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 night of the invasion there is a search for survivors once the immediate danger has passed.
Fifty-Four Minutes Later
The longest hour of Scully's life passed with an agonizing slowness. She couldn't keep from looking at Mulder and William, trying to sear the image of them whole and alive into her mind so she could hold onto that for the rest of her life. However long that might be. Any one of them might be the first to drop to the floor, strangled by the poisonous gas. In a way, though it made her feel guilty and selfish, she wished it would be her first so she wouldn't see anyone die. As long as it wasn't William last, terrified and alone in his final moments.
But the hour ticked by and they all continued to breathe in and out, taking the gas in, but not falling victim to it. The odds said only one of them should survive, but their luck continued to hold.
When the gas finally left, it wasn't like its arrival. That had been a slow tide pushing forward to blanket the island. Instead, in one heartbeat it was still pressing against the ceiling. In the next it was gone completely, as if it had never been there at all.
Stunned by their unexpected good fortune, they all looked at each other.
"We're alive!" Doggett crowed, breaking the long silence.
At this William finally looked scared. It dawned on Scully that no one had explained the situation to him. Apparently he hadn't figured out what the adults had been talking about. "What?" His eyes filled with surprised tears that threatened to spill over.
Mulder rubbed his back. "It's okay now, Buddy. Everyone's okay."
"Why is that?" Reyes asked pensively. "We shouldn't all be alive."
Scully shrugged. "Maybe the toxin lost potency by the time it got this far north. Or maybe the snow changed its chemical properties. Either way, we dodged a bullet. Living here has turned out to be a happy accident."
"You're not serious, are you?" Mulder stared at her over their son's head. "Just because the six of us made it through this is no reason to believe that the entire island got through unscathed."
"Isn't it?" Scully asked uncertainly. Her initial elation that they were okay was beginning to wane.
"Even if everyone on Black Bear Island is okay, what about the rest of the country? Hell, what about the rest of the world?" Mulder asked seriously.
What if the last hour had been the easiest part, she wondered. Until Spender's call they'd been steeling themselves for a full scale invasion, literally fighting for their lives. If the reports that poured in before the news person had died on screen were true, the colonists weren't sticking around to attack people who hadn't been poisoned. If there wasn't a war next, then what?
Almost as if response to her unvoiced question, there was a thin cry outside. It actually was probably quite loud to penetrate the closed window, but it came to them as a pathetic, desolate sound.
Instinctively, Scully headed towards the door, eager to see another survivor. Her fingers were wrapped around the doorknob before anyone spoke.
"Where are you going?" Helen asked nervously. She still had a death grip on Mulder's hand.
Scully looked at her like she was crazy. "Couldn't you hear that?"
"Hear what?" Helen asked even as the keening resumed.
"The crying! Can't you hear it?"
"I do," William spoke up. "It's another kid."
"Yeah, I hear it too," Doggett said after a moment. "We better go see what's going on."
"It could be dangerous," Helen protested. She wilted under the disbelieving looks the others gave her.
"Do you want to stay here with William?" Mulder asked carefully. It was obvious to Scully that he was trying to keep himself from calling her spineless.
"Yes," Helen agreed. "The boy and I will stay here and monitor things. Maybe the news will start up again. We'll let you know if it does."
"Okay then." Scully was surprised by the woman's undisguised cowardice but it did solve the problem of what to do with William while they checked out the neighborhood.
"I want to go with you!" Will complained. "How come I gotta stay here?"
"We need people to stay behind in case anyone comes to the house, Will," Mulder said quietly. "If they do, you'll have to play host since this is our house, not Helen's. Okay?"
"Okay," the little boy agreed a few seconds later. He didn't look happy about it, but now seemed to believe it was his and Helen's duty to remain behind.
Scully wondered what Mulder might have done if William had been less agreeable.
"How long will you be gone?" Helen demanded to know.
"As long as it takes to find out what happened to everyone else." Scully shrugged. It wasn't the answered the older woman wanted, but it was the only honest one.
"Try not to get yourselves killed," Helen muttered as she followed them to the door. "I'm too old to bring up this one if you do."
Before they left, Mulder sent William to get the flashlights they stored in the basement. He then took the owner of the general store aside. "Helen, can you shoot?"
"Of course. I grew up on a farm on the mainland, and sometimes you had to shoot things that went after the livestock. I've target shot now and again since that. Why do you ask?" She gave him a nervous look which made Mulder wonder what happened to the woman who'd straightened her spine and decided to come with him. His next thought was to wonder why he himself hadn't been as worn down by the terrible hour they'd just survived, because her reaction seemed a human one when he considered it.
That in mind, he tried not to alarm her more. "If anyone tries to break in, I want you to be armed. I don't think it's likely, but just in case, okay?"
"All right," Helen agreed. Mulder showed her where he kept a spare gun and a few clips.
"We've been very careful to teach William not to touch guns, so there shouldn't be a problem taking a gun out of the safe for you," Mulder explained. "But I'd prefer you don't leave it in sight anyway."
Helen's eyes widened. "When you mentioned 'the bureau' earlier, did you mean the FBI?"
"Yes. Dana and I used to be agents. Until tonight John and Monica still were. Now...who knows. I doubt there's an FBI left for them to go back to."
"That explains a lot about you," Helen murmured. "Don't worry about us. William and I will hold down the fort."
He gave her a small smile. If he actually thought there was any danger in staying at the house, he wouldn't leave his son behind. She didn't need to know that though, least she become fatally complacent if he were wrong.
"We'll be back as soon as we can," Mulder repeated.
"Flashlights." William returned with an armload of them. He made a show of passing them out, and Doggett ruffled his hair as he took a blue one from him.
"Be a good boy for Helen," Scully said, giving William a kiss on the cheek.
He scowled and rubbed his cheek. "I will. You're going to find that kid, right? She sounded scared."
"We're going to do our best," Scully promised. Once everyone armed themselves and took flashlights, they headed out.
By the time they got outside the crier wasn't in sight. A wind picked at the light snow that had fallen earlier, erasing what footprints might have been left.
They hadn't gotten more than five hundred yards from the house before Scully had occasion to be very glad her son wasn't with them. A corpse wearing a snow parka hung out of a car window.
"Is he dead?" Reyes asked needlessly. The man's face was so dusky it was nearly black in the fading twilight. His hands were around his throat, as if strangling himself.
"Very," Mulder answered for her, though Scully had by then concluded that her friend's question had been rhetorical.
"I don't hear the crying anymore," Doggett said, reminding them of the task at hand.
"The kid probably went into one of the houses."
"Since some people clearly didn't make it, we should probably be checking all the houses on this street to see if there's anyone who needs help," Scully said, and the others nodded. "There are only a couple dozen."
"And find out where the bodies are. I don't like it any more than you do, but we're going to have to deal with that," Mulder added when they glowered at him. "It's one of the less pleasant duties left to the lucky living."
Their farm house was the last home on a cul de sac and there was only one perpendicularly adjoining property. It seemed like the most logical place to start, and the four of them let themselves into the house next door after knocking didn't rouse anyone.
A quiet stillness filled the house, but that was all. No sharp-clawed monsters hid under faded sofas, and no colonists waited in the breakfast nook to overtake them. The most threatening thing about the place was the garish 70s-era wallpaper in the hallway.
A methodic search of all the rooms, the attic and the basement yielded just one single body, curled into a ball on a bathroom floor. A middle-aged man. Mulder vividly remembered seeing the man washing his car one afternoon late in the summer and more recently checking his mailbox.
Reyes looked puzzled by their singular find. "As we came through here I got the impression that three people lived in this house," she said pointing to photos on the hallway wall of a couple and an elderly man. "There are three cars out front too."
"I think you're right," Mulder said. "I believe his father moved in with them this spring."
Reyes looked shocked. "Don't you know? They were you're neighbors!"
"Didn't you read Robert Frost in high school? 'Good fences make good neighbors.' New Englanders aren't exactly known for their block parties," Mulder said defensively. "We've tried to fit in and that meant keeping a polite distance."
"And getting to know the neighbors wasn't high on our list of priorities," Scully added. "We wanted to be left alone, and they honored that. The cold and aloof reputation people have up here suited us."
"You may as well go ahead and say it," Mulder told her.
"That meeting my mother prepared you for that."
"It'd be easier to look for people if you knew them," Reyes said with a frown.
Privately, Mulder disagreed. If they'd allowed themselves to become emotionally invested in the neighbors, finding them dead or missing would be infinitely harder. That wasn't what she meant, though.
"We should keep looking," Doggett said impatiently. "If the kid's not here, we're wasting time."
A top to bottom search of the house failed to reveal either of the two missing residents, hiding or dead. This became a pattern that repeated itself when they searched the next few houses. While they did find the occasion body, most people were just gone.
At each of these houses Scully made an X on the front doors with electrical tape that Mulder hadn't been surprised she'd stuffed into her coat pocket. Their friends had obviously understood what the mark meant because they hadn't asked about it either.
"The missing people...do you think the aliens took them?" Doggett asked, and Mulder could see how much the question pained him to ask. "To make them slaves or experiment on them?"
"I don't know," Mulder admitted.
They looked up when they heard another dismayed cry.
"That house." Scully pointed to a home across the street. The front door hung ajar, letting in the still lightly falling snow.
As the four of them approached the house it became clear that they were listening to the sobs of a very young child. This in mind they tried to make their voices as soothing and non-threatening as possible when they called to him or her. It didn't seem to help, and the child didn't come to them.
"I guess we should split up," Scully whispered. Doggett and Reyes headed up stairs while she and Mulder went in different directions on the ground floor.
"Hello? Does anyone need help?" Scully called softly.
She flinched when an unexpectedly near voice replied back, "Yes need help."
When she entered the master bedroom, Scully's heart broke. A young woman was in the bed, one limp arm dangling over the edge. A tiny dark-haired girl was holding the dead woman's hand. When Scully entered the room the child looked at her with luminous eyes.
"Oh, sweetheart..." Scully tried not to cry.
"Mommy sick," the little one whispered. "And Daddy went 'way."
"I'm sorry." Scully shuddered when while in the process of picking the girl up she accidentally brushed the dead woman's arm. The body was already cooling.
"She don't wake up."
"I know. She can't. But you'll be okay."
"Okay." the girl sighed and leaned against her shoulder.
Scully carried her out into the living room where the others were returning. Looking up at them, she said, "I...I'll look for a coat for her."
"What are we going to do with her?" Mulder blurted out before seeming to remember that most options for dealing with parentless children had effectively been obliterated an hour before. "Stupid question, never mind. We'll bring her home with us."
"What if she has family somewhere?" Scully asked worriedly.
"She probably doesn't." Mulder pointed out. "And unless she has surviving family here on the island, we might never find them. The days of cross country flights are over."
"And if there are more children who've been left without parents?" Reyes asked.
"Finders keepers is the only reasonable thing to do. I guess the days of adoptions being held up by red tape are over too," Doggett whispered with a faint smile.
"If we find more kids, we'll figure it out," Mulder said. "Right now we don't even know how many people survived this. It could just be the handful of us. I hope it's not true, but it might be."
"On that note...We didn't search everywhere before hearing Scully talking to the girl, so let's finish now," Doggett suggested.
While they debated hypotheticals Scully had located a small blue coat belonging to the girl. She now stayed behind to help the girl put it on. The little one already wore boots and the soles were wet. "Did you go outside?"
"Yes," the girl admitted. "But I don't find anyone."
"What's your name?"
"Olivia. I'm this many," the child said, holding up three small fingers in anticipation of every adult's next question.
"My name is Dana," Scully told her. "You're going to come with us."
Olivia nodded, and stuck a thumb in her mouth. Scully thought the child was simply relieved to have an adult take responsibility of her.
Reyes returned first, carrying a canvas bag. "No bodies, but I found some of her clothes in the laundry room," she explained.
"Oh. I should have thought of that." Scully looked down at the girl. "Do you have a doll or stuffed animal you sleep with?"
Olivia slide off the chair and toddled out of the room. When she returned she had a stuffed bear in one hand and a worn baby blanket in the other. While they watched she wrapped the bear in the blanket before cuddling it to her chest.
"We didn't find anyone else," Mulder reported when he and Doggett finished searching the house.
"This is Olivia."
"Hi, I'm Mulder." He picked Olivia up and they all made their way outside. They then waited while Scully affixed an X on the front door.
Looking at Scully, Mulder asked, "Now what?"
"Now we shou-"
Everyone looked up to see a pair of faces looking down at them from a second story window next door.
Two boys, both a little older than William, ran to the door and let them in. They looked pale and their curly brown hair was disarrayed.
One of them looked them up and down warily. "Are you real or my imagination?"
His brother scoffed. "I can see them too. So how could they be your imagination?"
"Whatever. We thought all the grown ups were gone," the first boy explained. "Maybe just kids were left."
Doggett's head swiveled towards him. "Have you seen other kids?"
"Yeah, Olivia and Lacey." The boy craned his neck, trying to see behind him. "Where's Lacey? You better get her, she's only two."
"Our mom baby-sits her sometimes," the other boy said before swallowing hard. "Well, she did."
After a moment of confusion the boys said the toddler lived directly across the street, and they'd seen her at her bedroom window a few minutes earlier. Scully and Reyes went to find her, taking Olivia with them.
"What are your names?" Mulder asked the boys.
Doggett quietly left the room, taking his cue from his wife's preparation at Olivia's house. Mulder saw him take school bags off hooks in the hallway before disappearing from sight.
"Adam," one said. "I'm older."
"By three minutes!" The other twin looked outraged for a second. "I'm Tyler."
"How old are you?" Mulder had a hazy idea that he'd noticed these boys waiting for their bus a few times. They might even go to the same mainland school as William. The fact that this disaster happened during Christmas vacation suddenly seemed like a small stroke of luck.
"Seven," Adam said. "Mister, do you know where our parents are? We can't find them anywhere."
Doggett, just returning with a pair of bulging backpacks, froze when he heard the question. Olivia was too little to understand what was going on, and they hadn't discussed what to say to kids who could.
"We don't know," Mulder admitted.
"They had us hide in our closet and stuffed towels under the door, but they never came back to tell us it was safe like they promised they would..." He trailed off, looking frightened. "Is it safe? Did we stop hiding too soon? Tyler wanted to wait, but I didn't think we should-"
"As far as we know it's all over now," Doggett reassured him. "The newsman said no one's gotten sick after an hour, and it's been a while longer than that."
"But it was bad though," Adam guessed.
"Yes. It was bad. Some people died, and a lot are missing. We don't know where they've gone."
"Are they coming back?" Tyler asked anxiously.
"I don't think so," Mulder admitted and their faces went white with shock. "You're going to be okay, though. In a little while we'll bring you to our house-"
"No! You can't make us go!" Adam shouted before bolting for the stairs. "Mom, Dad! Where are you?!" Mulder chased after him.
Alone with Doggett, Tyler verged on hysteria too. "If we go, how will they know where to find us?"
"The house is just down the road. We'll leave a note," Doggett suggested desperately.
In the end both boys were still screaming for their parents when Mulder and Doggett carried them outside. They kicked and flailed their arms until they were set on their feet with restraining hands on their shoulders to keep them from bolting.
"Stop. Put these on," Mulder commanded, handing them the coats he'd snagged off hooks as they'd dragged the boys by. "You need to stop this carrying on. Something very bad happened today and those of us who were spared are going to have to carry on with our lives without the people we've lost. You are too young to take care of yourselves so you need to be with an adult who can keep you safe and that is us. We are not leaving here without you. Do you understand?"
"Yes." They wiped their faces and gave him sullen looks, but they stopped trying to run back into the house. They didn't even throw their backpacks when they were handed them.
"Good. If your parents come back we'll gladly let you go home with them, but for now you stick with us."
Their tears were mostly dried by the time Scully and Reyes joined them. A blonde toddler was perched on Reyes' hip.
"I think we better search the rest of the street," Scully suggested. "It might go quicker if we split up into two groups."
Mulder looked down at the two boys. "Are you both going to behave, or does one of you need to go with John and Monica?"
"We'll behave," they promised quickly, linking hands.
"All right then."
Scully raised an eyebrow, but Doggett mouthed 'later' so didn't ask what had gone on in her absence.
"Do you want me to carry her?" Doggett asked as they approached a darkened house on the other side of the street. Reyes declined his offer. "Let me know if she gets too heavy."
She glanced at Doggett. "I want to keep her."
"If we can't find any other adults, I'm pretty sure the four of us will have to keep them all," Doggett told her.
"No. I mean you and I keep her. Dana and I were talking about how their lives need to be as normal as possible and that means knowing which two people to call Mom and Dad."
"If she and Mulder are willing to claim the two boys too, then this is okay by me. Well, none of this is okay, but that plan is as good as any."
"Really finders keepers then?" Reyes asked archly.
"Yeah, but I hope they find more kids than we do. At least they have some recent experience with parenthood."
"Somehow I don't think this is the sort of brave new world Aldous Huxley ever imagined," Reyes said wistfully.
"Probably not. I don't think he expected people to still be having babies the old fashioned way these days." The look Doggett gave her was a sober one. "I hope there are babies born the normal way in the future."
"Do you think they did something to us? With the gas?"
"I hope not but we won't know for a while yet."
"There's no reason to believe the gas sterilized anyone," Reyes insisted, but her voice quavered.
"Maybe not." Doggett took Lacey from her as they entered a house. "But like I said, we won't know for sure until people try to have babies."
Reyes shivered and shut the door behind them. Doggett held the little girl easily, reminding her that he'd had a child and she hadn't. A few months earlier, before the UFO sightings had led them to shorten their engagement, they'd brought up the subject of children. That night they had been enthusiastic about a future that would include offspring. Now that everything had changed in a blink of an eye, she wondered if she'd ever see Doggett hold a child fashioned from their genes.
Through some stroke of luck, Mulder managed to keep the children from seeing any bodies. Or, in Olivia's case, any more bodies. It was just a matter of having them stay in living rooms and kitchens.
Without exception, the bodies were all in bedrooms and bathrooms. It made him wonder why the dying had all sought out those rooms. Wanting to die in bed he supposed he could understand, but the bathrooms? Maybe some of them had felt like throwing up.
"Empty?" Tyler whispered when he and Scully returned to a living room to collect their charges.
"Yup. No one was home." Mulder forced a cheer he didn't feel into his voice. Tyler was beginning to worry him. Adam kept up a litany of complaint about their situation, but Tyler had fallen into an unnerving silence. His single word question was the only thing he'd said over the past fifteen minutes.
When Tyler didn't respond, it didn't surprise him when Scully took the boy's hand and led the way out of the empty house. Mulder didn't ask, but he knew she too was worried that Tyler would drift away.
Inside the house it became clear that it wasn't an animal they were listening to, but a baby. It was the hopeless sobbing of an infant who has decided that its needs will never be met. Without discussing it with Mulder, Scully raced towards the source of the sounds.
The walls of the nursery were a sky blue, and a few puffy clouds were painted near the ceiling. A crib was near a window, and a brown-haired baby about a year old gripped the railing. He continued to sob when Scully got there, but he held his arms out to her.
"Oh, poor baby, you're okay now," she whispered, but his small hands clung desperately to her coat as soon as she picked him up.
For what seemed like forever, she swayed with him in her arms and tried to soothe his hysterical tears. Eventually some of the tension drained from his little body. "Hey, what's your name?" she asked, not really expecting an answer.
"Jesse," he shocked her by saying.
"Hi Jesse. Do you say anything else?"
He just started at her with big green eyes.
Within moments of Scully's mad dash to the back of the house, the crying cut off. Mulder imagined that she was comforting the child. The crying had given him a pang of alarm, and he imagined it was even worse for her. Considering how long it had already been since the gas descended upon the island, the baby might have been alone for a dismaying amount of time.
Given the baby's distress, he doubted that there was anyone else alive in the house, but he knew he ought to look. Before he could set out to do so Adam stepped in front of him.
"I want to help you look," the boy insisted. "Tyler can watch Olivia. Right, Tyler?"
Tyler nodded his head. He and Olivia looked content to remain in the living room.
"All right," Mulder reluctantly agreed. "But I want you to stick with me."
"I will," Adam agreed instantly. But when they reached the stairs, his enthusiasm started to waver. "Are they gross?"
"The dead people."
"Not really. Their faces are kind of purple, but they're not all bloody or anything if that's what you're worried about."
"Oh." Adam looked at his feet.
"How about I look in the bedrooms first? If there's anyone in there, I'll let you know so you can decide if you want to see."
"Okay." The boy looked relieved.
A quick search of the second floor didn't reveal anyone, much as Mulder expected. What he didn't anticipate was that Adam would be staring out a hallway window, pointing.
"Hey look. I see people!" Adam said excitedly. "Not your friends, either!"
Mulder joined him and tried to open the window. Down below a group of people walked along the street behind the house. A small boy wearing an orange jacket fell behind but seemed to be called by one of the adults. In a few seconds he caught up.
"Open the window!" Adam urged.
One of the owners had apparently weatherized the windows, which sealed it off to drafts. When it wouldn't budge Mulder resorted to banging his fist against the frame. The people below gave no indication that they could hear. "Crap. I can't get it open."
"What's going on?" Scully had the baby on one hip, and Olivia held her other hand. Tyler trailed behind her.
"Adam saw people on the next street over. We couldn't open the window," Mulder told her.
"How many people?"
"Three adults, and at least half a dozen kids."
"That's good," she said slowly.
He could read the same relief he felt on her face. In the back of his mind he'd begun to visualize the old woman who lived in a shoe, and he was the old woman.
"Do you think we should go after them?"
"No. I think it's more important to finish the last few houses on this street. Those people won't be leaving the island, either. We can talk to them later."
"All right," Mulder agreed. He was eager to find Doggett and Reyes so they could go home and figure things out.
Searching along the other side of the street took Doggett and Reyes a shorter time despite there being two more houses. The sad fact was that there had been no one alive in any of the homes to help.
"Are you okay?" Doggett asked as they marked yet another door with an X. Duct tape turned out to be surprisingly ubiquitous, and they found several rolls of it in the first house after separating from Scully's electrical tape.
Reyes shook her head and bit her lip.
"What's wrong?" Doggett asked, though he found it a woefully lacking question. What wasn't wrong then might have been a better one. Lacey's sleeping weight needed to be supported with one of his arms, but he drew her to his side with the other.
When she finally looked up at him, he thought she was trying not to cry. "What if it's our fault some of these people are dead?"
"Our fault in what way? Because we couldn't prevent the invasion?"
"Not that. They said on the news that only one in five people survived. But all six of us lived. Does that mean four people died in our places?"
"Of course not! One in five is just math, and I'm sure you know that. You don't really expect that if 100 people gathered together today, exactly 20 walked away?"
"I understand what you're saying but I can't shake the feeling that we've been fortunate at someone else's expense," Reyes admitted.
He squeezed her shoulder. "I think the fact that we haven't found anyone in a while is what's dragging your spirits down."
"Do you think Dana and Fox have found anyone else?"
"I don't know." Doggett decided to keep the fact that he was growing uneasy to himself. They had entered and exited five houses, and not once caught sight of the others since parting ways. It seemed to him that they ought to be moving between houses at the same time now and then.
"I hope so-" She started to say, but a door opened before them. A young girl stared out at them. A smaller boy appeared beside her.
"Hi," the girl called to them. "Do you know what's going to happen now that our parents are gone?"
"Sweetie, where are your parents?" Reyes asked once they reached them.
"My name is Hailey, not sweetie. Our parents are dead," the girl said flatly.
"I'm sorry to hear that," Doggett said sympathetically. "But where are their...bodies?"
"Oh." A moment passed before she said anything else. "Do you know how people died, the choking?" The adults nodded. "Mommy died first. Then Daddy. And my aunt and uncle too. They fell down, choking and choking. Then, while I waited for Seth and me to die too, something big passed over the house. When it was gone so were all of our parents. It took them away."
"I'm so sorry." Reyes hugged both of the children to her. "So sorry."
Hailey pulled away before long. "What happens to us now?"
Doggett spoke up before his wife had the chance to. "Now you're going to come with us."
"With you?" Seth asked, breaking his silence.
"Yes. With us, our friends Dana and Fox, their son, and other little kids we've found tonight like you," Doggett explained. He found himself sudden grateful for the size of Mulder and Scully's home.
"There are other people who didn't choke and die?" Hailey seemed surprised by this.
"Some," Reyes told her. "Let's get you guys ready to go outside."
"So, that's the last house," Mulder announced, eyeing Scully. "Do you want me to see if I can figure out which house Doggett and Reyes are in?" He asked hoping she would take the hint. Not only was he anxious to get back to William and Helen, the kids were beginning to tire, and Olivia shook now and then with the force of her shivers.
"Not yet," Scully replied to his disappointment. "I want to check out the birth center first. It's just down and across the street."
"Oh." Mulder had passed the little building and wondered many times why Scully had never expressed any interest in working there. When he'd brought it up to her once, she'd told him that as a doctor she was far more comfortable dealing with the other end of the human lifespan.
The center was no more than a quarter of a mile away, nestled amongst a few shops that hadn't been able to find retail space downtown.
"Scully, do you really think there's going to be anyone here?" Mulder asked as they trudged through the snow and the building came into sight. His arms ached from carrying Olivia.
"There might be," Scully insisted once they got inside. "Jesse was alone for far too long. I wouldn't want another baby to suffer abandonment any longer than that."
He thought of pointing out that Jesse's parents had hardly abandoned him, but didn't have the energy to debate semantics.
"Adam, take Jesse please." Scully handed the baby to the less shell shocked twin. "Mulder, wait with them here. You look tired."
"All right." There were chairs in a reception area, so Mulder had the kids sit down while they waited for Scully to search the small building. Adam found a stack of Highlights for Children and tried with little success to interest his brother in them.
Given there were so few cars in the shared parking lot it seemed possible that the building might be empty naturally, which lessened Mulder's fear that Scully would find a dead baby. At least until Scully returned a few minutes later carrying something blanket-wrapped in her arms.
His heart lodged in his throat - until he realized that she didn't look sad. "I'm sorry I took so long, but I had trouble finding something to swaddle him in."
"Him?" Mulder asked faintly.
Scully shifted the bundle so Mulder could see the newborn in her arms. The rusty splotches on the baby's face and hands puzzled him at first, until he realized with slight revulsion what it must be. "I don't want to get him wet and then take him outside so a bath will have to wait until we get home. He must have been born just before all of this happened," Scully said, bolstering his conviction that he was right.
As Mulder stared at the blood dappled baby, Scully words from months ago came back to him. Invasion was no time to be burdened with a new baby. But he wondered if her resolve would hold and she'd want to give him to some other survivor on the island. He doubted it.
"I thought we could name him Jeremiah," she said, answering his unasked question.
When Mulder got up and began to look around, Scully eyed him curiously. "What are you looking for?"
"Keys. There's a van parked outside. We're over a mile from home now, and it's getting colder. I don't want to make the kids walk if I don't have to."
"What if there are more-" She trailed off and nodded towards the kids.
"Doggett and I will drive back and keep looking," Mulder promised.
It took several minutes to load the children into the newly acquired vehicle. The twins and Olivia didn't pose a problem but Scully insisted on looking for car seats for the two babies. A thorough search of the parking lot only turned up one. After some debate they put Jesse in it, and Scully would hold the newborn.
"There you are!" a voice called.
Mulder squinted into the blustering snow and saw Doggett and Reyes. "Good timing. I was worried we'd have to look all over for you."
"This is Hailey and her cousin Seth," Reyes said as she helped Lacey into the van as well.
"No adults?" Doggett asked quietly while he and Mulder stood outside.
"Yes and no. We didn't find any in the houses, but we saw some on the road behind us. Three of them and several more children as well. The window stuck and we couldn't get their attention, though."
Naked relief was plain on Doggett's face. "Thank God we're not the only ones. I gather the plan is to bring the kids to your house now?"
"Yeah. They're cold and tired. I promised Scully that you and I would go back out afterwards. Sorry."
Doggett didn't look put out. "You saw other people in a group like us. It's likely if both we and they had the same impulse others here have well. Maybe we won't be out much longer."
"We can hope."
Although it had taken them a couple of hours to get as far as the birthing center, the drive home only took a few minutes. It took nearly as long to empty the van as to get back to the farm. Mulder didn't bother to knock because he'd made both William and Helen promise not to let anyone in. His fingers were stiff with cold by the time he managed to unlock the door.
"Thank God you're finally back," Helen said, getting to her feet as they ushered the kids into the living room.
Scully gave her alarmed look. "Why, what happened while we were gone?"
"The news came back." Helen pointed to the TV. "They don't know how much longer we'll have power, and I was beginning to worry about the lot of you wandering in the dark and breaking your necks. They think we might have a couple of days, but it could only be hours since there aren't enough people to run the power plants."
"Did they say how many people are left?" Reyes asked.
"17 percent is their best guess. And that includes a lot more kids than adults." Helen gave her a small smile. "Apparently you've noticed."
"Mom! Dad!" William tore down the stairs and threw himself at Scully's knees. "We waited and waited for you to come back! Did you find the-" His eyes went wide when he finally noticed the children clustered around his father and Doggett. "Who are these kids?" William demanded to know.
"Let's take about that upstairs." Mulder took him by hand and brought him up to his bedroom. They both sat on William's blue and red comforter.
"Will, do you know what an orphan is?" Mulder asked gently.
His son shook his head.
"A little boy or girl whose Mom and Dad have died are orphans," Mulder explained. "You got scared earlier tonight when John said we were alive. Remember?"
After a few seconds of struggling to understand, William pulled the pieces together. "Those kids downstairs don't have mommies and daddies?" he whispered, horror-stricken.
"Kiddo, something really terrible today. A lot of people died when that gas got into the houses today...more grown ups died than kids. You're a lucky boy because Mom and I and you are all okay. There aren't a lot of kids who are as lucky as you, Will."
William drew his legs to his chest. "What happens to those kids now, Daddy?"
"Mom and I are going to take care of some of them. And John and Monica are going to take care of some too," Mulder said slowly.
"So I have to share you?" William asked. "Like if you adopted other kids?"
Mulder tried to keep things as simple as he could. "Just like that. There won't be any judges to do adoptions now, but towns need to take care of their own. I think most of the grown ups in town will take in kids too, since there isn't anywhere else for them to go."
"What do you think about that?"
"I don't know yet," William admitted. "It's real bad that they don't have parents any more. That's a lot sad. But I didn't have to share you and Mommy before so I don't know if that'll be good or bad. And I don't know if they'll like me."
"When we feel a bunch of confusing things all at once, they call that having mixed feelings. And it's okay to feel like that."
"Yeah. But I want you to promise me one thing, Will."
"I don't expect you to be best friends with the other kids right away, or even necessarily like them. But you have to promise to give them a chance."
"I will, Dad," William promised.
"Good boy." Mulder hugged him. "Mom and Monica are going to need some help with dinner and making beds, can I count on you to help out?"
"Sure. But won't you help too?"
"Not right now. John and I are going to go and make sure there aren't any more kids who need help."
"Will you be back for dinner?"
"I hope so. We'll be back as soon as we can."
When Mulder brought William downstairs, Helen was putting her coat on. She pointed at Doggett. "Your friend said you were going back out. Could you give me a ride home?"
"You..." Mulder trailed off. "I thought you might like to spend the night."
Helen shook her head. "It was foolish to stay behind earlier. If there's any danger, it's all around us. And frankly, if something's going to happen to me tonight, I'd rather it be in my own bed. No offence."
When the three of them set back out, they agreed to drop Helen off first and double back. The streets were quiet and empty when Mulder pulled up in front of her house. "Are you sure you want me to leave you here?"
Helen put her hand over his. "You're sweet. I'll tell you what. I know where you live now, and if anything happens I'll come find you. I think I'll be fine, though. There's a lot I'd like to get done here before the lights go out, too."
"Okay. Take care of yourself, Helen."
Mulder and Doggett waved goodbye and waited until she let herself into her house. But he made no move to start the car again. Instead he looked at Doggett. "We haven't talked about it yet, but... you know that you and Monica can't go back to DC, don't you? Even if we found someone who could ferry you to the mainland, I don't think everyone who died while driving considerately pulled off to the side of the road. The odds of you safely making a seven hundred mile trip safely are astronomical."
"We know." Doggett sighed. "Besides the house there isn't really anything waiting for us there now, anyway. It's not as though we're going to be reporting back to work any time soon."
"Scully wanted me to make it very clear that you're welcome to stay with us indefinitely. If you get sick of us, there are now a lot of ownerless homes on the island."
"Thanks." Doggett gave the ghost of a smile.
"Hey, someone's got to help us with all the kids," Mulder told him as he put the car into drive. They drove back towards their road without further comment.
"We might as well park at the center," Mulder told Doggett as he slowed the vehicle. "All the other houses on this road are empty."
"At least of living people," Doggett added.
"Well, yeah," Mulder agreed as he pulled up in front of the birth center's door.
A flare of headlights startled Mulder as he and Doggett climbed out of the SUV. Using a hand to shield his eyes, Mulder squinted into the dark. "Hello?" he called tentatively.
There was a slam of a car door, then the sound of boots approaching. Eventually he could make out the form of a short stocky man about thirty-five. "You been down this road yet?" the man asked them in way of a greeting.
"Yeah. It's where we came from originally," Doggett told him. "We've checked all the houses that way-" He pointed back towards the farm house. "-already."
"I think we're done, then." The other man looked relieved. "How many folks did you find, alive? It's not just you, right?" He looked nervous as he added the last thought.
"Three other adults and nine children," Mulder told him.
The man stuck out a hand. "I'm Nelson, by the way. I live down the other end of the island. Before we add in you folks, there's a hundred kids and fifty adults."
Mulder shook his head, recalling that the realtor had once bragged that there'd been nearly a thousand people on the island two years earlier. "I was hoping for more," he admitted.
"Oh hell, we all were," Nelson replied. "We're going to have a meeting at town hall tomorrow, to talk about what we're going to do now and take a census." He gave the two men a sidelong look. "Assuming one of you isn't the daddy of nine, you prepared to keep the kids?"
"Yes," Mulder said, feeling suddenly wary. When they'd talked about Olivia's family, the possibility of someone wanting to take "their" kids had seemed very remote. Now that they'd learned that there were fifty other adults, it seemed a more tangible possibility.
"Good. It seems like everyone is set on keeping the kids they've found. It's a funny thing, I've been driving all over the island, and everyone seemed to have the same idea to check all the houses. The mayor sent me out to organize search parties, and there was no need to."
"You're sure all those houses have been checked?" Doggett pointed at the next street over.
"Yup, every house on the island is being checked, or already has been check by someone. Businesses too. Like I said, everyone had the same idea. So tomorrow, three o'clock, we'll see you there?" Nelson asked expectantly. "We decided on that late because people are going to want to go back to where the kids lived and get their stuff." He lowered his voice. "We figure with the cold the bodies will keep a few days, what ones are left, anyway."
"Is there a graveyard around here?" Mulder asked, trying to remember if he'd ever seen one. He was pretty sure that he hadn't. Even if there were, the ground was already frozen, so he couldn't see how they'd manage the interments.
Nelson shook his head. "No. The mayor figured on burial at sea. We'll load them on a couple of fishing boats that aren't owned any more and bring them far out. Father Mclusky volunteered to say words over them, and let anyone who wants to say their piece, first," he added, as if that was a way to soften the idea of dropping corpses into the icy Atlantic.
"I assume we'll go over the details of collecting the bodies tomorrow."
"Ayuh, that and more. Tomorrow, then."
"You're sure you don't need us for anything?" Mulder asked, though the last thing he wanted was to look in any more strangers' houses.
"We're all set. Go on home," Nelson said in a way that made Mulder wonder if it was an order instead of a suggestion. Either way, he had no interest in arguing.
The smell of simmering spaghetti sauce led Mulder into the kitchen when they got home. Only Scully was there. None of the kids were around, so he assumed Reyes and William were helping them settle into what would be their new rooms.
"You're back," Scully greeted Mulder before kissing him. "I thought it would be longer."
"We could leave if you're disappointed." Mulder ducked when she made a fist. "We ran into someone from the mayor's office after we dropped off Helen. All the houses have been check already."
"And how many people are left besides us?" she asked hesitantly.
"A hundred and fifty - twice as many kids as adults. We're supposed to go to a meeting at the town hall tomorrow afternoon."
"All right. The spaghetti should only take a few minutes to cook. Want to get some garlic bread into the broiler, please?"
"Sure. Then I'll have Doggett help me put the leaves into the dining room table. Who knew we'd ever be able to make full use of a table that can seat twenty?"
"We don't need to seat twenty."
"Okay, not that many. But we've definitely got a full house now."
"I know. You talked to Doggett about staying here, didn't you?"
"Yeah. I didn't get the impression that he had any illusions about going back to DC."
"Monica doesn't either."
"It's a good thing they grew on me," Mulder said with the first laugh he'd managed all day.
A half hour later they sat down to a subdued dinner, and then put the kids to bed. Scully yawned while giving Jeremiah a bottle a little while later. For a day that had started out with their fears of impending death, it was nice to end it whole and alive, even with a much bigger instant family they never could have anticipated. She had a feeling that the days ahead would include a lot of other surprises, and she hoped that they were all ones they could cope with.
1. This is both the part of the series most inspired by Dean Koontz's The Taking and the biggest reason there will be a revised version of "Goodwill Towards Men" when those events become part of this series - there's no need now for the summary of how they found the kids.
2. If you haven't guessed, I've been a New Englander since birth so I'm not picking on a part of the country I know nothing about in regards to M&S fitting in by not getting chummy with the neighbors even after a couple years. We know many people in other parts of the country consider us distant and private. Most of us don't mind the reputation.
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