off which was a mud room, internal access to the 3 car garage and workshop, and the utility room, where Mulder dryly said he could imagine himself spending a lot of time in the not too distant future.

Outside turned out to be a huge patio with sliding door access from both the family room and the games room, with the window from Mulder's den overlooking it. A huge barbecue was built in to one side with outdoor table and chairs, a couple of cedar loungers and a swing seat.

There was also a large open, paved space with the promised basketball hoop fixed securely to a pole at one end. Beyond the patio was a well fenced pool area. The big backyard was beautifully landscaped and totally private. The whole space was like something out of Better Homes and Gardens. Scully could see her mother's influence throughout. Mulder was quick to tell her that he'd have been lost without Maggie's help to get everything arranged so all they'd had to do this weekend was unpack Skinner's stuff, which hadn't taken too long at all.

They made their way back inside just as Skinner emerged from the garage.

"Everything all set up in there, Walter?" Scully asked, giving Mulder a sly smile.

It was not lost on Skinner. "Something going on I should know about?" he asked.

"No," Mulder answered. "Come on, let's go eat. I'm starving."

Of course it hadn't been the brightest idea having a party in the middle of the week, but it was Halloween so that was as good an excuse as any to have a housewarming party for all their friends.

Skinner decided to christen the new barbecue as the weather was still pretty decent even though it was quite cold. Mulder had decorated the patio with jack-o-lanterns and was wearing a pumpkin costume, which hid his belly nicely. Some of the guests were their new neighbors who were unaware of his condition and he wanted to keep it that way, so the costume made for the perfect disguise. There was time enough for him to concoct a story about why he was getting so fat, should the need arise, although it didn't seem like their neighbors were the nosy sort - being too tied up in their own busy lives. Get-togethers like this one were confined pretty much to just Halloween, they'd found out. Mulder was getting to like this neighborhood more and more.

On Election Day he'd gone and done his duty, although Skinner had wanted him to stay home. Mulder had developed a cold, and although it wasn't yet a cause for concern, Skinner was worried about him. The previous night Rebecca had given Mulder a thorough check up and given him instructions to stay warm, drink plenty of fluids, get lots of rest and call her if things got worse. She allowed him to take one Tylenol every six hours if he needed it, but nothing else.

By Veteran's Day Mulder's cold had turned nasty. He'd developed a fever and a terrible cough. The cough was so bad that it made him throw up. He felt like he was being turned inside out by it. Skinner refused to leave him to go to his usual reunion, ordering Mulder to stay in bed while he called Rebecca.

Even though it was a Sunday, she came immediately and brought Susan with her. They both gave Mulder a thorough examination.

"Do you think he should be in the hospital?" Skinner asked.

"No hospital," Mulder wheezed before another coughing fit took him.

"I'm inclined to agree," Susan said. "Hospitals are too full of sick people and the last thing Mulder needs right now is to be exposed to some bug. But he does need fluids. The vomiting is making him dehydrated. We can set up an IV here and I think that we should risk giving him some antibiotics. I don't like the sound of your chest, Mulder. Could be a nasty infection brewing there."

Mulder groaned at the thought of the IV, but if it would mean he could stay home, he'd agree to anything.

"What about the vomiting?" Skinner asked.

"I think it's just a side effect from the coughing, it's straining his stomach but I don't really want to give him anything for it unless we really have to. Too many ingredients in cough syrups that could hurt the baby. Let's try Maggie's home remedy. Although I'm not fond of suggesting you take alcohol, a tiny amount won't hurt," Rebecca answered.

Maggie had suggested taking a tiny spoonful of warmed rum to help relax the muscles in his throat, stomach and chest and would ease the spasms caused by the coughing fits.

Scully and her mother arrived before the two doctors left and were briefed on what they had to do. Scully had volunteered to come over and monitor the IV when Skinner had called her to update her on Mulder's condition. She had been having Sunday lunch at Maggie's house at the time so both women had come to help.

Maggie brought the leftovers from lunch, correctly thinking that preparing a meal was the last thing that Skinner would be thinking of with Mulder sick, and she set about taking care of small tasks like doing the laundry and cleaning up the kitchen. She also made a big pot of vegetable soup, not entirely surprised at the well-stocked larder and refrigerator as she searched for ingredients.

Mulder's fever spiked up to nearly 102 during the night. Maggie, Scully and Skinner took it in turns to sit with him and bathe him with ice-cold wash cloths or give him alcohol rubs. They'd expected his temperature to rise during the night but had also expected it to fall somewhat as day broke. When it didn't, they called Rebecca again and she arrived within 15 minutes.

"What are we going to do with you, Mulder?" she chided good-naturedly as she listened to his chest with a worried frown. When she was done her face was grave. "Okay, I think this has progressed too far. I'm going to take some samples to send to the lab to confirm but I'd say we're dealing with pneumonia here. My biggest worry is that you aren't getting enough oxygen, Mulder. I have a portable tank down in my van, could you go get it for me please, Walter? And the blue equipment box with it, please."

She handed him her keys. While they waited for him to return, she propped Mulder up into almost a sitting position with help from Maggie and Scully.

"I know this isn't terribly comfortable, but you need to stay upright to help you breathe. I'm trying to use my best judgment here, even though it tells me that we should take you to the hospital."

"No hospital," ...... said as forcefully as he could, coughing weakly with the effort.

"Mulder, please be reasonable," Scully protested. "You're very sick. The hospital might be the best place for you."

"I think we can hold off for a while yet," Rebecca replied. "If we can keep his oxygen levels up and the fever down to a manageable level, he might still be able to fight this off himself. I'll change the antibiotic to something a bit stronger and I'm going to leave you with some Tylenol suppositories. Use them every four hours and let him sit in a cool bath for 20 minutes or so every few hours."

Skinner arrived back with the oxygen tank and requested kit. Rebecca quickly set Mulder up with a nasal cannula attached through a regulator to the tank.

"You'll need to keep this on all the time, Mulder. We need to keep getting enough oxygen into you, not only for your sake but also the baby's. Understand?"

Mulder nodded weakly. "Okay. The other stuff won't hurt it?"

"I'm just giving you antibiotics and Tylenol. The baby will be just fine for now."

"What if this gets worse?" Skinner asked.

"Then we may need to consider taking him to the hospital for more aggressive treatment. If that becomes necessary, I can't guarantee that there won't be an effect on the baby."

"No hospital," Mulder repeated.

"Mulder, when we started down this road, I told you that I wasn't going to take any risks with your health. I meant it then and I mean it now. If we can't get a handle on this you will be going to the hospital. If you don't we could lose you both."

"I won't let you do anything to hurt the baby," ...... said stubbornly.

Scully scooted closer to Mulder from where she'd been sitting on the edge of the bed and took his hand. "Listen to reason, Mulder. If things got to the point where they had to give you treatment that would put the baby in jeopardy, we could consider delivering now. The baby would stand a fighting chance at 30 weeks, wouldn't it, Rebecca?"

"It's possible. There would most likely be a number of problems associated with a premmie baby, but it's an option to consider."

"No! Walter, please?" Mulder looked imploringly at his lover, fighting against the drowsiness that was trying to pull him down to its murky depths. "Don't let them, promise me?"

"It'll be okay, Fox. You just rest and concentrate on getting better," he soothed. To the others he said, "How about we go downstairs and let him rest now? Would anyone like some coffee?"

Scully held her tongue until they were down in the kitchen. "I think we should take him to the hospital now. He's getting weaker and sicker. He needs antipyretics to bring down the fever and an inhalant to help him clear his lungs."

"Would those things be harmful to the baby?" Maggie asked.

"Unfortunately, they would. Most inhalants contain steroids which would inhibit certain developmental factors in the unborn child and the antipyretic could damage its heart or brain."

"And exactly what are its chances if you deliver now?" Skinner asked.

"I consider 30 weeks too early," Rebecca answered honestly. "The lungs are too immature. I'd give it only a 50/50 chance of making it. And we have to consider what shape Mulder would be in and whether he could tolerate the surgery."

"The longer we wait, the worse shape he's going to be in." Scully argued.

"Or he could get better," Skinner counter-argued. "I'm sorry but this isn't your decision, Scully, it's his."

"I don't think he's in any fit state to make this decision."

"He is and you know it. And even if he wasn't, it still isn't your decision to make."

Skinner and Scully were practically shouting at one another and it was time to call it to a halt. Maggie stepped between them and said quietly, "That's enough. Fox is upstairs trying to sleep and your yelling at one another is going to upset him."

Both combatants had the good grace to look contrite and mumbled apologies to Maggie.

"It's not me you should apologize to," she said, glaring at them both.

Scully and Skinner looked at each other and apologized again.

"That's better. Now, Rebecca, what is your medical opinion?"

Rebecca blew out a breath. "Honestly? It's nearly 7.30am now. I'd say we wait no more than 8 hours. If his condition hasn't significantly improved by 3 this afternoon, we take him to the hospital, whether he likes it or not."

There was general, if reluctant on Scully's part, agreement to this proposal and now that accord had been reached, Maggie set about making them all some breakfast. Rebecca agreed to stay for an hour or so to see how Mulder was doing before she had to go to the clinic for her first appointment at nine.

As they sat down to eggs and toast, Scully turned to Skinner and asked, "What did you mean when you said it wouldn't be my decision even if Mulder wasn't capable? I hold his medical power of attorney."

Skinner looked uncomfortable, wishing that he'd kept his mouth shut. Mulder had told him he'd tell Scully himself at the right moment, but now he'd have to tell her.

"No, you don't," he said gently, "not any more. He insisted we go to his attorney, after the commitment, and he changed his will and durable power of attorney. He said he wanted to make sure that if anything happened to him, that the baby and I would be taken care of, and as far as medical decisions were concerned, he didn't want to hurt your feelings, but he said he'd 'seen that Tom Hanks movie and didn't want us to ever be in that kind of situation'. So now I hold his power of attorney and he holds mine. I'm sorry."

Scully took a minute to absorb this news, then, "Don't be sorry. It makes perfect sense. I just wish he'd told me."

"He was going to, I guess he just hadn't found the right moment."

"No, I guess not. But Walter, don't let him make a martyr of himself over this baby. He's too important to me to lose like this."

"I don't want to lose him, either. But I have to go along with his wishes on this. There's more going on here than you realize. I think Rebecca understands."

Rebecca felt herself blush under Scully's careful scrutiny, but she couldn't say anything. She'd promised Mulder that whatever they talked about was confidential. She couldn't even tell Walter.

"I see," said Scully in a tone that suggested that she didn't see at all.

Rebecca glanced at her watch and was relieved to see that it almost time that she left. "I'll just go up and check on Mulder before I leave. I'll cancel a couple of appointments and come back around 2 o'clock, unless he gets a lot worse and you need to call me before then."

"I'll come up with you." Skinner announced, a warning glare at Scully kept her in her seat.

Maggie came to stand behind her daughter and gave her shoulder a reassuring squeeze. Scully sighed.

"Sometimes it's hard to let go, sweetheart," ...... said.

"I know, Mom, I just hope they know what they're doing."


Mulder watched Rebecca carefully, trying to keep his heavy eyelids open.

"Well?" he asked as she stood up straight and pulled the stethoscope from her ears.

"Still very noisy in there, Mulder, but your temp is down to 100.5 and your cough is starting to turn productive. I think you've saved yourself a trip to the hospital."

Mulder visibly relaxed back into the pillows. "Thank you."

"Don't thank me, thank your dedicated friends here. It's their nursing care that's helped."

Indeed it had. Skinner had called in to work telling Kim that he was taking the day to nurse a sick relative and Scully had just called in sick. Between the three of them, Maggie, Scully and Skinner had watched over Mulder like a hawk. They'd changed out the IV solution when it needed it, put him into cool baths several times during the day despite his bitching about the cold water, and changed the sheets as he sweated them through.

Rebecca turned to the trio. "Well done. I think he's on the mend. He's far from well yet, but I'm almost one hundred percent certain that he's turned the corner. He just needs lots of rest now." She glanced at her patient who seemed determined to prove her correct by having fallen fast asleep again. "I'd like to keep him on oxygen and the IV through the night. I'll come and check on him again in the morning and see how he's doing. I'm only a phone call away if you need me before then."

Mulder had to be woken and managed to stay awake long enough to eat the soup that Maggie fed him, then he slept through the night, waking only once when a coughing fit took hold. It grossed him out when he coughed up the phlegm, but Scully assured him it was a good thing.

The next morning, although still thoroughly exhausted, he was feeling much better. He had kept down the soup and managed to drink some juice and his breathing sounded a little clearer. Rebecca turned off the oxygen but left it nearby in case he should need a hit of it, which he was grateful for later in the day after some of his nastier bouts of coughing left him gasping for air. He was particularly glad to lose the IV, which he hated with a passion. Mulder didn't even argue when he was told he was under 'house-arrest' on complete bed rest for a few more days.

Maggie Scully managed to convince both Walter and Dana that they didn't need to stay home today, that she would be fine looking after Fox on her own. She promised to call them both if anything happened that they should know about. She wasn't really surprised when Walter arrived home in the middle of the afternoon. And he didn't protest when she made him lunch and then ordered him to go take a nap. He retreated to his den, stretched out on the sofa and slept until he was called for dinner.

Scully called in the evening to ask Mulder how he was doing, stating that she wouldn't come over as she really needed to get some sleep. She had to go to New York the next morning to consult with some of the forensic team still going over evidence from 9/11. Mulder told her that he was doing much better and that it was fine if she didn't come, as all he was doing was sleeping anyway.

It was a testament to how sick Mulder had been and how much recuperation time he was going to need when he didn't even start to complain about being stuck in bed all the time until Friday, after a good 5 days in bed. Maggie let him get up for an hour, which he spent in his den checking his email. After lunch he took himself back to bed and slept until Walter came home.

Maggie had prepared dinner for the two of them and announced that she was going home for the weekend and would be back Monday morning before Walter went to work. The house had been cleaned and enough food prepared for reheating that Skinner wouldn't have to cook all weekend. That night was the first in nearly a week that Mulder and Skinner slept in the same bed and it felt good to both of them to be able to cuddle up together. Skinner realized then just how much he'd missed having his lover laying next to him, and how right it felt to be together.

Thursday, 22 November

Teena Mulder's family heirloom dining table opened out big enough to seat twelve, and today it was practically at capacity. Around it sat Mulder and Skinner, Rebecca and Susan, Scully and Maggie, and the three Lone Gunmen. On the table was turkey, mashed potatoes, vegetables, gravy, cranberry sauce and all the trimmings for a great Thanksgiving feast. Maggie asked them all to link hands as she said Grace. After she was finished she asked who wanted to be the first to give thanks, a tradition long-held by the Scully family.

Mulder spoke up, "I will." He cleared his throat and took a moment to look around the table at all his friends gathered there.

Walter gave Mulder's hand an affectionate squeeze, thankful himself that his lover was still there with them, getting stronger by the day although he still looked tired and too pale. The last week and a half had been rough but it was getting better every day.

Maggie was a godsend, taking care of Mulder every day while Skinner worked. She'd prepared the feast before them now, choosing to spend the holiday here rather than fly out to San Diego to be with Bill Jr. and his family. Tara's parents were out there so it wasn't as if they were left on their own, and she hadn't exactly lied about why she couldn't go. All she'd said was that she was needed here, and that was the honest truth. She'd just neglected to mention who needed her. Charles was still away at sea and his wife and children had gone to her parents in Chicago. They all had plans to be together at Christmas to make up for the time they couldn't be together now.

Mulder's voice wavered a little as he fought to control his emotions and say what he wanted to.

"I'm thankful for every person around this table, and for the friends who can't be here with us today. I'm thankful that I'm getting better and that soon we'll have a healthy baby that I'm sure you will all spoil rotten. And I'm especially thankful that all of you are going to share in that as my family."
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