Book One

Left Bookend

Most days, Steve Grandbergs didn't mind getting out of bed and coming into the office. But then, most days it wasn't 95 in the shade with the air conditioning on the fritz, either. Portland wasn't supposed to get this damned hot. He'd have lodged a complaint if he could have figured out who was in charge.

He flipped through the same pile of read-outs he'd flipped through twice before, but it was no use. Even with the lights off and blinds pulled shut against the blazing mid-morning sun, even with that annoying battery-operated fan oscillating noisily on his desk, it was just too damned hot to concentrate. The numbers were swimming before his eyes.


Lucky numbers, he thought resentfully.

Swimming would be nice. Swimming in the pool he'd paid the better part of $25,000 for and had managed to use all of five times in the past two seasons. The pool that he lovingly hand-fed chlorine and shock on a daily basis, whose water he tested twice a day, usually in the dark. That's where I want to be, he thought, tugging at the knot in his tie and tossing it in the general direction of the jacket he'd shed minutes after arriving in his office.

In the pool for a few hours, all by himself, while Corrine was at the office and the kids were at soccer camp or band camp or wherever the hell he'd written all those checks for. He'd get one of those inflatable chair jobbies out of the pool shed, pop something tall, frosty, and bottomless into the handy-dandy cup holder built right into the armrest, and spend a few hours honing his long-neglected floating skills. After all, what was the point of working your way up to ASAC if you couldn't escape being forced to baste in your own damned juices?

He was just getting to the part where the scantily- clad blonde wandered over to the edge of the pool and breathily offered to apply some sunscreen with her tongue, when a knock startled him out of his daydream.

"Sir?" Agent Duncan stuck his head in the door without waiting to be invited. "Juanita said you want to see me?"

"Yeah, Rob - come in." Grandbergs waved the younger man toward the chair facing his desk. "Got something weird in the mail this morning."

"Oh?" Duncan tugged the creases of his impeccably pressed pants and sat his tall frame down. Grandbergs wondered in annoyance what the younger man's secret was. No matter how high the temperature climbed, Duncan was the only agent around who didn't look like he'd been assigned a corner office in a sauna. "Something on the Techgen case, sir?"

"No." Grandbergs leafed through a stack of manila envelopes piled on the corner of his desk. "Something from the RCMP, in fact."

Duncan's dark brows rose. He pushed his glasses up his slim nose. "The Mounties?"

The ASAC found what he had been looking for. "I talked to a Staff Sergeant Michael Nicholson in Ottawa. Name mean anything to you?"

Duncan shook his head. "Nope."

"Well, the way I understand it," he began, passing a file folder and video cassette across the desktop, "they were investigating some sort of smuggling activity in or near Toronto and had this guy under pretty constant surveillance. Nicholson said he couldn't elaborate, but for whatever reason, they thought the woman on that tape might be an accomplice, so they ran her through the Interpol facial recognition program. They came up with a name, but not one they expected: one Denise Marie Hill, 28, late of Decatur, Alabama."

Duncan, who'd been scanning the file, came to a photo and stopped. "Holy shi-"

"Is that her?"

"I never met her, of course." Duncan peered at the screen capture intently. It was somewhat grainy, but still, the resemblance was uncanny. He scanned the next image. And the next. "But this sure looks like all the photos we had. Christ."

"You're the agent of record. Murder case, right?"

"Basically." Duncan was rifling through the pages again, looking for something he might have missed. "She was a lawyer. Good family. Old money. She and her boyfriend, guy by the name of Mark Swanson, also a lawyer, were camping up around Kisatchie National Forest over the Labor Day weekend a couple years back. Sunday morning, he calls the police, says she disappeared during the night. He thinks maybe she got up to heed the call of nature, wandered off, got lost, fell over a cliff in the dark, you know, usual story. We were called in. Suspicion fell on the boyfriend just as soon as it was discovered he was her beneficiary to the tune of about four million bucks."

The ASAC whistled. "Nice song."

"Very." Rob closed the folder and tapped it mindlessly on the arm of the chair for a few moments. "They got a conviction. He's doing life in the Louisiana State Pen. But I have to admit, it never felt right. We spent weeks investigating and we found slightly less than nothing. There was something about her disappearance that just didn't add up."

"Looks that way now," Grandbergs agreed.

"Might not be her." Duncan didn't sound convinced of that, though. Interpol's report showed ninety-eight per cent match across all major points of reference. Pretty good for a distorted screen capture taken through a fish-eye lens.

"Could be a glitch." The ASAC shrugged. "It happens."

Duncan was silent, apparently lost in his thoughts. Finally, he spoke. "Has this been sent to our lab?"

"As far as I know, your name popped up as lead investigator, so the Mounties tracked you down by way of the New Orleans office and sent that stuff here. The case is marked closed, after all. But her body was never found. . ."

". . .so she wasn't taken out of the data base," Duncan finished the thought. He chewed the inside of his cheek. "Well, I guess the obvious thing to do is run this past our people." He paused, frowning thoughtfully. "And I'd like to send a copy of the report and the tape to the agent who functioned as my ASAC on this one. She was never happy with the outcome, either, felt Swanson got shafted. Last I heard, she was in Washington. Still with Violent Crimes, I think."

Grandbergs nodded his agreement. "Sounds like a plan, Rob."

"Right." Duncan rose to leave. "Anything else, sir?"

"Yeah." Grandbergs sat back in his chair. "Lose the tie and see if you could work up a little sweat, okay? You're making the rest of us look like a bunch of cavemen."

Duncan gave a half-grin. "Will do."



The Queen Car went as far as the Waterworks, and from there it was a short walk back to the house. Short climb, really, Mulder thought: it was only six blocks, but it was six blocks straight uphill. Last summer, with 10 pounds of infant strapped to his chest and 30 pounds of infant crap slung over his shoulder, the twice-a-day climb and descent had quickly begun to reduce the gut home-cooking and happiness had provided in anticipation of his fortieth birthday. As the load had shifted - slightly less crap in the backpack, slightly more son in the infant carrier - his six pack, reported missing in action sometime in late '96, had quickly resurfaced. Not having a car was inconvenient, occasionally, but he couldn't argue with the results. He was probably the healthiest he'd been in twenty years.

Physically, at least.

Mulder glanced around the mostly empty streetcar, out of habit more than anything else. Besides Will, himself, and the driver, there were only five other riders, silent commuters occupying scattered seats both in front of and behind him. That wouldn't look unusual, he assured himself, even on a sunny mid-week afternoon. Even this close to rush hour. No one would think anything of it. No one would even notice.

He stared out at the city with a heavy sigh. The streetcar zipped along in its accustomed groove, skimming past the Second Cup, past Il Fornello and Tejas, past the Goof, where Will could get his favorite meal - almond jell-o and sliced bananas with a side order of fried rice and bright red sweet-and- sour sauce - any time, night or day.

Yawning, he lay his head wearily against the window. Will's two year molars were almost ten  months ahead of schedule and keeping them both up at night, but only Will managed to squeeze a nap or two into an otherwise busy schedule. Mulder had been an insomniac for years; he guessed it was finally catching up with him. When he'd been younger, he'd always reasoned that life was too short, that there was too much to do and too few hours in the day, and that he'd have plenty of time to catch up on his sleep when he was dead.

Having actually spent some time dead, he'd had a chance to test this theory. Surprisingly, death hadn't been all that restful.

The streetcar continued on, past the book shop and the church, the thrift-mart and the green grocer. Past another three stops where, as usual, no one wanted to get on and no one wanted to get off. He pinched the bridge of his nose, then used his thumb and forefinger to rub the tired eyes behind his tinted lenses.

Given the choice, Toronto wouldn't have made his top ten. Given the choice, Toronto wouldn't even have crossed his mind. But he hadn't been given a choice. So, until he heard otherwise, Toronto was home.

Which was okay, he told himself, shifting in his seat. Okay. Really. It was a nice neighborhood. A beautiful house. He spoke the language. After a year spent trying to leave it behind on an almost weekly basis, he had to admit the city was growing on him.

Growing on him.

Mulder chuckled to himself and shook his head. Right. Like fungus, maybe. Like kudzu.

He shifted again, wincing when the backs of his legs stuck to the vinyl. Why did they always pick the streetcar with the crappy air-conditioning and the stuck windows?

He faced forward, settling into the motion of the car, resting his gaze on the head of a man sitting three seats in front of him. The pate was speckled, smooth as a cue ball, circled by close-cropped gray hair. The nape of the man's neck had been carefully shaved, the hair tapering into an odd, if not downright mesmerizing, trapezoidal shape. Wow, Mulder thought idly. Well-groomed. What a surprise.

Will snorted in his sleep and burrowed his sweaty head a little further into Mulder's shoulder, driving the nylon backpack strap up and into Mulder's neck. Mulder grimaced, lifted Will gently, shifting him to the dry spot on his other shoulder, careful not to wake him. There was probably no point in being so cautious: Will had run himself ragged, first at story-time at the library, then chasing after a pack of three and four year olds at the playground. Limp as a rag-doll now, Will was nothing but dead weight. I could probably toss him across this streetcar, Mulder thought, and he'd just go on sleeping.

The bald head in front of him lifted noticeably. The trapezoid neck stiffened, swiftly losing its natural curve.

Shit, Mulder thought, twisting in his seat. His eyes darted toward the rear of the streetcar. Behind him, three pairs of eyes were wide open and trained intently in his direction.

Not again, he thought, stomach churning. He tightened his grip on his son.

An older woman with graying hair and an ugly pink and blue sun dress rose from her seat at the front of the car, and made her way steadily, assuredly toward the seat where Mulder and Will sat. Scanning his memory quickly, Mulder tried to remember if he'd seen her before. He hadn't.

Seating herself across from Mulder, she glanced at Will, then gave Mulder a pointed, unblinking stare. Mulder looked away, speaking almost as if to himself. "I didn't mean it literally," he muttered resentfully. "It's just an expression."

The woman continued to stare, her face still blank. Mulder forced himself to meet her hollow eyes. "I'm not tossing him anywhere, okay?"

She blinked, did her best impression of a smile, rose, and went back to her seat.

In front of him, the trapezoid neck faded downward, losing all its energy, the head relaxing to one side.

Mulder took a deep breath, swallowing his anger. He reached up to pull the cord that let the driver know he wanted the next stop. "Hey buddy," he whispered to his son, rising with practiced ease, "we're here."

Will, unimpressed, went on sleeping. Along with his mother's eyes and coloring, Will had inherited her ability to sleep anywhere, anytime. And her tendency to drool on Mulder, too.

End of the line. The streetcar ground to a halt. Mulder looked left and right, then stepped down onto the curb. The other five passengers followed, then scattered.

He checked his watch. Half an hour until Barney.

"We're going to stop and get ice cream," he said to no one in particular, and began the climb.

Will woke half-way up Cedar Ave. and insisted on being put down. No point in arguing, Mulder thought, as he swung his son down onto the sidewalk, pointlessly reaching for his sleep-warm hand. Will had walked early, at an age when most children were still crawling, skipping the whole unsteady standing, one step/two step, toddling awkwardly routine. Instead, as Mulder sat at his computer trying to make sense of some encrypted files one winter evening, Will had simply stood   and run across the room, squealing excitedly the whole time. After that, he'd never walked anywhere he could as easily have run. Consequently, Will was almost half a block ahead of Mulder before his feet really hit the ground.

Mulder heard the footsteps behind him quicken. "He's okay," Mulder muttered under his breath. "He's a kid; let him run a little."

Mulder let Will run a few more yards, then judged the distance between them to be far enough. "Will, stop. Wait for me," he called. Will did as he was told, but turned to frown impatiently. So much like his mother.

The footsteps behind them fell off.

Mulder caught up with Will in three quick strides. "You gotta quit running, bud." He scooped the toddler up and swung him around, tossing him roughly into the air as he did so, growling playfully while William laughed. "You gotta wait for me, guy. Otherwise, you're gonna get lost and then what are we gonna do, huh?"

Spinning around with his son, he caught sight of the owner of the footsteps. Ray, he thought with relief. Someone he recognized for a change.

"Hey, Ray." Carrying William, Mulder headed back down the hill, coming to a stop a few feet from where Ray stood watching them. "We're going to Ko's to get ice cream."

Ray, taller than Mulder, darker, balding, blinked at them, blank-faced. "I know," he said, finally.

"I know you know," Mulder responded, meeting Ray's empty stare. "You know I know you know. We all know. So why don't you walk with us?"

Ray blinked again. "I am."

"Oookay," Mulder replied, shaking his head. He was trying. It had taken him a long time, but he really was trying. "What I meant was: why don't you walk up here, next to us?"

Ray's face rearranged itself into the semblance of a baffled expression. "Sir, that would not be. . ."

Mulder sighed. "Not sir, Ray. Mulder. Remember?"

"Mulder, it would not be. . ."

Mulder shrugged. "Suit yourself, Ray. You've been invited, right? I asked you, okay? There's no presumption on your part." Will wriggled impatiently in his arms. "It would just look less stupid my way. A lot less obvious." He turned abruptly and started walking.

Ray was at his side instantly, keeping perfect time with Mulder's gait. "This is less conspicuous?"

"Yeah," Mulder replied, strangely pleased. He had to fight down the urge to pat Ray's balding head and croon 'good doggy!' "Much less conspicuous."


"Because." Mulder put Will down on the sidewalk again, took him by the wrist. "It doesn't look like you're following us this way."

Ray blinked. "I am following you."

"Yeah. Yeah, you are." Mulder poked his fingers underneath his sunglasses and rubbed his eyes again, feeling his blood pressure beginning to rise. "But this way it's not so obvious. You don't want to be obvious, right?"

Ray seemed to consider this. "I understand," he answered after a pause and nodded once, stiffly.

Mulder figured that particular shade of 'I understand' was short for 'Be quiet, Mulder,' but some agreement was better than nothing.

"Where you been, Ray? Haven't seen you around for a while."

Ray made no effort to comment, so Mulder tried again. "What have you been doing with yourself?"

"I have been watching," Ray replied.

"Yeah." Mulder had expected that. This was the best, most unequivocal answer he ever got from any of them. What did they do? They watched. What did they watch? Mulder and Will. Why did they watch Mulder and Will? Because they were supposed to watch Mulder and Will. And why were they supposed to watch Mulder and Will?

That, Mulder thought, is the million dollar question.

Will bent down to pick up a twig in his path, and Mulder's eyes followed his movement, waiting for a sign that the stick was destined for the boy's mouth. "What do you do when I can't see you watching, Ray?"

Ray blinked. "I still watch."

Mulder shook his head. "And they say the art of conversation is dead."

Will stopped walking suddenly, dropping the stick he'd been so interested in and squatting to get a better look at something on the cement. Mulder crouched down next to the boy. A black and orange caterpillar crawled across the pavement. "That's a bug, Will."

Ray towered over them. "That is a specimen of the fifth instars larval form of Pyrrharctia isabella, called a wooly bear caterpillar."

'Pretty smart for a sheepdog,' Mulder caught himself thinking, though he said nothing.

William reached forward, index finger pointed, intent on touching the fuzzy insect. "Gently, Will," Mulder guided.

Ray stared at them stiffly. "I am not a sheepdog, sir."

Mulder stood up, exhaling loudly. "Stay out of my head, Ray. My thoughts are none of your business. And call me Mulder. Not sir; Mulder."

"I am not a sheepdog, Mulder."

Mulder scooped up his son. "Then what are you, Ray?"

Ray blinked again. "I am Ray."

"Are you? Are you sure?"

Another blink. "Why are you angry, Mulder?"

Will reached back toward the caterpillar, crying out and kicking to be put down. Mulder swayed from side to side, trying to calm his son. "Do you know what day it is, Ray?"

"Wednesday, July 6th, 2002."

Blood rushed to Mulder's face. He swallowed hard, heart racing. "Yeah, Ray," he muttered. "Yeah. Today is..." He swayed faster, suddenly speechless.

Will quit struggling and stared into his father's face, wide-eyed. He reached up with a chubby hand and patted Mulder's cheek.

Mulder closed his eyes and turned his back on Ray, pulling his son closer.

"Is that why you are angry, Mulder?

Mulder shrugged. "I'm not angry, Ray," he said hoarsely. "Come on, Will. Let's get that ice cream."


The air conditioning in Ko's was barely functioning. Holding Will's hand, Mulder slid the top of the ice cream freezer open and reached inside. He took his time sorting through Popsicles and ice cream sandwiches, allowing the icy air to blast up his arm, rush inside the sleeve of his t-shirt, flow over the smooth fabric and into his face.

As his body cooled, the anger got easier to suppress.

He knew how important it was that he restrain himself. The last time he'd threatened one of them, they'd taken Will away for two entire days.

Mulder addressed William, forcing himself to sound cheerful. "Hey, buddy, what kind of Popsicle do you want? Grape?"

He chose a Popsicle for Will and some sort of chocolate-and-nut-covered cone for himself. Ray stood a few feet away, pretending to examine a rack of chips. Mulder shot him a look. "Ray? In the mood to indulge?"

Ray studied the chips more intently. "No, thank you."

"My treat," Mulder offered.

Ray frowned. "Your treat what, Mulder?"

Mulder rolled his eyes. "Never mind, Ray."

A door at the back of the store banged open and Ray immediately took several steps to the right, placing his body between Mulder and Will and the source of the intrusion.

"Hi, little boy!"

It was only Mrs. Ko. Ray relaxed.

"Hi, little turkey!" Round and soft as an overripe peach, Mrs. Ko waddled across the worn floor in what Mulder's mother would have disdainfully called a housedress, a gaudy pair of embroidered slippers scuffling the faded vinyl tiles as she went. Will followed her with a squeal of delight, reaching toward her shoes.

She paused mid-aisle, allowing the toddler to examine the bright silk thread and sequins. "Oh, you like my new shoes? My nephew get them. Good deal. Very pretty."

Ray watched Mrs. Ko, eyes descending swiftly from her round, wrinkled face to her absurdly tiny feet. He took a few steps forward, bending at the waist to get a closer look at the black silk slippers. Will began tracing the brilliant vines and flowers that swirled over Mrs. Ko's left big toe. Ray bent lower, peering immodestly, brow furrowing deeply.

Mulder could see the collective wheels turning. Baby touching fancy shoes. Safe bet or potential threat? Does not compute. He sighed.

Mrs. Ko stared at Ray, puzzled and a little uncomfortable. "You want a pair for your wife, Mister? We got some in back room. Mr. Ko going to put them out later."

Ray straightened abruptly, frowned thoughtfully. "My name is Ray. My wife is dead."

Mrs. Ko's face fell. "Oh, so sorry. You have babies? Oh!" She yelped suddenly as Will ran his hand behind her knee and tried to tickle her. She bent down so that she and Will were almost nose to nose. "Funny turkey!"

Mulder, sensing a perfect opportunity, moved to collect his giggling son. "That's enough, buddy. Mrs. Ko is busy. She doesn't wanna play tickle tag right now." He leaned close to Mrs. Ko. "Don't mind my friend," he murmured. "He's not quite right, if you know what I mean."

"Ohhhhh." The storekeeper nodded, eyes narrowing. "He was here before, yes? Other day? Couple times, maybe?"

Mulder shrugged. "Maybe. He lives in the neighborhood." He nodded towards her feet. "Nice shoes. Thanks for letting Will look."

"What about you? What about pretty lady come in here with you sometimes? Your wife, yes? New shoes make your pretty lady happy..."

Mulder tucked Will onto his hip and handed the boy his Popsicle. "Um, she's not my wife, Mrs. Ko."


"No." Mulder shook his head emphatically.

They headed for the front counter. Ray trailed a few steps behind.

"She's just girlfriend?"

"No! Sorry, no, not my girlfriend. She's, um...she's a friend. She keeps Will for me sometimes."

Mrs. Ko frowned. "She keep Will?"

"She looks after him, I mean. When I, um, when I can't."

"Oh!" Mrs. Ko whistled, wagging her head back and forth, her pudgy fingers sweeping Mulder's purchases over the scanner. "She the nanny. Like old TV show?"

"Not exactl-"

"Here you go!" She took a handful of plump four-for- a-dime gummy bears out of a covered jar next to the till, then pressed them into Will's hand, smiling and winking as she did so. "She very, very pretty. Nice, too."

Mulder studied a candy display to the right of the register, choking back an unexpected surge of emotion. "Yeah. I guess she is."

"Mulder." Ray's voice was suddenly severe.

Mulder looked away from the counter in annoyance. "What?"

Ray was standing by the front door, his back turned to them. "Time to go," he announced to the plate glass panels.

Taken aback, Mulder tried to keep both the surprise and irritation from his voice. "Excuse me?"

Ray turned around. "We are leaving now." He held his arms out, clearly expecting Mulder to hand Will to him. "Now, Mulder." he commanded.

Mulder pulled Will closer to his side, turning his body to shield the baby. "Forget it, Ray. I haven't done anyth - Oh!"

Suddenly his scalp was tingling. A feeling of foreboding charged through Mulder's body, lifting every hair like an electrical surge.

He's coming, he thought, adrenaline speeding his heart. Run.

"Now, Mulder," Ray repeated, extending his arms toward Will.

Mulder nodded. "I've got him, Ray. We're coming."

He turned anxiously toward Mrs. Ko. No, he thought, she'll be fine. "Have a good day, Mrs. Ko." He hurried toward the door.

"Change for you!" Mrs. Ko called after them, rattling a handful of coins.

"Keep it," Mulder called over his shoulder.


The feeling of foreboding faded quickly as they left the store behind. Within a block both men had resumed an easy gait.

Will stuck his still-unopened Popsicle in his mouth, chewing on the wrapper. Ray stopped dead in the middle of the sidewalk and pointed. "Mulder, there are millions of germs on that wrapper."

"Oh. Hold this for a minute." Handing his own ice cream to Ray, Mulder opened the Popsicle and handed it back to his son, who aahed in appreciation and wrapped his lips around it.

As he retrieved his ice cream, Mulder searched Ray's face for signs of urgency. "Are we still in a hurry, Ray?"

Ray stared at him rigidly. "Are we in a hurry, Mulder?"

Mulder took a slow, deep breath, doing what he could to ignore his sudden, overwhelming sense of vulnerability. "No, Ray," he muttered. "I guess not anymore."

He opened his ice cream as they walked and began wolfing it down in large, frosty bites, concentrating on the almost cloying sweetness of the chocolate, the tang of the nuts, and the crunch of the brittle cone. He glanced over at Ray, feeling distinctly unsettled. Had the feeling he had experienced in the store, that visceral wave of dread, been real? Or had he simply been manipulated into believing there was a problem so he'd be a good sheep and do as he was told? And if that were the case, was Ray the source of the manipulation, or were they both being played like puppets by someone both unnamed and unseen?

The possibilities were all disturbing. Thinking about them with Ray at his side was more disturbing still.

"William is getting sticky, Mulder."

Mulder pushed the point of the cone into his mouth, crunched. "It's a kid thing" he replied, swiping a streak of chocolate from his index finger with his tongue while taking note of his son's purple lips, chin, hands, and formerly white t-shirt.

"A kid thing? To be sticky?'

"Pretty much. Here." Mulder stopped and turned his back to Ray. "There's some wet wipes in the outside pocket."

Ray retrieved the package, opening it and holding it out. Mulder set the boy on the ground, snared a cloth, and, much to Will's shrieking dismay, began wiping the more obviously discolored parts of his body.

"Good enough for government work," he commented, three Wet Ones later. He planted a quick peck on William's cheek and handed what remained of the Popsicle back to his son.

"He is not clean, Mulder," Ray said, traces of disapproval and concern coloring his usual flat tone.

"He'll need a bath to get completely clean. And he's still eating." Mulder swung the pack off his back, deposited the now purple wipes in a side pocket and put the package away. "I'll toss him. . .I mean, I'll give him a bath when we get home."

"He will miss Barney," Ray observed.


"William enjoys Barney."

Mulder shrugged. "He'll survive."

Ray frowned. "Of course. Barney is not necessary to sustain William's life."

Mulder rolled his eyes. "Try telling that to him."

"Not watching it will not damage him."

Mulder chuckled wryly. "Watching it might."

Ray's eyebrows lifted. "Television is not hazardous, Mulder."

"Guess you don't remember 'Three's Company.'"

The joke was wasted on his audience.

"I understand," Ray answered, gaze swinging straight forward.

Mulder smiled grimly. As I suspected, he thought. It *does* mean 'be quiet.' He wished all of them were this easily confused.

Mulder resumed walking, holding Will's slightly less sticky hand. "Why did you tell Mrs. Ko your wife is dead?"

"It is what I have been told to say."

"You've been told to say that?" Mulder frowned. "Why?"

"I do not know. When asked, it is what I have been told to say."

Mulder's curiosity was piqued. "How much do you remember, Ray?"

"I remember many things, Mulder. William's favorite food is almond jell-o with bananas. He likes the slide at the park. The purple creature with the triangle sticking out of its head has to be in his bed at night or he will not go to sleep..."

Mulder shook his head. "No. I mean, what do you remember about yourself, Ray? About your life before?"

Ray blinked. "Before? Before I came to watch?"

Mulder nodded.

"Many things, Mulder. How to speak, read, write. How to tie shoes. How to pick out a good watermelon. How to set a VCR. How to throw a curveball. How to. . ."

"Do you remember Theresa?"

Ray blinked, more rapidly this time. "Theresa?

"Theresa Nemmen."

There was a pause. "Yes," he replied. "I remember her. She was on the ship with us. Something happened to her."

"Do you remember her from before the ship?"

Ray nodded. "Yes. We were in the same graduating class at Bellefleur High School. Class of 1989."

"Anything else?"

"She had brown hair. She wore glasses to read. Her father was a doctor."

"That's it?"

"She liked chocolate."

Mulder stopped walking. "Ray," he murmured, unable to hide the tremor in his voice, "you were married to her."

Ray stopped, too. Gazing somewhere off into the distance, his blinking began again in earnest, then came to an abrupt halt. "I believe you are mistaken, Mulder."

"When we were investigating your disappearance, I sat in your living room with her. I looked through an album full of your wedding pictures. William's mother..." he paused, suppressing the urge to scream by clearing his throat, "Will's mom held your daughter on her lap. Do you remember your daughter, Ray?"

Ray's mouth opened. It closed. Then his body relaxed. His eyes were trained vacantly on the horizon.

"All you can remember about your family is that your wife had dark hair and glasses and what your father- in-law did for a living?"

Ray gave a very brief nod. "And she liked chocolate, Mulder."

"Jesus." It was barely a whisper.

Will chose that moment to wrap his cold, sticky arms around Mulder's leg. "Dadadadadadadada!"

Mulder reached down and ran his palm over his son's silky red-brown hair. He closed his eyes. I'll never forget you, he told Will silently. I'll never forget your mother. No matter what they do to me. "I'm right here, bud."

When he opened his eyes, Ray was watching him intently. "You are in pain, Mulder," he said flatly. "Because you miss William's mother?"

"Stay out of my head, Ray," Mulder growled.

"I am not in your head, Mulder; you are in m-


Ray rotated smoothly, once more placing his body in the path of the oncoming disturbance.

"Down boy," Mulder snapped. "It's just Leah."

"Mulder, hi."

"Hey, Leah. You're, um, you're back."

Rattling her keys in one hand and lifting her long dark braid off her shoulder with the other, Leah nodded. "Finished up early, so here I am. Hey there, Willygoat!"

Will beamed up at her, clutching his father's leg with one hand and proffering the dripping remains of his Popsicle with the other. She crouched down and looked the toddler in the eye, smiling. "Oooh, grape - my very favorite flavor!" She glanced up at Mulder. "After all the others, of course."

"Of course," Mulder nodded.

"Weea eee," Will insisted.

"Oh, thanks, sweetie, but I'm still full from lunch. Goodness! You're purple all over!"

Mulder grimaced. "I think there's more of it on him than in him."

She smiled up at him, dark eyes sparkling. "Well, he'll wash up. Not sure about that shirt. Might be good for the windows, though. Where'd you stop? Ko's?"

"Um, yeah."

"There was no milk back at the house. Did you pick some up?"

Mulder shook his head. "Forgot."

"Again," Leah chided. "Oh well, I was heading over there, anyway. Mrs. Ko there today?"

"Yeah, we just left her, but I don't think you should..." Mulder checked in with his inner alarm system. The feeling of foreboding had washed away completely. He glanced over at Ray, who was staring at Will beatifically, an odd almost-smile lighting his features. It was a look the sheepdogs frequently bestowed upon his son, and it never failed to give Mulder the creeps.

Leah's gaze followed Mulder's. "Don't think I should what?"

Mulder shook his head. "Never mind."

She relieved Will of his Popsicle stick. "Will, you're a mess. Wipe?"

Without a word, Ray moved automatically to Mulder's side, opened the appropriate pocket of the backpack, and handed the wet-wipes to Leah. She accepted the squashed plastic package with a look of puzzled disdain. "Who's your new friend, Mulder?"

Mulder's eyebrows rose. "You don't know Ray?"

Leah gave Ray an appraising look, then shook her head. "Nope."

"Really? Um, Leah, this is Ray. He's know."

"Naturally." Leah rolled her eyes. "Getting very friendly these days, aren't they?"

"Just like a man's best friend," Mulder quipped.

Leah laughed softly, held out her hand. "Ray, nice to meet you." They shook. "Looks like we'll be working together. Or something."

Ray nodded once. "Hello."

Leah gave Mulder a sly, sidelong look. Mulder smiled. He was glad she was back. Leah had been forced on him a year ago, at the time of his arrival in Toronto. Her job, Billy'd told him, was to take care of him, to act as personal assistant, housekeeper, nanny...whatever he needed, Billy'd said. Mulder had determined quickly enough that she was not one of them, exactly, that she had her own mind, opinions, and a rather sharp tongue, but that she was certainly working for them. Resentful and grief-stricken, pacing like a caged animal along the edges of the boundaries set for him, Mulder had seen Leah as his jailer and had treated her accordingly. But he quickly found his attitude toward her softening.

She had a tendency to disappear for days, even weeks, on end, returning without so much as a single word of explanation. Mulder had never questioned her about her protracted absences, but he always noticed that for several days after she returned she would be moody, depressed, and withdrawn.

She was obviously trapped, too. It worried him a great deal.

Leah crouched again, and began dabbing gently at Will's face and fingers. Will giggled and pulled away.

"How come he howls when I do that, but for you, he just laughs?" Mulder asked, only half-joking.

"He's impervious to your many charms, I suppose," she replied dryly. Will tried to run away and Leah reached out and caught him around the waist. "Come here, silly. We're not done yet..."

The waist-length braid fell to one side. Mulder gaped at the back of her neck, surprised. A spray of purple flowers seemed to be sprouting from the neck of her bright yellow tank top, curling across her nape on a brilliant green vine and reaching all the way up to her hairline.

"That new?"

She looked up. "Excuse me?"

He gestured vaguely toward her neck. "Nice tattoo. Is it real?"

"It's old," She gave Will one last swipe and stood up. "And yes."

"Really? I never noticed it." But then, Mulder realized, Leah rarely wore anything even this revealing. The heat must have finally gotten to her.

She turned, lifting her braid to expose her neck and as much of her upper back as her shirt revealed. She tilted her head to the right. "Pretty, isn't it?"

"Very." He craned his neck to have another look. He fought down the impulse to pull back the curve of fabric and see just how much more tattoo there was to see. "Your tattoo guy must be really good."

"Yes," Leah agreed, a teasing note sounding in her voice. She spun round to face him and dropped her braid back into place, "*She* is excellent."

Will spotted an older woman walking her cocker spaniel a half-block or so up the street. "Gog!" he said, and started running.

"Mulder." Ray's voice took on a commanding tone as he started in Will's direction.

"Coming," Mulder answered, trying hard not to groan.

"I'll see you at the house," Leah called after him. "You can walk Fang when I get back. You look like you could use a few minutes."

A few minutes, Mulder thought, hurrying after his son. I could use a lot more than that.

A hell of a lot more than that.


Two days after William started walking, Billy knocked on Mulder's front door, at six in the morning, carrying what looked like an armful of lint.

"William wants a dog," he'd said, without a word of preamble. "This is the dog for William. His name is Fang. Have a nice day." With that, Billy had put the pile of bright-eyed fluff down on the rug, handed Mulder the leash, and left. As Mulder stood scratching his bare chest and trying to get either one of his eyes to focus, the ball of fuzz had gotten up, pee'd on the cuff of his pajama pants, and bitten his big toe. It had then curled up into an adorable ball and gone to sleep.

It had come as news to Mulder that William wanted a dog, of course. At eight months of age, William's communications repertoire included crying, laughing, grunting, pointing, and not much else. To date, he had not made any specific requests. Mulder had learned, though, there was no point in questioning Billy; Billy just didn't listen. And he couldn't have convincingly argued that, no, William didn't want a dog, when he knew full-well the child went dizzy with delight every time he saw one.

Still, a Bichon Frise had seemed a bizarre choice, considering how hyper-vigilant his *hosts* were, and Mulder had been thoroughly suspicious. He'd inspected every uncooperative inch of the animal, searching for implants, homing devices, strange spinal ridges, hell, he'd even checked for a battery compartment but, except for an intense need to chew up Mulder's socks, Fang seemed to be a normal, if puny, dog.

It had taken a few weeks, but Mulder finally realized exactly what Billy's words had meant: William and the puppy could run exactly the same distance before collapsing into their respective exhausted heaps. Fang really was *the* dog for William.

Fang loved going for a walk. He would scurry along as fast as his three-inch legs would carry him, barking at every suspicious leaf and twig that dared cross his path, thoroughly sniffing any and all objects he encountered. Unfortunately, after about seven and a half minutes of this unmitigated frenzy, the walk was over. The dog would stop, sit, and refuse to go any further. Mulder had learned that walking Fang inevitably involved carrying Fang for most of the trip. He had wised-up after the first few experimental forays; now, when he took Fang for a walk, with or without Will, he just popped the dog into the jogging stroller, and ran along the Boardwalk.

Fang seemed to enjoy this arrangement very much.

Mulder wheeled the stroller through the front gate of the complex, bidding an ironic good-bye to the shapely blonde in running togs who had been his obligatory blank-faced escort. He paused in the courtyard for a few moments, catching his breath and wiping sweat out of his eyes. He had run an extra few miles despite the smothering heat and humidity, hoping to tame the intense feelings of despair and rage that had plagued him all day.

One year ago, he thought dully as he parked the stroller in the shed at the end of the complex. The thought sent a wave of pain coursing through his body, but the pain didn't linger as it had earlier in the day. It's getting easier, he told himself. I'm turning into a regular Man of Steel.

One year ago, today. He swallowed the lump in his throat and wondered if there was some kind of finish line for this grieving thing; a day when he would wake up and realize he had arrived at the end of the line. Congratulations, Mulder, you made it, buddy. Today is the first day of the rest of your life.

He waited for Fang to jump down and start barking maniacally in the direction of Billy's front door. When this happened he would tell Fang to shut the hell up, and their late afternoon ritual would be complete. Mulder was hungry; incredibly hungry, so he lifted Fang, who seemed stupefied by the heat, impatiently down from the stroller and set him on the ground. For once, the dog simply sniffed the air in the direction of Billy's lair, then turned and headed for Mulder's front door. Mulder was mystified. "No Billy today, huh, boy? Maybe we got lucky and he took a permanent vacation." He retrieved his keys from his pocket, trying to remember the exact date of Billy's last disappearance. He slipped the key in the door, wondering if he should consider Billy's current absence a good thing or a bad thing.

He opened the door to find the house empty.

Mulder closed his eyes, slamming a lid on his immediate sense of panic. He inhaled deeply, called out cautiously. "Hello?"

"Out here." Leah's voice drifted in through the screen door that led from the kitchen to the minuscule patio behind Mulder's unit.

Mulder breathed. Okay, he thought, it's fine this time.

He kicked off his running shoes and peeled off his socks, wadding them up and throwing them in a corner for Fang to chew on. The rich smell of lasagna hit him as he crossed the hardwood into the kitchen. A tossed salad and loaf of crusty bread was sitting on the counter. His stomach growled in anticipation as he opened the screen door. His shower could wait.

What he found in the backyard surprised him. "Where'd that come from?" Mulder gestured.

Leah was sitting on the edge of a canopied sandbox that had not been there when he had left a little more than two hours before. She was using a purple plastic shovel to help William scoop sand into a garishly orange toy dump truck.

"Billy showed up about ten minutes after you left and told me William wanted a sandbox. Next thing I knew, a bunch of guys in Home Depot uniforms were putting together and filling said sandbox." There was something unsettling in her tone.

Scooping his sand-coated son up for a hug, Mulder reflected that he had never seen - never imagined - so many different kinds of sand toys in his life. He was strangely relieved to note that William was not building foo fighters in the snow-white sand. "I'm sure Billy meant well." It was the only response that came to mind.

She looked up at him, her nose wrinkling. "Yes, but...the Home Depot guys were like zombies, Mulder. It was very creepy." She said it without a trace of irony.

He shrugged. "No doubt."

Her look of dismay intensified. "Do you think..." she said anxiously, rising and brushing sand from the backs of her long legs. "What do you think Billy does to them, Mulder? Does it hurt? Do you think they were in any pain?"

The question surprised him. "No, Leah. I'm sure they were fine as soon as they left. Dazed and confused, but fine. Why? Did they seem to be in pain?"

She shook her head, relaxing a little. "I'm just being silly. And morbid." She gave him a wry grin. "You must be rubbing off on me."

"That must be it," he agreed genially.

"Still," she began again, her expression clouding, "to lose time like that. I wonder how it affects you. I wonder if..."

Mulder shook his head from side to side, emphatically. "I'm starving," he said pointedly, head still shaking. "I am absolutely starving, Leah. Let's eat."

Leah took the hint. "Oh. Yeah, me too. Starving."

But she looked disappointed, and, Mulder thought, not a little frightened.

William fell asleep about half way through what Mulder estimated was his three hundred and ninetieth command performance of 'Good Night, Moon.' Tucking his son into his crib, Mulder leaned on the rail for a moment, resting his cheek on his hand and trailing his fingers over the soft freckled face. 'Thank you,' he thought, just as he found himself automatically thinking more and more as Will grew older and his resemblance to his mother, both in looks and temperament, grew stronger and stronger. 'Thank you for giving me this.'

He heard the hinge on the screen door squeak. After pointlessly checking the window locks in Will's room one last time, he entered a room that was supposed to be the dining room, but instead served as a combination TV room and office. The aroma of freshly brewed coffee assailed him. Stopping in the kitchen to help himself to a cup, he followed Leah out into the backyard.

She was sitting on the edge of the deck, elbows on her knees, head in her hands, staring disconsolately at the grass between her feet.

Mulder settled himself beside her, stretching his long legs and bare feet out before him. He wriggled his toes enthusiastically in the grass. As the daylight slowly faded, a gentle breeze swept up from the lake, making the leaves of the lofty maples and oaks that stood sentinel on the grounds rattle and sigh. "Nice evening," he commented, taking an appreciative sip from his mug. Leah made great coffee.

She nodded. "Yeah," she muttered. "Nice."

"Was Will okay while I was gone?"

"Uh huh," she sighed softly. "Will's always good, Mulder." She fell silent again.

"I saw a bunch of new files on the desk. Bill leave those for me?"

"Yeah." She lifted her head. "I am supposed to tell you that," she smirked, then did her best Blank-eyed Billy voice, "there is no hurry."

Mulder smirked back. "There never is."

She leaned toward him with a conspiratorial air. "...and 'have a nice day.'"

He chuckled. "Oh, hey, sorry. You want a coffee? I figured you got yourself one already, but I can get. . ." He was half-way to his feet when she shook her head.

"No thanks." Her head was back in her hands.

Mulder drank his coffee in silence, wondering what he was supposed to say next, if anything. That Leah was upset about something was clear; whether or not it was his place to comment on it, less so. She was what amounted to his roommate, he supposed, and she was, without a doubt, his only friend, but there had always been an odd kind of distance in their relationship. She had asked no questions about his past; he'd asked none about hers. So far, the arrangement had seemed satisfactory to both of them, but at times like this Mulder found himself wishing their relationship were a little more open.

"Um, you were awfully quiet at dinner," he said, silently congratulating himself on his breath-taking grasp of the obvious.

"I'm sorry," she told the toes of her boots.

"Nothing to apologize for, Leah. I just, um, you seem upset."

There was a protracted silence. Turning her head without raising it, she looked over at him. "I am."

"Oh." Mulder scratched at an imaginary mosquito bite at the back of his neck. Clearing his throat, he said, "I know I'm only the guy you do laundry and cook meals for, but I have a degree in psychology, and Fang tells me I'm a pretty good listener. If it's something you want to talk about, I'm . . ."

"You..." she began, then stopped and cleared her throat softly. "You told me once that you knew Billy, before, right?"

"Sort of." Mulder gave a one-shoulder shrug, wondering what had brought this on. "We met about ten years ago. On a case, when I was with the FBI. Um, I don't wanna get into the details, but about seven and a half, eight years later, he contacted me again, also about a case. We weren't friends or anything."

She nodded slowly. "It's hard to imagine Billy with friends."

"Well, at the time he wasn't. . ." he gestured vaguely in the air ". . .you know."


"No. He was just a guy. Just a kid, really, when we first met. That was my first case with, um, Will's mom."

"Oh." She nodded thoughtfully. "Well what about the other ones? Did you know Fiona, before? Or Keith? Or Paul? Or um, what's her name, the one that always goes out running with you..."

Mulder shook his head. "No. None of them."

"Did you, um." She swallowed. "Did you know me?"


She looked down pensively, stuck her finger into a knot hole in the deck, frowned.


"Did Billy tell you anything about me, Mulder?" she asked, her voice thick and quiet. "About me before, I mean?"

Mulder drew a long, slow breath. The conversation was rapidly becoming more than he felt capable of handling. "Nothing." He shrugged. "As I recall, I woke up one morning and you were handing Will to me, giving me a bottle and telling me he wasn't going to bloody feed himself." Mulder smiled at the memory, as painful as it was. "A couple of days later, Billy walked in and told me you were Leah and you were here to help, so I should quit yelling at you and by the way, have a nice day. That's pretty much it."

He stared out at the backyard. "You were really, um, patient with us then, Leah. Patient with me. I don't know what would have happened to Will if you hadn't been there. Thanks."

She broke a splinter off from the knothole and crushed it between her long fingers. "You would have taken care of him, Mulder. You're a good father. Anyway, I don't think thanks are really in order. I...I'm not really here of my own free will. At least, I don't think..."

Mulder tightened his grip on his coffee mug. "Is there something I should know, Leah?"

"I don't know, Mulder," she answered, lifting her eyes to his face and gazing plaintively. "I have no idea."

"Are you saying you don't remember?"

She wrapped her arms around her knees and returned her focus to the grass. "Yes. I guess that's what I'm saying. My memory goes back about two days further than the morning I first saw you. One day I woke up here, and Billy told me this is where I'd be living, and that looking after the two of you is what I'd be doing. The next night, you and Will arrived.

Mulder rubbed the bridge of his nose with his index finger, trying to calm the rage that suddenly threatened to overwhelm him. "Oh," he whispered. "You too, huh?"

She curled up more tightly. "I'm afraid I might be one of them, Mulder. I don't feel like one of them, but maybe they can turn it off and on somehow, like flipping a switch. Who knows? I'm not entirely like you, that much is clear. You seem to have memories, some kind of past. I don't, and I wonder about it all the time, you know? Who I was, where I was from. I worry that someone is missing me."

Mulder set his coffee on the deck and stood up. His heart was pounding. "Why are you telling me this now, Leah? Did something happen when Billy was here today?"

"Yeah," Leah answered softly, nodding. "He told me-" she paused. Taking a deep breath, she straightened her back, set her shoulders. "He told me that I have not worked out as expected, and that I would be replaced."

"What!?" Mulder's shock was genuine. "Replaced?"

She stood up quickly. "I wish, Mulder, that if you were unhappy with me, that if you found me unacceptable somehow, I wish that you would have come to me and said something." Angry tears spilled from her eyes and raced down both of her cheeks. Her voice trembled. "I would have tried to change. I would have changed."

Without realizing he was doing so, Mulder reached out and touched her shoulder. She flinched and pulled away.

"Leah, this isn't coming from me," Mulder said reassuringly, pulling his hand back. "I've never had a single unkind thought about you." He smiled gently. "Unless you count that time you made tofu quiche, and that was months ago. I'm over that."

She wiped her eyes, gave a sad little smile. "I don't really think that was the problem."

"The tofu quiche? Oh, trust me, Leah, it was a problem, all right."

"Mulder," she scolded and sniffled. "I'm serious."

"I am, too." His voice went quiet. "There must be some mistake, Leah. I am not unhappy with you. You've done a great job. You're *doing* a great job. Will's thriving, he adores you..."

"Obviously someone doesn't think so."

He sat back down on the edge of the deck, picked up his half-empty mug. "Listen, Leah, I don't know how much they told *you* about *me*, before, but..."

"They told me that Will's mother was gone and that you were half-insane with grief. I was told that you both needed looking after. Billy told me my function was to make you both happy, to give you whatever you needed. I failed, Mulder."

"I'm, um. . ." Mulder took a moment to get his emotions under control. "This doesn't have anything to do with you, Leah. I'm as happy as I can be, under the circumstances. Will's mother was, she was my world, for years and years, and her death was..." His voice quavered.

Leah sat next to him and touched his arm softly.

"If it hadn't been for Will. . ." He shrugged. "So yeah, I get, um, nostalgic, sometimes, and I'm sad, a lot. I'm not easy to live with, or work for; I understand that. I get the impression that they, you know, Billy and Ray and the others, aren't really capable of understanding what I feel."

There was a catch in Leah's voice, the sound of a rising sob. "I think maybe that's the problem, Mulder."

"What do you mean?"

She caught her breath, holding on to the edge of the deck, apparently trying to control herself. "Mulder..."

"Leah, what?"

"Billy said I should have mated with you by now," Leah blurted out. "He said it was obvious that it was not going to happen, and that I would therefore be replaced."

"Mated?!" Mulder was dumb-struck. "Oh, god, Leah, I never. . ."

It hit him, then: the long, dark hair, the curvaceous body and slim, shapely legs, the dark eyes, full lips, and droll, sarcastic wit. Hell, even the slight trace of an accent. At any other time in his life, he realized, Leah's exotic beauty would have constituted a waking wet dream. It was so obvious now. He felt like a complete idiot.

Leah continued, unable to suppress her tears. "I have to tell you the truth, Mulder. I care for Will a great deal. I mean, I really love him. And you've been wonderful to me, Mulder. I wish I had been what you wanted, because now, leaving here is going to be so hard..."

"Good god, Leah, I. . ." He gestured helplessly, unsure of how to comfort her.

She leaped up from the edge of the deck and took a few aimless steps across the yard. "I'm scared, Mulder. I have no idea where I'm going because I have no idea where or what I was before."

"Leah, this is...god, I need a few minutes to think."

"Do you think it hurts?" Her aimless strolling had evolved into deliberate pacing. "When they replace you, do you think there's pain? I don't..."

"Leah, if you'll just wait for a minute, we can..."

She stopped pacing. Squeezing her eyes shut, she rubbed her forehead with the heel of her hand. "I'm sorry. I'm sorry to put this on you, Mulder. I know you don't have any more control of this situation than I do."

Mulder closed his eyes, hoping to center himself, to find the precarious balance he'd been fighting to maintain all day. Instead, as his eyes slipped shut he found himself assaulted by blinding light, cold metal, the whir of drills puncturing his sinuses and the squeal of saw blades as they ground through bone. Bars ripped through his wrists and ankles, holding him down, pinned like a bug to a display board. His heart pounded wildly in his chest, thudding against the sternum they'd cut then splayed, slitting him open as if gutting a trout.


His eyes snapped open.

He's coming, he thought.

"I have to get out of here. I'm going for a walk." She rushed toward the screen door and Mulder listened, frozen, as it banged shut behind her. As her boots tapped across the tile of the kitchen and the hardwood of the living room, the hairs on the back of his neck began to rise.

He's coming for her.

"Holy shit," he gasped, panic streaking through his nervous system. "Leah..."

The front door closed with a hollow thud. Mulder jumped to his feet and followed.

"Leah, wait."

She was halfway across the cobblestone courtyard by the time he made it to his front stoop. She stopped but didn't turn, shoulders shaking a little. "What?" she choked, hands balling at her sides.

"You've got to come back inside."

"Why?" Her voice was a strangled sob.

At the four corners of the square apartment complex, four living room lights suddenly snapped to life. Mulder took a few steps out into the courtyard, holding his hand out to Leah. "Leah, please. I've got a bad feeling about this. I don't think you should try to leave here right now."

"They're going to come for me soon," she cried. "Maybe tonight, maybe tomorrow. Why should I wait around?"

Four porch lights snapped on. Four front doors swung silently open.

Leah spun, looking around the courtyard wildly. "See, Mulder? It doesn't matter what I do. It doesn't matter what you do, either. In the end we'll always do what they want."

He approached her cautiously, tenderly, his hand still outstretched. He lowered his voice. "We don't know that. This is dangerous. You've got to come back inside."

Four dark figures appeared in four doorways.


Mulder turned toward the voice. It was Ray, rising slowly from a bench near the fountain at the center of the courtyard. Where did he come from?

"Go back inside, Mulder."

"This is between Leah and me."

"He's right, Mulder," Leah muttered. "You should do what he says. I'll see you...I'll see you sometime."

She started walking again, moving rapidly toward the front gate. Ray followed, his footsteps steady and determined. A young man with dark hair emerged from the shadows near the gate and stood in its exact center, hands on hips. As he took position, Leah increased her pace.

Dammit, Mulder thought. She thinks she's getting through that guy somehow.

"Ray!" he called, moving to intercept his stone-faced acquaintance. "She's upset. She doesn't know what she's doing. Just give me a minute and I'll talk her out of it."

"Go back inside, Mulder," Ray repeated, his forward progress unimpeded. "William wants his father."

Mulder speeded up, stepping in front of Ray, blocking his path. "Ray, William wants Leah, too. I think you know this. I need to talk to Billy. Can you get him? Where is he?"

"Billy is not here right now. Billy will return."

Four dark figures left four doorways and began advancing toward the gate.

"We are sorry that Leah is not what you wanted, Mulder," Ray continued as he walked steadily forward. "She will be replaced and then you will be happy."

"No, Ray," Mulder implored. "Leah's fine. She's good for William. She's good for me. Replacing her will not make me happy. I don't want her to be replaced."

As he neared the gate he felt it again, the electric wave of foreboding, lifting the hairs on his body, twisting his stomach, stealing his breath.

He's coming for her, he thought. He's going to take her back there.

Samantha, Bill, Melissa, Teena...the all-too-familiar litany of people he had been unable to save. Scully, he thought desperately. I never had a chance to help her...

God, Mulder, do something. Do it now.

Leah stopped cold in front of the dark-haired young man, who stood dispassionately, guarding the gate. "Let me through," she demanded.

The young man stared past her, ignoring her command.

Four dark figures walked swiftly into the courtyard, their motions synchronous, as if they were characters in some kind of sinister Swiss clock. Mulder arrived at the gate mere steps ahead of Ray. He grabbed Leah by the shoulders, jerked her around to face him.

She stared at him in shock. "Mulder, what are you doing?"

"Saving you, I hope."

He swept her into his arms and kissed her.

Ray stopped. He lowered his arms to his sides.

"Mu-" Leah's protest was quickly muffled as Mulder pressed his lips against hers. He picked her up Rhett Butler-style and headed immediately for his front door. She wrapped her arms around his neck and as he walked he kissed her again, for good measure, to make sure their audience could not mistake his intentions. With the second kiss her lips parted slightly, softening, beginning to yield.

"You don't have to do this," she whispered tearfully as he hurried across the courtyard.

He stopped on the front stoop, breathing hard, heart threatening to burst from its moorings. He could feel the sheepdogs watching his back. He could feel them inside his head.

"I know," he told her, lowering his mouth toward hers, finding himself thinking about her in ways that had never occurred to him, never even crossed his mind.

He's coming, he thought. Oh god, he's still coming. Coming to turn her into who knows what.

"Kiss me," he told her urgently. "Make it a good one, Leah."

She complied, and he allowed his lips to drift apart, allowed the tip of her tongue to probe softly between them. He allowed himself to notice the satin texture of her skin, opened his senses to her cinnamon aroma.

He felt a wave of desire as she kissed him. I can do this, he thought. We can do this.

"I'm taking you to my bedroom," he told her. "I'm not going to let them take you."


The day had finally drained away, sinking the apartment into darkness. Mulder kicked the front door shut behind them. A forty-watt gleam oozed from a small lamp on Mulder's desk in the central dining room/office, and he skirted the edges of the dim circle of light, trying not to notice the way it enhanced the contours of Leah's stricken expression.

It occurred to him that he should probably set her down now. There was really no reason to carry her further. Leah did not loosen her grip on his neck, though, and his sense of urgency was growing by the minute. Instead of putting her on the floor, he pulled her closer and wheeled toward his bedroom.

"Are they going to follow us, Mulder?" she whispered, unable to hide the fear in her voice.


He didn't know exactly how he could be sure of that.

He nudged his bedroom door open with his foot and carried her inside. His feeling of intense dread had risen to the point that it bordered on sheer terror. He released Leah to the floor with trembling hands.

She stood rooted to the spot where he had put her, arms folded tightly over her chest, voice shaking. "You can't be serious about this, Mulder."

"I am serious." He paced in the darkness. "I'm not letting them take you. I'm not letting them replace you. If, um...god, I can't believe I'm saying this. If making love to you will keep you safe, will keep you here with Will and me's not like it would be a big hardship for me, Leah. You're my friend. You love my son. We can..." He threw his hands helplessly into the air. "Look, if you can see another way out of this...shit, Leah, I'm open to suggestions."

She fell silent, drawing a long, quivering breath. Finally she spoke, mustering up a small, defeated voice. "I want to stay with you and Will. I'm just...I'm really, really scared."

He reached down and flipped on a small bedside lamp, nodding. "I'm going to go turn the baby monitor on..."

"Yeah, go, do that," she whispered.

He turned to go to Will's room. It was all he could do to leave her behind. Each step he took away from her resulted in a fresh surge of adrenaline, a more powerful feeling of apprehension.

William's bedroom was a mass of shadows, security lights casting a pale yellow glow just beyond the sheer curtains. The toddler lay on his stomach, his thumb planted firmly in his mouth, one arm thrown over an oversized Teletubbie. Mulder reached into the crib and brushed his fingers lightly over the top of his son's head. Then he turned on the baby monitor and picked up the parent unit.

Suddenly Leah was standing beside him, looking up at him apprehensively, her shoulder just brushing against his.

"I wasn't planning to run away." He didn't know if he was trying to reassure her or himself.

"I know." Silent and pensive, she looked down at Will.

A shadow shifted across the curtains, catching Mulder's attention. He took a step toward the window. A silhouette stood watching. "Will's fine, Leah," Mulder murmured hoarsely, moving back toward his son, toward her. "He's perfectly safe."

Her hair smelled like ginger. Or was it nutmeg? Mulder's pulse quickened. Wondering vaguely what her skin would taste like, he lowered his head almost imperceptibly, letting her scent wash over him.

She sighed. "You're doing this for him, aren't you?"

He answered her tightly. "I don't know. I suppose."

Light from the dining room traced her slim form and delicate features. She's beautiful, he found himself thinking. She's a wonderful companion. She's meant so much to William.

Her essence washed over him like a light spring rain. Lime, he thought. Or was it coriander?

"I don't know," he repeated, softer this time. "Maybe it's not just for him."

He reached for her hand, twined his fingers with hers, leaned toward her slowly. She *is* beautiful, he thought. I don't know why I've never noticed. A thrill ran through his body as he entered the wet silk of her mouth. He snaked his tongue along her lower lip, caressing it gently.

Leah inhaled sharply, turned, fled toward the door.

Follow her. Follow her now.

Three quick steps and he had her by the arm.

"Leah," he whispered. "Leah, wait."

Her skin was cold. She didn't speak.

Vanilla. Violets.

He pulled her close again.

"Mulder, stop. This doesn't feel right..." Her voice had a tremor in it. "This is...I don't remember this. When you kissed me it felt kind of...familiar, but..."

He ran the back of his index finger tenderly down her tear-stained cheek. "This is so unfair to you," he said quietly. "And I don't know why, all of the sudden, we . . ."

Citrus. Cinnamon.

His voice sounded far away.

She gave a quick nod, looking down. He caught her chin with his fingertips and lifted her face toward his. "It's like I'm the first one," he told her, wondering whose voice that was, coming out of his mouth. "It's good, Leah. It's right. Don't be afraid."

Don't be afraid, he thought. Why the hell did I say that?

Suddenly his arm tightened around her waist, its motion swift and automatic, like his body had developed a will of its own. She gasped. "You're hurting me."

He forced himself to let go of her. Took a step back. Turned away.

She touched his shoulder, bewildered. "Mulder..."

He tried not to answer her, but the words escaped anyway. "I just need a minute, Leah. Go to my bedroom. I'm coming."


Silhouettes occupied every window. Waiting expectantly.

Mulder took his time crossing the dining room, only vaguely aware of the brush of his bare feet on the smooth hardwood floor. His heart was beating more slowly now, his blood pressure sinking steadily.

Something moved. Instantly on guard, he spun toward the disturbance. A splash of white huddled near William's bedroom door. Fang. Only Fang. The little dog was drawn up tight, trembling.

"Hey buddy," Mulder murmured. "What's the matter?"

Fang growled and backed away.

Mulder paused. This is bad, he thought. Wrong. I shouldn't be doing this. Why am I doing this?

He could hear Leah stirring, in his bedroom. The box-spring gave a feathery sigh as she sat down gingerly on the edge of his bed.

Go to her. Go to her now.

He stopped himself in the bedroom door. She rose and moved toward him, her voice light but laced with genuine concern. "Feeling better?"

Lavender. Lilac.

His body was aching.

"Turn out the light," he choked, clinging to the door frame to hold himself back.

"If it's dark, it'll be...faceless. I...I want to be able to see that it's you."

Talk to her, Mulder, he told himself. Talk, Mulder. Just keep talking.

"Leah, if they hadn't threatened you today, would you want to...I mean, have you ever thought about doing this, with me, before?"

She shook her head. "I've never thought about doing this at all."

Mulder nodded, as if he understood. "I. . ." he began, but he couldn't find any words to follow.

"Every moment I've known you, Mulder, every moment of my life, you've been grieving William's mother. There hasn't been room in your grief for anyone else."

He stared at his left hand, which was busy gripping the door frame, forcing himself to look at the gold band that still circled its fourth finger. He made himself remember that they had bought the rings three weeks after William's birth, to keep casual acquaintances from asking uncomfortable questions. He tried to picture the discount jewelry outlet they had gone to in Alexandria. They'd bought the simplest gold bands, the least expensive. He'd wanted something else, something more, but she had demurred. They'd joked and laughed as they'd picked them out, their lighthearted manner masking real tension. But later that night, when they slid them onto each other's fingers, something had changed between them. There had been a new sense of permanence, of a promise being made.

His eyes stung. One year ago today.

This ring, he thought. This is what I have left of her. This ring, and my son and...

Sandalwood. Sage.

Leah was right. For a year, he had been grieving. For a year, he'd been alone. Deeply alone, so locked away in his sadness that he had not even noticed the paucity of human contact in his life. The warmth he had found in Will had sustained him and he had looked no further. Now, the pressure of Leah's hand on his reminded him of another time in his life when he had locked himself away, another time in his life when he'd deprived himself of human warmth for months, for years, on end.

He remembered the person who'd released him from that prison. Remembered how much faith she had always had in him. Mulder raised his gaze to Leah's face.

Be a whole person, Mulder. Be what she always wanted you to be. She would want this for you. She would want this for her son.

William wants a family, Mulder.

Mulder stared at Leah, paralyzed. But, I can't do this, he thought. Not today.

Not ever.

Leah moved closer.

Sweetgrass. Rosemary.

"Mulder," - she took his right hand, - "are you all right?"

A surge of need ran through his body. It was followed very quickly by a wave of shame.

He glanced over at the window. The silhouettes still hovered.

William wants a family, Mulder.

Do it. Do it now.

"I'm all right," he rasped, raising their joined hands. "I'm fine," he murmured, turning Leah's arm to expose the skin of her wrist. He ran his lips slowly over the milky flesh, then leaned toward her and tasted each cheekbone, her forehead, the tip of her nose, the soft swell of her chin.


He reached for her braid, lifted it away from her back. "I want. . .I want to see your tattoo."

Her eyes went wide, but she nodded. She took a step back and lifted the yellow tank top over her head to expose a taut belly and small breasts veiled in lemon-colored lace. She turned. The emerald vine sprouted from a bed of foliage in the small of her back and wound up her spinal column, carrying purple flowers toward her nape. He leaned close to her ear. "It's beautiful. You're beautiful."

Touch it.

His fingers followed the vine, pausing for a moment to unfasten her lingerie, pushing the garment away. He unwound the band from her braid and slowly freed her hair, combing through it with his fingers as it spilled around her shoulders. He had never seen her hair unbound. He buried his face in it, inhaled deeply.

Ginger. Or was it nutmeg?

His hands moved up her back and over her shoulders, turning her to face him. He ran his fingertips lightly down her chest, pausing for a moment to stroke soft, golden breasts.

Before he knew what he was doing he was pulling his own shirt over his head.

It was good. It was right.

It was. . .wasn't it?

His voice was barely functioning. "Leah...are this okay with you?"

She did not answer.

She's waiting for me, he found himself thinking. She belongs to me.

She's ready.

He wrapped his arms around her quickly, pulled her body against his own. The unaccustomed warmth of flesh on flesh was almost more than his senses could handle. His eyes clouded. He closed them tightly.

God, was she crying? Her shoulders were shaking.

Somehow it didn't matter.

Inside her. Inside her now.

Mulder lifted Leah off her feet with a hoarse cry, slinging her toward the bed and depositing her there. He shed the rest of his clothing quickly and flung himself over her, ripping open the clasp of her shorts, shoving his hands inside them, sliding the shorts and panties down, off, gasping and moaning, barely able to take in the sight of her shapely pubis and sparse dark brown hair, barely able to register the fact that she was pushing at his shoulders, begging him to stop...

Was he doing this? How could he do this?

Inside her. Inside her now.

The baby monitor crackled. William gurgled. Warbled. Wailed.

In the dining room, Fang began barking hysterically, running in circles, his toenails clipping the floor.

"Mulder," Leah begged him, sobbing. "Mulder, stop. Go get Will. Mulder please, please, he's crying..."

She shoved him away and he collapsed beside her on the bed, mind slowly registering his son's intense screaming.

William wants his father, Mulder. Wants his father, now.

Barely able to breathe, Mulder rolled dizzily off the bed and tried to find his shorts. Leah curled into a ball, her entire body shuddering.

Mulder shook his head hard but his vision wouldn't clear.

Why is Leah crying, he wondered dully. "Leah, what's the..."

"Just go." Her voice was a raw whisper. "Go get him, Mulder."

The room revolved slowly. Mulder stumbled toward the door.


Will had pulled himself up to standing and was holding on to the bedrail, screaming for all he was worth and somehow still managing to chew on his fist. Mulder lifted him smoothly up and over the barrier, cradling him against his chest.

"S'matter, Will?" he mumbled, his heart beating out of control. "Your teeth, again?" Will was warm against his bare skin, but he didn't seem fevered. "Or is this turning into the worst day of your life, too?"

Fang had followed him into the nursery, still barking, circling Mulder's ankles and nipping at his feet. Mulder felt an overwhelming urge to kick the little dog, kick him hard. Send him flying, crashing against the far wall. . .

Will shrieked again.

"Jesus Christ," Mulder muttered, horrified by his own thoughts. Kick Fang? What the fuck was wrong with him?

"Shut the hell up, Fang," he said, the way he always did. The dog, knowing his cue, obeyed.

The light over the stove was still on. Mulder glanced at the digital clock as he rummaged in the cupboard for a sippy cup and lid. 9:30? How could that be?

"You want some milk?" Will let out a long, shuddering sob, pressing his face against his father's pectoral. "Okay," Mulder murmured, taking a few unsteady steps toward the refrigerator, "guess I'll take that as a 'yes'..."

"Can you sit a minute, Big Guy?" He maneuvered Will's diapered butt onto the counter, fiddled with the milk, the cup, the lid, finally placed the cup between his child's waiting hands. Red-faced and crying, Will crammed the cold spout into his mouth, chewing vigorously.

Mulder's arms were shaking. He flattened his palms against the countertop on either side of Will's body and leaned in, resting on his forearms, their foreheads touching lightly. "God, buddy, what the hell's going on?"

The shaking in his arms spread rapidly over his entire body. He closed his eyes, inhaling deeply, over and over, hoping to calm himself and calm Will in the process. Will smelled clean, like freshly bathed baby and Ivory Snow and Johnson & Johnson's and deep sleep and oh god, Mulder realized, his fingers gripping the hard edge of the countertop, Will smelled like...


A noiseless moan ripped through his body.

Why were they doing this to him?

He'd spent the last year living in this beautifully furnished stucco cage, having all his wants and needs taken care of by beings he knew, somehow, had Will's best interest in mind. Except for meaningful human contact, he and Will wanted for nothing. As long as Mulder was a good little sheep - no yelling, no angry thoughts, no trying to run - he'd been allowed to hole up in this comfortable, well-decorated corner and lick his perpetually unhealed wounds.

But was this what his life was going to be from now on? Was this what he had to look forward to? A succession of violated women he was required to fuck or toss out on the curb?


He reached for Will, clung to his son tightly, sagged against the counter, knees almost buckling under the weight of his rage.

I will not, he told his keepers, though he did not speak out loud. I will not live this way. William will not live this way. You can kill us if you want. We'd be better off dead.

Will screamed, jerking him out of the morass of his thoughts. "Dadadadadadadada...."

"God, Will, no..." Mulder lifted him, tucked him securely under his chin. "I didn't mean that, Buddy. Shhhh. I'd never...god, no. Never."

Will drew a quivering breath and fell silent, head pressed wearily against his father's shoulder, milk cup jammed into his mouth, sucking furiously.

"Mulder." Leah was standing in the archway, eyes red- rimmed, expression resigned. She was swimming in his recently discarded t-shirt, the hem falling almost to her knees. She sniffed discreetly, held out her hand. "Come back to bed, okay?"

Mulder rocked his son and closed his eyes, breathing Will in again, breathing Scully in.

"Will was six weeks old, Leah." He cleared his throat and made himself speak, even though his lungs were on fire and his throat felt as if it had been filled with concrete. "Will's mother, she had, well, 'difficult' doesn't even begin to describe her pregnancy. And I missed most of it. So, um, when I got back, it seemed like she was doing okay without me, and I assumed that was how she wanted it. But I thought..." He spoke faster, rushing the words across his lips in the futile hope that they would win the race with the tears that threatened to spill down his cheeks. "I thought if I hung around enough, made myself useful, helped out without getting in the way, maybe she'd let me see him, Will, I mean, once in a while. You know, weekends and ball games, Christmas, or whatever..."

A sympathetic "Oh" drifted quietly out of Leah's body. She crossed the kitchen in just a few steps, touched his arm cautiously. He pulled away from her, sagged against the counter, shutting his eyes more tightly.

"But then when Will was born, it was like everything snapped into focus, you know, like everything finally slid into place. We knew we wanted to be together, we wanted to be a family. I wanted to get married right away, but she wanted to wait until the doctor said she was healed enough to, um ..." His voice went so hoarse he could barely speak. "Shit." He opened his stinging eyes, took a breath, continued. "She wanted us to have a honeymoon."

"Oh Mulder." Leah leaned against the counter next to him. "I'm so sorry."

Mulder's mouth opened, but nothing would come out. His vocal cords seemed paralyzed, frozen.

Will stared mournfully at Leah, eyes bright with leftover tears. "Weaa." He reached for her.

"It's okay, sweetie." She grasped his chubby hand and gave it a quick kiss. "Want me to take him?" she asked Mulder softly.

Mulder shook his head 'no' but handed Will to her without a word. He covered his face with his hands, digging his fingers into his forehead, trying to suppress the scream that threatened to overwhelm him. It didn't seem possible - how could he have survived so long? Continued existing in a world without her?

Without Scully.


He had not spoken her name out loud since the day she died. Most days he couldn't even bring himself to think it.

"Dana Scully," he whispered. "That was her name, Leah. Scully. When Will was six weeks old, um, we were having a rough time with him. William's mom, she, um, Scully, she hadn't been getting any sleep at all. That's how it is with nursing mothers. I couldn't really help much. If Will wanted to nurse all night, I could bring him to her, but she was the one who had to stay awake. So, ah, that afternoon, I turned up the air conditioning, I tucked a blanket around her - she was like that, she liked to have the air conditioning blasting and then huddle under a blanket - I kissed her on the cheek, I packed Will into the car, and I took him out for a few hours. We went to lunch, walked in the park, did some shopping, whatever. I just thought she needed some time to herself, you know?"

Leah watched him intently, rocking back and forth with Will. Her dark eyes were shining with tears. She nodded. "Yeah."

He turned his back to her, gripping the countertop. One tear, then two, then a torrent. Rage, like a fire. He stifled a violent sob.

He had never felt so alone.

"Mulder," Leah whispered, "What happened?"

Speak for Scully, he thought. Stand up for her. Now.

He gasped for air, spun, paced across the kitchen, desperately trying to control himself. "After I left with William that day...I...I never saw her again. We came home and there were cops and fire trucks and almost nothing left of the building. There were bodies lined up on the grass but they were...oh shit, they were in pieces, and burned..."

He wrapped his arms around himself and pressed his forehead against the smooth wood of the archway, feeling himself imploding, crumbling, falling...

"They said a gas main had blown, but . . ."

Leah murmured soothingly, padded toward him, reached out with her free hand to stroke his back. "Why would someone. . .?

He leaned against the archway, trying to calm his thoughts, lower his voice, make his emotions behave. "I don't know who did it," he muttered into the molding, a powerful wave of grief coursing through him. "I'm not even sure why. Before I could talk to the officer in charge, Billy was there. That's the last thing I remember - empty eyes and empty voice telling me Scully was gone and Will was in danger and we were leaving. And I knew he was right. So I followed him. I woke up here."

Leah bit her lip. "It wasn't . . .them? They didn't. . .?"

Mulder shook his head. "That's the only thing I am sure of, and I can't even explain why. They - Billy and the rest of them - they weren't behind it. I just - I just know."

Leah swallowed audibly. "Maybe it's like the Home Depot guys, Mulder. Maybe they just made you think. . ."

"Would we be having this conversation if they had?"

"Oh," she answered, realizing he was right.

Mulder turned toward her. "Listen, Leah. I don't know what happened tonight. I don't know why, all of the sudden, they want me to...go to bed with you."

"But. . .it isn't sudden, is it? When Billy was here earlier, he said..."

"I think Billy says whatever he thinks will get results. This is going to sound crazy, Leah, but I think they may have been trying to, god, it's sick..."

"Mulder, what?"

"I think they were trying to cheer me up."

Leah's eyes went wide. "Wha. . .?"

"I know," Mulder answered, completely at a loss for how to help her understand. "I know, it's insane. But I want you to know that what happened in there, just now, it wasn't me. I would never...I'm not like that."

Leah wrapped her arm around his waist and pulled him close. He pressed his face against her hair and slipped his arms around her, around Will, and clung to them both.

"I'm sorry, Mulder. I didn't know what to think," she whispered. "I thought I just wasn't doing it right..."

"No, Leah, no. It's all right. It's okay," he responded, holding them both more tightly. "It won't happen again. Not like that. I promise."

They leaned against each other in mournful silence, rocking slightly, rocking Will to sleep. Mulder calmed, breathed slowly, deliberately.

They weren't animals. They were not going to live in this cage. At any and all costs, he would find a way to leave it behind.

Will slumped in Leah's arms at last like a miniature sack of potatoes. Mulder reached for the empty milk cup that dangled from his tiny fist.

"I'll put him to bed," Leah said quietly.

Mulder released her, staring, hollow, forlorn.

"Are you all right?"

He nodded. "You?"

"I'll be okay. We should sleep."

He watched her gather Will closer, watched her turn to leave the room.

He missed the feel of her skin against his. "Leah?"


"Sleep in my bed."


Right Bookend

Doggett hit the buzzer and looked up at the security camera, knowing someone would be on the other end, watching. "S'me, guys." He didn't smile. It was too damned hot to smile.

A series of locks, electronic and manual, snapped open one by one and the heavy door swung wide. "Agent Doggett." Frohike waved him in with his half- gloved hand, closed the door carefully behind him, then headed directly for the nearby fridge. "How was Provo?"

"Hotter 'n hell, thanks."

"Beverage?" Frohike offered up a bottle.

"On duty," Doggett replied, real regret in his voice.

"Shame," Frohike answered, twisting off the cap and bringing the bottle to his lips. "Water? Soda? Liquid nitrogen bath?"

Doggett shook his head. "Monica here, somewhere? She left me a message. . ."

"This way." Frohike gestured with his chin, then led the taller man though the labyrinth that was the Lone Gunmen offices. Doggett had been to the Gunmen's lair often enough to know you had to watch where you were walking to avoid cords, wires, junction boxes, and any number of other tripping hazards, but not often enough to make his way through the maze without a guide, a compass, and maybe a machete.

"Did you see Jimmy out there? We sent him for pizza about a month ago."


"Dammit," Frohike grumbled. "So, uh, how was your flight?"

"You know." Doggett shrugged and stepped carefully over a bank of power bars. "Crowded, cramped, over- sold, and the peanuts were stale. Same old."

"Flight 1198 from Salt Lake to Chicago, right? One of those new Bitove 120 CloudTrains?"

Doggett veered left around some huge piece of buzzing, whirring, blinking equipment he couldn't begin to identify. "Guess so."

"Lucky you didn't fall right out of the sky. Damned things fly like bricks." Frohike shook his head in disgust. "The Roushtech co-processors in the navigation systems in those things, Jesus . . ."

"Snappy line of patter you got there." Doggett ducked beneath a series of co-ax cables hanging like coated wire cobwebs from an overhead beam. "You ever consider becoming a travel agent?"

"What?" Frohike stopped in front of a door marked 'editing.' He waved his empty hand around in an all- encompassing gesture. "And give up all this?"

Inside the darkened room, Monica and Langly were sitting side by side before a bank of computers, control boards, and monitors. Langly, wearing a head set, was twisting knobs and flipping switches; Monica, wearing an anxious expression, was watching him.

"John." Monica greeted him with a cheery smile, and rose. She seemed grateful for the distraction. "How was the conference?"

Langly, noticing her movements, looked up.

"'Bout like you'd expect, only duller. Hey, Langly," he nodded.

Langly grunted, either in greeting or disgust, and turned back to his panel.

Frohike pushed a squeaky-wheeled chair in Doggett's direction. "Sit."

He sat, pulled his already loosened tie out of his collar and shoved it in his suit pocket. "So what's going on?"

"Thanks for coming right away." Monica returned to her chair. "You remember that stuff I got from Rob Duncan? About the lawyer who disappeared from Kisatchie and now seems to be running loose in Canada?"

Doggett nodded.

Monica lifted the folder off the desk. "Something about this photo was nagging at me for days and I just couldn't figure out what it was."

She handed him a black and white 8x10. Obviously a surveillance photo, it showed a striking blonde woman in jogging clothes in some sort of small shop or variety store as seen through a fish eye lens. She looked for all the world like she was standing at attention.

"Yeah," Doggett nodded again. "So, is it her?"

"As far as we can tell, yeah," Frohike answered. "We've run her through everything there is to run her through. That," he pointed to the picture in Doggett's hand, "is Denise Hill."

Doggett was hit by a sickening wave of déjà vu. "Or someone who looks exactly like her, right? Is that what comes next?"

"Maybe," Monica answered. "Something about that picture was bugging me, like I said, so," she turned to a large monitor, hit a few keystrokes, "I asked Rich to take a look."

Doggett looked at Frohike. "Rich?" he mouthed.

Frohike rolled his eyes and jerked a thumb at Langly. "Rich," he mouthed back.

Doggett suppressed a very real need to cringe.

"So, he ran it through some software . . ." Monica hit some keys. The image popped up on the monitor. "Right here, see?" She pointed to the extreme top left corner of the screen. "The security mirror?"

Doggett squinted. "Yeah?"

"Well," a few more keystrokes, "Rich worked some of his magic on it and this is what we got."

The area in question magnified and sharpened over and over until the picture finally cleared.

"Shit," Doggett breathed. It was a face he had both sincerely and naively hoped he'd never have to see again. No such fucking luck, Johnny, he thought sourly. "Billy Miles."

"Or whatever it was Billy Miles turned into," Frohike added.

"Wonderful." Doggett wasn't surprised to feel a sudden headache coming on. Was this shit ever going to end? "So what's the connection? Was Denise Hill an abductee?"

Monica shrugged. "No one ever suggested it during the investigation, but then it's not the sort of thing a lot of people want to talk about. It would certainly explain her disappearance. And this blob here, see?" The specks resolved themselves. "Database says there's an eighty-two per cent match with Deputy Raymond Hoese of the Bellefleur, Oregon Sheriff's department."

"Theresa's husband." Doggett squeezed his eyes shut. "Shit shit shit."

"There was only a few seconds of action on the tape Duncan sent me, just the part that those screen captures were lifted from. The rest of it had been blanked out." Reyes resumed her seat. "I asked the RCMP for a copy of the entire original surveillance cassette, but they gave me a song and dance. So Rich is trying to restore. . ."

"YES!" Langly pumped his fist in the air, interrupting her. He whipped his head phones off, let them hang around his neck, and leapt from his chair. "I've got something!"

Monica grinned and waggled her eyebrows suggestively. "He's got something."

Doggett kept his expression neutral, but it was a struggle. Frohike quietly choked on his beer.

"Pizza's here." Byers stuck his head around the corner. "Oh, hey, Agent Doggett."

"Byers," Doggett acknowledged.

"Come take a look." Going to a larger monitor, Langly attached and adjusted some cable, spun dials, then hit the remote. Frohike, Reyes, Byers, and Doggett crowded around.

"Is this that tape, Agent Reyes?" Byers was peering at the screen.

"Yeah," she nodded. "Rich has been working on it."

"Rich?" Byers blinked, nonplussed. "Oh. I see."

The screen filled with salt and pepper static. More followed.

"You got snow, Langly," Doggett commented dryly.

Langly ignored him. "Just about. . .here." He pressed a button. "Here, see? That shadow? Someone else is walking into the shot and I think. . ." He hit the frame by frame scan. "Here," Langly pointed. He clicked the remote a few more times. "Look."

The picture jumped and jiggled, then cleared. A shapely, clearly female back filled the screen.

Frohike leaned in. "Who's that?"

Doggett pointed. "And what's that?"

Frowning, Monica pulled back, tilted her head to one side, then the other. "I think. . . oh! It's a foot."

"A foot?" Frohike squinted.

"Right." Byers traced the shape with his finger. "A baby's foot. If you were carrying the baby on your hip, like this." He demonstrated. "It's just too close to the lens."

"So, is she anybody?" Frohike wondered.

"Hey guys." Jimmy wandered in. "The pizza is getting cold. What are you guys . . .?" He stopped just behind Doggett. "Hey, where'd you get the tape of Yves?"

As one, the others turned, confusion and astonishment written on their features.

"Yves?" Monica asked. "Harlow? Your, um. . .that's her?"

"Sure," Jimmy nodded confidently.

"How can you tell?"

"That." Jimmy's finger touched the screen. "That tattoo."

"Yves has a tattoo?" Byers asked.

"Yves has a tattoo you've seen?" Frohike added.

"Yeah." Jimmy nodded. "It starts way down. .. " he gestured vaguely toward his lower back, ". . .and goes all the way up to. . ." he pointed to his neck. He wrinkled up his nose. "She never showed you guys?"

"I think I'd remember that," Langly replied wryly.

Monica shot him a look, then turned back to Jimmy. "Are you positive, Jimmy? This is really important."

"Oh yeah. That's her. See that little scar, there? She said she got it in a sword fight. Seriously. Only. . ." Jimmy squinted in concentration ". . .last time I saw the tattoo, the top wasn't all inked. It looks like. . .Hey! This tape is from after she disappeared, isn't it?"

"Must be," Langly commented. He turned back to the keyboard and panel. "Let's see what else we can find."

Doggett brought his hand to his forehead, but it didn't help the pounding. "So, okay, say that's Yves. So we've got Denise Hill, Billy Miles, Ray Hoese, and Yves Harlow all together on an RCMP surveillance tape from sometime in May. So what? What's the connection?"

"Holy fuck," Langly muttered. "Holy fuck, holy fuck, holy fuck!"


"Oh man. The connection." Langly hit another key. "That's the connection, right there."

The screen filled with another image. A dark haired man taking the child from the woman they'd identified as Yves. He was dressed in a sweat shirt and baseball cap, his handsome, familiar face smiling broadly.

A stunned, brittle silence settled over the group.

"Oh my god," Monica breathed at last, shattering the quiet.

"Jesus H. Christ," Frohike added.

"Hey, isn't that. . .?" Jimmy began.

"Shit!" Byers hissed. "Shit." He reached for the phone on the desk.

Frohike slammed his hand down on top of Byers', driving the handset back into the stand with a resounding crack. "What the hell are you doing?"

"What am I doing?" Byers glared. "What do you think I'm doing? I'm calling Scully."

 Book One

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