Book Two

By MaybeAmanda and Spookey247 

Rating: PG-ish

Category: S, A, C, MSR

Spoilers: Assumes thorough and complete knowledge of every single episode. EVERY SINGLE ONE!

Timeline: Post *Existence.*

Archive: Sure. Thanks!

Thanks to: Plausible Deniability, Euphrosyne, and Ebonbird, for beta, Connie, Meg, Peggy, Weyo, and Susan, for test driving, Dee, for appearing pro bono, and in shorts, this time; Uncle Chris, cuz it was his idea in the first place.

Special thanks: to the many, many, many people who wrote and asked for more. None of this would have been possible without your love, encouragement or really pointy sticks.

Summary: More of the same, and then some. With seagulls.

Our Lawyer says: Chris Carter owns M&S; Fox owns The XFiles; we own this story. No infringement intended.

NOTE: This won't make a lot of sense unless you've read Book One.

It might not make sense then, either, but at least you were warned.

October 3rd




"Really." Langly quickly punched a sequence of numbers into the keypad set into the wall.

Monica noted that he turned his body just enough to block her view. She looked away. "No way."

"Way." The green light on the keypad blinked, the door swung open, and Langly waved her inside.

"I can't believe you actually *saw* the Butthole Surfers, Rich." Monica waited for Langly to take the lead again, then followed him down the narrow hallway, glancing up briefly at the small surveillance cameras tracking their movements.

"Not just saw; partied with," he said. "And sometime around four a.m on the third morning, Jeff Pinkus lost his lunch, and probably a couple of other meals, right about-" he made a vague circle around his left shoulder "-here."

"Oooh!" she responded. "Celebrity vomit! Can I touch you?"

They'd been working at the Gunmen's office all day, placing phone calls, tracking down leads in Toronto, making travel arrangements. She was still marveling at Langly's ability to find, gather, and steal information without leaving a trace. Covert operations were not her forte; even though she occasionally strayed into the margins, Monica pretty much played by the book. The Gunmen, on the other hand, not only scribbled in the margins, but they colored outside the lines, doodled on the fly-leaf, dog-eared the pages, cracked the spine, then casually tossed the entire book into the nearest shredder.

So, when Langly had asked, quite casually, if she wanted to grab something to eat while the computer did its number- crunching thing, she was surprised to see Frohike and Byers do textbook double-takes. John, bless him, had just rolled his eyes, shaken his head, and gone home to pack.

Monica had barely been able to contain her amusement. Apparently none of them had any real idea how much time she and Rich had been spending together. But they *had* been spending time together - lots of it. Granted, it was mostly virtual time -- phone, email, instant messenger -- but in the midst of it all, their relationship had shifted from strictly professional to - well, to something else. Something more, she was starting to think. Starting to hope, even.

"Heck yeah, you can touch me," Langly enthused, flicking his loose ponytail away from his face. Suddenly, he swallowed hard. "I mean, your hands *are* clean, right?"

"Uh huh. See?" she answered, holding her hands up, palms out, and wiggling her fingers. She felt about 15 years old again, but she was enjoying it more than when she'd had the braces, acne, and baby fat that went with it the first time around. "I licked all the garlic butter off."

"Oh?" Their eyes locked for a moment. Langly swallowed again and smiled. For just a second she thought he was going to blush, which would have been simultaneously too strange and too wonderful for words. "That's, um, that's good to know." He looked down at the keys in his hands. "Good to know," he repeated.

There was no other word for it -- she was charmed. Langly was charming. Who could have guessed? "So, was that the best show you ever saw?"

"Nah. The best show ever was a bunch of shows, actually. Spring break my freshman year, we followed the Pixies down south - started at the 9:30 Club, stopped in at the Cat's Cradle, and we had tickets for a show in Orlando but we stopped in Atlanta 'cause Fugazi and Yo La Tengo were playing the Masquerade. Awesome show, just awesome. Next night we scammed tickets for the Pixies in the same club - they played for almost three hours, did a twenty minute jam on 'Vamos'..."

"That's one of my favorites."

His smile grew wider. "Yeah? Me, too. Mine, too. Um, anyhow, after the show I actually got to shake Black Francis' hand, or Frank Black, or whatever it is he calls himself now."

"Quite a feat." She waited while he worked the locks.

"That was the best week of my life, hands down." He straightened and cleared his throat. "Um, to date, anyway..."

They gazed at each other for a long moment. He grinned. She grinned in response.

Oh God. He was so not her type. In high school, she would have been more likely to take up motorcycle repair than go out with a guy like him. Rich was strictly Audio-Visual. Band, maybe. GeekCity, USA.

In the past, she'd put a high priority on appearances, on ambition. She'd wanted someone driven, motivated, yet still socially aware. She'd always pictured herself with an incredibly handsome lawyer from the Sierra Club or the stunning CEO of an environmentally-responsible multinational.

Lately, however, she'd realized she just wanted someone who never felt the need to make apologies for himself. Someone who would never ask her to pretend she was something she wasn't. Someone who wasn't insane. Who wasn't married.

Enter Langly.

She was still grinning. Jesus, she thought, is it just me, or does everybody grin like a moron when they finally meet the one person they can actually talk to?

"What about you?" Langly asked.


"The best show you ever saw?"

"Me? Well...when I was fifteen my older brother got me an ID and snuck me into a Black Flag show. I'll never forget that."

He whistled. "Nice one." The final door to the underground rear-entrance of the Gunmen's offices stood unlocked but unopened before them.

"Then there was L7 opening for Babes in Toyland..."

"Wow. Wow wow." Langly leaned back against the cinderblock wall and folded his arms across his chest. He gave her an appraising look. "I'm surprised, you know?"

"Hmm?" She drifted a little closer.

"You seem so, uh. . ."

"I seem so?" she prompted. He smelled good. It was just your basic guy smell - laundry soap and cheap shampoo mixed with a hint of sweat - but she liked it. It was honest. It was real.

He shook his head, derailing that train of thought. "I, uh, . . .I don't like this, you know."


"This expedition of yours."

She shrugged a little. "So you've said."

Langly shifted uneasily from foot to foot for a moment. "It's just, if Mulder's one of THEM now, one of the pod people, shit, it could be seriously dangerous."

She nodded. "I know. But I have. . .I have a very strong feeling that that isn't what's going on."

Langly chewed the inside of his cheek. "You think like Doggett? You think Mulder had something going on with Yves and just took off?"

"No way." Monica shook her head. "I didn't get a chance to get to know Fox Mulder all that well, but he was devoted to Dana. Absolutely devoted. He wasn't voluntarily going to leave for anything. For anyone."

Langly cocked one eyebrow. "You have a very strong feeling about that, too, huh?"

"Yeah. I do." She grinned shyly. "And even if, by some weird chance, that were the case, I can't see why they'd be with Billy Miles. John doesn't seem to have a problem with it, but that part makes no sense to me."

"Me neither," Langly agreed. "Mulder survived so much shit, so many times, you know, and he always made his way back. That's why I'm sticking with the 'Invasion of the Body Snatchers' theory, much as it sucks." His voice dropped. "And that's why I don't like this whole road trip you and Doggett have planned, either."

"I expect it'll be nothing but reconnaissance, in the long run - fly in, ask a few questions, fly out. The trail's pretty cold, and we both have to be in the office first thing Monday morning." She shrugged. "Besides, John's got my back."

Langly snorted and rolled his eyes. "Oh, THAT makes me feel so much better."

Monica found herself reaching impulsively for his hand. "Hey. John's a good guy." When she latched on, his long fingers twined with hers almost automatically.

Rich nodded. "Maybe. I don't know. I mean, yeah, he is. Probably." He squeezed her hand.

"We need some closure on this. It's our best lead, Rich. It's our only lead."

"Yeah." He nodded again. "Um, what time do you have to leave in the morning?"

"Early. As you know. You 'arranged' my flight, remember?" She'd found it odd that they had to book her and Doggett on separate flights. At the time she had assumed it had something to do with their innate love of stealth, but now she wasn't so sure. She lifted one brow. "Why?"

"I was just wondering if, um, after we print up that information about the Korean grocery, you got time to sit down and have a beer? It's still early and I'd love to play those Sonic Youth tapes for you. And we could..." his voice trailed off.

"We could what, Rich?"

"Um, you know." He squeezed her fingers again. "Whatever."

She almost had to laugh. He was blushing, now; it wasn't hard to tell what he had in mind. Her smile grew until she felt like her face was going to crack. "Here? Are you kidding?"

His face fell. He straightened, tried to disentangle his hand from hers. "Oh, I, um. . ."

"No!" She gripped tighter. "No, Rich. I just meant, I mean, there are cameras everywhere..."

"Oh. That." He chuckled, visibly relaxing. Taking a deep breath, he pulled her a little closer. "That's half the fun."

She laughed. God, he was just what she needed.

"I'm not. . .no pressure, okay?" He leaned toward her. "Stay awhile," he murmured. "Jimmy's gone to visit his mom in New York and Byers and Frohike are heading out for the evening. We've got the whole place to ourselves. I'll turn off the cameras, if you want, and. . ."

A speaker above them crackled to life. "The hell you will." Frohike's voice echoed off the cement walls.

Monica jumped back a step, self-consciously dropping Langly's hand, scanning the hall instinctively for the source of the sound.

Langly emitted a low growl. "Frohike, you are so fucking dead."

The bomb door swung open. "Sorry to, ah, to interrupt," Byers began, addressing Monica. His eyes swung to Langly. "We've got a . . .a situation, Langly."

Langly looked both furious and unimpressed. "What's that supposed to mean?"

"Scully came by."

That got Langly's attention. "Scully? Shit. I thought we agreed not to tell her anyth -"

Byers shook his head. "No. It's not about the tape. And we didn't say anything. This is. . ." His eyes flicked nervously to Monica. "This is something else."


"Like. . . " Byers glanced apprehensively at Monica again. "Like something else."

"Maybe I should go, Rich," she began. "I've got an early flight and. . "

Langly shook his head. "Look, Byers, what is it?"

Byers exhaled slowly. "She's got some questions about, um..." Byers scratched the back of his neck.

Langly picked up Byers' obvious hint. "Ah, shit. The chip."

"Um, yeah." Byers swallowed hard.

Langly's whole expression and demeanor shifted. "Oh."

"She was pretty upset."

"No shit."

"And she wants to keep it, um," Byers jerked his head ever so slightly toward Monica, "strictly extra curricular. Sorry, Agent Reyes, it's nothing persona-"

"It's okay. Really. Look, it's getting late. I still have to pack, anyway," she lied. "I'll go. Just let me grab my. . ."

Langly reached out and clasped her upper arm gently, pulling her almost undetectably closer. "Give us a minute?" he said to Byers.

Byers looked away, cleared his throat. "Um, sure. Sure." He went back inside and drew the door quietly shut behind him.

"Sorry about this."

"Oh, don't be." Monica turned and gave him the best smile she could muster. She was surprised how disappointed she felt. "I know all about 'duty calls.' Believe me."

"Still," Langly shrugged. "I am sorry. It's just, it's Scully, you know? Since Mulder disappeared. . ."

"I understand." And she did, almost. She found herself tugging at the front of his t-shirt. "So, ah, Rich. Can I get a rain check?"

Langly's brows rose. "For?"

"You know. Beer, Sonic Youth." She half-shrugged "Whatever."

Langly smiled. "Absolutely."

"You better get two rain checks." Frohike's voice poured out of the speakers again. "Langly's whatevers are pretty small."



Something woke him, but as Mulder lay in the half-light of early morning, he couldn't say what that something might have been. He held his breath, listening with his whole body for some clue, some familiar horror.

He heard nothing; no tinkling of shattered glass, no wood splintering, nothing even as mundane as a smoke detector whining or one of the ridiculously redundant burglar alarms buzzing. The house was still; only silence bounced off the plaster and polished hardwood.

Maybe, he reflected, exhaling through pursed lips, that was horror enough.

He reached for the clock on his bedside table and held it where he could see the display. Quarter to five. Beyond the gauze curtains and custom wooden shutters, the sky was taking on a deep purple cast as the sun lifted over the horizon.

Another day in paradise, he thought, swinging his legs over the side of the bed. Fang sat bright-eyed and alert atop a wad of bedding, tracking Mulder's every movement with a feral intensity that was all wrong on so small a creature.

Mulder put his finger to his lips while he felt around for his t-shirt. "Shhh," he told the dog, wondering why the Yankees jersey wasn't on the floor where he distinctly remembered dropping it just before he'd. . .

A sleepy sigh rose from the far side of the bed. Leah, clinging to the edge of the mattress like a rock climber on a treacherous slope, rolled over.

Ah, yes. That's where his shirt went.

He rose as quietly as he could and stood still for a moment, watching Leah as she slept. She looked so small, so vulnerable. So easily hurt or broken or taken advantage of.

Mulder sighed and rubbed his eyes. Leah's scent still clung to his fingertips.


He liked Leah, probably more than he should have let himself. She was good to Will, good to him, and she was his only real source of human contact, something he was surprised to have discovered he not only wanted, but craved. And there was no way around it -- Leah was beautiful. Someone had chosen her specifically for him, and chosen very carefully. If he'd ever had a type, Leah was it.

But she didn't belong in his bed, and she never would.

I don't need a mate, Billy, Mulder thought, absently twisting the gold band on his finger with his thumb. I don't *want* a mate.

Will, spread-eagled in the exact center of the bed, stirred in his sleep. Grumbling gently, he rolled toward Leah, pudgy fingers latching on to her sleeve. Gripping the cotton tightly, he sighed and settled again.

No, Mulder thought, he didn't need a mate.

What he needed was an idea. A plan.

Problem was, he'd spent the last year deliberately chasing away any real thoughts, filling his head with bullshit, feel-good mantras, doing what he had to to ensure Will's safety. At this point in the game, even when he did relax and allow his brain to function normally, the self- inflicted banalities came seeping in as if they'd always been there.

Mulder stepped back, dropping heavily into an armchair in the corner of the room. He winced when its legs squealed against the hardwood, then relaxed when neither Leah nor William stirred. Leaning forward, he ran his fingers through his unruly hair, cradling his head in his hands. Let me wake up on an operating table again, he thought. Let me find out it's all been a dream.

What he wouldn't do for a teleph. . .

Oh, no.

He raised his head. The hair on his forearms was slowly lifting.

Will whined and rolled away from Leah, flopping onto his stomach with a small cry.

Mulder closed his eyes and willed his thoughts back into place. No, he didn't want a phone. No telephone was okay. His former associates could not be trusted. He and Will were safe. They were protected. They were loved.

"Safe," he whispered under his breath. "Safe," he mouthed again, and watched as the gooseflesh receded. Will's breathing became even and peaceful again.

Behold the power of positive thinking, Mulder reflected, rubbing his eyes with the heels of his hands. Have a nice fucking day.

Growling softly, Fang hopped off the bed and galloped resolutely toward the dining room. He got as far as the vestibule before he started running in tail-chasing circles, barking in earnest.

Doing the Billy Dance.

Mulder pulled a t-shirt off the laundry pile, closed the bedroom door behind him, and followed the dog. "Shut the hell up, Fang," he whispered.

The little dog stuck his tail between his legs and disappeared under Mulder's desk.

Taking a deep breath, Mulder grasped the doorknob. 'Safe' he reminded himself as he plastered on an annoyed expression and swung the front door open. "Jesus, Billy, how many times have I told you to. . . "

Mulder stopped.

Billy was not alone. In fact, the tiny front stoop was full.

Craning his neck, Mulder peered over Billy's shoulder. Ray was standing to Billy's right, and Dee, Mulder's running partner, stood to Billy's left. Behind them, other members of the pack milled about the courtyard. They all looked. . .odd, somehow.

"I did not wish to wake William," Billy began. The timbre of his voice was the same as always, but his usual vacuous smile was missing. "William did not sleep well, Mulder."

"Wonder why that was?" Mulder asked icily.

Billy blinked. "Did you sleep well?"

"You know damn well I didn't." The floor was cool under his bare feet. Mulder scanned the entrance hall, looking for his shoes, trying not to imagine why 30-odd non-people were swarming at his front door.

Reasoning that his best defense was probably a good offense, Mulder decided to conduct a verbal first strike. "I'm glad you stopped by, actually. You and I have got to have a little talk about last- "

"Here," Billy said abruptly, thrusting a white paper bag in Mulder's direction. "This will make you happy, Mulder."

Mulder paused, nonplussed. "What?"

Billy held the bag higher. "This will make you happy."

Mulder snorted softly. "Bill, there's only one thing that would make me happy, and believe me, it's not in that bag."

"Please, Mulder."

Mulder looked over Billy's shoulder. Dee was swaying back and forth almost imperceptibly, shifting from one foot to the other, her eyes slightly unfocused. Beads of sweat dotted Ray's bald head, and his jaw worked furiously from side to side. Out in the courtyard, members of the pack were edging nervously toward his front stoop, their normally expressionless faces strangely clouded.

Mulder fought back a surge of apprehension. "What's going on, Bill?"

Billy thrust the bag toward him again, his brow furrowing. "Take this, please, Mulder."

"Please," Ray echoed. He looked desperate. Mulder scanned the crowd again. Christ, they all did.

He couldn't begin to imagine why.

He folded his arm across his chest, the novelty of the situation making him feel unexpectedly reckless. "Okay, I'll take the bag, Billy, but I want to make one thing clear - Leah stays."

"Please, Mulder." The paper bag rattled in Billy's grip.

"I mean it, Billy. She stays. You don't replace her or threaten her and you don't. . ." he stopped, took a deep breath, "you don't dictate where she sleeps. William wants her to stay. I want her to stay. Am I making myself clear?"

Billy's face was blank, but his eyes were fierce. He thrust the bag toward Mulder again. "Now, Mulder."

Mulder took the small bag from him, peered cautiously inside. "Four bottles of Children's Tylenol? This is supposed to make me-?"


In the bedroom, Will suddenly began to wail. Leah cooed his name, trying to soothe him. Mulder wondered how long she'd been awake. "I'm out here, Leah," he called. He looked inside the bag again, pulled out the receipt and studied it briefly, perplexed. "Billy, why did you go all the way to to New York to buy. . .?"

"Mulder?" Leah appeared in the dining room door, still wearing Mulder's t-shirt, Will cradled against her chest. She raised her voice and spoke over Will's wailing. "We were asleep and Fang woke him. He feels really warm."

Mulder met Leah halfway across the dining room. Handing her the bag, he laid one hand on Will's forehead while the other stroked his back. "Yeah, he's got a fever," he remarked. "I wonder what's- "

"Now, Mulder," Billy repeated, urgently. "Now. Please."

Mulder glanced over Billy's shoulder. Dee's rocking had increased in tempo. Ray stared at Mulder imploringly, rubbing his hand back and forth across the stubble on his left cheek, digging his fingertips into the flesh.

What the hell was going on?

Mulder turned and took a few steps back toward the entranceway. "Now *what*, Bill?"

The pitch of Will's screaming climbed higher. "Dadadadadadadadada...."

Billy's face creased with an uncharacteristic scowl. He crossed the threshold abruptly, sweeping past Mulder and raising an arm toward Leah, who pulled Will closer and began to back away, shooting a desperate, terrified glance in Mulder's direction.

Holy fuck.

"Billy, no!" Mulder growled, traveling across the hardwood on an intercept course.

Billy brushed him aside like a cobweb, sending him stumbling, slamming against his desk. Mulder righted himself quickly and turned, ready to defend his family. Kill me, you bastard, he thought viciously. Kill me, Billy, I fucking dare you...

But Billy was busy fumbling with a child-proof cap.

The white paper bag lay like a shed feather at Billy's feet, three unopened boxes of medicine piled in a jumbled heap beside it. Billy struggled with the stubborn plastic cap, twisting it first one way, then the other. Finally he stopped, his eyes nearly crossing as he tried to focus on the red-letters that told him to push down and turn counter-clockwise.

Mulder stepped cautiously toward him. "Billy, what are you-?"

His host abandoned finesse and snapped the neck of the bottle. "I have opened the medicine, Mulder." His hands were shaking.

"I see that," Mulder said gently. "I take it you want to give Will some Tylenol?"

"He is suffering, Mulder." Billy said anxiously, his face drawn and ashen. "We cannot keep him safe. He must be safe."

"Okay, okay," Mulder told his host, speaking as soothingly as he would to any mad dog. He took the broken bottle and placed it on the desk. "You're right, Billy. He's running a fever and giving him some Tylenol might be a good idea. But it's not safe to give that to him now. Some of the plastic from the bottle may have fallen in when you broke it. Give me one of the other bottles and I'll show you how to open it."

Billy immediately did as Mulder asked. Mulder opened the box and peeled off the protective wrap surrounding the cap. "You have to press and turn at the same time." He gave Billy the dispensing cup to hold while he worked the lid. "See?"

"I see," Billy answered.

"Why is it you can remember the rules of football, but you can't remember how to do this?" Mulder motioned with his free hand. "Give me the cup."

"The package says a child William's age requires 15 millimeters for relief of pain due to fever and/or teething," Billy commented as he handed it over.

"Okay," Mulder said soothingly. "It's just we've never done this before. He's run a fever with every tooth but it's never been bad enough to give him medication. I don't like to give him this stuff. It's hard on the liver. You understand?"

"He must be safe, Mulder."

"Yeah," Mulder agreed, although he wasn't completely sure what he was agreeing to. He poured the thick purple liquid into the cup. "Hey, Bud," he said, turning back to Will and Leah. Adrenalin was still pumping through his system at top speed and it was an effort to keep his hand steady and his voice calm. We're safe, he silently reminded himself. We're protected. We're loved. We're safe and protected and loved. Safe, protected, lov- "Look. Billy brought you some medicine."

Will shook his head and tried to hide his face against Leah's shoulder. "Nonononononononononono."

Billy edged toward them, his breathing rough and raspy.

"Look what your daddy's got, sweetie." Leah's voice was calm, but her eyes flicked nervously from Will's sweaty head to Billy's grimly determined face as she spoke. "And it's grape. Our very favorite flavor, after all the other ones."

"Here." Mulder exchanged the medicine cup for Will, pulling him into a tight hug and pressing his lips against his son's hot forehead. "Come on, big guy. Let's take some medicine."

"I've never seen him like this, Mulder," Leah said, a thread of panic running through her voice. "Maybe it's not his teeth. Maybe he's really sick. We need to call a doctor."

Will's hot little head dug into Mulder's sternum. "Nonononononononononono."

"Nononononono..." Billy whispered, mimicking Will in a voice so low it was almost impossible to hear.

Mulder stared. "What is it, Billy?"

Billy straightened and tried to compose himself. "Symptoms associated with teething include biting, drooling, gum- rubbing, low-grade fever, ear-rubbing, mild irritability, increased sucking, and increased wakefulness."

Mulder watched Billy intently. "So, he's just teething. Right, Billy?"

"William is not sick. There is no need for a doctor." Billy answered. "But William is suffering. Please, Mulder. Now."

Mulder looked from Leah to Will to Billy. Billy was watching his son with a worshipful expression, a look of tenderness, of genuine, unguarded love and care. Mulder knew Billy was right. Billy was always right, it seemed, when it came to Will. He took the cup from Leah. "Hey Will, this'll make you feel better. Do daddy a b-i-i-i-ig favor and drink this, okay?"

Will gave a quivering sigh and looked up. "Dadadadada," he complained, smearing snot and tears over his face as he rubbed his mouth and nose with his open palm.

"I know, buddy." Mulder swayed slightly from side to side. "I know. Drink this, okay? It'll make you feel better. Drink this for daddy, okay?"

Will looked at Mulder, concentration plain on his face. After a moment the boy nodded, his expression serious. "T- t-tay," he stuttered.

Mulder's brows rose. "You say 'okay,' Will?" He looked at Leah. "That's a new one."

Will shuddered again. "Tay," he repeated. He reached awkwardly toward the tiny cup and drained its contents. "Yum."

"Good boy, Will," Leah said. "You'll feel better soon."

Mulder swayed, rocking Will back and forth. His son settled against his chest, his sticky-sweet fake-grape breath swirling up with each miserable moan.

Billy's face, still strained, brightened somewhat as he gazed at Will adoringly, mesmerized, it seemed, by the soothing motion. "William will be safe. You will be happy, Mulder."

"Will's safety is all that matters." Mulder nodded, trying to grasp the meaning behind Billy's words. Billy had told him the contents of the bag would make him happy. The Tylenol was meant to take away Will's pain. So if Will was no longer in pain, then -

Then -

Then, what?

He could see that the pieces were there, spread out before him like the rough-edged tiles in a giant mosaic. But no matter how hard he tried, he couldn't make the individual pieces resolve into a coherent whole. He needed to step back to achieve the proper perspective, but his cage was too confining.

Mulder watched Billy watching his son. There was something gnawing at the edge of his exhausted brain, something --

"Leah, could you pick up that mess on the floor, please?"

Leah blinked. "What?"

"And bring me the bag from the Tylenol?" He kept his tone overly-casual.

Leah's eyes cut to Billy, then back to Mulder. "S-s-sure." She hurried across the room, picking up the discarded bag, receipt, and bottles, and returning quickly to Mulder's side. "What should I. . .?"

He took the bag from her. "Just put those bottles away in the kitchen. Up high, somewhere, please."

Mulder rocked. Will whimpered. Billy gazed, swaying gently, shadowing their motion.

"Bill, if you thought I needed to give Will some Tylenol, why didn't you just say something?"

Billy swayed. "I did."

Mulder glanced at the window. Beyond the drapes, sheepdog silhouettes were still wandering aimlessly around the central fountain. He pulled Will closer. "Yeah, but you might have done it a little sooner, and just a little less dramatically. I'm a reasonable guy."

"Yes, Mulder." Billy paused. "Sometimes I am not certain what you have remembered, and what you have chosen to forget."

Mulder scowled. "What the hell is that supposed to mean?"

"It is supposed to mean that sometimes I am not certain what you have remembered, Mulder, and what you have forgotten."

Mulder shook his head. "Geez, Bill, thanks for clearing that . . ." He glanced down at the drugstore bag in his hand and paused, frowning at the navy blue lettering on its side. "'Williams' Family Pharmacy,'" he read in a low mumble, "372 Danah Ave., Skellie, New York."

The tiles in the mosaic shifted, twisting and blurring. Mulder struggled to bring them into focus.

He looked up at Billy, swallowing the urge to scream. "'William wants a family. . .'"

"Yes, Mulder. William will be happy now. You will be happy."

Mulder's voice lowered. "Billy, please, why did. . ."

Billy turned to the door. "You should sleep, now, Mulder. Have a nice day."


Mulder had been staring at the ceiling for so long - at the same small stuccoed patch right over his head - that he was beginning to have the uncomfortable feeling that the ceiling was staring back.

He knew, from many sleepless nights and restless days spent sprawled and gazing upward, that if he looked at it long enough, hard enough, the miniature peaks and valleys would dissolve and reform, becoming a dog's head, a lion, a tree, a hand. If the shadows cast by the street light fell in a certain way, he'd see landscapes, vistas, visual shorthand, all reminders of other places and other times. Sometimes, if he was just the right combination of exhausted and aching and lonely, he'd see a face -- the face -- and he'd have to force himself to blink it away before his heart broke again.

This was one of those times.

He remembered how exhausted Scully had been, that last day, how open, how vulnerable. He'd run her a warm bath, bathed and diapered Will while she soaked, brought her freshly- washed pajamas from the dryer and laid them out on the bed for her. He'd unplugged the phone. Made her a glass of lemonade. Kissed her cheek.

He'd just thought she needed some time to herself.

Some time without them.

It hadn't occurred to him to say good bye.

He closed his eyes.

The Tylenol had worked its swift and questionable magic, and Will had been asleep, sticky-lipped and smiling, before Leah made it half-way back down the hall. Mulder had sent them back to his bed after Billy left, telling Leah he wanted to make sure all the dogs were safely back in their kennels and that he'd join them shortly. But even after the tall sandy-haired guy -- Eric? Aaron? -- had slunk back to his lair across the courtyard, even after he'd watched through the curtains as the dark haired guard resumed his usual post by the front gate, Mulder couldn't bring himself to make the trip to his room. He'd opted for the couch, instead.

They'd all had a hard night. If Leah and Will were asleep, he told himself, he didn't want to wake them. And, honestly, if only Will was sleeping, he didn't know what he would, could, or should say to Leah. 'Um, sorry I tried to rape you,' he could picture himself beginning as he very casually shed his medicine-stained shirt and tossed it back into the hamper, 'but for what it's worth, it wasn't me; it was alien mind control. No hard feelings, okay?'

He hardly believed it; he couldn't expect her to.

Mulder shifted his weight, trying to find that elusive sweet spot. The leather was cool and smooth against the backs of his legs, the cushions just the right combination of firm and yielding for his liking. When Will had been a colicky infant, Mulder had spent hour after hour in this very same position, his son tucked under his chin, humming tunelessly and rubbing circles into the baby's tiny back. But he hadn't had the ten to fifteen years necessary to break in a couch like this, and he still found it hard to get really comfortable.

Jesus. Ten years. Would he still be here in a decade, staring at the stucco, watching the watchdogs watch Will?

He hoped to hell not. A small part of him that still gave a damn wanted to believe he deserved better than this freak- in-a-fishbowl life.

And even if he didn't deserve better, Will did. Will was just a baby --

He shifted again. Just a baby. He remembered standing in Scully's bedroom, heart in his throat, telling her that. Telling her that Dr. Lev and Dr. Parenti had been mistaken, that Billy Miles and all his kind had been wrong. Telling her that Will was just a baby, just their son.

Just a miracle.

Mulder snorted. Well, at least he'd been right about something.

But if Will wasn't just a baby -- and he clearly wasn't -- what was he?

The ceiling, if it knew, wasn't saying.

Mulder sighed. All he wanted was to hear the truth from someone he could trust. That was all he'd wanted from the beginning.

There had been no phone in his apartment, of course, no internet. His early days in Toronto had been spent devising ways to escape his hosts, trying to ditch them long enough to get a collect call through to the Gunmen, to Skinner, even Doggett or Reyes, anyone who could tell him what had happened to her. Anyone who could help.

Because he didn't know a soul in the city, a public phone had seemed his only option. He had approached them on several occasions, but every time he tried, his inevitable escort would take him by the arm, very firmly and politely, and invite him to return to his home. He had tried sneaking out late at night and early in the morning, but no matter how odd the hour, one of his hosts had always appeared to accompany him. And as his desire to communicate with the outside world had grown, the number of escorts had increased. Billy, Ray, Dee, the sheepdogs who came and went, idiotic smiles on their faces, banalities on their lips -- they were always one step ahead of him. It hadn't taken Mulder long to realize that his thoughts were no longer completely his own.

Two weeks after his arrival, Mulder had left Will with Leah and gone out to buy himself a new pair of running shoes. He had taken the subway downtown, carefully focusing on the color and style he intended to purchase. He had pasted a bland smile on his face and climbed the stairs from the subway tunnel, wondering with all his might if a new pair of shoes would make his knees quit aching after every run. He had mingled with the pedestrians on Bloor Street, walking briskly and weaving through the crowd.

As he walked, he had looked furtively to the left and right, but no one in his immediate vicinity seemed to be paying him any special attention. Stopping with the crowd at an intersection, he had looked around, pretending to get his bearings, and stolen a glance over his shoulder. As far as he could tell, he was not being watched.

Buoyed up by his having successfully eluded them, Mulder had crossed the busy street and increased his pace.

An unoccupied phone kiosk had appeared in his field of vision, hugging the wall between a bookstore and a small restaurant. Mulder had glanced around and then veered toward it. A teenage boy who had been walking in front of him for several blocks had veered simultaneously, arriving at the phone steps ahead of him, raising the receiver to his ear as if to make a call and staring at Mulder with a blank, ambivalent expression.

Mulder had stared back.

Several pedestrians had passed between them, continuing down the street, oblivious to the wordless confrontation. Mulder had shaken his head slowly.

He had tried hard to keep thinking about running shoes.

He scanned the crowd again and found he was being watched by at least three individuals.

Mulder had started walking again. An elderly woman rose from a bench at a bus stop and lumbered down the sidewalk just ahead of him. She was fat and awkward, only about five feet tall, clinging to an oversized handbag and lurching from side to side as she walked. Mulder had stepped to the right, intending to hurry around her, but she had drifted in the same direction, blocking his forward progress. He had dodged to the left. She had mirrored his movement.

He dodged. She blocked. He dodged. She blocked.

A pay phone had loomed ahead. Mulder had veered toward it. The old woman countered, increasing her pace to match his own and passing the phone just seconds before he did. Before he knew what was happening, she had reached out with a shriveled hand and ripped the handset loose, snapping the metal cord like a thread and depositing the now-useless receiver in a nearby waste can.

She hadn't even broken her stride.

No one around them had seemed to notice.

Heart racing, Mulder had stopped walking. He turned and looked back. Three forms watched him, motionless, standing like islands in the bustling throng.

The truth of the situation was clear, but he had refused to accept it.

He had started down the sidewalk at a near-run. The old woman had at once increased her pace, orthopedic shoes flying down the sidewalk in a most unnatural fashion. The crowd around them thickened. Taking advantage of a momentary jam in the flow of foot traffic, Mulder had dashed across the street, eliciting honks and angry stares, narrowly avoiding being hit by a speeding taxi.

There had been a phone booth waiting on the other side. He had run toward it with every ounce of his energy, thinking Frohike, call Frohike...

His foot caught on a grate set in the pavement. He went down on the sidewalk, hard, tasting concrete and blood.

"Sir, are you hurt?"

A hand had been offered. He had opened his eyes, winced with pain, looked up as he wiped blood from his smashed lower lip...

Billy Miles.

"Time to go, Sir," Billy had said. "William wants his father. Now."

Billy and his pack had herded Mulder homeward. On the trip, he had noticed for the first time that his escorts kept a strange, almost respectful distance. He had felt like a lunatic elephant being returned to its cage.

He'd tried again, twice, with identical results. After his third failed attempt, despair had set in, leaving him enervated and empty. Leaving him thinking the unthinkable.

Billy had appeared at his door one morning, smiling stupidly, Ray and Mark smiling stupidly beside him.

"You are not happy, Sir," Billy had said benevolently, sounding a lot like a talk-show therapist.

Mulder had regarded them with open hostility. "Glad to see that your powers of observation didn't get washed down the drain with your personality, Bill."

"We know you miss William's mother. We are sorry she cannot..."

"No." Mulder had held up his hand, stopping him. "We're not going to talk about her. At all. Got it?"

"As you wish." Billy nodded, stupid smile still in place. "We understand that you are anxious to return to your friends."

"'Anxious,'" Mulder had murmured, tight-lipped, shaking his head. "Christ." He spun on his heel and left them standing on the stoop.

They had followed Mulder to the kitchen, pausing in the archway, filling it completely. "There are many things you do not understand, Sir. Perhaps when you understand them you will be happy."

Mulder had jerked the refrigerator door open, staring at the neat assortment of groceries that were hand-delivered by a different sheepdog each and every Tuesday. "You're damn right there are things I need to understand," he rasped. "What Will and I are doing here, for a start." He had slammed the refrigerator door and paced toward the pantry, opening it and scanning its tidy contents with a scowl.

"William is safe, protected, and loved here, as are you." Billy stepped forward, opening his arms magnanimously. "William is a miracle, a joyful blessing foretold, a prophecy fulfilled."

Mulder had stared into the pantry. His fingers curled into two fists at his sides. Both Alex Krycek and Lizzy Gill had tried to feed him the same brand of bullshit; he still wasn't biting. "Well, Halle-fuckin'-lujah. I feel better now."

"You misunderstand our intentions, Mulder. We live to serve William. Our purpose is to keep him safe and happy. There is nothing more important."

"You think I don't know that? He's my son, Billy. Mine."

"William belongs to all of us, Sir."

Mulder had fought down the urge to hurl himself at Billy, forcing himself to remember the sickening feeling of the plate glass window at Parenti's office shattering against his back. "He's my son," he repeated. "I'm all he's got, now."

"There will come a time when you will understand why these things have come to pass. There will come a time when you will understand how truly blessed you are."

"Blessed?" Mulder had choked, staring at the floor.

Billy's voice had had a strange lilt to it, as if he were reciting a story he'd known since childhood. "There is a battle being waged, Sir, a struggle for heaven and earth. You know this. But your son has the ability to change what has been written. His coming was foretold. He is a miracle, Sir; he is THE miracle."

"He's a baby, Billy," Mulder whispered, sure Billy was wrong, but just as sure he could never convince him of that fact. Fanatics were fanatics, whatever their cause. "Just a baby."

There was a long pause. Finally, Billy spoke. "You are still unhappy, Mulder, in spite of what I have told you?"

Mulder had quietly closed the pantry door, leaning against it and putting a hand over his eyes. The moment was so surreal. He really was standing here, in a Better-Homes- and-Gardens kitchen in a randomly chosen neighborhood somewhere in Toronto, being lectured about his infant son's duty to save humanity by a being who'd started out as a bloated, water-logged corpse.

Mulder had wondered, then, in a vague, almost surreal way, if he was still dead. Maybe they'd never dug him up, drugged him up, gotten him back on his feet. Maybe he still six feet under the North Carolina sod, quietly rotting away. Maybe Toronto was really Hell. That might explain the Raptors. . .

Mulder had laughed mirthlessly. "Yeah. Despite all you've told me, I'm still unhappy, Bill. Go figure."

"William wants you to be happy, Sir." Paper rustled as Billy spoke again. "We have brought something."

Jesus, what would it be this time? More expensive cotton baby clothes with the tags meticulously trimmed away? Another magic-fingers baby bouncer or programmable swing or set of ergonomically designed formula bottles? Opening his eyes would have been a waste of his rapidly fading energy, so Mulder didn't bother. "I think I've had enough for today, Bill. Whatever you brought, just leave it."

There was a pause. Billy sounded oddly sad. "We hope this will make you happy."

Curiosity forced Mulder's eyelids open. A pale, blue rectangle lay on the marble countertop, no more than three feet from where he was standing. He snatched the paper up, glancing quickly at Billy and his companions as they started away across the dining room.


Billy stopped, turned. He smiled pleasantly. "Sir?"

"This is a bus ticket."

"Yes. You are free to go whenever you want. Have a nice day."

Mulder's head felt light. It was a game, a trick... "I'm not sure, what does that mean, Billy, 'free to go'?"

"If you do not wish to be here, you may leave. You are not a prisoner."

It was a lie. It had to be a lie. "So. . .what? I can just grab Will and. . ."

"William will stay safe with us, Sir. You can be sure he will be safe, protected, and loved, always." Billy had turned to leave again.

Rage had welled up inside Mulder, so strong and potent and overwhelming that it almost froze him. "You expect me to leave him behind?" he whispered through clenched teeth.

"No, Sir, we do not. But the choice is yours. Have a nice day."

Mulder closed his eyes against the memory. A nice day? As if he remembered how that was done.

He shifted again. It had been obvious to Mulder from the beginning that Billy had some sort of imperfect access his own thoughts, and it had become clear in short order that Billy knew what was going on in William's mind, too. Mulder had always assumed it was a one way relationship -- he and Will threw the psychic passes, Billy and the gang caught them. But lately, he had to wonder.

Skellie, New York? Danah Ave? Someone was trying to send a message, but what message, exactly? Billy had always been top dog, seemingly omniscient, yet the blatant clues on the drugstore bag seemed to go right over his abnormally muddled head.

So if Billy wasn't the one trying to tell him something, who was? Ray? Dee? Someone on the outside?

And whoever it was, why were they screwing it up so badly?

The sofa sighed as he rolled over. A sharp, unexpected pain shot through his thigh. He winced and sat up, examining the sore spot. A lump was forming, purple and swollen, where he and the desk had met during Billy's bottle opening demonstration.

That was also troublesome. Billy hadn't so much as threatened Mulder over the course of the past year; he had certainly never raised a hand against him since their arrival in Toronto, and Mulder had no doubts that if Billy had wanted him dead the day of their confrontation at Parenti Medical, he would have been. Even when Mulder had been at his most rebellious, Billy had treated him with nothing short of deference. He was sure Billy hadn't intended to hurt him this morning -- there had been no malice in that shove. His host had simply been on a mission; Mulder had simply been in the way.

So why, he wondered, had Billy been so desperate this morning? And why so adamant about getting Mulder's permission to administer that medicine to Will? Clearly, it didn't matter, in the end, if Mulder gave his permission or not. Billy had certainly never sought it in other matters. Something had changed, but what?

Mulder wondered how much longer Billy and the rest of the hounds would continue the pretense of seeking Mulder's cooperation in all these matters. Up to this point, Will's wants had been simple and fairly harmless - If he wanted a toy, a dog, or a sandbox, Billy saw to it that he got them, no questions asked. But Will was growing, becoming more determined and more self-aware. What would happen when William wanted a Ferrari, an airplane, a gun? What would happen when Mulder said 'no'?

What WOULD happen?

Ominous thoughts circled his sleep-deprived mind like ravenous vultures. He shook his head, hoping to clear it, dry-scrubbed his face, and yawned. He needed to get up, to ice his thigh, to get some strong coffee into him, to get his thoughts organized, to. . .

"Dada!" Will's voice, coming from the far side of Mulder's bedroom door, echoed down the hallway, "Dadadadada! Out!"

Out, Mulder thought. Maybe that's what he needed. Maybe that's what they both needed. "Coming, buddy." Mulder rose and went down the hallway.

Will's small hand thumped against the door. "Out!" he insisted.

Mulder opened the door slowly, so that Will would have time to get out of the way. "Move back, Will. I'll let you out."

"Dada." Will stared at him imploringly. "Dadadadada."

"How you doing, guy?" He reached around the door and scooped Will up.

"Out!" His son's cheeks were bright pink, his lips wet with drool. He was still a little warm, but not as warm as he had been, Mulder noted with relief. He didn't think he could take a repeat visit from Doctor Billy's Traveling Medicine Show.

"You want some breakfast? A bottle?" Mulder whispered soothingly, casting a quick glance at Leah, who was curled into a tight ball, sound asleep in the middle of the bed.

"Out," Will repeated, seizing his dad's face with both hands.

Mulder shook his head. "Shhh. Leah's sleeping. How about a bath?"


"'Kay, buddy. Just a minute." Mulder carried Will back to his own room. "You need a clean butt before we can go anywhere." He placed him on the changing table.

Will drummed his heels against the foam pad. "Outoutoutoutoutoutoutout..." he chanted.

"Yeah, yeah." Mulder handed Will a board-book, hoping to distract him, and swiftly replaced the soiled diaper with a fresh one. "So we'll go out. Hang on."

Will tossed the book onto the floor. "Dada."

Mulder bent to retrieve it. "Yes?"

"Dada," Will repeated, his voice hushed.

"Ye-es?" Mulder asked again. He pulled a bottle of sunscreen from beneath the table and began strategically applying it.

"Dada." A whisper, this time.

Mulder slipped a clean pair of shorts on the boy, tossed his pajamas in the general direction of the hamper. He gazed down into his son's face. Will stared up at him. "Yes, William, what is it you want to tell me, hmm?"

Will looked Mulder straight in the eye.

Mulder was suddenly seized with a very disturbing idea.

Could it be...?


"Dada," Will whispered, and reached out to touch Mulder's arm.

It happened again, the wave of dread: gut-clenching fear ripping the air from his lungs, lifting he fine hairs on the back of his neck, submerging every nerve-ending in ice cold terror.

He's coming.

Mulder stared down at his son, fighting the urge to snatch him up and run. Will stared back, his blue eyes shining with intelligence and purpose.

Oh God, Mulder thought, taking a deep breath, it couldn't be.

"Dada." Will's lips moved, but this time, the boy made no sound.

Mulder brought his face close to his son's. His mouth was dry. He swallowed hard. "What is it, Will?" he croaked.

Will's eyes searched Mulder's face, moving intently from feature to feature. Then, in one smooth, swift motion, he reached up and grabbed Mulder by the nose.

"Beep beep!" Will squealed, then giggled delightedly.

Mulder slumped forward, suddenly boneless. "Jesus, Will," he mumbled, his forehead dropping to the changing table pad. For some reason, that made Will laugh harder.

He was letting his imagination get the better of him, Mulder told himself as he straightened, lifting his still giggling son. He was over-tired, stressed, decaffeinated, and he probably had low blood sugar on top of it all.

"Come on, Will," he said, settling Will's Yankees cap on his head. "Let me get a cup of coffee and then we'll hit the beach."


A quick cup of coffee and half a sippy cup of milk later, Mulder set Will down in the front hall and knelt to tighten his laces. Clutching his Tinky Winky doll with one arm, Will thumped Mulder's shoulder with his free hand. "Bubby tar, dada. Tay? Tay?"

Mulder couldn't help but smile. "Listen to you," he said affectionately, placing a hand on top of his son's head. It seemed like Will was picking up new words at the rate of about one a minute lately. "Talking like a big boy, huh? You'll be telling me I'm wrong about everything in no time at all."

"Bubby tar out, tay?"

"Okay," Mulder agreed. "Hang on just a minute and I'll find it."

He stood up and headed for a basket of toys that sat near the TV in his office. Will followed, then veered suddenly down the hallway, pointing toward the bedroom.

"Weea, dada."

Mulder retrieved Will and returned to the basket by the TV. "No, bud, she's sleeping. We'll see her later."

He rummaged in the basket until he found the 'bubby tar' in question. The black Matchbox SUV, a gift from Billy, had quickly become one of Will's favorite toys. Mulder considered it completely inappropriate for a toddler, especially one who was teething, but Billy had only blinked at Mulder's objections and assured him that he 'understood.' Mulder had deliberately 'lost' the toy several times, only to have an identical replacement appear with the next grocery delivery, much to Will's delight and Mulder's frustration. When Mulder finally noted that Will never put the car in his mouth, but instead carried it with a kind of reverence, securely tucked in his tiny fist, he had relented and allowed his son to keep it. How it got dubbed 'bubby tar,' Mulder didn't know.

"Here you go, buddy." He handed Will the toy. "Not for your mouth, remember?"

"Tay." Will nodded. He waved the car at his father. "Bubby tar mama tar dada, tay? Weea? Mama? Tay?"

Mulder's stomach knotted. He tried to keep smiling. Mama.

It was natural, he supposed, that Will would come to think of Leah as his mother, though she'd never been presented as such. After all, his picture books were full of happy, smiling mommies and daddies and babies. It only made sense that Will would put one and one and one together and come up with three, even if it was the wrong three.

With a pang of guilt, Mulder realized he'd been unbelievably selfish all these months. Will should have the chance to know his mother, even though she would never be a part of his daily life. They needed to have a photograph of Scully, at least, something Mulder could point to and say, 'That was your mom, Will. She loved you very much. I loved her very much.' He'd ask Billy to get them one the next time he saw him.

"Mama? Weea? Out? Fahn?"

"We'll see Leah later, Will. She's tired right now." Mulder took the toy car and tucked it in Will's pocket.

"Fahn out?"

"Yeah, Fang can come with us."

"Fahn!" Will ran toward the kitchen and called the dog, his thin little voice echoing through the apartment. "Fahn!"

Mulder brought his fingers to his lips. "Shh, Will," he whispered as Fang skittered enthusiastically into the room. Mulder clipped the leash to the dog's collar, then swung Will up onto his hip. They headed for the door, the little dog dragging his lead behind.

In the courtyard, the day was heating up. The air was already soggy and hateful, and would only get more unbearable as the day progressed.

As always, Dee was waiting to escort them, decked out in carefully coordinated indigo running gear. She had pulled the jogging stroller out of storage, just as she normally did, but instead of standing at attention next to it as he'd come to expect, she was sitting on the bench by the fountain, staring blankly at the water, her usual poker- face skewed by a look of vague discomfort.

Mulder buckled Will and Fang securely into the stroller. "Morning, Dee."

Dee did not stir, continuing to gaze listlessly toward the small concrete pool.

He propped his foot up on the bench, right next to where she was sitting. "Dee?"

Dee flinched, her head snapping toward him, her eyes growing wide.

"Didn't mean to startle you," he said, lifting an eyebrow and grabbing the toe of his shoe. Clearly, Dee was still a little dazed. He leaned over and began to stretch.

Dee shifted uncomfortably in her seat, her upper lip twitching slightly. "I am not startled, Sir," she said. Her gaze wandered back to the fountain.

"Dada!" Will complained, straining against his seatbelt. "Doh! Out out." He buried his face in Tinky Winky's stomach, rubbing his mouth vigorously back and forth against the plastic.

When Mulder finished stretching, he wheeled the stroller toward the gate. "Ready, Will? Let's go." The gatekeeper stepped aside to let them through. Dee remained motionless on the bench.

Mulder stared at her, perplexed. She wasn't going to let them go alone, was she?


Dee started again, then rose without answering and followed them out into the street.

Will waved his toys above his head. "Out, Dada," he called. "Bye bye!"



Mulder started more slowly than he usually did. Instead of running, he walked down Beech Avenue, past the florist's shop on the corner, past the bank and The Goof, down Silver Birch, taking his usual route, but at an altered pace. Reaching the green strip of park bordering the beach, he turned onto the asphalt jogging path and prodded himself to run. But his heart wasn't in it, and his mind was elsewhere, still puzzling over the night before and this strange morning after.

Will, apparently oblivious to his father's concerns, laughed, waving an arm and wiggling his fingers in the rushing air. He pointed to some seagulls on the path. "Quack-quack!" he laughed.

"Not ducks, Will," Mulder told him. "Sky rats."

The birds scattered, clearing a path for them with a chorus of irritated squawks. Will stretched out, reaching toward them and calling "Quack-quack!"

"Seagulls," Mulder told him again. "Not quack-quacks; seagulls. It's a different kind of water bird."

"Quack-quack!" Will insisted.

"Okay, you've convinced me." Mulder surrendered. "Quack- quacks. Whatever."

He ran harder, pushing himself, sprinting toward clarity or oblivion, whichever he could get with sweat and endorphins. The stroller buzzed along the pavement, its rubber tires emitting a hypnotic hum, while Dee's shoes smacked monotonously against the ground behind him.

Dee ran almost on his heels, becoming, quite literally, his shadow - if he veered left, he knew she would; if he slowed to get around a group of pedestrians, or sped up to challenge himself, she would alter her pace accordingly. Her positioning made it impossible for him to see what she was doing without stopping and making a deliberate 180- degree turn. It bugged the hell out of him - not only was it embarrassingly conspicuous, it was just plain annoying to have those inescapable footsteps crunching in his wake.

Today, stressed and hungry and sleep-deprived, confused by the events of the past two days, disheartened in a general, all-encompassing way, Mulder found he could focus on nothing but getting Dee the hell off his ass. 'Dee go away,' he thought, silently chanting in time with his footfalls, with hers, 'Dee go away Dee go away Dee go-'

All at once, the wheels of the stroller locked tight.

"Holy sh-!" Mulder jerked it upright to keep Will from spilling out, skidding to a painful stop. He bent immediately to check on his son. "You okay, Will?"

"A-din!" Will shrieked with delight, bouncing in his seat. "A-din a-din!"

"No, not 'again,'" Mulder replied, relieved to see that Will was unhurt and that Fang was no worse for the wear. He bent to check the tires, the footbrake, the unblemished pavement beneath them. Whatever had caused the wheels to quit turning wasn't immediately evident, but then, he was no mechanic.

"What in the hell?" Mulder mumbled, getting back up on his feet and brushing pavement crumbs from his knees. "Dee, can you tell why this...?" He looked up, expecting to see Dee standing vigilantly beside the stroller.

She wasn't there.

He turned and looked around. "Dee?"

"Dee bye-bye." Will pointed down the path, giggling.

Mulder spotted her about 300 feet ahead, shifting nervously from foot to foot, staring out at the lake. Even from that distance, Mulder could see something was wrong.

"Dee?" He frowned. He started pushing the stroller in Dee's direction.

"Dee bye-bye," Will repeated, clutching Tinky Winky, his laughter now coming in hiccuppy gulps.

Dee continued to fidget, but made no move to join them.

"Dee," Mulder called more forcefully, waving her back as he jogged toward her. As much as he hated having her around, her behavior was unnerving. "Come here."

Dee turned, staring at him in seeming confusion, then lifted her foot as if to return.

"No!" Will pointed and waved a single pudgy index finger at Dee, a gesture he'd acquired from Leah.

Dee froze, foot suspended in the air.

"What the..." Mulder stopped running. He let the stroller roll to a stop.

Will pointed again. "Doh!!"

Suddenly Dee turned and began marching resolutely toward the lake.

Mulder blinked, and blinked again. He stared at the figure moving across the beach. "Holy shit," he muttered, "She's not. . .Dee, stop! Wait..."

Dee picked up her pace. Mulder swallowed hard, turning to stare at his son, who was waving bye-bye to Dee, grinning gleefully under the brim of his baseball cap. Mulder mustered a stunned whisper. "Will?"

"Dee doh 'way! Dee doh 'way!"

Dee go away.



Will's pink lips stretched into a delighted smile. "Quack- quack!" he yelped, pointing toward the gulls near the waterline.

"Um, yeah." Mulder rubbed his forehead with his fingertips, feeling a little like he might pass out. "Will..."

"Dee quack-quack!" Will pointed again and began to giggle helplessly.

Mulder's face jerked in the direction of the water.

Dee had dropped into a squat and was waddling among the birds, hands tucked into her armpits, flapping as if she, too, were a gull. The birds ran frantically back and forth, dodging out of her way, taking flight, circling and returning, hovering above her as if she smelled of rotting fish.

Mulder tried to breathe, but his lungs seemed to have closed for business. "Will?" he gasped.

"Quack-quack!" Will shouted and clapped. "Dee, quack-quack! Yay!"

The breeze carried most of the sound away, but in the distance, Mulder heard Dee begin to quack.

Legs suddenly boneless, he crouched beside the stroller, cradled his head in his hands, and fought off the urge to hyperventilate. His running partner, 110 pounds of solid, straight-faced, humorless muscle, was out in the surf, running in crazed semi-circles, flapping her arms as if expecting at any second to take flight.

Will howled with laughter, quacking and cheering.

Mulder shook his head in wordless disbelief.

Was Dee doing this just for Will's amusement?

Or. . .


Fang barked, tugging Mulder momentarily from the morass of his thoughts.

"Woo-woo!" Will squealed, bouncing and clapping his hands in appreciation of Fang's barking prowess. Quivering with excitement, Fang let out a long string of yips and yowls.

"Fang. Shut the hel-" Mulder began, but before he could finish, Fang slipped out from under the seatbelt and took off after Dee, barking with all his strength.

"Fahn woo-woo!" Will squealed. "Dee woo-woo!"

Mulder's head snapped up.

At the edge of the water, Dee dropped to all fours and began barking madly at the waves breaking on the shore. Fang charged toward her, yipping full-force. The seagulls scattered.

No one seemed to notice. No one but Mulder and Will.

Mulder rubbed his brow. "No," he rasped.

"Dee woo-woo!" The baby clapped. "Yay!"

"Oh my god," Mulder murmured. "Will, no..."

Mulder turned, half-afraid yet half-expecting to see some wild gleam in his son's eye, some hint of monstrosity or madness. Something wrong. Something bad. Something evil.

All he saw was a delighted little boy. Scully's son. His whole life.

"N-n-no, Will." He shook his head unsteadily. He could hardly believe what he was saying. "Will, Dee is not a bird or a dog...oh god, Will, she's not...." Mulder groped for the right phrase, "Son...she's not a toy."

Will stopped clapping and regarded his father, a puzzled little frown drawing his sandy brows together. "Dee woo- woo?"

"No." He said it with more conviction than he felt. "Dee isn't a dog."

"Dee quack-quack?"

"No. She's not a duck, either. She's just -- she's just Dee, Will, and she's not having fun."

Will maintained a hopeful air. "Weea woo-woo?"

"Jesus, no!" Mulder spun off the pavement and up onto his knees. Bracing himself by gripping the side of the stroller, he brought his face close to his son's. "Will, people aren't -- You can't -- It isn't --"

Will looked at his father sadly for a moment, then he brightened. He reached up and placed his palm on the bridge of his own tiny nose. "Beep beep!"

"Will, no." Mulder closed his eyes and blew out a long frustrated breath. To the best of his recollection, Dr. Spock hadn't covered this. "Just - just no, okay? No."

"No, tay, no!" Will echoed. He flattened his nose again. "Beep beep!"

"I mean it, Will." Mulder glanced back at the water's edge, where Dee and Fang were still barking wildly, chasing any bird that dared to land on the beach. "What you're doing -- if, Christ, if you're even doing it -- you've got to stop. It's wrong, Will. You just can't. . ."

But even as he spoke, Mulder knew that Will just could.

And was.

Will grabbed Tinky Winky suddenly, and rubbed the toy across his mouth. "Nononononono!"

Mulder sighed as he removed Will's Yankees cap and laid his palm against the boy's warm forehead. All this and teething, too, he thought. Will swiped the doll across his mouth and chin again.

"William," Mulder pulled the now soggy purple plush toy away from the baby's face. "Listen to me. I know your mouth is hurting. We'll get you some medicine when we get home. But right now, right now Will-" he glanced at the surf again, "-Dee isn't a dog. I don't want Dee to -- to bark any more."

Will rubbed his mouth and nose with his open palm, then studied Mulder's face. "Dee no woo-woo?"

"Right." Mulder closed and rubbed his eyes again.

Will seemed to puzzle over this, then his expression brightened. "Dada!"

Something in Will's tone made Mulder open his eyes.

Will was staring at him thoughtfully. Mulder felt himself drawn into his son's eyes, which now seemed wider and rounder than any baby's eyes could, or should, be. It was almost as if, somewhere within his toddler's mind, he was weighing some hefty decision or choosing between two equally daunting alternatives. Tiny mouth pulled into a slight pucker, Will's brows turned down. "Dada," he repeated, in a grave voice.

Mulder caught his breath. "What is it, Will?"

Will reached out and grabbed Mulder's nose. "Beep b-"

Everything went black.

All at once Mulder was drowning, freezing, burning, flying, shaking, buzzing, trilling, thrilling - nerve endings never-ending, his whole being perfectly still, completely in motion...

"" A distant gasp of exhilaration, a groan of comprehension...

A voice -- his voice?

His heart stop beating, blood jelled in his veins, body collapsed into a single perfect point while his spirit dropped straight through the earth and emerged to leap into the sky and circle the planet like fog.

Everything lightened, brightened, color softened, turned purple - no, not purple - grape, yes, grape, sticky-sweet and pungent, luminescent and spherical, but somehow coarse as sand, unyielding as a chunk of steel clutched in a tiny fist. All grape, it was *all* grape and in the grape-purple purple grape of his consciousness, he glimpsed the multi- dimensional ALL, thick as honey, lighter than air, glimmering and glittering like a carnival in space. It was everywhere, nowhere, surrounding, subsuming, swelling, receding, glowing with color and crawling with life, the incomparable life of everything that shouldcouldwouldishasshall be--

And lighter still, brighter still, cobalt and indigo, navy, lapis, liquid cerulean, sky-sea blue ringing the deeper hues of the stratosphere, the richer shades inside, faceted as crystal, perfect, blissful, redeeming, sacred--

An eye?

Her -?

Then the buzz, rushing and harmonious - voices? No, a voice, *the* voice, the one, singular, solitary voice, singing, humming, rippling through him, beating him like a drumhead, plucking him like a harp string, playing him like an instrument in the symphony of the spheres --

Oh, yes...

He saw it all, WAS it all, and it was all him, and so simple, so natural, so right, and he wanted to stay in that One forever and--

Oh yes, oh yes--

The One is made of the Two: thought and action, motion and stillness, unity and separation...

Father nurtures Impulse; Mother nurtures Being; one nothing without the other, both whole, neither complete, neither either, nothing--


oh no. . .

. . .it was suddenly all barking orange dump trucks chasing seagulls in crazy circles and triangles carved from sand and big blue rubber balls and friendly armloads of warm white fluff and the taste of banana and sweet almond and he was riding the clouds, floating over a small suburban house, a canopied sandbox in its backyard, a dusty black SUV parked in a semi-circular drive, a black speck running in manic circles, laughter and sunshine, a peaceful home, a happy home, coming home, coming home, coming home, coming...

...and he wanted desperately to go inside, to crawl inside, to be inside, because...

. . . because it needed him, was Siren-singing to him, calling to him. Calling his name, calling his name because...


Something sharp and unyielding pressed into the back of his skull.

"Mulder?!" Desperately, this time.

He lifted -- no, someone else lifted -- his head and -- how could someone else lift his head? Did they borrow his neck, too? Is that why it ached?

"Jesus Christ, Mulder, don't, don't- "

The voice caught its toe on something, tripped over something, fell over something, slammed full force into something.

Into him. Slammed full force into him, into his chest, squeezed his heart. He gasped, dragging oxygen into atrophied, mummified, million-year-old lungs. His grateful blood re-liquefied and went on its way.

"Mulder? Mulder, open your eyes," the voice, Leah's voice, commanded. Her fingers pressed into the side of his neck.

His eyes opened. Leah's face, inverted, concerned, framed by black braids and green leaves and blue sky, peered down at him. She looked terrified.

"What happened?" his lips tried to say, but his ears only heard a muffed 'Wha hup?' in a voice that was almost, but not quite, his own.

"You passed out or - or something. Are you okay?" She swung around so she was sitting next to him, her hip next to his ear. She lifted his head again and swept away the pebble he'd landed on, put Will's bunched-up stroller blanket beneath his head like a pillow. Her hands were shaking.

"Something's going on, Mulder. Billy had them all gathered together, saying something about rays and dogs a-a-and prophecy and leaving. He sent me to find you - I ran, and I was half way down the path when I saw you collapse next to the stroller, and--"

"Stroller? Will!-" Mulder's eyes went wide and he tried to sit up, but he was weak as a kitten, and Leah's hand on his breastbone pinned him.

"Shhh," she whispered, but her voice was tense. "He's fine." Her eyes cut away. "He seems rather amused by it all, actually." She looked back down at Mulder again. "He's got your sense of humor, surely."

"Dry." Mulder lifted a leaden arm to his face and rubbed his forearm across his mouth. "And don't," he coughed, "don't call me Shirley."

"Right. Ha ha." She smirked a little and lifted the squeeze bottle to his lips, dribbled some water on them. "Glad you feel like joking. What happened? Did you get overheated, or - or what?"

The water tasted better than almost anything he'd ever put in his mouth. "No. I, um, I. . .let me sit up."

Leah acquiesced, but with a concerned frown. "Are you all right? Should I call an ambulance?"

Mulder took the bottle from her. "No." He paused. "But... no. Just give me a minute." He took a long pull, choked some of the water down the front of his shirt, swallowed the rest. His head ached, but the fog clouding his mind was. . .the fog was. . .


The mosaic tiles shifted again. He blinked, and in his peripheral psychic vision, another piece seemed to slide into place. A picture was forming; he could see it now, clearly.

It was a very big picture, indeed.

He turned to look at Will.

The boy was leaning forward, giving Mulder a concerned frown. "Tay, Dada?"

Mulder reached out and grabbed Will by the foot, the only part he could reach easily. He gave his son's leg a friendly shake. "Yeah, I'm okay."

Will beamed and clapped. "Yay!"

"Yeah," Mulder agreed, but with slightly less enthusiasm and a lot more awe. "Yay."

"Mulder." Leah's voice was tight and strained. "What did Billy mean? What did he mean about leaving? What - what's going on?"

Mulder took another long drink, and looked down at the black, black asphalt beneath them. Black ringed with blue. . .

He closed his eyes and massaged his forehead, looking for words. "It's um, I'm not sure, but I think. . .I think we- god, I just wish. . ."

He didn't understand; he couldn't understand. Yet, somehow, he knew, absolutely KNEW that it all made perfect sense, some kind of huge, overwhelming sense. The weight of the world - of a couple of worlds, actually - had just been unceremoniously dropped on his shoulders by a child whose biggest accomplishment to date had been drinking through a straw. It seemed, he thought, like something that should have devastated him, something that should have at least weighed him down.

Instead, the certainty of his burden set him free.


He turned to the sound of a familiar voice. Billy stood before him, Ray to his left, Dee, her knees red and her cheeks wind burned, to his right. All three of them were smiling those strange, beatific smiles, and for once, it didn't bother him. For once, the smile made sense.

"Hey, Bill." It was the only thing Mulder could muster.

Billy squatted near Mulder and spoke gently. "Agents Doggett and Reyes have visited Mrs. Ko. They are looking for you, and if we remain, they will succeed. As you now know, this is something we cannot allow."

"Billy, for Christ's sake," Leah all but hissed, "Mulder's hurt. Can't this w-"

Mulder raised his hand to stop her. "It's okay, Leah. I'm okay." His voice was a dry rumble. He swallowed another mouthful of water, then put the bottle down. "You know, you should have told me, Bill."

Billy blinked, then blinked again. "I have told you, Mulder."

"No." Mulder shook his head. "No. You should have told me *everything*. All of it. I needed to know." His gaze went to Will, who was currently driving his 'bubby tar' up and down his thigh and making 'vroom 'vroom" sounds. "This was a hell of a way to find out."

Billy's nodded. "I apologize, Mulder. It was not deliberate. William's recent pain has led us into a state of confusion. The knowledge was inside you, but I was not sure what you remembered, and what you had chosen to forget."


"Right here, Will." Mulder turned back to Billy. "But I didn't *choose* to forget what I knew. I didn't choose to remember everything wrong, either." He ground his molars, frustrated by his inability to express himself clearly, even to himself. "I didn't choose any of it, Billy. I didn't choose this. Why me? Why now?"

Billy's hand clasped Mulder's shoulder. The gesture was -- Mulder closed his eyes and rubbed them with the heels of his hands -- it was brotherly.

They were brothers.

Of course they were.

"You chose to be chosen, Mulder. The rest was foretold."

"Mulder," Leah's voice was soft and scared. "What. . .?"

"Out!" Will suddenly bellowed and kicked his heels against the stroller. "Out. Out now!"

"They're in danger, aren't they?" Mulder asked Billy, pretty sure he already knew the answer.

"Yes, Mulder. The time has come. We protected them as long as we..."

Mulder rubbed his forehead. "As long as you were supposed to, right?"

"In fulfillment of prophecy." Bill nodded, and his smile broadened a little. "Yes. But we knew neither the hour nor the day."

"Yeah." Mulder chuckled. "I hear prophecy's tricky that way."

He shook his head, overwhelmed by the boundless grandeur and microscopic significance of it all. Billy had been right all along, of course, and now...

Now he had a job to do. "Son of a bitch," he muttered helplessly.

"Sunbish!" Will echoed enthusiastically. "Sunbish! Out!"

Mulder got unsteadily to his feet. The beach and the boardwalk revolved slowly. The spirit was willing, he noted wryly, but the flesh still felt like it had had an encounter with a cosmic Mac truck. Carefully unbuckling the baby's belt, Mulder lifted Will, then planted a firm kiss on his soft cheek. "Geez, Will," he told him softly, "Don't let your mom hear that, okay? She'll skin me."

"Mama." Will brought his hands to the sides of Mulder's face, then nuzzled Mulder's chin. "Bubby. Tay, Dada? Mama. Bubby. Dada. Tay?"

"Yeah, Will." Mulder nodded and closed his eyes. He pressed his forehead against his son's, third eye to third eye, the two of them finally on the same wavelength. "Message received."

"Yay!" Will leaned in and wetly kissed the tip of Mulder's nose. "Yay!"

"What?" Leah's voice was an anxious whisper lost in the breeze. "Mulder, please, what's going. . .?

With his free arm, Mulder reached out for her, pulled her gently, easily to his side. She wrapped her arms around his waist, clinging to him, shaking like a baby bird.

He owed her so much, and there'd be no way to repay her. Ever. He pressed a chaste kiss to her forehead. "I have to tell you something, Leah. She's. . .she's alive," he whispered.

"She?" Leah murmured. She looked up at him and the light dawned. "Oh! You mean. . .?"

He smiled. "Yeah. Will's mom."

"But I thought. . ."

Mulder shook his head. "I remembered it wrong. I mean, I remembered it right, but that's not the way it actually happened."

Leah's eyes were wide. "I don't understand."

"It doesn't matter." He rested his chin on the crown of her head. "None of that matters now. He's coming. They need me. We have to go."



John Byers stared down at his salad, gingerly lifting a strip of Swiss cheese with his fork and regarding it with a puzzled frown.

"And you've eliminated any other plausible explanation?"

Looking somewhat resigned, Dana Scully gave a sigh and nodded. "I've eliminated every other plausible explanation. So, yes."

Byers looked up from his plate and gazed at her helplessly. No matter how hard he tried, he couldn't fully grasp the implications of what she was trying to tell him.

In truth, he suspected he didn't really want to.

Choking down a mouthful of something green and peppery, he redoubled his efforts to make this make sense. "Okay. We can't deny that there's a growth. And it's not the result of some kind of natural process? A keloid, say, or some other kind of scar tissue?

She shook her head. "First thing I checked."

"And you're positive this isn't just your body's way of dealing with the presence a foreign object? The way an oyster deals with a grain of sand, for example?"

"I'm sure."

"And it's not, um. . ." Byers searched his memory, trying to recall the dozens of benign tumors he'd researched the night before. "Not a sebaceous or epidermoid cyst? Not something viral or bacterial?"

"No, no, no, and no." She shook her head.

He paused a moment to sort out his thoughts. "And it doesn't hurt? You don't have any other symptoms?"

"No. If Mom hadn't noticed it, I probably wouldn't have, either."

He paused, marshalling his nerve, trying to force himself to say what it sickened him to think. "Is it, um. . ." he swallowed hard. "That is, Dana, . . . could it be. . . .?"

"No." She spared him a slight but reassuring smile. "It doesn't appear to be cancerous, either." She shrugged and folded her arms across her Yankees sweatshirt. "At least, not in any commonly used sense of the term. It's not growing out of control. It's not invasive in any meaningful way. I had my six month check-up five weeks ago and all my blood work was well within normal levels, my immunological response isn't heightened or suppressed. The growth itself is regular, spherical - well, you saw the sonogram and the x-ray. There's no evidence of cellular migration or metastasis. It's like, like a little ball of tissue has engulfed and effectively dissolved the chip. It's regular human tissue." She gave him her smallest, slightest frown, the one he knew meant she was most concerned. "It's just that the tissue isn't biologically mine."

He laid his fork on his plate, admitting defeat. Lunch was a pointless exercise. Under the circumstances, he just couldn't work up any appetite at all.

It was all too incredible, too far-fetched, too unimaginable. Human tissue didn't just float through the air and then take up residence somewhere and start scavenging for silicon chips.

"Is this - hypothetically, I mean, is this even possible?"

Scully sighed again, and brushed a strand of hair from her forehead. "No."

"Oh." There wasn't much else to say.

"What about you guys? Have you found anything?" she asked with forced ease, sliding off her barstool and sweeping dishes and glasses into a neat stack.

Byers downed the last of his drink and set the empty glass on the breakfast bar. "Well, we haven't heard back from everyone," he replied, "but nothing so far. No one we contacted at Mufon, the ASG, or any of their sister groups has reported or recorded anything like you've described. None of the other men and women like you, with, um, with implants have noted any changes to the chips themselves or any fresh or pronounced scarring or irritation of the implantation site. Of course, none of them may have thought to look."

Scully chuffed softly and began picking stray peas and carrots off the countertop. "I bet they'll all look now," she told him with a wry twist of her lips.

"Bet they will."

"Well." She headed for the sink with the dishes, then pulled down the dishwasher door. "I have the lab running some stuff now. I'm hoping to hear something soon. There's no point borrowing trouble, right?" She shook detergent into the machine, then closed the door, and the conversation, with a decisive bang.

Byers watched her fill the coffee carafe, all the while sinking deeper and deeper into his own maudlin thoughts. Ever since Langly decrypted that damned tape and found Fox Mulder's smiling face waiting there like a rusty razor blade in a trick-or-treat candy apple, Byers had been torn - no, shredded - by indecision and a sense of divided loyalty.

And now, seemingly out of the blue, this. Talk about a one- two punch.

He didn't consider himself an especially intuitive or insightful man, but every fiber of his being told him that, even though solid information was in short supply, it was wrong to keep the news of Mulder's reappearance from Scully. If she knew what they were keeping from her, he thought, rubbing at a spot on the countertop with his index finger, sweet Jesus, she'd string them all up by their balls.

And yet, every time he looked at her, all he could see were the faint lavender circles beneath her eyes, the hollow cheeks, the ashen complexion -- tell-tale signs of exhaustion or illness.

Or, he thought morosely, watching her pause a moment to lean against the counter, close her eyes, and massage her nape, the tell-tale signs of both.

"Um, can I help with anything?" he asked weakly.

"Thanks, but I've got it covered," she assured him. She reached into the cabinet under the sink and pulled out a can of Comet, a sponge, and a pair of out-of-place surgical gloves. She shook out some cleanser and started wiping. After a moment she said, "You know, it was a year ago."

Byers blinked. "Excuse me?"

"July 6th," she replied in an even, almost analytical tone. "That's the day Mulder disappeared." She scrubbed a little harder. "Again."

"Oh. Right." Byers sighed inwardly. No wonder she looked so beat. She probably hadn't slept. She'd probably been crying. "Of course."

Sometimes he felt that he would give anything, do anything to take Scully's grief away. It was a constant exercise of will to remember that her sadness and anger would lessen according to their own timetables, and that all he could do was what he was already doing; listen at all hours of the day and night, provide companionship and personal space as required, act as human Kleenex/cheering section/ inspirational speaker/foot masseur. Whatever she needed, he would try, had tried, to provide.

At any rate, he was just grateful she let him hang around.

"Year ago yesterday," Scully continued, directing her comments to the sponge.

"Really?" he began, not quite certain of what he was going to say. "Do you think. . ."

She paused. "Do I think what?"

"...that there's a connection?" Byers frowned. "Between the mass and the um, anniversary?"

"I don't see how." Scully stripped off her gloves and threw them in the sink, frowning. "What makes you ask that, John?"

"I don't know, exactly." He shrugged. "I'm just wondering. . .just thinking out loud, I guess. It's noth-"

There was a sudden clatter from the family room. Scully looked up, puzzled. "I thought Elisabeth took him out to the backyard," she muttered, crossing to look out the back door. "Gate's open. They must have gone to the park."

There was another loud thump, followed by several smaller crashes. "Damn dog," Scully muttered.

"I'll go." Byers rose. "Fifi, come here, girl," he called, expecting Scully's hyperactive black cockapoo to come running.

Instead, there was a knock on the front door. In the alcove, Fifi began barking and running in frantic circles, her toenails clicking noisily on the hardwood.

"Want me to get that?" Byers asked, just as the phone rang. "Or that?"

"I'll get the door." She walked past him toward the front hall, and over her shoulder asked, "Can you grab the phone?"

"Sure." He picked up the receiver. "Scully residence."

"That you, Byers?"

"Hey, Langly." Byers perched on the edge of the desk. "Any word?"

"Yeah, I just heard from Monica. They're coming back this afternoon."

He dropped his voice and turned his face toward the wall. "Did they find anything?"

The knocking at the front door became more urgent.

"What the hell?" Scully's voice echoed down the hall. A little louder, she called out, "Okay, who's been playing Bob the Builder in front of the door?"

"They went to that Korean grocery, Ko's." Frohike had joined the conversation via speaker phone. "Woman who owns the place identified Mulder by name right off the bat. Called him 'nice man with funny baby turkey.'"

"With what?" Byers asked over the din of the door and the dog.

"Funny baby turkey, whatever that means," Langly broke in. "Recognized Yves, too, but didn't know her name. Same for Billy Miles, Ray Hoese, and that lawyer chick, Denise Hill. The store owner directed them to where she thought they all lived, but the place was empty. Monica said it looked like someone, or rather, a whole lot of someones, left in a hurry."


"You can say that again," Frohike agreed. "I was hoping we were all having some kind of collective hallucination, but looks like no such luck, my friend."

"Elisabeth?" Byers heard Scully call up the stairs. "You guys up there? I thought you were going to play outside. Why's all this stuff. . .?" the end of her sentence was drowned out by the sound of shuffling objects and the door bell ringing. Fifi continued barking as if she were on some kind of mission.

Byers stuffed his finger in his ear and tried to pay attention to what his friends were telling him. "So what's next, then?" he asked, dropping his voice lower still. "Should we tell her, now, or what?"

"Yeah, I think we better. Langly and I can head over if you want," Frohike answered. "Christ, Byers, is there some kind of wild party going on over there?"

"Just Sunday lunch time in suburbia." Byers crossed the living room, receiver still to his ear, and glanced toward the front door. Scully had cleared a path through a huge pile of stuffed animals, cars, trucks, and TeleTubbie paraphernalia that someone must have dragged in from the family room. She was waving Walter Skinner in through the mess.

"Sir?" he heard her say. She sounded as surprised to see her former boss as Byers felt.

Skinner opened his mouth to speak, but before he could get a word out, the little black dog rushed at his ankles, snarling and latching on to his pant leg.

Byers frowned. Feef was usually such a nice dog. "Hang on, Langly," he spoke into the phone, then covered the mouthpiece with his hand "Fifi!" he called. "C'mere, girl. C'mon, Feef."

Skinner turned at looked at him blankly, dog still on his pant cuff.

". . .s that okay?" Frohike's voice drifted up.

"Yeah, sorry, let me move." Byers put the phone back to his ear and walked to the far side of the living room, hoping to get away from the cacophony. "I couldn't hear. What did you say?"

Frohike's response was drowned out by very loud thump followed by a series of small ones, the sound of glass shattering, and a small, familiar voice screaming, "Nonononononononononononono!"

"Shit, gotta go." Byers slammed the phone down and ran to see what was going on.

The Cheval glass that stood by the door had been knocked over, and long, spiked splinters of mirror lay scattered around the broken frame and all over the floor. Skinner stood with Scully's limp body slung over his shoulder.

"Oh my god. Dana! What happened to her?" Byers started toward them. "I'll call an amb-..."

"That won't be necessary." Skinner brushed his concern aside with a sniff, his face devoid of expression.

"Not necessary? What are you talking about?" Byers' heart raced. "Did she fall into the mirror? Did she faint?"

"NO!" A tiny voice bounced down the stairs as a matchbox car flew out of nowhere and smacked Skinner squarely in the middle of the forehead.

Skinner stopped, looking puzzled but otherwise unfazed. After a quick moment, he started to move toward the door again.

Byers found himself running before he knew what he was doing, blocking the exit, though he had no idea why. "A.D. Skinner," he said through gritted teeth, "what the hell is going on? Where are you taking her?"

"NO!" A purple super-ball pinged against Skinner's ear, followed in rapid succession by another matchbox car and a miniature backhoe. "Nonononononononnononononononnono!"

Looking up anxiously, Byers caught a glimpse of blue shorts disappearing into one of the upstairs bedrooms. He heard the sound of something being dragged across the floor overhead.

Skinner ignored the assault, drawing himself to his full height, Scully stirring weakly on his shoulder. "Move aside," he commanded, his voice a dull monotone.

Byers breath began coming in panicked gulps. This had to be a nightmare, right?


Sick with fright, he planted his feet and folded his arms. "Look, Skinner, I don't know what the hell you're thinking, but until an ambulance arrives. . ."

Scully moaned. Byers stepped forward, reaching for her. In an instant, he found himself thrown forcefully against the dull wooden pegs of the coat rack, Skinner's free hand crushing his chest with the easy strength of a polar bear.

"What the. . .?!" He began to struggle, to thrash and kick, but it was useless. The hand pressed harder and all the air left his lungs.

Byers heard clattering sounds, small crashes and thuds as more toys whizzed one by one down the stairs, accompanied by cries of 'Mama! Mama!' and a long string of frightened 'no's. Fifi's barking grew still more agitated and reached a higher pitch.

Byers stopped thrashing, his burst of adrenaline spent pointlessly. He stared at the AD's impassive face and realized. . .

. . .that it wasn't Skinner at all. Instead, a shorter, stockier man had somehow taken Skinner's place, his square features as solid and unsubtle as a block of granite, his lifeless, soulless eyes reminding Byers of the statues on Easter Island.

"Where are you taking her?" Byers gasped weakly. "Please, she's sick . . . "

"She is not sick. She is the favored one, the perfect vessel, honored above all other women," the being said quietly, maintaining his unyielding grip. "And she is ready."

"Ready?" Byers lips moved, but he made very little sound.

The hand pinning him pulled away and he fell like a brick, and gasped for air. He could feel the keen bite of glass slicing through his jeans and into the backs of his thighs. From his spot atop shards of shattered mirror, he could see William's terror-filled blue eyes reflected back at him from above a million times over.

Not wanting to draw his attacker's attention to the child, Byers looked away.

"Rejoice John Byers," he intruder said, re-adjusting Scully over his shoulder. "The time is at hand."


 Book Two


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