Title: Ghost of a Chance
AuthorS: Avalon and Marie Endres
Rating: NC-17 (no kiddies, please!)
Spoilers: Up through Existence, and then we kind of veer off into our own little world.
Category: X (sort of), S (definitely), MSR (absolutely) A (all over the place), Doggett UST (but NOT DSR, OK?!?)
Keywords: Well, we think that's covered above.
Disclaimer: Everyone belongs to the divine CC, except Kathryn Doggett, whom we invented. We love these characters and are just doing this for fun. No infringement intended.
Feedback: You bet. We welcome it and answer it.
ArchiveS: Ephemeral, Gossamer, Spooky's, IWTB… well, we love being archived. Just drop us a line and ask so we know where to visit.

Summary: A phone call from his estranged wife forces Agent Doggett to confront his demons, dragging Mulder and Scully along with him into the abyss. AuthorS' Notes: Marie and Avalon are keenly aware of some feelings concerning the perceived direction of the show as it moves into its ninth season, as well as the feelings of many shippers in the fandom. This story explores the depth of Mulder and Scully's relation- ship in the light of other outside forces. Namely, John Doggett. We hope that people will give it a try, but if it's not for you, then so be it. The MSR in this story is STRONGLY present…and that's all we'll say. More notes at the end of the journey.

"Touch me," she whispers right next to my ear. Her voice, hoarse with need and desire, takes me even further into this dream. I want it to; I want her. She's so real, so good, so alive beneath me that I can delude myself for just a little while longer.

My hands skim down her arms, stopping at her waist to encircle her there, pulling her closer to my nakedness. I drink in the delicious scent of her hair as I bury my face in it. I kiss her over and over again until one slips into a blur with the one before. I am breathing so hard that my chest almost aches. I take one hand from behind her back, caressing her rounded hips, stroking her inner thigh right before I let my hand slip down further to between her legs. Her knees fall open, opening herself to my touch. I feel the slick, slippery wetness of her on one and then two of my fingers. I long to taste her. I bring my fingers, wet with her essence, up to my lips and into my mouth so that she can see how desperately I want all of her, how hungry I am for her.

She smiles a weak, insecure smile. I will have none of it. I do not want her to doubt her desirability for one moment. I put one of my fingers, now layered with her and me to her mouth, silently begging her to taste and see how very good she is. Her lips wrap around the tip and she smiles, this time sure of my passion and hers. The sight pushes me to the breaking point of my arousal. I feel everything welling up within me, my desire, my love and lust for her, everything I want, everything I'm so afraid of, as I come, alone as ever.

The shrill call of the phone brings me up through the post- orgasmic haze of my dream. I blindly reach into the darkness to pick it up and place the receiver between my cheek and pillow.

"John Doggett," I manage to mutter.

"John, I can't take this. You have to come up here. He's here, and he won't leave me alone," says the familiar voice on the other end.

The woman I married in my youth, when everything seemed possible. The woman who carried my child within her womb. The woman I could never touch again after the death of our son. The woman who so desperately seeks my help this late evening.

"Kathryn, who's there?" I demand.

I can hear her tears before her response.

"Kathryn, you have to tell me what's wrong. Who's there? Who won't leave you alone?" I ask, a little more loudly than before.

She takes a deep breath before speaking to steady her voice. "John, it's Luke."

My stomach lunges within me at the mention of our dead son's name. Before I can question her regarding the hows and whys, she blurts out, "Just come over here, John. Please. I know we haven't seen each other in so long, but please. . ." Her voice trails off, leaving things open for my response.

"OK, I'll be over in a little while," I say with a little too much resignation.

She whispers a furtive, "Thank you," before I hear her hang up.

My mind spins and whirls as I roll myself over and out of bed. I reach for some tissues in order to clean myself up before I put on my robe. My brain should be trying to process the call from my former wife. I should be trying to figure out why she said our dead son is with her, not leaving her alone.

Instead, all I can think about right now is the depthless blue eyes and fiery beauty of Agent Scully, the lover in my dream.

My truck comes alive at the mere push of the key and the slow feed of gasoline. Can't it be this easy to return life to the rest of us? I pull out of the driveway and head toward the interstate. I know where she is, even without her telling me. We sold the house that was not too far from here about a year ago. Sign some papers, collect a check, and the place we used to call home is ours no longer. There is still the lake house, though, a place of summer laughter, fireflies, and sunburns.

I can hear her calling after me and Luke, to put on still more of that greasy sunscreen. Protect yourself. Don't get burned. Could I have listened more closely?

Mile after mile the road stretches out before me, the dawn turning to day and then midday by the time I am about twenty minutes from the house. I think about what I will say to her.

"Now, Kathryn, this can't be. Luke can't be here. And by the way, I'm sorry I never came home after the funeral. I'm sorry about never holding you when you cried at the wake. I'm sorry I'm such a fucking bastard."

Yeah, that should do it. That should fix this mess.

I pass familiar sites as I get closer to the house where we spent so many summers. The local greasy spoon where they made the best French fries. The high school field where we would watch fireworks on the Fourth of July. The memories close in around me like a noose. I see the sign up ahead for the entry to the lake community.

The driveway is on my right as I turn onto the gravel road from the main loop that leads around the lake. As I travel down the short drive, I pass the mailbox that still bears my surname and realize that I never did get around to that divorce.

Every light in the house is on as I stop, kill the engine and step from the cab of my truck. The house practically glows in the strange noonday darkness provided by the many trees that surround the house. A beacon of rest, once. A home, sick, forever.

I jiggle my keys around in the palm of my hand, finding the right one from its familiar weight. Holding it, I place it inside the lock on the front door, only to witness the door opening before me. My wife, holding it open, and watching me stumble slightly forward.

I look up, forcing my eyes to connect with hers.

"Kathryn," is all I manage to say.

She's wearing sweats even though it's about 75 degrees, and her hair is a little askew, but other than that, she has not changed that much. Still the green eyes of a languid cat, still the small smile of a woman who has no idea of her beauty.

She looks down at her feet as she speaks, door still being held open by her hand, the other one held limply at her side.

"John, thank you. I wasn't sure if you'd come out here. I know how difficult it must be . . ."

"Kathryn, can I come in?" I say, detestable irritation in my voice.

Her hand drops from the door as she makes an almost imperceptible gesture of welcome. She walks ahead of me into the foyer.

I am suddenly rooted to my spot near the welcome mat. I feel as though cement shoes have been fitted onto my size elevens. I can't move forward because there's a tide of memories that keeps throwing me back.

Here is where he would play, trucks leaving the lot on their way out the front door to the loading dock on the porch. That spot on the rug is from grape juice. It always seeped from the juice cup that the ad said wouldn't leak, but that we kept because he liked the trains on it. The doorway to the living room, where he made up a score of plays to present to his mother and me. The staircase I would carry him up after he had fallen asleep on the couch, exhausted from another day of being a healthy, happy child.

Nausea rises within me, threatening to spill the contents of the last three years. My hands drop to my knees, and I bend at the waist, trying to stop the lightheadedness that threatens and promises relief from present consciousness.

I hear Kathryn walking back toward me, and her hand is gentle upon my forearm. Her other hand has reached around my waist.

I shake off her attentions and stand to full height. She looks at me with a question in her gaze.

"I'm alright," I assure her. "Tell me what's been goin' on."

"I have some coffee in the kitchen," she offers.

I nod my assent and follow her the few short steps away from the entry.

She pours the strong liquid energy into the tall beige mug that was my own and automatically passes me the small carton of half and half. A woman who knows all the little things about you can be either a very good thing or a very bad one.

This small bit of knowledge is comforting rather than claustrophobic, and I relax just a little bit under the blanket of being known. She sits in what was "her" chair, and I settle into mine. Still, an empty chair sits between us.

She looks down into the steaming cup that she holds as she begins to speak. "It started back a few weeks ago, right around the time of his birthday. At first, I thought it was just my imagination. I would find books laying on the coffee table that I thought I had just put away. I would absently put them back onto the shelf, only to return to the room later in the day to find them out on the table again. They were his books, John. Remember that 'Going To Sleep On The Farm' one?"

She smiles excitedly at the sharing of a memory only I would possess.

"Yeah, I do," I say, not meeting her bright eyes.

"Remember how you joked that you would give it to some poor child who had not heard it a hundred times before? You finally had to make Wednesdays the only night you would read it?"

Yes, I remember my vain threat. Like I'd ever not do whatever in the world would make him happy.

I finally look up at her, questions flying out, unspoken.

"John, I found that book out on the table, only on Wednesdays."

A slow chill spreads from my arms to my legs, fingertips to feet. She continues.

"I finally cleared out his dresser, wanting to donate his clothes to Goodwill. I had everything bagged up and waiting at the door. I went back up to his room to check, to make sure I had everything. On his bed was his favorite T- shirt. I know I had packed it. I tried to pick it up. I couldn't."

"What do you mean?"

"It was hot to the touch. I couldn't hold it if I wanted to. I expected singe marks from it, on the bed. And then there are the times… he's spoken to me."

The last sentence is a whisper of a confession. I don't know if I can handle this. Sometimes, I can barely deal with my own pain. I cannot carry her cross, too. I stand to go.

"John! Wait. Please don't go," she begs. She's now standing, her chair falling backward from the quickness of her rising.

"This is insanity, Kathryn! I know you are suffering, but get some help. And not from me," I spit out. Through searing tears, I turn to flee from what once was such a happy place for us.

"What are you so afraid of, John? That just maybe our son wants to still be a part of you?" she pleads in one desperate, last attempt to keep me there.

I stop. I turn to face her. I cannot contain my desire to know, just one more time, what my son wants to tell me.

"What did he say?" I manage to measure out the words in little bursts, bubbles of possible belief floating between us.

"He said that you did all you could. He wanted to know why you weren't here. He asked who she was."

"Who?" I ask, my impatience rearing its ugly head.

"I don't know. He kept asking me, 'Who is she, Mommy?' I don't know who he was talking about. Do you?" She looks at me with innocence and curiosity.

I lower my head as all of the possibilities swirl around inside my already over-crowded mind. I shake my head in answer to her question, and ask, "Can I go upstairs?"

"You don't have to ask," she replies.

I nod and begin to climb the stairs. She follows behind me, too close for my comfort, for I'm afraid she may overhear the roaring accusations in my head.

Your dead son knows about Agent Scully, knows about how much you care for her, about how you stood by her bedside and were pathetically grateful for the chance to pour her some water. He wants to know why you're not at home, loving his mother instead of lusting after another man's lover. You're found out, John Doggett, and it's your dead son who's pointing the finger.

I walk into Luke's room. It has not changed since the last time I dared to cross its threshold. The wagon wheel headboard that was my own still holds his bed, still made, still the place of his last sweet dreams. The shelves above it hold planes that we made together. Fighters, BI-planes, and stealths, at the ready for take-off, now forever grounded. There is a light coating of dust upon them, and upon the shelf. I stand beside the bed and go to wipe my hand over the surface, when I stop, dead.

Kathryn says, "I'm sorry I haven't dusted." Her words are a million years from me, so far I can barely hear her because of what I can see.

There, in the thin layer of dust upon the shelves, written in a young boy's hasty scrawl are the words, "You want her."

A pointing finger, used as a pen in dust, has left me more wounded than a sword through my already torn-asunder heart. I am ashamed; I am sick, to my stomach, and of myself. My back still to Kathryn is my only shield behind which to hide.

"John, what is it?" she asks across the void.

I quickly swipe my hand through the message and across the top of the dusty shelf. "Nothin'," is my deceitful reply. I turn to finally face her.

"Listen, I need to talk to someone about this who might have a clue about where to begin," I say.

"Someone in that new division you work in now?" Kathryn asks.

"Um, yeah. I'll be back in a little while," I say as I cross the room, eager to leave this place, this home of too much sadness.

Her hand reaches out to catch my arm as I try to make as hasty a retreat as possible. "John, thank you. I just know that he's trying to tell us something, but I was afraid until you came."

I finally attempt to look her in the eye. As mine meet hers, she says, "I'm not as frightened now."

I nod and lightly touch my hand to hers where it still rests upon my arm. It's all I can do, for my fear is just beginning.

I move as quickly as possible down the steps, out the door, and into the fresh air of the day. I pause and take a deep breath, hoping to fill my lungs with life in an attempt to crowd out the stench of death that seems to have once again taken up residence within me.

There, the fear and smell are doing war with the electricity of attraction, sex, and vitality of life that I have merely dallied with over the past year. I didn't realize how much of me was buried along with Luke, until I came into blinding contact with a woman who aroused every good and decent thing that was left within me. Things like honor, an overwhelming desire to protect, and a healthy dose of lust knocked me over like a unexpected wave together with a riptide in the ocean of a petite redhead. I didn't want to let it go when I knew I would have to, when the lover of her life, father of her child, returned from the dead. And I didn't want to let go of the tenuous hold I had on life now that another one from death threatened me again, even if that one was my very own son.

I want to run from this place. I quickly walk to my truck, open the door and lug myself inside. I close the door and rest my forehead on the top of the cold, hard steering wheel. I am weary: from lack of sleep, sure; from feeling like I've been thrown head-long down an ever-spiraling black hole, definitely. I back out of the driveway and turn out toward the loop that runs around the lake. I have to make some sense of this. I have to stop myself from doing exactly what it is I desperately want.

I drive until I get to a cove where I know no homes stand. I park the truck on the dirt path that leads down to the water and then leave the secure confines of the vehicle. The door slamming shatters the peace there, and a few birds call out in protest against my intrusion. Sorry, I think to myself as I walk through the small area of forest before the land meets the shore.

I am so sorry. I want to shout it out loud. I'm sorry, Luke. I'm sorry I let you and your mother down. I thought I did everything I could. I had to think that; it's the only thing that kept me from jumping into that hole in the ground with you.

I take a deep breath as I come to the shore, but the air gets caught in my throat, choked by tears I've not allowed myself to cry in a long time. I sit down finally, finding a rock that is so familiar to me. Luke's rock, we used to call it. He would stand upon it, skipping pebbles across the lake, or throw out a fishing line. Living. Breathing.

The tears come now, because I know that no one can see them.

I wanted no one to witness them until I came to know her. Agent Scully. Dana. Scully, his name for her. Never mine. I wanted someone to finally soothe me. I don't think it strange that the only time I would flash back to the moments when I discovered my son's body were times that I spent at her bedside. I wanted to scream that day, too. Dana, can you hear me dying here? I don't want to, but I think I just might take one last breath and then that will be it. The only thing keeping me from it is you and every single bit of life you make me feel.

The rest of the afternoon passes until the sun begins to set. During the hours I spend there, alone, I wrestle with my desire to run away and my more unsettling wish to be near her.

I reach for my cell phone, only to suffer a momentary hesitation. She's not yours, never was. She's Mulder's lover, the baby's mother. You have no claim on her. She'd only come to help because of some sense of obligation, not because she wanted to sincerely be by your side.

But she would come, that I'm sure of. And damn it, I don't want to face this trip into a tomb by myself. I can't. And as I punch the numbers that will connect me with her home and push my way into her world, I hate what I've become, but I do it anyway.

"Stay," she whispered to me that first night, and I haven't left since.

We kissed for what seemed an eternity, a moment in time suspended like a faceted crystal on a ribbon between us, delicate and beautiful and full of shining promise, our son cradled between our bodies. And when it ended, she tugged me somehow closer to her, her delicate hand on my arm, and pressed her forehead to mine.

"Stay. I need you. We need you." William stretched in my arms, his tiny fingers clasped in a baby prayer as he watched my face with his mother's dreamy eyes.

"I won't leave you again, Scully." The words broke as I said them, all the emotion that I had been storing away finally spilling out in that one simple sentence. I meant it, with all the depth and breadth of my heart and soul, and she knew it to be true. And she smiled.

That was ten weeks ago. I have been out of the apartment for things like late night diaper runs to the grocery store and walks in the park with Will in his stroller, but Scully and I haven't been apart for most of that time. We have embarked together on this wild new adventure called parenthood, and I have given it my very best shot, doing everything I can for Will, trying to make the journey a little easier for Scully. Her pregnancy was less than idyllic, and Will's birth harrowing, both physically and emotionally. I suppose I nurse a generous helping of guilt over both of those things, having missed most of his gestation and arriving for his birth only in time to staunch Scully's bleeding and to get her to a hospital. She never speaks about any of these things, but they prey on my mind late at night when I walk the floor with him, swaying him to sleep, thinking of his mother and how I nearly lost them both.

But I know she can sense the restlessness in me, the need to move, to be doing something all the time. We haven't talked about much in terms of where we go from here. We haven't spoken about when she will return to the F.B.I. after her Family Leave is up in another couple of weeks. I haven't shared any of my ideas about my own job search, the possibilities I have turned over in my mind on countless evenings as I have rocked my son and watched Scully sleep.

And we haven't really talked that much about us. Her asking me to stay was enough for me, and I hesitate to shatter the fragile life we are building by asking for promises or commitments. I can live with what Scully has offered me so far. I will follow wherever she leads me, and I will be content with that.

The serene quiet of the ending day embraces me as I open the door to her apartment, muffling the jingling of my keys to keep it intact. I can hear Scully's voice drifting faintly from the bedroom, and I kick off my shoes by the door and approach softly, listening to the slight warble of her unsure alto as she sings.

"You are my sunshine, my only sunshine You make me happy when skies are gray You'll never know, dear, how much I love you Please don't take my sunshine away."

Scully is seated in the rocker, William latched onto one nipple as he nurses. A handful of her flaming hair is clutched in his tiny fist, pulling her face even closer to his. She is smiling, that radiant, easy smile that seems to be effortless for her now, the one that is contagious and always makes me grin in return. Her gaze is rapt on the miracle of our son, and she doesn't lift her head as I lean in the doorway to watch them.

"The other night, dear, as I lay sleeping I dreamt I held you in my arms. When I awoke, dear, I was mistaken, So I hung my head and I cried."

I wince slightly at the implications of these lines. We have no indications that anyone is even remotely interested in William for any reason other than the fact that he is an absurdly cute baby. His features have defined a bit more to show his pronounced resemblance to Scully, and mothers everywhere we go stop to comment on his red hair and his long eyelashes. Even so, I know that she worries just as much as I that some day, someone will come to take him away.

They'll have to come through the both of us to get to him.

But the song is working its magic, and Will's eyes flutter closed as she sings the last verse, her breast slipping from between his slack lips.

"You are my sunshine, my only sunshine You make me happy when skies are gray You'll never know, dear, how much I love you Please don't take my sunshine away."

Scully shifts her upper body, pulling her shirt closed and lifting Will in one smooth motion. She stands and turns toward the bassinet, catching sight of me as she moves. Her smile crosses her face lazily as she mouths a "Hi." Will is an extremely light sleeper, one of the only traits he seems to have inherited from me. I had hoped in the first days that he would be like his mom, sleeping anywhere, dropping off under the most pressing conditions, but instead, he seems to favor insomnia, like his old man. We have tried to get him to nap with music playing or the TV on at the pediatrician's suggestion, hoping to get him used to noise while he is sleeping, but he won't have any of it. The slightest sounds wake him, and it is a bit like living in a library equipped with a tremendously sensitive alarm system.

I push away from the door jamb and wander out to the kitchen, leaving Scully to maneuver the baby into bed, hoping that she will be successful. Will also has a habit of waking as soon as his little head hits the mattress, wailing immediately to be picked back up. But tonight, we get lucky, and Scully pads softly out into the kitchen only moments after me, her legs looking exceptionally long beneath the tail of one of my dress shirts.

She steps willingly into my arms and rests her cheek against my chest. "How was your day?" she asks, her voice slightly muffled by the cotton of my t-shirt.

I chuckle. "Fine, if spending the afternoon listening to the Gunmen argue is your idea of a good time." She chuffs out a laugh, and I hug her closer to me, loving the feel of her tight nipples against my stomach.

"Did you guys get everything moved?"

"Yep. All my furniture is now in storage. The new tenets at my old apartment can move in."

"I'm sure they'll be happy about that." I can feel her nails brushing lightly across my lower back, sending ripples of pleasure through me. I move my hands around her waist, noting in my explorations that she is wearing nothing beneath the shirt. She wiggles in appreciation to my touch, somehow burrowing even deeper into my embrace.

I drop my head and smooth my lips across her ear, happy to hear her sigh into mine. "You look good in my shirt."

She tilts her head up to look at me, her eyes snapping playfully. "Thanks. You don't want it back, do you?"

"Only if I get to take it off you." I waggle my eyebrows at her.

"I think I could arrange that." She smiles, and I feel my own dawning slowly along with the realization of what she is saying.

"Really, Scully?" It comes out as a whisper.

"Yeah, really, Mulder." She reaches up and touches my jaw, tracing its line all the way up to my ear. "Don't look so stunned."

I feather my fingers through her hair, relishing the slip of it across my skin. "I just want to make sure you feel comfortable, Scully. That you feel ready."

"I'm ready, Mulder." She pushes up on tiptoe, bringing her mouth to the pulse point on my neck, brushing along it with her lips, sending a shiver through my center and straight into my groin. "I've been ready all day."

"Well, you could've called," I growl. "The guys could've finished up without me."

She pulls back, taking my hand and starting down the hall. "Come on. We've got a few hours before Will wakes up for his eleven o'clock feeding. Let's not waste it."

"Keep going, g-woman. I'm right behind you."

She is heading for the bathroom, and my cock stirs in my jeans. It has been a long, long time since Scully and I have been intimate, and I have been as patient as possible…but it has been damn hard. Being next to her in bed every night, feeling her warm, soft body pressed against me, having the scent of her skin and hair surrounding me constantly…it's like being in a bakery and knowing you're not allowed to sample the pastries. She closes the door behind us as we step into the bathroom, the only light seeping in from the window above the tub and the diffused beam of the wall socket nightlight.

We tried once. It was right after her six-week check-up, and her doctor had told her she was safe to resume "regular intercourse." She had told me this over dinner, her eyebrow raised in self-deprecating amusement. "As if it was ever that," she added, almost to herself.

I dropped my fork and reached for her hand, thumbing the soft flesh of her palm. She raised her eyes and looked at me, and I was stunned to see the flash of pain and longing that was there. "We can make it that now, Scully," I told her, my tone grave. "We can make it anything you want it to be. I'm here." I pressed her open palm to my lips in a soft kiss. "You just have to tell me what you want."

Her voice was low and throaty. "I—I want things to be regular, Mulder. Everything. I want everything to be normal. Including us." Her eyes were misty, and I felt my own swell with tears at her emotion.

But it wasn't to be, not that night anyway. We tried, but Scully tensed beneath my hands, her body still sore and stretched from the ordeal of William's birth. He had weighed in at a robust eight pounds, eleven ounces, and her tiny frame had suffered severely. She had torn and bled profusely, and I think she feared the pain that our merging again might bring.

"I'm so sorry, Mulder," she said, gathered naked in my arms on the sofa that night. I panted roughly into her hair and tried to wind down, thinking that a cold shower might be the only thing to stave me. But her tears had chilled me instead, the ones that fell on my forearm as I held her, and I chided myself for being so goddamned needy.

"It's all right, Scully," I murmured against the russet silk beneath my lips. "We have the rest of our lives to get it right."

She hadn't answered me. I'm still not sure why.

But now she leans into the shower stall to turn on the faucet, the tail of my shirt skimming up just enough to give me a glimpse of her shapely backside. She starts the water and looks over her shoulder at me. "I could use a shower. Care to join me?"

My shirt is over my head and on the floor in the blink of an eye. "You don't have to ask twice," I reply, pulling off my socks and jeans as quickly as possible.

She crosses to me and runs her fingers down the slope of my chest. The tiny grin on her face is mischievous. "You're not wearing any undershorts?" "I wanted to turn the Gunmen on."

She cocks the Scully eyebrow at me as her hands travel lower, caressing my stomach. I stand still, every nerve in my body singing under her touch. Her hands flutter across my skin, and she moves closer to kiss me, her mouth opening easily under mine. We stand like that for a long time, enjoying the sensations of each other's mouths, exploring and tasting and savoring tongues and lips and teeth.

I reach to unbutton the shirt she is wearing, breaking the kisses to watch as I push it away from her shoulders. Her body is a shaded invitation, soft breasts that spill over in my cupped hands, hips widened from her pregnancy, a small, pliant belly where there used to be only a concave curve. I love her body this way, and I squeeze her hips gently as I kiss her again.

She mumbles against me, "Let's get in the shower."

She stands in front of me under the nozzle, the hot spray between her shoulder blades, and she leans her head back to wet her hair. I pick up the bottle of shampoo and lather it into her hair, stroking the bubbles down her neck and across her chest. A languid smile plays across her face as I rub shower gel over her body, trailing the soap down her stomach and legs. She turns on cue, and I wash her back and bottom, giving it a little pat as I finish. She laughs and steps back under the spray to rinse off, taking my hands and pulling me along with her.

She kisses me under the water, rivulets running into our open mouths, and I am so caught up in it that I don't realize she has turned me around, changing places with me. She pushes my head back and pours shampoo on my hair, her tiny fingers massaging it into my scalp, sending tremors through me. Her hands on my body as she washes me are like hot coals, and I close my eyes and lean back into the spray, languishing in the sheer pleasure of it all.

I feel her take my cock in her hand, stroking it, the soap making it deliciously slick as she moves. Her other hand finds my balls, massaging them in her palm, and I groan. I bring my head down to her and kiss her roughly, fumbling for purchase on her satiny body, finally finding a taut nipple to roll between my thumb and forefinger. She moans into my mouth, and I leave her kiss to wrap my lips around the peak of her other breast. It tastes sweet, like strawberries and breast milk, and I lap at it, suddenly hungry, my mind unspooling and unthinking in the wake of my body's needs.

She gasps as I rake my fingers through the curly hair between her legs, and she pulls back, a small smile on her face. "Wait," she whispers. She reaches around me and shuts off the tap. The sudden quiet settles into my head, and I can think again.

"Let's move out into the living room." We step out of the stall and she grabs a towel, whisking it quickly over her body and then turning to dry me off. I snap it out of her hands, still wet, and lunge for her. She stifles a shriek as I pick her up, cradling her in my arms as we do with Will. "Mulder!" she says in a fierce, low voice filled with mock admonishment. "You are still wet. If you ruin my couch, I will hurt you!"

"Promises, promises," I say into her neck, somehow managing to get the bathroom door open as I pepper her throat and sternum with kisses. She sighs, and I maneuver us out into the living room, easing her down onto the sofa. I lean her up against one of the arms, propped into a half- sitting position with a few throw pillows, and she looks at me in the semi-darkness, her eyes shining.

I kneel between her feet and scoot up toward her, and her smile widens. "Speaking of wet, Scully, how are you doing in that department?" I cup my hand over the triangle between her legs and press down gently. Her eyes flutter shut, and she moves her hips up into my hand.

"Don't tease me, Mulder," she answers, her voice smoky. "Why don't you see for yourself?"

"I was hoping you would say that." I lean over as she parts her legs, kissing the inside of one thigh as I work my hand over her pubic bone. My fingers find the folds of her entrance, and I stroke her softly, enjoying the slickness that I find. I raise my head to watch Scully's face, mindful of the last time we tried this. She looks pretty and relaxed, her hair starting to dry in damp curls around her cheeks, and she doesn't shrink from my touch. I get more comfortable and leverage one shoulder under her hip, folding her leg over me. I bring my mouth down to her center for an open- mouthed kiss.

"Oh, God, Mulder," she groans, and I lick up into her, prodding with my tongue, gentle and demanding all at once. I am rewarded with a trickle of juices over my lips, and I savor them, drinking her in, my mind starting to go gray again with the ecstasy of pleasuring Scully. Nothing matters to me now except Scully's body under me, the rub of her clit against my teeth, the taste of her essence as she starts to grind into my face, the single-minded goal of making her come under my mouth—

The telephone rings, shattering the silence with its shrill cry. And we both freeze instantly.

My head jerks up, just as Scully's does, and our eyes lock. I can see the panic in hers and wonder if mine look the same. In one fluid motion, our heads swivel in the direction of the bedroom.

William. Jesus Christ Almighty, please don't wake up.

We are both moving in the next instant. Scully throws her legs over me and onto the floor just as I sit up and push off the couch. She scrambles to the side table and manages to snatch the receiver up just as it is starting its second ring. She fumbles for the button and presses it, a breathless "Hello" escaping her like an exasperated sigh. I hit the floor running, skidding into the hallway, hoping like hell that she picked it up in time.

I get my answer before I am even in the bedroom. Will's furious wail greets me, and I bite my lip to keep from hurling obscenities. My brain, fuzzy moments ago from stimulation, is now a red-hot oblivion of rage.

I could easily kill whoever just called us.

I reach into the bassinet and scoop up our son, pressing him to my chest. "Hey, buddy," I murmur in my best soothing- daddy voice. "It's OK, Will. Did that phone scare you?" I drape him over my shoulder and start to bounce him, heading back out into the living room. "C'mon, buddy, calm down."

Scully has the telephone pressed against her ear, and she is pacing through the room, a strange look of resentment and sympathy on her face. I catch her eye and mouth, "Who is it?" She raises a finger at me and starts to speak to the caller.

"No, no, it's fine, Agent Doggett." I roll my eyes and chuff out a frustrated sound, and she shrugs at me. "Yes, that's William crying…Yeah, he does have a good set of lungs, doesn't he? What? Well, the phone usually startles him…no, really, he'll be fine…What did you need, Agent Doggett?"

I take Will into the kitchen and paw through the basket on the counter for a pacifier. Scully doesn't like them, and she has told me in no uncertain terms that she doesn't want Will using them if we can avoid it. But right now I am so pissed off that I just need him to be quiet, and I plug one into his mouth as soon as I find it.

I turn to watch Scully. She has crossed to the desk and found her eyeglasses, which are now perched primly on her nose. She is reaching over her laptop, muttering to Doggett on the phone and trying to write something on the message pad she has found. Normally, I would find the sight of Scully bending over naked unbearably erotic, but Doggett's call and Will's subsequent crying jag have left me in a cynical, bitter mood. My erection, rock hard five minutes ago, is now half-mast at best, and I jiggle the pacifier in Will's mouth, trying to get him to latch on and quiet down.

She finishes her scribbling and straightens up, walking back toward the end table where the phone and answering machine sit. One hand is on her hip. "Yeah, no problem. I'm happy to help. No, really…no, Mulder will be here with him." I raise my eyebrows, starting to get a sense of where this call is going, but she doesn't pay any attention to me. "Yes, that's fine. I'll see you in the morning." She hits the 'end' button and puts the receiver down.

"Where are you going in the morning, Scully?" Will has finally settled a little, pulling on the pacifier fiercely, obviously wide awake and not very pleased to be.

She takes her glasses off and folds them into her hand as she approaches us. "Agent Doggett has asked me to look into a case with him." She is smiling at Will but stops suddenly. "Mulder, why did you give him that pacifier? You know I don't like them."

"Well, I don't like being interrupted during a private moment by Agent Doggett calling here," I snap through clenched teeth. "You are still on leave, Scully. He should know better than to ask you to come in on a case."

She sighs. "He feels bad about calling, Mulder. He apologized twice. He's not an ogre, you know."

"He has a partner."

"Agent Reyes was called back to New Orleans to investigate a purported occult crime. That's her specialty, you know. He doesn't have anyone else to ask." She reaches down and starts to pull the pacifier out of Will's mouth. "C'mon, sweetie, give that nasty old thing to Mommy. You don't need that."

"Goddamnit, Scully, leave him alone." I jerk him away from her, and she looks at me, the surprise widening her eyes to the size of quarters. "I finally got him calmed down. I can make a decision as his father, you know."

Her mouth presses into a grim line. "I know you can. And I can make a decision as a professional. Agent Doggett asked for my help, and I am going to give it to him." Her face and tone soften a little. "I owe him, Mulder. Can't you understand that? He did so much for me, while…while you were gone. He needs me on this, and I can't turn my back on him."

"What about what we need?" My voice is soft, but I can't seem to steady it. The anger is still surging in me, even though what she has said is rational and logical. Christ, I know Doggett watched her back while I was gone. I read the goddamned files. I know how many times she was hurt and compromised…

And I hate that it was him that saved her. Fucking son of a bitch.

It should have been me.

She touches me, caressing up my neck and into my hair, and I don't pull away. I can't believe how much I need her, how great the urge is to just lay Will down on the kitchen counter and crush her to my body. "It won't take long, Mulder. I know you will be fine with Will without me."

"That's not what I'm worried about." I bite my lip, afraid that I have said too much.

"Then what? What is it?" Her eyes are searching my face, but I turn away, moving out of her embrace.

"Go get some sleep, Scully. Will needs to be fed in another couple of hours, and you'll have a long day tomorrow." I pick up the TV remote control and shift Will up to my other shoulder, ready to start another night of pacing.


"Go on, Scully." I press the button and lock my eyes onto the screen so I don't have to look at her. "I'll take care of Will."

She doesn't answer, and when I look back to the kitchen moments later, she is gone. I rock my son against me and begin my silent vigil, alone and naked, feeling more vulnerable than I have since I returned to Scully's life.

My drive back to the house is a short one, but I keep willing it to be longer. I fear reaching there, walking through that door again, feeling those same feelings of longing for what once was. I arrive all too soon, and as I leave my truck, I'm greeted by the scent of barbecue wafting on the August night air. Following the mouth- watering smell, I take the short walk around the back of the house to the deck. The gas grill is smoking with grilled chicken upon its grates. Standing next to it, tending the meat, is Kathryn. Kathryn is cooking. Something normal. Something real. Something that right now I just can't stand.

"What are you doing?" I ask accusingly, even before I climb the stairs.

"I'm making us some dinner. You said you'd be back soon, so I just assumed--" The hurt drips off the last word in buckets.

"Well, don't assume, OK? I'm here because you asked me to come, not because. . ." Even I can't say it.

"Not because you want to be, John? Is that right? Do I have that right?" She slams down a pair of tongs in frustration. She's almost shouting now, the feisty woman I married suddenly emerging from our collective tomb.

"Yes," I reply with barely-contained restraint. "Listen, I'll be back in the morning. I put a call in to one of the agents I work with, and she should be here in the morning. Maybe we can figure out--"

"What our son wants to say to us?" She cuts me off in mid- sentence, with bitterness.

"Yeah, something like that," I mutter, all fight gone out of me. "I'll be at the Inn in town if you need me," I say as I turn to go.

"Oh, yeah, I'll be sure to call," she says as she slams the grill lid closed and walks back into the house.

My night is spent doing the proverbial turn and twist, in a too-soft bed at the only Inn in town. In between fitful bouts of sleep, I lay awake and wonder what I'll say to Agent Scully when I see her tomorrow. Hey, thanks for coming out here. I think my son really is communicating with us. The only problem is that he knows that all that time I have been treating you with the utmost professional respect, in the back of my mind, all I wanted to do was take you to a place like this and make love to you every night for the rest of my life, longing to hear you scream my name as you come, wanting to fuck until some sign of life registered in me. Oh, and how's the baby?

Yes, that should be quite the welcome for her, I think as I once again drift asleep, nightmares and loneliness my only bed companions.

The day dawns brightly, calling me out of the respite of night. My bones creak as I rise from my bed, reminding me that time has been escaping while I haven't been watching. I do the usual morning routine, knowing that a most unusual day awaits me, but I'll face it with same detachment that I always bring to this job. It's an X-File to solve, after all.

The only difference is that this one is my life.

I walk out the door and down the steps leading into the small parlor where a continental breakfast has been set out. I grab a large cup of coffee and a bagel from the assortment displayed in the wicker basket before I start toward the door that will lead me out to the parking lot. At the door, I remember something. I turn back, and grab a small bag for those who are eating on the run. Into it, I put a plastic knife, another bagel and pick through the assortment of flavored cream cheese containers that are in the bowl next to the basket until I find one marked "lite." How she can eat that stuff is beyond me. I smile sadly at my ability to remember her little likes and dislikes. Yet, while I inwardly mock myself for my pubescent adoration, I don't put back the other bagel for Agent Scully, either.

I drive the familiar route back to the house, drinking my coffee and eating my bagel dry. I look at the lake community as I expect she will. A place a woman would like, filled with a sense of peace, an insight into who I am or at least was once.

I am surprised to see her already parked out front. I glance quickly at my watch to see how late it is. It's not; it's precisely nine. She's reporting for work. She's still sitting in the car, too. Waiting. For me.

I stop the engine, pick up the small bag beside me, open the door and hop out of the truck with way too much bounce in my step. I walk around to her side of the car. She's alone.

I lean into her line of vision and softly knock on the window. She jumps, startled, and then shakes her head while she lowers the window.

"Agent Doggett. Did you just get here?" she asks, in her no-nonsense style.

"Hello to you, too, Agent Scully," I say with a smile I can't help. "Yeah, I stayed in town last night. Hey, did you eat breakfast? You're here sort of early."

She smiles. "Well, a little boy in my home has a way of keeping very strange hours, so nine in the morning sort of feels like midday, anyway."

Lord, she is beautiful. She is softer than before, less hard edges to her features. Being a mother becomes her.

"In answer to your question, yes, I did eat already. Why?" she asks.

I sheepishly hold up the bag for her inspection. I start to shake my head, slowly, letting her know that it's no big deal.

She reaches out and catches my hand together with the bag. "What's in there, Agent Doggett?" she asks playfully. "Just because I ate two hours ago doesn't mean I'm not hungry again."

I just don't think I can ever tire of her smiles. I have seen so few of them. Up until now, mostly, they have been sunshine through tears. Now, they are sheer brilliance.

She wins the bag struggle, as I knew she would.

"C'mon," I say, motioning to her to leave the car and come inside with me. I hold open the door for her as she gets out of the vehicle and slam it shut as she circles around me and heads toward the entry of the house. I pause. Going forward with her here, now, allows her just a little closer to me and the secret I hope to forever keep from her. If I go in there, with her, she takes one more step into my life.

"You coming, Agent Doggett?" she asks, looking back at me as I stand rooted next to her car.

"Yeah, I'm coming," I reply and walk, finally, closer to her and then by her side to the door.

Before I can get out my key, Kathryn opens the door for us.

"Good morning," she says with enthusiasm. If she's still angry about last night, she's not showing it to our guest. I stand on the threshold to our house and begin the introductions. "Kathryn, this is Special Agent Dana Scully. She has been my partner on the X-Files for the good part of last year."

Agent Scully reaches out her hand to Kathryn, who does that thing that always takes people by surprise. Kathryn, for as long as I have known her, takes a person's offered hand into her own and then covers it with her other one, embracing them from the word "go." Sometimes it makes people uncomfortable; sometimes it reassures them that there is still at least one nice person left in the world.

Agent Scully's reaction seems to be a mixture of the two.

"Hello, I'm Kathryn Doggett. Thank you so much for coming out here. Please come in." She opens the door wide and leads us inside.

If nothing else, I'm eternally grateful that Kathryn introduced herself, sparing me the dilemma of what to call her- my wife, my former wife, mother of my deceased son- the list goes on and on.

"I have coffee brewing," she says as she leads the way to the kitchen.

I notice Agent Scully looking to the left and right as she makes her way down the hall. Pictures on the wall, and one in particular, seem to hold her attention for a moment and then she's moving along, following Kathryn into the kitchen. As I pass the same group of photos, I notice the one that caught her eye. It's one of Luke and me when he was a baby. I was lying on our bed at sunrise, finally falling asleep after a long night of trying to soothe Luke through colic. It was a stiflingly hot night, and so I had removed my shirt. I guess it was something about the skin to skin contact, but Luke finally fell asleep, too, his naked chest to mine. Kathryn had snapped the picture without either of us waking up. One more miracle in a life that would need one last one to continue. That miracle never came.

I keep walking, too, and upon entering the kitchen, I see that Agent Scully has seated herself in Kathryn's usual spot and that Kathryn is still standing, not wanting to take what had been Luke's seat. I'm too antsy to sit down, so I motion for her to take my chair. She settles in and begins to tell Agent Scully all of the details of Luke's supposed communication.

I watch from a spot in front of the sink, arms crossed in front of me, silent as Kathryn tells Scully, first, a little bit about Luke and then about what she has been experiencing here in the house.

"Has anyone else witnessed these events, Mrs. Doggett?" Agent Scully asks. Well, I see that the investigator who knew how to cut to a chase is still in the building. She's going exactly where I figured she would. Kathryn is a bit put-off, but she presses on.

"Well, no, Agent Scully. But I know that this is not my imagination," she answers sternly.

"I didn't assume that it was, Mrs. Doggett. I was just trying to see if anyone else could perhaps relate some more information about these occurrences," Scully says reassuringly.

"I'm sorry I became so defensive. It's just that, that. . ." Kathryn's voice trails off, held-back tears threatening to fall.

"It's going to be fine, Mrs. Doggett. May I take a look at the rest of the house?" Agent Scully asks.

"John, will show Agent Scully around? I'll get you some breakfast, if you like, while you're getting the tour?" she asks Agent Scully hopefully.

Agent Scully holds up the bag while nodding in my direction, saying, "I think I can manage."

"But I can provide a plate and some fresh coffee to go with whatever's in the bag, OK? I'll leave it here for when you get back. If you need me for anything, if you have any questions, I'll be out front working on some gardening." Kathryn actually smiles now as she speaks.

"That sounds good. Thank you," Agent Scully replies, and she hands over the bag to Kathryn, allowing the tiniest of smiles to escape.

I stride forward and say, "Agent Scully, I'll show you around."

As she follows me back down the hall I hear her say, "Yes, I'd really like to take a look at Luke's room."

Dear Lord, don't let him be in a communicative state today.

We climb the stairs slowly. I can remember ascending these together with Kathryn so many times over the years we have owned this place. Sometimes I'd take them two at time. Something about the happiness we always felt here combined with the peace of just being away always turned me into a ravenous husband. As soon as Luke would be asleep, I couldn't wait to take my wife to bed. I push the memory from my head as I climb the stairs with another man's lover.

"Is this it?" Agent Scully asks as we get to the very top of the staircase and face the room immediately in front of us.

"Yes, that's, that was, his," I say, instantly correcting myself.

"May I?" she asks before entering.

I nod in response. She walks into the room, looks slowly around and then walks over to the bed. She runs her hand over the top of the comforter upon it.

"Do you see anything resembling scorch marks?" I ask, sarcastically emphasizing the last words.

"No, Agent Doggett, I do not," she replies quietly.

"Yeah, I didn't think you would. Listen, Agent Scully, I'm sorry I called you out here. I should have been able to take care of this one by myself. I just--" The words are cut off by her response.

"No, it's good that I'm here. You're too close to this one."

"You're tellin' me," I say, staring down at the floor, exasperation taking my breath.

"Can you take me to some other places that were important to Luke?" Agent Scully asks. "I want to see if perhaps there's something I'm missing, some part of this that will make what Mrs. Doggett has been experiencing more understandable."

"You sure?" I ask, just giving her one more chance to escape from this hell that Kathryn has been calling "home" for the past three years. "I mean, there's * your * child to think of, too." I pause, and add only to keep myself in check, "and Mulder."

I get the eyebrow in response to the dropping of his name. "To borrow a phrase Mulder once said to me, 'He's a big boy,' and he can certainly take care of the little--"

She stops in mid sentence, because we have heard the door open downstairs and a familiar, male voice conversing with Kathryn. Nah, it couldn't be. We look at each other, confusion melting into a need to be sure.

"C'mon, let's get down there and find out," I say with resignation in my voice. And with that, she leaves the room and heads toward the stairs, with me following behind her, eager to see if the fly in the ointment of my life has decided to follow the mother of his child.

I didn't follow her. I didn't have to. Even though the F.B.I. had finally had enough of my infamous stunts and fired me, I still know a thing or two about tracking someone. But in this case, I think I have Encyclopedia Brown to thank for helping me.

Samantha loved those books when she was a little girl. I would read to her, perched on the edge of her narrow twin bed at night, and she would laugh delightedly every time the boy detective solved a case. Of course, he solved them all. After the story was over, she would lie back against her pillow, her impossibly long, dark hair streaking against the stark white of the sheets, and she would smile at me. "Fox," she said, her eyes filled with the adoration only a seven-year-old girl could have for her older brother, "you're just like Encyclopedia Brown. You're going to be a great detective someday."

It was a conversation we had every night, and every night, I played right along. "I'm going to be a great baseball player, Sam," I told her firmly. "The next Reggie Jackson, only I'm not playing for Oakland. I'm gonna be the best right fielder the Yankees have ever seen. Got it?"

"OK, Fox. But you're smart." She snuggled down under the blanket with her teddy bear next to her. "You could find out anything, just like Encyclopedia Brown."

I smile a little at the memory, even though it stings with the usual pang of guilt and shame.

I couldn't find *her*.

But I knew I could find out where Scully was headed with Agent Doggett, by using a nifty little trick Encyclopedia had showed me many years before.

Scully was already showered and dressed, chattering to William in the kitchen, when I finally rolled off the couch in the morning. He was strapped into his bouncy seat, which she had positioned in the middle of the table while she ate her morning bagel and drank her coffee. He watched her, his tiny fingers reaching for the shimmer of her hair, his favorite plaything. I started down the hallway toward the bathroom, my mind still foggy from sleep. Her voice stopped me, clearing the mist in my brain.

"Mulder, I'm sorry about last night."

I turned to look at her. She was wearing her usual office apparel: black pants, a white collared blouse with buttons up the front, tiny pearl earrings. Her black jacket hung neatly from the chair at her back, and I could see her F.B.I. key card clipped to the pocket. I could also see the shadow of her weapon tucked into the small of her back, and I felt a pang of remorse and anger shoot through me.

She was going in to the office. She was going in to the office that used to be ours, and she was meeting with a man who had taken over my work. The man who had replaced me.

I bit down hard on the soft inside flesh of my mouth, trying not to lash out at her. It wasn't her fault. It was mine. I had gotten fired. I had done everything in my power to piss off the establishment, and it had worked. I had practically given John Doggett my life's work on a silver platter, and he was too thick to understand what the gesture truly meant. But it all came back to me. It was only because I hadn't been there that he had been assigned in the first place.

I had no one to blame but myself. But I just couldn't let it go. No matter what my rational mind told me, the Neanderthal part of me just had to prove to Scully that it was still my work. Still our work, no matter how hard Doggett tried to bully his way into it.

I made up my mind then and there to track her. To find out what they were working on, and to make my presence irrevocably known.

I realized she was watching me, waiting for an answer. Her eyes were trained on my face, and I met her gaze. "There's nothing to be sorry about, Scully."

"Can I at least have a rain check?" Her voice was soft, like the comforter on her bed, plush and comfortable and inviting. And there was a pull underneath her words, something like a current that drew me to her before I even knew I had moved.

Still seated in the chair, she pressed her cheek against my bare stomach and wrapped her arms around my waist. I stroked her hair, feeling another wave of emotion wash over me. I couldn't lose this woman. I could lose everything else: my job, my dignity, my reputation…but I couldn't lose Scully.

"Of course you can. Redeemable anytime." I bent down and kissed the crown of her head, inhaling the smell of her shampoo. "I'll jump in the shower so you can get going."

Fifteen minutes later, she was gone, having kissed William lightly on the cheek and me soundly on the lips. I licked the remnants of her lipstick from my mouth and headed over to the desk, a pencil in hand. Picking up the notepad where she had scribbled Doggett's message the night before, I shaded over the next blank page of the tablet with the side of the pencil lead. The pressure indentation of the message floated up like a ghost of Scully's solid handwriting, revealing the address she had recorded there.

Thank you, Encyclopedia Brown.

I dropped Will off at his grandmother's house a half an hour later. Maggie was tickled pink when I called her and asked if she would watch William, and she barely let me get in the front door before she had him out of his carrier, snuggling him to her.

"I don't know what time I'll be back for him, Mrs. Scully," I told her, slinging the diaper bag onto the sofa.

She was making goofy faces at him, her eyes shining. "Don't worry, Fox. You stay out as long as you need to. We'll be just fine." She looked at me then, and I could see her daughter in the easy happiness on her face. "And Fox? When are you going to start calling me Maggie? Or maybe Mom?" I couldn't help smiling at the hopeful expression she wore.

I leaned forward and pressed a light kiss to her cheek. "Old habits die hard…Maggie." She beamed at me, and I brought my lips down to Will's forehead. "See ya later, sport. Be good for Grandma." Maggie waved from the open front door as I guided my car out of the driveway and hit the road.

I found directions to the address on the Internet, and I was somehow not surprised to discover it was a private house by a lake about an hour and a half away from D.C. As I turn now onto the short gravel driveway bearing the matching numbers, I spy a mailbox near the road. I slow the car to a stop and stare at the name for a long moment.


So this case is personal.

I turn over what I know of Agent Doggett in my mind as I drive down the lane. I looked into the file of his murdered son, Luke, when I first returned to the Bureau, after Monica Reyes asked me to do so. I found nothing out of the ordinary about his case, another child abduction that resulted in a heart-wrenching homicide. I can recall the photo of the boy grinning at me from its place in the file, and I feel my stomach turn in a familiar way.

Luke Doggett. Addie Sparks. Amber Lynn La Pierre. Samantha Mulder. My life has been filled with missing children, all who have met a dreadful end.

My mind jumps to William in his car seat this morning, his coos as we drove punctuating the music that played from the radio. I shudder violently as a surge of emotion sweeps over me. My mind hisses at me, stretching my resolve and ratcheting up the tension I am already feeling.

// Keep him safe, Mulder. Keep them both safe. //

A woman looks up as I pull the car up beside the truck parked in front of the house, shielding her eyes against the morning sunlight. She is standing in the tiny front yard, her dark blonde hair pulled up into a messy knot at the back of her head, looking small and lost in an oversized denim workshirt and jeans. As I pull myself out of the car, she walks toward me, brushing the dirt from the flower beds from her fingers. I thumb the button of the tape recorder I have tucked into the pocket of my jacket and start recording, following the instinct that had been telling me from the start that I need to document all of this.

She stops a couple of feet away from me, sizing me up, her green eyes clear in the pounding light. "Can I help you?"

I give her a professional nod and find myself reaching for my breast pocket, so used to pulling out my badge. I stop when I realize it is no longer there and drop my hand back to my side. "My name is Fox Mulder," I tell her, the speech coming easily. I only have to alter it a little. "I'm an associate of Agent Scully's. I have a background in paranormal phenomena."

As soon as the words are out of my mouth, the woman's face breaks into a stunning grin. She is pretty in a reserved way, an unpretentious, layered beauty that shines through in her exceptional smile. She takes my hand in both of hers, and I can feel the warmth radiating out of her. This is a woman who is not afraid to love…but who has somehow been cut off from being allowed to do just that.

"I didn't know to expect anyone else. I'm so relieved to see that John is taking this seriously." She squeezes my hand as she turns me toward the front door of the house. "I wasn't sure he would. I suppose it is a little hard to believe."

"Can you tell me a little bit about what has been happening, Miss…?" I trail off expectantly, and she picks up her cue right away.

"Doggett. Kathryn Doggett. And technically, I guess I'm still Mrs. Doggett." The sad trace of a smile flits at her lips and is instantly gone. She looks me straight in the eye, an unwavering, insightful gaze. "It's about our son."

"I understand Luke was found dead three years ago." I keep my voice low and neutral, knowing from experience how difficult these conversations can be.

She nods. "I see you know something about his case. Do you know my…" She stops for a moment and then plunges ahead. "…my husband?"

I deflect the question as best I can. "Yes, I know Agent Doggett. Through Agent Scully." There. That was easy. "I know a little about Luke's case. But can you tell me what is happening now?"

She is silent for a moment, her eyes searching mine, and then she takes a deep breath and speaks. "I believe Luke is trying to contact us. I think he is trying to tell his dad and me something."

I bob my head encouragingly, and she loses a bit of her anxiety. "There have been several incidents in the last few weeks," she continues. "He has taken books down from the shelves, books that he used to love. I find them on the coffee table in the living room. I found his favorite t-shirt on his bed, right after I had packed it away. And sometimes…" Another pause, as if she is gathering her strength. "Sometimes, I can hear his voice." She locks her eyes on mine, her gaze like green fire. "I know it sounds crazy, but it's true."

I smile at her as gently as I can. "I believe you, Mrs. Doggett. Cases like this are not without precedent."

Another smile flutters at her mouth, this one full of relief. "Won't you come in, Mr. Mulder? I can show you the books. John and Agent Scully are upstairs, looking at Luke's bedroom."

I follow her inside. The house smells like summertime and sunscreen, just as my family's little cabin in Quonacotaug did. I try to imagine Doggett with his wife and son here, fishing and swimming and eating watermelon and corn on the cob. I find it isn't hard to form such a scene in my mind.

The living room walls are lined with built-in bookcases, stuffed full of old magazines, paperbacks, and large bookends. The shelves near the bottom are stocked with newer books, thin, oversized hardcovers that could only be made for children's hands. Kathryn Doggett gestures toward them.

"You see, they're all there now. I just put another one back this morning, before John and Agent Scully arrived. I guess I should've left it out for them to see, but I can't stand the clutter." Her voice wavers momentarily. "I always had to nag Luke to put them away when he was finished with them."

I spot her son's picture over her shoulder, propped in a frame on the fireplace mantle. It is the same photo from the file, and I feel a stab of pain for her loss. "I'm sorry, Mrs. Doggett. I know this can be difficult."

"Do you have any children, Mr. Mulder?"

The frankness of her question surprises me, and I start to shake my head, the answer I gave for so long to this inquiry initiating my response. I stop, realizing that this reply is no longer valid. "Yes, I do. A son. He's a little over two months old."

"They're precious, aren't they?" She doesn't expect a response, I know. She crouches down and fingers Luke's books. "I miss him. I know John does, too. That's why he works so much. I think he tries to cover up his feelings by drowning them in activity."

I shuffle my feet uncomfortably, and she notices, straightening back up to her full height. "Would you like to go upstairs and see Luke's bedroom?"

"No, I don't think—" I start, but I stop when I hear Scully's voice drifting down the stairs. I move further into the living room and turn to face the door, knowing she and Doggett are headed this way.

I knew all along that Scully would catch me, and that I would catch hell in return.

It's showtime.

I shift to face her as she comes in, but something distracts me. Out of the corner of my eye, I notice movement, and I turn my head just in time to see a large book from the shelf by Kathryn Doggett launch itself into the air. It flies across the room, heading straight for Scully's temple, which has just appeared, along with the rest of her, from the foot of the stairs. Instinctively, I reach out, slapping it down, the palm of my hand stinging from the contact. The book tumbles to Scully's feet, and she looks down at it, her hand lifted reflexively to ward it off.

Then she raises her eyes to my face, and the expression there is almost comical. I can see the flow of her thoughts as they play there: surprise, shock, horror, relief, back to surprise. And then the final one: anger.

Here it comes, Mulder. You asked for it.

But it is Kathryn Doggett's voice that breaks the stillness. "Agent Scully," she cries, crossing over to us. "Are you all right?"

Scully's eyes flick over to the other woman, who is extending her hands, reaching out, the mother instinct in her bright and palpable as she searches Scully for signs of injury. Scully steps back a bit, away from Kathryn's touch. "Y-yes," she stammers. "I'm fine, Mrs. Doggett."

Agent Doggett is behind her, peering over her shoulder at the book lying motionless on the floor. "What the hell just happened here?" he asks. He looks up at me, accusation and confusion apparent in his gaze.

I try to lighten my tone. "I think your son just threw a book at Agent Scully."

Agent Doggett's countenance darkens. He seems to be struggling between yelling about my presence and asking about his child. Luke finally wins out. "My son? What do you mean, my son?"

Kathryn moves forward, trying to put herself between her husband and me. "I told you he keeps moving the books, John." She glances at Scully, apology on her face. "But he has never thrown anything before. I don't know why he would act this way."

I look hard at Agent Doggett, who seems suddenly uncomfortable with this idea. "Maybe he just doesn't like strangers in the house."

"Mulder." Scully's hand comes to rest on my arm, and I turn to her. It is unreal, the effect that her touch has on me. I am not surprised, though, to see that the anger that blossomed in her eyes moments ago is still there. "Can I speak to you privately, please?"

I follow her silently out of the house and into the small front yard, closing the door snugly behind me. I wouldn't want Mr. and Mrs. Doggett to hear the ass-chewing I am about to receive.

She rounds on me almost immediately. To her credit, she tries to keep her voice down, but I know it won't stay that way for very long. She is seething. "Mulder, what the hell are you doing here?"

"You should be glad I'm here, Scully," I say, my sarcastic sense of humor coming out to play. "Otherwise, you would've just been clouted by a book-throwing ghost. You obviously need my protection."

She ignores the joke. "Mulder, did you follow me?"

"No." It's not a lie.

"Then how did you get here?"

"I drove." Still not a lie, but she is not amused.

"Mulder, this is not funny at all. I am working. You shouldn't be here."

"I thought maybe you could use my help. This is obviously an X-file—"

She cuts me off. "Yes, it looks like an X-file! And I have been working on the X-files for eight years! But you—," she steps up to me, "are no longer on the X-files. You no longer work for the Bureau. And you should not be out here, Mulder. You know that."

Her words sting, but I plough on. "Agent Doggett's son is trying to communicate, Scully. He has a message."

She sighs. "There is no proof of that."

I laugh. "What do you call what just happened in that house, Scully? Are you blind?"

"Mulder, I did not see what happened before I walked into that room. Kathryn Doggett could have very easily thrown that book. She was right next to the bookcase."

"No. I saw it. It moved on its own."

She crosses her arms over her chest. "She could have done it while you were turning as I came in the room. Inanimate objects do not move on their own, Mulder. That's why they are called inanimate!"

I put my hands on my hips. I can't help it; this whole conversation is exciting to me. It's just like old times, Scully and me arguing a case. The scenario is giving me a thrill I haven't felt in a long, long time, and it is pretty damn close to turning me on. "So are you saying that Kathryn Doggett is making this whole thing up?"

"Mulder, Kathryn Doggett is a grieving mother who can't let go of her son." Scully's face changes, and her tone softens. "Mulder, when I lost Emily, I saw her everywhere I went. I heard her voice calling to me. I could actually feel her around me sometimes." Her eyes are wet, and I swallow hard, knowing the torture that Emily's memory can bring to her. And then her face stiffens again, moving back to Professional Scully, the woman who can handle anything. "But it doesn't mean that it was real. This may be real to Kathryn Doggett, but it may *only* be real to her."

I shake my head. "No, Scully. I think Agent Doggett knows what his son is trying to say. He just doesn't want to admit it."

"Why do you say that?"

I shrug. "It's a hunch. He's acting very strangely. Did you see his face inside? I think he's hiding something."

"And I think you're wrong."

I chew on my lower lip, starting to feel a little pissed off. I can't help the surge of indignation that rises in me whenever she sounds like she's defending him. It is illogical and completely without reason, but I still can't control it.

The truth is that I can't face the fact that she could do this work without me. That she could do it with a man who is not me.

"Well, Scully, I think you are going to have to find out. That's the only way this is going to stop."

"What do you mean?"

"Luke Doggett has a message. His father knows what it is, but he doesn't want to acknowledge it. Luke will just keep up this activity until he feels he has been heard."

I hear the front door open behind me, and I turn slightly to see Agent Doggett poke his head outside. "Agent Scully," he calls. "Can I speak to you, please?"

"I'll be right there, Agent Doggett," she replies. He nods and closes the door again.

"You better go. Your partner is calling you." I don't mean to, but I hit the word harder than the rest, and she picks up on it immediately. A slow light dawns on her face.

"Is that what this is all about?" She moves even closer to me, her eyes sweeping my face like blue searchlights on a rainy night. "*You* are my partner, Mulder."

The words rumble out of me before I can stop them, before I can edit them to be more palatable. "Only in your bed, Scully. And we can't even seem to get that right anymore."

I regret the words instantly, but it is too late. Her stunned look is replaced almost immediately by a dark curtain of hurt and anger. She stares at me for a long moment and then steps back. Her voice is icy when she speaks.

"Go home, Mulder. You don't belong here." She stalks past me and into the house, slamming the door behind her.

I stand there for a long moment, my face turned up to the sky, blowing out a long breath and watching the black clouds gathering across the lake. They churn across the blue expanse, sending bruised tendrils across the sun, and I realize as I walk toward my car that we are in for one hell of a storm.

Yup, it's him. I'm trying my best to stay in here, away from them, as he and Agent Scully have it out. I think it would be easier to keep me away the final lap of the Indy 500. Kathryn is asking me questions: "Who is he?" The guy whose job I took. "Is he involved with her?" You might say that. "Has he investigated cases like this before?" Does Sasquatch have big feet?

I'm muttering my answers as quickly as possible, so as to not distract me from the stream of muted conversation that I'm doing my best to hear through the closed door of the house. I can't take it anymore. I have to talk to her. God only knows what he's saying… probably that he thinks my son wants to tell us something. And I know he's right.

A hurricane has just blown into the house: Agent Scully, hair ablaze and eyes flashing. Kathryn quickly busies herself, suddenly fascinated with the various papers and bills on the desk in the living room while subversively catching glimpses of the entry.

My hand flies out of its own accord to catch Agent Scully's arm on the way in. "Whoa, partner, slow down."

She turns in a flash, about ready to pull away, when she suddenly stops. Looking into me, deeply into my eyes. What? I want to ask. What did he say to you? I don't.

A quick calm settles over her, a curtain of self-containment drawn. "I'm sorry that Mulder showed up here. I didn't ask him to come along. I've asked him to return home."

I nod in acknowledgement.

"Let's get started, Agent Doggett. Can you show me some of the places that were important to Luke?" she asks, professionalism accenting every word, in a vain attempt not to show how much the confrontation with Mulder affected her.

"OK. You sure you're alright?" I ask, still unsure of how she's feeling about this case, how she's feeling about this new arrangement of partnership.

"I'm fine," she says, unable to meet my eyes.

"Let me just tell Kathryn that we're going out for a little bit," I say reassuringly.

Kathryn, who had been pretending to not be listening, walks into the hallway. "Agent Scully, I'll wrap your breakfast to go," she says, going back to the kitchen. "Though I think you'll want more than bagel with just lite cream cheese. It's almost noon."

Agent Scully looks up at me without acknowledging Kathryn's offer to ready the breakfast I brought her. Her look is a mixture of gratitude for remembering the smallest of details and then something more. It's as if neither she nor I can believe that something so negligible as remembering what she likes could "mean" something. There is an implied warning in her eyes for perhaps getting a little too close. This woman has always kept a sturdy wall between us. One day, she removed a chunk with an unexpected embrace. Today, a small kindness destroyed another brick. Am I making headway in my desperation, or am I just banging my already-bruised head against a newly-fortified wall?

Before I can react to her gaze, Kathryn is back, bag in hand, offering it to Agent Scully, and we are out the door. The walk toward the vehicles is interrupted by Agent Scully's definitive pronouncement:

"I'll drive," she says without looking at me further. "Just tell me where I'm going."

The drive to the cove at the end of the lake loop is pretty much silent, except for comments from her about the fact that the leaves are beginning to turn.

"Yeah, fall will be here sooner than we think. Will you be back at work in September?" I ask, trying not to betray my hope.

"I'm hoping to. I just don't know yet," she says, her voice distant with too many details to consider.

"I remember that Kathryn had hoped to go back to teaching after Luke was born. But she took one look at that toothless grin of his. . . " I find myself chuckling at the beautiful memory of her and Luke crying at the thought of having to be separated from each other, and then me, stepping in to reassure her that if I went to work for the FBI, I could more than support us without her having to work. The relief and joy that spread across her face was priceless. It made me so happy at the end of the day to come home and hear about their eventful days at the playground or about some milestone in Luke's little life. I miss that peace at the end of my day now.

"You were a very close family, weren't you, Agent Doggett?" she asks with sadness.

"We were a family." It's all I can say. The pain comes in a new torrent, so fierce that I almost forget to tell Agent Scully to stop at the right spot. "You can stop where the road curves up ahead," I manage to croak out past the lump in my throat.

She nods in response, her silence a gift. The car slows to a stop on the gravel by the side of the road. "Here?" she asks incredulously, seeing nothing but trees to the left and right.

"Yeah, there's a path we used to take down to the lake right through these trees ," I say as I begin to leave the confines of her car.

Thank goodness she left the high heels at home, because the walk down through the forest isn't nearly as well-worn as it once was. I instinctively take her hand and revel in its tiny warmth within my own large, cold one. As I lead her further in, through the unruly forest and toward the lake, I can't help but feel as though I am allowing her in, letting her get close. It's a dangerous little thrill, but one which I allow myself to help ease the pain of exposing this part of my world to someone.

The greenery begins to thin as the water comes into view, Luke's rock almost directly in front of us. I don't want to let go of her hand, but I know propriety demands it. Cold, so instantly cold again as her fingers slip from mine. "It's beautiful here," she comments while looking around at the scene before us, even though the weather that was promising at the start of the day had begun to dim in its brightness.

"We used to call this Luke's rock," I say as my hand rests upon the stone. "We let him think that he discovered this spot. We would come down here for picnics, and he would skip rocks while standing right up there." All this time, I still haven't really looked at her. I speak my words outward to the silent lake. I'm afraid to look at her, frightened that if I start, I may not know how to stop.

"Do you really think he's trying to communicate with you and Kathryn?" Agent Scully asks bluntly, while turning to look right at me. I say nothing, and I definitely don't acknowledge her question. She persists: "Agent Doggett?"

"Dammit! I don't know!" I answer, way too loudly. "Agent Scully, I don't even know if I want to find out. It was a mistake to bring you out here. Let's get out of here," I say, turning to walk away.

"Now you hold on, partner," she says, taking hold of my arm, stopping me in mid-flight. I spin around to face her, breathing hard. "It's one thing to decide not to know. It's another to be afraid. Which is it, Agent Doggett?"

The tears that I thought I had long since banished sting and burn at my eyes, bullying me with their weakness. Her hand is still firmly upon my forearm, forcing me to stay, here, where the sun has started to vanish. I feel like I'll do anything for her touch, anything to not be adrift, alone in my pain. Still, being me, I manage to do just the opposite. I finally dare to look right into her eyes, the ocean warmth of her meeting my icy stare. "Do you have *any* idea what it's like to lose a child, Agent Scully?"

I did not plan to cut into her like this. I had read every X- File; I should have remembered a little girl named Emily Sim. The look melting across her face, softening it, darkening its intensity, makes my tears suddenly fall. "Yes, yes, I do, Agent Doggett," she says, taking a short, quick breath to steady herself. My hand comes around to try and remove her hold on me, but she resists my attempt to flee.

"I will not allow you to run away from this."

"Why? You have your happy life now, Agent Scully. Yes, you suffered loss. But you got a second chance," I say, all gloves off now, bitterness and jealousy coloring my words.

"If you don't face what's happening here, you may not get another chance," she replies to my jab.

"And just * what is * happening here? Help me out, Agent Scully, because I do * not* believe!"

"Whether Luke is really trying to tell you something or Kathryn just believes he is, I cannot say, yet. But I think you know that this is important, otherwise you never would have called me in," she says, lowering her voice at the end.

"You know why I called you out here, really?" I can't stop myself now. I just can't hold it in any more. She blinks and swallows hard, waiting for my answer.

"Because I just couldn't handle this alone. I wanted someone who made me feel alive again, someone who made me remember how it felt to breathe, Agent Scully. You did that. You brought me back from the dead, too." I close the small gap between us, bringing my free hand up, skimming her shoulder, sliding right to behind her neck.

"Dana, you made me want to laugh again, love, make love again," I finish in a whisper, daring to speak her name. I close my eyes as I pull her close to me. I raise my head just slightly, about to brush my lips against her brow, when her fingers leave my arm, reach up and touch my mouth. The gesture startles me.

She leans back, away from me. "Please don't, Agent Doggett. Don't say words that will wear us down and betray the trust we've worked to create. Too many lives can be hurt."

Her words hang between us. My hand leaves her neck to capture her fingers where they rest upon my lips. A movement in the forest off to the left, over her shoulder, captures my brief attention. We have company. A former partner, perhaps? Regardless, I press on, placing the lightest of kisses inside her palm, audience be damned. And as I look into her eyes I say the words that just may cause all hell to break loose: "I'll take my chances, Agent Scully. It's just good to finally have a life again that's worth getting hurt."

And as I leave her there on the shoreline, the first raindrops strike my face. I walk back through the forest, ready to return to my family's home, knowing that Mulder saw it all.

The path is rocky and a bit slippery from the fat raindrops that are being spit upon them by the angry sky. A more than urgent wind has also picked up off of the lake, pushing at my back, forcing me up and away from her. I walk as quickly as I can, one foot in front of the other, steps measured but quick. Anything to put some distance between us, now that all bets are off.

I know I'm slipping even before my knee hits the ground, but I'm nonetheless surprised when a little hand comes to rest along my elbow to help me. I swing my head in the direction of the owner of this help, and I am rewarded with the collision of her stare into mine.

"As I said before, Agent Doggett, I'm not going to let you run away from this," Agent Scully says.

I want to scream at her, Even now, Agent Scully? Even now when I've laid bare my soul, begging for some sort of response from you, one which I know you're not free to give? Your tenacity, courage, or whatever the hell it is that keeps you going never ceases to amaze me. Instead, I say nothing. I stand and begin to brush off the dirt I collected on my little trip to earth.

"Fine," I reply. "I just wanna get back to the house." The rain begins to run off my hair and into my eyes, making me rub them dry, making me avert them from her stare. Then, it's her turn to look away.

"Good. I think that's a wise move," she says. She begins to walk in the direction of the clearing. I follow her up and out of the wooded sanctuary, toward her car. I begin to walk toward the road, away from her, when she says, "Agent Doggett, get in the car. You are not going to walk. There's a storm coming."

"Yeah, in more ways than one," I mutter while looking around, at the sky, the road, and us.

"I am not going to stand here in the rain and argue with you," she says while getting into the car and unlocking the passenger side door. "Well?" she offers, before starting the car.

I suck it up and open the door, quickly sliding into the warm and dry confines. We peel out onto the road in silence as the pavement curves us toward home.

"Wow, that seemed to come out of nowhere," Kathryn says as I enter the house, rain now beating in sheets upon the windows and doors.

Agent Scully follows me into the foyer, and Kathryn, having seen how the rain got the best of us, starts to fuss.

"Agent Scully, you really have to change out of those wet clothes. Do you have a spare outfit? If not, we're about the same size, I could--"

"I have an overnight bag in my car, Mrs. Doggett. I'll just have to go get--" Scully says before I interrupt her.

"I got it. Keys?" I ask, hand outstretched.

She places them in my hand, another warm reminder of the vibrant life within her.

I walk back out into the torrent and go to the trunk to retrieve the bag. Inside, there are reminders of the new life that Agent Scully leads. A portable playpen, a spare diaper bag, and assorted rattles take up most of the available space. There is no room, it seems to yell, for a man, another man to love her. And there, to the side of her familiar traveling bag, is a small photo album. I can't help but look inside to see a picture of her little one. He is beautiful, perfect, alive despite the evil. I close it quickly and bring it inside, together with the bag.

Agent Scully is holding open the door for me as I enter, and her eyes turn quickly to the album I have in my hand. For the first time since I put my mouth to her hand, I look into her eyes. "I figured you'd wanna show the little guy off."

She smiles and nods, pursing her lips together. She takes both the bag and album from me and follows Kathryn down the hallway toward the spare room.

"I think this room will be fine for the night, Agent Scully," Kathryn says while leading the way.

Oh shit. My face must be betraying me, because Kathryn, now returning from showing Agent Scully the room, is glaring in my general direction. "What? You were going to send her back out there? In that weather?" Kathryn asks me, shock in her voice.

Well, no. I just didn't want the unfortunate recipient of my attentions and my one-time wife staying in the same house together overnight. Of course, these words never escape my lips. "No, you're right. She shouldn't be driving out there." I pause for a moment and then continue. "I'll be getting back to the Inn."

"No you don't, John Doggett." Her words are stern, and I know that it's fruitless to argue with her at this point. "Listen, I want to know what you and Agent Scully think about what's been happening here. And to tell you the truth…"

Kathryn trails off, while looking away and down the hall a little bit.

"What?" I ask

She leans closer to me and lowers her voice. "I don't know. I know this is going to come out sounding funny, but--"

"Kathryn, just spit it out!" I say while trying to lower my voice.

"She makes me uneasy. She's so. . ."

"Intense?" I finish the thought for her.

"Well, yes, that, and I just get the feeling that there's something going on that I don't know about."

"Yeah, like what?" I challenge her, hoping she'll back down from this exchange.

I should've known better.

"Something to do with Luke, what he's been trying to tell us, and –"

She's cut off in mid-sentence by the reappearance of Agent Scully. But Kathryn didn't need to speak the words to me that I know are in her head. Kathryn was my wife, my lover for many years. She can see desire in me. I fear she can see it even when it's not for her.

Kathryn is in the kitchen fixing an early dinner, just in case the power goes out from the storm. The familiar sound of pots and pans clattering, the soothing scents of pasta cooking and sauce simmering fill me with a contentment I had long forgotten. I stare off into space, wondering how this whole damn thing is going to turn out.

Kathryn has just finished shooing Agent Scully out of the kitchen when I hear the softly-padded entry of my partner.

"Hey, can I sit down?" she asks, like it's a park bench on a sunny day. I look up at her. She looks so soft -- hair gently curling around her face, a loose T-shirt emblazoned with "Navy" on the front, ancient jeans. I scoot too far over on the couch and allow her some room.

"Tell me about Luke," she begins, looking at the empty, dark fireplace.

"What do you want to know? About how he died?" I ask.

"No, I want to know how he lived. More than anything, I would have loved to have memories of Emily's life. Not just her death."

I nod, knowing the pain and yet not really, not having to deal with the particular gauntlet of agony she has run.

And so I dig in, telling her the stories that made up his young, short life. How he broke his arm while climbing the tree out back. How he was terrified of the Salvation Army Santas after he overheard some miscreant refer to them as "bloodsuckers with bells." How he loved to watch Nascar races. About him. About me. About us.

Some of the stories make her gently smile and nod. Some have her laughing as only a fellow parent who is both amazed and amused at the secret lives of children can. I try to begin to tell her about his death, but the words won't come.

"It's OK," she says, laying a gentle hand upon mine.

I turn to look at her, really look this time. "Agent Scully, perhaps that's not the best idea," I say, slowly moving her hand away from mine.

"Agent Doggett, I understand that this is a difficult time for you and perhaps what you said this afternoon--"

I cut her off right there. "You're hoping I didn't mean it? Sorry, Agent Scully, but I did. See, ever since you were in the hospital, that time with the abruption? I haven't been able to think of you in a totally detached way. You came to mean life to me, even as I stood by your bedside and couldn't stop thinking about the death of my son. Ever since then, there's been this weird little dance going on between me, you, and Luke that I don't quite get, but that I know is very real."

She's sitting there, meeting me stare for stare, her back straight as an arrow. No words come from her, but she drops her head forward and looks down at her hands, sighing a heavy breath of resignation.

"Say something, Agent Scully," I implore her.

She stands abruptly. "What would you like me to say, Agent Doggett? That I'm ready to walk away from the possibility of a future with Mulder? That even though he hasn't made a formal commitment to me and our baby, that I'm going to run into your arms?"

"Hell no!" I say too loudly, obviously drawing Kathryn's attention because I can see her at the doorway. I step closer to Agent Scully as she positions herself, trying to leave the room between the couch and the desk. I say more softly, "I just wanted you to know, that I, that--"

My words are chopped off by the staccato sound of wood being rapped against itself. Our attention is immediately directed to the desk to our right. The draws are literally rumbling, banging the wood above and below them in the confines of the desk. Time slows as our eyes try to comprehend what they are seeing. One drawer and then another leaves the desk, flying outward to hit Agent Scully, first at shin level, then knee, and then waist.

She instantly collapses into my waiting arms, while Kathryn screams so far away, so far, but amidst the God- awful sound of those drawers, I can still make out her one word: "LUKE!"

The shot glasses line the polished wooden bar like obedient schoolchildren on the playground, waiting their turns to march back to the dishwasher. Three or four of them wink at me now in the dull light of the pub, but the tequila that filled them earlier and scorched my throat as I gulped it down has yet to touch my brain. I keep drinking more, waiting for the delirium to kick in and erase the scene that has been burned into the retina of my mind's eye.

I don't know if there is enough tequila in this whole world to make it go away.

I should have never gone back. I left the house, my anger sliding off into determination, determination to make Scully see what I did. But I knew I had to bide my time, to allow her to cool off a little. I drove back along my earlier route, remembering a hotel not far away, one that had a tiny restaurant attached to it. I'd get a bite to eat for lunch, review the tape that I had recorded of my conversation with Kathryn Doggett, and then go back to the house by the lake to try another tack with Scully.

The inn was shabby at best, and the restaurant and bar weren't much better. It reminded me of a cave as I entered through the swinging door, but the barmaid smiled at me as I walked toward her station at the far end of the room. I sat down on a stool and picked up a menu from the prongs holding it fast in between the salt and pepper shakers. The woman brought a small glass of ice water and set it before me, wiping the wetness on her stained white apron. "What can I getcha?"

I read through the scant choices quickly. "Burger and fries, please. And a Coke."

She drew the soda from a nozzle on the tap next to her and placed it beside the water glass. "We're short staffed today," she told me. "I gotta help the cook. I'll be out with your meal in a few minutes." She turned and disappeared into the recesses of the kitchen behind the bar, her black ponytail waving goodbye.

I was alone, and the silence surrounding me seemed to squeeze at me, as if it were trying to force me to fill it up. I took the small cassette recorder out of my jacket pocket and pushed the Rewind button. It took only moments for it to spool back to the beginning of the tape, and I hit Play, my thumb on the volume control.

Kathryn Doggett's voice slid faintly across the tape, and I rolled the wheel to turn the sound up as high as I could. It was hard to hear her; after all, she had kept a cordial distance from me, and the recorder had been hidden beneath a layer of material. But I could still make out the conversation, and I concentrated on the tone of her speech, trying to find any nuances there that could be a signal of a psychosis at work.

I listened, but I heard nothing. Just as I had heard nothing from her earlier to convince me that Agent Doggett's estranged wife was anything but stable. Yes, she had suffered; that much was apparent, in both the manner in which she spoke of her child and her husband, and in the longing looks she had given her son's picture and his books on the shelves. Scully was right about one thing: Kathryn Doggett was still grieving. But I couldn't find anything to lead me to believe that she was mentally unsound.

My thumb was poised above the Stop button when I heard it: a long, low moaning sound, like the groan of a person in pain. I dropped my head down to the bar, trying to get my ear as close to the machine as I could. It was definitely there, a continuous noise, underneath Kathryn Doggett's words about her son's books. From the tape, I could hear a slapping sound and a gasp, and then something that resembled a muffled thud.

And then a voice, distinctly young, right next to my ear: "Get out!"

I drew back, startled, and blinked at the recorder as if it were something foreign I had never seen before. Then the voice came again, and I could've sworn he was speaking to me:

"He wants her."

The words ring in my head now as I sit at this same bar, on the same stool, with thunder crashing outside and the twang of country music sifting into my thoughts. Those three words could be the perfect refrain to a country song, I think ruefully, one about a red-haired woman with a steely blue gaze, fuck-me pumps, and a soft, wide heart. I could write one myself, except that I wouldn't know how to end it. Does she stay with her man and the child they have together? Or does she run off with a new hero, the one that saved her while the first was away chasing his godforsaken quest?

The hero that kissed her palm today, his gaze so imploring and saturated with longing that it nearly knocked me backward. I press my fingers deep into my eyes, trying to rub the vision away, but it's all I can see.

I should've known when I heard Luke Doggett's voice on that damn tape that he was talking about his father. I should've known he was referring to Scully, too. I just didn't make the connection. I was so excited to have real, physical evidence that Scully couldn't possibly dispute that I bolted from the bar right then and there, leaving the waitress to call after me, not mincing her few choice phrases for ordering and then not paying my check.

Of course, I pulled over when I saw Scully's car parked by the side of the road about a mile from the Doggett house. The sky had turned a menacing steel gray above my head, and the wind whipped my hair back as I climbed out of the vehicle. I found a path near the cars and headed down it, walking right smack into my own personal hell.

Scully didn't see me. Doggett did. He looked right at me, those sapphire eyes of his sharp enough to cut glass…and then he kissed her hand. I stayed long enough to note that she didn't pull away from him. I stayed long enough to hear them whispering together like lovers, the way she and I once did, countless lifetimes ago when we shared a bed and made a son together.

I stayed long enough to doubt that she is still mine.

The storm unleashed its fury as soon as I started the car, pounding into the windshield in a torrent of water and wind. I got about a half a mile down the road toward the inn before pulling over, cursing the visibility through the windows…and cursing the hot tears that flooded my eyes and spilled over to burn my cheeks.

I threw open the car door and lunged out into the gale. The tree branches and brambles tore at my clothes as I surged through them, running as if I had the Devil on my heels. My sobs choked out of my throat, burning in my chest, and the cool rain did nothing to dampen the hot rage and sorrow that consumed me. I cried like I hadn't for a long, long time, cataloguing every straw that had finally broken my resolve. I cried for my forfeited quest within the Bureau, for the terror that my abduction had spurred in me and the quandary that my life had become since my return. I cried for William, who was so beautiful and innocent and small, and for the obvious fact that I wasn't enough for his mother…and would never be enough for him.

And I cried for Scully. I cried for what I must've put her through, for the long days and hellish nights when I had abandoned her. I cried for her strength at having to go into my office every morning, her shoulders squared and her own tears hidden. I cried to think of her lying on my bed on her side, her fingers splayed across the expanse of her belly, hoping and praying for a normal child for us. I cried, realizing I practically pushed her into the arms of another man, a man who could give her stability and reason and logic, a man who would never chase aliens and monsters rather than spend a night with her in his arms. I cried, understanding that I could never be John Doggett, no matter how hard I tried.

I don't know how long I stayed out in the rain, my back against a huge oak tree, my long body slumped over, shuddering above the emerald grass. The storm did not abate, but the raging emotion within me began to calm. I trudged back to the car, my clothes weighted down with water and my soul heavy with guilt.

I had just dropped heavily into the driver's seat when my cell phone chirped from my jacket pocket. I pulled it out, grateful to find it had remained dry, and clicked it on. "Mulder," I mumbled.

"Fox, it's Maggie Scully."

I was instantly alert, sitting up straighter in the seat. "What is it? Is William all right?"

"Of course. I'm sorry, Fox. I didn't mean to scare you." She gave a little laugh, and I was surprised to notice how much she sounded like Scully. That thought made my head ache, so I pushed it away. Her voice turned serious when she spoke again. "Fox, is something wrong?"

"No, everything's fine." I was becoming quite an adept liar.

There was a pause as she processed my words, and her voice came back on the line, sounding artificially chipper. Maybe I wasn't such a good liar after all. "Well, I was wondering if you and Dana would like me to keep William overnight. I saw on the news that there are some very severe storm fronts moving into the area, and I thought you might need to stay overnight somewhere instead of trying to drive in it."

I glanced up at the sky through the windshield. A churning mass of angry clouds rolled up there, and the lack of light indicated no end in sight very soon. "I don't want to put you to any trouble—" I started, but she cut me off.

"It's no trouble at all! He's my grandson, after all! He's been an angel all day. We went shopping, and then I stopped by my bridge club to show him off…" Maggie went on and on for a few moments, and I actually smiled, not because I was really listening. I smiled because it pleased me to know that Will had such a loving, proud grandma.

When she stopped to catch her breath, I cleared my throat. "I certainly appreciate you offering to keep him. That would be great. I'm sure Will is having a terrific time."

"You and Dana can just pick him up tomorrow, maybe around noon?"

I swallowed hard. "Yeah, that should be fine."

"Fox." Her tone was maternal again, but stern, the inflection of a woman who mothered children with a velvet voice and an iron hand. "I can tell something is wrong. What is it? Is something wrong with Dana?"

"No," I forced out. "She's…she's fine. Don't worry. And thanks, Mrs…I mean, Maggie. Thanks for taking care of Will."

Another thoughtful pause, and then final words. "You're welcome, Fox. Now you take care of yourself, and of Dana." She hung up.

// Keep him safe, Mulder. Keep them both safe. //

I turned over the engine and inched the car slowly down the road to the inn, wondering if it wouldn't be better for them both to keep away from me.

Who am I kidding? I think now, resting my elbows on the bar top while I massage my forehead, trying to rid myself of the streaking headache there. Did I really ever think that I could do this family thing? Did I actually imagine that Scully might want the two of us to stay together and raise our son, buy a big house, drive a minivan, join the P.T.A.?

My mind leaps back to the night when we held Will for the first time between us, when she accepted my kiss and asked me to stay. She had looked at me so lovingly then. Had I just imagined it, seeing what I wanted to see, what I longed to see? Did I make up the passion that I felt surge in her just last night as we touched on the couch? Didn't she come alive under my hands, her desire vibrating through us both?

I shake my head a little at myself. Sex is one thing; love is another. I've had plenty of lovers, enough to know the difference. But I've only had one true love in my life, and the thought of losing her to someone else is the most painful feeling I have ever known. I sigh and raise my hand to signal the barmaid.

She saunters over, her ponytail swinging, her eyes sympathetic. She has forgiven my earlier zealous exit since I paid her for the food, and she has been trying to get me to eat instead of drinking all evening. "How 'bout some fish and chips?" she cajoles, making another attempt. "Dinner special. It's really good."

I shake my head at her. "Gimme another shot." She regards me solemnly, and I notice suddenly that her eyes are the same color blue as Scully's. I blink at her and swallow. "Please."

She reaches under the bar to pull out another glass and then stops, cocking her head to one side. "Is that you ringing?" she asks, and she motions toward my jacket heaped over the stool next to me.

I fumble through the layer of material to find my phone. I flip it on and mutter, "Mulder." The barmaid takes the opportunity to sneak away without pouring my drink.

"Mr. Mulder? This is Kathryn Doggett."

Her voice sounds edgy, and the connection snaps with static. I frown and press the receiver closer to my ear. "Yeah, Mrs. Doggett? I can barely hear you."

"Are you still close by?"

"I'm right down the lane from your house. Why?"

A crash of thunder drowns her out momentarily. "…happened to Agent Scully."

"What?" My ears prick up at the mention of Scully's name, and I feel panic seize me.

"Agent Scully has been…injured. I think you should come over here. I know the storm is bad, but the rain has let up a little in the last few minutes—"

"What the hell happened?" I am on my feet, pulling my jacket on, feeling a slight adrenaline kick right between my eyes. I'm not sure if it is anxiety or the tequila, but it urges me to move fast.

"I…I think Luke hurt her, Mr. Mulder. Ever since this storm started…well, can you please hurry?"

"I'll be right there." I press the End button and jam the phone back into my pocket, sprinting to my car.

// Keep them both safe. //

Minutes later, I pull up outside the lakeside cabin. The rain has stopped momentarily, and I jump from the car, nearly slipping in the wet gravel driveway. I don't knock on the door but tear through it instead, skidding to a slippery halt in the Doggetts' downstairs living room. My eyes sweep the room and land on Scully. She is supine on the couch, covered with a light blanket, and her eyes snap open at the sound of the front door banging into the wall. "Mulder!" she gasps. "What are you doing here?"

I cross to her in two long strides. "Mrs. Doggett called me. What happened?"

She tries to sit up a little and then winces, obviously in pain. "Nothing. I'm fine. You didn't need to drive all the way back here."

Kathryn Doggett's voice comes from behind me, and I look at her over my shoulder as she speaks. "She was hit in several places."

"With what?" I ask, trying to keep my tone neutral.

"Drawers. From the desk over there." She gestures toward a heavy oak one sitting in the corner next to the doorway.

"And Luke did this?"

"Yes," Kathryn replies. Scully gives an exasperated puff of breath, and I turn my gaze back to her.

"Scully, this is going to end, right here and right now."

She stares at me, her brows knitting together. "Mulder, what are you talking about?"

"Luke Doggett doesn't like you. He sees you as a threat. I have an idea as to what, but he can't hear it from me." I look back at Kathryn again. "Where's Agent Doggett?"

"He's outside in the back. When the storm let up a little, he went out to try to shutter the windows on the porch."

"Go get him." Kathryn Doggett watches me for a second and then walks down the hallway toward the back of the house.

"Mulder, what are you doing?"

I close my eyes for a moment, steeling myself to say the words, and then I look at her. She is so beautiful, so vulnerable, that my throat tightens again, but I force them out. "Scully, no matter what happens between the two of us, I want you to know that you are the most important thing in the world to me. Nothing matters more. And I can't stand by and see you hurt, by anything in this world, or in another."

"What are you talking about?" Her eyes are bright in the diffused light, and I can almost see in them the spark that I saw there last night. "What do you mean, no matter what happens between the two of us?"

"I saw you today, Scully. In the clearing by the lake, with Agent Doggett."

The color drains from her face. "Mulder, I—"

"Whatever is between the two of you, Scully, I—I don't want to talk about right now. But I can tell you that this thing with Luke Doggett's spirit will not end until his father faces up to the truth."

She pushes the blanket off her and stands slowly. "There is nothing between us, Mulder. You have to believe that." She steps over to me and takes my hand, and the feel of her fingers against my skin brings tears to my eyes. "You misunderstood what you saw."

I smile a little. "I understand, Scully, that Agent Doggett is in love with you." She starts to protest, but I cut off her words. "He needs to admit it. And so do you. This won't stop until that happens."

A breeze picks up my hair then, drawing my attention away from her answer. She pauses and looks around, too, and we both stare at the magazines on the nearby coffee table as a gust of air plays through page after page, lifting them noisily. I hear footsteps and turn to see Agent Doggett and his wife in the doorway. The wind in the room picks up speed, blowing the periodicals completely off the table, straight into Doggett's legs. He stares at them, dumbfounded, and then looks at me. Kathryn Doggett clutches his arm, her eyes wide and startled.

"You need to talk to your son, Agent Doggett." I have to raise my voice to be heard over the crescendo of the wind.

"What the hell are you talking about, Mulder?" he yells back.

"Luke is angry at Agent Scully. And he's angry at you. You need to explain to him how you feel."

Doggett storms over to me, his face mere inches from mine. "This is lunacy, Mulder! I don't believe any of this bullshit! My son is dead!"

"You are his father. You tell him to stop." I clench my jaw, anger seething in my speech. "You tell him to stop, now."

"Goddamn you, Mulder!" He shoves me back, his face red with rage.

I steady myself and stare at him hard. "You are the only one who can stop this, Agent Doggett. You know why Luke is angry. You need to own up to the truth. Now you say it. You tell him. Tell him now, and end this for all of us."

My gaze could burn holes through Mulder right about now. I almost wish it would, just to make him stop in his pursuit of this latest truth.

"I've had enough of this. I'll call you in the morning, Agent Scully, and Kathryn, those window are shuttered--" I am cut off in mid-sentence by Mulder's hand upon my shoulder, tight, gripping, making sure I don't go anywhere.

"Stop avoiding this, Agent Doggett. Stop avoiding your son. Obviously, he will not be ignored anymore!" Mulder shouts at me.

I tear my eyes away from him for a moment to look around the room, first from the splintered drawers to Agent Scully, then from her to Kathryn. Everyone is present and attentive to this other-worldly performance, and once again, I am the non-believer. I challenge the believer poster child with this: "Alright, Mulder, let's just say I start talkin' to my son. What good do you think that will do?"

He smugly speaks his mind, knowing that he has one over on me. "Oh, I don't know, let's just try it and see."

Agent Scully crosses a few steps to come between us and says, "Will both of you please stop?"

Mulder turns to her and begins to speak in a more gentle, measured tone. "Scully, I'd love for this to stop, but it won't until Agent Doggett starts believing that his son is still a very real force in his life. A child's love for his parents doesn't just end because of death. You know that."

She slowly drops her gaze, looking down and away from us, swallowing hard.

The wind continues to build in strength and fury outside the windows, threatening to shatter what's left of our protection.

"So shall I say it or will you, Agent Doggett?" Mulder challenges.

I shake my head. I take a deep breath, trying to calm the urge within me to once again get into a shouting match with this guy.

"John? What is Mr. Mulder talking about?" asks Kathryn.

My gaze never leaves Mulder as I address Kathryn. "He seems to think that I--" I am cut off by a gust of wind that is now inside the house. It becomes stronger and louder as it travels in cold circles around us. A sudden darkness envelops us as all of the power in the house goes out at once. The immediate plunge into black causes Kathryn to let out a loud gasp.

"Agent Doggett, your son is waiting!" Mulder says, more intensely than before.

"Goddammit, Mulder!" I shout back through the oppressive night. "What the hell do you want from me?"

"It's not what I want. It's what Luke wants," he says, his features illuminated in gray light from the lightning flashes outside the windows.

"And since when have you become such an expert on my son?" I spit back at him.

"Since he started to hurt the mother of mine," he answers with calm authority.

The truth makes my heart sink, and my stomach threatens to rebel within me.

"I will protect my family, Agent Doggett. You need to start to make peace with yours."

Hot, angry, prideful tears make me chew on the insides of my lower lip. I don't want to hear what he's saying, but somehow, deep down, I know that he's right… that somehow, it's always been about this.

The tears have started, and their pain weighs upon my shoulders like a millstone. A tree branch torn loose by the wind slams into the front window, shattering a small pane. I know that I must speak.

"I, um--" I try to start. Kathryn's gentle, strength-filled touch is upon my back.

"It's OK, John. Just talk to him. Talk to Luke." Her tears are falling as well, shading the timbre of her voice.

I close my eyes, begging God in Heaven that I won't see the vision of my son's lifeless body as I begin to think of him and all we've lost.

"Luke, I swear I did all I could," I whisper.

The wind howls in an angry reply. "What?" I shout to him, to everyone.

"He knows you did, Agent Doggett. You know what he's upset about," Mulder says.

"What? That I finally stopped having to clean my gun with other people around so that I wouldn't be tempted to eat it? That I finally could get out of bed and smile at the thought of another day? That I finally felt alive again because I had met Agent Scully?"

Kathryn begins to cry out loud now, not trying to hide it anymore. It stabs me through and through, carving out what remains of my pride and my unbelief.

It seems like I'm no longer here, in this room that's taking a lashing from nature, from Luke, and from God Himself. The words tumble out as I sink to my knees and try to make my little boy understand.

"Luke, I wanted to die that day that I saw you there, alone in that field, dirty, bloody, and so damn still. I thought if I let myself slowly die with you that maybe that would be enough, enough of a price to pay.

"Everyday, I thought it would get easier-- maybe I'd forget a little bit. Forget your laugh, your smile, the way your hair smelled after a bath. I couldn't, though. You were always there, just a little outside the constant drumming of my mind. And so I tried to dull it. I tried everything a grown man can do to forget about losing his little boy. I didn't come home, Luke--"

The air turns cold around me, as his well-read books begin to fly off the shelf one after another, slamming hard onto the floor as if he's standing there throwing them himself. Kathryn tears are now mixed with soft "Hail Marys."

I continue.

"Listen, baby, please. You're scaring your mother. Listen to me. I know you're mad that I didn't come home. I just couldn't. Everywhere I turned, I would see you. I would have died a thousand deaths again to just look at your toys. The pain never went away, Luke, but I found that work at least made me function. And so I worked. I gave everything I had to it, but I was dead inside. I couldn't make your mother live with another person that she once loved but was now dead, too."

The room takes on an almost too-quiet hush, a sound you might hear right before a storm. I can feel the floor beginning to vibrate, deep and low beneath my knees. Out of the corner of my eye, I can see the desk, still splintered from what happened earlier, beginning to shake and lift violently up and down, like someone is taking out his frustrations on it.

"Agent Doggett, there's more," Mulder says.

I inhale sharply, knowing what I must do as I begin to whisper my words. "You're right, Luke. I wanted her. I wanted Agent Scully. I wanted to help her, and then there was something more. I didn't mean for it to happen. It just did. I hadn't allowed myself to care for anyone, let alone a woman, for so long, I didn't even realize at first that it was happening. That I…" I let out a breath that I didn't realize I was holding. I inhale and choke on my tears. "That I… Damn it! That I was falling in love with her."

I see Agent Scully grasp Mulder's hand as I finish speaking my words. I continue.

"I know it's wrong, Luke. I know that she belongs with her family, and I swear, I won't do anything that will ever take her away from them. It's just that. . . that I never thought I would ever feel that sort of love, that feeling of being alive again. Please, son. Please understand. I'm sorry. I'm so sorry."

I hang my head as my shoulders slump forward. I have never felt so tired in my life. I am so exhausted that I don't even hear the calm silence that suddenly pervades the room. The constant whir of the wind inside the house has ceased.

I can detect the soft, familiar perfume of my wife as she kneels beside me, her arm encircling my shoulders. At first, I stiffen at her touch, wanting to shrug it off.

"Let me, John," she says.

And it's like the floodgates open. I cry for the years I abandoned her, forcing her to face the pain alone. I cry for the family that we once were. I cry for me, for her, for Luke.

We're huddled there together, holding onto each other now for dear life, our tears mixing together with "I'm sorry's" and assurances that it's OK. Time means nothing as we kneel there, and the rest of the world seems to fade away. After awhile, I feel a heavy hand upon my right shoulder.

I look up to see Mulder, together with Agent Scully.

"You alright?" he asks softly, and I nod. "We're going to go. I want to have a doctor take a look at Scully after what happened, and I think you should be alone with your family. We'll talk later."

I take my hand from where it rests around Kathryn's back and extend it to Mulder as he helps me up and returns my handshake. "I don't know what to say, I-- " He silences my words with his raised hand.

"Don't say anything. Just take care of your family," he says, looking at Kathryn who has stood to be at my side. "And I'm going to try to take care of mine." He places a guiding hand upon Agent Scully's back.

"Do you want us to stay and help clean up?" Agent Scully offers.

"No, no please, I'll be fine," Kathryn reassures. "Thank you, thank you both for, well, for everything." She walks them to the door. "Oh wait, I almost forgot-- your bag, Agent Scully. Let me just go back down the hall and get it for you."

There's an awkward silence as Agent Scully and Mulder wait beside the heavy door leading from the house. "The storm seems about over," I offer with brilliance.

"Yeah, in more ways than one," Mulder answers with a small smile.

I chuff my reply, my hands stuffed in my pockets. Kathryn returns from the short trip down the hall. She's frowning as she carries Agent Scully's bag in one hand and a small book in the other.

"What?" I ask, wondering why she seems upset.

"When I went into the room, I found this book sitting on top of Agent Scully's bag. Is it yours?" she asks, extending the hand that's holding the book.

I catch a glimpse of the cover. There's a little girl all dressed in ballet clothes, doing an awkward plie under the title "Emily Dances."

Agent Scully smiles gently as she takes the book and holds it for a minute. "No, it's not mine. But I think I know what it means," she says.

"Yes?" Kathryn asks. Agent Scully gives the book back to her.

"It means that families are forever," Scully replies with a catch in her voice. "Let's go home, Mulder."

He nods in reply as he reaches for the latch, opens the door and ushers them out into the calm, clearing night.

I watch her as she sleeps, a beautiful, vibrant woman stilled in the peace of slumber, her hands tucked beneath her chin like a child. She took the medication the doctor in the E.R. prescribed for her bruised body, but she still insisted on driving her own car back here to the apartment. So we rode separately, not speaking of the incidents that caused her injuries, not speaking of anything at all.

Typical. Avoidance is the only way we seem to know how to deal with each other.

I sit in the chair by the door, noting the soft rise and fall of the sheet covering her body, listening to the hush of her breath and the whisper of the fabric. The bassinet stands next to her side, its emptiness a blessing and an anomaly at the same time. It is a reminder of what we have become, how far we have traveled together over the last years, and a symbol of everything that is right between us.

It also reminds me of how wrong it is to be in this room awake, not in the bed but across from it, not next to Scully but watching her, not soothing our son but wondering how he is. The thought that all of this is so very, very wrong stabs me again and again.

// Get in the bed, Mulder. It's your bed, too. She's your lover. He's your son. Go to her and show her how you feel. //

But I realize that I can't just show her. I have tried that. I have been here for the last few months, helping with William, making all the adjustments to my life to accommodate fatherhood and family. But I skipped something along the way.

I think of John Doggett and his family, of the wife that he couldn't comfort and the son that he couldn't save. Last night, I saw the depth of his soul, bared to all of us in that room, the scars of losing a child and dying an emotional death right along with him. I could feel the pain of a man who became a shell of someone he once was, and I could understand how dangerously close I myself had been to that too many times in my own life. But more importantly, I witnessed the miracle that love could bring to someone: love that could reach between worlds to demand attention; love that could resuscitate a relationship that seemed to be beyond repair; love, even if misplaced, that could help a man want to live once more.

Yes, I skipped something in my life with Scully, the life that I was trying so desperately to build with her and William. I neglected to tell her that I love her. Oh, I've told her before, once or twice…I just haven't told her enough. And I haven't proven it to her in the most important way I can: by making her and William a permanent part of my life.

I glance at the clock on the nightstand. Four-thirty. Soon the new day will spread its golden fingers across the horizon.

I stand up, stretching the night out of my limbs, and go to call the Gunmen.

I've waited long enough. Time to get this plan into action.

I let her sleep late, finally waking her with the clatter of kitchen utensils around nine. She walks into the room, rubbing her eyes, her hair askew and her t-shirt hanging crooked on her tiny frame. "Mulder, you should have woke me sooner." She stops when she sees the spread of fruit and eggs before her. "What's all this?"

"Breakfast." I pull the chair out from the table and usher her into it. She sits and watches me, obviously stunned into silence. "How do you feel this morning?"

"Um…" She trails off, taking a mental inventory as she slowly unfolds the cloth napkin next to her plate. "A little sore. But I feel pretty good." She smiles a little as I pour coffee into the china mug by her hand. "What's the occasion, Mulder?"

I set the coffee pot back in its place and head for the kitchen door. "Just eat, Scully. We've got stuff to do."

"What stuff?"

I don't answer her. I hear my name uttered in an exasperated tone as I head into the bathroom for my shower. I also hear her start to stir her coffee.

When I emerge from the bathroom, she is still at the table, sipping from her mug and skimming down the front page of the newspaper. She takes one look at me and sets her cup down hard. "Now I know something is going on. Why are you so dressed up?"

I tighten the knot in my tie and steal a mouthful of coffee from her mug. "The bathroom's all yours, Scully. And you know that blue dress of yours, the one with the tiny white flowers on it? I think that would be the perfect outfit for you today."

She stands and puts her hands on her hips. "Now you're dressing me? I want to know what's going on."

"We're just going to meet your mom and William. No big deal." I hold her gaze as she looks at me suspiciously, her one eyebrow cocked.

After a moment, she sighs. "Mulder, I think we should talk about what happened yesterday."

I shake my head. "Get dressed, Scully. I don't want to be late."


"Not now, OK, Scully? Just go and get ready." I smile at her, and it's her turn to shake her head. But she moves down the hallway toward the bathroom, and in a few moments, I hear the water start for her shower. I go into the living room to make a few more phone calls.

The morning light is so bright I have to pull my sunglasses from the inside pocket of my suit coat as I'm driving. Scully's sit perched on her nose as we snake our way through Georgetown and into the shopping district, and I give her a sideways glance. Her hair blows back from her face, the tiny sapphire stud earrings she has chosen to go with her dress glittering fiercely against the pale satin of her skin. I can almost hear the machinations of her mind clicking away, and she finally says it as I pull the car into a slanted parking space close to one of the larger specialty stores.

"Mulder, what are we doing here?"

I open the car door and pull myself out. "We're going shopping." I slam the door shut before she can answer and start walking, knowing she will follow.

She does, the low heels of her strappy sandals snicking against the brick sidewalk. She looks gorgeous, the sheer skirt of her dress swirling lazily around her ankles, clinging to her shapely calves as we walk. It almost hurts to look at her for too long.

"I thought we were meeting my mother and William."

"We are, later. We need to do some shopping first."

She doesn't ask what kind of shopping. It doesn't matter, though, because within moments, I stop in front of our destination. She shades her eyes as she looks up at the storefront. When she glances back at me, the question is clear on her face.

"This is a jewelry store, Mulder."

I look up at the sign, too. "Best one in town, I'm told."

She takes off her sunglasses, and her eyes are as clear as the summer sky above us. "What are we doing here?"

I remove my glasses, too, folding them into my pocket. "Married people generally have wedding rings, Scully." I say it as easily as if we are discussing the weather, or the latest Yankees score.

She stares at me for a long minute. "Married people," she repeats.

I take a step forward and reach out my hand, finally touching her, satisfying the ache I have felt since last night. The skin of her palm is cool and soft against my rough fingers, and I feel the nervousness in my stomach bubble for the first time. I know this is it; this is the moment I decided on hours earlier as I watched her sleep, the moment we have been drifting toward for so very long.

The moment we have both feared, the one that will seal us to each other for all eternity, or separate us for good.

"I want to get married, Scully. Today."

The words hang there between us like frozen breath on a cold morning, and I hold mine, waiting for the meaning of what I have just said to sink into her mind and heart. Her eyes widen in surprise, and I feel her grip on my fingers tighten. Her words are a whisper when she speaks.

"Are…are you serious, Mulder?"

I nod, all pretenses and bravado gone. "I want us to be together, Scully. I should thank John Doggett for forcing me to realize how much. You said you wanted things to be normal. For you, and for William. Well, this is the most normal thing I can think of to do. When people love each other, they get married. And I want to marry you, Scully. Right away. We've wasted too much time already."

The blue of her gaze is so intense I think it might melt me right here on the sidewalk, but I realize suddenly that I don't care. She needs to know that this is important, that this is right…that we are right, together. That without her, I am nothing but a shadow of a man. I can never go back to who I was before Dana Scully walked into my life. She has become everything to me. And she needs to know that I am ready to promise her everything I am, everything I will become, in the most important way two people can promise each other.

But she is hesitating, and I wait, swallowing hard, waiting for whatever it is she is going to say, strengthening myself to receive a blow if that is what she is getting ready to deliver. She presses her lips together for a moment and then opens her mouth to speak.

"Do…do you love me, Mulder?"

The words are so hushed, so faint, I can barely hear them. And they are heavy with need, with a longing that is palpable in the space between us. A small sound escapes from my throat, a choked sob, and I pull her fiercely to me. She wraps her small arms around my waist and hugs me tightly, and it makes me understand: she does love me. Whatever passed between she and Agent Doggett was borne of another need, the unfulfillment of someone who needed reassurances and wasn't receiving them. I should've told her a long, long time ago, when I first returned, when William was born…there were so many other times I should've told her. But the past is in the past, and I can't change it. There is only one other thing I can say to her, and I say it now.

My words feel low and thick in my throat, but they push out of my mouth almost on their own, so desperate they are to be heard. "More than anything else, I love you, Scully. I have never loved anyone as much as I love you." I put my hands on either side of her face and tilt her head up to look at me. "I should have told you sooner. I should have asked you sooner. I'm sorry I didn't. "

"I need to make something clear to you, Mulder, about Agent Doggett—" I open my mouth to cut her off, but she shakes her head, pressing on—" no, no, Mulder, let me finish. I need to say this, and you need to hear it." Her brow furrows, and she trains that gaze of hers on me, locking me into the ocean depths of her eyes. "There is nothing but friendship between Agent Doggett and me. What you saw yesterday was just comfort, nothing more. I have never loved him, even if he had feelings for me in the past." I feel the palm of her hand cup the angle of my cheek, and I lean into it just a little, savoring the caress. "I love you, Mulder. Only you. Only you for so very, very long."

Even in her heels, she still has to raise up on her toes to kiss me. It is gentle, the soft sweep of her lips against mine, like silk fabric across my skin. It is brief, but full of promise, the kiss of a woman who has a burning in her soul, and I swallow the flames inside her and me as she breaks it. I smile down at her. "So we're getting married."

"B-but Mulder, we can't get married today. There is a waiting period—"

"The Gunmen already took care of it. They hacked into the system, and according to the Hall of Records, we have waited the necessary amount of time. The paperwork has been filed. I called your mother and Skinner and told them to meet us at one o'clock this afternoon. I even arranged for a minister." I clutch her hand harder, my palms growing slick with nervous sweat. "All I need is a bride."

All of this has tumbled out of me in a rush, and as I come to the end, I realize I am breathing hard, as if I just ran a mile in under a minute. I notice, too, that Scully's chest is rising and falling at a rapid rate, and she swallows audibly, letting out a breath through her mouth. "Come on, Scully. What do you say?"

She huffs out a laugh, shaking her head. "It's not how I always dreamed someone would propose marriage to me, Mulder," she says. "But how can I say no after all you've done to get ready?"

I laugh and pull her to me again. "So that's a yes, right, Scully?"

She looks up at me, her smile more brilliant than I have ever seen. "Yes, Mulder. Let's get married. Let's get married today."

She stands by the picture window of our hotel suite, silhouetted against the ebony sky with stars winking above her head. This high above the city, she looks like she's floating out among the glittering celestial bodies, shining more brightly than the moon. She is my beacon in the night, and I hear her calling silently to me, her pull on my soul stronger than any natural force on earth.

The white satin of her negligee skims over the curves of her body, hugging her close, wrapping her in a luxury I long to give her. I move across the dark room to stand behind her, whispering a touch across her shoulder, tracing the thin strap that holds the garment in place. She shivers under my fingers, and in the shadows, I see her lips curve into a smile. "It's beautiful," she murmurs, and she pulls my arm around her waist, splaying my fingers over the tiny mound of her belly where our son once grew.

"Not as beautiful as you." I sigh into her ear, drinking in the heady fragrance of her hair and skin. Her hand presses against the glass as she looks out over the city shimmering below us, and the ring I put on her finger earlier today sparkles there. I close my own hand over hers and bring it to my lips, kissing her knuckle just beneath the heavy band of the ring. She watches me, the smile on her face widening. "Do you like it, Scully?"

She knows I mean the ring, and she nods. "I love it, Mulder. It's perfect." I turn it lazily with my index finger, watching as the stones disappear beneath her finger and then reappear on the other side. When we went into the store, she insisted that we choose rings for each other, ones that neither of us saw until we said our vows hours later. We both labored over our choices, spending nearly two hours in the jewelry store, wanting to pick out the most perfect symbols of our devotion.

I stop the movement of the ring, aligning the three sapphire stones where they belong, and touch them gently with my thumb. "That's you, me, and Will," I tell her, gliding over each of them. "And I wanted the sapphires to match your eyes. Nothing in the world can compare to the way you look at me, Scully." I nuzzle her cheek with my nose, and the hum of delight I hear encourages me to go on. "I devoted my whole professional life to finding the truth. That's all I ever wanted. And I have finally realized that the greatest truth of all is right here. All I ever need to do is look in your eyes, and I will find it there."

She turns in my arms, facing me, and she brings my left hand up to her mouth. Her lips slide across the gold band that she placed there, and then she raises my hand higher, up near my face. "See the circles engraved there?" she asks quietly, and she traces one manicured nail lightly over the concentric circles that weave into each other around the ring. "A long time ago, we worked on a case where a man told us we had to come full circle to find the truth. I never realized how much meaning that statement would have in my personal life. All this time, when I was searching and praying for someone to come into my life, you were standing right beside me. All I had to do was turn around, to come full circle back to you. A circle never ends; it just keeps going, always coming back to where it belongs. That's why I chose this ring for you. I want you to see that I am right where I belong."

I press my body into hers, into the window behind us, and she gives a little gasp. Her arms encircle my neck, pulling her tighter to me, and the slide of her satin nightgown against my bare chest sends ripples of pleasure through me. I grin mischievously into her hair and ask her a question I posed once before, a few years ago, teasing her on a case where we had to play married: "You wanna make that honeymoon video now?"

She brings her mouth up to my ear and nips at the lobe, shooting sparks into my nervous system. "I don't think we need to, Mulder, if we stay in front of this window where everyone in the city can see us."

I run my hand up the side of her thigh, pushing the fabric of the gown ahead of my fingers, baring her leg up to the curve of her hip. She squeals and smacks at my hand, but I keep her locked tight in my embrace. "Let 'em watch, Scully. Then they'll know you're mine." I kiss her, hard and fast, punctuating each word. "You. Are. My. Wife. All. Mine." The last kiss deepens, her lips softening under mine, opening to allow me inside. When it ends, she looks at me, breathless, her eyes as hungry with love as I know my own must be.

"Let's go to bed, Mulder."

She only needs to ask me once. I lift her into my arms and carry her across the dark room, depositing her gently on the bed. The light from the window illuminates the splash of her crimson hair on the white pillow, and I just stand there for a moment, drinking in the sight of her. Angelic, a vision all in white in the shadows of the room…she is truly the brightest light in my world, the one that guides me home. Emotion clutches at me, threatening to engulf me, and I realize that the only word to describe what I am feeling is elation.

I don't think I have ever used that word before.

She stretches one creamy arm out to me. "What is it?" she whispers, and I take her hand, climbing slowly onto the bed, covering her body with my own.

"Just love to look at you, Scully. I could look at you all night."

Her voice, low and sultry, caresses my ear, and her words fully awaken in me the need that hasn't been satisfied in so very long. "I don't want you to look at me, Mulder. I want you to touch me. Touch me everywhere."

So I do. One sweep of satin leaves her naked beneath me, and her skin feels softer than the gown that just left her bare. One tug of her hand on my shorts removes the final barrier remaining between us, and I settle myself over her, concentrating on the erotic task she has given me.

I take my time, relearning every mark on her skin, retracing every curve, dipping my fingers into each fissure and crease ever-so-lightly, her sighs of pleasure urging me on. I kiss the bruises that blossom on her stomach and legs, reminders of last night, a time that seems so very long ago. But I kiss them gently, with reverence, thankful in some twisted way that they are here to spur my memory, to urge me to love Scully, to cherish what we have together, to hold onto it tightly and to never let it go.

I don't realize that I am speaking these thoughts aloud until I look up at Scully's face. Her eyes are locked on mine, and they glisten with unshed tears. I touch her cheek with the pads of my fingers, mild alarm spreading through me. "What is it, baby?" I whisper.

She blinks them back, a smile tugging at the corners of her mouth. "Nothing. Just…happy." Her words come haltingly, in between gasps of breath. "God, what you do to me, Mulder…" My fingers find her center, the wetness there telling of her arousal as I comb through her curls. I feel myself grow harder to realize that I brought her to this. She arches her back, her pelvis pushing up into my hand, and a tiny moan escapes her. "Tell me more, Mulder. Tell me how much you love me."

"I do, Scully. I love you, more than anything…" I rain kisses down her throat and across her chest, leaving a trail of heated wetness behind. One finger, then two, find her entrance, and I slip them inside her, my mouth next to her ear once again. "God, Scully, do you feel that? Can you feel how much I love you? Let me show you…"

She pulls at my shoulders, urging me to rise over her, and I push up on one hand, ready to sink into the lush luxury of her body. My fingers linger over the hardened nub between us, gliding over it with feathery touches. She tangles her hands into my hair and throws her head back, a huge grin on her face. "Now, Mulder. Show me. Show me now."

In one long, deep stroke, I am inside her. She moves beneath me, her hips rocking in the wake of my thrusts, easy and slow and achingly sweet. My mind is reeling with the feel of her all around me, and I am babbling now, trying to articulate everything that she needs to know through the haze that is enveloping my brain. "Oh, baby, Scully, love you, Scully, that's so, Scully, love you, so much, Jesus, Scully, loveyouloveloveloveyou—"

She is laughing, a deep, resonate sound that bubbles up from her, and I join her, relishing the exquisite expression of ecstasy that is on her face. I try to memorize it: the light in her azure eyes, the spray of her sweaty hair across her brow, the tiny lines that crinkle as her smile deepens…and the look that she gifts to me, the one that tells me that I have made her the happiest woman on earth. We belong to each other now.

We are joined, by our minds, our bodies, our hearts, our souls. We both know now that there is nothing, in this world or any other, that can keep us apart.

It's early. The sun is just beginning to rise over the lake as I sit out on our deck, drinking my first coffee of the day. I enjoy the warmth of the liquid as there is a distinct chill in the air, a reminder that a season is ending, but a new one is about to begin.

I stayed here last night, helping Kathryn clean up and sleeping the sleep of the honest. It felt good.

I hear the door that leads from the dining room onto the deck creak open. I make a mental note to oil it before I leave today. Kathryn is still in her bathrobe and holds a steaming mug in her hand as she walks toward me, smiling. I return her silent greeting with one of my own.

"Is this seat taken, Mr. Doggett?" she asks.

I chuckle softly, remembering our years' old routine. "Why no, Mrs. Doggett, it isn't," I reply, as though the intervening years in hell haven't occurred.

But I know that they did.

"Did you sleep well?" she asks.

"Yeah, I did. That old couch is still pretty comfortable," I reply.

She nods and goes back to sipping her coffee.

"Kathryn, I don't know what this all means to me, to you," I offer honestly.

"I don't either, John," she replies without looking at me.

"Really?" I ask with a little bit of shock, turning toward her.

"I heard someone say once that we call a person who has lost a spouse a 'widow' and someone who has lost parents an 'orphan', but we don't even have a word for a parent who has lost a child. It's like it's too awful to even speak a word that would name it out loud. And it's true. To lose a child is possibly the most horrible event someone can live through. But I think we've realized that Luke is not lost, John."

I squint my eyes as I look at her; that's how hard I'm trying.

She reaches out to touch my chest, my heart. "Luke is here, and here," she says, returning her hand to her own terry- clad chest. "He is a part of us, and he'll never really die, unless we forget, unless we give up. . ." she trails off.

"I don't want to give up. But I don't know what to do next, either," I say.

"Perhaps we could just make breakfast," she says with a tentative smile.

"That sounds good. I'm starvin'," I say, an easy grin coming at last.

"Well, it won't be made while we sit out here. C'mon." She stands and begins to walk toward the house.

I stand, but I do not follow her right away. "Kathryn?" I call softly to her. She turns to face me.

"Thank you," I say.

"Thank Luke," she replies, holding out her hand to me.

I take it as we walk into the house, our home, once again.

The End

MORE AuthorS Notes!

FROM MARIE: It's official: I'm the Luckiest Girl in The World! I have the most outstanding writing partner in Avalon- Her exquisite talent combined with kind friendship have made the writing of this story the sweetest of times. I will always remember the Summer of 2001 as our summer, Avalon! I belong to the greatest list- The members of IWTB are the most encouraging, talented, and supportive gathering of people in all of fandom, IMHO. Blessings upon you all! And we have been gifted and re-gifted with the world's greatest betas- Paige Caldwell and Georgia. Your insights, reassurances, and talent have over and over again made me a better writer. I am so grateful!

One more thing: Virtual Prizes behind curtain number two for the reader who can identify the origin of Kathryn Doggett's words about the orphans, widows, and childless parents!

FROM AVALON: If I could have one wish, it would be that every writer find as loving and generous a partner as I have found in Marie. She made me believe in this story through her sheer determination to allow John Doggett to have a voice...and she made me work to give Mulder his own. This was a tremendously difficult story for me to write, but I think it truly reflects the redeeming power that love has...the love of a man for a woman, the love of mothers and fathers for their children, and the love of children for their parents. I hope it touches people in that way.

Big cyber hugs to Georgia and Paige for their excellent beta, suggestions, and support. And to the members of the IWTB list, who always, always, make me smile. Thanks so much!

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