Title: Angels Running
Author: Liz Tobey
Written: May 2001
Rating: R for sex, mild violence
Classification: XR (Mulder/Scully romance with case involved)
Spoilers: "En Ami," "Closure"
Keywords: telepathy
Disclaimer: The "X-Files" and its characters are the property and creation of Chris Carter. I am "borrowing" these characters for use in this story, but in no means intend to profit monetarily from it. I have also used selections of song lyrics by the songwriter Patty Larkin.

Summary: Following the death of Mulder's mother, Mulder and Scully investigate the mysterious escape of three mute children from a train wreck.

"Now I've heard enough,
And I've seen enough,
And I know enough to know
I know I good thing when I see it
And it's a bad thing to let go.

I've been around,
I've been up and down,
Until I'm bent out of control
With your world all in motion
Gotta put a ball and a chain on your soul.

All those angels running
picking up the pieces
Putting back together hearts broke long ago
I know a good thing when I see it
And it's a bad thing to let go.

There will always be lovers
With borders of their own
You may charge across in a golden chariot
But you will never be home.

I had dreams like distant thunder
I had hope like a prayer unheard
This is nothing less than perfect
In a less than perfect world.

All those angels running
Picking up the pieces
Putting back together hearts broke long ago
I know a good thing when I see it
And it's a bad thing to let go."

[Lyrics of the song "Good Thing" by Patty Larkin, off the album "Angels Running" (1993)]

The Capitol Limited
Chicago, Illinois to Washington, DC
Monday, February 7, 2000

"Hey, want to see my cards?" The little red-headed boy in denim overalls stood in the center aisle of the observation car, precariously balanced on his short legs. He held a small packet of Pokemon cards, emblazoned with a picture of a cute yellow monster.

"Hey, you, answer my questions!" the boy said. His imploring was directed towards a trio of children, who were slumped together on a wide seat that faced out towards the floor-to-ceiling viewing windows. The three children might as well have been on another planet. All three stared in the direction of the little boy, but they did not really look at him, but rather past him, their gazes void of any registration of emotion. The smallest of the three was a little girl, probably no more than four years in age. Her hair was dirty blond in color, and held in place by a black headband. She was dressed in a black coat, which was unbuttoned, and beneath, she wore a striped turtleneck and some pink corduroy overalls. One would have expected a girl of such an age to be laughing or playing, or in the worst-case scenario, disintegrating into the tired tears of someone who had been travelling for too long. But instead, she stared blankly at the entreaties of the little boy, like someone on the subway who pretends to study the subway map in order to avoid the gazes of those sitting directly across from her.

The little boy next to her was no more responsive. He wore a red jacket and a worn pair of jeans, and hid his forehead under the brim of a too-large Oakland A's baseball cap. The cap covered his head so that it was difficult to discern his hair color. He couldn't have been more than seven or eight years in age. The only movement that he made was a slight kicking with his lower leg against the carpeting. Sitting against him, with her face tipped upward was an older girl of about nine or ten years of age, who wore a blue rainslicker, which was pulled off her shoulders and stuffed against the back of the seat. She wore a flower-print dress of a non-descript yellowish-green hue, and Keds sneakers. Her hair was long, straight, and jet black. Her eyes were also jet black. Of the three, she showed perhaps the most emotion. Her lower lip trembled a bit, as if she might cry at any moment, but never reached a breaking point. But not even she attempted to respond to the red-headed boy standing in front of her.

Finally the boy began to get frustrated with his three acquaintances. He stuffed the cards into his back pocket with a gesture of righteousness, and then put his chubby little hands on his hips. "Don't you all know that you're supposed to answer? I don't want to play with you after all." He began to turn around to head back down the aisle to find his parents, who were seated at the other end of the car. But he ran right against the pant legs of a tall, domineering man. He looked up to see the man stare down at him menacingly. The man had silver hair and a haggard,lined face. His heavy brow shaded his eyes, which shifted back and forth menacingly. And in his right hand, he held a lit cigarette, from which he drew in a rasping breath. He blew out a cloud of smoke in the direction of the little boy who looked up at him.

"Mister, you're not supposed to smoke in here," reminded the boy. "The sign says 'no smoking'," he said, pointed to the lit sign at the end of the car.

"I'll do what I please, you impudent young man," said the man. He tapped the cigarette with his finger as if to emphasize his point, letting a trail of ash fall towards the carpet.

Not wanting to get into any trouble, the boy turned around and scampered down the aisle to the other side of the observation car to find his parents. He tried not to think of the scary man who had just stared him down.

Suddenly, when he was not looking forward, the boy collided with the legs of a tall passenger who was striding down the aisle in the opposite direction, towards the front of the train. The boy looked up, to see a squared and ashen face of a stranger. The giant man was almost seven feet tall.

"Hey, you look like Arnold Schwartzenegger!" yelled the little boy in mock recognition. The man turned his neck sharply to glare at him with such a look of viciousness that the little boy knew immediately to shut his mouth. The man released his gaze, and strode militantly past him. As he passed, he glanced over his shoulder hurriedly. Almost on cue, all three of the strange, quiet children turned their heads to meet his gaze directly. The smoking man sitting with them ignored the whole exchange, instead staring out the windows of the observation car at the passing scenery.

The robot-man began to walk towards the exit of the car at its front, each step solid and steady, almost impervious to the back-and- forth motion of the train.

The little red-headed boy stood in the aisle watching the man leave. Something about him was frightening. After he saw him leave the car, he ran back to his parents, who were busily reading their novels, and told them of the incident.

"Mom, Dad! I saw someone who looked just like Arnold Schwartzenegger! But he looked real scary! And he didn't smile like he did in "Kindergarten Cop." And their were these three kids - they were weird! And they didn't talk to me at all. But they just stared at him as he passed by..."

"Billy," said the woman. "It's not polite to talk about strangers like that."

"But Mom..." answered her son.

"Shhh. Just try to keep busy for a little while longer. We're due to arrive in Washington in ten minutes. " She paused to look at her watch. "But it seems like we're running a little late. But please TRY to be good for a little while longer."

The father looked up from his book. "I promised you another Pokemon trading card if you behave."

The boy's face lit up. He vowed to himself that he wouldn't mention the three children again. At least he'd try. At least not until after the train ride was over.

"In just a couple minutes we'll be arriving at Union Station in Washington, the District of Columbia. Please look around the train for your belongings. We know you have a choice in travel, and we thank you for choosing Amtrak. Please watch your step and have a good day."

The smoking man had left the observation car, followed by the trail of obedient children. The group was quickly making their way towards the rear of the train. They filed through the coach cars, sidestepping those who were beginning to remove their luggage from the overhead racks. They passed through one set of car doors after another, pressing the rectangular black panels that caused the connecting doors to open automatically. Finally they made their way into the back two cars, which were sleepers. In the very last sleeping car, the smoking man stopped in front of a compartment door, opened it, and motioned for the three children to get in. Once they were all in the compartment, he closed the door, and then coolly peered through the tinted interior window of the compartment, as if ordering them to stay put. He then ran down the aisle of the car, and hastened down the stairs to the lower level.

The three children sat huddled together in the cramped compartment. The older girl sat in the seat facing the little boy, and the littlest girl stretched out on the floor in the small space parallel to the door. The three children looked at each other, not saying a word.

Outside the window, the scenery was flashing past slower and slower as the train lessened its speed. The two narrow tracks were beginning to widen into a rust and metal spider-web network of the D.C. train yards. Nearby, a steel gray Metro subway train overtook the slowing train which was making its way towards Union Station.

Suddenly, the little girl on the floor sat bolt upright. She quickly got to her feet, and reached out to pull her companions from the compartment. Without questioning her, they followed her as she scampered frantically down the aisle towards the very back of the car.

When they reached the very back of the car, the eldest girl reached out and grabbed the emergency exit handle, while set off a rattling alarm. Surprised passengers began to emerge from their compartments, only in time to see to their horror the three children leaping off the back of the train. The brakes attempted to bring the train to a halt.

Before the passengers could fully register what had just happened, a thunderous boom, like the passing of a rocket fired at the speed of sound, came thundering from the front of the train. It was as if a giant shockwave were passing through the cars, beginning with the front locomotives and making its way back. There was a sickening screech of metal, as if god himself were sharpening a knife on one giant blade. Then the front of the car dived for the left, just as the rear of the car slammed to the right. Compartment doors slid open and closed wildly, and luggage fell from overhead racks in a loud-thudding rain. The sudden motion was too much for the top-heavy sleeper, which teetered for an endless four seconds and then came crashing down on its side.

National Zoo
Washington, DC
early morning
February 7, 2000

Agent Dana Scully strolled along the wooded path, pausing to look at her watch. For once in her life, she was late to work. But perhaps today it didn't matter so much. Besides, in the past month, she had put in more overtime than she could keep track of. She wasn't quite sure what had possessed her to stop by the Zoo this morning on her way downtown to her job at the Federal Bureau of Investigation. She needed to purchase a gift at the shop for her nephew, and had neglected to remember that the buildings did not open until 10 AM. But she could have bought a gift just about anywhere. Perhaps it was the change of scenery that she needed. It had been a difficult winter in the District of Columbia, with more snow than she had remembered in a long time. Spending day after day in her basement office, she saw very little of the light of the ever-lengthening days. There were days when she left her apartment in Georgetown before dawn, and exited from the Bureau long after the sun had set. Light was such a precious commodity this time of year.

As she traveled along the Valley Trail through the wooded grounds of the Zoo, she walked carefully as not to trip on the rugged sheets of ice that encroached partially on the paved path. January's snow had not completely disappeared. She felt the sand and salt crackle beneath the hard soles of her winter boots. As she walked, she noticed how few of the animals were outside. It was much too cold for most of them. But still she treasured this quiet, this time alone with herself.

Rounding a bend, a flash of turquoise blue caught Scully's eye. Looking towards her right, she noticed the thick glass panels of a water tank inset into the rock lining the trail. A dark form was darting back and forth behind the glass. She walked over and drew closer to the glass, squinting to read the label. It was the tank of a river otter.

The dark creature swam up and down through the aqua blue, not even pausing for a moment, though its beady, bright eye surveyed Scully as it passed. As it streamed through the blue, the otter's spiky fur cast and caught globules of silver, bubbles of water streaming out behind it like a trail of liquid mercury. Scully stopped to marvel at how effortlessly the little creature swam through the water, its heart warm and racing on a morning when most animals were still waking up. As she stood watching with her hands thrust into the pockets of her long wool coat, she yawned as she thought of her own fatigue.

After a few minutes, the otter ceased its darting and dashing and held his limbs still, letting himself float up to the water's surface on his own buoyancy. With a bouncing leap, he jumped from the water onto the rocks of his habitat and scurried into the waiting shelter. The performance was over. Looking at her watch, Scully saw that it was almost quarter to ten. She thought to herself, she had better stop at the gift shop and make her purchase and then be on her way. Enough of daydreaming.

J.Edgar Hoover F.B.I.Building
Washington, DC
February 7, 2000
Late afternoon

"Hey, Scully, what've you got there? Anything for me?"

Mulder smiled at his partner, who had just pulled a shopping bag emblazoned with a National Zoo logo from underneath her desk. "C'mon, Scully, whatcha got in their. A couple of boa constrictors?" His eyes twinkled mischievously, as if recalling their recent close encounter with poisonous snakes while investigating a case in Tennessee.

"No, Mulder, nothing scaly," answered Scully. She reached in and pulled a tissue paper-wrapped package out of the bag.

"All right - Zoo Doo for your flower garden?"

Scully gave her partner an annoyed glance. "Wrong again." She unwrapped the tissue paper, pulling out a stuffed otter.

"A weasel? Don't you think we have enough of those in the F.B.I.?" joked Mulder.

"It's an otter, Mulder. I saw one this morning at the Zoo. This is a gift for my nephew Matthew. Bill and Tara are expecting another baby just a couple weeks from now, and I wanted to send him something so he wouldn't feel left out. So I stopped by on my way to work." She opened up her desk drawer and pulled out a sheet of wrapping paper, and spread it out on her desk. She pulled a collapsible box from the bag and began to assemble it.

It was hard to believe that Matthew was already more than two years old, she thought to herself. Though her dealings with her brother, Bill, had not always been easy, she harbored a special place in her heart for her nephew Matthew, though she did not see him very often, since Bill's family was stationed at a naval base outside of San Diego. Matthew was a clever little boy, and his outgoing personality reminded her a lot of Scully's deceased sister, Melissa. Melissa had always been a small ambassador to the world, even as a young child.

Matthew's birth had been somewhat of a godsend for Scully, for he entered this world just as her own daughter, Emily, had left it. Though she kept a photo of Emily on her desk, the loss of her only child was something that Scully had much difficulty thinking about. She wondered sometime what Emily would look like now, had she lived, and how she would have liked her younger cousin.

Mulder noticed that his partner's eyes had drifted away from the task of packaging the stuffed animal, and were instead fixed upon the framed photograph of Emily. He and Scully rarely discussed Emily, but he knew that Scully still grieved for the daughter that she had lost two years ago. He walked towards Scully's desk, and picked up the cardboard box that she had started to assemble. "Here, let me help." He busied himself with folding its creases and inserting the tabs into the right places.

"Thanks, Mulder," said Scully, as they both worked at wrapping the gift.

When they were finished, Scully placed the package into a cardboard box in the corner of the office, sealed the package with brown tape, and wrote the address on the box with a magic marker. Cradling the box under her left arm, she headed towards the door. "I'm going to go down to the mailroom to send this off," she said to her partner.

"Go ahead - I'll hold down the fort," said Mulder, sitting back down at his desk." He pulled some files out of a drawer, and opened them.

Scully left the office to go down the hall to the mailroom.

She had not been gone five minutes when the ringing of the phone echoed in the basement office. Mulder looked up from his work and answered the phone. From the single ring, he could tell it was an internal call.

"Mulder," he answered.

"Agent Mulder, I need you and Agent Scully to come with me to Union Station immediately!" It was the voice of their boss, Assistant Director Walter Skinner.

Mulder's heartbeat quickened. Since the beginning of the New Year, all F.B.I. personnel had been warned of the threat of domestic terrorism, whose strike they had to be ready for, even weeks after the first of January. A sickening feeling in his stomach told him that something terrible had happened.

"Is it a terrorist attack?!" he asked Skinner urgently.

"I'm afraid so, Agent Mulder. An Amtrak train heading in from Chicago collided with a parked train at Union Station. It appears that the engineer of the train may have intentionally caused the crash. At first reports, there are at least ten people dead as a result. The Domestic Terrorism unit has already been dispatched to the scene, but I want you two down there too, as soon as possible."

This puzzled Mulder. The X-Files was part of the Violent Crimes division, and usually did not have much to do with the Domestic Terrorism division. "Pardon me for asking, Skinner, but is there a specific reason why you want the X-Files on this case?"

"Witnesses on the platform at Union Station saw the train coming in. There seemed to be some sort of struggle going on in the steering cabin of the front engine, between the engineer and an unidentified passenger. But right before the crash, the engineer took control of the train for a moment, but disappeared an instant before the crash occurred. Nobody has been able to locate the engineer or his body. No one has seen the passenger who fought him. We may be dealing with some sort of unexplained phenomena at work."

"We'll come to your office right away," said Mulder, hanging up the phone. He ran down the hall to the mailroom to get Scully.

Union Station Great Hall
Washington, DC
February 7, 2000

Far above the floor of the Great Hall of Union Station, the colossal statues of mythological figures, each gripping an oval shield in front of them to hide their nakedness from the multitudes, stared out oblivious to the chaos that was unfolding on the marble floor far beneath them. At this commuting time of late afternoon, the grand space with its coffered ceiling, like the cavernous interior of a Roman bath, was usually traversed by workers moving hurriedly to meet the trains departing for the Washington suburbs, or doing some shopping at the station's fancy boutiques before heading home for the day. But this afternoon, the routine bustle of rush hour had been replaced by an atmosphere both frantic and dangerous. Station officials, needing to set up a triage location for preliminary treatment of the victims of the crash, borrowed large cloth screens from the catering office to block off an area in the Great Hall to attend to the victims. Banquet chairs had been brought out to seat the train passengers. The chairs spilled out from behind the cloth barriers. Groups of families sat dazed on the chairs, arranged in ragged circles, as they waited for first aid or for word on a badly injured relative who had been taken to area emergency rooms. The passengers, some with bleeding cuts and bruises, slumped against the gold-backed chairs, involuntary participants in the drama unfolding around them. Emergency rescue personnel crossed the Great Hall towards the waiting ambulances outside, carrying stretchers from Track Number 10, where the crash had taken place.

Assisant Director Walter Skinner entered the Great Hall with Agents Mulder and Scully following him. They were rushing across the hall towards the doors on the other side which led out towards the gates to Track 10. They passed by the makeshift triage area, which was to the right of them. As they ran across the hall, Agent Scully accidentally bumped into a passenger. He was a man in his late thirties dressed in a plaid shirt and dress pants.

"Sorry," said Scully, stopping long enough to acknowledge the passenger.

The man grabbed her arm. "Someone, please help us! My son is cut badly, and we've waited over an hour for a doctor to help us. Tell me, are they sending more doctors over to help us?"

Scully immediately responded to his plea for help. "I'm a licensed medical doctor. I can help." She called ahead to Mulder and Skinner. "This family has an injured child. I will meet up with you later."

They gave her the 'OK' signal and then continued their rush towards the crash site.

The worried man grabbed Scully's hand and shook it solidly. "Thank you so much," he said. He lead her over to a group of chairs behind one of the cloth barriers, where his wife sat in one of the banquet chairs, a young, red-haired boy cradled in her lap. There was a large gash across his forehead that was trickling blood down his face. The woman was staunching the flow with the corner of her jacket. Scully ran over to the woman.

"Honey, this woman is a doctor," said the husband, looking worriedly towards the injured son.

"I'm Agent Dana Scully of the F.B.I. We're here investigating the crash, but I'm also a medical doctor. I'd like to take a look at your son. "I need you to get a first aid kit. I also need water, a sterile needle, and some sort of thread or filament." The boy's father nodded. "I'll go ask the rescue personnel what they have handy." He ran off in the direction of the makeshift tent that had been erected in the center of the main hall.

Scully looked down at the boy, who rested miserably in his mother's lap. "What's your name?" asked Scully in a soft and reassuring voice.

"His name's Billy," said the mother. "I'm Anne Ardmore, his mom. My husband Steve and are on a family vacation. We traveled from Chicago on the train that crashed. We live outside of Denver."

The boy's face lit up when he saw Scully's F.B.I. badge. "You work for the F.B.I.? We were going to visit the F.B.I. on our trip, right, Mom?!"

Scully smiled. "I'm a Special Agent. But I'm also a doctor, and we're going to get that cut cleaned up before you go anywhere."

"Wow!" he said, his mouth agape. "I didn't know that doctors could be agents."

"Some of them are, not all of them," said Scully.

"Can you give us a tour of the F.B.I?" asked Billy, his eyes still ablaze with wonder.

"Billy, let Agent Scully do her work," commanded his mother.

"We'll talk about touring the F.B.I. later. Let me take a look at this cut." She pulled some latex gloves from her coat pocket and placed them on her hands. She reached out to touch the boy's forehead.

"Ouch!" said Billy, wincing.

"I know it hurts," said Scully. "Try to stay as still as you can. I know you can be brave." She addressed Billy's mother. "It's a long gash, but I think I can close it without much risk of scarring."

"Did they send you here to go after the bad guys?" asked Billy.

"We're trying to catch the person who did this," said Scully, cleaning out the cut with some sterile gauze she had taken from her bag.

"I saw someone really mean-looking on the train. He looked just like Arnold Schwartzenegger!"

"Hmmm," said Scully.

"Billy! Don't interrupt her with stories!" said Mrs. Ardmore.

"It's all right, Mrs. Ardmore, it doesn't bother me." She continued talking to Billy. "So you saw somebody who looks like Arnold Schwartzenegger?"

"Yeah. I was in the osservation car..."

"Observation," corrected his mother.

"Yeah, the osservation car," continued Billy. "And I wanted to show my Pokemon cards to these three kids. But they just sat there and stared at me. The man they were with, he was real mean, and he yelled at me when I told him to stop smoking a cigarette."

"Oh," said Scully.

"And what about this second man?" asked Scully, "The one you say looks like Arnold Schwartzeneggar."

"Well, all of a sudden," continued Billy, his eyes widening in excitement as he continued to narrate the story, "this man shows up in the car, and he looks real mean-like at the kids, but he doesn't say nothing to them."

"Doesn't say 'anything', Billy," corrected Mrs. Ardmore.

"Was this the first time you've seen this man, Billy?" asked Scully.

"Yeah, and we were on the train since this morning," said Billy, "and those kids - I didn't see them before."

"Did the kids follow this man?" asked Scully.

"No. He didn't say a word to them. But it's like he didn't have to. Then they all got up and left in a big hurry. They followed the cigarette man."

"Where did they go?"

"They headed to the back of the train. Maybe they had a sleeper. They weren't in our car, though."

"Did you see the tall man again before the accident?" asked Scully.

"Yeah, just a few minutes before, he runs back through the train in a big hurry. He looked really, really mean. I think he's a bad guy."

Scully listened intently to the boy's story as she tended to his cut. "I don't know whether he's the bad guy. But we'll try to find him so we can ask him some questions. Since the crash, have you seen the three children that were with him?"

"Uh-uh," said Billy, shaking his head 'no.' "I don't know where they went. Maybe they died."

"Billy," said Mrs. Ardmore.

"But, Mom, people died, didn't they? We were lucky. Our car tipped over, but it didn't catch fire."

Scully interrupted. "You're right Billy, there were people killed. That's why we need to catch whomever did this." She looked up and saw Mr.Ardmore walking briskly toward them. He held a medical bag in his hand.

"Thank you," she said.

Mr. Ardmore reached out his hand. "Thank you for helping our son," he said. He handed Scully the kit. The bag was a disordered tangle of clamps, gauze, syringes, and other medical paraphenalia. Scully fished out some of the miscellaneous items she didn't need and put them aside in her pockets. She grabbed in her right hand a syringe, some alcohol swabs, and a suture kit. She swabbed the area of the cut with the disinfectant pad. "This may sting a little."

"Ow!!" said Billy.

"I promise you the Pokemon card," Mr. Ardmore reminded his son.

"I'm going to give you a shot to numb the area," said Scully, pulling out the syringe. "It'll sting just for a moment." Billy beared the injection bravely.

"There, that's over," said Scully. She threaded the needed and began to stitch up the gash in the boy's forehead. She worked quickly and deftly, talking as she worked.

"Billy, you've got to keep this cut dry for several days while it heals. No showers."

"What will happen to the stitches," asked Billy.

"They'll fall out in a few days," said Scully.

"Neat!" exclaimed Billy.

Scully continued to chat with the boy, answering his questions, as she finished her suturing of the cut. When she finished, she noticed her partner Mulder standing only twenty feet away.

"Pardon me," said Scully,"I've got to talk with my partner. I'll be back."

"You've been so kind to my son," said Mr. Ardmore. "We'll wait."

Scully walked over to Mulder. She lowered her voice. "What's going on at the crash site."

"It's bad, Scully, really bad," said Mulder. "The front engine caught fire, and it spread to some of the passenger cars further back in the train. The damage is too bad for a simple crash."

"A bomb?" asked Scully.

Yes, nodded Mulder. "It seems to be a terrorist attack. But some things are just not matching up. The engineer who drove the train should have been singed by the explosion. But guess where they found his body?"

"Where?" asked Scully.

"Just a few moments ago a Metro train approaching Union Station struck the engineer's body on the tracks. When they stopped the Metro train and recovered the body, it showed no trace of burns or explosion. But there were multiple stab wounds on the body. He seems to have been murdered right before the crash."

"But how did his body end up so far from the crash site?"

"You tell me, Scully. I don't know. But there's something beyond the ordinary going on here."

"Mulder, I think you need to know something. This little boy told me he saw a man running towards the front of the train moments before the crash. He said that this man looked just like Arnold Schwartzenegger."

A look of recognition passed across Mulder's face. "Do you think...?"

"I'm thinking the same thing, Mulder. I'm wondering if it could be the same man who attacked me years ago," she said remembering the time that a tall, square-jawed man attacked her in her hotel room. Though she couldn't explain how, this man had disguised himself as Mulder prior to his attack, and had changed his appearance before fleeing the scene.

"And another thing, Mulder. Billy said that the man seemed to be travelling with three children. He said that the man could talk to them without saying anything. And that the children went to the back of the train minutes before the accident."

"They're telepathic, Scully. I bet they sensed from somebody on the train that the accident was going to occur right before it actually happened."

"Your theories aside, Mulder, we have to find these children."

"Scully, at the crash site I spoke to a man who had been in the last car in the train, one of the sleepers. Seconds before the crash he saw three children jump out of the back of the sleeper."

"Mulder, somebody's got to find them. They could be badly hurt."

"Where should we start looking?" asked Mulder.

"Let's go get the van and drive over to Rhode Island Avenue Metro station. From there we can try to follow the tracks back towards the station. We should also call some of the radio stations and have their traffic helicopters search the tracks leading out from Union Station. They may be able to locate where the children are headed."

"I'll call Skinner and have him meet us over there in his car."

Scully turned to the Ardmore family. "This is my partner, F.B.I. Agent Fox Mulder," she explained. "We're sorry to leave you like this, but we've got to find those three children that Billy saw with the man. Agent Mulder has talked to a passenger who saw them jump off the train."

"Oh, God!" said Mrs. Ardmore.

"I'm going to give you our card. Please call us if you remember anything else about the accident." Scully pulled a business card from her pocket and handed it to Mrs. Ardmore. Mr. Ardmore fumbled in his wallet and pulled out a card, writing something on the back, and handed it to Scully. "This is where we're supposed to be staying in Washington. Please call us there. And thank you for taking care of our son."

"Can you show us the F.B.I.?" asked Billy, looking wistfully at Agent Mulder.

"No problem," promised Mulder. "Just have your parents give us a call."

"Cool!" said Billy. "Thanks a lot!"

Mulder and Scully waved to the family and walked in the direction of the front of the station, where their van was parked in front of the mammoth arched portico in front of the station. They passed through the automatic doors into the dimming twilight and cold outside. As Scully walked around to the driver's side door of the van, she looked up at the concrete lettering displayed aloft high above the arches. A phrase carved in Roman letters caught her eye as she prepared to enter the van. It read, "The truth shall set you free."

Three figures moved along the train tracks in the dreary blue of deepening twilight. The tallest one was hunched over, pulling at the hand of her sister, who cried in fright. Her brother stumbled along behind them, the soul of his shoe flopping along in the slush-frosted dirt. It had been torn in their terrifying leap from the train. Around them they could see the metal shells of the subway cars parked in the yard. As they trudged along in the snow alongside the steel rails, each step puncturing the thin crust of ice on its surface, their eyes adjusted to the dimness. The snow, though dirty, reflected flat and gray, a background to place each cautious step.

Behind them were thousands of bright lights, and a menacing stone tower on the horizon that pierced the sky. The tower was girded with metal, as if enclosed in a cage. From there, they thought to themselves, one could see everything. They were being watched. Even here, they were being watched.

The oldest girl walked with a limp, as she had twisted her ankle in the fall. Keep moving, she said to her brother and sister.

But shouldn't we go the other way. There are people there, said the brother, giving his sister an imploring stare.

We don't know if they're bad, said the girl, staring back at her brother in silence.

They can't be all bad, answered her brother. People on the train smiled at us, until they saw we weren't going to smile back.

He's going to come looking for us, and he's going to be angry, insisted the sister, stamping her uninjured foot in the snow. They saw us jump off the train right before it crashed. We've got to find a place to hide.

Her little sister let go of her sister's tugging hand and slumped down into the snow.

Get up, ordered her older sister.

I can't, said the little one.

Her sister tugged at her arm. I can't carry you, she said. And if we stop, they're going to see us.

I'm too tired. The little girl tucked her chin down into the striped turtleneck, and shivered in the cold.

If HE caught us, said the boy, he can't send us back. The farm is destroyed.

But they may be other farms where he'd send us. They need us to work, said the older sister.

But would they really come looking for us, said the boy. I think they were all dead when he came to take us away.

Yes, he will look, said the girl.

I'm cold, thought the small girl, kneeling in the wet snow, which was beginning to soak through the seat of her overalls.

Her older sister ignored her complaint, and continued to argue with her brother. I can't see, she said, that the people here will be any different. We need to run until we find a place where we can be out of sight. And you're going to get us in trouble, she said, nudging her little sister with her wet sneaker.

No, said her sister.

Suddenly, from above came a rushing sound. The cold air was cut with a whap-whap-whapping of giant wings. Unlike the flight of the familiar crows who floated on updrafts above the sun-drenched fields of where they had come, this bird was mechanical and its wings battered the air. Its eye shown first beady and mean and then, as it neared them from above, its iris widened into a blinding disc, which cast its light across the blue of the snow turning it to white. They were swallowed by a circle of light.

It's them, said the boy.

The boy knelt down and wedged his arm under his little sister's elbow, while his older sister painfully knelt down to grab the other arm. They pulled her along, as she screamed in exhaustion and terror, as they jumped raggedly along, trying to escape the light- filled gaze from above. They headed for the shelter of the raised Metro tracks.

It was only as they neared the bridge that they saw three figures running toward them. The children ran for their lives.

The two agents, accompanied by Assistant Director Skinner, paced the open platform of the Rhode Island Avenue Metro station, high above the network of tracks fanning out from Union Station. Ever since the train accident earlier that afternoon, Metro service had been suspended in order to shut off the electricity supplying the third rail that powered the subway cars. The platform of the station was nearly empty. Irate and frazzled commuters had been directed downstairs to shuttle buses, which would take them to their destinations until service resumed.

Mulder, Scully, and Skinner walked over to the end of the platform, where, looking back in the direction of Union Station, they could see the traffic helicopter hovering over the railroad tracks, illuminating the dirty snow with its searchlight. In the center of the light ran three ragged figures, the third tailing behind by about twenty feet. They were headed towards the concrete piers of the elevated Metro tracks which led towards Rhode Island Avenue station.

"How do we get to them?" asked Scully.

"There's no stairway down from here. I think we'd better follow the tracks with the van and enter from that empty lot next to the shopping center. I've called Metro, MARC, and Amtrak and demanded that they maintain their suspension of operations on these tracks until we can get these children to safety," said Skinner.

"Frankly," said Scully, "I'm amazed that they've been able to get this far from Union Station. They must have fallen a long way from the train, and it will be a miracle if they didn't suffer any injuries."

"Kids are resilient," said Mulder. "I can't tell you how many times I walked away from falling from trees without any broken bones. But if the girl-next-door's father had caught me looking, it would have been a different story..."

Scully gave him an annoyed glance. This wasn't the time for joking around.

Skinner beckoned to the agents. "Mulder, I want you to stay here so that you can keep an eye on where they're headed. Scully, follow me to the van and we'll find the nearest break in the fence where we can climb down to the tracks. We don't know if these children are hurt; they may need a doctor.

Leaving Mulder on the open platform, Scully and Skinner walked down the stopped escalator, and moved aside the temporary barrier set up to prevent the public from ascending to the platform. They left the station and walked out into the parking lot, where they found the blue FBI van. Scully hastily climbed into the passenger seat of the van. Skinner got into the driver's seat, started the motor, and proceeded to make a left onto Rhode Island Avenue. Before reaching a shopping center they took a left, and followed a road parallel to the railroad tracks. They spotted an abandoned lot overgrown with brown weeds and sumac bushes. The lot was still crusted over in places with melting patches of snow from the past month's snowstorms. They parked the van by the lot, and removed two flashlights, which they switched on. Scully grabbed a first aid kit and a blanket. They walked briskly towards the chainlink fence and, finding a place where it buckled upwards, they knelt down to squeeze through the low opening.

About an eighth of a mile down the tracks, back in the direction of the Metro bridge, they could see three faint figures against an ashy patch of snow, huddled in the shadow of the overpass. As they ran in the direction of the children, the helicopter swooped overhead, scouring the space under the overpass with brilliant light. When they got closer, Scully could see by the children's faces that they were terrified by the light.

She turned to Skinner. "Sir, please call someone to have them radio the helicopter and tell them to move AWAY from those children. We're scaring them. Now that we've located them, we have to be able to help them."

Skinner pulled out his cell phone and called the number of the radio station that had helped with the search by lending the use of one of his traffic helicopters. While Skinner made the phone call, Scully proceeded forward, running on the slick gravel alongside the train tracks. She angled her searchlight towards the ground, so as not to scare the children.

As she reached the place underneath the bridge, she saw three sets of scared eyes staring out from the night's shadow. She noticed right away that the children were poorly dressed for the season, and their clothes were damp from falling in the snow. The tallest of the three children appeared to be a girl of about 9 or 10 with jet-black hair and dark eyes. Behind her hid a blond-haired girl of about four years of age, who grabbed onto the leg of a boy in a baseball cap perhaps only a couple years older than she. The children all possessed that hungry and scared look that all neglected children have. Scully wondered to herself angrily what kind of parents would take such little care of their own flesh and blood.

When Scully stood about ten feet away from them, the children raised their hands to shield their eyes from the light of the flashlight. Scully turned off the light, and tried to let her eyes adjust to the gray February night. "Please don't be frightened," she said to the children. "My name is Special Agent Dana Scully. We heard that you were in the train accident. We know that you're probably very scared, but we wanted to find you so we could help you."

The children pulled their hands away from their faces and began to look at each other, as if trying to decide how to respond to the stranger. The eldest girl seemed the most doubtful of the three. Her younger sister began to crawl out from behind her, inquisitive about the woman with the flashlight, but her sibling reached down and grabbed her by the shoulders, pulling her back towards the stone wall beneath the overpass.

Scully began to unwrap the blanket that she held in her hand. "Please, you're going to get sick if you stay out here like this. We can take you to a place where you'll be safe." She draped the blanket over her arm and held it forward like a signal flag.

The children did not answer her at all, but continued to stare at each other.

The littlest girl seemed inquisitive about the blanket. She bolted from her older sibling's restraint and ran a few steps forward and grabbed at its hem. Very slowly, Scully knelt down and wrapped the blanket around the girl's shoulders. The little girl buried her red, bare hands in its softness and looked up at Scully. Her eyes were red as if she had been crying.

Suddenly, the little girl shrugged aside the blanket. Scully was about to get up from her kneeling stance to pick it up off the wet ground, when the young girl walked a few tired steps towards her. Stretching out on her tiptoes, she reached up to Scully and hugged her. Scully cradled the child, wet and frightened, in her arms. Inexplicably, the little girl seemed to be no longer frightened of her. It was as if she didn't want to let go. The girl placed a small hand on the collar of Scully's coat, and pulled at something. Scully looked down to see what the child had taken an interest in, and noticed that she was tugging at the gold cross that hung around her neck.

Grabbing the corner of the blanket, Scully began to dry the girl's blond hair, which was soaking wet and starting to become brittle with ice. As she rubbed the girl's hair dry, she felt something strange and metallic underneath the tips of her fingers. Fearing that the girl might have been injured by metal shrapnel from the accident, she quickly examined her scalp to locate the source of this metal. She examined from front to back of the head, trying to remember where she had fingered the metal.

Suddenly her hand brushed against something at the back of the girl's neck. She pulled aside the hair at the nape, and looked in horror at what she found.

Though not much larger than a metal staple, there was a small electronic chip implanted in the back of the girl's neck.

New York Avenue NE vicinity
Washington, DC
February 7, 2000

Sheila Cullens slammed shut the sliding door of the DC Child and Family Services van, as she stepped out into the cool winter night. She wished she didn't have to be out here. It was past 7:30 PM, and she had been at the office since 8:00 AM, desperately trying to keep up with her caseload. In the years that she had worked for the agency, she had quickly learned that domestic crises never happen according to a schedule. One week could be quiet, giving her the rare opportunity to catch up on her work. Other weeks, she was lucky if she got home by 9 PM. Tonight would be one of those nights.

Tonight she was headed to a row house on New York Avenue to remove three children from their home. Neighbors had called in repeatedly about an upstairs apartment, where the parents were never home, and the three young children inside were left to their own defenses. The agency had given her the order to remove the children from the house so that they could be placed temporarily in foster care.

As Sheila Cullens marched from the sidestreet towards the row of houses, she reached inside her pocket to make sure her cell phone was ready. In most cases she tried to handle the removals herself; but she sometimes needed to call police for backup. There were times when entering the bleakest and toughest of neighborhoods that she wished she could carry a gun.

The row of two and three story brick and stone buildings encroached on one of the busiest of the avenues leading into the city.  In their day, these buildings must have been as grand as some of the townhouses in more upscale neighborhoods such as Dupont Circle. But they had suffered from decades of neglect and from a city administration that cared little for rejuvenating or repairing this neighborhood of the city. One of the buildings had its windows boarded up. The neighboring structure had a set of brick front steps that were crumbling, and an iron railing precariously skewered. Small, overgrown yards provided an inadequate buffer between the buildings' tired facades and the noise and exhaust of the street. Thousands of commuters streamed by these facades each day in their vehicles, on the way to mammoth office buildings in the blocks surrounding the Mall. While idling in traffic, few thought of these derelict townhouses as actually being home to somebody.

Sheila had already committed the address to memory. This was not the time to be searching in her purse for such information. Efficiency and the ability to react quickly was the key. Removing children from a home was much like tearing an old bandage from a healed wound. It was best done quickly, to minimize the pain.

Locating the correct building, Sheila stepped quickly up its front steps, stumbling a bit on a loose brick. She cursed at the steps and thanked herself that she didn't wear heels. Reaching out for the front door to the apartment building, she tried the knob first. Not surprising, she found the knob turned right away, for the lock was not only broken, but missing altogether.

She opened the thick wooden door that had been painted over a dozen times. As she walked into the dim foyer, she heard the loud blasting of a television set from upstairs, sounds of sirens and the almost too calm voices of news reporters. The sound drifted down the stairwell, bouncing off the plaster walls.

Sheila Cullens stood at the bottom step and held her breath, releasing it, in preparation for her next move. Now focused on the work at hand, she quickly mounted the stairs until she reached the second floor landing. There were two apartment doors across from each other. She turned to the left. It was apartment number 4 - the reason for her visit.

She knocked heavily on the door with her fist. "D.C. Child and Family Services," she yelled, trying to speak over the loud noise of the television. "Open up!" she said.

There was no answer.

"Mr. Shields, if you don't open up, I will be forced to call the police."

There was still no answer.

The blaring of the television did not completely drown out the sound of a young child crying.

"You had my warning!" said Sheila. The door did not budge.

Sheila didn't want to get the police involved, and wanted even less to wait for them to arrive. She walked downstairs to the entry foyer of the building, and knocked on the door to the left of the entrance. She heard a shuffling from inside, and the door creaked open a few inches, held taut by a chain. An old man in a baseball cap peered out through the crack in the door.

"What'd you want?" he mumbled.

"I'm Sheila Cullens, a social worker with Child and Family Services. Do you know anything about the tenants in the apartment upstairs?"

"There three kids up there. Don't know where the mother is. Father's there sometimes but he drinks. I don't know if he's there right now."

"I have a court order to remove the children because of charges of neglect. The parents are not home. I need to get into the apartment. Do you know who is the superintendent of the building? Or the landlord?"

The old man paused for a moment. "This whole block here's owned by the same landlord. But he lives across town. Ask Carson - he lives on the ground floor of the building next door. He collects rent and does odd jobs - he may have a key."

"Thanks," said Sheila. "Sorry to bother you. " She left the entryway to go to the building next door.

"I think this is the right key," said Carson, a chubby, balding man in a T-shirt and jeans. He shook the keys that were suspended from a large ring clipped to his belt loops. He inserted a key into the lock and jiggled it. It clicked several times as he tried to turn it. Finally, it gave way.

"There you go," said Carson, gesturing Sheila towards the door, which was drifting open. "Want me to stay here?" he offered.

"Yes. I may need some help," Sheila answered. She walked over the threshold. Immediately, the putrescent scent of rotting garbage hit her full force. She drew in her breath through her mouth, trying to cut off the smell. Almost reflexively, she felt with her right hand along the wall by the door for the light switch, which she switched on. A circular fluorescent bulb minus its glass housing sputtered and lit above her, spilling the flat, harsh light around the room. As she made her way across the wooden floor, the rubber soles of her shoes stuck partially to the sticky residue. She sidestepped a broken bottle tossed into the center of the room.

Peering around the corner into the narrow kitchen, she saw the trash overflowing with garbage, which emitted a putrescent odor. Sheila opened the refrigerator. There were two six-packs of beer, a half-used loaf of bread, and a couple pieces of half-eaten pizza. There was also a quart of milk which had an expiration date two weeks passed.

She followed the noise of the blaring television into the bedroom. There, she saw three forms sprawled out in the blue television light on a queensize bed with a sagging mattress. One of the children, a small boy not older than two, cried loudly as he lay on the bed. Next to him lay two older children, both girls, who sat transfixed at the television newscast. Both of the girls looked around six or seven years of age. One of the them, who wore pigtails fastened with green elastic bands, turned suddenly and looked up at Sheila. She looked startled.

"Who are you?" she asked, her eyes narrowing at Sheila.

"I'm with Child and Family Service Agency. The neighbors complained that your father was leaving you alone. I'm sorry, but you three are coming with me."

The girl tried to sink back under the covers. "You can't do that!" she said. "My Dad's going to be angry! He's gonna be home any minute!" she said.

Sheila tried not to raise her voice. "You have to come with me - it's the law. I can't leave you here alone."

"I'm not alone," yelled the girl, " I'm taking care of my brother and sister. My Dad told me to."

"You're too young to be by yourself," said Sheila. She marched over to the television set and switched it off.

"Hey!" said the other girl. "I was watching that!"

"Now you can come follow me," said Sheila, beckoning towards the door.

"No!" said the girl. She began to burst into tears. "My Dad's gonna be home any minute. He promised."

"Your Dad left you all alone, and that's breaking the law," said Sheila.

"My Dad didn't break no law," insisted the girl. "Get out! Get out!"

"All right," said Sheila. She reached out and grabbed the girl firmly by the wrist. She hated to do this, but sometimes there was no other way. She pulled the girl forward so that she had no choice but to leave the bed and follow her. The girl planted her feet into the carpet of the floor, trying not to budge.

"No!" she yelled. Her little brother's cries increased to a hysterical wail.

"I need some help in here!" yelled Sheila to Carson, who was waiting in the doorway to the apartment. He entered the room and picked up the young boy in his arms, hoisting him up from the bed. The boy struggled and screamed louder. "Daddy!" he yelled.

The younger sister, though frightened, seemed resigned to following her siblings out of the apartment. As they left, she paused to grab an old Barbie doll that lay strewn on the floor.

Somehow, she and Carson hustled the three children down the stairs and out the door to the waiting van. She had to grab onto the oldest girl's shoulders with both arms to keep her from bolting down the sidewalk around busy New York Avenue, which was still bustling with traffic at 8:00 PM. She reached out, grab the handle of the sliding door, cursed it as it caught on the track, and managed to get it fully open. She blocked the exit with the force of her body, and manuevered the children into the van. With Carson's help, she buckled them into the waiting car seats, and then closed the door. She thanked Carson for his help, and then walked around to the driver's side door to enter the van.

Settling into the seat, she turned her head to try to calm the children. "You're going to a safe place. Then we're going to find your father," she said. Her words didn't seem to make any difference to the children, who were crying for their father.

"What do you wanna do to him?" wailed the girl. "I want my Daddy! I want my Daddy!"

Sheila hated this part of the job more than almost anything else. There was only one thing that she hated more. It was when the Agency failed to rescue a child from danger , as had failed to accomplish last month. Then the guilt haunted them to no end.

As she turned on her left signal, preparing to merge with traffic onto the busy avenue, the cell phone next to her added its piercing ring to the bedlam inside the vehicle. Turning off her signal and putting her foot on the brake, Sheila picked up the phone to accept the call. It was from the Agency.

"Sheila speaking. I've just removed the Shields children from their home on New York Avenue. We'll be at the dormitory in fifteen minutes."

"Sheila," said her co-worker Maureen. "I just got a call from some agents at the FBI. I don't know if you've heard the radio, but there's been a terrorist attack on an Amtrak train heading into Union Station. The Feds just picked up three children -without name, without ID - who were wandering around on the tracks after the crash. They can't find the father, so they've brought them to us. Can you take on their case?"

Sheila sighed in exasperation. How could they expect her to take on another three children? Five years ago, the courts had ruled that social workers should be handling no more than sixteen children's cases at one time. But as of this moment, her caseload was at an all time high of 53. "Maureen, I'm swamped here, and I just picked up the three Shields kids. Can't you give the case to one of the new hires - Debra is fresh out of school and her caseload is much lower."

The children in the back seats of the van continued to cry loudly. Sheila cupped her right hand over her ear to try to block out the sound.

"Sheila," continued Maureen, "please just take these three more. They'll be very hard to place. You're good at placing kids."

"What's wrong with them?" she asked.

"They can't speak," said Maureen, "Since the Feds caught them, they haven't spoken a word."

Child and Family Services
Washington, DC
Tuesday, February 8, 2000

"If this were any thicker, they could sell it as crude oil," said Mulder, emptying a plastic cup of coffee into the trash. Pointing to the half-pot of coffee in the waiting room, he asked Scully if she wanted some. She made a face in a definite "no."

They had been waiting for over a half-hour to discuss with the social worker the status of the three unnamed children who they had rescued following Monday night's train wreck. As they sat in the crowded reception room, next to a busy office where phones rang continuously, they realized their wait might be even longer. Scully tried to busy herself in a reading an article on re- organizing a kitchen in a two-year old battered copy of "Better Homes and Gardens."

Mulder shifted restlessly in the vinyl seat. Bored, he tried to distract his partner from her reading.



"Did you know that in 1953 a locomotive pulling into Union Station had a brake failure and actually crashed through the block at the end of the track into the terminal."

"Really, Mulder. No, I didn't," said Scully with a sigh, trying to continue with her reading.

"It was so heavy that it crashed through the floor into the lower level of the station. Miraculously, no one was killed."

"Wish we could say the same for this accident, Mulder," said Scully. "By the way, did you hear anything more from Skinner regarding the engineer of the train? How did his background check out?"

"They did a thorough background check. His name was Charles Butler. The man worked for twenty-five years for Amtrak and was one of their best. He had a record clear of accidents, no record of mental illness, no alcohol or substance abuse. His colleagues are stunned that the accident ever happened."

"And what about our suspect, the bounty hunter?" asked Scully, recalling the square-jawed giant that the little boy had so vividly described.

"Not a trace of him anywhere. But then again, I wouldn't expect him to turn up, given that he can change shape and all."

Scully peered at Mulder from behind her magazine.

"Scully, you've seen yourself how he's capable of taking on many forms. Even you have to admit that."

"With you, Mulder, there's always got to be a twist to what could be a very straightforward act of terrorism."

"C'mon, Scully, this case is anything but a simple act of terrorism. You yourself found those chips in the back of the children's necks. Someone had to plant those in them. I have my suspicions that the Smoking Man and his group are involved."

All of a sudden, the door of the reception room came swinging open. A short African-American woman dressed in a navy blue blazer and skirt entered, and walked over to the two agents. She appeared to be in her mid-thirties, though she had the beginnings of wrinkles around her eyes and the corners of her mouth. Her hair was cut to shoulder length, and she wore small, gold loop earrings. Catching Scully's eye, she held out her hand in greeting.

"Agents Scully and Mulder?"

"Yes," said Scully. "I'm Agent Dana Scully, and this is my F.B.I. partner, Fox Mulder."

"Pleased to meet you," said the woman, flashing a smile. "I'm Sheila Cullens, licensed social worker for D.C. Child and Family Services. I'm in charge of the three children who escaped the train wreck. You wanted to talk with me about their case?"

"Is there someplace where we can talk in private?" asked Scully.

"Yes," said Mrs. Cullens. "Follow me to my office. She opened the door, and the agents followed her down a narrow corridor. At the end of the corridor, they entered a tiny, windowless office painted institutional blue. The back wall was taken up by filing cabinets, stacked one on top of each other to consolidate space. The desk was crowded with the flickering monitor of a computer, across which images computer-generated fish swam across, occasionally emitting an electronic bubble.

Mrs. Cullens removed some manila folders off the seats of two folding chairs across from the desk, and offered both agents a seat.

Scully noticed a framed photograph on the desk showing two young boys, each no older than five or six, clambering up a ladder of a wooden playfort.

"I'm sure you're eager to hear how the children are doing. Let's start with the oldest girl...she's been the least responsive of all three. She's spent most of the time since she's been hear just sitting on her bed, looking away from anyone who approaches her. She won't even look at the social workers."

"When I rescued her last night, Mrs. Cullens, I got the impression that she is the least trusting of the three," said Scully. "She seems to have taken an incredible burden of responsibility for her siblings."

"We can't seem to draw her out of herself. The other two children, the boy and the little girl, have interacted a little bit more. The little girl is quite starved for affection, and she hugged one of the social workers last night as they were getting the children ready for bed. The boy is less responsive, but at least he's making some eye contact with the people on staff. But the older girl, she seems to be off in another world. It's only with her siblings that she acts totally different. It's as if she's communicating with them without words."

"She is," said Mulder, interrupting the conversation. "These children are communicating with each other by a form of telepathy. They can read the thoughts and anticipate the action of whomever is nearby. They can tune into somebody's active thought waves, much as you or or use a radio dial to tune into a particular station. That's how they knew to escape the train right before the crash."

"Whoa, wait a minute now," said Mrs. Cullens. "I'm not sure I know where this conversation is going."

Scully felt embarrassed at Mulder's interjection, and wished to offer Mrs. Cullens some context for his observation. "Agent Mulder investigates cases which have an unusual or paranormal aspect to them, and he believes that this train accident may be more than a simple act of terrorism."

Mulder looked over at Scully, trying to amend her statement. "WE investigate paranormal phenomena as part of a division of Violent Crimes, known as the X-Files. Agent Scully just has a different take on what happened."

"And what is your take, Agent Scully?"

"These children were observed travelling on the Amtrak train with an older man. From witness accounts, he may be someone that our F.B.I. division has been investigating for several years, someone, who if he is who we think he is, would probably not have these children's best interests at heart. However, we don't know this for sure. Just a minute or two prior to the crash, witnesses saw the man take the children to their compartment in the sleeper at the back of the train. Shortly before this occurred, witnesses saw another man race towards the front of the train. In the moments before the train crashed, the three children leapt off the back of the sleeper, so we believe that they may have known about the crash before it occured. We don't know why they were traveling with the man, and we have not been able to locate him following the crash. As for the other man, he, too, has disappeared."

"I second Agent Scully's story," said Mulder. "But I have something to add. The driver of the train was seen fighting with someone for control of the train just moments before the crash. We suspect that his attacker has the ability to change his physical appearance, which would have aided his fleeing from the crash scene, if, indeed, he caused the train to crash."

"Change his appearance?" asked Mrs. Cullens incredulously. "Aren't you stretching things a little bit, Agent Mulder."

"It's plausible that this man has some means of quickly disguising himself or tricking people into seeing things," conceded Agent Scully, coming to Mulder's aid.

"Let's get back to the children, Agents. I'm not here to solve your case for you. What I am in charge of is placing these children with a foster family until we can locate their parents or find them a more permanent home. Now what I do need to know is whether there are any particular concerns you have for their safety."

Scully spoke up first. "I think it's essential that all three children be placed together. They have a special bond with each other."

"I see that," said Mrs. Cullens. "We'll do our best to place them with one family, but I can't make any promises. Most families aren't interested in taking on three foster kids. You must find the man that they were traveling with. If he's their father, whoever he is, and if he cares anything about these kids, he's going to be anxious to find them."

Scully cast Mulder a worried glance. She did not know how the Smoking Man was connected to the children, but didn't like the idea of his resuming custody.

"Mrs. Cullens, have the children spoken a word to you or to your staff since they've arrived here?" asked Mulder.

"No. They seem to understand what's going on around them, and they follow any commands. But they interact very little with any of the other children in our care, and they haven't spoken a word."

"Is there something physically wrong with them that is keeping them from speaking?"

"Maybe," said Mulder, "these children have been raised in an environment where they were never taught to speak."

"It's possible," said Mrs. Cullens, "What I do know is that they don't seem to have had a lot of love and concern pass their way."

Scully inquired, "Have you had a speech therapist come to see them? Maybe they could determine if there's a physical problem with the children."

Mrs. Cullens sighed impatiently. "No. Even if I put in a request now, they'll probably be back home or placed before someone even sees them." She paused. "I'll do my best, but I can't promise anything. Any other concerns?"

"Mrs. Cullens, I think it's also important that D.C. Child and Family Services is aware that these children are carrying electronic chips in the back of their necks." Mulder pointed and rubbed the back of his own neck in illustration.

"Yes, I found that very strange."

"As strange as it sounds, Mrs. Cullens, the chips have been found in many people who were mysteriously abducted. Those who have had the chips removed have gotten seriously ill with terminal cancer." He tried not to glance over at Scully. She, too, had been among those abductees, and she had fell ill with cancer when the chip was removed from her neck. She only recovered once a replacement chip was procured and reimplanted in her neck. "You need to make sure that the foster families know about this."

"As long as the chips aren't posing any particular medical risk, they can stay in. But the foster parents are going to have a lot of questions, Agent Mulder," said Mrs. Cullens.

Scully sat back in her chair. "Could we see the children?" Ever since she rescued the scared trio, she couldn't help but admit to herself that she had worried about them, perhaps beyond even what her professional duties required.

"Yes. They should be done with breakfast by now. I'll take you down there, but I'll have to come back to get you." She looked at her watch. "I've got a meeting in fifteen minutes." She reached for the phone and dialed an extension. "Hi, Patricia, this is Sheila upstairs. We have Agents Scully and Mulder from the F.B.I. here to see the three children from the train wreck." She paused. "They are there? All right, we'll be right down." She hung up the phone. "They're downstairs. Just come follow me." She beckoned the agents to the door.

The recreation room sat on the first floor of the D.C. Child and Family Services facility. It's paned-glass windows, almost opaque for the want of a good cleaning, looked out onto an asphalt playground where there was an old metal jungle-gym and a basketball hoop. The wall of plate-glass also doubled as an impromptu art gallery, where the staff had put up several colored paper cutouts the children had made during one of their activities. It was apparent that the artwork was holiday-theme oriented; this month's theme was Valentine's Day. Stuck to the glass were an array of crooked hearts and glittered-smeared cupids.

The room was lit by large fluorescent fixtures on the ceilings that cast a bright, flat glare across the room, the cast of classrooms and hospitals. The walls were painted the same institutional blue of Sheila Cullen's office. Around the room were several round formica tables, some scaled to fit very small children. At some of the smaller tables, children no older than three sat and played with blocks or colored busily in dog-eared coloring books. In a corner on a carpet, a pair of young boys eagerly played combat with a couple of plastic trucks. The older children retreated to the long tables at the sides of the room. Some sat by themselves, leafing through books, while others clustered together in small groups, shyly trying to talk to other children. There must have been at least twenty-five children in that room. Some had lived in the facility for a week or two, awaiting a placement in a foster home. One brother and sister had arrived last week, both their parents and a grandmother having died in a horrible automobile wreck. Others had arrived just a day or two before, thankfully but painfully uprooted from a home where drugs had consumed their parents' lives, leaving them virtual orphans. Other children had been found wandering the streets of DC, malnourished, left to wander by a parent who couldn't care less. A few of the children, those that were the quietest and tended to hover in the corners, bore bruises that were not quick to heal.

As her eyes searched the room for the three new arrivals, Sheila Cullens thought about the multitude of faces she had seen pass through these walls in the eight years she had worked for D.C. Family and Child Services. When she had taken the job fresh out of school, she never expected that she would remember so many faces of the hundreds of children who had played in this institutional playroom. Though she was constantly overworked, somehow her mind was able to keep all these names and faces straight. Some faces she had seen only for a day or two, until a child could be settled with a foster family. Other times she would see a face one month, only to see that child return again a month or two later, in most cases even more broken down and resigned than before. And then there were the faces that haunted her - those children who leave, by order of the court, and return to abusive families, only to end up as a grainy black-and -white obituary photo in the Metro sectionn of the "Washington Post," yet another victim of the system that did not always function. The recent death of little Brianna Blackmond, who family court had returned to an abusive mother through a bureaucratic blunder, had particularly haunted Sheila in the past couple of months. The social workers had been inundated with cases, too many cases for each employee to handle. The social worker handling Brianna's case had actually written a child status report to family court recommending that Brianna not be returned to her natural mother. But because of her work overload, the social worker failed to submit the status report for Brianna, which was due ten days before the court hearing. The court never had a chance to read this report. Brianna was returned to her abusive mother, who murdered her two weeks later.

Though Sheila herself had not been in charge of Brianna's case, she was aware that the agency was under fire for their failure to protect Brianna Blackmond. As much as Brianna's death troubled Sheila, she found herself more than annoyed at the way the press was trying to portray her agency. They tried to paint the whole agency as negligient, without harboring any concept of the gargantuan task that they were trying to fulfill in the interests of the District of Columbia. She and her colleagues were trying to manage a workload that exceeded legal limits. Under law, each social worker ought to be handling no more than sixteen cases apiece. But most of the social workers at Child and Family Services handled upwards of thirty children, and some of the senior employees such as herself handled close to 60. The social worker who handled Brianna Blackmond's case had charge of 27 foster children at the time she wrote the tardy status report. And these numbers did not include the children who were outside of foster care: children who lived with high-risk families, on whom the Agency wanted to keep tabs, or children formerly in foster care who were back with their natural parents and needed follow up.

Dozens of new cases came across Sheila's desk each month, and she had limited time and resources to devote to each one. She was dealing continuously with very high-risk children, many with serious emotional problems resulting from their neglect. Many had absent or abusive parents. When she was forced to take children away from parents, she was always presented with a shortage of foster families. And her work was doubled whenever she had a child with special needs, or with behavioral or discipline problems, because only the most selfless of the foster families were willing to take on these added complications.

Long ago, she had resigned herself to the realization that the only way to survive this job was to keep some distance from these children. It wasn't that she didn't care; it was that she needed to remain somewhat detached in order to keep up with her job. If she stopped to think about all the pain she dealt with each day, she wouldn't be able to continue working. So she did the best she could, and still maintained that it was in the children's best interests - and in the Agency's - to get the children back with their natural parents if at all possible- to fix what needed fixing- and to reserve the foster parents and group homes for the most desparate of cases.

Mrs. Cullens looked around the room in search of the children. She glanced over towards a round table in the corner near the window. She saw the older girl with the black hair, seated in a chair next to the window. The girl had been given a Spice Girls T-shirt and a pair of jeans, but nothing about her seemed festive. Her hands were folded in her lap, and she slumped slightly forward in the chair, her eyes downcast, focusing on nothing in particular. The February sunshine passed through the dirty window, illuminating her black hair so that it appeared almost chestnut brown in color. Eddies of dust swirled around her head, catching the light, obscuring her face and form, so that she almost seemed to blend in with the drab blue institutional walls.

Mrs. Cullens motioned to Scully, who drew up alongside her. "She's over there in that corner. Good luck trying to get her to notice you." She began to walk towards the door, but looked back behind her shoulder. "I've got to attend a meeting. But get one of the staff to page me if you have to talk to me later," she said. She rushed out of the room.

Scully turned towards the girl. The girl sat unmoved, but her body tensed and she fidgeted with her hands as she approached. Her foot pummeled the metal leg of the chair in slow, even kicks. She did not acknowledge Scully's approach, but put all her resolve into appearing oblivious to the world. She jutted her lower lip forward, covering her upper lip in a pout of defiance. It was clear that she did not wish to be friendly. She turned her head to stare past Scully to the playground waiting outside.

Scully walked forward and crouched down besides the girl. "We know you must be very frightened by what's happened to you. We're all trying to figure out how to help you."

The girl continued to kick the chair leg.

"I'm Agent Scully, and this is my partner, Agent Mulder," she said, motioning towards Mulder, who hung back a few steps behind her. "We rescued you the other night," Scully continued. "I know you must love your brother and sister very much. I think you've been trying to protect them from something all along."

At the mention of her siblings, the girl raised her eyes to look at Scully. Their black depths harbored anxiety and anger mixed with a spark of curiosity at the strange woman in a suit who had put an end to her flight.

Scully continued to talk to the girl. "When I was your age, I had two brothers and a sister. I know it must be hard being the oldest one, feeling like you always have to be the most grown up."

The sunlight flickered across the girl's face. It shed light on something within, curiosity that began to flicker in those black eyes. It was the light that enters the face of a child when that child has found empathy. The girl read something in Scully's gaze; perhaps she saw mirrored in her some echo of her own loss and pain.

Scully looked back at Mulder. She then focused again on the girl and stood up straight. The girl's gaze followed her as she rose. "There was a man who was seen with your brother and sister on the train. We're trying to find out more about who he is because we think he may have something to do with the crash. Can you tell me, is he your father?"

The girl rolled her eyes and grimaced. It was not clear whether she was saying 'yes' or 'no,' or just being difficult.

Scully sensed that the girl had an aversion to this man, whether or not he was a relative.

"Did this man take you from your home?" asked Scully.

A look of confusion appeared on the girl's face and she looked down at her lap and then away at the window. She then returned her gaze to Scully, as if she was lost.

Home had ceased being, thought Scully, or had never been the haven or refuge that it should have provided this silent, angry girl. If she had a home, she certainly did not want to return to it.

Scully continued. "I can see that you seem to know what we're trying to say to you. We don't know whether you can talk, or just don't want to talk. But I want to assure you that we won't send you back to a home that isn't safe. The more you can tell us, the more we'll be able to help you."

Scully suddenly felt a small tug on the hem of her skirt. She slowly turned to find the youngest girl tugging at her skirt for attention. Scully bent down, placing her hands on the girl's shoulders. "You're trying to get my attention," she said to the little girl, who giggled back at her. The little girl looked up, and, recognizing Scully, gave her a hug. Scully crouched down beside her. The little girl leaned towards her, reached up, and grabbed at the gold cross dangling from Scully's necklace.

"You like that," said Scully, fingering the small gold cross. "I'm glad to see you," she said to the little girl. "We were worried about you the other day out in the cold." The girl pointed to the band-aid across her knee.

The girl clutched something folded in her small right fist. It was a sheet of paper, clumsily folded in half across a diagonal. "May I see that?" asked Scully. The little girl nodded, and shyly, handed Scully the piece of paper, trying to hide the proud smile on her face.

Scully unfolded the paper. Drawn in purple crayon in broad strokes was a flower of vague shape, its petals formed by zig-zagging, thick strokes. The center had been eagerly drawn in yellow, laboriously ground into a circle with such enthusiasm that crumbs of wax flaked off the drawing's surface.

"That's beautiful," said Scully. "What kind of flower did you draw?"

The little girl shook her head enthusiastically.

"That almost looks like an iris to me," she said.

Suddenly, Mulder called to her from across the room. He was seated at one of the long tables along the edges of the recreation room, next to a little boy in a baseball cap who was busily drawing away. Scully led the boy's little sister across the room where Mulder and the boy were seated.

"Seems like this kid is a prolific artist," said Mulder. "He brought me over to see these," he said, motioning to the papers strewn on the table. "I think he wanted me to look at them for a reason."

There was a metal juice can of crayons and colored pencils on the table. Scully bent over to see what the boy was drawing. She lifted the little girl up onto the stool so that she could see her brother drawing away. But when Scully saw what he was drawing, she gasped in shock.

On the paper, the boy had drawn a large field with clear domes which looked like large geodesic greenhouses. Around the domes were arranged square beds of flowers - dots of purple, yellow, and orange marked hastily by crayon. She saw that there were children bending over to pick the flowers in the field. There were many of them, lined up in rows like a platoon of toy soldiers. But looking towards the right hand side of the composition, she observed with horror that the boy had drawn an explosion of reds, oranges, and yellows. Fire.

Children were running from the fire. They were chased by hulking gray figures, whose limbs were ablaze with red and orange. These ominous, predatory figures had no faces.

"Oh my God!" said Scully. "Those men. I've seen them before."

Mrs. Cullens slammed her office door behind her while Scully and Mulder seated themselves across from her. "What's going on? What has that boy seen? You seem to know!"

"I think he knew I would understand, that's why he wanted me to see the drawings," said Mulder. "I think I know where these kids are coming from."

"How would you know?" demanded Mrs. Cullens.

"I've visited these camps, years ago. They're hidden away in northern California. I was taken to one years ago when I was searching for my lost sister, Samantha."

"Wait, wait. You lost a sister?"

"She was abducted."

"By whom?"

"By a group of men who were affiliated with a secret division of the U.S. government. They were creating clones of these children."

"Clones...Agent Mulder? From my understanding, cloning technology has only been used in animals, and the results are experimental. This is not making sense."

"I SAW clones of my sister at this camp. They were essentially workers **  drones. They didn't have personalities. I doubt they knew how to think for themselves. They couldn't speak. I think the boy is trying to tell us about such a place. The camp was being attacked by an enemy force - possibly a rebel group that is trying to bring down the people behind the cloning project. My partner here recalls being attacked by these men - they killed a lot of innocent people." He remembered how two years ago, Scully and dozens of other former abductees were mysteriously drawn against their will to a bridge in rural West Virginia. Apparently, Cassandra Spender, one of the abductees present, was brought onto the spaceship which hovered over the bridge. While the others were standing on the bridge awaiting transport aboard a hovering spaceship, they were attacked by a group of faceless men who set them on fire. Scully had been the only one fortunate to survive, though she had no conscious memory of the event. The memory had to be drawn out of her during hypnosis.

"Clones, drones," muttered Mrs. Cullen. "These stories aren't going to impress me, as much as you'd like me to believe. Look, Agent Mulder, I know that you work in a specialized division of the F.B.I. But you are not going to help these children at all by cooking up some fancy-schmancy fairy tale about the battle of good and evil. With all that's out there today for kids to see - video games, TV, movies- how do you know that this child isn't just making all this up?"

"It sounds outlandish, I know," said Mulder. "But you've got to trust me that I am telling you the truth about the cloning facility. These children may be in grave danger for their lives.

"Agent Mulder," said Mrs. Cullens, " I don't have time for this. You do your job and try to solve this terrorist attack. I'll do my job and try to get these kids placed as soon as I can. But please, don't make my job even more difficult than it is." She stood up from her desk and opened a file drawer. "I've got work to do. If I feel like these children are in danger, I'll call you. I'll let you know of their progress. But don't waste my time with some fantastic theory that you can't prove." She stood up and extended her hand towards the door, motioning for them to leave.

Mulder, figuring he had lost the argument, quietly retreated to the door. Scully stood up and paused for a moment across from Sheila Cullens.

"Mrs. Cullens, I don't want to bother you further about this, but as a doctor I need to tell you that these children have been through serious emotional trauma. I haven't seen the same things that my partner has had the opportunity to see, so I can only speak for myself. I've seen some bizarre things in my work, experiences that I can't fully explain. But I think that whatever that boy drew, he is not making it up. If you won't believe me, please listen to me."

"I'll try, Agent Scully," sighed Mrs. Cullens, exasperated. "Believe me, I will try."

**        Later Wednesday, February 9, 2000
Child and Family Services

Sheila Cullens had just hung up the phone in her office. She had received a call from family court. Considering the particular circumstances under which the three chlldren of the train wreck had entered the city's custody, officials from the court wanted to meet and talk to the children prior to allowing the agency to make any definite decisions regarding their placement. She hated to have to drag the children, who had already been through enough trauma in the past couple of days, over to the court building on Fourth Street, but had no choice. It was in their best interests to meet with the court officials. The children were already getting a lot of exposure in the press coverage of the train wreck, and the court was more than curious about monitoring their case. She had spent a good part of the morning trying to call prospective foster families about her three new charges, as well as for the three terrified Shields children whom she had plucked from the New York Avenue townhouse on Monday evening. So far, there was only one family in the District interested in taking on three children at once. If there were no more volunteers, she would be forced to make the difficult decision as to which group of three children could best handle being split up. She tried to put that decision out of her mind for now.

Looking at her watch, she realized that it was a little over an hour before the court would close its offices for the day. She had to get the children over there soon or risk losing another day in getting them placed with a foster home.

Sheila Cullens pulled the Child and Family Services van into a tight parking space in front of the courthouse. She looked in her rear view mirror at the three children in the backseat, the youngest girl strapped into a carseat. They had been very quiet as usual during the short trip from the agency to the courthouse, and had been thankfully cooperative in clambering into the van.

She shut off the van's motor and opened the driver's side door, and closed and locked it. Heading over to the curb, she opened the sticky sliding door to let the children out. But as she motioned for the children to get out, she was met with the stony, fearful face of the eldest girl. She would not move from the van, and with her arm blocked her siblings passage.

"Come on," said Sheila, "We'll only be there for a few minutes," she said, "Then we can go back," she said. Yet the girl planted her feet firmly on the floorboards of the backseat.

Sheila was puzzled. They had been so cooperative up until this time. Then all of the sudden, the eldest girl would not let any of them leave.

She grabbed the girl gently by the arm and tried to pull her forward. But the girl started to scream and kick like a toddler.

"What's wrong?" asked Sheila. "No one's going to try to hurt you."

The girl's gaze was fixed on something a few hundred yards ahead of them, on the opposite side of the street of the court- house. Sheila tried to see what was scaring the girl so. From what she could tell by the direction of her gaze, her line of sight aligned directly with the brown post emblazoned with the name of Judiciary Square Metro station. What monster lurked there, only the girl seemed to know.

Sheila felt the girl's arm shaking and trembling. She let go of her arm, closed the door, and climbed back into the driver's seat. There was no sense trying to force them to enter the court- house. She would call tomorrow to ask the court to send a representative over to the Agency. She fired up the ignition, put on her left signal, put the transmission into gear, and made a U-turn onto Fourth Street to get away from whatever it was that the children dreaded.

Thursday, February 10, 2000
J. Edgar Hoover F.B.I. Building
Washington, DC
Autopsy lab

There were times when Scully was grateful that her years of training in forensic medicine had taught her to switch off her emotions whenever she donned her scrubs and entered the autopsy lab. But this time, it was hard not to have an emotional, gut-wrenching sickness in her stomach when she viewed what was left of the train's engineer, whose body lay stretched out on the cold steel examining table. She tried to calm the quiver in her voice as she spoke into the tape recorder, which she switched on and placed on the instrument tray. "This is Dr. Dana Scully. The autopsy I'm about to perform is on a 60-year old white male, Charles Butler, who was apparently killed on February 7, 2000 while driving an Amtrak locomotive. I will begin by examining the body."

She looked down at the debris before her. A good portion of this man's torso, from the shoulder blades down to just above the waist, was flattened by the steel wheels and under- carriage of a Metro train, which had run over the corpse. She tried to distance herself from the mutilation, thinking of the body in terms of form and geometry, rather than that of a being who once lived and breathed. "The abdomen and the chest of this man shows massive trauma due to being crushed by a subway car. However, existing wounds to the upper chest area indicate that this man was probably dead before his body was even struck." With her gloved fingers, she examined the deep stab wounds that appeared in six or seven places across the man's upper chest. The entry wounds appeared to be made by a rather small blade. She reached for the camera to photograph the wounds, as well as the trauma to the lower abdomen.

She spoke again into the recorder. "The wounds appear to be made by a small instrument, possibly a switchblade." She picked up a sternal saw in her hand. "Now I will prepare to open the chest and examine the chest cavity." She was about to start the vertical cut along the sternum, when she noticed a small, strange burn mark right below the man's chin. She leaned over closely to examine this burn. It was only about a quarter inch in diameter, but she noticed unusual residue at the edges of the raggedly-burned hole. Reaching for a small scalpel, she bent over and scraped some of this residue from the edge of the burn wound, and tapped the blade against the neck of a small glass bottle, then fastened the lid snugly on the top. She held the clear bottle up to her eye. Instead was a solidified substance, translucent like amber, except it was fluorescent green in color. She had seen this substance before. When her daughter, Emily, was dying in the hospital two years ago, the intensive care unit nurse had attempted to lance a boil on her neck. Green blood had seeped from the boil, causing the nurse to be overcome by the noxious fumes. Scully guessed that this caustic substance had somehow been shed by the engineer's attacker and had burned a hole in his skin as he was being stabbed. Though she did not want to admit this to herself, it confirmed a deep-seated suspicion that this man's attacker was not entirely human.

Scully walked into the basement office and placed the glass bottle on Mulder's desk. "Whatever you do, don't open it, Mulder," she warned.

Mulder picked up the bottle and brought it closer to his face to look at. "What is it, Scully?"

"Blood, I think. Green blood from the man or creature who attacked unfortunate Charles Butler."

"What did you find?" asked Mulder.

"Well, Mr. Butler was definitely dead when his body was run over by the subway train. He was apparently killed by multiple stab wounds to the chest. I got the sample of the green blood from the periphery of a burn wound on his chest."

"It's our bounty hunter, Scully, I'm telling you. He's after those kids."

Scully continued. "That man is probably still out there, and we've got to find a way to track him down. With body chemistry like this he is extremely dangerous even to armed police. If he is looking for the children, he could probably easily get to them, and they might be harmed in the process. Have you heard of any sightings, Mulder. Surely, the police must be looking for this man."

"Sorry, Scully, they haven't been able to turn up a single sighting of him. He just seems to have disappeared after the accident."

Scully leaned against Mulder's desk. "Surely, Mulder, there's got to be someone who can help us track this bounty hunter down," she said. "Got any brilliant ideas?"

Mulder reached for his phone and picked up the receiver. "In fact, Scully, I do," he said. He spoke into the mouthpiece. "Hey, Frohike, this is Mulder. Yes, Scully's here with me. No... we're at the office." He looked up at the phone towards Scully. "Hey, can we come pay you a visit? We need you to help us find somebody..."

Thursday, February 10,2000
Lone Gunmen's residence
Somewhere in the District

Scully knocked on the door.

"Who's trying to rob us?" yelled a muffled voice from behind the heavy door.

"It's us, Scully and Mulder."

They heard a rustle of chains and locks. The door cracked open, revealing the balding head of Frohike, who held the door open with his hands wearing his trademark fingerless black gloves.

"Well," he said, letting his eyes look Scully up and down, "I'm your prisoner," he exclaimed. He opened the door wider to let the two agents in. Scully confidently entered the room and approached Frohike, trying to ignore the little man's puppy- dog expression of adoration on his face.

"What can we do for you, Agent Scully?" asked Frohike, smoothing out the wrinkles on the fron of his Hackers, United T-shirt.

Scully folded her arms. "Mulder called you yesterday about getting hold of some satellite weather photographs of some farmland in northern California. One of the children who we interviewed yesterday drew a picture that leads us to believe that the children came from one of the work camps that Mulder described, and that this camp may have recently been burnt to the ground."

Frohike scratched his head. "I know the DOD takes regular images of that area to track weather conditions for the practice air missions from area air bases. If I can figure out where DOD archives its satellite images, I just may be able to get that for you. Byers!" he yelled over to the handsome, bearded man in the gray suit who worked on a terminal in the corner of the windowless basement apartment, "Can you get into DOD's satellite imaging database for me! We need images of northern California dating back at least three weeks."

"Hold on," said Byers. "Just let me finish reading what Bill Gates is having for breakfast."

"How about a couple of Silicon Valley high tech firms on the menu?" joked Mulder.

Frohike apologized to Scully for Byers' obstinance. "It's his hobby," he explained, "ever since he learned how to hack into Bill Gate's personal chef's computer," he said. "But while we're waiting for him, I think Langly's got something to show you. Langly!"

Langly came ambling in from the kitchen wearing a baseball cap and black-rimmed glasses. Surprised to see Langly without his shoulder-length blonde hair, Mulder piped up, "When'd you get the haircut, Langly."

"Accident," he said, taking off his cap to reveal singe marks at the edges of his now shortly-cropped hair, "Byers and I were leaning over trying to un-jam the paper-shredder, and it overheated and caught fire," he said.

"Luckily the Waterpic was plugged in on the counter, so we were able to douse it," said Frohike.

"You're worrying me, Langly - don't want you guys looking too clean cut, if you get my drift," said Mulder. "So you've got something to show us?" he asked.

Langly beckoned them to follow him over to his desk. "Ever since you told me about the train wreck, I've been monitoring Metro's security cameras. Now this is something that turned up yesterday afternoon on some footage from Judiciary Square Station, which is right across the street from the District Courthouse. Now take a close look at who is going through the turnstyles."

Scully leaned down and squinted at the screen. Mulder and Frohike crowded in beside her. Mulder's shoulder nudged against Scully's side. He was surprised when she did not move away, but leaned her weight into him. Frohike cast a glance at them from the corner of his eye, wishing he was the one standing next to Scully.

Langly pointed to the blurry figure passing through the turnstyle, and then clicked with the mouse to put the image on "still." "Look familiar," said Langly.

Scully gasped in amazement. "That's the man whose autopsy I reviewed this morning. The engineer of the train. He's alive?!"

"I don't think so, Scully," said Mulder. "I think our bounty hunter is walking around in this man's disguise."

"Even if this man can transform himself as you said," said Scully, "why would he be stupid enough to be running around Washington looking like the dead engineer of mostly deadly terrorist attack of the year 2000?"

Mulder pulled Scully aside, placing his hand firmly on her shoulder. "Maybe this man wants to be noticed - if not by us, but by someone else."

"The Smoking Man?" asked Scully. "How do we know that they're even working on the same side?"

"I suspect it's no coincidence that both men were seen on that train just prior to the crash. I think they may be working together, but that they are trying to cover up that fact."

"Judiciary Square station is near the District court. I'm almost wondering if that man may be trying to find out the whereabouts of the children. Sheila Cullens phoned me yesterday to tell me that they have a preliminary hearing in family court next week to decide what to do with the children," said Scully.

"You may be on to something, Scully," said Mulder. The two agents stood there for a moment, not saying anything, looking in each other's eyes. Mulder couldn't help thinking how attractive Scully looked when she was trying to prove her point. Conscious that he was staring a bit too long at his partner, Mulder released his hand from her shoulder, letting it slide down her arm.

Even the three Lone Gunmen noticed the silence. Langly interrupted. "I'll try to see if I can hack into the courthouse's security system to track images on their cameras. Maybe we can keep track of this dude's whereabouts," he said. "Unless," he said, looking at Mulder, "he tries to pull another change on us."

Frohike tapped Scully on the shoulder. "You two want to join us for dinner?" he asked. "We've got filet mignon and a couple of candlesticks in the deep freeze. Not to mention the bottle of 1989 Chateau Pape de Neuf in the wine cellar," he said.

Scully smiled apologetically to Frohike. "Sounds lovely, Hicky, but we've got to drop by Child and Family Services after we leave here. I want to check on those children."

Frohike slapped Mulder on the shoulder. "You've got a dedicated partner there Mulder. But you two need to relax." Scully began to wander across the room to where Byers was beginning to bring up some images on his terminal.

Frohike took this opportunity to talk to Mulder alone. He pulled him aside, and hustled him into the next room in the trio's messy warren. He whispered furtively to Mulder, "Have you thought about asking her out?" he demanded.

"You mean Scully?" he asked.

"I mean Janet Reno. For gosh sake's Mulder, YES, I mean Scully! Even an old geezer like me can see you have the hots for her."

"Frohike," said Mulder, trying not to raise his voice, "this is not the time. We're in the midst of a case."

"You're always in the midst of a case. When's that going to change? Look, have you thought about what's happening on Monday?"

"Is Maryland playing on Monday night? You want me to ask Scully to come over to watch basketball?"

"No, moron. Monday is the Big V Day. Valentine's Day. Now, when was the last time you invited a sweetheart out to dinner?"

Mulder paused, "I don't think there is a last time," he admitted. "Unless you count buying burgers at the local White Castle in high school."

Frohike wagged his finger in Mulder's face. "Look at me, buddy. I'm past my prime. If I could get Agent Scully to send one look my way the way she gazes at you, I would quit all this, move above ground, and work for the goddam federal government. But seeing that this isn't going to happen anytime soon, I suggest you realize your advantage and run with it."

Mulder stammered, "Look, Frohike. I'm not a romantic kind of guy. What's Scully going to think if I ask her out on Valentine's Day. That I'm trying to take advantage of our work relationship?"

Frohike adjusted his glasses and peered over them at his friend. "Look, Mulder, I may be a little man, but I know a thing about what women want. They like to be romanced. They like to be taken out to dinner with candlelight and fine wine and being told how beautiful they look in that smashing black dress. They like being made to feel like their special. And you've got something there, Mulder, man, you've got this woman that knocks everything off the charts. You may see her as your partner, but remember, she's also a woman. Take my advice and ask her out!!!"

Mulder seemed flabbergasted at Frohike's insistence on the matter. "But where do I take her?"

Frohike whispered to him, "That's the simple part. Make reservations at the nicest Italian restaurant you can find in Old Town. One with a fireplace and music, where you two can be alone. Then after dinner, if it's nice, go take a stroll down by the river, just you two." He winked at Mulder. "And I guarantee you, she'll love you for it. Just do it." He patted his friend on the back.

"Mulder, come here," rang Scully's voice from the other room. Frohike shot Mulder a sly glance. "Duty calls," he murmured.

Mulder and Frohike walked into the next room where Langly and Scully stood next to Byers by his computer. Byers called out to Mulder, "I think I've been able to find what you were looking for," he said.

Byers pointed to the screen. "This is an image taken by a satellite flying twenty-five miles over northern California farmland," he said. "Now, this image was taken on Tuesday, February 1st."

Scully asked, "Can we see a close up of that area in the center?"

Byers activated a magnifying glass icon on his computer's desktop, and clicked with the pointer on the area in the center of the screen several times. The image zoomed in, and very soon, they were able to see the outlines of fields surrounded by various outbuildings and several odd, dome-shaped structures.

"Those look a lot like those bee-keeping greenhouses that we discovered out in the Texas countryside," said Scully, remembering last summer's narrow escape from virus-infected bees.

Mulder commented, "It looks like a whole agricultural complex."

Byers continued, "I've checked other images, but there is nothing like these structures in this area," he said. "I can't even begin to guess why anyone in this area would be using these structures at all. This area is primarily a wine- growing region," he said. "But you've got to look at the image of the same area from the following day." He closed the current window on the screen, and clicked to reveal the image behind it.

"Oh my god!" said Scully. "It's on fire." They all stared at the magnified image on the screen. The domed structures appeared to be consumed by flame and smoke, and the fields surrounded the structures appeared to be burning. Mulder noticed what appeared to be a line of ants emerging from the burning outbuildings. "Can you magnify the image any more?" he asked Byers.

"I'll try," he said, clicking again on the screen with the magnifying icon.

The ants on the screen became larger until it appeared they were not insects at all. They were children.

Thursday, February 10, 2000
Child and Family Services
Washington, DC

Mulder and Scully sat with the boy and his sister in the recreation room of Child and Family Services, poring over the dozens of drawings that the boy had made. He silently handed them the drawings one by one, while they asked him questions about what they showed. Both agents were astounded at the wealth of detail in the drawings. One drawing showed a group of children picking flowers in a large field, each wearing a broad sun hat. Another showed the inside of a large dormitory where there were rows of identical beds. And then there were the frightening drawings of the faceless men who set fire to the buildings, while frightened children ran away.

Scully sat there wondering what might have happened to the children in these drawings. The satellite photographs proved that there had been some large scale destruction of this farming community last week, about the time the three children would have had to leave to travel across the country by train. They had checked with Amtrak, and they were able to discover that the children and the Cigarette Smoking Man had boarded an Amtrak shuttle bus from the Embarcadero terminal in San Francisco four days prior to the wreck. But it was still a mystery as to what had happened to the other children.

The boy's little sister sat happily next to Scully, scribbling busily away with thick crayons on a large sheet of manila paper. She made large abstract flowers of brilliant colors, and gave the finished sheets to Scully. Scully lay her hand on the girl's head tenderly, wishing she could communicate with the silent little girl. But she could tell that the girl was grateful for their visit; a smile crept on her face as she busily drew away. These two children seemed to be telling them so much of their histories, without speaking a single word. Scully was beginning to understand how the three communicated; in glances and stares and movement.

Of course Mulder believed that they could communicate somehow telepathically. This, to her, seemed to be a bit of a stretch, but sometimes, she ceased to see much of a difference between communicating telepathically and empathetically. People who spend a lot of time with each other, telepathic or not, learn to read the movements and emotions of their companions, even to the point of anticipating they're next word or movement. She sensed that these children had for a long time been able to rely only on each other, and this had caused them to form a strong bond.

Scully looked across the table at her partner, Mulder, who intently looked at the boy's drawings. She and her partner could almost anticipate each other's thoughts, they had worked together for so many years. Mulder told her so much just from his eyes and facial expressions alone. The stony faced look betrayed worry and anxiety. The corners of his mouth turned slightly upward signaled whimsy or amusement, and she often could tell the moment before he was about to drop one of his cornball remarks. The faraway gaze that he sometimes displayed, staring off at the horizon, told Scully that he was thinking of the past, of a lost sister or his recently deceased mother. And the lids laid lightly closed signified utter despair. In the past couple weeks since his mother's death and his discovery of his sister Samantha's ill fate, Scully had seen him close his eyes, often for seconds at a time. But she was happy to see the sparkle in the eye as he looked at the boy's drawings; this eager investing of his energy in learning about who this child was. She liked that about Mulder; the fact that he was so dedicated to finding out the truth, that he could leave behind his own sadness, and put himself in the shoes of the people he encountered on investigating his cases. It made him a good psychological profiler. It also made him a good partner and friend.

She noticed the eldest girl, who sat with her back turned at the other end of the long table. She had been entirely non-responsive the whole hour they had been there. When Maureen, one of the social workers, had escorted them down to the recreation room to visit with the children, the girl hadn't even acknowledged her. She appeared to be totally withdrawn, except when interacting with her siblings. Scully had tried talking to the girl earlier, but she would not even meet her gaze. Whatever problems the girl had with speech and communication, Scully also saw that she was very depressed.

Suddenly, she heard a door open and a loud clicking of heels enter. She looked up to see Sheila Cullens striding briskly towards them. "Agents Scully and Mulder," she said, "I told you I was dealing with these children's case. There's no need to continue to come here. I will call you if I have any more news."

Scully stood up and walked over to greet her. "We don't mean to disrupt their lives or your work, but we had to come see them about something we learned earlier today. My partner and I found proof that what appears to be an agricultural camp was burnt to the ground in northern California the day before these children boarded an Amtrak train to head out east."

"How can you be sure that they were at this camp? California's an enormous state. They could have come from anywhere."

"We saw evidence of large, inflatable domes at the camp, which do not appear at any of the farms in this particular area. The boy here has been drawing domes like these in his pictures. We think that somebody attacked and burned down this complex, possibly harming a large number of children who worked there. We need to get your Agency's help."

Sheila Cullens paused and then sat down with the Agents. "I'm handling almost sixty cases right now, Agent Scully, and I brought in three other children on Monday who need to be protected and placed just as badly as these three. I can only do so much."

"Does your agency have any contacts with agencies on the West Coast? We need to find out if they have any records of other children being taken in last week after the attack on this camp. Or whether they have any records of these three."

"We occasionally have to contact agencies in California when we're dealing with enforcing child support for parents who've moved. I have a directory up in my office that you're welcome to look through. But I can't do much more."

"Thank you," said Scully, "That's all that we need right now. Do you have any idea whether you'll be able to place these children?"

"I met with a court representative today, and there is a court date set next week for a judge to decide what should be done in the best interest of the children. Maybe by then we'll have a better idea if the man who they were traveling with is their father. We've been looking for him, but turned up no trace."

"I'm not sure if you really want to talk to this man," piped up Mulder.

"We have no choice - if the man is the father, and he comes forward, we have to consider him. Now, I have one family in the District right now who would be willing to take on three foster children. But I have two families of three children who need to be placed. I can't promise that these kids will get that place. I've got to settle on what is the most urgent case, and what's going to be best for the children." Suddenly, the beeper in her coat pocket went off. "I need to get back to my office," she said. "I promise, Agent Scully, I will call you if there are any more developments," she said. As she walked towards the exit of the room, she paused to look at the eldest girl, who lingered lethargically at the edge of the table. "If only you could get her to smile," she said, "I tried to take the children to the courthouse yesterday, and she wouldn't leave the van. I had to turn around and head back. She wouldn't let her sister and brother leave, either."

"Wait a minute," said Mulder. "About what time did you bring them over to the courthouse?"

"We got there around 4:30," said Sheila.

"The man who we believe attacked the driver of the train was spotted in the Judiciary Square Metro station around that time."

"But how could she know that? The station's underground," said Sheila.

"She sensed it," said Mulder. "She sensed that danger was near, so she didn't let you take her or her siblings from the van."

"I don't know about you," said Sheila, shaking her head, "but I will say, she sure didn't want to leave that van."

"Just make sure that someone is always keeping an eye on these children. This man has the ability to take on many disguises."

"Look, this is a secure facility. Now, I've really got to go. Nice talking with you." She left the room hurriedly.

The oldest girl suddenly looked up and towards Scully. She had heard their entire conversation about yesterday's incident. Scully could see that she was trembling.

She walked over and placed her hand on her shoulder. "Nothing's going to harm you," she reassured her. "Wherever you've come from, we're not going to let what's hurt you get to you again."

Friday, February 11, 2000
Child and Family Services
Washington, DC

"The number you have dialed has been disconnected..." Sheila Cullens listened to the recorded message. It was the sixth time in five days that she had tried to call the Shields residence. It was a final attempt to contact the negligent father whose children she had rescued on Monday night. Apparently, he had been gone all week, oblivious or not caring that his children, who still cried out for their Daddy, were no longer at home. She would need to contact the foster family early next week about taking in the three.

Sheila Cullens shut down her computer and began to put away files in anticipation of the weekend. It had been a long week, and she looked forward to a quiet weekend at home, with time to spend with her husband and her two boys. Some of her childless co-workers often wondered aloud how she managed to be a parent with a job that involved such intense day-to-day interaction with children, but she found that her family life was a welcome relief from the stress of her work week. Sometimes she did get work- related calls on the weekends, but she tried to separate her work as much as possible from her family life.

She turned off the lights by the door, put on her coat and proceeded to step out into the corridor and close the door. It was almost 7:00 PM, and most of her co-workers had left for the evening. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw an orange ember glowing in the dimmed light of the corridor. She turned around to see an aging man with a wrinkled face standing before her. In his right hand, he took a drag on a Morley cigarette.

"Please put that out," said Sheila, "There's no smoking allowed here."

The man had silver-streaked hair and a haggard face with large hollows under his eyes. He was dressed in a plain navy government suit. Sheila could tell that he was not a healthy man; he wheezed slightly with each intake of breath. Unflinchingly, he took a hankerchief from his pocket and with it, pinched the end of the cigarette to snuff it out.

"You know you could set yourself on fire doing that," warned Sheila.

"That's not my concern," said the man, who stepped forward to face her. Sheila noticed that he favored his right leg, and shuffled forward with a limp. "I've come to see you about the children who were in the train wreck. I'm their father." He offered his hand, "My name is C.M.G. Spender. I've worked for years for the federal government."

Sheila offered her hand to the clammy, wrinkled palm of the stranger, and shook it authoritatively. "Sheila Cullens, senior social worker for D.C. Child and Family Services," she said. "We've been looking for you all week. Why didn't you come forward earlier?" she asked.

The Smoking Man pointed to his right knee. "I was injured in the crash. I've been off my feet for several days."

"Why didn't you call us? I've been trying to make foster care arrangements for these children, but I've been unable to locate any living relatives."

"I was recovering in a private clinic outside of the city after the accident," he said. "I was in and out of consciousness for several days," he continued. "Besides, it's better this way. When I learned that the children were here, I wanted to come talk with you in person so that I could explain some things. I'm afraid my absence may have given you the wrong impression about me. May we sit down?"

"I was on my way out," said Sheila, "but we can step into my office for a moment," she said, inserting the key into the door. She opened the office and switched on the lights. The Smoking Man walked in, and she offered him a seat. She walked behind her desk and reached into a cabinet for the children's file.

The man settled gingerly down on a chair on the opposite side of the desk. He opened his jacket and pulled out a manila envelope from an inside pocket. Opening it up, he pulled out three green official- looking documents and handed them to Sheila. "Birth Certificates," he said, handing them to Sheila. "The oldest girl is named Opal. The boy is named Roger, and the youngest girl is named Iris. All three I raised at my home in northern California with my late wife, Cassandra."

"At least now they have names," said Sheila, examining the birth certificates. "Why were you traveling with them on that train?" she asked.

"More and more, my work responsibilities necessitate that I be in Washington. So I wanted the children to be closer to where I spend most of my time. I had everything set up for them here - a nice, big house in the suburbs, enrollment in area private schools - if you return them to me, they will have the very best."

Sheila Cullens continued, "That will be for the court to decide. But I still find it suspicious that you didn't at least send someone to inquire about the children after the crash."

"I would have, had that been possible," said the Smoking Man. "I was very traumatized by the accident. But I'm here now."

"Tell me something," said Mrs. Cullens. "There are two FBI agents following the children's cases, Agents Scully and Mulder. Do you know anything about them?" she inquired.

"Ah, fine individuals. I know both of them well."

"You do?" asked Sheila, surprised. "Well, they don't seem to be very taken with you. They seem to believe that you don't have the children's best interests at hand. Agent Mulder, who is a psychologist, has been looking at Roger's drawings. Roger's been drawing pictures of some sort of agricultural camp, where children are working in the fields. He's drawn some very violent pictures of children being chased by faceless men. Can you explain anything about this?"

"That's easily explained," he said. "The children traveled with me often, all over the world when I did business abroad. We were visiting a camp in the desert in Tunisia, where several young children worked, and one night, some bandits attacked. But I was able to get the children out of there safely. But the boy, I'm afraid, still has nightmares."

"That's a pretty far-fetched story, Mr. Spender, but not much more far out than what Agent Mulder has been telling me."

"Really? So you don't trust what he's telling you?"

Sheila sighed. "He just seems to have some wild theories about these children, and I don't think these are going to help the children at all," she said. "He claims that the children can communicate telepathically with each other, which is why they don't speak, and that they can read the minds of the people around them. He even claims that they were able to anticipate the crash, and that's why they jumped off the train."

"That's nonsensical," said the Smoking Man. "The children have a genetic disorder that affects they're ability to speak. One of the reasons I want them here in Washington is to try to get treatment to help them."

"Another question," said Sheila, "is why they have those chips in the back of their necks. Agent Mulder warned me not to have them removed."

"On that point, he is correct. I am in such a high-profile job in the government, that I need to protect my family. The chips are mainly tracking devices. That's how I was able to locate the children. Do not, under any circumstances, remove them."

Sheila was momentarily taken aback by the man's vehemence.

"What line of work do you do for the government?" she asked.

"I'm not at liberty to say, Mrs. Cullens, but I do work for a very classified division of the Department of Defense."

"Very well. But I will need some further confirmation of your employment, and of your income."

"Very well." He shifted in his chair. "May I see the children?"

Sheila shook her head. "They're up in the dormitory by now and I don't want to disturb them. But I'll give you my card," she said, reaching into her pocket, "you can call me next week to set up an appointment to visit with them. If I'm not here, I'll have one of the other social workers escort you down. We can talk again next week about the paper work you will need to fill out. I have a preliminary hearing in family court on Wednesday, where recommendation s will be made for temporary placement for the children. If we feel that they will be safe with you, then we may be able to give you temporary custody until a later court date. But one other question..."


"Agents Mulder and Scully seem to believe that the man who may have caused the crash may be after the children. Are you aware of that danger?"

"Yes - I saw that man myself. But I assure you, I have my own bodyguards. These children will be much safer with me than they would be with a foster family, or even in this facility," he said.

Sheila stood up and offered her hand to Mr. Spender. "I'm glad you've come forward," she said. "We will be in touch next week. Please excuse me, I need to head home to my own children."

"Very well," said Mr. Spender. "May I offer you a ride?"

"No thank you," said Sheila. She opened the door to the office to escort him out. "I'll tell the children tomorrow that I met their father."

Friday, February 11, 2000
J. Edgar Hoover FBI Building
Washington, DC

Scully sorted through the stack of computer printouts on her desk. She had spent the past several hours going through the admittance records of area hospitals from the past week, trying to see whether there was any mention of an emergency room patient that matched the description of C.M.G. Spender, the Smoking Man. So far, her search had not brought her any success. It occurred to her that he might have been admitted under a pseudonym, but none of the admittance records matched the description. She had a few more records to go through before she would head home for the night.

She heard the door to the office creak open. "Mulder?" she called out. She hadn't seen Mulder all afternoon; he had told her that he was making a trip down to one of the labs at Quantico to check on the green substance that she had removed from the body of the train engineer during the autopsy.

She was relieved when she saw her partner come through the door. "I got our results," he said, placing a report in a plastic folder on her desk. She looked at it carefully. "Just what I thought," she said, " the green substance found on the body has the same chemical composition as the substance that was lanced from Emily's wound."

"We're dealing with an extraterrestrial being, Scully, " said Mulder.

"Any more sightings of this man, Mulder?" asked Scully.

"Langly is trying to track security cameras throughout the city, but so far, nothing suspicious has turned up since Wednesday," said Mulder.

Suddenly, they were startled by a slow and then rapid tapping on the glass skylights at the corner of their basement office. Scully raised her head to look at the dark panes of glass. "Rain," she sighed. "I can't wait until this winter is over."

"It was blowing pretty hard when I was driving back from Quantico," said Mulder.

"I think I'd better head home, before the roads get slick," said Scully.

"Can I walk out with you?" offered Mulder.

"Sure," said Scully. Mulder grabbed her overcoat from the coatrack and stood behind her, offering her the open coat.

"Thanks, Mulder," she said, slipping into the coat. She was grateful for the gracious gesture. Sometime, when he really made an effort, Mulder could be a gentleman. She felt his hands rest lightly on her shoulders as he stood in back of her. She stood there for a moment, enjoying the sound of his breathing near her ear. For a brief moment, she half expected him to encircle her with his arms. But instead, he turned her shoulder so that she faced him. She could tell by his winsome expression that something was up.

"Scully, what are you doing on Monday night? Got any plans?"

"Ummm, not that I can think of."

"Would you join me for dinner after work in Old Town? I know this really nice Italian restaurant. I thought it would be nice to get out and not talk about work for a change."

"I'd like that, Mulder," said Scully. "I'll take you up on the offer."

"I'm giving Billy Ardmore's family a tour late Monday afternoon, but it shouldn't take too long. Want to meet me in the office around 6:00?"

"That would be fine, Mulder," said Scully.

The two agents left the office together, letting it close firmly behind them.

Monday, February 14, 2000
Child and Family Services
Washington, DC

"Kids, you're father's here to see you."

The Smoking Man walked into the small meeting room, and crouched down on one of the small, childsize chairs. Iris, the youngest girl, ran up to meet him, and scrambled into his lap.

"Glad to see me, eh?" he said to his daughter, who threw her arms around his neck.

"You'll be going home soon, you three," said Sheila, smiling at Iris. "Opal, Roger, come over and say hello to your father," said Sheila.

Roger grudgingly walked over and took a seat beside his father. "Nice baseball cap you've got there," said the Smoking Man, trying to get the boy to respond. "I'd like to take him to a game or two this spring when it gets warm.

"Well, I'll leave you to visit for awhile. Come on, Opal, come say hello to your father."

The girl stood up, walked past her father as if he wasn't there, and headed straight out the door.

"Opal!" Sheila called out.

"She'll come back," said the Smoking Man. "That's adolescents for you - always ashamed of their parents, always running away."

Alexandria, Virginia
February 14, 2000

"Mulder, I'm impressed," said Scully, looking around the interior of the restaurant. Unlike the diners and greasy spoons that Mulder had dragged her to in the past, this restaurant had an entirely different atmosphere.

It was small, but romantic and classy. The restaurant occupied a narrow but deep space, its walls of brick, its floor of rust-colored square tile. To the rear of the restaurant was a fireplace with a low wooden mantle, which was composed of a thick squared beams painted glossy black. A fire was set in the fireplace; the bright flames were reflected off the many glass picture frames in the room. Scully stopped to admire the photographs, each of which was a particular black-and-white vignette of a well known Italian monument. The photograph closest to her was an ethereal image of the striped roof of a medieval cathedral, which appeared to float upon a raft of sun-infused morning mist.

The room was set with a few tables, the larger, rectangular ones towards the front, and the more intimate round tables closer to the back, arranged in a semicircle in front of the fireplace. Each table was set with a white tablecloth, with a basket in its center holding tall, amber bottles of olive oil, as well as a lit votive candle in a wrought-iron holder. Wrought-iron wall sconces mounted on the brick wall held the electrical lamps, which were dimmed. The light was low enough to be calming, yet bright enough so that one could see easily. Music was playing from a small speaker in the back of the restaurant - gentle strumming of a guitar played against the ethereal sound of Andean pipes.

A waiter in a checkered apron came to greet them, startling Scully out of the spell the music had momentarily cast over her.

"I have a reservation or two, please. The name's Mulder, " her partner said to the waiter. The waiter motioned to them to follow him to the back of the restaurant, to a small table almost directly in front of the fireplace. Mulder pulled one of the ebony wooden chairs away from the table, and with a soft hand, touched Scully on the shoulder, guiding her into her seat, and then pushing the chair closer to the table. He then helped her remove her black wool coat, pulled it over his arm, removed his own, and hung them on two adjacent hooks on the nearby brick wall. Then he seated himself across from Scully.

"Would you care for anything to drink? May I suggest a bottle of wine to start?" asked the waiter.

"Hey, Scully, what would you like? Red, white, champagne, beer...."

Scully looked at the leather-bound wine list in front of her. Not knowing a tremendous amount about wine, she chose a bottle of Cabernet from a California vineyard.

The waiter disappeared for a moment and brought back a couple of wine goblets, a bottle opener, and a large green bottle. He presented the bottle to them for approval, then proceeded to remove the cork with a satisfying 'pop.' He motioned with the bottle towards Mulder, who shook his head 'no,' and then lifted his chin, darting his eyes in Scully's direction. The waiter lifted her glass, pouring into it a few drops for Scully to sample. She lifted the glass in her fingers, pressed the rim to her lips, sampled its sweet taste, and nodded her head in approval. The waiter then proceeded to fill both their glasses. He set down a wicker basket of warm pieces of crusty bread and golden grilled polenta, with a couple of small plates for dipping in oil. "I'll be back to take your order when you're ready," he said, handing them two parchment menus.

The heat from the fire behind her felt warm and soothing on Scully's back and shoulders. It was almost as if the flames themselves licked and lapped at the back of her dress. She felt the sore, tense muscles relax, resting languidly against the back of the chair. She lowered her gaze so that she met her partner's directly. He smiled shyly at her and then lifted his glass towards hers. He clinked his glass against hers in a toast. "Chin chin," he said.

"I beg your pardon," said Scully.

"Chin chin - it means 'cheers' in Italian," said Mulder. "Thought I was just studying Psychology at Oxford, didn't you, Scully?," he teased.

Scully smiled, and then took a sip of the wine. It warmed her from the inside as if the fire had seeped within her. It was good.

"I don't doubt your versatility, Mulder," said Scully. "I'm curious, Mulder - what's the occasion?"

"What's the occasion?" asked Mulder, with a mock-perplexed scowl on his face. "Haven't you looked at a calendar lately, Scully? It's the fourteenth of February. Does that remind you of anything?" he asked.

"I'm aware of that Mulder. It's Valentine's Day."

"So," continued Mulder. "I didn't want to spend tonight alone at the office. So, I asked you out. Satisfied?"

The sips of good wine made her feel even bolder. "So, Mulder, can you tell me this? Is this a date?"

Mulder looked sheepishly at her, and then pretended to study the menu. "Hey, Scully, any guess at the meaning of "Osso buco?" He was avoiding her gaze, but there was a sly smile on his face.

She would not back down. "Do you want this to be a date, Mulder?"

Mulder looked up suddenly from the menu and his face became somewhat pale. "Uh, umm, what do you want it to be, Scully?"

"Considering that I haven't had a date in ages, I really wouldn't mind if it was."

She noticed that her partner was blushing. Not much made him blush, but his face was rapidly turning the color of the red wine that filled their glasses. They were again dancing around the edges of a subject that always seemed to be a step away from where they were. Sure, many times they had expressed to each other the love that they had developed over the years, and how they had become the centers of each other's lives.

The current was subtle, but it was there. When he taught her to play baseball last spring, and wrapped himself around her to help her grip the bat, she felt it. Whenever he grasped her hand or looked into her eyes, she felt it. And just over a month ago, in the first few seconds of the new millennium, Mulder had leaned over and kissed her tenderly. She had to admit even to herself that she not only willingly accepted his kiss, but had actively received and savored it.  Later on New Year's Eve, she had rationalized the kiss to herself by trying to put it in context. They had both had recent close brushes with danger. It was only natural that they would want some physical comfort. Secondly, it was New Year's Eve, and it would have seemed wrong if they had stood next to each other and not acknowledged the moment in some way. In addition, thought Scully, it was Mulder, not she, who had initiated the kiss. She suspected for a while that he might be attracted to her, but she had not given him much encouragement. She loved Mulder, she thought to himself, and couldn't picture working with anyone else. They worked together so well, it was often hard to envision maintaining a relationship beyond their work.

Scully pretended to busy herself in choosing something from the menu. "Maybe I'm up for something different tonight. 'Cinghale arrosto' - that sounds interesting."

"Ever known a pig to fly? It's roast wild boar," said Mulder. "It says here that they fly it into Dulles daily from the wilds of Tuscany. But it probably comes from some ranch in Texas."

"You haven't fooled me, Mulder - the menu has English translations."

"I've picked up some Italian. Serious."

"You speak Italian just about as well as I speak German," mused Scully. Foreign languages were not her forte.

"Scully, you're at it again."

"What am I doing, Mulder?" asked Scully.

"Nitpicking everything I say."

"So, is that so unusual?"

"I'm just thinking, if this is a date, can't we just leave the old banter back at the office?"

Great, thought Scully. The back-and-forth exchange. But she was determined to enjoy this evening nevertheless.

"Fine, Mulder. For once, I'll agree with you."

"Don't agree with me, Scully - you'll scare me!" Mulder raised his eyebrows. "By the way, dinner's on me," he added, a hint of hopefulness in his voice.

The dinner had been delicious, but Mulder welcomed the gust of cool night air that greeted them as he and Scully left the front door of the restaurant. He did not mind the damp; his stomach was full of good wine and even better food. It delighted him to see her face, that ever-serious smile turned upwards in a beaming grin. He guessed that the date had been a success. It amazed him that he could spend every single day alongside this wonderful woman, yet her company this evening made him not want the night to end. He almost did not want to speak, as if speaking might open up the possibility of goodnight.

They strode along the brick sidewalks of old town Alexandria, past closed stores and the still-opened restaurants. Though the winter had been harsh and snowy for ordinarily-clement Washington, it was mild that evening. But it was humid. He couldn't help notice that whenever Scully breathed, her white cloud of breath rose and mingled with his.

"Mulder, thank you for taking me out. That was the nicest date I've had in a long time," said Scully.

"Glad I beat out the competition," joked Mulder.

"There hasn't been much," said Scully. She looked at him, a little bit sad.

Mulder thought of Frohike's advice. "Scully," he said, "It's still nice out. Want to take a walk along the river?"

"Fine, if you want to, Mulder."

He knew of a park by the Potomac where there were some park benches where they could sit. So they walked the couple of blocks to the river, arriving at the park, where only a few couples strolled. "Wanna sit down?" he suggested to her.

"Sure," said Scully. They settled upon a park bench looking over the river. The lights from Washington down the river shimmered on its surface. Above them soared the belly of a jet making its approach towards nearby National Airport in Arlington. They both lifted their heads to watch the jet fly low. Mulder couldn't help but think back to a pasttime of his teenage years, of taking dates in his car out to the dunes to watch the planes flying into the Martha's Vineyard airport. He had to admit that it wasn't always the airplanes that were what held his interest on those nocturnal jaunts.

He was secretly pleased when he felt Scully sit beside him for warmth, so that her leg brushed against his. "Sitting here with you feels strangely familiar, Mulder, " she said quietly.

"What do you mean, Scully?" He was curious at her statement.

"I was thinking about that time years ago when they shut down the X-Files and split us up. I was sent over to Quantico in Virginia to teach. Remember that night we met each other by the river?"

"Now that you mention it, I do." He wish he could forget that time. Working on the X-Files hadn't been the same without her.

"I guess Krycek didn't turn out to be such a great partner."

The jerk, Mulder thought, when he remembered Alex Krycek. Krycek, the Agent with whom he had been paired during that miserable period, who professed to admire his work, later became his enemy and had orchestrated Scully's kidnapping.

"Shall old acquaintance be forgot and never brought to mind....Shall old acquaintance be forgot and the days of Old Lang Syne," sang Mulder in a soft, off-key voice.

"AULD Lang Syne, Mulder, not old."

"What about odd acquaintances?" laughed Mulder, trying to tease Scully. He continued to hum the New Year's Eve tune. The last time he had heard it, he had kissed the beautiful woman who satso close to him right now.

"Mulder, maybe I'm selfish, but I'm glad Krycek didn't work out as an F.B.I. partner. And I much prefer working with you to cutting up dead bodies."

And there's no denying that Scully is the better kisser, thought Mulder slyly to himself, remembering the time Krycek had forced upon his lips a fraternal kiss on his lips at gunpoint.


"Yeah, Scully?"

"How are you holding up? You've been through a lot in the past few weeks, first losing your mother, and then finding the truth about your sister."

Mulder felt something inside of him twinge. Just when he thought the pain was gone, it reminded him again of its presence. Although he had come to terms, and accepted, that he would never again see his sister, he was still numb at the loss of his mother, who had taken her own life. He regretted to this day that he had not returned his mother's phone calls, only to find out afterwards that it was too late.

"I'm okay, Scully," said Mulder.

"It's okay to feel grief, Mulder," said Scully. "I sometimes feel like I've never gotten over losing Melissa," she said, remembering her dead sister. "..or my father. Or Emily."

As they stared up at the hazy sky, Mulder noticed an especially bright light not far from the constellation of Ursa Major, the Big Dipper. He thought of his sister, her soul turned to starlight.

"What one is that?" Scully asked.

"That's the North Star. Do you know that if you navigate by the North Star, it doesn't lead you directly to the Pole, but to some mass of magnetic rocks somewhere up in Canada?"

"Yes, Mulder, I knew that from seventh grade astronomy."

"Misdirection," continued Mulder, nodding his head as he continued to stargaze. "Funny, isn't it, that you can think you're headed in one direction, but somehow you're being led off course."

"We all get pulled in directions we don't anticipate," said Scully. "Chance isn't always a bad thing, Mulder."

"I guess I always thought I would find Samantha alive, ever since I started searching so many years ago. And I never thought it would take twenty-six years to find out the truth."

Scully reached out and perched her fingers on the shoulder of his coat. It comforted him that she seemed to almost anticipate his emotions, reaching out with a soothing gesture whenever the pain returned.

"Don't regret the path you've taken, Mulder, " she reassured him. "Besides, if you had never looked for your sister, you would never have discovered the X-Files. And I would never had gotten the chance to work with you." She turned her face towards him. The sudden movement caused him to look away from the stars, and to gaze instead at Scully. "And we never would have become friends."

Mulder looked at the eyes so dear to him, which were much older and hardened than he remembered them in the beginning. Scully appeared very tired. But her eyes had that steadfast look to them; she was searching him out, reaching in with her gaze to embrace him, to hold him steady. Mulder leaned into her and rest his head on the soft place below her shoulder, while she touched his hair with her cold fingers.

Above them came a loud roar and whine. It was a jet coming in for landing above the Potomac. It was so low that Mulder, from his skewed sideways view, could see the wheels descending from the silhouetted belly of the plane. Lights at the edge of the wings blinked and flashed red across their faces. It was too loud for them to even speak. Scully held him as they sat there by the river, watching the silver-winged bird barrel through the dark.

Scully pressed him to her, almost convulsively. Her nearness was so terribly comforting, that he felt guilty at his conflicted feelings. He cherished her gentle show of affection, yet, inside, he wanted to turn and kiss her passionately. Instead, he reached out and laid his heavy hand over her left hand that rested on his knee. His hand blanketed hers. Very gently, he turned her hand over, and let his fingers trace her slender inner palm. He found her lifeline and traced its meandering length with his index finger.

Leaning into Scully, he felt her leg, pressed up against his, tremble slightly. He wished he could think of something to say to break the silence. Were they moving into uncharted territory?

He forced a chuckle, and sat upright. "I don't know about you, Scully, but it's getting sort of chilly. How about going back to my place for something hot and steamy?"

"And what might that be?" teased Scully.

"A nice mug of Nestle Quick."

"That would hit the spot," answered Scully, pulling her coat tighter around her. "But I can't stay too late. We both have work tomorrow, and I've got to find out more about those kids."

Mulder stood up and stretched. Scully got up and stood across from him. "Ready?" he asked.

"Ready when you are, partner," she answered, giving him a wink.

Mulder's Apartment
Alexandria, Virginia

Mulder laid the two mismatched ceramic mugs upon the coffee table in front of the black leather couch with a satisfying clunk. Grabbing the immersed spoons, he stirred one cup, and then the other, making sure that the clumps of chocolate powder were well blended in with the hot milk. Clutters of small stale marshmallows bobbed to the surface of the hot liquid as he stirred. He handed one cup to Scully.

"Thanks, Mulder," she said, taking the cup into her chilled hands, and bringing it to her lips. She took short, dainty sips from the mug before laying it down again on the coffeetable.

"Mind if I join you over there?" asked Mulder, eyeing his partner, who was making herself comfortable on the soft leather seat of the couch. She had removed her heeled shoes and was resting her feet on the edge of the coffeetable. It intrigued Mulder to see that her toenails were painted a dusky rose shade of pink.

"I think there's room for both of us," said Scully, scooting over a little bit to the right, so that her head rested against the right shoulder of the couch. Mulder slid himself into the space between the table and the couch and then sank down into the leather. He looked over at his partner, who looked more relaxed than he had seen her in weeks. Getting her out to a restaurant and away from this case had certainly done her some good. He stretched his right arm out along the back of the couch.

She leaned forward, huddling over to sip the mug of hot chocolate, and then, slowly, leaned back against the couch, this time seating herself right in front of Mulder's hovering arm. He let his arm sink down and rest lightly across the back of her neck. She leaned into him a little. Without the insulation of her winter coat, the heat of her body near to his was intensified, comforting and distracting at the same time. It delighted Mulder that she seemed to relish being near him, and did not move away. Mulder gazed at her proud, sad profile, as she stared across at the television screen that flickered across from them. The evening news had come on. Mulder had not been paying attention to the television, but saw that something had drawn Scully's interest away.

"What's going on?" he asked, trying to catch up with the news on the television.

"It's an update on the Brianna Blackmond case," said Scully.

"Which one is that?" asked Mulder, trying to rack his recent memory. The name was familiar.

"There's been a lot in the news lately about her. She was a toddler who was in foster care, and through a careless error, DC Child and Family Services returned her to her natural mother. Her mother beat her to death."

"Damn this system," said Mulder," she might still be alive if it weren't for some bureaucratic error."

"And for this wild idea that the child is always better off with her birth mother," continued Scully. "Though that didn't seem to help my case at all when I tried to adopt Emily after the Sims' death." Mulder recalled how just a couple years ago, four years after her abduction, Scully had learned that she had a biological child, unknowingly conceived as part of the tests that were done during her abduction. After the suspicious deaths of Emily's adoptive parents, Mr. and Mrs. Sims, Scully had petitioned to adopt Emily, only to be told that her position in a high-risk job with no history of a steady relationship placed her in a undesirable position as a potential adoptive parent. Mulder knew that it still hurt Scully, that she was somehow considered unfit for motherhood.

The news anchormen moved onto a new story about Valentine's Day. Scully reached out for the remote control and shut off the television. "I'm concerned about those kids, Mulder," said Scully. "We can't just let them fall back into the hands of the man who brought them onto that train. Even if the CSM is their father, he doesn't seem to have much compassion for children. Especially for his own," she said, thinking of the CSM's son, Jeffrey Spender, who had been found shot in the basement office of the FBI as he was clearing out his things. Although never convicted, they both suspected that the CSM had shot his own son.

"They're going to do a thorough background check before giving anybody custody, Scully," said Mulder. "Since the kids seem to be linked to a high profile domestic terrorism case, everything is going to have to get the F.B.I.'s approval," he said.

"I hope that those children get placed together," said Scully. "I'm particularly worried about the older girl. She seems to be the least trusting of the three. I guess she feels protective of her siblings because she's the oldest. She's been the strong one for so long, trying to keep them away from danger. I'm just worried that she's never going to let anyone get too close to her, because she's afraid."

Mulder looked Scully full in the face. "She responded to you, Scully. I think she recognizes kindness when she sees it."

Mulder expected Scully to look down and away at this compliment, as she usually did. But this time, she held his glance. Her mouth turned up in a quiet smile. She did not look away at all. Instead she continued to look into his eyes, until the moment was almost embarrassingly long. He fought his own compulsion to look away or break the silence with a joke or laughter. He slowly lifted his hand, still warm from the mug, and drew it up alongside Scully's cheek. Releasing his index finger, he moved it gently in a tight, slow circle against the down of her cheek. He touched the soft, creased depression at the corner of her mouth. She opened her lips just a little, as he touched his fingertip lightly to the space between them.

Her eyes widened in surprise at his hand's movement, but she didn't seem to mind it. Lifting her chin, she reached up and pressed her lips deeply against his, and then retreated back to the safe place from which she viewed him.

Before they had much time to process what had just occured, the ring of Mulder's phone cut the silence. He let it ring once and then twice. Scully shifted her weight on the couch, the spell broken. "You'd better answer that, Mulder. It might be the social worker. She said she might have some more news by tonight."

Mulder reached over to his desk and grabbed the phone off the hook. "Fox Mulder," he answered.

"Agent Mulder, this is Mrs. Sheila Cullens from D.C. Child and Family Services. The children's birth father came here on Friday inquiring about the children. We've checked his background, and he does appear to be the father that he claims to be."

"Who? Did he look anything like the man who was described as escorting them on the train."

"Yes, he was a middle-aged gentleman, quite distinguished looking. A little unnerving if you ask me. But he checks out fine - he has school records for the children, supposedly they've lived with him at his home in California since shortly after their birth. He's financially stable and has a considerable income. He says his high up in the federal government. Now, on paper, there's really nothing I can object to."

This made Mulder suspicious.

"Did this man give a name, Mrs. Cullens?"

"His name is C.M.G. Spender. He produced three birth certificates and said that the children belonged to him and his late wife Cassandra. We ordered a DNA kit to be sure of paternity, but he appears to be the real thing."

"I don't think Cassandra Spender ever knew of these children," said Mulder, under his breath.

"Mrs. Cullens, I have to ask you to stall the process. Do not let this man take the children. He's a murderer. He murdered his own son, and he's responsible for the death of at least one other child."

"But that would have shown up in his record. Surely, you can't be serious?!" she said.

"Trust me," said Mulder, "You don't want to mess with him."

"I'll do some more background checks on him, but I think you may be imagining things, Agent Mulder." Anyway, the court will be the one to decide."

"Did you let him see the children?" asked Mulder.

"Yes, the little one just loves him. But the eldest girl wouldn't go near him. But she doesn't seem to want to deal with anyone."

"Sorry to disturb your evening, but I thought you'd want to know. Give me a call on Wednesday before the court hearing if you'd like an update."

"Thank you," he said, hanging up.

"Cassandra Spender's their mother?!" exclaimed Scully, standing up from the couch. "I don't understand. And even if the Smoking Man is really their father, why is he going after them now? Those children have been deprived of any sort of normal parental figure - I can see it in how they long to be nurtured, but have little means of reaching out. I doubt that they've ever met their father, if that's what you say he is."

Mulder answered Scully's flurry of protests. "A man like him sees even his own flesh and blood as expendable. I don't think he knows these children; I doubt he had any hand in raising them. But I think they came into this world due to his own megalomaniacal desire to control his own destiny. You've seen him recently, Scully. You saw that he was ill. He's trying to get these children into his grasp right now because he fears his own mortality. These children are what's left of his years of collaborating with the aliens, of the abductions, of the coverups."

"But explain to me how Cassandra Spender factors in to all of this? How did she have three younger children? And when? She never mentioned them in the time I knew her," said Scully. "There must be some mistake, Mulder. I know that more older women are having children more often these days, but I find it hard to believe that Cassandra Spender could have given birth to a child as recently as four years ago."

"There are other ways, Scully, you know that. Think of the tests she underwent. She could have easily been the mother not just of Jeffrey, but of dozens of children, all borne by surrogate mothers for the purpose of the Smoking Man's syndicate's experiments."

"Mulder, you seem to know a great deal about this. I have a feeling that there is something you're not telling me."

Scully had been pacing the floor of his apartment nervously, disturbed by the recent news. Mulder felt a lump form in his throat. There were things he had never told her. Things that he had seen during the time two years ago when Emily was dying, and he was searching desperately to find a cure for her illness. While trying to track down the doctors that were treating Emily's illness, Mulder had discovered a rest home where patients were being used as incubators, to grow children from eggs harvested from women that the Syndicate had abducted. He had meant to tell Scully several times about the specificity of his findings that day, but he had put it off. When Emily died shortly after, he did not want to disrupt her grief. As time elapsed, he felt less and less comfortable opening an old wound. So he had kept silent.

Mulder breathed in but felt as if he was going to choke. Scully looked at him with a look of near betrayal on her face. She had trusted him, but he saw from her expression that she knew that he was hiding something.

What harm could the truth do now? He decided to speak.

"Scully, sit down," he said, placing his hand on her shoulder and guiding her towards the couch. He gently set her down beside him. He leaned forward, clasping his hands together in front of him. "I never told you everything about what I saw when Emily was sick. I found this rest home. There were several women there, older women, all on hormone therapies, that were set into a deep sleep. The doctors were using them as incubators. When I was there, I saw fetuses growing in test tubes. Some of them I think were human/alien hybrids. I found several vials full of embryos with a list. And on the list were the names of several women, who were all abductees."

"My name was there?" asked Scully, on the verge of tears.

"It was. But I don't know for sure if any of those children were yours. When I was discovered in that room, I grabbed a couple of the vials and ran with them. I was knocked down, but I managed to get away with one."

"What on earth, Mulder, did you do with it? You should have at least talked to me about it. You owed me that, Mulder," said Scully angrily.

Mulder's head sunk lower and lower towards his knees. "I'm sorry, Scully. I tried to keep the vial warm in my pocket. But by the time I could get it to a lab to have it analyzed, the embryo was dead."

"To have it analyzed, Mulder! That was somebody's child. One of those poor abducted women who were so brutally treated. It could have even been my child, Mulder!"

"Scully, I thought it would upset you if I told you..."

"Upset me!" Scully stood up, tears streaming as her face quivered in hurt and rage. "How do you think I feel now? I will never be like Bill and Tara. I've come to accept that. But what I will not accept is that you, you who I willingly trusted day after day after day, YOU kept this information from me as if I were a child, when I had every right to know."

"Scully..." Mulder reached out to comfort her, but Scully brushed him aside. "No, Mulder," she said. She walked over to the doorway and grabbed her coat, hastily putting it on. She fumbled her way hastily back into her shoes, stumbling in the process.

"Wait, Scully. I didn't know you would take it this way. If I had known, I wouldn't have waited all this time to tell you."

Scully tried to compose herself. She took a sharp inward breath. "You can tell me all your reasons, Mulder, but it will take a long time before I can forget this. It's not about you at all. I'm the one who needs time. And tonight, I just need to go home."

Mulder leaned forward and put his hand on the doorframe as she stood beneath it, ready to leave. "Scully, you're in shock, let me drive you home at least. We don't even have to say anything about this if you don't want to..."

"Goodnight, Mulder," said Scully, pulling the door shut. He heard the sharp pounding of her heels as she fled down the hall.

For a moment, he felt compelled to run out into the hallway after her. But something stopped him. He was wrong to have kept this from her. However extreme her reaction, he had deeply underestimated her sensitivity on this matter.

Mulder leaned his forehead against the wall of his apartment. Heat was building in his forehead until if felt like it would explode. He stood there, with that evasive feeling in his stomach that made him feel sick. All he had wanted was to bring a truth to light; to be completely honest and open with Scully. But instead, that truth, kept buried in him so long, constrained by his fears, had mutated into something terrible, and its emergence only brought chaos.

Scully's Apartment, Georgetown
Washington, DC

Scully pulled back the comforter on her queen-sized bed and slid herself underneath the sheets. She felt exhausted, and the feeling of the pale green flannel that greeted her bare feet was soothing. She pulled the weight of the comforter across her body, and reached out to the bedside table to turn off the light.

She curled up on her side and lay her head back upon the pillow, and tried to fall asleep. Instead of sleep, a numbness crept over her. Perhaps it was her body's resistance to what her ears had heard earlier that evening. Everything about the evening had been beautiful, until she had been given the reason to doubt her trust in her partner. Perhaps she could have forgiven him if he had withheld the information out of some fear for his own life. But he claimed he had not told her for so long in order to protect her. Why on earth did he think she needed protecting, especially now? Hadn't she lived the past eight years in a perpetual state of looking over her shoulder? Scully had lost people close to her due to her work on the X-Files. Her own sister, Melissa, was cut down by a bullet intended for her. She had witnessed her former student and protege, Kelly Ryan, reduced in an instant to a pile of ash. Her home had been invaded, by serial killers, monsters, and assassins. She had been shot, stung, scratched, frostbitten, and subjected to all kinds of injury in the course of investigating cases. Her body was a map of scars; even if they were now difficult to see, she felt the presence of each. When she was abducted years ago, she endured the ultimate violation - the taking away of her ability to have children. Those who had taken her and performed the tests had not left her with anything at all; they stole from her even the memory of her abduction - all that clung to her were bits and flasshes, like parts of a dream that dissolve into air and fade like smoke rings moments after waking.

She had a small scar on her stomach, along the ridge of her navel, which she rarely touched. She first noticed the scar following her abduction, when she was in the hospital. The doctors guessed that someone had performed some surgery on her during her abduction; it was only later that she learned of her infertility. Like an abused animal whose back tenses when a hand brushes across welts long healed, her whole body resisted being touched near that scar, even by her own hands. Something her body remembered, that her mind did not, kept that place off limits. There were days when she felt the little scar had grown to envelop her whole body, and that no one dare come near.

She didn't need any protection, not at all

These thoughts circled around her head, like some maniacal chatter, that one hears in the midst of a fever, when the mind begs for some strand of reason. Suddenly, Scully realized that she was only half-awake. She willed herself to wake up. She sat up in bed and reached over for the light, which she turned on. The numbers of her alarm clock told her it was very late, but she reached out for the phone and pressed a familiar sequence of numbers. She knew them by tone.

The phone rang only twice before a sleepy voice answered at the other end.


"Mom, sorry to wake you. It's me, Dana."

"Dana, you sound so down. What's wrong?"

Scully breathed in deeply before speaking. "I'm afraid it's Mulder."

"Oh my," said her mother. "I've been so worried about him since his mother's death..."

"No, Mom, he's fine. Nothing's happened to him. It's just... I've placed so much trust in him, and I don't know if I've been wise. He kept something hidden from me."

She heard silence at the end of the line. "Mom?" she asked.

"Do you know why he kept this from you?"

"He said he wanted to keep me from being hurt."

"Dana, we all have secrets. What did he hide from you for so long?"

"I don't want to go into it now, but it was related to my abduction. He said he didn't tell me because it happened when Emily was sick, and he didn't want to make me even more upset."

"I know how you must feel, Dana. When you are close to someone, you expect them to share everything. But sometimes the other person, however much they care for you, just doesn't see something in the same way. Take your father for instance. He was so closed sometimes about what was going on with him, that he once had surgery and didn't even tell me. I only knew about it when one of the doctors phoned the house. I took it personally, thinking he didn't care to tell me, but it turned out that ironically, he cared enough not to tell me."

"But Mom, this was not about Mulder, it was about me. I had a right to know a long time ago."

"Dana, I don't know the details, but I can tell you this. You may see this differently a month from now, even a few days. Don't throw away the chance to trust just because you've seen one failing, if that's even the word for it. Mulder cares about you; I can see it in the way he looks at you. Cherish that Dana."

Scully yawned into the phone.

"It'll be better in the morning, Dana, I promise. Now you need to sleep, and so do I. Bill and Tara called me late tonight and we were on the phone for an hour."

"How's Matthew?" asked Scully, her sadness briefly diverted by the news of her nephew.

"Fussing. Not liking the idea of the new baby, Tara says. But he got your panda bear the other day. Seems to have lifted his spirits. On that note, goodnight, Dana."

"Goodnight, Mom."

Scully hung up the phone. For a moment, her hand rested on the receiver, poised to dial yet another familiar sequence of numbers. But the impulse faded, and she wearily turned off the bedside lamp, pulled the covers around her, and curled up on her side, waiting for sleep.

Wednesday, February 16, 2000
Child and Family Services
Washington, DC

Scully sat in her car after parking in front of the Child and Family Services agency. It was a warm, sunny day, barely like the chilly February weather that they had experienced during the previous week. She welcomed the comfort of the sun across her back, as it streamed through the windows. The past few days had left her feeling drained.

She and Mulder had not spoken a word since their exchange on Monday night. He left a message on her machine both at home and the office saying that he was going to be spending some time at the Lone Gunmen's place trying to locate the whereabouts of the bounty hunter. He told her that Sheila Cullens had been won over by the Smoking Man's story, and was going to recommend to family court today that the children be temporarily returned to his custody until she could file a more comprehensive report. Foster family placements were scarce, and had to be reserved for the most desperate of cases.

Mulder had told her on the voice mail to call him if she wanted any help from him in today's trip to the agency. She could not bring herself to call him back. She needed some time before she could be near him again. Perhaps his lapse in judgment could be forgiven. Perhaps he hadn't told her about the embryo in order to protect her feelings. All that could be easily forgiven in time. But she also wondered how to repair the damage they had done to their working relationship. They had let their personal feelings get in the way of their work, both in his withholding information from her to spare her feelings, and in their physical contact with each other.

They had crossed that narrow line between providing each other physical comfort and giving each other physical pleasure. After all they had experienced in the past few months, she admitted that the kiss she had bestowed on him on Monday night had felt right at the time. But as she thought about it more, when she had time to let her rational mind grasp it and work it around, she saw that she had been wrong in encouraging him. She did not deny that there was an attraction between them. But they could not open that door if they were able to work together objectively. She would call him later this week as they tried to wrap up this case, and she would tell him this: she loved him very deeply, but that they needed to put an end to any feelings that extended beyond friendship. It was the only way she could think of preserving the delicate mechanism that made them work so well together for seven years.

Enough of this mulling over past mistakes, she thought. She undid her seatbelt, locked the steering wheel, and exited the car. She had work to attend to.

Maureen escorted Scully down to the recreation room. "I'm sorry Sheila isn't here. She's supposed to go over to the court later this morning to present her recommendations. She told me that she wants to return the children to their father. But I'll call her beeper number, and try to have her reach you before she goes over."

Roger, the boy, was over in a corner playing with trucks with a group of other children. Iris, the littlest of the three girls, ran over to greet Scully, wrapping her small arms around Scully's legs. Scully was happy to see the little girl. "I've got a little something for you," she said, reaching into her bag, and pulling out a small plush bunny rabbit. Iris seemed delighted with the gift, and ran over to show her sister Opal. But Opal did not even look up at her sister. She continued to stare down at the floor. Scully noticed that she was in a darker place than she had ever been before.

She went over and sat down next to Opal. "Opal," she said, "That's a really pretty name. Is that your real name?" she asked her.

Opal shook her head slowly up and down in assent. And then, quietly, she began to cry.

Scully reached out to touch her shoulder. "You don't want your father to take you away?" she affirmed. The girl shook her head yes and fell back against Scully's shoulder. Scully cradled the girl and tried to calm her crying.

Out of the air, she heard a thin, fragile voice.

"Don't let him take me."

Scully looked around to find from where the voice had come. Looking down with astonishment, she realized that the girl had spoken.

"Opal? Was that you speaking?"

"Yes," she said. She spoke slowly, almost as if she were learning to talk for the first time. Though she was over ten years old, she had the fragile voice of a much younger child.

"Why didn't you speak before?" asked Scully.

"I was....scared. I didn't want them to know. About my father?"

"Did your father raise you?" asked Scully.

Opal looked up and spoke to Scully's face. "My brother and I, we lived with him.. We lived with a nanny in California. He would go away for a long time, but would always come back. Then, when Iris was born, he just went away."

The girl's voice was becoming louder and stronger as she told her story. "Did he tell you where he went?"

"No," said Opal. "But they told me he had another family, and he didn't want them to know about us."

"Where did you go then?"

"We were sent to this farm where people took care of us. But they didn't speak to us. And when we were older, they put us to work, picking flowers and vegetables. There were other children there, but they were empty, like shells. They just worked. It was like they didn't have feelings. They looked all alike."

"Your brother and sister, can they talk?"

"No. Roger forgot, and Iris never learned how. But they understand. We all hear things here," she said, pointing to her head. "I can hear what people are thinking, if their near enough. I speak to you because I know that you really care."

Scully was surprised and moved by the little girl's confession. "What about your father? Have you seen him?"

"He came to visit the other day. I was afraid of him. He is afraid of me, too, because he knows that I can speak. I know that he planned the whole train accident. It was all his fault. Maybe he does love us in his own way, but he also likes to see things destroyed. The power it gives him is what he lives for."

"Opal, you have to be able to tell Mrs.Cullens this. She is not going to let you all go with a man who caused such violence."

"She is a good person, but she believes what my father says. She's seen many families broken up, and she does not want to break up another one."

"Look," said Scully, taking Opal's hand. "Mrs. Cullens is a reasonable person. I'm going to go find her right now, and with your permission, tell her what you just told me. I think I can get her to change her mind." She hugged Opal close. "I promised you I wouldn't let you be harmed." She looked closely at the girl. "I had a daughter once myself."

Opal looked at her with a gaze of gratitude and empathy. "I know," she whispered.

Outside DC Courthouse
4th St.
Washington, DC

Scully slammed on the brakes and parked in front of the District courthouse. She was shocked at the sight that greeted her. In front of the courthouse stood two moderately-sized groups of picketers. One group held aloft signs and shouted as people entered the courthouse. Several of the signs bore enlarged newspaper photographs of the three children, with the caption below "Children belong with their families" and "Protect Fathers' rights." On the opposite side of the entrance stood a smaller group of protesters, carrying signs, "Respect the children's wishes."

Scully had been so enveloped in investigating the case, that she had failed to notice how much media exposure the children had received in the local press following the accident. It was apparent that people were taking very vocal positions on whether or not to return them to their father, much as on a national level, people passionately debated whether or not to return the little boy, Elian Gonzalez, to his father in Cuba.

Scully left the car and strode across the concrete plaza in front of the court building. She excused her way through the commotion as she made her way to the front steps of the court- house. A news reporter, recognizing her face from last Monday's coverage of the rescue scene, grabbed her and pulled her aside.

"Are you one of the FBI agents who rescued the children? Who do you think they should be returned to?"

"Let me go," she snapped at the reporter. "I'm not taking any public position. Please, I need to get inside."

She pushed her way past the press and commotion, and found herself in the lobby of the courthouse. "May I help you?" asked a security guard.

"I need to find Sheila Cullens - she's a social worker from the Child and Family Services agency. She's presenting a report in family court on the three children who were in the train accident last week."

"I think she signed in about two, three minutes ago. The family court is down the hall to your left. If you run, you might reach her."

Scully ran down the hallway, hoping to catch up with Sheila Cullens. As she rounded the corner, she saw Mrs. Cullens walking briskly towards the court's entrance. She called out to her. "Mrs. Cullens!"

She turned around abruptly. "Agent Scully, what are you doing here?"

"I've got to talk to you before you go into that courtroom," she said, breathlessly.

"Look, Agent Scully, I've already made my decision. I had to place three children this morning with a foster family. I don't have any more families that can take three. Now, you may have your doubts about Mr. Spender, but he is perfectly capable of being their father. For now, I'm recommending that the children go home with him."

"But you can't let him take them..." said Scully. "He caused that accident..."

"What?! Who told you that?!"


"Opal?! She can't talk."

"She does. She spoke to me."

Wednesday, February 16, 2000
Scully's Apartment
Georgetown, Washington, DC

Scully stepped out of the shower and wrapped herself in the white terry bathrobe that hung on the hook on her door. It was nearly 11 PM, and it had been a draining day. However, she felt that at last she might be able to sleep soundly. Sheila Cullens had listened to her story, and changed her recommendations to the family court. The court had decided to find a foster family to take the children until more could be learned about C.M.G. Spender and his involvement in the train accident.

Scully stepped out of her bathroom into the darkness of her bedroom. She walked briskly over to the bed, and pulled back the covers, when suddenly she saw a dark shape seated in the corner. Her heart raced.

"Mulder, is that you?!"

A hand reached out and tugged the cord on a floor lamp. In the lamplight, she recognized the gray and grizzled profile of the Smoking Man.

"How did you get in here?" she asked? "I want you to leave right now," she ordered.

"I have my ways, Agent Scully," he said. "You should thank me. I'm not going to fight the Agency. Let some other family take the children. As they say, Agent Scully, if you love something, set it free."

"I have a hard time believing that you actually believe that!" said Scully, sitting down on the bed. "You set those children 'free' a long time ago, depriving them of a real family and a childhood. And what about Mulder's sister, Samantha? You kept her like a captive lab rat, until the poor girl had to run away. And what about your son, Agent Spender? You killed him once you realized he wouldn't follow your orders? That's setting them free?"

"Let me explain something, Agent Scully. You may not believe it, but I love those children. That's why I brought them east to live with me. I have little time left, and I wanted to make right my mistakes."

"I've been told by a good source that you caused that accident! You killed several innocent people, and put your own children in jeopardy."

"Agent Scully, I'm a man who has nothing left to lose. Last spring, when I had just perfected the technology for creating a human- alien hybrid, the alien opposition killed off all my colleagues. They killed my wife, Cassandra, who was the mother of these children, the children that she never even knew. I needed to keep my years of work out of their hands. So I let the alien rebels destroy the farm in northern California where I sent the children to live. "

"What did they do with all those other children?"

"You can only guess, Agent Scully. But they did spare my children."

"Why?" asked Scully.

"I made a deal with the bounty hunter. He's worked for me before. I told him that if he could rescue the children from the attack on the farm, I would offer him asylum in this area of the country so he could go on doing his work with the rebel faction. He accompanied me on the train across the country. I paid him to bomb the front of the train."

"You're a monster!" shouted Scully. "You killed innocent people!"

"I'm a strategist, Agent Scully. By setting up a terrorist attack so closely after the beginning of the new Millennium, I hoped to divert people's attention from the greater disaster that is to come. The alien forces are poised to take over this planet, and there's little that can be done now to stop it. By casting myself and my children as victims, I hoped to create sympathy for us in the press."

"Well, you certainly don't have my sympathy," said Scully, crossing her arms. She pulled the gun out of her dresser drawer, and pointed it at the Smoking Man. "I'm tempted to shoot you right now."

"Agent Scully, if you do that, you'll be destroying the man who holds all the secrets of what has happened to you - your abduction, your cancer, everything."

"So then tell me the truth! Why did your scientists do this to me? Do I have other children?"

"No," said the Cigarette Smoking Man. "Emily was the only child of yours my scientists created. She was a human/alien hybrid. The other embryos were all destroyed."

Scully swallowed very hard to try to keep herself from bursting into tears. Even with the gun clenched in her hand, she felt powerless.

"And Cassandra? Did you ever tell her about these other children?" she asked.

"She never knew. The embryos were taken from her during tests. But she never knew."

"Are these children hybrids?" asked Scully.

"No, they're not hybrids. But they are resistant to the alien virus. And they possess many of the qualities that are present in the extraterrestrial beings which are dormant in most humans. They have tremendous mental capacity. They practice a form of telepathy - that's how they've communicated with each other for all these years."

"Like Gibson Praise?" asked Scully, remembering the brilliant, telepathic boy that she had once rescued from the clutches of the Smoking Man's circle.

"Very much," said the Smoking Man. "They have the same extraordinary qualities that Mulder exhibited during his illness.

"What happened to Gibson?" asked Scully.

"Even I don't hold that answer."

The Smoking Man walked up to Scully, until he was only a couple feet away from the barrel of her gun, which was trembling in her unsteady hands. He placed his hand over the barrel. Slowly, she lowered the gun, and placed it on the bed beside her.

"I will not harm these children, Agent Scully," he said. "But I must warn you - the Bounty hunter is out to capture them. I should not have been so foolish as to deal with him. The children and what their creation represented for our Syndicate, can only be valuable to the rebel faction to which the bounty hunter has his allegiances." He walked towards the door. "I shall leave you to get your rest," he said, "God knows that in my condition, I need mine."

Scully stood up to face him as he prepared to leave. "Don't mistake my listening to you as gratitude," she growled.

"I'm a better man than you think, Agent Scully..." said the Smoking Man, retreating into the shadows in the corner of the room. "...and probably the wiser of the two of us."

"Oh, really?!" asked Scully.

"I know not to ask for what was never truly mine, " he said. "But you...," he said, as he turned to go, "you are terrified to ask for what's been yours all these years."

Saturday, February 19, 2000
en route to Annapolis
Rt. 50, headed east

"I appreciate your coming with us, Agent Scully," said Sheila Cullens, at the wheel of the van. "I think the children are grateful that you're coming along." Opal, Roger, and Iris were seated in the back seat, each staring excitedly out the window at the landscape and fields of the farmland along Route 50. It was the first time they had been outside of the city since their arrival in Washington the previous Monday. Though it was mid February, it was a sunny day, and the bare trees on either side of the highway were showing the soft redness of buds just beginning to grow on the branches. A month from now, they would be replaced by flowers and leaves.

In the far back seat sat a policeman, who had come along for the ride to help ensure the children's safety.

"I guess something good has come out of all this media coverage," said Sheila. "I had just about given up on finding another family that would take in three children at once. Then a friend of mine over in Annapolis told me that there was a couple who approached them asking if we would be interested in having them take the children. They have two kids of their own, and both parents work over at the Naval Academy. They've hosted foster kids before, and if this works out, they may be interested in adopting."

"Thank you for listening to me," said Scully. "I guess I made a pest of myself, but I just couldn't let these children go home with a father who abandoned them."

"It's a shame," said Sheila, looking forward with a sad look in her eye. "There are some family situations that just aren't meant to be."

Suddenly there came a voice from the back seat. "I need you to stop the car."

Sheila turned her head, "What's wrong officer?!" she asked.

"Just pull over onto the shoulder. There's a DC Police car following us."

Scully thought this strange. Sheila downshifted the transmission of the old van and pulled off onto the shoulder, bringing the vehicle to a stop.

Suddenly, the officer opened the door to the van and leapt out. He marched towards the police car which had just pulled up behind them on the shoulder.

Suddenly Opal turned her head and yelled out loudly, "No!!!!"

As Scully and Sheila turned their heads, they saw the window of the police car roll down. The officer had leaned down to talk to the policeman in the car. But suddenly, the door of the car opened, and out stepped the officer with a club in hand. He whacked the man across the knees with the club, and with another swing, knocked the gun out of his hand. He then proceeded forward towards the van. With each stride, his physiognomy transformed into a tall, square-jawed superhuman with eyes void of compassion. It was the bounty hunter.

Sheila hastened to start the engine of the van, but as she was about to pull forward, the bounty hunter shot out the tires. There were a series of loud bangs and a hiss of air. The children had begun to scream hysterically. Scully drew out her gun and leapt from the van.

"Run!!" she said. As she fixed her shot on the bounty hunter and bounded from the car, the children and Sheila leaped out and made a run for the bushes on the side of the road.

"You coward!" yelled Scully to the bounty hunter. "Leave them alone!" The bounty hunter fired at her. She felt a bullet graze her right arm, taking with it a swath of fabric. Miraculously, she herself had not been hit. She heard another shot, followed by the loud sound of metal against metal. The bullet knocked the gun out of her hand, and it went flying into the busy highway. She quickly reahed into her pocket for her phone, then realizing that she had left it on the dashboard of the car.

The bounty hunter strode toward her, gun in hand. As the children and Sheila screamed from the bushes, he strode towards Scully, knocking her to the ground. Taking his knee, he kicked her in the back so that she fell. The wind was knocked out of her. She lay bruised on her left side, and craned her head to look at the cruel face hovering above her. He pointed the gun right at her head.

She shoved her hand into her jacket pocket almost reflexively. Deep inside it, she grabbed hold of some long and slender. Fingering it, she realized it was a hypodermic needle - a tranquilizer that she had taken from the first aid kit the day she had treated Billy Ardmore at Union Station. She doubted that the injection would knock the bounty hunter out, but she had nothing to lose.

With all the strength Scully could muster, she dove at the man's ankles, knocking him off balance. The steely giant tumbled to the asphalt, his head knocking against the ground. In a frenzy, Scully leapt astride him, sinking down on his shoulders, and plunged the hypodermic needle into the back of his neck.

Suddenly, she saw a green liquid bubble up from the wound, and a noxious sulfuric odor hit her full force. She felt the body beneath her deflate like an old, tired balloon. Realizing what was happening, she held her breath and ran as fast as she could away from the rapidly decomposing corpse.  As she stumbled forward, she yelled to the children and Sheila to keep away.

When she finally turned to look back along the highway, she saw a pool of fluorescent green simmer, bubble, and evaporate before her eyes.


Saturday, February 19, 2000
Laurel Regional Hospital
Laurel, MD

Scully lay back upon the bed in the curtained-off examining room. She felt sore all along her left side where she had been pushed onto the asphalt, but it was only minor bruising. The X-rays, done as a precautionary measure, did not reveal any broken bones. She waited for word on the fallen officer, praying that his injuries were not life-threatening.

Suddenly a nurse pulled aside the curtain. "Agent Scully, you have a visitor here to see you. An Agent Mulder."

"Let him in," she said. Mulder crept into the curtained area and walked over to the bedside. He smiled meekly at her, then reached out and placed his hand on the railing of the bed.

"Heard you had quite an afternoon, Scully."

"More than I bargained for," she said. She sat up in the bed, propping herself up against the pillow. "Thanks for coming here, Mulder."

"Glad I'm not the one you decided to tackle," laughed Mulder. "I don't think those children have to worry about the bounty hunter anymore. The worse they'll have to worry about in days to come is the boogey man, and maybe seventh grade algebra if they're really unlucky."

Scully smiled. "Where are they right now?" she asked.

"I spoke with Sheila Cullens outside. The foster family drove up from Annapolis to pick them up. They seem to be a very nice couple."

"I'm glad," said Scully, "Now when can I go home?" she asked, sliding back down onto the bed.

"I made a deal with the nurse. No, just kidding. They'll be releasing you soon. If it's not much of an intrusion, I would be happy to drive you back home."

"Thanks, Mulder," she said. She reached out for his hand and squeezed it. Releasing it, she turned it over, and with the tip of the index finger, traced the lifeline on his palm. She noticed that his palm was damp and cool. She smiled to herself. "Mulder, I've got a lot to tell you," she said.

"Save it for the ride home," said Mulder.

The nurse popped her head through the opening in the curtain. "I'll be bringing your release papers in a moment, Agent Scully."

Scully sat up in the bed. "How's the officer doing?" she asked.

"He's got two fractured kneecaps, but other than that, he should be fine," she said, "I heard that you probably saved his life."

"Just doing my job," she mumbled to herself.

Another voice spoke from behind the curtain. "Agent Scully, can I come in?"

"Yes," she said. Sheila Cullens walked in and pulled up a chair beside the bed.

"In the years I've worked for the city, I have to tell you this is the most eventful afternoon I've ever had," she said. "But I've got you to thank for saving those children...and me."

"Well, I'm glad they're finally home now," said Scully.

"The foster family said that you were welcome to come visit once the children settle in. Opal really does seem to like you. And I told them that you used to live in Annapolis."

"I certainly don't miss the commute," laughed Scully.

"We're driving back to the District," said Mulder. "Can we offer you a ride?" he asked.

"Thanks, but my husband is coming with the boys to pick me up," she said, "I'll be glad to see them," she said, "And very lucky," she added.

Sheila Cullens reached into her pocket and pulled something out. "Before I forget, Opal gave this to me to give to you." She handed Scully a folded piece of paper. Scully opened the paper, and saw a beautiful heart, drawn with colored pencils, and resplendent with opalescent glitter. "She told me that it's a week late, but she hopes you like it anyway. I think it's her way of saying 'thank you.'"

"Man, nobody gave me a Valentine like that!" exclaimed Mulder.

"Who says you deserve one, Romeo?" asked Scully, rolling her eyes at him.

Scully sat beside Mulder in the passenger seat of the car, as they headed west on Rt. 50 towards
Washington, DC. The sky was overcast and somber, but on the horizon, was a small line of coral, to mark the setting sun. Scully marveled at these winter sunsets, often so brief and soon, but so stunning.

"Mulder," she said. "I don't want any more secrets. The Smoking Man came to visit me on Wednesday night."

"Oh really?" asked Mulder. "Did he invite himself over for a nightcap?"

"More or less. He planned that whole accident, just like he planned the artificial creation of these three children. I think he's someone who thrives on the chaos he creates, even if it intersects and harms the lives of others."

"I'm not surprised," said Mulder. "I've been trying to track him down for days, but he seems to have disappeared," he said. "I doubt anybody is going to be able to convict him."

"Maybe no one needs to," said Scully, "I think he's punished himself enough. Even he realizes that those children aren't going to love him as their father, even if now he wants to make good."

"Scully," asked Mulder. "I'm going to ask you something, and you don't have to answer if you don't want to. Do you really believe in forgiveness?"

"Well," said Scully. "I've been taught forgiveness all my life as part of my upbringing."

"But do you really believe in it?"

Scully paused for a moment. She was somewhat distracted by the disappearance of the sun. The two of them traveled down the highway, heading into the night. In the rear view mirror, she could see what she first thought was a headlight. After a split-second of apprehension, she realized it was the full moon, glowing orange as it rose above the trees in front of her.

"Mulder, all pain needs a way of releasing itself into the world, because otherwise, it becomes anger, and anger just eats away at the soul." She looked across at her partner, who nodded his head in assent as he drove. "So, yes, I do believe in forgiveness."

For about twenty minutes, they drove in silence, wondering at the night around them, and the moon that was rising higher in the sky, becoming smaller and crisper as it rose. The clouds began to disperse, and a few stars peeked through. Scully found herself very sleepy. As they reached the city limits, they exited onto New York Avenue and drove alongside the train tracks that led into Union Station. So much had happened in a little over a week, thought Scully.

As they approached the center of the city, passing row upon row of rundown houses and chainlink fences, Mulder finally turned to Scully and asked her, "What do you feel like doing?"

"I want to go home, Mulder," she answered. "Take me home."

Late Saturday evening
February 19, 2000
Scully's Apartment
Georgetown, Washington, DC

Scully closed the door to the bedroom behind her. She felt sore and achy and tired all at once, and longed for a restful sleep. Drawing back the covers, she slipped into them, and reached over to turn off the bedside light.

But when she closed her eyes, she had trouble resting. She thought of the ride home with Mulder, and about how they journeyed together in silence under the full moon. When she opened her eyes, she could see the orb of the moon seeping through the blinds, casting blue light on her bed. She remembered times as a child, when she opened the shade of her window on moonlit nights, just to let the divine light wash over her. In the mornings, she woke up feeling changed, as if some deity had invested her with some incredible power. As she blinked in the moonlight, she felt compelled not just to bask in it, but to stay awake.

She thought of Mulder, probably now sound asleep in his own bed, with the moon creeping through his window, spilling onto the sheets. She sat up in bed, suddenly completely aware of the air around her, and of the pull of what was outside this room and outside of herself. Remembering how their hands had touched earlier that day, she wanted to be back in that moment, to have him again near her.

Longing is one thing, she thought, but making the muscles move, getting them to move forward is another. She willed her legs to move out from under the covers, to set her feet upon the cold floor not wholly safe. Turning on the light, she walked over to the chair where her clothes lay in a pile; she had been too tired even to put them away. She stood for a moment in the moonlight, wondering if this was a bout of foolishness on her part or a conscious decision to act on her feelings. She could dismiss the feelings inside as the fantasy of a lonely woman who had had a difficult day. Or she could make them known.

She made her decision. She prepared herself to venture out into the February night.

Saturday, February 19, 2000
Mulder's Apartment
Alexandria, VA

Scully knocked tentatively on the door. "Mulder, it's me, " she spoke softly. She heard Mulder's footsteps thumping towards the door. He opened it wide to let her in. She must have woken him; his eyelids quivered, trying to stay open, as the light from the hallway flooded into the apartment. He was naked except for a pair of white boxers. He held his arms around his shoulders, shivering in the cold of the February night.

Mulder rubbed his eyes. "Scully, what is it?" he asked.

Scully entered the room and dropped her purse by the door, which she shut gently behind her. She walked over to Mulder and put her arm around his shoulder. Her hand caressed and warmed the nape of his neck. She tilted her head up and placed her lips upon his. Her tongue pressed against his lips, as if demanding entrance. He opened his lips as if about to speak, letting her slip smoothly into his mouth. As they kissed, the silence of the night was only broken by their breathing, first calm and steady, and then becoming more rushed and insistent. When her lips released from his, Scully slid her right hand down Mulder's arm, clasping his sweaty hand in her palm. She gazed up at him and smiled wistfully. "It's time."

There was no need to explain what she meant by her quiet declaration. Still grasping her hand, Mulder led Scully hurriedly towards his bedroom, where his sheets were still warm from sleep. Scully's heart raced in anticipation of what was to happen next. Though she was excited, she felt a tinge of nervousness.

Mulder stood facing her, his back to the side of the unmade bed. Firmly, he placed his hands on either side of her hips. In one upward movement, he slid his fingers and palms underneath the place where her blouse tucked underneath her skirt, and he moved them up her torso, feeling the pliant and smooth landscape of her chest. Scully freed a hand to help him, as she fumbled with the buttons of her blouse, almost tearing them off as she opened the front of her shirt. Quickly, with dexterous fingers, she reached around to unhook the strap of her bra. Mulder's hand helped free her of her skirt and undergarments, which fell to the floor. Scully slipped a finger and then a whole hand underneath the elastic of his shorts, pulling them away and downward.

It didn't take long for Mulder to notice her gesture, and he reached his hands down to tug at his undergarments. "Ladies and gentlemen, watch while the great Muldini pulls a swift disappearing act!" With Scully's assistance, he worked the boxers down until they surrounded his feet. He hastily stepped out of them, and with a flick of his wrist, flung them across the room. "Tah - dah," he exclaimed.

As he saw Scully, standing in the shadow by the bed, wearing nothing at all, Mulder was stilled for a moment in awe of her beauty. Her form was silhouetted by the light of the still opened door, the details filling themselves in as his eyes adjusted to the dark of the room. He sat down on the edge of the bed, and held her outstretched fingers in his hands.

A coy but gentle smile crept across Scully's face. "Mulder, you know this isn't the first time you've seen me naked...." she jested, remembering the furtive look he had given her months ago, when they had bathed across from each other in the showers of the decontamination facility. As if they could share the same thought, the memory flooded into Mulder's consciousness, and he blushed.

She let her eyes travel down his body below his waist. "Mulder," she said, "I hate to tell you this, but your little disappearing act isn't having much success." She blushed at her own audacity.

It wasn't the first time she had seen him naked before, though never in the state of arousal that was overcoming him as he sat on the edge, taking in every detail of her body. His response to her was somewhat unsettling - she was not used to seeing Mulder in this way. Suddenly, she felt awfully shy. She directed her gaze on what was familiar - his eyes, which were so sparkling, tender, eager and vulnerable at the same time. She knelt down on the floor and wrapped her arms around his chest, the warmth of his skin providing immediate relief from the cold. As they kissed, she pulled herself up closer to him, until her knee brushed against his bent leg. Seeking a more comfortable position, Mulder stretched out on the bed on his side. He raised his arms over his head and arched his stomach, and gave her an inviting glance out of the corner of his eye. His left foot dangled languidly over the edge of the bed, as if beckoning her to join him.

Scully crouched forward onto the bed and lay herself across its breadth on her right side. Slowly, she let her arm stretch out onto the sheets until she, too, was lying on her side, parallel to him. She lay with her cheek against the warm furrows of cloth, and gazed across at him. There was something endearing about the way he looked at her with a mixture of wonder and vulnerability. She could tell by the creases on his forehead that he was as nervous as she.

The want had built up in her for a period of years, but she had always tried to suppress it, never thinking of what would happen if she finally gave in to it. Now that Mulder was stretched out before her, she wanted to get close to him, but yet she hesitated. It was like standing at the edge of a diving board, feeling the tremor beneath the feet, when she could see, smell, and hear the shimmering water beneath her, but held herself back from the plunge.

Mulder raised an eyebrow, and smiled at her, breaking the tension. He reached out and traced the curve of her hips with his fingers, smoothly working them in circles, being careful not to press too heavily on the small bruises on her hip and side. "Feel okay?" he asked her. She nodded in assent and moved herself into his touch.. His arms reached across and grasped her shoulders, gently pulling her towards him. He arched his upper body to fit around hers, shell-like, and clasped his arms around her. Scully leaned back into his embrace, feeling the contact of warm skin on her bare back and legs. She marveled at the vast canvas of flesh that they now shared; the touch of a hand or of lips increased by a thousand. Mulder's hands began to work their magic on her body, pulling and kneading, dipping into crevices and folds. Scully turned to kiss him on the lips, in approval of his touch. Then, she slid one hand into the tight space between their bodies, passing the back of it along his stomach, then turned it to allow her to explore him. She marveled at the current that passed through her fingers.

She could feel Mulder's whole body tense like a spring in answer to her. Scully twisted about in his embrace so that they now gazed into each other's eyes. How brave, she thought to herself, it was to exchange this loving glance, at last unburdened of fear. Mulder smiled at her, and she returned his smile, as if assuring each other that their need should no longer be restrained. Scully rocked forward into Mulder's arms, her hand traveling down to find the small of his back, her gentle pressure guiding him towards her. As they embraced, she felt every part of her flow into him, like some tremendous wave rushing in to fill all their spaces.

This moving together surprised her in the very realization of the moment. Scully had for a long time recognized the connection that she and Mulder had; it was spiritual as well as emotional; they were each other's centers.  But it was in the experience of joining with him physically that she realized that their love-making, put off for so many years, was simply another pathway in their connection to each other.

When they finally came apart and rolled over onto their backs upon the bed, their hands still clasped each other. Scully squeezed his hand, and curled her body up against his chest, and pulled the covers tightly around them. With her fingers, she stroked and caressed his face. "Was I any good?" gloated Mulder.

"WE were wonderful, Mulder," said Scully, playfully fingering his cheek. She rest her head against his chest, and heard his lion's heart beating rapidly beneath. She savored the delicious rush in the recent memory of him deep inside her center, with only their skins separating one's pulsing flow of blood from the other's. This intimacy brought them closer together than ever before; never had she been so acutely aware of the life inside of their bodies. In fact, her body felt different, as if she could feel light glowing from within. It was almost as if the very matter of her body had changed.

Strange, she wondered, that what they had just shared with each other was the very act through which life began.

Sadness came out of its deep burrow. Scully felt a cold lump tearing her from the inside, the painful reminder of loss. As much as she tried to ignore it, it asserted its presence in her life. She had lost the very ability to conceive a child.

Scully began to sob.

"Scully, what is it?" he looked worriedly into her eyes. "Did I do something wrong?"

"Mulder, it's not you, it's me." She reached out to him, and they embraced.

"I want so much Mulder. I pushed you away for so long. And then we finally make love, and it's beautiful. But now afterwards, all I can think of is that I want to have a baby with you, but I can't. And there's nothing I can do to change it. Part of me tries to rationalize it and say it really doesn't matter in the long run. But part of me still grieves. Mulder, when I lost Emily, I lost my only chance at being a mother..."

Mulder hugged her close and kissed her face, "I'm sorry, Scully," he whispered. "I know I can never replace that loss."

"I don't expect you to," said Scully. "It's just I've shared every area of my life with you, except this one, and now that I want to, I can't."

Mulder touched her forehead with his fingers. "Scully, I've spent most of my life trying to get back what I lost when I was still just a boy. I wanted to be part of a family, but first my sister is taken away, and then, my father, and now, my mother. There are days I remember that I'm the only one left in my family, and there's nothing I can do to change it."


"But Scully, my family hasn't left me. I have you. I may have lost the people I love, but I have also found you, and you've carried me through this craziness. Every damn day I wish I could change what they did to you, make things better, and each day, I give in to the reality that things can't be put back the way they were."

"Mulder, whatever you feel, whatever anger I may still have, what happened to me was not your fault..."

"Scully, I've seen how you loved Emily. I've seen how you loved those kids, even though they were total strangers and the children of the man who hurt you. There are so many kids out there who need homes. We can do this together, if that's what you want," he reassured her.

"Mulder, I don't know what to say, " said Scully.

"There's plenty of time to think it over, Scully," said Mulder

"Thanks, Mulder," said Scully. "So much has been happening, I think I need to take some time to sort it out." She squeezed his hand. "But whatever I decide, I'm glad you're here."

Mulder cupped his hand below her chin. "Let me show you something, Scully," he whispered. Pulling the covers aside, he moved his hand down her body, letting his fingertips smooth a path between her breasts, skimming the surface of her skin. He circled her stomach with his hand, and then retraced his fingers' sinuous path with his mouth, gently pressing her warm flesh. Mulder began planting kisses on her belly, soothing and caressing with his tongue. He found the small dimple in her stomach, her navel, and kissed the small scar that crossed its center. Mulder kissed that place again and again, as if he longed to seal the already-closed wound. She moaned as she reached down to touch the sweat-soaked curls on his head, amazed at the the sound of her own vulnerable, joyful cry. Scully kissed him and silently blessed him, both as a lover and a healer.

Feeling the kisses bestowed upon his head, Mulder emerged from below and smiled sweetly at her. "Boo!" he exclaimed, causing Scully to laugh. "Watch it, Spooky!"

Mulder gently patted her stomach with his hand. "You're pretty special," he said, "I'd say you're just about perfect, Agent Scully." He flashed her the devilish smile. "Frohike was right all along!"

"What?" asked Scully, laughing at him.

"Never mind," said Mulder.

"I thought we weren't going to keep any more secrets from each other," whispered Scully, giggling.

"Okay, you want the whole truth? I love you, Scully," he said to her. A smile returned to her face. "Maybe I never even deserved you, but here you are."

"I love you, too, Mulder," said Scully. She yawned, suddenly becoming aware of her exhaustion.

"How about getting some Z's, Scully? I promise I won't snore!" said Mulder.

"Are you going to make me sleep on that couch of yours?" she joked.

"We can wait until tomorrow morning to do that," he smiled, winking at her. Mulder put his arm around Scully, "Tomorrow's another day."

Scully stretched out beside Mulder, skin touching skin, and they held each other again. Scully laid her cheek on Mulder's chest, and he arched his neck to nuzzle her, breathing in the sweet smell of her red, flowing hair. As the blue light of dawn began to creep across the room, in those fuzzy minutes of consciousness before they both drifted off into sleep, Scully felt the sadness inside her bloom into hope. Mulder was part of her life, and that was unchanging. Whatever losses they had suffered, however they had been injured by life, they had ended up here in the same place, resting in each other's arms, where they were meant to be.

The End

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