Series Page: Winterlong series
Spoilers: mytharc up to and including The Truth
Disclaimer: I am not Chris Carter, though I envy his bank accounts, and you know by now he created our beloved characters.
Summary: The invasion comes six years early.
Author's note: This is the official first fic in a new series. It's set in the same universe as Goodwill Towards Men, but many months earlier. (the events in GTM will eventually be part of this series later on.)
June 17th, 2004
As if by magic, the rambling farm house appeared on the horizon as the realtor's car crested a hill. Although it wasn't a new home, a fresh coating of paint made it gleam in the sunlight.
Mulder sat in the passenger seat beside the realtor, so Scully reached up and tugged on his sleeve. "How many bedrooms did you say this place has?"
"Twelve," the realtor answered for him. "I know it's rather large, but it's such a bargain you'll be able to afford to heat it! That's not always a given with the winters we have. It's a solid old place, well insulated. Just imagine what you'll do with all that space. The farmer who built this place didn't have the luxury of spare rooms like you will because he had sixteen children."
Scully let that last remark go without comment despite the stir of envy she felt. It wasn't that she ever wanted sixteen kids, but two would be nice. That, however, wasn't happening no matter how diligently she and Mulder applied themselves to the task of conceiving a second child. After more than a year of trying they'd both begun to lose hope.
"It doesn't look like sixteen children lived there, though," the realtor was quick to add. "It was remodeled long after they all grew up and moved away."
When they parked Mulder came around the backseat and freed William from his car seat. The little boy had long since fallen asleep and barely stirred as his father lifted him to his shoulder. After that Mulder made no move to do anything other than stare at the expansive house in awe.
"Maybe we should get him up," Scully suggested. "You don't want to have to carry him around."
"Hey Buddy, we're here," Mulder said loudly enough to wake him.
A minute later the boy was so bright-eyed and alert it was hard to believe he'd been asleep. "Big house," he commented. "We going on the boat 'gain?"
So far the highlight of their trip from DC to Maine had been the ferry ride from the mainland to this island. At least in William's opinion.
"How many people did you say live on the island?" Scully asked as the other woman led them up the long driveway.
"Closing in on a thousand now. In the last few years we've had several well-to-do people from Massachusetts decide New Hampshire just isn't pretty enough for them and end up here instead," the woman said, not hiding her disdain very well. Scully assumed she was from New Hampshire. "You folks aren't from there though."
"No," Mulder agreed, not giving her the satisfaction of prying into their lives.
"Ah. After we see the house I'll show you the dock out back. Do you have a boat? The town counsel keeps talking about a bridge to the mainland, maybe like the one they got there in Kittery, but you know how slowly projects like that move. Maybe after the way Boston screwed up the big dig we ought to be grateful for that..."
Since the afternoon was unusually warm for mid-October, Scully and her son took full advantage of it. William's feet dangled near her shins, so she was the one responsible for keeping the porch swing moving at a languid pace. Once in a while a frustrated mosquito would whine before giving up its attempt to reach them. It reminded her of why she and Mulder had screened in the porch not long after they'd bought the house on Black Bear island.
"Mommy," William said with a wide yawn. "Where did we live before we lived in Maine?"
"Are you doing a report for school?" she asked, buying herself time to think. What should she tell him? Just DC, or Wyoming too?
William didn't seem to remember the courtroom drama that had returned him to her and Mulder shortly before his third birthday, and they were careful not to bring it up when unnecessary. They claimed to each other that they didn't want to confuse him, but both knew it went deeper than that. They didn't like to think about it either, even knowing now that the couple who'd adopted their son had later been blessed with two of their own.
William shook his head. "Noooo. We don't have to do reports 'til third grade. It's just a worksheet about where your family has lived."
"Wow, a worksheet. I bet you have to fill that in all by yourself." He nodded on cue. "Write down DC on your paper. That's where we lived when you were a baby."
"Just DC? Two letters?" William looked disappointed.
"Well, you could write Washington DC instead. Do you think you can spell that?"
"Like the president who cut down a tree when he was little and didn't lie about it?"
"Exactly. It's named after him."
Sometimes she wondered if his school pushed the kids too hard. William's class had been expected to be reading by the end of their kindergarten year, even the kids who hadn't been destined to start first grade young like he had. Scully herself had gone into first grade being one of only three kids in the class who could read more than the alphabet and their names.
When he yawned again she decided to bring him in. "You seem tired, Will. Did you have a busy day?"
"We had gym today and extra recess too. Mrs. Welch said it's gonna get cold soon so we should enjoy the warm weather while we got it."
"She's right about that, sleepyhead. I think maybe you should take a nap until dinner."
"Okay." Unlike less than a year ago, he no longer seemed to think of naps as either punishment or torture. As long as he was given a real choice in the matter he was apt to opt for one when he was truly tired.
"I'll wake you when it's time to eat."
Once William went up to nap the house settled into a deep quiet. Scully didn't mind. Mulder would be home from work soon enough, so she didn't feel lonely.
When Mulder got home she turned to him with a smile, intending to ask him to carve the chicken she'd roasted. One look at his grim expression made the smile die on her lips.
"Scully...I think I was wrong," he said hoarsely.
"Doggett called my office today... We were supposed to have six more years to prepare. We don't have that much time. I don't think we have much time at all."
"How long?" It suddenly hurt her to breathe. When she looked towards the window she expected to see an invading army of grays. Nothing was there except the fading October sunshine.
"I don't know. Maybe a little while if we're lucky." He gave a helpless shrug. "There have been half a dozen crafts sighted this week alone. I think we have to be prepared for the invasion to begin any time now."
Scully went silent for a full minute before barking out a bitter laugh. "All this time, and I was sure it was never going to happen. Maybe it's a blessing that we can't have another baby."
"Scully." His eyes told her how hurt he felt.
But she didn't, couldn't, let herself care if the truth was painful. Not now. "I agreed to try to have another baby because you were so sure the invasion was years from now, and the baby would be big enough by then to not be an impossible obstacle to this family's survival. Mulder, I'm sorry, but can you imagine running after - or maybe away from - aliens with a baby in tow? It would make things more difficult, tenfold."
"But we wouldn't care about that. Not if it was our baby."
"It won't be." The look she gave him softened slightly. "If we live through this, we can think about trying again. But not now."
"When we live through this," Mulder said firmly.
She couldn't find it in herself to agree with him.
"We'll survive this," he continued insistently. "When I was at Mount Weather, the intel confirmed what we already suspected: they've going to use the virus to wipe out mankind. We're immune, we'll be fine."
If you consider probable enslavement fine, she thought but didn't say. If being ripped apart by long claws was fine. She cocked her head and looked at him. Maybe he'd finally adopted the definition of fine she always employed when he anxiously and irritatingly asked her how she was.
"Everyone we care about is vaccinated now too," he pointed out. Jeffrey Spender had seen to that almost immediately after Mulder's trial.
"But if the date's wrong, can we trust that any of the information you received was accurate?"
He didn't have an answer for that.
That night Doggett's worried face stared up at them from the screen of Mulder's laptop. "We're gettin' a call a day about sightings this week," he told Scully, trying to get her up to speed as well.
He and Monica Reyes were the last vestiges of the X-Files. Skinner had been forced out of the FBI not long after Mulder's farce of a trial, and had gone on to teach criminal law at a university in Chicago. Kersh had disappeared without a trace six months later.
Even people only tangentially related to the X-Files had cleared out of Washington. Gibson Praise had entered college early, finished a BS and was currently doing graduate work in Florida. Marita left for the west coast a week after the trial; they heard about her whereabouts every other year. She didn't stay in the same place very long.
And after delivering the vaccine, Jeffrey Spender dropped off the radar. They'd once heard a rumor that he had gathered some ex-Mufon members to...they never actually got a clear idea of what his group was up to. Whatever it was, Mulder assumed it was designed to strike out against the men who'd tortured and disfigured him.
"Mulder," Doggett spoke again. "What we talked about earlier, do you want Monica and I to come up there and help you prepare?"
"Prepare for what?" Scully asked sharply when it became clear to her she'd been left out of the loop.
"Resistance." Mulder's eyes were dark. "When we bought this place I thought we'd have more time to gather-"
"Followers? If you envisioned yourself as a leader of some sort of resistance group that'd use our home as its base of operation, you might have mentioned it sooner so I could tell you I'm not comfortable with the idea of having armed strangers wander our property while looking up to you as some sort of Jim Jones hero. I don't want the sort of people that would attract around our son."
"Neither do I but what did you think I meant all the times I said we'd make a stand when the invasion came?" Mulder demanded to know before sighing. "There isn't enough time now to organize anyone, so you don't need to worry about it."
She gave him a disbelieving look but did not say what she was thinking: why had he apparently told Doggett more about his aspirations to be the sort of leader the cultists who'd kidnapped William had worried about? Was it just because he didn't want to be talked out of it, or something more?
On screen Doggett cleared his throat and looked uncomfortable. Mulder turned back towards him. "Honestly Doggett, the most useful place you could be is right there in DC. As part of the X-Files you'll be in a much better position to monitor the situation than we will be from here. People will talk to your office about things the media won't air."
"All right," Doggett agreed. "We'll keep you up to date."
"But John, if you learn anything that makes you think that it's about to come to a head, promise that the two of you will be on the first flight here. They know humanity well enough to strike where it hurts most, and that puts Washington dead center of the bull's eye. Promise us," Scully repeated.
Doggett gave her a lopsided grin. "When the shit hits the fan, make up the guest room. We'll do all we can to get there. But I hope we'll be seeing you before anything serious happens."
"You haven't gotten it yet." Doggett looked slightly disappointed.
"A wedding invitation."
"Congratulations! When's the wedding?" Mulder asked. Doggett's unexpected announcement drained some of the tension from the room, but he could tell Scully was still ill at ease despite putting on a cheerful face for their friend.
"In a month." Doggett's smile faded. "We don't see any reason to wait."
"We'll see you then," Scully promised him. "Give our congratulations to Monica."
"I will." The screen went dark after Doggett signed off his web cam.
Once it did, Mulder turned to Scully. "I haven't been hiding any delusions of grandeur from you. Doggett is the one who was lamenting that there isn't time to gather an army to fight. The thought has crossed my mind like I said, but it has never seemed like a viable option."
Scully's shoulders finally relaxed. "So you're saying that you don't imagine yourself the commander of a rag-tag group of freedom fighters?" she asked mischievously.
"Nope." He kissed her shoulder. "The only commanding role I can see myself in is as Dad."
"You're sure?" The playful look left her face.
"I am. It wouldn't work." Mulder looked grim. "We don't know when or where things will happen, so gathering people here would be pointless."
They didn't speak any further that night about the coming threat. But the box of condoms that surfaced from a nightstand served as a reminder to them both.
By the time Mulder and Scully flew to DC for Reyes and Doggett's wedding, the media had already well established a cover story to explain the continued sightings.
Yet another reiteration of the story hit the air as they drove home from the ferry after the ceremony. A calm voice tried to tranquilize the masses. "The government would like to reassure the public that there are no such things as UFOs. The new I20 military plane is responsible for the UFO sightings occasionally reported-"
Mulder turned off the car radio in disgust. "The worst thing is that so many people believe it."
"It sounds less scary than the truth, so why wouldn't they believe?" Scully asked. "Everyone wants to believe the easy lies."
"Some people believe the truth," Mulder protested weakly.
Scully snorted. "And everyone they tell thinks they're mad."
"They thought we were mad for believing all those years too," he reminded her. "Some things never change."
She shook her head. "They do. I found something on the internet. A lot of somethings, actually."
"What?" he asked without looking away from the road.
"Blogs. Hundreds of them, all saying the same things. People urging others not to believe the government or the news. The word 'aliens' is being thrown around a lot. Not everyone is a contented sheep." She smiled at him. "I guess these days some people are more than fine with being thought of as wacky conspiracy theorists."
"I'm afraid it's going to be too little, too late." Mulder frowned.
She sighed, and wished there was some way to cheer him up. The stress of their situation was getting to him a lot more than it was getting to her. Not that she didn't feel the wolves at the door herself more often than not.
December 22nd, 2006
By the week before Christmas, tensions ran high in the house. Mulder and Scully both found that their frayed nerves made them quicker to snap at each other and their son. The waiting for the inevitable left them on tenterhooks, but they tried, often unsuccessfully, to make things as normal as possible for William's sake. Even so, they were quick to argue when he wasn't in the room. It wasn't as though they were actually angry at each other, but the impossible situation that really had them frantic couldn't respond to their frustration, so it spilled out of them onto each other.
The coming winter did nothing to put them in better spirits, either. Not after the last two winters on the island - those had been bleak enough by February. They were about to sit down to lunch when the weather changed abruptly yet again. A wind began to howl outside their door, and William ran to the TV.
"What are you doing?" Mulder asked, annoyed that he hadn't asked to leave the table but trying not to show it.
"Putting on the news," William explained. "I want to see the weather. It could snow."
Rather than argue with him, Mulder and Scully both joined him in front of the TV. The weatherman agreed with William, predicting a previously unanticipated snow squall to hit within the hour. "Sorry for the lack of warning, Folks. This one just came out of nowhere-"
The sheepish looking weatherman's apology was cut off abruptly and a Special Report logo lit up the screen. A somber news anchor from a news syndicates replaced the local forecaster. "We've just gotten word of an epidemic in Australia. The pathogen is fast moving, and there's a high morality rate-"
Both the landline and Mulder's cell began to ring at the same time. After exchanging a look, Mulder snapped his phone open and she went to answer the other phone.
"What? Who is this, anyway?" Mulder snapped impatiently, anxious to return to the news.
"Mulder, it's Jeffery Spender," the quiet voice replied. "We have big problems."
"I know. The news just said that there's been an outbreak of the virus-"
"It's not the virus. And I think it's our fault. My group's fault," Spender clarified minutely.
Mulder's head spun over what Spender had still left vague. "What do you mean it's not the virus? And how could illness at the other end of the Earth have anything to do with you?"
"We've been working on mass producing a vaccine for a while now. In October we began quietly vaccinating people." Spender paused and Mulder waited impatiently for him to gather his thoughts. "Right then we had a couple people go missing, leaving without telling anyone their plans. Or so we thought. We later found their bodies in the trunk of a car. Their eyes had been burned. Chemically. I think they must have wounded their attackers."
"So you think they were replaced by shape shifters." Mulder shivered involuntarily.
"Yeah. We tried to be so careful with security... They hadn't been dead long, less than a week from the condition of the bodies. By the time we found the bodies they'd been 'missing' two or three days. Since the sightings started just after that, we assume our plan to vaccine got back to the colonists." Spender's voice dripped guilt. "That's why they decided to attack in another way."
"In what way?"
"I think it's a neurotoxin. We've become too much trouble, so they'll get rid of us all instead. Write us off all together. It could cover the world in a matter of hours." Spender's voice dropped to a whisper. "I don't think the vaccine will protect us from this."
"Then what do we do to save ourselves from it?" Mulder demanded to know.
"I don't know. Nothing. We could try sealing up buildings like Homeland Security suggested when people were scared of being attacked by the terrorists from Middle East. But what if it lingers in the atmosphere? We can't stay sealed up forever. It'd just be putting death off for a while."
"So, what, you think we should just take our chances?!" Mulder yelled incredulously.
"I don't see what else there is to do, Mulder. No place on Earth is safe."
"Then why did you call?" Mulder asked.
"You have a right to know why," Spender replied. "I didn't think you'd want to die in ignorance."
"Great. Now I'll go to my grave with full knowledge of what put me there."
A couple of minutes later he hung up. Scully had already concluded her conversation and was eyeing him anxiously. He told her everything his half-brother had told him, and to his surprise she became very calm.
"Monica said she and John are on their way here. She called from the airport."
"Maybe they'll get here in time to die with us," Mulder said wearily. A moment later his check stung from a slap.
Shocked, he stared at her angry red face. "You can't just give up! You have no right to. We need you to believe that we're going to be okay. And if you can't believe, at least act like you do for your son's sake."
Mulder was filled with shame when William bound down the stairs a minute later. He hadn't even noticed that the little boy had left the room - for all he'd known he might have still been in the room to hear every overheated word.
"What's going on, Daddy?"
"Uh... Mom and I were talking about the storm. We're going to make a shopping list. Boring stuff like that. Why don't you go play?"
"A shopping list, Mulder? What-"
"You're right. We need to act like we'll survive this. There's stuff we need, just like during a normal storm when the power goes out."
It took him half an hour to convince Scully to let him go, but in the end she admitted that despite their nervous planning for a siege, there were still things they could use.
"Be back soon," she said and kissed him fiercely at the door. He tucked the list in his pocket and promised that he would.
An Hour Later
The island was large despite being sparsely populated, so a trip into town was never quick. He kept a weathered eye on the sky, but nothing looked amiss but the light snow that was beginning to fall.
Most of the list was easily found at the grocery store. It wasn't too crowded, but he guessed that the more seasoned locals prided themselves on being prepared so they didn't need to rush out to beat storms.
As he expected, the grocery store didn't have any mantles for their Coleman lanterns or oil for the hurricane lanterns. The hardware store was closed so Mulder pulled into the parking lot of the general store. The lot was nearly empty.
It was one of those big old-fashioned stores that was rambling and sectioned into smaller interconnected shops like a very small mall. The florist and pewter places were abandoned but there was someone minding the main shop.
No one else was shopping, or even driving down the street, so he didn't feel bad about buying a third of the remaining mantles, candles, oil, and matches.
"You expecting this storm to be a bad one, Mister Mulder?" Helen, the owner of the general store, asked pleasantly.
"I expect it to be terrible," Mulder admitted. "Helen...maybe you ought to close up early tonight."
"Might so. Doesn't look like I'll be selling much the last half-hour before I usually call it a night." Helen looked out at the deserted road as she spoke.
"Night, Helen," Mulder said and gathered up his bags.
Behind them the radio squawked, and a news story Mulder couldn't quite make out interrupted a NPR program. He assumed it was a continuation of the "rapidly spreading pathogen" story that moved almost as fast as the toxin it was about.
Just before he got to the door a hand grabbed Mulder's arm, startling him even though he knew who it must be.
"What's going on?" Helen's face was white with fear. "The reporter just now said this is no normal storm."
Helen trembled. "The fella on the news said people are dying. Oh Lord, I wish my Frank was still with me. He'd keep me from feeling so scared."
Mulder felt a stir of pity for her, because he knew from past conversations that she was a widow, having lost her husband within the past couple of years.
It was this pity that took hold of his tongue. "Helen, I think you should come home with me. My wife will never forgive me if you don't."
"What's happening, it's really bad isn't it?" Helen asked fretfully.
"I think it could be the worst," Mulder admitted. But he couldn't tell her he was inviting her home so she wouldn't die alone in the store.
Helen straightened her spine and walked to the door. She flipped the sign to Closed before turning back to him. "I'll get my coat."
She was still wrapping her scarf around her neck when Mulder noticed a green-gray cloud in the distance. It was already reaching the mainland, then. "Helen, we better hurry."
"Is it world war three?" she asked instantly.
"I don't think so. It's something else." He pointed a finger towards the cloud miles across the water.
Her eyes widened in dismay when she saw it too. "Dear God, something is really happening."
"I'm afraid so."
They scrambled into Mulder's SUV and slammed its doors. All the way to the house Mulder worried that the poison would descend on them. They beat it home. It felt like they barely did.
Scully looked haggard when they burst into the house. "I tried calling people again but Monica and John still were the only ones to answer."
"They haven't gotten here yet." There hadn't been any cars in the driveway, but it was remotely possible that their friends had parked in the seldom-used garage.
"Not yet, but they weren't too far away. Already on the island." She finally registered the fact that Mulder hadn't arrived alone. "Hello, Helen. I'm glad you've come by."
William ran up to his father, and Mulder swung him up in his arms. "Daddy, what's going on?"
"There's a bad storm coming, remember?" Mulder asked him.
"Oh yeah. Do you think we'll get enough snow to make a snowman?"
All the breath went out of him like he'd been kicked in the chest. They probably only had hours to live. William would probably never make another snowman.
"I don't know," he finally whispered.
A few heartbeats later a car roared into the driveway, and Scully flung the front door open. Doggett and Reyes shook snow off of themselves like dogs as they hurried in.
Scully slammed the door behind them. "Oh, thank God," she said, hugging them both.
"The SUV in driveway yours?" Doggett asked.
Doggett's shoulders sagged. "Any word from Skinner or Gibson?"
"I couldn't get through to them," Scully admitted.
"Damn. We couldn't either."
"Your mother?" Reyes asked gently.
"She's visiting Bill. I haven't heard from them, either." Scully's eyes teared up. "I knew they couldn't get here, but..." She looked at William before choosing her next words. "I wanted to talk to them."
"I'm sure they'll be fine. Whatever this is, I'm sure it hasn't spread to the west coast. Maybe it won't go that far." Reyes' reassurance rang hollow.
"What is this?" Helen demanded to know, getting the new arrivals' attention for the first time. "Tell me what's going on."
"The radio said it's a toxic gas," Doggett said gruffly. "Where it's already been most people, uh, succumb from it."
"Dear God," Helen whispered reverently.
"Some people are immune to it, it seems," Reyes added.
"How many people?" Mulder tightened his grip on his son.
She had trouble meeting his eyes. "They're saying 1 in 5."
"Jesus." This time it wasn't an appeal to the heavens.
"Is it global warming?" Helen asked. "I heard we might have another ice age, so how could it be that?"
"It's not global warming," Scully told her. "It couldn't cause anything like this."
The former FBI agents exchanged a quick look. "I think so," Mulder said at last. "Before we left the bureau there were concerns that terrorists might develop biological weapons. We just never imagined it might be on this scale."
Helen looked both grim and satisfied by the half-truth Mulder offered her. It was as if she'd anticipated an answer just like that.
The five adults spent the next hour watching the news, tension etched on each of their faces. The only person not sitting there fixedly staring at the screen was William. Unaware of what was going on, he sulked until Mulder dug out the portable DVD player they used during power failures.
The sound of the cartoon movie the little boy was watching across the room competed with the voices of panicky newsmen. No one was willing to leave the TV long enough to hunt for headphones, so the volume of each was incrementally increased like an audio version of poker.
"Will, turn that off and come here please," Scully called to him in a strained voice seconds after watching the anchor on screen collapse in a gurgling heap. Something about her tone made him give in without arguing.
Mulder expected him to ask what the fuss was about, but he didn't. Instead he climbed on Scully's lap.
"I'm sorry," Mulder said, mostly to Scully.
"What do we do, then?" Helen demanded to know. "Just sit here and wait to see if it takes us?"
"I don't think there's anything else we can do," Mulder said in a shaky voice.
"We could pray," Scully offered. Doggett and Helen nodded in agreement, but neither Mulder nor Reyes had been brought up in church-going homes, so they didn't see prayer as a refuge from trouble. They took the offered hands anyway.
Screams rent the air when the gray-green gas finally drifted to the ground on the island. It sounded to Mulder as though everyone on the island but them was screaming. In terror or defiance he couldn't tell.
Eventually the gas began to seep under the doorsills, with a seeming determination to get in. "Hold your breath!" Scully demanded. They all did, even knowing that doing so would only hold off the inevitable moment they would breathe in their first lungful of gas that was already swirling by their knees.
The entire neighborhood had gone silent, like a muted TV. Mulder thought everyone else must be holding their breath too.
Scully expected it to burn, but the poison didn't feel much different from air. It was slightly thinner, like being at a high altitude, but it didn't hurt.
Across from her, Doggett wrapped his arms around his new wife. Scully hugged her son and Mulder tighter, only then noticing that Mulder still held Helen's hand.
"How long?" Reyes asked quietly, even though she'd paid as much attention to the news as they had.
"Just a few minutes," Doggett reminded her.
"No, how long until it's gone?" Reyes pointed to the gas that had already filled the room.
A report coming out of the southern hemisphere had confirmed that the gas had dissipated completely in an hour. The crafts had gone with it, not bothering with the survivors. Yet.
"Yeah, I know." She sighed.
Fifty-four minutes to go.
Read Winterlong: II. In The Air Tonight now.
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