Title: With Arms Wide Open
Author: Paige Caldwell
Feedback: paigecaldwell@hotmail.com
Classification: MSR, Mytharc
Rating: R
Spoilers: "Requiem" and the questions beyond.
Archive: Please do, just let me know where.
Disclaimer: These characters do not belong to me.

Summary: Mulder and Scully have created life. But, is it, as the Bounty Hunter suggests, made of human clay?

Well, I just heard the news today
It seems my life is going to change
I close my eyes, begin to pray
Then tears of joy stream down my face

With arms wide open
Under the sunlight
Welcome to this place
I'll show you everything
With arms wide open

Creed, "With Arms Wide Open" from their CD "Human Clay"

I stand at the window of the hospital nursery. My hand rises instinctively to the glass, as if by touching substance I can replace my sense of awe with texture.

I've been gone a long time, my captor tells me. What is measured in months is but a blink of an eye to them. It's this statement that makes me cringe and press my hot forehead against the window. My contorted breath mists the transparent barrier between my past and my future.

My son. And, Scully's. A tiny miracle born of unspoken want and agonized yearning.

Swaddled in a cotton blanket, our baby yawns with sleepy indifference at those who watch him. This provokes an amused reaction from the creature that stands beside me.

"I think he has your mouth," it says, gazing at my lower lip which is glued unattractively to the glass.

"Why?" I mumble, turning my head to accuse it with wet, angry eyes. "Why have you brought me here when you have no intentions of letting me go?"

"Because I'm the 'Bounty Hunter'," the thing answers. "And, I've been tracking a suitable prize to ensure your cooperation."

"You've only given me more incentive to resist you." I convey.

It stops addressing me vocally, then. To communicate through an orifice meant only for digestion is repugnant to them. They prefer conversing telepathically. Strategically. A mental chess game which made the boy, Gibson, so unique to them. He could hear their thoughts, as I can now. The only difference is now the stakes of this game are much higher.

To the winner goes life.

We created life, Scully.

"Have you?" the Bounty Hunter taunts me, trying to wrap tentacles of doubt around my joy. "Is this infant made of human clay?"

It molds my horror like a sculptor, skillful at taking crumbled hopes and casting them according to its design. But, this apprentice has developed his own expertise. I'm now capable of shape-shifting my reaction to disguise my fear.

"Spoken like a fallen god. You can't create life, just imitate it," I convey through my thoughts.

"What makes you so certain?"

It smiles at me.

I smile back.

"My chromosomes tell me as much."

My DNA both fascinates and frustrates the aliens. They thought our genetic link was far enough removed to grant them omnipotence. Not only did they consider humans inferior, but the bottom tier of their galactic food chain. We were worthy of consumption only, not serious contemplation.

To discover that they were wrong is the one thing they cannot easily digest.

"Digest?" It mimics my sarcastic tone. "It is you who now chews on the marrow of uncertainty."

"You're wrong." I lie, turning back to the window. Gazing at my son, I spend a few precious moments savoring the wonder of his birth.


Her voice, heard even from a distance, is strong enough to prompt the tears from my eyes. We've stood at opposite ends of the universe all these months. Now, only the length of a hospital corridor separates us.


The Bounty Hunter is gone. Whether it's morphed into a candy striper or is waiting for me beyond the doors of the maternity ward, I no longer care.

Scully is here.

The mother of my child.

But, how do I tell the woman I love that she's going to have to raise our child alone?

How do I embrace her when my arms are bound by invisible chains?

"You're here." She tries to suppress her startled cry, but can't. Her face is flushed with the exertion of maneuvering the length of the hallway. Steps, once certain, are now tentative and heavy. Given her petite frame, her narrow hips, I realize that giving birth was a difficult task for her.

As leaving her is a difficult task for me.

"I'm here," I open my arms to greet her, but the burden of my despair makes them fall helplessly to my side. "But, I can't stay, Scully."

"What do you mean?" Scully stops several feet from me. Her body teeters to one side, knocked off balance by my sudden arrival and promised departure.

I reach out to grab her arm, to steady her although I'm the one in a shaky, precarious position. She glances up at my face, sees my tears and realizes the truth. I hear a soft, involuntary moan rise from her throat. She swallows hard and turns away, focusing her eyes on our baby.

"Forced?" she asks, blinking quickly to stop her tears. "How can you be forced when you went with them willingly?"

"Only to protect you," I protest. "And, now to protect our son."

"Against what?" Scully's voice is suddenly indignant. "Aliens who offer free passage to a higher understanding? Isn't that why you went, Mulder? You weren't afraid of losing me. You were afraid of losing your last chance ticket to the stars."

Her questions aren't cynical as much as they're angry. I suspect that more than our baby has gestated inside her these past months.



"I'm sorry, Scully," I offer words of apology that sound as hollow as I now feel inside.

She watches our infant son as he tries to stuff his curled, pink fist into his mouth. Sighing, she reaches for my hand, turning it over to stroke my palm with her fingertips.

"Have they hurt you?" she murmurs, obviously remembering the shadows of her past, the experiments and pain.

"No," I say quietly. "They study me."

Suddenly, she drops it.

"As you do them, Mulder," she states flatly.

"What are you talking about?" I ask, turning her by the shoulders so that she faces me.

"You'll leave me and our child for the sake of the unanswered question," she tells me.

"It's not that simple," I protest. "By staying, our son could be placed in danger."

"More than the danger of his simply being born?"

"What's to stop them from abducting our son in my place?"

"The fact that he's too young to ask questions," she bitterly retorts.

"Are you inferring that I have a choice, Scully?" I try to curtail my frustration over her accusations. "Because, if I do then please explain how."

"Rather than be inveigled by the question, try accepting the answer. Focus on life as you know it. We have a child, Mulder. He deserves a father, not a star-gazing adventurer who stops by on an occasional shore leave."

"The Bounty Hunter will track me down," I persist, wanting her to understand the perils of her suggested mutiny. "He's here in the hospital, you know."

Scully doesn't respond. Her attention returns to the nursery. She studies a nurse who attends our baby. At once, the pupils of her eyes narrow suspiciously as the young woman picks up our child.

"Mulder..." Her voice comes out as a frantic whisper. "Get the baby."

Call it maternal instinct or the subconscious alarm of a mother who knows her infant is in danger. Scully pushes me towards the nursery then disappears into a supply closet, where her knowledge as a doctor saves us all.

It all happens within a blink of an eye. Strange how the Bounty Man's death occurs in its own definition of time. As I struggle with the shape-shifter in the hallway, Scully attacks. With the strength and certainty of lioness, she pounces on it, sinking a scalpel into the back of the creature's neck.

Green blood spills like acid. I yank my son from its hands while Scully covers her eyes and stumbles towards the emergency exit. Together, we shield our son against the noxious fumes, holding our own breaths until we're safely behind the door of the stairwell.

"Looks like I've come ashore," I gasp, glancing through the small door window to watch my enemy dissolve into a pool of green bile. "Now what?"

"We run," Scully advises, holding her tender stomach as she hurries down the stairs. She stops at the landing and looks up impatiently at me. "We don't waste any more time asking questions."

I glance down at my son's face. His eyes are open, small blue beacons of light that guide me to a higher understanding.

Nodding, I cradle our son protectively in my arms and follow Scully down the steps.

For a man who has spent most of his adult life pursuing the "truth," Mulder now avoids it like an alien plague. Perhaps that's why he never stops asking questions. What a better way to immunize himself against answers he's not ready for.

As we navigate the back roads of Virginia, Mulder shifts speculation into overdrive. He steers past responsibility by looking for the nearest road block.

He can't "conceive" how I became pregnant.

How's that for bitter irony?

We turned the act of conception into performance art, yet now he wonders if our joint masterpiece is a counterfeit.

Trying to balance post-partum depression with full-term irritation, I respond, "Do you want me to give you a plausible explanation or one you can easily dispute?"

"I want you to tell me again what happened in Milford, Pennsylvania," he insists.

My little field trip with C.G.B. Spender is a topic that still rankles him. At first, I thought Mulder resented the fact that I was played for a fool. But, soon I realized that it was my partner who felt "played," that I somehow "cheated" by participating in a game designed exclusively for him.

"What are you implying, Mulder?"

"Did Smoking Man return that which he stole? Or, did he manage to make a deposit of his own?"

I glance over my shoulder at our sleeping infant in his car seat. I shouldn't resent his questions, having asked them, myself. But, rather than be driven by useless conjecture, I solved the chromosomal "X-file" with the tools of my trade.

I infiltrated the morgue that stored C.G.B. Spender's body. He was dead, but someone had neglected to tape his eyes closed. Avoiding his stare, which I imagined to be as sinisterly amused as when he was alive, I reached for a syringe. I stabbed his cold, withered flesh and stole a sample of his blood.

Breach of ethics be damned. After all, this man had punctured my dream of motherhood more than once. My fertility... Emily....

Why should a dying man's last regret stop me from running a little experiment of my own?

"You're the father, Mulder," I tell him. "Some questions can be answered in a genetics lab, rather than mind-melding with aliens."

"I'm sorry, Scully."

What's he sorry for? That he questioned our child's paternity? That he left me behind to knit baby booties while he played "galaxy quest"?

I tune him out as I would an annoying radio station. I have no use for sound bites that are both static and tedious.

He's sorry. Always sorry.

Of course, once Mulder realizes that his apology falls upon deaf ears, he adjusts the frequency to the Emergency Broadcast System.

I've killed the Bounty Hunter.

"So what?" I shrug. "The best thing about mercenaries are that they're expendable. Most soldiers of fortune have a price on their own head. That I was able to pop his like a noxious balloon is mankind's reward."

My cynical words provoke a quick look of surprise from Mulder. My reaction is not what he expected, and judging by the increasing speed of my car, it's not one he trusts.

While we flee what Mulder thinks will be the swift vengeance from the Chariot of the Gods, I squirm uncomfortably in the passenger seat. He's scared that we'll be struck by a retaliatory bolt of lightning. I'm more worried that I've torn the stitches of my episiotomy.

I gave birth twenty-four hours ago. I chose the hard road of a forceps delivery to the easy route of a Cesarian Section. I did this knowing that our baby's safety might depend on my ability to run, or at least waddle my way out of the hospital.

"Where are we going, Scully?" Mulder glances at the map I hold clutched in my hands.

"Does it matter?" I relate, not bothering to share more than directions. "According to you, there is no safe place."

"Are you telling me there is?"

Yet, another question...

"I'm not sure if you can handle the answer, Mulder."

"What I can't handle is your attitude," he snaps, his hands gripping the steering wheel.

"The real danger is curiosity," I state bluntly. "Mutual curiosity, Mulder. Both the alien's need to know and your's. And, to think I was once perplexed by your so-called mysterious brain activity."

"Suggest that to the other abductees," he counters. "Which, by the way, included you."

"My danger came from man...." I argue. "... from cowards who conspired to avoid the truth rather than face it."

"Are you including me in that classification, Scully?"

I have to turn away then. My eyes are brimming with tears that I can't afford to shed. Mulder's pain has taken a back seat to a baby who now occupies it in an infant carrier.

I refuse to mother a man who is almost forty years old and still struggling with maturity.

"He's crying, Scully."

"What?" I sniff, wiping my nose with the back of my hand.

"Our son, Scully." Mulder pulls the car over to the side of the road and turns off the ignition. "He's crying.

Sighing, I unfasten my seat belt.

Like father, like son. Both are hungry for my attention.

"Here, let me get him for you," Mulder offers, noticing how awkward and heavy my movements are.

He tenderly unstraps our baby from his car seat, crooning words of comfort that a newborn can't possibly understand. But, I do. The lump in my throat almost strangles me. Unable to speak, I open the front of my bathrobe. As I begin to breast feed our son, Mulder averts his gaze. I'm grateful for his discretion. Although I'm not self-conscious about being a new mother, I'm acutely embarrassed to find myself suddenly weeping.

Tears of shame, of hurt and fear are baptizing our son's downy head. I lower my lips to sponge them away, but find that Mulder has discovered a better way to stop them. With his fingers, he wipes the tears from my eyes. His touch is so gentle that I can't help but relax my cheek in the palm of his hand.

"I was wrong, Scully," he whispers. "I didn't realize there was more than one way to lose you."

I try to understand. I try even harder not to press a kiss of forgiveness against his fingertips.

I'm not quite ready to surrender to his regret. Although I love him and would die for him, I'm not sure if I can open my arms to embrace him for what he is.

A powerful man.

Just as C.G.B. Spender suggested...

Powerful enough to break my heart.

"Did you name him?" Mulder's next question makes me lift my face.

"Yes," I find my voice, which is now certain. "I named our baby Matthew."

"Matthew..," he repeats the name, apparently liking the sound of it.

"It means 'gift from God'"

Mulder lowers his head and closes his eyes, but not before a solitary tear weaves down his cheek.

We stop at a motel located off the New Jersey Turnpike. The the roads are too slick to drive, afternoon rain having changed over to evening sleet. Even the truck drivers yield to the hazardous conditions. Our four wheels follow their sixteen, each of us realizing that we're transporting precious cargo.

In her bathrobe and slippers, Scully checks us in at the front desk. She's too tired to care that she's masquerading as poor white trash minus pink curlers. At first, the truckers in the lobby give her a bemused grin. But, their gristly, unshaven faces turn solemn when they see me behind her.

What I hold in my hand intimidates them more than my FBI badge.

An infant carrier...

A newborn baby gives us more respect than Bureau credentials. There's no distinction between blue and white collars when it comes to family. Truckers not only have miles to drive, but mouths to feed. Wives in frumpy bathrobes... children playing in the front yard... waiting for them to return with arms wide open.

Well, at least Scully has her wallet wide open.

She pre-pays with cash, avoiding use of a credit card that could leave an electronic trail of our whereabouts. Glancing over her shoulder, I'm startled to see the wad of green bills stuffed inside her purse. She's either withdrawn nine months of savings or robbed a bank when her water broke.

Maternity leave takes on a whole new meaning. Between the purse locked in her glove compartment and the luggage piled in the trunk of her car, I think Scully was expecting more than just the birth of our child.

Who or what was she running from? Had someone tipped her off to the Bounty Hunter's secret plan to kidnap our child? Hell, I could read the creature's mind and still had no idea of the alien's true intent.

Maybe a mother's intuition is the greatest force of all...

Because the motel is already crowded, the man behind the reception desk doesn't even ask Scully her choice of accomodations. He gives us a room with one bed and a fold-away crib. Judging by my partner's piqued expression, I suspect that I'm going to be the one curled up in a fetal position behind baby bars.

Once inside our room, I immediately try to regain her favor by playing bellboy and room service. I drag in her suitcases, set up the crib and offer to walk through ice pellets to the diner next door. She gives me a slight smile and passes me some money. I grin like an eager teenager who's just been handed his first tip.

Scully smiled at me....

This flicker of warmth stays with me, reassures me as I brave the elements. What chills me isn't so much the weather, but the fear that more than snow will fall from the sky.

By the time I reach the diner, I realize that the only thing that threatens me now is hunger.

The smell of real food makes my stomach rumble more than an alien craft's engine. My former "hosts" served refreshments similar to cans of Slim Fast. Not only didn't I lose weight, but I constantly retained the taste of tin in my mouth.

But, now protein and carbohydrates are about to shape-shift into burgers and fries.

When I arrive back to our motel room, I almost drop my cardboard tray. Scully's hovering over the crib, her lips pressed together in a tight, upset line.

Matthew is howling with indignation. Our little cherub's plump face is as red as a Jersey tomato.

"I don't understand," Scully moans. "I've tried everything, rocking him, even singing him to sleep."

A "Scully lullaby" could explain our baby's shrieks, but I know better than to tease her at this point.

I place our dinner on the table and join her by the crib. Staring intently at our son, I hear myself saying, "He's hungry."

"I just fed him," Scully argues.

"I'm telling you, Scully," I persist. "He's hungry."

"Like you know anything about babies," she dismisses me. "The next thing you'll be saying is that you can read his mind..."

My guilty, self-conscious expression makes her gasp.


"Hey...." I try to divert her attention by prying Matthew's fist open with my finger. "Check out this grip, Scully."


I glance up at her shocked face. She leans forwards to whisper, as if she's afraid to speak the words too loudly.

"Can you read our baby's mind, Mulder?"

Can I? I'm not sure. All I "hear" is the wailing of an infant who is now trying to stuff my finger in his mouth.

"C'mon, Scully," I offer lightly, hoping to cast off the shadow of her suspicion. "A newborn isn't capable of forming lucid thought."

"Well, I am." She holds my stare, trying to hypnotize me with her limpid blue eyes. "Can you read my mind, Mulder?"

"No," I grin suddenly, breaking the trance. "You still keep my guessing, Scully."

But, Scully's not smiling. Instead, she lifts our baby and holds him possessively against her chest.

Is she threatened by a bond that isn't maternal? Or, human?

I, too, feel at risk. Not by this alluded telepathy between father and son... only Scully's reaction to it.

Thankfully, Matthew sends his mother a message of his own. His tiny lips begin to mouth the material of her robe. Scully glances down and sighs, before giving me a conceding look.

"Well, I guess he still is hungry," she admits.

Within the hour, our baby is sleeping soundly in his crib. Scully and I try to eat our dinner, but both of us seem to have lost our appetite. While she ponders a greasy french fry, I try to digest both our fears.

Am I the perfect hybrid? Is that what made my genetic composition one to be copied?

Did Smoking Man realize this when he tried to mold my DNA into his own?

Because he failed, did the smoking Michelangelo attempt to sculpt a legacy instead?

Perhaps he returned Scully's fertility knowing that I would someday find sanctuary in her arms. Maybe he hoped that his "son" would complete his panorama of the future and create a living being who could touch the hand of "God".

I push my food away, disgusted by the taste of my own speculation.

Scully's right. I ask too many questions. Rather than ponder the significance of my child's life, I should rejoice that he even exists.

Not every miracle should be questioned. Especially when I'm not prepared to deal with the answers.

My partner gets up from the table, either disinterested in her food or her dining companion. I watch her painfully make her way to the bathroom where she spends several minutes behind closed doors.

Notice turns into concern. Scully's given birth and taken a life within the span of thirty-six hours. Although she's a doctor, I doubt that she'll diagnose the stress of her mind or the trauma to her body.

Because of this, I wait for her outside the bathroom door. I'm there to lift her up into my arms, ignore her protests and carry her over to the bed. I gently remove her robe and slippers, sliding her under the covers.

"New mothers need to be fussed over, too," I whisper into her ear.

I pause when she shivers with cold fatigue, remembering the last night I slept with her. Although we didn't make love, we made a commitment to each other. And, somehow I broke that trust.

I can't expect her to welcome me back with arms wide open. But, I'm determined to hold her in mine.

I strip off my jeans and shirt, joining her in bed. She initially stiffens when I slide my arm around her waist. But, the warmth of my skin soon filters through her cotton nightgown like a heating pad. I can feel her muscles relax, the tension of her body easing against mine.

I offer no words of reassurance. Scully, in turn, doesn't tender words of recrimination. We've created life, after all. It's time for partners... now parents... to conceive an unspoken truce.

She compromises first, abandoning her pillow for the cushion of my shoulder.

I surrender to her tranquil breathing, allowing the sound of it to lull me to sleep.

The next morning we continue our trip through Southern New Jersey. The sun has melted the ice on the road, but the trees still glisten with icicles. It reminds me of my childhood, where snow fairies and Jack Frost once inhabited the woods and my imagination.

This was, of course, before my older brother scared me silly with tales of the Jersey Devil.

I hated Bill for stealing my enchantment.

Just as I hate him now for suggesting that I abort my child, or as he termed it, "the Devil's spawn".

I return to this place with a different vision and a solitary hope. If the Pine Barrens is a legendary hideaway, then let it shield my son from prejudice and misunderstanding.

Years ago, my maternal grandparents purchased over ten acres of land near Forked River Mountains, including a cabin beside a pristine lake. It was their Summer home, a place to fish and hike the sugar-sand trails. With each generation, the cabin was renovated to suit their family's needs. By the time my mother was an adult, electricity had replaced oil lamps and indoor plumbing had been installed. Without a bathroom, I doubt that the Scully clan would have spent a single Summer there. The idea of four children lined up to use an outhouse would have certainly anchored my mother to the Baltimore naval station.

Stowing children and luggage into our station wagon, Mom would drive non-stop to New Jersey. She would ignore our whines and grip the steering wheel with a determination known only to a single parent. My father was sailing the high seas while she was barely treading water. When her patience began to sink and her temper began to rise, we knew it was "mutiny to Grandma's" time.

I understand my mother much better now that I've become a parent. She raised children alone and still managed to love my father. Although it's a quality I admire, I resent the thought of imitating her.

As the tires of my car crunch the frosty pine cones of this last mile to the cabin, I'm feel my body tense.

My mother is there waiting for me, with arms wide open... offering unconditional love and acceptance...

And, an excuse for Mulder to leave me, again.

I hold my breath as we pull up to the cabin, growing dizzy with upset and lack of oxygen. When my mother appears on the front porch, I exhale slowly. I can't withstand the joy of her smile or the pressure of my pounding heart. Weakly, my hand fumbles for the lock of the car door. When she opens it, I practically fall into her embrace.

"Thank God you're safe," she cries against my cheek. I can feel her tears erase the tight lines from my face. Blinking back my own, I nod wordlessly, muted by the impact of her fervent greeting.

"The baby?" she asks, her eyes now scanning the back seat.

"He's fine, Mom," I choke out, turning around to point at Matthew, snoozing comfortably in the afternoon sun.

"Dana...." Her voice catches on what sounds like a sob. "Oh, honey, he's beautiful."

"He has Scully's eyes."

We both look up to find Mulder standing behind us, wearing a sheepish expression. He can't meet my mother's startled gaze. Eyes downcast, he stuffs in hands into the back pockets of his jeans, expecting an empty greeting.

I can't help but feel a twinge of pity for him.

Neither can my mother.

She steps towards him, lifting her hand to touch his face, soothing his brow as she would an errant child. When he lowers his head in remorse, it lands on her small, but strong shoulders.

"You're here."

My mother repeats my same words of gratitude, but with a finality that only she expects. "You're here."

Yes, he's here, but for how long?

Mulder may be home, but he'll never stay. Once a flickering star catches his eye, he'll set sail to navigate it.

Just like my father...

Abandoning my mother for his career, just as Mulder will forsake me for his obsession.

I turn away from this bittersweet reunion. I can't embrace Mulder for what he is. The winter sun has disappeared behind a cloud, taking with it the last of my warmth and optimism. I find myself standing in the shadow of rejection, where hope will surely die a cold, painful death.

Trembling, I try to find solace in my baby's face. But, my vision is distorted by a weak body and fragile mind. Vertigo returns and I find myself spinning towards the ground.

A pair of arms catch me. Although I can't see past the darkness, I know they belong to my mother.

Her soft touch is comparable to none. Yet, she's either unable to sustain my weight, or realizes that the burden of my instability needs to be borne by another.


He lifts me effortlessly, cradling me against his chest. Even in my semi-conscious state, I manage to jerk my face away from the beating of his heart. My head falls back across his arm, left dangling like a rag doll's, appropriate for someone he so easily discards.

Like Bill, I hate Mulder for stealing my enchantment.

Because of my partner, I no longer believe in happy endings.

While Mrs. Scully sits at an oak table, rocking my son in her arms, I pace the length of the cabin. Together, we hold a silent vigil, each of us hoping that Scully wakes before Matthew sounds his hunger like a fire alarm.

We want her to return to a consciousness which is clement and inviting. Mrs. Scully has taken steps to make sure that she does. In the bedroom, Scully sleeps on an antique brass bed with a feather mattress and down comforter. On the pine table beside her is a pot of chrysanthemums, forced to bloom early in her mother's greenhouse. Logs crackle in the hearth across the room, from one of two fireplaces lit to heat the cabin. It gives the air a pine-scented warmth, in which Scully is now breathing more easily.

I gaze through the slight opening of the bedroom door, agonizing over how small and fragile Scully looks under the covers. For a woman who's just had a baby, she looks wasted. Not emaciated, of course. Pregnancy has added weight and curves to her slender body. Her breasts are full and her hips are more rounded. Yet, her face is taut and her cheeks appear sunken in. Her eyes, now closed in sleep, are shadowed with dark bruises of fatigue.

"Sit down, Fox," Mrs. Scully encourages me, motioning to a chair beside her. "You don't have to make up for missing your son's birth by now pacing the floors."

"I have a lot to make up for, Mrs. Scully," I tell her, sinking into the chair. "Missing my son's birth is just one of many."

"Maggie," she reminds me for the third time that afternoon.

"Sorry," I mumble. My fingers begin to flick invisible crumbs off the table.

Her hand reaches out to enclosed mine.

"I know you're sorry," she murmurs. "And, so does Dana."

"Does she?" I ask, uncertain. "There are moments where I think she hates me for I am."

"What are you, Fox?" she prompts gently.

"A man who can't stop asking questions," I confess. "A man who doesn't trust an answer that seems too good to be true."

"Why do you suppose that is?"

"A character flaw...." I hear myself answer in a cynical voice. "...disguised as a genetic abnormality."

"Maybe you're just afraid that your son has inherited these same traits," she remarks.

I gaze into Maggie Scully's eyes, wondering how much her daughter has told her.

"Fox," she squeezes my hand. "Remember what prompted you to ask the first question. The abduction of your sister. The loss of a loved one."

"I didn't want it to happen again," I whisper frantically, clutching her fingers. "I thought that Scully was in danger, that I could offer myself in her place. Why can't she understand that?"

"Because to her, the true danger was in being left behind," Maggie explains solemnly.

"What happened?" I ask her. "Why was Scully planning to leave D.C. once our son was born? Did someone or something threaten her?"

"Not directly," the woman clarifies. Shifting Matthew into the crook of her arm, she continues. "About a month ago, a baby in Oregon was taken. From what I understand, it was the child of a woman who disappeared as you did."

"Teresa's baby was abducted?"

"Depends on the meaning of the term," Maggie answers. "Dana insisted it was a kidnapping and accused that one-armed murderer of taking the baby in order to conduct tests."


"Apparently, he'd come into a position of power in some group known as the Coalition."

"The Consortium?"

"Yes, that's right... the Consortium." Maggie corrects herself. "Dana tried to get Mr. Skinner to authorize an investigation, but was told that he was in a compromised position."

"Why didn't Scully leave then?"

"She would have," relays Maggie. "But, your friends, the three men with guns, had detected some type of energy field."

"Let me guess," I sigh heavily. "The Gunmen isolated the energy field to be right over the D.C. area."

"Dana thought you were coming back. She sent me ahead to get the cabin ready while she waited for you to return."

"I should have never left her, Maggie." I groan.

"You're here now, Fox," she tries to reassure me. "That's what counts."

"Not according to her score card," I analogize. "We were in the last inning, Maggie, and I struck out."

Margaret Scully laughs at me then. She gives me the look of a seasoned hitter who has spent a good number of years at bat.

"Given time, I think you'll knock one home," she smiles. "Of course, she might pitch you a couple of curve balls, first."

"Spoken like a Little League Mom."

"Didn't Dana mention that she used to play softball?"

"No, she didn't," I grin, remembering a starlit night where I tried to teach her how to swing a bat. "Maybe she just likes to keep me guessing."

"Maybe she's just in love with a man who can't stop asking questions."

Is this real or am I dreaming?

Mulder is lying beside me on the bed, cuddling our son against his bare chest. A shirtless Mulder has always given me reason to pause, even now. Age has only improved his build, adding muscle to his lean torso. His shoulders are sinewy, but pliant... strong enough to bear the weight of the world, yet soft enough to cushion a seven pound baby.

But, is he ready to carry the burden of parenting?

His arms may not be wide open to the idea, but they seem to be relaxing into a posture of contentment. While one arm is arched behind his neck, the other is curved around the diapered bottom of our son.

Shifting up on my elbow, I peer into Mulder's eyes. His pupils contract as if he's startled by my waking. For a minute, he contemplates the warmth of my expression, not trusting it. He glances quickly at the fireplace, wondering if my amber glow is merely a reflection of the fire's light.

It isn't....

I know I've confused him these past two days. Because he can't read my mind, he's trying to profile my emotions. For years I've kept him guessing, knowing that the unanswered question punctuated his existence. I became the master builder of the facade. It was the only way to partner such an obsessive man and hide my own frustration in not being able to change him.

But, not now. My vulnerability doesn't compare to our child's. Rather than hide behind cool lenses of indifference, I open my eyes as I would my heart.

Take a good look, Mulder.

See the world through my eyes...

You're being given a second chance to embrace life rather than speculate its meaning.

Matthew hiccups suddenly, causing me to shift my attention. I lean over to nuzzle our baby's soft cheek with my lips. He mouth begins to quiver, making small puckering noises. Both the sight and sound of his hunger causes my breasts to ache.

Mulder surrenders our son reluctantly. Behind the privacy of our bedroom door, he rolls over to his side to watch me open my nightgown to breast feed. The pull of our son's tiny mouth on my nipple isn't as painful as it's exhilarating. To be able to sustain life with a body, once thought barren, is like milk and honey to my soul.

Mulder reaches over to brush my hair with his fingers. I sigh, allowing my forehead to lean against his, where we begin to speak in low, hushed whispers.

"You had me worried, Scully."

"I know..."

"I'm not going to leave you."

"Just promise me that you won't leave our son."

"I promise..."

Suddenly Matthew lifts his head slightly to give Mulder a skeptical look.

"Did you see that?" I gasp. "A newborn's eyes aren't supposed to be that focused, Mulder."

"Maybe he's got gas," he suggests.

I lift Matthew to my shoulder and begin to pat his back. Within seconds, he burps loud enough to break the sound barrier...

And, my amicable mood....

"What's is this, Mulder?" I accuse him suspiciously. "Some type of supernatural fatherly instinct coming from a man who can't even remember to feed his goldfish?"



"He just spit up on your nightgown."

"Oh...." I shift Matthew to my bare shoulder and gently rub his back. "I guess he really was hungry."

"He did it earlier," comments Mulder, pointing to his t- shirt at the bottom of the bed. "Think he's okay?"

"Sure, Mulder," I reassure him, easing to the sound of his uncertainty. "Babies spit up all the time."

"Maybe we need to buy a couple of drop-cloths or something," he muses. "It's not as if I disembarked that ship with my luggage."

"Didn't Mom show you?"

"Show me what?"

I point to the armoir in the corner of the bedroom. Mulder rises from the bed and opens the pine doors. Inside of it are his clothes, stacked neatly on the scented shelves. He reaches for a hunter green shirt, asking me solemnly, "You never gave up hope, did you?"

"I hoped for the best," I respond in a tight voice. "But, I prepared for the worst."

On the bottom shelf is my gun...

And, his...

"I searched your apartment for your other gun," I admit. "I smuggled it out with your clothes, hiding bullet clips in your socks and underwear."

For a second, I see a flicker of amusement in his hazel eyes. But, humor fades behind his realization of my fear.

"Your mom told me about Krycek stealing Teresa's baby," Mulder remarks, sliding his arms through the cotton sleeves.

"I wish she hadn't," I sigh, dropping my gaze to our son's velvety head.


"Because I don't want you to leave," I confess. "It may sound selfish, Mulder, but I can't be concerned over another baby when I have my own to protect."

"You're not being selfish, Scully," Mulder says, returning to the side of the bed. He pretends to be focused on the buttons of his shirt, but I can tell he's thinking. By the time his fingers fasten the last one, he concludes, "There are some costs I'm no longer willing to pay."

"The loss of your son?" I prompt.

"And, the estrangement of his mother," he adds, meeting my gaze. "I don't want to lose you, Scully. I realize that the real threat isn't the unknown, just my attraction to it."

It's an answer I never expected to hear.

Mulder is finally questioning himself....

Each morning, I jog the trails that weave through the dense woods of the Pine Barrens. While it feels great to have my feet planted back on earth, I still rise each morning feeling restless and agitated. Scully's changed our bed linens to flannel sheets, hoping to absorb the cold sweat of my waking. Finally, she prods me outdoors, diagnosing my anxiety as "cabin fever".

She couldn't be more wrong....

I sense an approaching danger. Not from the horizon, but from the sewers of a distant city. A rat has scavenged his way out of the gutter and surfaced to a position of power.


How long will it take for his twitching nose to sniff out a trail of baby powder?

He could easily find his way here. Despite our precautions, the rodent is now the "big cheese" of the Consortium.

I'll be waiting for him... but, not with arms wide open to accept his shifting loyalties. Instead, they'll be fully extended to pump a bullet between his beady eyes.

My breath comes out in white bursts of exertion. I ignore the chill of the morning air, focusing on the agility of my steps. I race up the granular trail of the foothills, stopping only to survey how the land rises uniformly on all sides of the lake. Mist lifts from the water, obscuring the view of the cabin below. It's as thick as smoke. Detection by air seems virtually impossible during these winter months.

But, Spring is approaching. Already weeks have passed and the perpetual gray sky is giving way to glimpses of blue. I wonder how safe our haven will be then, whether the canopy of dense pine will hide our location.

Rubbing my cold fingers together, I turn back. The promise of Maggie Scully's buttermilk pancakes spurs me down the hill at a quick pace. I can almost smell the bacon frying in the pan...

Actually, I do smell something....


Oh my God....

I race back to the cabin, convinced that I'm going to find my child gone and my dreams incinerated by a funeral pyre. I frantically tear through the thicket of pines, ignoring how the needles scrape my face and arms. Suddenly I stop in my tracks and whirl around.

The smoke is gone.

Panicked and disoriented, I search for a plausible explanation. I can't find one. The trees are damp and the ground is moist.

The only thing smoldering out here is my fear and pent-up frustration.

I drag my feet up the steps of the cabin, feeling foolish, even irrational. Spooky Mulder is returning from his morning run wearing bloody claw marks. Maybe I can convince Scully that I had another run-in with the Jersey Devil. Of course, she'll remember the X-file and remind me that there are worse things in life than being chased through the woods by a naked woman. But, anything's better than telling her I was attacked by a pine tree.

If Scully notices the scratches, she doesn't comment on them. I find her standing in the kitchen, staring at the appliances with teary, forlorn eyes.

"What's wrong?" I ask her. "Is it your turn to cook again?"

"Mom's leaving this morning," she whimpers. "She says it's time for us to try this domestic thing on our own."

"Oh my God, I'm gonna starve..," I moan, trying to tease her out of her despondent mood.

Scully gives me an indignant look, her tears freezing into an icy blue stare.

"What the hell happened to your face, Mulder?"

"Don't even ask," I squeeze her shoulder affectionately. "Where's your mom?"

"In her bedroom still packing."

I leave her to clatter pots and pans, knowing that her attempts at cooking will produce little more than soggy eggs and burnt toast. Stifling my appetite, I knock on Maggie's bedroom door. She opens it with an expression both sad and determined.

"Did you cut yourself shaving, Fox?" she asks in a concerned voice.

"No," I smile at her. "I thought I'd let the pine trees groom me this morning."

"Are you alright?" She beckons me into the bedroom so we can talk while she packs.

"I'm fine, Maggie," I respond cautiously. "But, Scully isn't. She doesn't want you to leave. Quite honestly, neither do I..."

"I've been here for over a month," Maggie advises. "It's time that the two of you learn how to rely on each other."

"We've been doing that for years," I protest feebly.

"As partners at work," she clarifies. "Not as parents."

"Scully needs you, Maggie," I try again.

"She needs to need you, Fox."

Margaret Scully closes an argument as efficiently as her suitcase. Like mother, like daughter. Once she's made up her mind, there's no turning back.

I make her promise me that she'll call us when she arrives home. Although we've turned off Scully's cell phone to sequester ourselves, her safe return now takes precedence over my long- distance fears.

I load the trunk of Maggie's car, not wanting to witness her daughter's pain as she says goodbye. I know how hard this is for both of them. Even I feel a lump in my throat as I try to thank Maggie for all the help she's given us. Unable to speak, I pull her into my arms, hugging her tightly.

"Be careful," she whispers, kissing my cheek. "But, more importantly, Fox... be happy."

I watch her drive down the narrow road until her car disappears behind the trees. Only then do I gaze up to the front porch, where Scully shivers in her nightgown and robe, tears streaming down her face.

"Why don't you let me make breakfast," I suggest, joining her by the front door.

"French toast?" she sniffs hopefully. "I've already broken a couple of eggs."

"I can just imagine," I grin, drawing her against me. "Did they at least land in a bowl?"

Scully nods, drying her tears on the front of my sweat-shirt. I lean over to kiss the top of her auburn head.

"Mulder?" she lifts her face, suddenly. "Do you smell smoke?"

Her eyes are focused on the woods...

It wasn't just my imagination, after all.

Well, I don't know if I'm ready
To be the man I have to be
I'll take a breath, take her by my side
We stand in awe, we created life...

With arms wide open
Now everything has changed
I'll show you love
I'll show you everything
With arms wide open...

I patrol the front windows of our cabin like a sentry, debating if I should arm myself with a gun or a fire extinguisher.

Maybe it's fear of fire that suffocates my reason. Like a panicked child, I describe my morning jog with incoherent words and broken sentences. Scully listens to my babble with the programmed calm of a 911 operator. The sound of her rational, metallic voice only flares my temper.

Why does she keep answering my questions with one of her own? We both smelled smoke. Who cares which direction the wind was blowing? How does my state of mind affect my sense of smell?

Scully thinks I'm over-reacting, that the smoke was nothing other than the backdraft of the cabin's chimney.

I tell her that, as usual, she can't see the forest through the trees, even when they're blazing with danger.

"I'm taking a shower before Matthew wakes up," she retorts angrily. "I'll leave you to battle the whirling vapors of your paranoia."

"Don't use up all the water," I yell after her. "We may need it to douse more than the shampoo bubbles from your hair."

A half-hour later, she emerges from the bathroom fully dressed and flaunting soaked hair. I'm ready to accuse her of draining the water-table dry, not to mention the well of my patience.

But, then I notice something that not only silences me, but makes my tongue stick to the roof of my mouth.

She's wearing a pair of fitted jeans and an even tighter, knit sweater.

What happened to all those shapeless, frumpy nightgowns? For weeks, she's been walking around the cabin like a beleaguered house frau, yet now she's prancing in front of me like a water nymph? To see her like this, her pixie-like frame supporting the breasts of an Amazon, ignites a need I thought I'd extinguished.

I think I'm going to self-combust...

She tosses her head back, deliberately showering me with her spit-fire, red hair.

Oh God...

I'm supposed to be focused on the joys of parenting, not the the perils of sex. Granted, fifty-two days have passed since Scully gave birth to our child. More significant are the endless nights, staring at the ceiling as Scully drifts to sleep in my arms. I've counted sheep, paint flecks... anything to divert my mind from wanting her.

Freud would be proud. I've almost returned to my "latency period." Of course, my reduced sexual interest has also made me a paranoid insomniac.

Maybe I'm the one who's smoldering...

What I imagine to be the spray from her hair is only the moisture collecting on my upper lip. I watch her move to the fireplace, where she retrieves her brush from the mantle. With each stroke of bristle against softness, I feel the muscles of my stomach tense.

"What's wrong, Mulder?"

"Nothing..," I mumble, backing up to the door. "I think I'll just go out for a run."

"But, you already jogged this morning."

"Right," I nod, thumbing over my shoulder. "Maybe I should go dig a couple of fire ditches."

"Mulder, come here."

"Scully, I don't think this is a very good idea."

"My hair is tangled in the back," she coaxes in a silken tone. "I showered so quickly that I forgot to use conditioner."

She holds the brush out to me, pleading with her luminous eyes. I've never been able to resist their color. They remind me of intershot silk in the sunlight, flecks of gold threaded through each blue iris.

Here I am, obsessing about fire when I'm about to drown in the azure sea of her gaze.

"I can't do this, Scully."

I resist the undertow of her eyes, reaching for the knob of the front door. That's when I hear it. The sound of her brush falling to the stone hearth... I turn to find that the noise belongs to a woman rejected, whose arms have dropped in defeat.

Fear is forgotten. Anxiety is abandoned. Before I realize it, she's in my arms and my fingers are combing through the wet strands of her hair. Because her breath is coming out in short, contorted gasps, I kiss her. I try to still her sob before it escapes, but as her mouth opens to mine, I'm the one who's gasping against her lips.

I tip her head back and rediscover the taste and contour of her mouth. I inhale her breath as I would air. I'm no longer asphyxiated by doubt or smothered by shame. She's responding with a passion equal to my own, with arms now in a choke hold around my neck.

The feel of her nipples against the fabric of my shirt, stops me. I suddenly remember that her breasts are more than just objects of my desire. They nourish my son. It's hard to separate this fact of life from my fantasy vision of it.

Scully's astute eyes gauges my expression within seconds. She traces my mouth with her fingertip, saying softly, "We're more than just parents, Mulder. We're lovers."

"I know..."

"Don't allow one role to predispose the other."

"I won't..."

To be the type of man she deserves, I'm going to have to be the adult she wants me to be. Mature... confident... not the type who asks questions, but gives her answers.

I lift her onto the couch and begin to open the pearl buttons of her sweater. She watches me through half-closed eyes, her sensual lips quivering as I remove her clothes. With my mouth and fingers, I prepare her body to join with mine. I want her return to lovemaking to be without discomfort, for her to feel cherished even in the height of our passion.

I think she understands why I hesitate. Perhaps that's why she opens her arms wide enough for me to find certainty in her embrace. Before long, her soft, round hips are cushioning the rise and fall of mine.

In her body, I find the greatest pleasure. In her eyes, I discover the truth about myself. She shows me unconditional love... which in my life, means everything.

I kneel beside the couch to caress Mulder's face. He's still sleeping. Hours have passed since he drifted off in my arms, both exhausted and satiated by our lovemaking. It's now late afternoon. The sun is setting behind the trees, taking with it the warmth from inside our cabin. I'm tempted to light a fire, but the strike of a match could startle him awake. Instead, I cover him with a cashmere blanket and return to our bedroom to greet our little bundle of joy.

He's crying again...

"What wrong, sweetie?" I sing to him as I open the door. "Hungry again?"

My song is cut short by a blast of frigid air. Gasping, I spin around to find the bedroom window open.

Oh my God...

In his crib, Matthew is wailing, his tiny lips almost blue with cold. Panicked, I slam the window closed, but not before I detect a faint odor of smoke. I quickly scan the woods for fire, now realizing that the smell had nothing to do with our chimney.


The pines glisten with frost, like prisms of light against the wind.

The wind...

A gusty wind could explain the open window and the occasional hint of smoke. After all, the Pine Barrens is a forest preserve. Perhaps miles away some park ranger is burning acreage, not only clearing the woods, but obscuring our perception of it.

I wrap Matthew in a wool blanket and lift him into my arms. Cradling him against my chest, I hurry into the kitchen where the oven is heating my earlier attempts at a casserole. I drag an oak chair directly in front of stove door. My fingers tremble as I unbutton my sweater. I begin to breast feed, hoping that the warmth of my milk will restore his body temperature.

I'm scared...

In the back of my mind, I hear the sound of ringing. It reminds me of an alarm, the type that precedes the flat-lining of a heart monitor. I stare into the living room, feeling the blood drain from my face.

Mulder is awake, reaching for my cell phone on the coffee table.


He sits up on the couch, holding the receiver close to his mouth. His responses are low and measured, but his shocked expression conveys all that I can't hear.


Clicking off the phone, Mulder stares at his hands which slowly clench into tight fists. I want to scream, but I can't. My voice is gone, muted by lungs struggling to breath. Dizzy, I feel my blood pressure drop. I try to grip the side of my chair, balancing Matthew with one arm while the other weighs me towards the floor.

Suddenly, my heart contracts, revived by the pull of my son's mouth. I lower my gaze to find his blue eyes focused intently on my face. He's drawing sustenance, but somehow I feel infused by his life force. I can't describe it other than the bond between a mother and child. It's a connection that transcends understanding, a thread impossible to sever...

Not even by broken metal on the highway....

"Your mom's been in an accident," Mulder tells me gently. I look up to find him hovering over my chair. "She's in critical condition in a hospital near the Delaware border. The State Troopers found your cell phone number in her wallet."

"I have to go to her," I mumble weakly.

"No," Mulder shakes his head. "It could be a trap."


"I said no!" he yells. Running an agitated hand through his hair, he softens his voice before continuing, "Scully, you have to understand. If this is a trap, I'm the one who needs to walk into it. Not you...and definitely, not our child."

I know he's right, but the truth doesn't alleviate my pain.

Within minutes, he's ready to leave. I stuff cash into the back pocket of his jeans while he tucks his gun into his waistband. He promises to call me once he's reached the hospital. I nod, afraid to speak. If I do, I might mention the smoke and the open window, validating his fear and my own.

At the front door, he turns to say goodbye. Words are useless at this point. I'm crying so hard that my teeth are chattering. Mulder leans over to kiss our son's forehead, then straightens up to meet my wet gaze.

"I'm coming back to you," he promises.

When I close my eyes, he lifts my face with the palms of his hands.

"This time I'm sealing it with a kiss."

In the hospital, I almost knock over a crash cart in my frantic attempts to find Scully's mother. I grab one end while the technician balances the other. Our eyes meet over spiraling wires and shock paddles.

"Can you jump start my sense of direction?" I try to joke my way towards help. "I'm trying to find a critical care patient. Her name is Margaret Scully."

The technician's amused eyes turn sympathetic.

"Next room to your right," she says softly. "I'm very sorry."

"God... no..," I cry out, pushing my way past the equipment and the restraining arms of the nurse in the doorway.

A doctor is leaning over Maggie's inert body, flashing his penlight into her fixed, dilated eyes. He pronounces her death upon my arrival.


Maggie's dead....

But, there's no finality to the doctor's voice. It's as if he's questioning his own findings. I try to make sense of his words, but all I can hear is the screeching of the heart monitor above me.

"Would someone turn that damn thing off?" I demand, half- tempted to shoot the monitor off its steel brackets.

While the nurse reaches up to silence the alarm, I grab the doctor's sleeve.

"What do you mean, this shouldn't have happened?"

"Who are you?" he asks, glancing down at my hand. When I pull it away, he scrutinizes my leather jacket and the scratch marks on my face. "Are you a family member?"

"Her son," I lie, not caring if I burn in Hell for my deceit.

Not that Bill, Jr. hasn't already reserved a room for me.

I've killed Scully's mother, as certain as I'm responsible for her sister's death.

Maggie's dead....

There is no hope now that God has turned a blind eye and the Devil is holding the match.

"I'm sorry," the doctor begins.

"You're going to have to do better than that," I retort. "I don't want your condolances. I want answers."

"I don't know if I can give you any," the doctor admits. "Your mother was stablized. I was at the nurse's desk writing out orders to remove her from the critical list."

"What happened?"

"Like a blink of the eye, she was gone. We didn't even get a chance to heat up the paddles. No heart rate, no detectible blood pressure. Just look at cyanotic color of her skin. It's as if rigor mortis set in within seconds."

"What are you saying?"

"I'm saying that I can't tell you what killed your mother," he remarks. "Her injuries were severe, but not life threatening."

I suddenly feel dizzy.

"I'd like to order an autopsy," urges the doctor.

Collapsing into a chair, I bury my face in my hands.

"Some bedside manner, Doc," I mumble between my fingers.

"I thought you wanted answers," he says solemnly.

"I do...." I sigh heavily. "I do... But, first I'd like a moment alone with her. Then, I need to make a phone call."

"I understand," the doctor nods. He ushers the ICU staff from the room and closes the door.

"No you don't," I whisper after him. Avoiding Maggie's lifeless eyes, I lift her blue-tinged hand to my lips. Tears scald down my face, burning my skin, yet chilling against her's.

"Forgive me, Maggie," I sob. "The one time I should have asked a question, I didn't."

I should have second-guessed the motives of another, known that Krycek now ruled the highways instead of the sewers.

I should have remembered that the hitman was the Consortium's aspiring Godfather... of my child and mankind's destiny. Through death and intimidation, he hoped to trap what his militia had failed to find.

Krycek used Scully's mother as a decoy. He lured me away from my son by attacking his grandmother.

He must have realized, all those months ago, that guilt prompted my actions. It was his prosthetic finger that pointed to the fateful energy field. Not only was a ship waiting for me, but an excuse to sacrifice myself in Scully's place.

If only I could trade places with Maggie right now....

She showed me love...

I remember how Maggie greeted me at the cabin, her delicate fingers soothing the guilt from my face. But, in death, her touch is now rigid, clenching my soul with an iron-like grip.

Perhaps it's the agony of grief that distorts my perceptions. The same hand imprisons me, twisting around my wrist like a manacle. Stunned, I gaze up to find the creature's steel eyes inches from mine.

"She showed you love..." it whispers. "But, I'll show you everything."

In a universe of clones, there is no death....

The Bounty Hunter has returned to claim his prize.

I sit by the fire, trying to rock my child to sleep. He whimpers restlessly in my arms, a bubble of milk-tinged saliva bursting from his lips. Fearing colic, I shift him to my shoulder and begin to rub his back. Instead of a burp, he releases an indignant howl.

Never have I felt so helpless. My mother is miles away, critically injured, and my son is seconds away from projectile vomiting. Somewhere, in between my anxiety and ineffectiveness, is Mulder. I wish he was here. Right now, I need the benefit of his sixth sense, if only to show me how to deal with our inconsolable child.

"It's alright, love..." I try to comfort him, but the sing- song quality of my voice is gone. I sound exactly as I am... tone-deaf and frightened.

Meanwhile, Matthew continues to wail, his small head bobbing impatiently against my chest. Perhaps, he reacting to my agitation, the frantic beating of my heart and the cold sweat that chills my skin.

Hours have passed and still no word from Mulder. I glance at the phone, willing it to ring.

When it does, I almost drop Matthew in my desperation to answer it. Unable to guarantee the stability of my arms, I tuck my son into his infant carrier.

"Mulder?" I cry into the phone, holding it close to my ear.

For a minute, I hear static, then the barely perceptible sound of my name.


I feel a sharp pain in my side, as my mother's voice slices through the numbness of disbelief.


"Dana... can you hear me?"

"Mom, are you alright? Where are you?"

"I'm not sure," she says. "I was in a terrible car accident. Oh honey, for a minute I thought..."

"What?" I gasp, shaking so hard that the phone trembles in my hands. "Mom, what happened?"

"I'm not sure," she responds in a voice that sounds confused and tearful. "I was hurt... in so much pain... I remember being in a hospital...."

"Mom," I cry out. Her voice is growing fainter. I can't hear what she's trying to tell me. Believing the cabin is blocking the phone's signal, I unlock the front door to go outside.

Suddenly, I'm yanked back from the door by an unseen force. The phone drops from my hand as I'm thrown against the cabin wall. Screaming, I struggle against invisible bounds as I'm lifted off my feet.

Only my eyes can move under this pinning weight. They dart to the couch where my son is still strapped into his infant carrier. He's no longer crying, only staring at me with renewed interest. Seeing his mother dangle from the rafters must remind him of the mobile that hangs above his crib.

My head is thrown to the right, to where I'm forced to witness the front door being locked. My screams are muffled by a phantom hand, which smells like the burnt filter of a cigarette. Before I can attach horror to panic, the lights go out. In the darkness, I hear a familiar whisper beside me ear.

"Be still, my dear. Danger approaches."

Cigarette Smoking Man...

I can't see him, but I recognize his voice and the stench of his breath.

Just as I sense that my enemy is now my friend, a ghost of a not so distant past who is trying to protect me.

And, his grandchild....

I hear the roar of a truck engine outside. I'm quickly lowered to the floor. Panicked, I fumble my way to the bedroom in search of my gun. The apparition follows me, manifesting himself as the phosphoric radiance of decay.

But, right now, I don't care if his soul is rotting somewhere between Heaven and Hell. If the Pine Barrens has become his Purgatory, then let his act of contrition be my child's salvation.

My fingers shake uncontrollably as I try to snap my bullet clip into my gun. My breath is coming out in short, frozen gasps. The temperature around me is dropping, as if Spender's ghost is absorbing the room's heat. As I race back to the living room, his force passes through me. He evaporates like a smoky mist, dissipating under the front door.

Suddenly, Matthew shrieks. I spin around, both terrified and disoriented.

I can't see him...

My baby....

Gunfire shatters the window behind me. I fall to the floor, clasping the side of my head. In the darkness, I see the red, spinning dot of a laser rifle's aim.

Pain turns to delirium. For a minute, I actually believe that my son knew I was in danger. The bullet was meant to perforate my skull. Because of him, it only grazed the scalp above my ear.

The warmth of blood against my fingers chills to the sound of an almost inhuman shrieking. Peering over the ledge of the window, I watch the firery revenge of a ghost... toppled from his wheelchair, but not his seat of power. Like the strike of a match, he ignites a firewall around the cabin. Those who dare to rush it are scorched by incinerating heat.

Over the flames, I see a man lifted by a plume of smoke. Although I can't see his face, I recognize the smoldering plastic of his prosthetic arm.


He's suspended in mid-air, his legs and one good arm twisting in agony.

Oh my God....

The fire sears his flesh. Within seconds, he receives third degree burns that will scar him for a lifetime. He's then thrown to the ground, where his militia must now play paramedics. They smother the flames with their jackets, only to abandon him out of fear. The firestorm is upon them, driving them backwards to their truck. As the driver shifts the gear into reverse, Krycek's body is slammed against the windshield. Not dead, just an oozing reminder that road-kill is not limited to the Consortium's control over the highways.

I know that Krycek will never return. If he survives his burns, he'll realize that the legend of the Pine Barrens is true.

The Jersey Devil does, indeed, exist...

The flames disappear. All that remains is smoke, which rolls back towards the woods like a thick, gray carpet. At the edge of the forest, I see the ghost of C.G. Spender. He stands in the silvery light, taking one last drag of his cigarette. Turning towards the cabin, he smiles. Then, he's gone... leaving a crushed Morley in the sugary sand of his path.

"I'll show you everything...." the Bounty Hunter promises as it yanks the gun from my belt. When I try to fight back, it slams me against the wall. Pinning me with its massive bulk, the creature repeats in a hot, putrid whisper, "Everything...."

"All you've shown me is the masterful crudity of an alien race." I retort, turning my head away in disgust. "Immortality through cloning isn't divine. Your so-called creations are nothing more than meaningless forgeries."

"What about you?" it counters. "You've fashioned a son in your own image. Do you think you've created a masterpiece?"

"Is that my question, or your's?"

The Bounty Hunter looms over me like the mythological god, Vulcan, dark and repulsive. Once again, it tries to forge cooperation by stoking embers of doubt. But, this piece of human clay will not be molded into an urn inscribed with question marks. Instead, I present a profile of stone, my jaw chiseled into a thin line of determination.

"Not even a shade of curiosity to darken this marble-like cast?" it murmurs, reaching out to caress my face.

I grab the creature's hand.

"I have only one question," I snap. "Where is the woman you momentarily 'died' for... the one who was brought into Intensive Care?"

"Open your mind to me and you'll find out all you need to know."

"As will you...." I add.

"You've always been willing to pay the price," the Bounty Hunter leers. "Why stop now?"

"Because, you can't buy everything in life."

"What about the life of your child?" the Bounty Hunter threatens.

"Do the Gods now resort to blackmail?" I mock.

"Do you always answer one question with another?" the creature now hisses, its claw-like fingers crushing mine in a symbolic gesture of dominance. "I offer you the truth about life, about everything... yet, you still resist me."

"It's called free will," I counter. "And, without mine, you have no power over me."

"There are other ways," the Bounty Hunter hints, releasing my hand. My eyes drop to the hospital bracelet on its wrist. Seeing Maggie Scully's name written on it weakens my resolve. My mind shifts to the woman who greeted me with open arms. She showed me forgiveness. She showed me the path back to her daughter's heart.


For her, I would buy an answer.

But, the price would be leaving Scully, and that feels like selling my soul. Sensing my conflict, the Bounty Hunter slices through the plastic bracelet with its well-honed nail. Dangling it in front of my eyes, the creature simpers, "Skin as fragile as tissue-paper, this woman you seek."

"Where is she?"

The Bounty Hunter's slick, wet lips spread into a grin.

"I healed her."

"Why?" I ask skeptically.

"To prove that her injuries were not by my hand," it replies. "There are those who seek to harm you. I am not one of them."

"How altruistic of you...." I sneer. "How perfectly godlike...."

"You think I'm not God?"

"I know you're not." I lift my face dangerously close to the creature's. "Because, when I look into your eyes, I see fear."

"What you see is your own reflection."

"I see an inferior race," I continue to bait. "One that needs to feed off the life force of another species to survive."

"Human clay mixed with hubris," the Bounty Hunter muses."No wonder we have such a hard time digesting you." Suddenly, the alien's head jerks towards the door.

Releasing me, it shape-shifts into the technician I met in the hallway. Blue scrubs now replace a backless hospital gown.

At least, the creature's ass is finally covered.

But, the transformation also jump-starts a plan of defense.

"Has Mrs. Scully been taken downstairs, already?" a nurse asks from the doorway.

"Yes," the Bounty Hunter replies in the technician's voice."I was just about to show him the way to the morgue." "Oh," the nurse pauses briefly, then shrugs. She steps aside, allowing us to pass.

"Morgue, huh?" I scoff as we approach the elevators. "Is that your way of telling me that I'm about to be autopsied on your ship?"

"Your vague attempt at humor does not disguise your true intent," the creature remarks, prodding my rib cage with the barrel of my gun. "If you try to escape, I will shoot you."

Out of the corner of my eye, I see the crash cart. Taking a deep breath, I say, "Well, at least you'll shoot me in a hospital. If anything, it's convenient."

I lunge to the right, tripping the Bounty Hunter with a swift kick of my leg. Before the creature can rise, I topple the crash cart over it.

Although the equipment isn't heavy enough to be a deterrent, the current of the paddles might be...

I flip on the switch, instantly charging them. The sizzle of electricity triggers the warning buzzer, alerting the alien beneath me.

The Bounty Hunter morphs back into its original form and incredible strength. With one heave, the crash cart is sent sailing through the air, taking both me and the paddles with it.

I end up shocking the wall, scorching the paint from an antiseptic white to the color of charred flesh. Thrown off balance, I land on a pile of batteries and strewn wires. Dropping the paddles, I scavenge the drawers for an epinephrine syringe. I think of Scully, remembering what she's taught me... not just about medicine, but the creature's vulnerability.

While the Bounty Hunter stands over me, aiming my gun directly above my abdomen, I tear open the needle's protective wrapping with my teeth.

"I will heal you once we enter the energy field," it says calmly before pulling the trigger.

By pitching to my side, I dodge the bullet. Startled, the alien gazes down at me, its expression oddly amused. I must look like a dog in heat. Latched onto the creature's leg, I'm frantically trying to buckle its knee with my hips. But, rather than shake me off, the Bounty Hunter lowers my gun to my head.

"Enough," it growls.

Taking me by the collar, the Bounty Hunter hoists me to my feet. Rather than fight, I immediately go limp, causing the creature to catch my weight with both hands.

Only then, do I lift the syringe and attack.

I stab the creature's throat, wielding the syringe like a bayonet. Designed to reach a sluggish heart muscle, the long needle instantly punctures the alien's larynx. Choking, unable to speak or breath, the Bounty Hunter drops my gun. Green blood boils up like acid. It sprays the lids of my eyes and the side of my face.

I want to scream in agony...

Instead, I strike again. Pain and terror reveals a strength I never knew I possessed. When the alien falls to the ground, I follow. Straddling its torso, I stab repeatedly at the bubbling, hissing avulsion.

Only when I hear the crunch of a severed spine, do I realize that I've driven my point home. With one final thrust, the needle breaks through the back of the creature's neck.

The Bounty Hunter is finally dead. I've impaled it against the floor...

Blood and cartilage cover me like a toxic, green phlegm. The leather of my jacket momentarily protects my arms, but my face feels like it's melting. I can hear the screams of the hospital staff. Noxious fumes are filling the corridor. Clamping my hand over my mouth and nose, I stumble towards the emergency exit. Behind the door, I peel off my jacket, taking shreds of flannel and skin with it.

Despite my pain, I race down the stairs to the lobby of the hospital. As I make my way towards the entrance, I collide with a gurney that is being wheeled in.


Even third degree burns can't disguise the ratboy's beady eyes. He stares up at my blistered face, confused and disoriented.

"But, you weren't there, Mulder..," he cries. "Only Scully and the child....

Horror numbs me like an anesthetic. Forgetting my burns and ignoring his, I jerk him up from the gurney.

"What do you mean, Krycek?"

The touch of my hands must be like sandpaper against his exposed flesh. He can't answer me. All he can do is shriek about fire... the smell of smoke... the burning trees...

Oh God...

I drop his charred body and race towards the door. Fear and adrenaline pumps energy into my desensitized limbs.

I left her alone to battle the firestorm of the Consortium.


If I had just one wish
Only one demand
I hope he's not like me
I hope he understands
That he can take this life
And, hold it by the hand
And, he can greet the world
With arms wide open....

By the time I reach the cabin, I realize I'm too late...

Not too late for them...

Too late for me....

My body is going into shock. Toxic fumes have scorched my lungs to the point of respiratory failure. Every breath feels like my last. I glance down at my hands which are glued to the steering wheel. Acid has stripped away the epidural layer of my skin. I peel them off, leaving more than just my fingerprints on the vinyl surface. Almost passing out, I jar open the door with my elbow and fall to the ground.


She finds me in a heap, my limbs petrified and sapless of strength. Blue eyes turn cobalt when she sees the extent of my burns. Her hand jerks to her mouth to stifle her scream, but I can hear the echo of horror reverberate from her throat.

I can't see my face, nor do I want to. Judging by her expression, the God of the Forge has molded my features into a vulgar cast.

Although I'm not burnt beyond recognition, I know that I'm damaged beyond repair. Not that Scully doesn't try. Kneeling down, she grafts my cheeks with both of her hands. Like saline, her tears bathe my face. In a trembling voice, she cries, "We've got to get you to the hospital, Mulder." "No," I groan, struggling to speak. "Krycek's there, or what's left of him."

"It was a trap... my mother... the accident, it was all a trap..."

"Set by the Consortium, who are still cooperating with the aliens," I gasp. I try to rise, but my legs seem to melt beneath me. Spread through my system, the creature's acid has eaten away the tendons and muscles of my body. All that's left to me is a useless, skeletal frame.

Scully lifts my arm and twines it around her shoulder. As she hoists me to my feet, I notice then that her hair is wrapped with gauze like a headband. White against red triggers my alarm, but Scully refuses to answer my questions. Instead, she grits her teeth and pulls me up the steps to the cabin.

Inside, she helps me to our bedroom. The once soft, feather mattress feels like a bed of nails. Curling up into a fetal position, I moan with agony as Scully tries to cover me with the quilt.

"You're going into shock," she says, catching my claw-like fingers with her own. "I've got to call for help. There's another hospital north of here, a burn center called St. Barnabas. I can have you air lifted..."

"Too late." I manage a thread-like whisper. "Scully..."

My hand grips hers, my eyes trying to convey all that's left unspoken between us.

"No," she moans, tearing her hand from mine. "I won't lose you."

I can't bear the heartache in her eyes or her look of abandonment. I turn away, focusing my gaze on the light outside the window. At first, I think that dawn is approaching as the darkness of night fades to a misty gray. But, the glow flares suddenly, like the spark of a lighter. Scintillating bright, it reveals a ghostly mask pressed up against the glass.

It can't be...

The man who dared called himself my father....

Soot streams down his face, collecting in the dried-up folds of his skin. The smoking Michelangelo is mourning his life's work, realizing that his creationism was nothing more than human avarice. He tried to fashion himself as God, but all he sculpted was a legacy of disaster. And, now he cries silt of remorse, watching his son turn from ashes to dust.

"The child..," he whispers frantically to Scully. "Give him the child..."

Smoke collects against the glass, which now shakes with the tremors of his tar-stained fingers.

Scully turns to the window, her face bleaching to the color of white parchment. Her expression is scrolled with fear and uncertainty. I don't know if she sees Spender's ghost or comprehends his desperate plea.

But, I do...

He knows that I need to see my son one last time, to leave him with answers rather than questions.

I need to tell him that he should embrace his life rather than be puzzled by its meaning.

I don't want him to end up like me... or his grandfather... sacrificing everything for knowledge... abandoning the warmth of a family's love for the cold vacuum of space... Dying with regret over a life wasted....

My breath diminishes to weak, shallow gasps. Scully is now leaning over me, holding Matthew close to my face so I might share my thoughts. I gaze up, mesmerized by his eyes. Like his mother's, they're as blue as the ocean.

Blue as the ocean....

Rather than drift, I'm swept to an illusional shoreline where the child of my dreams waits for me.

I recognize the boy for who he truly is. Not the vision of lost youth, but a prophecy of my future.

The boy building a spaceship from sand is Matthew.

My son....

Kneeling down in the surf, he holds out his hand. I take it, buoyed by the strength of his grip. As the waves crash over me, the sea inflames my burns. Salt feels like peroxide, bubbling like acid against my skin. I shriek, but all I hear are the cries of the sea gulls above me.

"You promised to help me..."

"Don't leave me, Mulder..."

The wind tugs at my soul, but I can't let go of my son's hand. He needs me... Scully needs me...

I can't surrender to death knowing my family needs me.

My family....

With the tide, my pain ebbs away. I can feel the briny air invigorate my lungs, cleansing them of sooty residue and restoring me to life.

I startle then, the apparition fading around me. I'm still lying on my back, but not on the shoal of the beach. I'm on the bed of our cabin with my son's tiny fist curled around my finger.

My burns are gone...


My son, my "gift from God," has healed me.

I feel Scully's hand lower to my face... as if by touching substance she can replace her sense of awe with texture.

Awe with texture...

"We created more than life, Scully," I gasp. "I think we've created a miracle."

Weeping, she nods. She clutches Matthew tightly against her chest, rocking him, her arms now crossed in penitence.

"What have we've done?" she cries out, anguished. "What have we've done?"

Having changed into a fresh shirt and jeans, Mulder stands by the bedroom window watching the sun rise. I keep one eye on him and one on our child, nearly going cross-eyed in the process. My gaze isn't protective, only paranoid. The events of the night have traumatized me. I can only react with silent activity. I strip the bed linens, determined to take them out back and burn them with the remnants of Mulder's clothes.

I will incinerate the proof of this miracle, even if I have to ask the smoking Beelzebub to lend me a match.

No wonder Spender allegedly threw out the disc containing the cure for cancer. Who needed alien technology when his hybrid son could beget a savior?

A savior...

God damn him. Damn his rotting soul to hell instead of my back yard... "Scully? Are you okay?"

I ignore Mulder, irritated that he still addresses me with a question.

"I'm fine," I retort. Gathering up sheets and clothes like firewood, I continue, "I'll be outside, starting a little fire of my own. If Old Smokey knocks at the door, just sent him around back."

"Is that supposed to be funny?" Mulder asks, dropping the curtain.

"Do I looked amused?" I glare over the pillow cases.

"You look like you want to cry," he remarks, walking over to me. "Why don't we sit down and talk this over."

"Because, then I will cry," I comment in a shaky voice. Already, my eyes are swelling with tears. "And, I refuse to debate our son as if he was an X-file." "Trust me, Scully, there's no debate," Mulder says. "Like you, I don't want the world to know the truth about our child. Just as I don't want there to be any secrets between us."

"I'm not hiding anything."

"What's beneath the bandage, Scully?"

"Nothing worth mentioning."

I back up towards the door.

"But, something worth healing," he notes, advancing on me.

Mulder grapples with my arms, tugging at the dirty laundry and the truth I refuse to air. I lose the battle on all fronts. Sheets, clothes and my headband of gauze are now crumpled at my feet. Closing my eyes, I shudder, refusing to acknowledge his probing gaze. Realizing I'm in denial, Mulder drags me into the bathroom, flipping on the light with his elbow. Pinned between the edge of the vanity and the wall of his chest, I'm forced to face my reflection.

The gash on the side of my head is gone. There's no scar. Even my hair, clipped short by the bullet, has grown back.

"You knew, didn't you?" he asks gently. "You knew Matthew could heal me, because he healed you."

"I didn't want to believe," I whisper. "I still don't."

"I know," Mulder murmurs, stroking my hair. The feel of his fingers tingles against my scalp. I turn around and bury my face in the warm folds of his flannel shirt. As his arms tighten around my back, my arms encircle his waist.

We hold each other for several minutes, each one of us drawing strength from the other's embrace. Together, we created life. Only together will we be able to shield our son from scrutiny and protect him from those who seek to exploit his remarkable gift.

"Scully," Mulder lifts his lips from my forehead. "There's something wrong..."

I glance up, startled by his frightened eyes. He suddenly releases me and races out of the bathroom. I follow him to our son's crib where Matthew whimpers fretfully. His milky-white skin is flushed scarlet and a tiny blister dots his lower lip.

"What's wrong with him?" Mulder cries.

One touch of our baby's cheek tells me all I need to know.


Matthew is burning up with fever....

What have I done?

My fingers tremble as I unbutton Matthew's pajamas. I can't help but notice that the fleecy material is bordered with little lambs. The symbolism horrifies me. I feel as if I've offered our child like an unholy sacrifice. I allowed him to save Mulder at the cost of his own well-being.

What have I done?

I should have never listened to the soot-weeping gargoyle on the window ledge. He knew that I sifted truth like sand, picking out only grains which sparkled in the sunlight. I was as malleable as clay. I allowed him to mold my fear into a desperate act.

My requiem of love is now a lament of regret.

Mulder stands beside me, thermometer in hand. I know he's trying to help, but the feel of his skin chafes me. His burns are healed. Our son's flesh is too hot to touch.

"I don't need a thermometer to gauge the obvious," I snap. "Matthew is burning up. And, we both know why."

"It's a fever, Scully," he tries to reason with me. "I think you should follow pediatric rather than panicked guidelines."

"This is no ordinary fever...." I state, feeling my own mercury rise. "And, medical school never taught me how to treat a phenomenon."

"Matthew isn't a phenomenon. He's our son."

I flash him a look that would liquefy glass. He backs off, my degree of anger clearly readable. Stripping off Matthew's clothes and diaper, I rush him into the bathroom. I fill the sink with tepid water, hoping to douse his fever before it rages out of control. When I lower our baby into the make-shift tub, he howls like an indignant kitten. His hair bristles like wet fur, each fine point stabbing me with pain.

What have I done?

Suddenly, my heart constricts. Blood drains from my limbs and scalds my face. I want to cry out for help, but my tongue is so thick and clotted that I can't form the words. I begin to pray... to God... to Mulder... to anyone who can catch our baby before he slips from my fingers.

"I'm here, Scully..."

Mulder's arms slide beneath mine, receiving our son into his outstretched palms. The feel of his skin no longer chafes me. It soothes me. Like a cool compress, it draws out the heat from my skin. His breath, coming out in short, encouraging whispers, fans the back of my neck.

"You can do this, Scully. I know you can."

"How?" I choke out.

"Rather than be inveigled by the question, try accepting the answer," he repeats my earlier advice. "The truth about our son. The truth about yourself...""

Mesmerized by his words, I take a deep breath and plunge my hands back into the water. I sponge our baby with my fingertips, pigmenting faith to the color of Matthew's eyes. Rather than see red, I imagine blue. The blue of a cloudless sky... the aquamarine of a tidal pool...the indigo of the horizon as the fiery sun sinks beneath the cool waves.

Oh my God....

By adding hue, I'm able to visualize my son's fever. I'm able to douse it with each pass of my hand. By degrees, my confidence rises. By degrees, his temperature drops.

Matthew is no longer crying.

He's smiling....

His fever is gone.

"What have I done?" I gasp, staring at my hands. "What have I done?"

Stunned and light-headed, I grip the edge of the sink while Mulder wraps our baby in a towel. He shifts our bundle of joy into one arm, the other encircling my waist.

"Let's sit you down before you fall down," he suggests, gently tugging me towards the bedroom.

Collapsing on the bed, I stare up at the ceiling while Mulder diapers the wriggling baby beside me. He tries to explain this miracle in terms I'll understand. He links it to genetics. Both his and mine. But, rather than punctuate our son's chromosones with a question mark, he labels them with a capital "H".

"Matthew is the son of a Hybrid and a Healer, Scully," he tells me. "He inherited his gift from you."

"That's ridiculous," I scoff, recovering enough doubt to sustain me. "If I had the ability to heal, then I would have used it a long time ago. I would have healed my sister. I would have cured my cancer. I definately would have saved you, myself, rather than risk our child."

"There is no ability if you refuse to believe," Mulder remarks. "You know that, Scully. You've always known that."

I sift his words for granules of understanding, finding none. How can I filter hope through the sediment of my past? Over the years, I've lost more than just my enchantment. I've abandoned my faith in life.

I've lost my ability to greet the world with arms wide open.

Sighing, I sit up to dress Matthew. When he coos at me, I pause to gaze into his eyes. In them, I see more than a mirror of color. I see myself. A child born of enchantment. He deserves a mother who can nurture hope rather than skepticism. Without faith, his gift will be a curse. Like me, he'll be unable to heal anyone or anything, including himself.

That's why he developed the fever.

He knew I didn't believe in him.

"Forgive me," I whisper, pausing to kiss his soft belly. His sweet, powdery scent filters through the ash of my despair. I run my fingers across his skin, marveling in the perfection of his being.

Our son... our creation...

Sculpted out of love, not clay.

"I'll try harder," I promise, easing him into a fresh pair of pajamas. He gurgles with enthusiasm, trying to lift his tiny foot to his mouth. Unable to stuff his toe between his lips, he rolls over and blows his father a raspberry.

"See what I mean?" Mulder grins. "He really does take after you."

I'm too tired to smile. Sensing my exhaustion, Mulder offers to watch over Matthew while I sleep. He lies down on the bed, opening his embrace to receive both of us. Mother and child. Age-old skeptic and new-born believer. While Matthew drools happily on Mulder's flannel shirt, I rest my head on my partner's shoulder.

"There are so questions left unanswered," I murmur wearily. "Too many for me to sort, much less articulate."

"Go to sleep, Scully," Mulder urges. "The answers will come when you're ready to hear them."

Just as I close my eyes, my cell phone rings. I bolt up, almost toppling over Mulder's legs in a frantic effort to grab it. One of the answers I'm looking for is the fate of my mother. Where is she? Is she alright?

"I'm fine, honey." Mom's voice sounds clear and strong. "I was a bit disoriented for a couple of hours, but I'm better now."

"Where are you?" I cry, tears of relief filling my eyes.

"A bus station near the Delaware border," she relates. I'm still a bit too shaky to drive."

"It's okay, Mom. All that matters is that you're safe."

"I'm more than safe, Dana," she conveys. "I'm healed. I can't explain it. One minute I was dying... then, suddenly everything changed."

"Everything has changed," I sniff, lifting my hand to brush the tears from my lashes. "Everything...."

"Honey, is the baby alright?" my mother asks, her voice lowering with concern. "Where's Fox?"

"Matthew's fine," I answer carefully, clearing my throat before I continue. "And, Mulder is here."

I sift her response, finding the pearl of wisdom I've been looking for. After she promises to call me from home, I click off the phone and stare at it. My thumb grazes the receiver, replacing awe with texture.

"What did she say?" Mulder asks, gazing up at me.

"She said that I should count my blessings, not question them," I say softly. "She's right, Mulder. You both are."

Mulder takes the phone and twines his fingers through mine. He kisses each tip, absorbing the wet, salty residue of my pain. In turn, I press my lips against that back of his hand. It's more than a blessing. It's a benediction.

"You've shown me love," I whisper. "You've shown me everything."

During the next few months, my life takes on a different rhythm. I still wake up early to jog the trails of the Pine Barrens, but as the temperature grows warmer, my pace slows down. I often stop to gaze at the sun as it rises over the crest. With Spring, each morning renews my optimism. I feel like a new man.

I've discovered the meaning of life in a child's blue eyes. Occasionally, I pause to glance behind me, sensing the shadow of my father's regret. He's still out there, deep within the woods where the sun can't filter through the trees. Sometimes, I feel as if he's watching me, either tracking my daily route or the course of my life.

Today, I find a Morley half-buried in the sand. Picking it up, I study the gold bands that circle our family's crest. A chilly breeze suddenly balloons the back of my windbreaker. I drop the cigarette in disgust. When I begin to jog again, a blast of cold air almost knocks me off my feet.

"Nice try," I call out, my voice echoing through the trees."This time, the runner won't stumble."

"I should hope not." The sound of Spender's whisper is inches from my ear. "I wouldn't want you to follow the wrong path to enlightenment."

"Why are you still here?" I demand, turning in circles as pine needles swirl around my legs. "Are you some type of geriatric boy scout who's trying to earn a merit badge?"

"More questions...." His chuckle sounds like a hack."Some things never change."

"You're wrong, old man," I counter. "There are some questions worth asking, especially about our family tree."

"Is the hybrid still trying to unearth his roots?" Spender taunts.

"Only when a certain branch refuse to remain six feet under," I retort.

"Let's just say that my time in Purgatory could extend your life on earth."

"What you're really trying to say is that Hell threw you out." "Who needs Hell?" the ghost snickers. "I've discovered New Jersey. Before, I was only the devil personified. Now, I'm a fire-breathing legend."

"Is there a purpose to this 'Old Tar' anecdote?" I say in an exasperated voice. "Because your legendary presence is beginning to stain my Reeboks."

"Be careful where you step, my boy," Spender cautions. "You wouldn't want to find yourself caught in a trap."

His unseen force lifts a pine cone from the ground and hurls it up the path. Suddenly, it disappears, swallowed by an invisible energy field.

"They're here?" I gasp, falling backwards.

"Here, there and everywhere," he chants, puffs of smoke cushioning me as I land on my ass. "But, then... so am I," "What are you saying?" I choke out.

"I can protect you," Spender says urgently. "These creatures have developed a fear of fire. Yes, they'll lay their traps. But, as long as I haunt these woods, you will not be caught in one."

"I'd call that steel-like comfort," I mumble, still too shocked to be grateful.

"Better than the icy vacuum of space," he reminds me."Despite the restrictions, you've been given a second chance at life. Whether you make it a personal heaven or hell is completely up to you."

Another burst of nicotine-fueled energy lifts me to my feet. Before I can respond, I'm spun around and given a "spirited" push.

"Time to jog on home, Fox," Spender chortles with acrid amusement. "I do believe your partner is burning breakfast, again."

** By the time I return to the cabin, fear has shape-shifted into irritation. Another disaster on the stove-top reminds me of how unsavory "real life" has become. It's charred bacon, soggy pancakes and coffee filtered through a paper towel. It's having developed an appetite for hope only to be glutted by futility.

Without a word, I dump my plate into the trash.

"What's wrong?" Scully asks. She glances up from the kitchen table where she's tabbing pages of her Betty Crocker cookbook. "Not hungry?"

"Nope," I grumble, staring at the mess in the sink."Listen, if you keep scalding every pot and pan, we need to either buy brillo pads or rotate household chores."

"What's wrong, Mulder?" she repeats, closing the book and removing her glasses.

"We're prisoners, Scully," I explode. "This domestic bliss is nothing but a gilded cage."

Slamming my fists down on the table, I jar the place settings, but not my partner's composure. She calmly studies my face before lifting her napkin to her mouth.

"Is that your way of telling me that you're not ready to settle down?" she asks, gingerly wiping her lips.

"Oh, for Christ's sake." I push back from the table angrily."Why should I bother explaining? You'll only pick out grains of truth that resemble abandonment."

"That's low, Mulder," she winces. Dropping her napkin, she begins to flick imaginary crumbs from the tablecloth.

"Yeah?" I sneer, pointing out the window. "Well, so is the altitude of the alien craft which is hovering over the Pine Barrens."

The panic in her eyes reminds me of a deer caught in headlights. For a minute, she's frozen, paralyzed by the threat of an approaching danger. But, when I reach for her, she bolts. The impetus of her flight knocks over her chair, tripping me as I chase after her.

This time the runner has stumbled....

By the time I catch Scully, the damage is done. Hysteria has set in. I clamp a hand over her mouth to silence her scream. Her cry is a decible away from breaking the sound barrier. Any louder and we'll find Spender's ghost on our doorstep reenacting his role as "Rescue 911." My attempts at calming her fear only incites her anger. Furious, she twists in my arms until my ribs are bruised by her elbows. When I tighten my hand, she stops breathing. Panicked that I've asphyxiated her, I let her go.

Rather than collapse, Scully races into our bedroom. Shocked, I can only watch from the doorway as she slings our son's diaper bag over her shoulder and grab the car keys.

"I don't suppose you're going to the store to buy Pampers," I manage to say lightly as my heart sinks to my stomach.

"I'm taking our son and getting the hell out of here," she retorts, lifting a sleepy Matthew from his crib. "Don't even try to stop me, Mulder."

"I'm not trying to stop you, Scully," I tell her. "Only delay you long enough to listen to reason."

"Reason?" she snaps. "What could you possibly say to convince me that our son is not in danger?"

"That the Jersey Devil carries a flame-thrower rather than a pitchfork," I convey. "You said it, yourself. Spender's purgatory is our child's salvation."

"That's before I learned that aliens, and not angels, wear wings," she yells.

It's like arguing with a space-aged Jesuit. No matter what I say, she denounces me as an apostate of an alien creed. I should have never compared domestic bliss to a prison. My failed analogy has become her metaphor by which to leave me.

As Scully moves towards the front door, I close my eyes and begin to pray. Not to God... and not to the woman who healed my heart, only to break it. I pray to the miracle child that gifted me hope. Through him, all things can change....

"Da..." Matthew suddenly cries over Scully's shoulder.

Our son's first word has to be a sign. At least, it signals his mother to stop and yield to a five month old's babble.

"Da..da..da," he repeats the syllables until it forms a word and question in Scully's mind. She turns her head to ponder the meaning of our son's outstretched arms. Her eyes assess his tears and how his lower lip quivers with dread. When she glances at my face, she realizes that Matthew is a mirror of my expression. Like father, like son... the likeness startles her into surrender.

"Take him," she says, her voice flat and empty. "I can't fight you both."

As I lift Matthew to my shoulder, I notice how Scully walks as if she's burdened by a heavy weight. Dropping the diaper bag doesn't help. When keys slip through her fingers, I realize what I've done.

I may have saved my son, but I think I've lost his mother.

With arms wide open
Under the sunlight
Welcome to this place
I'll show you everything
With arms wide open
Now everything has changed
I'll show you love
I'll show you everything
With arms wide open....

I sit by the fire, slowly rocking in the chair that once belonged to my grandmother. Three generations of Scully women have sought reassurance in the steady cadence of polished oak. Of course, my hands aren't like my grandmother's. They're not busy with a crochet hook or a bowl full of snap peas. Instead, my hands remind me of my mother's, nervously picking at grains of wood as if she could scratch out a different future.

I can remember the Summer afternoon when she stripped off layers of varnish and revealed years of pent-up frustration. My father had sent a telegram which was crumpled on her lap. For her, the news was only another missive of upheaval. We were to report back to Baltimore and pack up our quarters. The Navy was transferring us, again.

"He changes my life with a telegram," she complained to my grandmother, oblivious to the fact that I was listening. "He doesn't bother to ask, or even consider my feelings. He just sends me a set of coordinates and orders me to hoist anchor."

"You should count your blessings instead of the sacrifices you're asked to make," my grandmother admonished.

"Easy for you to say," my mother retorted. "Your husband never made you... or your children... the sacrifice."

"Are you willing to sacrifice all you have for what you think you've lost?" countered my grandmother. "It's time for you to grow up and put aside your childish fantasies."

"Wanting a normal life isn't immature or whimsical," she argued bitterly. "If I can't raise my children in a stable environment, what do I have to offer them?"

"Love," my grandmother said knowingly. From the shadows of the corner, I watched her place a gentle hand on my mother's shoulder. "Home is where the heart is, remember?"

That my mother rolled her eyes should have been my first clue that I inherited more than just her blue color. By example, she was giving me my first lesson in cynicism. If she was expected to put aside childish dreams, so would I. Creeping out the darkness, I reached into my beach bag for a pair of sunglasses. Handing them to her, I said, "Here Mom. They might not be rose-tinted, but they'll hide the tears."

I'll never forget the look on her face. Startled. Ashamed. Her disenchantment had become my own. And, because she was determined to preserve my vision of my father, she surrendered to his career.

Putting on the sunglasses, she jabbed them into place with her index finger. Shore leave was over, she said in a certain voice. It was time to load the cargo bay of the station wagon and set sail for home.

When we arrived, my father was there. He had abandoned his naval uniform for a pair of jeans and a baseball cap. Standing on the front porch, he opened his arms to greet us. Four children with sunburns and a wife with daisy-shaped sunglasses. While he hugged each one of us, his eyes never left my mother.

"You look different," he said. "Did you change your hair?"

"No." She smiled. "Just my perspective."

Suddenly, I stop rocking and glance into the kitchen.

It's time for me to abandon my dream-like vista for the uneven terrain of the Pine Barrens. Granted, it's not the home I envisioned, but like my mother, I'll learn to adapt. My son's well-being depends on it.

Mulder is right. A ghoulish apparition may darken our doorstep, but at least he'll block the beam of an alien energy field. While Spender's ghost haunts the woods below, alien creatures can only hover above us.

I shift my focus back to where it belongs. Back to earth, where the immediate danger is our baby's stubborn refusal to eat. Once again, he's spitting out strained carrots as if he's been fed an alien host. Meanwhile, Mulder is circling the spoon like a spaceship, thinking his warped sense of humor will open our son's mouth.

Sighing, I get up from the chair and join my family at the kitchen table.

"Let's try adding some applesauce," I suggest, taking the spoon from Mulder's fingers. Leaning over our son's high-chair, I mix a little perspective into his baby bowl. When I slide the tip of the spoon between his lips, he scowls. I wait patiently, knowing his taste buds will prompt a higher understanding.

"See?" I turn to Mulder and give him a saccharine smile."Sometimes, it's better to sugar-coat the truth."

"Better than giving me a taste of my own medicine?" Mulder retorts as he gets up from his chair. "You were ready to take my son and leave me, Scully. Don't expect me to swallow your truth so easily."

He leaves me speechless, trying to balance a new outlook with a past resentment. I stare at the bowl, wondering how I managed to stir up such a bittersweet concoction. I try to blink back my tears, but like salt, they keep seasoning Matthew's lunch.

When he begins to wail, I drop the spoon in frustration.

I think we've both had enough....

"Nap time for you," I announce, using his bib to clean his face and wipe my eyes. "And, maybe some humble pie for me."

Mulder is crouched before the fireplace adding another log to the grate. If he notices us, he doesn't say a word. His shoulders are hunched over, as if his muscles and tendons can't support the weight of his despair.

"I'm sorry," I choke out. When he doesn't answer me, I realize that there's no sugar-coating this truth.

I may have changed my attitude, but my partner has had a change of heart....

Inside the guest bedroom, now our son's nursery, I tearfully lower Matthew into his crib. As I wind his mobile, I glance up to the ceiling which is painted blue with cretaceous clouds. I remember how I envisioned a star motif, a midnight black with stellar points of white. For days, we argued over our creative differences. Finally, Mulder put his foot down... or rather his paint brush.

"Do you really want Matthew pondering the stars every night while he falls to sleep?"

I spent the next week stenciling bunnies, turtles and other earth-bound creatures on the bedroom walls.

Sighing, I fill my arms with a pile of baby clothes and take refuge in our bedroom. I try out a different perspective, the silent activity of folding laundry. In my mind, I paint a new panorama, tinting it with the bright, cheerful colors of my child's pajamas. But, as I lift a faded, gray t-shirt from the bottom of the pile, I burst into tears.

"I'm sorry, Scully."

Mulder appears in the doorway just in time to find me weeping into his laundry.

Embarrassed, I drop the shirt and grab my purse from the night stand. Sniveling, I search for cover in the form of sunglasses.

He joins me on the edge of the bed and continues in a shaky voice, "Please don't tell me that you're looking for your car keys."

"No," I cry miserably. "Just a little Maggie Scully perspective. Except, this time, I think she set sail with my Raybans."

"Leaving you with only an old t-shirt to hide your tears," he adds sympathetically.

"I could use a flannel shirt, instead," I sniff, eying his shoulder.

"C'mere, you," Mulder says as he pulls me into his arms. I bury my face against his chest and sob out the last of my frustration. As he gently rocks me, I feel my equilibrium return. I don't need sunglasses or an antique chair to stabilize my emotions.

I need him.

I always have.

"I could never leave you, Mulder," I murmur, sliding my hand across the fabric of his shirt. Resting my palm over his heart, I close my eyes and take a deep breath. "The only home I ever dreamed of was the one I shared with you."

His heart beat suddenly quickens to match my pulse. When I gasp in surprise, he lifts my chin and kisses me.

"Together, we created life," he tells me. "Together, we'll preserve your dream."

"I love you, Mulder."

Cupping my face in his hands, he whispers, "Scully, from my perspective, that's the answer to all things."

He eases me back against the feather mattress and begins to unbutton the front of my shirt. Within minutes, our clothes join the pile of laundry at the foot of the bed.

"Welcome home, Mulder," I whisper, opening my arms to him.

The End.

"With Arms Wide Open" is dedicated to many people, who shared their time and talent to make this story possible.

To Vicki, who inspired me with her choice of post-Requiem lyrics...

To ShakerBaker, who eloquently captured the images of love and reconciliation with her video...

To Galia, who designed a beautiful book cover...

To Kimberly, who not only read between the lines, but beta'ed my mood.

And, to Amy, who encouraged me to embrace my muse rather than abandon it.

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