Book Three

Rating: R/NC-17 (Yes!  Sex!)

Category: S, A, C, MSR

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

Timeline: Post *Existence.* Branches off wildly from there.

Archive: Sure. Thanks!

Thanks to: Euphrosyne for insta-beta, PD and Ebonbird, who helped in so many ways,  Weyo, Dee, and Susan, for test driving, Pacquin for listening to Amanda whiiiiiiiine, Uncle Chris, cuz it was his idea in the first place, and Mulder, for being so damned pretty.

Special thanks: to the wonderful stalkers who asked for more. None of this would have been possible without your patience, encouragement, or really pointy sticks. Hope you like it!!

Summary: More of the same. Now with Texas Pete Hot Sauce.

 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 and Book Two.

July 8, 2002



She dreamed she was a seagull, flying far from the sea.

Below her, vegetation clung to the time-worn ground like mold on a crust of bread. It was hot down there; she could see it clearly, the heat charging the air so that it danced like a film of water over the parched soil.

Seeing the ground below her shimmering, she couldn't understand why the air she flew in was so cold. Spreading her wings wide, she paused and circled downward, trying to dip into the rising heat and ease the shivering that threatened to drop her body from the sky. No matter how low she descended, though, the heat seemed to stay just beyond her reach, always a hopeful wing-flap away.

An unfamiliar voice sounded in her ear. "How about that view, huh? Ever seen anything like it?"

Bewildered, she cast about for the source of the voice and remembered the unmarked panel truck driving below her. She'd been following it - hadn't she? - following it for days. Now the truck was creeping past neat fences and carefully spaced cacti toward three angular buildings: two larger, one smaller, gleaming like cubist sculpture in the desert sun.

Another voice answered the first. "It's a hole in the ground."

"Damn big hole in the ground. Take us around there, son, back behind the center."

The truck followed a driveway to the smallest of the buildings, and she followed the truck, not wanting to be left behind. A garage door opened and the truck backed in.

The heavy door closed, squashing the daylight away. High in the dark eaves of what seemed to be a maintenance garage, she shook herself, puffing her chest and lifting her feathers, trying to trap some warmth against her shivering skin.

She didn't want to be here. She wished she could fly away. Something told her she had to stay, though, and pay attention. Something told her she had to bear witness.

Rounding the back of the truck, men tugged a loading ramp out of its housing and settled it into place. Behind them, a heavy steel door opened and men in white coveralls hurried across the concrete floor, pushing a cart loaded with medical equipment.

"Hurry." A small, female figure was standing in the back of the truck, tapping her foot impatiently at the top of the loading ramp. At first the seagull thought the figure had to be a child. But no, she realized, it was not a child, but a woman, very old, very tiny, and very irate.

"Get this equipment connected. Now." The tiny woman gestured to the white-clad men, and they manhandled the cart up the ramp as if their lives depended on it.

Bright light spilled from the back of the truck. Equipment began to hum. Another steel door in the garage clanged open, and a mechanized wheelchair, rigged with enough medical equipment to stock a small hospital and attended by a uniformed nurse, rolled through it and into the garage.

"Oh Christ, not now." The tiny woman frowned at the approaching chair. "Hauser! Tell him to go back to his room. I'll send for him when she's ready."

"Tell him yourself," a man with a spongy face muttered as he hurried away.

The tiny woman's voice was shrill. She waved an accusing finger at the wheelchair. "You! What do you think you're doing here?"

The body of the man in the wheelchair was bent grotesquely to one side, as gray and gnarled as a root. His bony fingers fluttered against the armrest of the chair. The nurse swung some equipment into position, and the man glanced at a series of words on a computer screen.

"I...need...see...her," a mechanized voice droned.

"We've only just gotten her. She's not ready."


"Fine." The tiny woman threw her hands up in defeat and, grumbling, stalked back into the truck.

The man with the spongy face called a younger man forward, and together they steadied the bulky wheelchair as it crept slowly up the narrow loading ramp.

Her heart pounding, the seagull dropped from the rafters and perched on a bank of equipment. She strained to see the face of the man in the chair. He was little more than a skeleton, his gray flesh pulled tight against twisted bone, his mouth skewed and drooling, his yellowed eyeballs rolling in their sockets like loose marbles.

The sight of the man sickened her, but she couldn't look away. Did she know him?

The wheelchair rolled across the truck bed. When the bird cocked her head to see where it was going, she saw a table. On the table, she saw a woman. Her heart swelled with pity. Poor thing, she wanted to caw. Poor thing, poor thing, poor thing...

The tiny woman pulled back a thin sheet, baring the woman's body to the icy air. The harsh light cast a bluish glow on the woman's skin, giving her a cadaverous look, but the seagull was relieved to see that the woman wasn't dead. Restrained in a nest of wires and tubing, the woman seemed to be stirring.

The tiny woman stabbed a withered finger at a white-clad man, barking orders the seagull could not understand, but which filled her with fear and apprehension, just the same.

The woman's pale legs were lifted, spread apart. They trembled violently as they were strapped into stirrups.

'Oh no,' the seagull thought. 'Oh my god, no.'

As the technicians hurried to focus lights and prepare instruments, the wheelchair edged closer to the bed. Seeing the shriveled figure in the chair, the woman's eyes grew wide with recognition. A shudder ran through her body, the motion as involuntary as an ocean wave.

The flesh on the crippled man's face twitched, his jaw worked up and down, and he made an animal sound somewhere in his throat, a tortured noise, like a dog in a muzzle. Seeming to understand just what was needed, the nurse grasped the man's sleeve and picked up his wasted arm. She stretched his hand toward the woman, brushing the twisted fingers along the woman's bare shoulder, stroking downward, stopping just short of her breast.

The woman squirmed; she began to pant with fear. Her forehead strained against a wide nylon strap that held her head immobile.

The nurse settled the man's fingers back on the armrest. He concentrated on his computer screen. "She...cold."

The tiny woman pulled a pair of out-sized latex gloves over her puny hands. "She's fine."


The tiny woman continued her preparations without looking his way. "I know what I'm doing,*daddy*," she said, her words dripping with sarcasm.

The crippled man twitched. "Not. . .funny."

The tiny woman straightened and glared at him. "It's not supposed to be, is it, *papa*?"

The seagull heard the sound of smothered chuckling from the white-clad men.

The woman on the table flicked the tip of her tongue over her lips. Her lips moved, but all the bird heard was a sigh.

"Cover...her," the man in the chair insisted.

Ignoring him, the tiny woman marched to the foot of the bed and positioned herself between the woman's raised legs. She thrust her fingers forward. A speculum followed. She gave a controlled shove.

Face taut with panic, the woman on the table struggled against her restraints and moaned.

"Damn it!" the tiny woman muttered. "She's fighting me. Put her back under. Now."

A white-clad technician scrambled to do as she had commanded.

A monitor on the wheelchair had been beeping steadily since the crippled man's first appearance in the garage. Now it began to blip at an accelerated, erratic rate.

"Calm him," the tiny woman ordered his nurse. "We don't need the old man keeling over before he can make his *contribution,* do we?"

The nurse quickly produced a syringe and prepared an injection.

The seagull heard heavy footsteps. A tall, square- jawed man walked up the ramp and into the truck. His eyes were hollow, his face, curiously blank. He looked as solid as stone, the bird thought, and as unforgiving. His massive shadow fell over the woman on the table.

The tiny woman all but cowered when the stone-man turned his steely gaze on her.

"Well?" he asked.

"We're nearly ready to proceed," she assured him. "I'm verifying ovulation."

The stone-man nodded once, then laid his huge hand on the flesh just below the restrained woman's navel. The woman groaned and writhed, but the stone-man didn't seem to care.

"We are truly blessed," he said, in a toneless voice.

"Truly blessed," the tiny woman echoed, without conviction.

"Blessed," the mechanical voice agreed.

'Oh no,' the bird thought, wanting the dream to end. 'Oh my god, no.' Her tiny heart beating out of control, she leapt from her perch and into the air, racing upward until cold steel stopped her progress. Wings beating wildly, she fluttered against the ceiling, trying to get her bearings.

The woman on the table flinched. "Wih..." she moaned.

The tiny woman glared at one of the white-clad men. "I told you to sedate her!" she growled.

"I have, doctor." The man fumbled with a syringe and bottle. "She's already had a dangerously high dos-"

Suddenly, every muscle in the woman's body seized. "William!" she screamed. "William!"

William? The seagull knew William. She squawked in alarm, trying desperately to escape...

The woman woke to the sound of her own voice screaming for her child. She struggled to move, but nylon straps held her immobile. Her eyes snapped open, but the blinding glare forced them shut again.

"Dammit!" someone cursed.

Rough fingers forced her lids apart, and a pinprick of bright light skittered madly across her eye.

"The time has come," a deep, familiar voice intoned.

"Get her back under," a shrill voice hissed. "Get her back under so we can get started.

'Oh no,' Scully thought as the drug raced through her veins. 'Oh my god, no.'


Will shifted in his sleep.

Mulder changed his position accordingly, sitting a little straighter, pulling the boy a little closer, adjusting his seat belt so that the strap was away from Will's face. There was a wet, faintly purple, faintly grape-scented spot in the center of Mulder's t-shirt where Will had drooled out the last traces of half-a-teaspoon of liquid Tylenol before finding enough relief to sleep, so Mulder maneuvered the child's limp body to avoid that, too.

Teething, Mulder felt he could now state without fear of contradiction, completely sucked.

A gust of wind blasted across the highway, peppering the windshield with grains of sand. For a moment, the RV veered slightly. Mulder leaned into the motion, tightening his grip on his son and bracing his feet against the floor.

"Nasty weather," he muttered.

"Yes," Billy replied, and said nothing more.

It wasn't exactly conversation, Mulder thought, glancing out the passenger window and into inky nothing, but it was something.

Billy had been driving since they'd left Toronto, Ray sitting ramrod-straight in the passenger seat beside him. This arrangement had changed so little over the preceding three days that it seemed like the two of them had come factory-installed with the vehicle. 'Gives the phrase 'auto-pilot' a whole new meaning,' Mulder had thought with a sneer after the second day.

Earlier that evening, though, Ray had been persuaded to vacate his choice seat. All it had taken was a miserable, cranky William pointing to the back of the Winnebago, scowling as he rubbed his mouth, and saying, "Ray doh seep now." The last time Mulder had glanced that way, Ray had been standing at attention between the tiny fridge and the side door, with Fang curled up contentedly on the toe of his shoe. He was probably still there.

"They are all sleeping, Mulder," Billy announced.

Mulder's brow rose.

"You were wondering."

"Yes, I was." He thought about telling Billy to stay out of his head, but knew there was no point - Billy could no more stop reading Mulder's thoughts than water could stop being wet.

"Perhaps you should sleep also."

"Not tired." Mulder yawned. "And don't bother telling me I'm lying. I already know."

"Yes, Mulder."

Another blast of wind hit the vehicle, another shower of sand pelted its sleek metal sides. Billy drove on, maneuvering the unwieldy machine like he'd been born for it.

Mulder rubbed his eyes with his free hand. Perhaps sleeping *would* be a good idea. It certainly wasn't a question of being tired; he was absolutely exhausted. But it was the sort of jangling nervous exhaustion that made his brain race a mile a minute and relaxation impossible.

Somewhere along the way, day had become night for him. He'd barely spoken two words to Langly or Reyes since they'd come onboard in Maryland, and he'd seen very little more of Leah. He'd been sleeping, albeit fitfully, when everyone else was awake, and awake when everyone else was sleeping.

Everyone but Billy, of course.

"You haven't slept in a while, either, Bill. Or eaten."

"No Mulder," Billy replied, his gaze straight ahead. "I have not."

"I know you need to do those things, Bill. I've seen what happens when you don't." The weight of his son against his shoulder was making his right arm numb. Mulder lifted the child, moving him carefully so as not to wake him.

"Yes, Mulder."

"So, maybe you're the one who should sleep? I mean, if you tell me where we're going, I can drive."

"I cannot sleep, Mulder."

"Why's that?"

"'And yea,'" Billy began in what Mulder was beginning to think of as his preacher voice, "'they went into Utgeam, which is in the land of Avenda, where they remained for a time, as was told unto them. And they entered there, clean and whole, and awaited Rhulak, whose coming was foretold.'"

Mulder rubbed the bridge of his nose. "What the hell does that mean?"

"It means that this is the time of fasting and atonement," Billy answered.

Mulder's mouth twitched. "Just so long as it isn't a time of sleep deprivation and rolling RVs into ditches."

Billy stared at the road ahead. "I understand."

"Right," Mulder thought. "Got it. I'll shut up now."

Trying to ease a cramp in his leg, he shifted in his seat again. He was getting tired of all this waiting. There were only so many times, after all, that he could pace from one end of the camper to the other without driving its other occupants to damned- near audible thoughts of murder. He wanted to be wherever they were going, to do whatever had to be done.

One way or another, he just wanted it all to be over.

The highway stretched before them, sitting on the desert like a crusty black scab. Mulder imagined it being peeled up by an enormous thumbnail, imagined asphalt and guard-rails being wadded up and tossed away.

The colonists could have done that to humanity; it would have been just that easy. But they hadn't, of course. The annihilation of humankind was hardly the point.

At least, that's what every molecule of his being, every cell of his body kept telling him. His vision on the Boardwalk back in Toronto had been long on the grand scheme of things, but short on detail. For a few brief moments, though, everything had seemed so clear. Then the universe had realized its mistake and gone back to being as murky and confusing as ever.

A butte in the distance came into focus, its steep sides and flat summit starkly outlined against the increasingly purple sky. Mulder glanced at his watch. 4:17.

"So, Bill, where are we? Or more to the point, where are we going?"

"You know, Mulder."

Pressing his forehead with the heel of his hand, Mulder let out a frustrated sigh. He regularly had more productive conversations with Fang.

Billy smiled. "All shall be as has been written."

Mulder sighed. "Look, Bill, we've been doing this on faith for almost a week. We've dragged Reyes and Langly half-way across the country, and Leah or Yves or whoever she really is away from the only home she can remember. You and Ray and Dee act like it's some kind of day at the beach, but the rest of us are pretty much - pretty damned much - in the dark."

"Yes, Mulder. Have faith. 'And yea, the people -'"

"No, Bill." Mulder cut him off before he could break out in another rash of zealotry. "I need for you to tell me. Where are we going?"

Bill turned his gaze away from the highway and toward Mulder. "We are going to Utgeam."

"Utgeam," Mulder echoed. "And that is?"

"In Avenda."

"Avenda. Right. And when we get there?"

"We shall await Rhulak. The storm shall be called." Billy smiled. "Prophecy shall be fulfilled."

"Right. Then what?"

"And then there will be great rejoicing."

Mulder scowled. "Of course there will."

If Billy understood Mulder's sarcasm, he gave no indication. "Will you not rejoice in Avenda when the storm has been called?"

About six facetious responses came immediately to mind, but Mulder struggled for an honest answer. "I don't know, Bill." He shrugged. "Will I? Will I have anything to rejoice about?"

Billy's impenetrable expression shifted no more than a hair's breadth, but Mulder, having spent months with him, immediately noted the change. The hair on the back of Mulder's neck bristled. Something told him he wasn't going to like Billy's answer.


Billy blinked twice. "William wishes for you to sleep now."

Mulder snorted and looked down at his son. "William's out cold, Bill. Don't change the-"

"Yes, Mulder. But William wish-"

Before Billy could finish, a tiny voice came from the sleeping compartment at the rear of the RV. "Dada! Dada! Doh seep! Doh seep now."

"Oh. THAT William. Right." Mulder unbuckled his seatbelt, hefted his son, and stood, shaking his head. He was turning to leave when Billy spoke again.



"There will be rejoicing."

Mulder nodded, suddenly weary. "I'll hold you to that, Bill. Night."


Mulder woke, hours later, with a stiff back, one sock missing, and a sleeping child tucked under either arm. He also had the vague sensation that he had forgotten something. Something important, he thought as his brain made the long, slow climb from half-asleep to half-awake, something he shouldn't allow himself to forget.

Breathing slowly, he closed his eyes and listened, taking in the hushed purr of pavement under the wheels, the distant sound of the engine, the quiet drone of air conditioning. Nothing unusual there.

He turned his attention to the inside of the vehicle, hoping to hear Leah's soft voice, or muffled murmurs from the occupants of the sleeping compartment next to his. Stretching and extending his senses further, he tried to pick up some trace of that weird, flat hum, the one he felt more than heard whenever Dee and Billy and Ray were talking to each other without words. Again, nothing unusual.

Well okay, he thought, trying to shift enough to relieve the pressure on his lower back, nothing unusual if you took into account that just over a week ago he had been the widowed father of a 14 month old boy living under what amounted house arrest in a foreign country, and this week he was the no-longer- widowed father of twins living in a luxury RV.

He snorted. Once he'd finished sweating the small stuff - like linear time and consensual reality and logic and reason and maddening crap like that - the rest had been a piece of cake.

Lifting his head, he glanced at the boys. They bracketed him like purple pajama'd bookends.

He'd been thrilled to meet his second son, of course. Thrilled and probably less surprised than he should have been. He still couldn't quite 'get' how he'd retroactively come to be the father of twins. Billy's explanation -'The one was made two, as was foretold,' - hadn't cleared things up much.

For their part, upon meeting, the boys had greeted each other with a gleeful "Bubby!", thrown their arms around one another in an awkward but sincere toddler embrace, and had immediately begun fighting about whose Tinky Winky was whose.

His train of thought derailed when the William lying on his right arm snuffled and rolled onto his side. Out of habit, Mulder craned his neck, looking for any stray toys or linens that might block a small airway. All clear, he was happy to note, and good thing, too; there was no way he could get a hand free to move anything without waking everyone.

'Everytwo?' he thought, and grinned at his own stupid joke.

Billy, Ray, and Dee referred to both boys simply as 'William,' and in the singular, which was weird, but then, what did those three do that wasn't? Most of the time, Mulder just thought of them as Will and Won't, and which child was which depended, at any given moment, on which one of them was exhibiting what Mulder had decided was their mother's stubborn streak.

William - the William he'd acquired in suburban Maryland - had a crescent-shaped mole high on his left inside thigh. Other than that, when dressed, at least, the boys were identical. Unnervingly identical.

He closed his eyes, squeezing the lids so tightly that bright points of light danced before him. The sensation he'd had on waking washed over him again, catching him unaware.

Forgetting something. He was forgetting something.

"No, Rich, you can't." Harsh whispering from the next compartment interrupted his thoughts.

"Then what are we supposed to do?" A second voice answered the first.

Reyes. And Langly. Reyes and Langly.

Mulder shook his head. He could have gone on guessing for a thousand years and the notion of 'Reyes' and 'Langly' turning into 'Reyes and Langly' would never have made it onto even an 'extremely extreme' list of possibilities.

He wondered, in a vague way, what they were arguing about, then decided not to waste his energy.

'Monica Reyes is among the faithful,' Billy had told him on the journey between Toronto and Maryland. 'She will serve William.' At the time, Mulder had wondered why Billy had mentioned it at all. But when they'd gone to the Gunmen's headquarters for help and found Reyes and Langly together, protecting this second William in the wake of Scully's disappearance, Billy's words had made sense. Well, as much sense as any of this did.

Which was no sense at all, really.

He blew out a long slow breath. He felt a headache coming on.

A red-gold head shot up before him. "Dada, up?"

Mulder blinked. "Yeah, I'm awake," he whispered. "Shhh. Your brother is still sleeping."

Will sat back on his heels and looked at his father, a puzzled expression on his face. "No shhh," he answered.

"Yes, shh." Mulder reached up and brushed the bangs out of Will's eyes. "You need a haircut, buddy." There was an idea, Mulder thought: get the boys different haircuts. At least he'd be able to tell them apart while they had clothes on. Not that Billy was likely to let anyone wielding scissors near either one of them, but maybe he could be persuaded.

"No shhh. No ki-et." The boy's frown of concentration deepened. "Doast?"

"What?" Mulder was so startled he forgot to whisper. "Toast? Did you say 'toast'?"

"Doast." Will nodded. "Pease doast."

"Toast." Mulder felt a smile spread across his face. William - his William -- didn't say *toast.* So that meant that this was the other William, Scully's William. Mulder was tempted to find a permanent marker and draw a big "S" on the boy's forehead. "Yeah, sure. We'll have some toast in a minute. Wait'll your brother wakes up and we'll have some toast."


"Hang on," Mulder answered. "You gotta get dressed and you need a clean diaper and your brother is still slee. . ."

A voice rose from his left. "No," the boy said, rubbing his eyes. "No doast. Cake!"



Oh, hell, Mulder thought, suddenly caught between two warring purple masses, so much for the toast theory. Grabbing a boy under each arm, Mulder swiftly brought hostilities to a halt. "You," he spoke to the boy under his right arm, "can have toast once you are clean and dressed. And you," he turned to the other child, "don't have to eat toast, but you aren't getting cake for breakfast. And you both need to be changed. You stink."

The RV lurched to one side, then came to a smooth halt. Before Mulder could react, there was a knock at the door of their small sleeping compartment.

Mulder felt a moment of panic. "Yes?"

"Mulder," Billy's voice came muffled through the door, "may I come in?"

Mulder self-consciously let go of the boys. "Um, yeah Bill, sure."

"Good morning, Mulder. Good morning, William." Billy turned to each of the boys in turn. "I hope you slept well."

"Well enough." Mulder tried to keep his tone bland. "What's going on?"

"We are stopping here."

Mulder felt his pulse quicken, his mouth go dry. "Oh?"

"Yes, Mulder," Billy smiled happily. "We have arrived in Utgeam."

"Oh." Mulder nodded. "Okay. So, um, what now?"

"Doast!" One Will shouted.

"Cake!" The other countered.

"Yes," Billy answered.

The boys cheered.

"Yes?" Mulder looked from boy to boy and back to Billy. "Yes what?"

"William wants French toast and pancakes, Mulder. We are stopping for breakfast."


Mulder wasn't sure what he'd expected from Utgeam, but he was pretty sure it hadn't been Uncle Ted's Good Eats, with its made-for-tourists cowboy kitsch, fiberglass cacti, and grinning purple donkeys in sombreros. Nonetheless, he reflected as their pink- polyester-clad waitress refilled his coffee cup, that was exactly what he'd gotten.

"Y'all need some Texas Pete?" The waitress carefully placed the bottle of ketchup Langly had requested in the middle of the table.

The U-shaped booth was designed to accommodate perhaps four slightly under-nourished super models. Seven healthy adult bodies and two high chairs, on the other hand, made for a ridiculously tight fit. There had been no other tables immediately available, though, and Billy hadn't taken the suggestion of sitting in two different booths very well. Stuck between Monica Reyes on one side and a highchair full of William on the other, Mulder was trying to eat his breakfast without poking Reyes in the ribs or knocking his coffee cup into Will's lap. Both were proving difficult.

Mulder glanced around the table. "We're good, thanks." He took another sip of his coffee, keeping his elbow carefully tucked in, but bumping Reyes' arm just the same.

"Sorry," he murmured for the fifth or sixth time since sitting down.

"S'fine." Reyes shook her head, lips quirked in a smile. She picked at her fruit plate and cast a suspicious glance Billy's way. "Kind of a tight fit, though."

"Yeah. Well, sorry about that, too. Who knew this place would be so popular?"

Langly quit shoveling pancakes into his mouth and mumbled something, his head down. Reyes snorted in response. Judging from the look on her face, Mulder thought he probably should be glad he hadn't heard whatever Langly'd said.

"So Mulder," Reyes began in an too cheery tone of voice, "how about you tell us exactly where-"

"Bubby! Twuck!" Overcome by excitement, Will pointed enthusiastically toward the front window of the restaurant and threw his sippy cup to the floor, where it bounced and rolled under the bench.

His brother wiggled in his high chair. "Twuck! Twuck!"

Mulder retrieved the cup, almost mechanically wiped the spout with his napkin, and returned it to the highchair tray. Craning his neck, he caught sight of a huge truck with a cherry-picker attachment in the field just beyond the parking lot. Two men were busy re-plastering a billboard that poked up out of the scrub.

"Yeah, truck," he agreed.

"Bid twuck," the other child commented.

"Yes. Big truck," Mulder said, offering a forkful of French toast to the twin nearest him. It was amazing how much repetition was involved in parenting. "Very big, very cool, very yellow truck."

"Twuck, Dada?" Will levered himself up against the highchair tray, trying to climb out, but hindered by his seatbelt. "Pease?"

"After breakfast," Mulder answered around a mouthful of omelet. He was hungrier than he'd realized. "You've both actually got to eat some food first. Sit down, buddy."

Carleena returned and began to refill Leah's water glass. "Ma'am," she said, addressing Dee, "you haven't touched a thing on your plate. Something wrong with your order?"

"No," Dee replied, fixed smile in place.

"And likewise, you two gentlemen." She addressed Billy and Ray. "Is something wrong with your food?"

"There is a struggle for heaven and earth," Ray replied, smiling blissfully.

Carleena seemed surprised by this news. "Is there, now?"

"There is," Billy assured her. "We are fasting."

"Oh." For a moment, Carleena's fat pink lips pursed. Then she brightened. "Oh! Y'all here for the Revival?"

"Yes, we are," Billy answered.

Reyes turned to Mulder. "Are we?" she whispered, sounding somewhat shocked.

"Well. . ." Mulder started, not entirely sure what to say. For all he knew, they were.

"Well, y'all should have said something!" Carleena started clearing their plates. "You didn't have to order anything. We ain't got no two egg minimum or nothing." She loaded the three untouched meals onto her tray and turned toward the kitchen. "I'll just pack' em up for you."

She stood between the highchairs a moment longer. "I just have to mention, these two are as adorable as can be," she said, nodding to the boys. She looked at Reyes, then at Leah, and then, drawing some silent conclusion, asked Leah, "Twins, huh?"

"Yes," Leah answered. After a quick glance at Reyes, she gave a tight little smile and turned her attention back to convincing William to eat.

"My grandbabies are twins. My daughter calls 'em Chelsee and Britnee. I said to her, 'Luanda Mae, why'd you call them that? All the good names already taken or somethin'?'" Carleena rolled her eyes. "Still, they are the sweetest little things, even with those goofy names. They're almost two now, will be in a month, I mean, and talking up a storm. Why, the other day we was at the Wal-mart in. . ."

"Carleena," Billy interrupted, pointing across the restaurant, "that man wishes for you to bring him the breakfast special number three with eggs over easy."

The waitress blinked at Billy in confusion, then nodded. "Of course," she answered. She turned on her heel and marched away.

Leah dropped her fork. It clattered noisily against her plate. Her gaze was focused down, but Mulder saw she was wide-eyed with fear.

"Leah, it's okay," he told her, in the most soothing voice he could muster.

"Have a nice day," Billy called after Carleena.

"It's okay, Leah," Mulder repeated. "She's all right. Bill, tell her the waitress is all right."

"Yes Mulder." Billy answered, "Carleena is fine. For in Utgeam-"

Mulder held up a hand. "Not now. Did you hear what he said, Leah? She's okay." He reached across the table and gently touched the back of Leah's hand, drawing her attention.

Leah closed her eyes, breathing in and out slowly. "Yeah." She nodded. "Yeah. Okay."

Mulder stabbed another forkful of hash browns. He turned to Billy. "Don't do that again."

"But the man at that table wished. . . "

"He can tell her himself, Bill."

"Yes, Mulder. I understand."

Langly cleared his throat. "Mulder," he began, his voice a low, harsh whisper, "what the hell is going-"

"Mulder," Ray interrupted, rising and reaching across the table with a handful of napkins, "William is sticky."

Mulder swallowed and sighed, thinking he'd had this conversation before. "Down boy," he muttered in Ray's general direction.

"I'll bathe them before we leave," Leah said tersely, to no one in particular. "If there's time." She turned to Mulder. "Will there be time?"

Mulder shrugged. "Billy, will. . ."

"'We know not the hour, but the hour shall arrive; we know not the day, but the day shall come,'" Billy unhelpfully supplied.

Leah lifted her brows. "Mulder?"

"I don't-"

"It is a kid thing," Ray announced, his voice a shade too loud.

"A kid thing," Dee echoed, smiling proudly at the boys. "To be sticky."

"Something like that." Mulder nodded. He could feel Reyes and Langly's eyes on him, and wondered if perhaps he'd been mistaken, taking their cooperation for granted. After their initial shock at seeing him had faded, they'd seemed willing, almost eager to help, but now it occurred to him that their decision to board the RV may have had very little to do with acceptance or support of his situation. He needed a chance to explain things to them. Hopefully, he'd get five minutes to sit down and. . .

"Twuck?" William asked.

"Soon," Mulder answered. "Eat something first."

Will obligingly fed Will a hunk of pancake. Billy watched the boys with a radiant expression, stretching his arms toward them, as if embracing them from afar. "'And each was as a brother, and each also was a son, all waiting for Rhulak, whose coming was foretold.'"

"Billy," Mulder rolled his eyes, "not at the table, okay?"

"Mulder," Langly bit out harshly, "what in the fu-"

"Later, Langly," Mulder said. "We'll talk later, okay?"

Billy lowered his arms and turned toward Langly with a frozen smile. "'Ust'dan called to the people, filling their minds with confusion and deceit, for his time had not come, and he was smitten and silenced. The people waited as the sun soared. They waited for Rhulak to bless them with a sign.'"

Langly stared at Billy, swallowing nervously, then pushed his glasses up on his nose and dropped his gaze. "Oooo-kay," he said softly, exchanging a look with Reyes out of the corner of his eye.

Leah had produced a small package of wet wipes from her pack and was attempting to clean sticky hands and faces. "Well, the boys are done eating. I think it's time to go," she said. "The campground has hookups. I think we ought to stop here, at least for a few hours, so the boys can have proper baths and I can do some laundry. Can you see about getting us a space for the day, Mulder?"

"I will arrange it," Billy offered helpfully.

Leah didn't meet Billy's gaze. She tossed the dirty wipes on to her plate and continued. "The wipes aren't cutting it. I need to take them to the rest room."

"I'll do it," Mulder volunteered.

"Right. I'll get Fang, and you can take him over the playground while I start the laundry. He could use some fresh air."

"Yes ma'am." Mulder grinned at her. Leah always got bossy when she was nervous. "Anything else I can do for you, ma'am?"

Leah returned his grin. "That will be all, thank you."

Langly cleared his throat noisily and rose. "Need some help?" he asked Mulder, in a not-quite-friendly tone of voice.

"Wang!" both boys lifted their arms, waiting to be set free.

"Sure," Mulder told Langly. Ray and Dee swung into position behind them.

Billy rose. "I will take care of the bill."




The restroom was bright, modern, and spotlessly clean, but Mulder wasn't surprised; it wasn't as if Billy was going to let him take his dirty children into a dirty bathroom. Backpack full of child supplies slung easily over one shoulder, Mulder hitched Will a little higher on the opposite hip, heedless of the mess he was making of his own shirt, and waited for the all-clear.

After checking each stall, carefully but quickly analyzing the contents of the garbage bin, and staring just a microsecond too long at the buzzing fluorescent over head, Ray stood at attention, his back to the door. "The facility appears secure, Mulder."

"Thanks, Ray," Mulder nodded absently, setting Will down on the counter next to a gleaming stainless steel sink. "At ease, or, you know, whatever." He pulled a couple of dry washcloths out of his backpack and handed one to Langly. "Let the de-stickifying commence," he said with a wry grin.

Langly gave Mulder a pointed look, but said nothing and turned on the tap.

'What?' Mulder mouthed. He turned a faucet and began filling the other sink.

Langly jerked his head slightly in Ray's direction.

Mulder raised his brows in question. "What is it?"

Langly's head bobbed toward Ray again. "I have extremely shy kidneys," he said, his eyes cutting to the sentry once more. "Could you ask your little friend to leave?"

Wiping the syrup-glossed spaces between the fingers on Will's right hand, Mulder shrugged. "Oh, yeah, sure." He caught Ray's reflected gaze in the mirror. "Ray, would you wait outside with Dee, please?"

"Mulder, it is my duty. . ."

Mulder looked down at his son. "Tell him, buddy."

Will leaned to the side so he could see around his father's body. "Ray doh out."

"Doh out," his brother echoed.

"William," Mulder admonished. "And, um, William: how do we ask?"

"Ray out *pease*."

"Pease out now."

"That's better, guys." Mulder flipped Will's hand palm up.

Ray's reflection blinked once, twice. "Yes, William." He nodded to each of the boys once and left the room.

"Bye bye!" both boys chirped in chorus.

Langly flinched.

Mulder mustered a fake cough, covering his mouth to hide a smirk. Poor Langly.

"What's so funny?" Langly lifted Will's arm so he could pull off the boy's t-shirt.

"Nothing." Shaking his head, Mulder soaked the cloth and wrung it out.

The two worked in silence.

"Langly, um. . . the last time you saw Scully, how was she?"

"Fine, I guess." Langly shrugged. "She was. . ."

"She was what?"

"Fine. I mean, um, the day before she um, you know, she stopped by the office. She was, I don't know, tired, I guess. She was working long hours. Hey, Will, lift up you arm, dude."

"Doooooooooood." Will echoed as he raised his arm.

"Yeah, doooood," Langly answered.

"She was tired?"

Langly pointed to Will with his chin. "She said he'd been cutting molars or something and neither one of them had been sleeping much."

"Been there." Mulder nodded. "So, why did she come by?"

Langly hesitated, then gave another shrug. "No reason in particular."



Mulder knew that was a lie. Scully wouldn't just drop in on the Gunmen's office. He wondered what Langly was hiding. Or *thought* he was hiding. Maybe he should just step out in the hallway and ask Ray.

He wiped Will's sticky forearm. "For what it's worth, and as you've probably figured out by now, Billy and the others can hear pretty much anything you say, whether you think they're in earshot or not. There's more to it than that, though. If it's not something you want them to know, don't even think it."

Langly had gone to work cleaning Mulder's other child, starting with one syrup and crumb-coated knee. He paused a moment, pushed his glasses up his nose with the tip of his thumb, and frowned. "How exactly am I supposed to *not* think about this stuff?"

Mulder kept his tone as neutral as he could. "Which stuff in particular?"

"Any of it. All of it." Langly shrugged. "Christ, pick somethin'."

"Give me your other hand, Will." Mulder rinsed and wrung the cloth again, buying time. He wasn't sure what to tell himself, most days, so he really wasn't sure what to tell his friend. "I, um, well. . ." he began, but faltered. Letting out a long, slow breath, he finished, "it's complicated."

The other man snorted. "No shit, Sherlock."

"NO SHIT!" Will giggled and tried to slide off the counter.

"Hey," Mulder swung his wet washcloth at his friend in mock-indignation. "Watch the potty mouth in front of my kids. Will, come here. We're not done yet."

Langly dodged the washcloth. The baby on his side of the counter tried to crawl toward his brother. "Will, don't." He pinned the boy in place with a hand on the chest and began wiping his way up one arm. He paused. "Okay, let's start there. Let's start with why you've got two kids, just about the same age, both named William."

"Oh, *that*." Mulder laughed dryly. "I, ah, -- did I mention this was complicated?"

Langly ploughed on, disregarding Mulder's attempt at humor. "Or, or, okay, Mulder, how about why you took off on Scully and one baby to be with Yves and the other."


"And if you had to do it, for whatever fucked up reason, why couldn't you just have talked to Scully about it? Christ, what was that all about, pulling that disappearing act and leaving Will behind on his grandmother's doorstep? What the hell were you thinking?"

Mulder felt something knot deep in his gut, but out of habit, he fought down the anger that threatened to unbalance him. They were safe, he reminded himself. Safe, protected, loved. He took a slow, deep breath. "Langly, I didn't-"

"Look, nevermind. How about you just tell me where the hell we are, or where the hell we're going. Monica talked to Doggett just before you showed up, and he told her they found Scully's SUV at Skyland Mountain, so why are we in the middle of the des-?"

"Wang." Wide-eyed, Will reached up and grabbed a handful of Langly's t-shirt. "Dop."

"Hang on a minute, buddy." Langly's voice trembled.

"Dop!" This came from the child in Mulder's care.

"Whoa." Mulder held up his hand. "They're right, Langly. Stop. If you get yourself worked up, you'll get the boys worked up, and if the boys get worked up, Billy's going to come charging in here like-"

"I don't care, Muld-"

"Yeah, you do, Langly. You do. That is the very last thing you want to happen." Mulder turned his attention back to Will. "Look up here so I can wash your dirty neck, big guy." The baby tilted his face accommodatingly and Mulder wiped carefully at the delicate skin. "Now, for starters, I did NOT leave Scully. And I had no idea that Will's nanny Leah was your femme-fatale Yves. Leah had no idea she was your femme-fatale Yves, either."

"Yeah, right." Langly snorted again.

"Yeah right what?"

"Yves is a pretty good actress."

"I've spent just about every day of the last year with her, Langly. She didn't have a clue."

"Well, she seems pretty damned territorial for a nanny, in case you haven't noticed. She practically growls at Monica every time they get within ten feet of each other."

Mulder couldn't argue with that; there'd been a distinctly combative aura surrounding Leah since the road trip began, and it had become decidedly more pronounced since Reyes had joined them.

"Leah's pretty heavily invested. She's been looking after Will since he was six weeks old. It's the only life she can remember. She probably feels threatened."

Langly gave him another hard, silent look.


"Will isn't - aren't - the only ones she's territorial about."

Mulder blinked. "What do you mean?"

"On come on, man. She's all over you like-"

"Yeah, right." It was Mulder's turn to snort. "She's not all over me like anything, Langly."

Langly wiped carefully at the baby's cheeks. His voice was low and tight. "Look, we all know - we all knew - Scully kept you on a damned short leash, and-"

Mulder felt his blood pressure jump another notch. "Scully didn't keep me on a-"

"Cut the crap, man. I like Scully. We all like her. But, Christ, you followed her around like a whipped dog for years, like you were waiting for her to throw you a bone or something. And, now, all of the sudden you've got this hot little-"

"Hang on," Mulder commanded, then stopped. Beating the shit out of Langly wouldn't do him any good, his reasonable side assured him, even thought his less reasonable side thought it was a damned fine idea. He took another long, slow breath, and released it. "One, you don't know sh-- jack about me and Scully, okay? You may think you know, but you don't. Got that?"

Langly gave a dismissive shrug. "Whatever."

Mulder squared his shoulders and went on. "Having said that, I believed Scully was dead. I understood she'd been killed in an explosion *before* Billy dragged me out of DC."

"And what? That's when you hooked up with Yves and built William II, the Sequel, there? Sorry, my man. Does not compute."

"I didn't - I haven't - hooked up with Yves. Leah. She's Will's nanny."

"Well, Monica was there when Scully went into labor, Mulder. She was there for the whole thing. Scully had one -- count 'em, one -- baby. So little Repeat there had to come from somewhere."

"Christ, what the - ? Langly, Leah's not Will's mothe-"

"Her name is Yves."

"Fine. Yves. Whatever her name is." Mulder pulled a tube of zinc cream out of his pack. "She is not William's mother. She works for me."

"So, what? You hired her? You interviewed a bunch of applicants and decided a great rack and amnesia were all the qualifications she needed?"

"No." The headache Mulder had been battling since waking flared. "She works for Billy, but she looks after me. Us, I mean. She looks after us."

"You certainly sound convinced." Langly's frown turned into a full-blown scowl. "And that's another thing. Billy Miles. Why the hell are you hanging around with this guy? Do you know how many people he's accused of killing, Mulder? How many people I've seen actual footage of him decapitating?"

"They were-" Mulder hesitated, trying to find the most accurate, least inflammatory words. "They were - threats. They had to be - to be eliminated."

"Threats? Eliminated?" The pitch of Langly's voice rose. "Are you hearing yourself, like, at all? You sound like you swallowed the NewSpeak dictionary."

Mulder nodded, not in agreement, but simply in an attempt to placate the younger man. He rubbed his throbbing forehead. "I know it must look bad. All I can tell you is that he - that all of them - have William's best interests at heart. Their only interest is in protecting him."

Langly stared at Mulder over the rim of his glasses. His voice dropped. "How do you figure that, man?"

"Put your arms up, bud, so we can get that dirty shirt off." William complied and Mulder slipped it smoothly over his head. Pulling two clean t-shirts and two pairs of shorts from the pack, Mulder handed one of each to Langly. "Change him, huh?"

"I'm on it," Langly nodded. He waited. "Answer the question, Mulder."

Mulder flattened a changing pad out on a stretch of counter next to the sink, then patted it. "Lie down so I can change your diaper, Will," he said.

"No," the baby replied.



"Diaper first." Mulder patted the pad again. "Lie still and we'll go look at the cherry picker. Deal?"

Will seemed to consider the offer. He exchanged a look with his brother. "Tay," they answered in unison. Will stretched out on the changing pad.



Langly gently tugged the clean t-shirt over the other child's head. "How do you know Billy's trying to protect William? And which William is that, by the way?"

"Both of them. And. . .I just do."

"Oh well," Langly rolled his eyes, "if you 'just do,' that's plenty good enough for me."

Mulder ground his molars in frustration. "Billy's looked after us for the last year. He's kept William and me safe. He kept Scully and - and 'THAT' William safe for as long as he could, and...look, I know it doesn't make sense, but he did that by keeping us apart. He's fed us, clothed us, sheltered us, and he's asked nothing in return."


"No one thing."

"Then why were you kept hidden in Toronto? Why weren't you allowed to contact us? You know, if you'd have called, someone -- hell, anyone -- could have told you that, heck no, Scully isn't dead, and-"

The word was out of Mulder's mouth before he could stop it. "Prophecy."

Langly stopped short. "What?"

A wave of familiar feelings -- dread, panic, fear -- all long-suppressed, but never completely eradicated, swelled inside Mulder and threatened to overwhelm him. Safe, he told himself. Safe. Protected. Loved.

"That stuff Billy is spouting all the time," Mulder began, willing himself calm. "It's - it's some kind of scripture. Some kind of prophecy."

Langly slumped against the counter, eyes wide, jaw slack. "Prophecy?"

Mulder's throat felt tight, constricted. He swallowed with some difficulty. "Billy and the others, they think William has, um, has a destiny."

Now that he had said it out loud, Mulder realized how stupid it had to sound. He wondered why Ray hadn't busted in by now, why Langly hadn't been dragged off, or worse, god, why Billy hadn't come through that door and tried to take his sons away.

"Wang? Up!" Will extended his arms.

"Hang on a second, buddy." Langly slid his glasses back up the bridge of his nose and turned to Mulder. "A destiny?"

Mulder nodded. "Yeah."

Heavy silence hung between the men as they finished dressing the children. Finally, Langly spoke.

"Mulder, honest to god, I am talking to you as your friend, man. And as your friend, I'm asking you to take a step back and try to see the whole picture here."

Mulder gnawed the inside of his cheek. "Which picture is that?"

"Think about what's been done to you, about what's being done to you. You've been misled, held captive, isolated. You've been forced to hand all control of your safety and the safety of your family, your children, over to someone who is a known dangerous felon. You've been threatened, if only indirectly. You're being emotionally controlled. They've got you convinced they can read your thoughts, Mulder, that they can read your mind. You're-"

"Langly, no, you don't under-"

Langly raised a finger. "No. Just listen. Now they've got you, a card-carrying, dues-paying member of Atheists-Are-Us spouting some quasi-religious crap. Take all that into account, Mulder, all those factors, and probably a couple dozen others I haven't figured in yet, and tell me you haven't got yourself a classic case of Stockholm Syndrome."

Mulder's eyes shot wide, and his breath caught in his throat. "What?" he choked out. "Stockho-"

"Look at everything you've told me, at everything that's happened, and tell me, if you were writing a profile, that isn't exactly what you'd diagnose."


"Ah done!" Will proclaimed.

"Ah done!" his brother echoed. "Twuck!"

The door swung open and Billy stepped in, his usual bland smile in place, but, Mulder thought, different somehow. "Mulder, William wishes to see the truck now."

Mulder stood the child on the counter, began re- packing the backpack. "In a minute, Billy."

He looked up. His eyes met Langly's in the mirror.

"Just think about what I've said, okay?" Langly asked. "Think about it, and when you're through thinking, we'll talk. Then we'll act."

The throbbing behind Mulder's eyes threatened to blind him. He nodded and scooped up his son. "C'mon, guys. Let's go see the truck."


"Hot," Leah said to no one in particular as they left the relative shelter of the restaurant's covered porch.

"Very," Mulder agreed. He raised a hand to his brow, shading his eyes. It *was* hot; far hotter, he was certain, than it had been just an hour or so ago. Or maybe the headache, which had gone from nagging to raging, just made it seem that way.

"At least it's a dry heat." Reyes said. "God, the humidity in New Orleans in the summertime." She and Langly walked just slightly ahead of Mulder and Leah; Billy, Ray, and Dee walked just slightly behind. Mulder had one William tucked on his hip while Leah led the other by the hand.

One William, Mulder thought, feeling stupid. He'd needed Langly - of all people - to remind him of the obvious. Scully had only given birth to one child. One William. Even if this other child was a product of their supposedly failed IVF attempts, even if the second boy was truly their son, one boy was too much like the other for coincidence.

And yet he'd accepted a second William without a second thought. Months of distrusting Billy and his smiling army of darkness, months of trying to find an escape, and all it had taken was one most likely drug-induced seizure and he was willing to. . .to. . .oh god. . .

He didn't realize he'd shut his eyes until the toe of his hiking boot caught on something and sent him stumbling forward.

"Mulder?" Leah's hand wrapped around his bicep and yanked him from his dangerous thoughts. "You okay?"

"Yeah." He nodded. He set William on his feet and took him by the hand. "Just clumsy."

William pointed down. "Wocks," he said.

Mulder squinted. "Yep. Rocks."

The other boy pointed, too. "Yots wocks."

Mulder nodded. "Lots of rocks."

Leah peered at him from beneath the brim of her ball cap. She frowned. "Perhaps you're dehydrated. You look peaked."

"Peaked?" Mulder gave a dry chuckle. He tugged on Will's hand and started walking again. "I haven't heard that expression since dinosaurs roamed the earth."

Leah arched a brow at him. "Pale, sickly, wan, ashen - pick one."

"This headache won't let up." Mulder rubbed his forehead with his free hand. "That's all."

"You take Tylenol?"

"Yes, mom," he muttered.

"Should have worn your hat."

"Yes, mom."

Reyes looked over her shoulder at them. "You been to New Orleans, Agent Mulder?" she asked. Her tone was overly bright, he thought, but maybe he shouldn't read anything into it. Maybe that was just the way she was.

"It's just Mulder, Monica," he replied, deciding, what the hell, since they were probably risking life and limb together, they should now be officially on single-name status. "And, uh, yeah, couple of times. I liked it. Except for, like you said, the humidity."

Will tugged on the cuff of Mulder's shorts. "Twuck?"

"In a minute, buddy."

"Yo." Langly spun around and walked backwards as he spoke. "Me and Monica were thinking of checking out that store." He gestured in the direction of a low wooden building. In foot-high letters, a sign proclaimed it 'Uncle Ted's General Store and Assayer's Office'. "We wanna grab some stuff."

Mulder felt a low buzzing sensation in the base of his skull. For a moment, the air around him seemed to crackle and spark. Dee quickly moved past him and, with her usual blank smile, insinuated herself between Langly and Reyes.

"Mr. Langly, Ms Reyes," Billy said, "Dee will be honored to accompany you."

Langly stopped walking, and the rest of the group came to a halt. He looked Dee up and down, then frowned. "She isn't invited."

"Mr. Langly, Ms Reyes," Billy repeated, "Dee will be honored to accompany you."

Folding his arms across his chest, Langly gave Mulder a long, piercing look. "Call them off, Mulder," he all but snarled.

Mulder sighed. Rubbing his eyes with the heels of his hands, he asked, "Billy, does Dee have to go with them?"

"Yes, Mulder," Billy said.

Mulder shrugged. "Mr. Langly, Ms Reyes, Dee will be honored to accompany you."

"Fu-" Langly kicked at the gravel parking lot, sending up a spray of fine dust and red pebbles.

"Wocks!" both boys squealed. They imitated Langly's move, creating a pair of miniature red dust storms.

"Rich," Monica said, laying a hand on Langly's shoulder, "it's no big deal." Her eyes cut to Leah, then to Mulder. "The boys need anything?"

Mulder started to shake his head, but renewed pounding assured him this would be a very bad idea. "I don't think so. Leah?"

"No, nothing. You three run ahead and we'll meet you there, okay?"

"Fine." Langly answered, after a pause and a scowl. His tone made it clear it was anything but. He turned and stalked off. After a nervous glance at Billy, Reyes followed, Dee smiling at her heels.

"Mulder," Billy said. "We will inquire about a campsite at the main office."

"Oh. Sure." Taken aback, Mulder watched Billy and Ray march away. It was unusual, being left alone. But then, he thought, taking in the barren landscape surrounding the truck stop, there wasn't much of anywhere to run, even if he decided he wanted to.

William handed Mulder a tiny fistful of pebbles. "Wocks."

Mulder accepted the offering. "Thanks, bud."

"Pottet," William instructed.

"Yeah, okay." Mulder blew the fine grit off the rocks, then dropped them in the pocket of his shorts. "C'mon guys," Mulder told his sons, "let's get a Popsicle before we go see the truck."

Neither boy seemed to be paying attention. Tiny heads together, they squatted in the dust, pushing red rocks and dirt into a pile.

"Mulder," Leah asked, "How well do you know, um, what's-his-name...Rich, is it?"

"Langly? I've known him for years. Why?"

The corner of Leah's mouth twitched. "What about the woman, Agent Reyes? How long have you known her?"

"Not very long. But Langly vouches for her. Why?"

"I just. . .I have a bad feeling about them," Leah answered. "Nothing I can pinpoint, but. . ."


She bit her bottom lip. "I wonder if they can be trusted."

Mulder glanced over his shoulder. Billy and Ray were becoming distant specks. "Would Billy have let them come along if they couldn't be?"

Leah tilted her head. "So, what? We're trusting Billy, now?"

Heart suddenly racing, Mulder took a deep breath and watched his sons playing peacefully in the dirt. He had to stay calm. Suddenly nothing seemed more important. "I don't think this is something we should be discussing."

Leah gnawed the inside of her cheek. "She was dead, Mulder. You saw it. You were there. You were ready to move on."

"Leah, don't-"

"Listen to me." She took a step closer. "It's very convenient, don't you think, that one moment William's mother is dead and we're being held prisoner, and the next, oh look, no, she's not dead, after all? In fact, she's alive and well and living in Washington. But, what's this? She's suddenly in grave danger, and you, you, and only you, can save her? And let's bring along two of Mulder's friends from before to go along with this ridiculous story, and- "

"Stop." Mulder squared his shoulders and pulled himself to his full height, towering over her, glowering. His head thrummed. "We are not discussing this. Do you understand me? This conversation is over. Guys," he bent and spoke to the boys, who were still happily tossing handfuls of gravel around, "come on. We're going to the st-"

"Mulder!" Leah's voice was a low, harsh hiss. "They've done this, haven't they?"

Kneeling, Mulder brushed dust from the back of one boys' shorts and legs, then reached for the other. "I don't know what you're talking about."

"Langly and that Reyes woman," she spit out. "They've convinced you I'm some sort of threat, haven't they? That I'm this dangerous Yves person, who can't be trusted. That's it, isn't it?"


She ignored his protest. "That's why you keep looking at me like I'm, I'm, some sort of, of filth, why you all do."

He dusted Will's shorts a little harder. "Leah, please."

"And why didn't you ever tell me William had a twin?"

"Because-" he bit out, then stopped himself. Taking a deep breath, he began again. "Because he doesn't. Okay?"

"He clearly does," she replied, without missing a beat. She drew her lips into a thin line. "Is that what's going on here? Were they holding one son hostage? Did you have to agree to do something so you could get him back? Is that where we're really going?"


"Mulder, look at me," she commanded.

Mulder raised his head, meeting her angry glare.

"Tell me the truth. Are we on some sort of suicide mission?"

He closed his eyes, rubbed them with his now-gritty thumb and forefinger. White stars danced on his lids and black bile rose in his gorge.

He blew out a long breath. "I don't know, Leah. I don't know."


Mulder's cheeks were burning by the time they reached the store. He was angry - really, really angry. He hadn't let himself get this mad - this completely frustrated - in so long that it was almost a new emotion. One, he quickly realized, that he had to tamp down, and fast.

The front porch of the store was wide and shaded, a welcome relief from the sun. Mulder paused at the top of the stairs, taking in the faux-antique rocking chairs, mining lamps, pick axes, and shovels that were meant, no doubt, to lend atmosphere. For a moment, he studied a tin sign that told him 'genuine, healing minerals,' were available inside. Breathing deeply, he reigned in his rage.

A blast of fabulously cold air hit them as he swung the door open. "No running," he told the boys as they barreled past him. "And no touching, either," he added almost immediately, swooping down to rescue a cactus snow-globe from his son's grubby fingers. He put the merchandise back on the shelf.

Dee was waiting near the front. "Sir," she said with a curt nod before resuming her intent study of a rack of chips near the counter.

"Dee," Mulder said, in absent acknowledgment. He scanned the aisles of the shop quickly, looking for Langly and Reyes, then glanced back at the boys. "I said no touching, guys," he said, snatching a ceramic burro from the brink of destruction.

"No touch!" William agreed, reaching for a cowboy- and-cowgirl-shaped salt and pepper set. His brother echoed his words, grabbing what purported to be a collectable spoon.

"Some company store," Leah said, taking in the aisles of bric-a brac and convenience food. "Watch them. I'm going to find the bathroom."

"Wocks!" Will shouted. He started running, his brother on his orthopedically-correct heels. "Yots wocks!"

"Stay with me, guys," Mulder called, following them toward the front counter.

The boys stopped when they reached a bin full of souvenir minerals. The stones were polished to a glossy sheen, some of them so garishly colored that they'd obviously been dyed. Many of the larger ones the boys pulled out and examined had a smallish, off- center hole drilled through them, ready for stringing.

"Looks like someone got the deluxe rock tumbler for Christmas," he said, crouching between the boys and accepting a smooth, flat oval of something that looked like jade from one of them. He handed it back. "Your Aunt Sam had one of those. You guys want a popsi-"

The clerk behind the front counter put down her magazine and leaned toward them. "Well, there's them pretty babies again!" She looked up at Mulder and smiled. "I just can't get over how cute they are."

Mulder stood a little too quickly, causing a head rush that nearly blew off the top of his skull. Swallowing hard, he tried to focus his vision. "Thanks. Um, weren't you just working in the restaurant? Or are you twins, too?"

"Nope." Carleena's brow raised, her features taking on a martyred expression. "My sister Bobbi usually works mornings up here, but she had to go to the foot doctor 'cause her corns is actin' up. Like *my* corns ain't after coming in to work at five AM, but you know, family's family."

Mulder blinked, noticing, for the first time, Carleena's brightly painted face and round, watery eyes. Her features seemed too soft, her eyes too bright. He quickly looked away.

He found himself looking at a shelf full of breakfast cereal, the pictures on the boxes glowing like neon. It was taking his eyes a long time to adjust to the indoor lighting, he thought. But he remembered that photosensitivity could be a symptom of dehydration. Maybe Leah was right. Maybe what he really needed was a bottle of water. . .

"Dada! Wock." Will offered him a black chunk of stone roughly shaped like a pyramid.

"No thanks, buddy," Mulder muttered, fighting a wave of nausea. "I'm all set on rocks." He dropped it back into the bin.

Looking around, he spotted a metal folding chair next to the door, and gestured toward it. "Would it be all right if I sat down over there?"

"Oh heck yes," Carleena replied. "Let them babies play. Set on down."

Mulder's eyes cut to Dee, who was still studying bags of Doritos and popcorn. She turned and met his gaze, her smile too wide, somehow, much brighter than usual. Feeling bewildered, Mulder sat, placing his elbows on his knees and cradling his forehead in his hands. The room seemed to be humming, filling with a low, whispering sound that was vaguely familiar. For a moment, he thought someone was singing, very softly, into his left ear.

Straightening, he scanned the empty aisle before him, glanced over at Dee again, and looked up at the ceiling. There was a speaker positioned just above where he was sitting. Reassured, he resumed his earlier position and closed his eyes. That's all it was, he thought. Just a speaker. Nothing weird there.

"Wock, Dada." Will held another pyramid of stone toward him, this one smaller than the last.

"No thanks, buddy," Mulder muttered.

"You can take that rock home, baby," Carleena said, her voice sticky-sweet. "Your brother can have one, too. They're called lodestones. They're for fixin' things, like arthritis and bad luck. They're magnetic, too."

Raising his head, Mulder looked at the stone his son was holding. He blinked at it, then blinked again. Stones don't glow, he told himself, even though the one in William's palm didn't seem to understand this, because it was emitting a faint, purplish light. Mulder dropped his head again. The whispering he'd heard before seemed to be growing louder. "Put that back, Will."

"I think the word is 'traumatized,' Rich."

Mulder's head shot up, sending a fresh surge of pounding across his temples. Monica Reyes was murmuring, somewhere nearby. But he couldn't get a fix on which direction her words were coming from. He couldn't see her at all.

"You okay?" Carleena asked. "You look kinda peaked."

"Peaked?" Mulder mumbled. "I'm fine."

"Wock." One of the boys placed a stone on Mulder's knee.

"Guys," he said, his voice strained. "Enough with the rocks, okay?" He handed the stone to the boy. Water. He needed -

"Them rocks, now there's a funny thing." Carleena said. "Shows you what a visionary my daddy's always been. He was in full time service to the Lord when he first came west, you know, workin' as a Deacon in one a them old-timey travelin' revivals, remember them? Settin' up the tent and passin' the plate and winnin' all the souls they could. But then he saw this chunk of barren land in the middle of the desert, and found out the government was just about beggin' someone to take it. He used to tell us the Lord gave him a vision, right there on the spot, a vision about what that land could be. So he asked his daddy to lend him the money to open the diner, and Paw-paw said, 'boy, you're crazy! You don't even know how to cook....'"

Mulder massaged his temples, trying to make sense of what Carleena had said. Something didn't quite--

"Don't make excuses for him." Langly's voice drifted toward him.

"I'm not. But I think Mulder's been through a hell of a lot." Reyes' hushed tones mingled with the growing hum. Mulder glanced carefully over his shoulder, then looked around the store again. Where the hell were they standing?

"I'm not arguing that," Langly's voice faded in, then out again. "-mething's not right with him, and even you know it. Everybody's worried, Monica. They're ready to help."

"Like them rocks," Carleena went on. "That just shows what a natural-born businessman daddy was. He got the idea to sell healin' stones long before all them hippies-" her voice faded.

"What do you mean, 'everyone'?" Reyes asked somewhere off in the distance. Her voice became stronger, clearer, "Who else did you call?"

"Nobody else. Only Frohike," Langly answered. "I needed to check on Byers, for Christ's sake. Shit, he'd only been out of the hospital a few hours when we just fucking deserted them."

Mulder glanced around again. Langly and Reyes didn't seem to be anywhere nearby, so his battered brain must be cooking this up on its own, giving voice, perhaps, to the doubts Langly had raised earlier. At any rate, he told himself, there was no chance Langly was going to be able to make the kind of call he seemed to be describing. Billy's 'no phone' policy was set in stone - he would certainly enforce it.

He took a deep breath. He'd just convinced himself he was hallucinating. Could you be hallucinating if you had to talk yourself into it, he wondered. And why, he wanted to know, had they turned off the air conditioning?

"'Course daddy's in the nursin' home now, poor thing," Carleena's voice again, louder. "And even up there they still call him Uncle Ted. Oh my yes, he's respected in these parts, has been for years..."

The wash of static poured over Mulder's senses. He lifted his head.

"Dada!" Will stood before him, holding one dark rock in each outstretched palm. "Yook."

"Rocks. Great," Mulder muttered. Dee could get him a bottle of water. He looked up, searching for her. She was no longer by the chips. He looked around. Where would she go?

"...hard at first, but then they opened that museum in Grants, you know, the World's Only Underground Uranium Mining Museum? And the visitor's center up the road. And a couple of Indian reservations, though I don't think they call them that now, something with 'native' in it instead, and the park, of course, and..." Carleena droned on.

"Yook," Will repeated, stepping so close that Mulder could feel the boy's warm, sweet breath on his clammy skin.

Mulder looked at the dark rocks in his son's hands.

"Mama wock," Will lifted one palm a little, then the other. "Dada wock."

His brother grinned, holding another, smaller stone out to him. "Bubby wock."

"The rock family. I get it." Mulder said. "Dee, I need some wa-"

"...Frohike's been in touch with Skinner, Monica, and they're coming out here. No one thinks what we're doing is a good idea..."

Carleena's voice jarred Mulder back to the here and now. "...see, it was 'Uncle Ted's Good Eats,' and just between you and me, Mama always hated that name, but daddy said, 'no, that's the name.' It had to be, 'cause he'd had a vision about that too, see, and..."

Langly's voice emerged from the static again. "...der's being controlled. We're out on a limb, here, Monica. We need some backup."

"It's not like that. Rich, I'd explain this to you if I could."

"Funny, that's what Mulder just said to me. You working for Billy Miles now, too?"

"Yook!" both boys insisted.

Battling another wave of nausea, Mulder stood. He blinked, once, twice, three times, trying hard to focus. It was as if the boys were at the far end of a mile-long tunnel.

Will made the rocks dance, bouncing them up and down. "Mama wock, Dada wock," the boy said again. The stones, still glowing, hopped in his palms.

Only now, it seemed, time had slowed. The rocks stayed in the air longer than they should have, hovering just above William's hand. No matter how hard or how often Mulder blinked, the stones hung in the air, resting on a cushion of indigo light.

His breath caught in his throat. The air around him was blurring, turning an unappealing shade of lavender. His stomach lurched. "William, how-"

Reyes sounded anguished. "No, of course not. It's just...Rich, right before Mulder showed up, Will touched me, and...I had a dream. A vision. "

"Monica? What the fuck?"

"I know we're doing the right thing. Please, you've got to be patient..."

The floor seemed to shift under his feet. Mulder reached for the counter, steadying himself. Carleena kept talking. "So when he opened the campground, there was a theme for it, all ready to go, and..."

Mulder felt the blood drain from his face. Resisting the urge to clap his hands to his ears, he tried to focus on the cartoon that was Carleena's face, tried to find his voice, which seemed to have dried up like a roadkill in the desert sun.

"So now it's...Uncle Ted's Good Eats and...MINING." Carleena laughed again. "Kind of silly, ain't it? He never mined nothing in his life."

Another voice emerged. "She is blessed among women. The perfect vessel. Rejoice." The voice was harsh. It was right behind him.

Mulder felt his heart stop cold.

"Huh?" He spun. There was no one. He stared up at the speaker. "Who is?"

Carleena's voice was suddenly sharp. "You alright, sir?"

"I'm fi-" he said, swallowing bile.

Bells tinkled and an automatic door whooshed shut.

"Oh, sir - your boys!"


"Your boys just ran out the door. That blonde lady just let them get right past her and-"

"Will..." Mulder glanced wildly at the rock bin where the boys had been standing. They were gone.

He lurched toward the door, blood boiling. Where was Leah? What the hell was Dee doing letting the boys out?

He burst onto the porch. Ray was waiting for him, blocking the stairs.

"What the fuck, Ray?" Mulder barked, pushing past. "Where are the kids?"

"'And in that place,'" Ray said, gesturing toward the parking lot, seemingly unable to contain his delight, "'a sign was given.'"

Mulder squinted in the searing light. The boys were over halfway across the parking lot, holding hands, their tiny legs pumping as they ran. Dee followed them at a distance - too great a distance for Mulder's liking.

"William!" Mulder yelled, taking off toward them at a dead run. His legs felt like lead weights. "Dammit, stop!" he shouted.

Beyond the lot, the cherry picker that had been working on the billboard was pulling out, slowly making its way across the field. The boys were running toward it.

"Will!" There was a distant shout. Langly and Reyes, who had apparently been standing by a bank of pay phones on the far side of the parking lot, were rushing toward the boys.

"Mulder!" Leah's voice rang out, far behind him, sounding shrill and terrified.

The truck was gaining speed.

Mulder ran faster, heart in his throat, head pounding, vision blurring. William - all that mattered now was William, he thought, just before he tripped. He sprawled in the gravel for what felt like weeks before he ordered his weary body to get up and move again.

Waving her arms, Reyes dashed into the path of the on-coming truck. Within moments, Langly was heading the boys off, grabbing one by the hand and snaring the back of the other's shirt.

"Bye-bye! Bye-bye!" Heedless of the commotion they'd caused, the boys waved at the truck, which slowed, changed course, and went on its way.

Mulder made it to the curb, snatching up the first boy in his path and holding on for dear life.

"It's okay," Langly panted. "They're okay."

Taking the other child from Langly's arms, Mulder spun on Ray and Dee, who were now standing just a few feet away. He was so angry he could barely speak. "What the fuck were you thinking?"

Ray smiled. "William is protected. He is loved, as always."

"Shut the hell up." Langly started toward them. "That's bullshit and you know it."

"Rich, no." Alarmed, Reyes caught hold of Langly's arm. He pulled away with a curse.

Billy had arrived at the edge of the field and now he opened his arms toward them, his eyes wide, lifting his face and gazing toward the heavens with an intensity that Mulder had never witnessed before.

"What the-" Mulder began, but his words were lost in a rumble of thunder. The sky, which had been cloudless blue moments before, grew pewter-dark as the wind rose.

"Lo," Billy said, "The storm approaches."

"Billy, goddammit, what-" he tried again, but something reached into his chest and squeezed the air out of his lungs. He set the boys down and bent double, his hands on his scraped and bloody knees, his body shaking wildly. He panted, fighting to draw air into his lungs.

"'A sign was given unto them," he heard Billy say.

"What?!" Langly asked. "*That's* the sign?"

"Mama!" William called and echoed. "Mama!"

Mulder fell to his knees.

"Mulder!" Reyes' voice sounded panicked. "What's the matter? Are you all right?"

Disregarding the pain, he turned his gaze to the boys.

They were both pointing. Pointing to the billboard.

He turned his head.

"Visit Scenic..."

The boys turned to him. "Wock, dada," they said, each holding a lump of lodestone out to him. "Wock. See?"

With a gust of wind, the static he had heard in the store returned full-force, the white noise deafening, teeming with voices, the voices of every soul around him, every soul on the planet. The voices whispered reassurance. They bellowed accusations. They laughed with joy and wailed with despair.

In the midst of the clamor, one voice begged for mercy.

"Scul-" he whispered. The edges of his vision were darkening.

"Mulder, tell us what's wrong, how can we help..." Someone was speaking to him, but the voice seemed a thousand miles away.

"See?" William said again. As Mulder watched, the rocks lifted from the boys' hands. They hovered a moment, then flew toward the billboard, crashing through the sign, leaving a single gaping whole in its center.

"'The way was shown to them," he heard Billy say. "'Their path was made clear.'"

"Hallelujah," Ray's voice whispered inside Mulder's head. He felt himself jerk forward and land in the dust.

"Hallelujah," Dee's voice echoed softly, filling his mind.

"Hallelujah," he thought, though he didn't know why.

Then everything went black.


A bird was turning lazy circles in the hazy sky above him, coasting on a current of air. Mulder watched the creature wheel away from him, then come back again, over and over. It was cooler now that the sun wasn't beating down, and his head had finally stopped pounding.

Nice, he thought, watching the gull spiral lower. He rarely found himself flat on his back without someone poking him, prodding him, trying to strap him into restraints, or more recently, attempting to climb over him or shove Happy Meal toys up his nose. He closed his eyes, listened to the surf, and thought about what a soothing sound it was.

"You were supposed to help me!" a young voice said, somewhere off in the distance to his right.

"I am helping you!" an identical voice answered.

Mulder wondered, briefly, how he'd gotten from the desert to the ocean. New Mexico was a long way from here, wherever here was.


"Ha, to you!"

The voice was at once familiar and foreign. Something from an old movie, maybe?

"Not like that!"

"Ahhhhhhh! Now look what you did!"

"I didn't do anything!"

Or someone from the past - an old case? If he thought about it, he could probably-

"Excuse me?"

That voice wasn't as far away as the others. That voice was grown-up, feminine, and, if he ignored it, he hoped, it and its owner would go away.

"Um, excuse me?"

"Yes?" Mulder reluctantly opened an eye and gave the owner of the voice a long look, taking in her features. She was young, in the twenty to twenty- five range, and was wearing cutoffs, a faded blue sweatshirt, and an un-branded red ball cap with a suede bill. A long, brown ponytail fell forward over her right shoulder. Nothing about her seemed at all familiar.

She jerked a thumb over her shoulder. "Are those yours?"

Mulder lifted his head. The *those* in question were two sandy-haired boys, five or six years old, armed with shovels and pails, who were scrambling over a hillock of sand. Both *those* and the beach where they played looked familiar. Very familiar.

"Yeah." Mulder nodded and sat the rest of the way up. He knew where he was now, and that was comforting. "Yeah. At least, I think so."

The young woman pulled back and gave him a puzzled frown. "You 'think' so?"

Mulder watched the boys argue for a moment. One threw a handful of sand at the other. "Um, I mean, until about a week ago I was pretty sure at least one of them was mine. Now I'm not sure either of them is." He looked up at her. She was watching him with unreadable gray eyes. "Have we met?"

"Not yet," she replied, extending her hand. "I'm Sophie."


They shook.

She pointed to the patch of sand beside him. "Mind if I sit?"

"Be my guest." Mulder nodded and scooted away a little. "So what's a nice girl like you doing in my subconscious?"

Sophie's brows rose. "Is that where we are?"

"That's my best guess."

"Oh. Well, then. Nice subconscious you've got here." She scanned the horizon. "A little damp, though. Kinda foggy. Someone goes to the beach, even in their mind, and you'd think they'd want it nice and sunny and -" she gestured toward a couple of gulls specking at the waterline, "- sans sky-rats."

"You would think that, wouldn't you?" He looked down at his feet. They were bare and sandy and cold and a patch of tar clung to one side of his left foot. He wiggled his toes and wondered why he hadn't imagined himself with shoes. He tried, picturing himself wearing his favorite beat-up court shoes, or even a warm, dry pair of socks, but his feet remained stubbornly bare. "I seem to have about as much control over my subconscious as I do over anything else."

"Not like that!" One of the boys shouted at the other, waving his arms at the sand pile. "That's wrong! That's all wrong!"

"Yes, like this!" the other replied. "Just like this!"

Whatever was said next between the boys was lost in the crash of the surf.

"So, what are you guys doing here?" Sophie asked eventually.

Mulder paused to consider his answer. "Not entirely sure," he finally said. "This is usually where I end up when reality and I part company."

"Oh." She nodded as if that were a perfectly reasonable thing for someone she'd just met to say. "That happen a lot?"

"Often enough." He blinked at her. "Why are you here?"

"I don't know." Sophie plucked a sand dollar from the sand between them. It was about the size of a poker chip and as white as bleached bone. She held it in her palm, star side up, and brushed a few grains of sand away. "Girl's gotta be somewhere, right?"

"I suppose so." A thought, at once disturbing and oddly intriguing, crossed his mind, and he wondered, for a moment, if he dared give it voice. Finally, he cleared his throat. "You aren't coming on to me, are you?"

"Ew! No!" Sophie's lip curled. "Don't be gross."

"Just checking." He gave a soft, self-deprecating chuckle. "It's just that you've never been here with me before. With us before. I'd remember you, I think."

She smiled, the kindness in her eyes showing him she had taken no offense, and intended none, either. "Besides - " She nodded toward the ring on his left hand. "You're spoken for, right?"

He gave a non-committal tilt of the head, and turned to watch his boys at work in the sand.

His boys.

Mulder's head dropped to his chest and he rubbed hard circles in his forehead with his knuckles. Jesus, what a mess.

Sophie must not have liked his non-reply, because after a moment, she asked him again, more emphatically: "Mulder? You *are* taken, right?"

He was almost surprised to hear himself speak. "I've had some time to think about that over the last couple of days and I realize that my last few marriage proposals were met with something less than enthusiasm on her part. So, um" - he twisted the gold band on his finger and studied it for a moment - "I'm not entirely sure how 'taken' I am."

"Ah. I see." She turned the sand dollar over in her hand. "You know, you don't seem to be entirely sure of much at the moment."

He nodded. "Good call."

"So," She said, bringing the sand dollar closer to her face, examining it minutely, "what brings on this sudden crisis of faith?"

Mulder eyed her narrowly. "Interesting choice of words."

Sophie shrugged. "Seriously. What's wrong?"

"What's wrong?" He blew out a long, slow breath. "I've been kidnapped, held prisoner, dragged across the continent, handed a second child I didn't know I had, participated in the forcible confinement of a couple of friends, found out my sons' nanny may or may not be an internationally wanted criminal, discovered the dead woman I love may not be dead after all, and have realized that my place in the grand scheme of things, which seemed pretty obvious and almost reasonable a couple of days ago, now seems ridiculous and very probably hazardous to my health."

"All that, huh?" Sophie's brows drew together. She peered at him from beneath the brim of her cap, giving him a hard, analytical look. "On the up side, you still have most of your hair. That must count for something."

Mulder snorted.

"Yes yes yes!" One of the boys shouted as the other smoothed a cone of sand. "We did it!"

"That 'place in the grand scheme of things' stuff," Sophie said. "It's a big deal, huh?"

"I think it might be," Mulder agreed. "I'm just not-"

"Sure at the moment?" she finished for him.

Mulder grinned and ran a hand through his hair. "Yeah."

Sophie put the sand dollar down between them again. She pulled her knees up and hugged them close to her chest. "What would it take to reassure you?"

Mulder pursed his lips in thought. "I don't know," he answered finally. "I - I have spent my entire adult life trying to do the right thing. And this time, I have no idea what the right thing is."

Sophie nodded thoughtfully. "Well, what are your choices?"

"That's the problem, or part of it," he answered. "I don't think I have any."

"Oh, so it's more of a destiny thing? Fate stepping in and smacking you upside the head?"

"Pretty much." Mulder nodded. "Apparently, at some point I don't recall, I chose to be chosen. Since then, it's been out of my hands."

"Hmm." The girl was quiet a moment, as if deep in thought. "How's that a problem, then? You don't have to actually make any decisions, right? You just have to do what has to be done."

"I guess."

"Well," Sophie's expression brightened, "what exactly does this whole 'destiny' thing involve?"

"It's not really clear." Mulder scratched at his cheek. He needed a shave. "It's either rescuing Scully, or-"

"'Scully' being. . .?"

He gestured to the sand pile. "Their mother. Um, *probably* their mother."

"The not-dead woman you aren't sure you belong to?"

"One and the same."

"Oh. Okay. So you either have to- ?"

He turned to her. "Either rescue her or save the planet."

"Oh." Sophie blinked once, twice. "But you aren't sure which?"

Mulder shook his head.

Sophie gave a low whistle. "Wow."

"See what I mean?"

She smiled. "So I suppose a comment about having your own teeth wouldn't help right now?"

Mulder bared his teeth, tapped on the top left side. "These three are caps."

"Shit," the girl replied.

"Yeah," Mulder agreed. "Shit."

"Oh no oh no oh no!" One of the boys groaned as a wall of sand collapsed.

"Argh! Ahhhh!" the other wailed.

"You sure it's an either-or deal, Mulder?"

"As you yourself pointed out, I'm not entirely sure about a lot, right now." He scraped his foot against the sand, trying to rub the tar away. "I just - I have a feeling we can't all live through this."

A soft sympathetic sound rose for the girl's throat. She reached out and placed her warm hand on his bare forearm. "This must hard for you."

His voice dropped to a whisper. "I'm afraid it's been nothing but lies, you know? What if I wanted to understand so badly, wanted so much to make sense of something that in and of itself made no sense, that allowed myself to be led? I'm afraid I've been connecting the dots all these years, joining A to B to C to D, only to realize that, in the end, it's going to spell out *sucker*. I can't stand to think it's all been for nothing."

"Nothing comes without a price," she said.

"No one knows that better than I do," he answered. "And for some reason, I just go on paying it."

They sat in uncomfortable silence for a while, watching the boys pouring and shaping their buckets of sand.

"What are those two doing, anyway?" Sophie asked.

"They're building a spaceship."

"Out of sand?"

Mulder nodded. "They've been working on it a long time."

Sophie frowned. "What's the point of building a spaceship from sand?"

"I don't know," Mulder answered honestly. "I used to assume it was symbolic. Now, I'm not so sur--"

Sophie held up a hand. "Don't say it."

Another sand wall caved in. Both boys howled in frustration. Sophie turned to him. "They seem like nice kids, Mulder."

"Thanks. They are nice kids." A surge of pride washed through him. "But I can't take all the credit. Scully's been raising one of them."

Sophie squinted at the boys. "Which one?"

Mulder squinted at them, too, trying to tell which boy was his and which was Scully's. But it was pointless. He gave a wry chuckle. "I have no idea."

"It doesn't really matter if they're yours or not, does it? You love them anyway."

His answer was automatic and honest. "I do."

"It's the same for her isn't it?" Sophie pressed. "You love her even when you aren't sure she's going to love you back?"

Mulder's throat was suddenly tight and dry. He swallowed and nodded.

She gave him a long look. "It looks like your sons could use some help."

Mulder sighed out his frustration. "Haven't you been listening? I don't know what to do. I don't know how to help."

"Yes, you do. You just told me you do." Sophie rose to her feet and offered him her hand. "Now, get up on your feet, walk over to that pile of sand, and meet your destiny."

He let her help him up. Now that they were both standing, he towered over her. "Just like that?"

"All shall be as has been written." she said in a tone of voice that sounded too much like Billy's. "You cannot doubt that."

"I don't." Mulder closed his eyes and rubbed them. "I don't doubt it. I just don't understand it."

"You don't have to." She bent down and retrieved the sand dollar. Turning, she threw it into the sea. It skipped three times before it sank beneath the surface. "Your family needs you. Just go do what has to be done."




"Wha-?" His body jerked. Someone was slapping him across the face. Hard.

"Mulder, dammit, open your eyes and look at me!" Leah's voice was harsh.

His eyes flew open. He was lying on his bed in the RV's back bedroom. "I'm awake," he coughed.

"Mulder, thank god." Leah laid her hand on his forehead and inspected his face intently, as if expecting his eyes to close again.

"I'm okay," he assured her, and it was only a small lie. Planting his palms against the mattress, he ordered his aching muscles into action. "What's going on?"

She wrapped an arm around his back and helped him sit. "You passed out. Do you remember?"

He licked his lips. "Sort of."

"Do you think you can get up?"

"Yeah." Groaning, he swung his legs over the edge of the bed. "What's wrong?"

"They took the boys, Mulder. I don't know why, but-"

Adrenaline surged through his body. "Who did?" His feet hit the floor. Feeling heavy-headed and unsteady, he grabbed his T-shirt from the foot of the bed and looked around urgently for his boots.

"Langly and Reyes." Leah held his boots out to him, her face tight with anger.

"What? Why?" He tied the laces quickly, trying to make sense of the situation. Langly and Reyes would only take the boys if they were trying to protect them. But -

"Where's Billy? Where are Ray and Dee?"

"I don't know," she said. "There's a little store back by the gate. Billy said William wanted juice and sent me to get some. When I came back, Billy and the others were gone and your supposed friends were carrying the boys in that direction." She pointed out the tiny window, toward a distant hill with group of white buildings perched at its top.

Mulder's gaze followed her finger. "Where the hell are we?"

"I'm not really sure. There was too much going on for me to really pay attention..."

Mulder went to the window and peered out, studying the structures at the top of the hill. He noted that the roof of the largest one swept up into a dramatic spire. This wasn't some isolated desert compound, then. Clearly, these buildings were meant to be seen.

He turned back to Leah. "How long have they been gone?"

"An hour, maybe. I didn't-"

"What!?" He grabbed her by the upper arms. "An hour? And you let me sleep? What the hell were you think-"

He knew he was squeezing too hard. He fought to retain his composure.

"I didn't *let* you sleep. You've been unconscious all day. I've been trying to slap you awake ever since I got back." She glared at his hands, then at him, and very calmly said, "Let go."

Mulder dropped his hands, embarrassed by his outburst. He had to focus. He had to keep a clear head. "Leah, I'm sor-"

"We don't have time for this." She reached for the doorknob. "Come on."

He took a deep breath and clattered down the steps behind her.

Outside, the twilight was hot and windy. Covered in reddish grime, the RV sat in the middle of a wide, weedy square of concrete. An abandoned parking lot, he thought, noticing a well-tended driveway passing close to one end. Though faded and worn, the words 'Visitor Center Parking, Lot G, Row 7,' were stenciled on the pavement inches from where they stood.

"'Visitor Center'?" Mulder read. "Where the fuck are we?"

There was a sudden clap of thunder. The wind showered them with sand. Shielding his eyes, Mulder looked up at the sky. Dark clouds churned in a slow circle above them.

"Has it been like this all day?" he asked.


"The weather. Has it been like this all day?"

"Yes. Lots of thunder and wind, but not one drop of rain."

"The storm's been called," Mulder mumbled, remembering Billy's words; remembering Sophie's.


"Nothing." Mulder shook his head. The wind picked up, whistling past his ears. He stepped closer so he wouldn't have to shout. "Look, Leah, I think this is it."


For about the millionth time in a year, Mulder wished he had some sort of weapon. "Where we've been headed. The place Billy keeps talking about. Avenda."

Her brow creased in confusion. "Avenda?"

"Yeah. This is probably going to be dangerous. I want you to stay here."

Leah frowned. "And do what?"

"Wait for me to come back."

She spoke without hesitation. "No."

"I have to find the boys. And Leah, I think - "


"Their mother - she's here somewhere."

Leah's face settled into a mask of studied detachment. "So?" she said. "I'm coming. You may need help."

"You'll help me most by staying here."

"I fail to see how sitting around waiting for Billy to pop in and lop my head off is going to help anyone, least of all you."

Mulder's brow rose in surprise.

"Trust me when I tell you both Langly and Agent Reyes have had a few choice things to whisper on the subject of Billy Miles, Mulder." She folded her arms across her chest. "I'm not going to sit here and wait for him to decide I'm expendable, or that I need replacing."

Mulder took a deep breath and leaned closer. The wind whistled between them. "Leah, you've lost so much. From what I've been told, this is my destiny. My fate. I can't drag you any further into this. I'd never forgive myself if you got hurt."

"And how do you know it isn't my fate, too? How do you know I'm not here for a reason?" Leah dropped her chin in challenge. "Everything isn't about you, Mulder."

He opened his mouth to argue with her, but found he couldn't. She was right: it wasn't about him and it never had been. He was just a tooth on a cog on a wheel in a damned big, damned scary machine.

He reached over and tucked one of her braids behind her shoulder. "I'm not going to talk you out of this, am I?"

She shook her head.

He took her hand, squeezing gently. Billy really had known what he was doing when he'd hand-picked Leah for Mulder. In another life, a life where Scully had never existed. . .

He cleared his throat. "Okay, then. Come on."


"The boys were wired, and I was trying to get them to nap," Leah explained, following him up the hill. "I know we crossed the border into Arizona at some point, and that's..." Something ahead of them caught her eye. Her lip curled in horror. "Oh my god."

Mulder stopped short. His gaze followed Leah's. Before them was a second parking lot with a maintenance cart idling near its entrance. The driver of the cart was slumped over the steering wheel. Nearby, two men in blue coveralls were lying on the ground. A weed trimmer was still running on the ground between them, vibrating a slow circle in a pool of blood.

An icy chill shot through Mulder's body. He looked away.

Leah's face had gone white. "Are they dead?"

Mulder went to the little vehicle and pressed his fingers to the driver's neck. He reached down and turned the key in the cart's ignition. The engine died. "This one is."

Thunder rumbled overhead. The wind gusted.

Mulder turned to look at the outbuildings. Two blue- clad bodies slumped next to some bushes in the middle distance. Another was propped against a wall, its head at an unnerving angle. Yet another lay in a black puddle of blood a little further away. "I'm guessing those guys are, too."

"Jesus," Leah murmured, coming up behind him.

Mulder reached for her hand. "If you want to go ba-"

He was interrupted by a familiar whirring sound, carried across the desert on the steady wind.


"Mulder, what is that?"

"Bad news."


He was just about to say 'helicopter,' when a huge black chopper sprang over the top of a nearby butte and made straight for them.

Mulder spun, looking for an escape route or, barring that, a hiding place. Decision made, he tugged her hand. "Come on!"

"Who is it? Who's in the helicopter?" she yelled over the roar of wind and rotor blades as Mulder pulled her behind him.

"I don't know," Mulder called back. "And I don't want to. Come on!" A huge clap of thunder rumbled above them, shaking the ground, drowning out Leah's response.

They ran to the largest building, hugging the long, windowless wall, trying to blend into the evening shadows as they made their way around to the back of it.

"This way." Mulder tugged her up the spotless sidewalk, gingerly climbed over the lifeless body of a woman in a blue apron, and tried a door at the top of a long set of concrete stairs.

"Fuck!" Mulder snarled. The door was locked.

The whirring drone of a second helicopter joined the first. The wind was blowing at gale force now, and Mulder stood for a moment at the top of the stairway, watching the black sky. The helicopters wouldn't stay up if the wind got much worse; maybe the weather gods were on their side.


Standing at the bottom of the stairs, Leah shouted over the wind, shielding her face from blowing debris with one arm while she pointed with the other. "Mulder, look!"

Mulder descended and ran to join her. "Oh my god," he muttered.

There were two bodies lying near the smallest of the three buildings. Long blonde hair fanned out against the sandy soil.

"Holy shit." Mulder ran.

They reached Langly first. He was curled in on himself, clutching his abdomen, as if trying to ward off a beating. Twisted and cracked, his broken glasses lay a good three feet from his body. Mulder dropped to his knees and placed a hand on Langly's neck, avoiding a deep gash that had covered his friend's face in blood.

Warm. Langly's skin was warm. Trembling, Mulder searched for a pulse.

"She's alive," Leah called. She was bent over Reyes, whose form was sprawled near a service door a few feet away.

Something in Mulder's gut told him that time was running out.


He looked up at Leah just in time to see the side door of the small garage swinging slowly shut. He sprang up and dashed toward it, catching it just before it closed.

"Come on!" He waved for her to join him.

The churn of helicopter blades mixed with the relentless howl of the wind. One craft seemed to be circling the grounds. The other craft was obviously landing. A plume of reddish dust rose over the roof of the Center.

"What about your friends?" Leah shouted.

"Hold the door," he replied, when the helicopter whirled away from them. Choking on dust, he dragged first Reyes, then Langly through the open door of the cinderblock building, laying them on the cool tile of a dim hallway.

"God, it's freezing in here," Leah whispered, pulling the door shut behind them.

Mulder knelt and took Reyes' hand, checking her pulse. "We need to hide them somewhere until we can get some help."

She knelt next to Langly, examining his wounds. "He needs a doctor. Now."

"We don't have a doctor now," Mulder said, his voice thick with frustration. "Goddammit - we've got to find the boys."

"What are we going to do? We can't leave them to die."

He stood. "If someone had wanted them dead, they would be."

"That's very convenient, don't you thin-"

"Shh." Mulder walked quietly to the end of the hall. He flattened himself against the wall and peered cautiously through the door. All that he could tell about the room that lay beyond was that it was dark, frigid, and so silent that, for a moment, he was tempted to assume they were alone.

"What's in there?"

"Shh." He raised his hand. The silence beyond the door was not quite as complete as he'd originally thought. Somewhere in the icy recess beyond the hallway, a voice was calling out, its tone strident enough to twist his stomach into a knot the minute his ears detected it.

Leah had joined him by then. "Mulder, where do you think we should look for -"

He reached back and laid a finger on her lips, silencing her. "Hear that?" he whispered.

She frowned and shook her head.

"Screaming," he mouthed. The knot in his stomach got heavier. He drew a labored breath. "Stay here."

"Mul-" she began.

"Quiet," he hissed. He pulled a fire extinguisher from its mounting on the wall. "Lock that," he told her, pointing to the exterior door they'd just come through. "If anyone comes in-" he handed her the extinguisher.

Leah's mouth settled into a hard, thin line. She nodded her understanding. "Okay."

He gave her hand a quick squeeze. "I'll be back." He hurried through the door.

The temperature dropped a good ten degrees on the other side of the threshold. The air was so damp it seemed almost sticky. Shrill and hysterical, the voice rang out again, shouting some unintelligible phrase, the end of which swelled into a long, muffled scream. The tone of the voice was vaguely metallic, almost as if the owner of the voice had been stuffed into a tin can.

It was also unmistakably female.

The knot in Mulder's stomach drew tighter.

He rounded a parked maintenance cart. A white panel truck, light spilling from its open back, sat parked in the center of the room. Long shadows lurched away from the truck, stretching high into the eaves and across the chilly floor. Mulder held his breath, stooping and pressing his body against the cart.

Another long shriek pierced the quiet.

For a moment, Mulder froze, shocked into stillness by the desperation in the cry. Then he took a cautious step forward. His boot slid. He nearly fell. An acrid, familiar smell rose as he raised his foot, looking to see what he'd slipped in. Even in the poor light he could see the green ooze clinging to the bottom of his boot. It was already starting to eat away at his sole.

Heart racing, he squinted at the floor. A long film of slime was still bubbling.

The voice screamed again.

Mulder spun. This time the source of the voice was unmistakable. The voice was coming from inside the truck.

Skirting the green mess in front of him, Mulder edged toward the truck, flattened himself against its paneled side, crept slowly toward the square of light shining against the far wall.

He stumbled on something, looked down, then all around.

There were bodies lying everywhere.

Men in white coveralls lay scattered on the floor between the back of the truck and an open door in the wall of the garage. Mulder covered his nose and mouth to shut out the stench of blood. He didn't need to touch the men to know that they were dead.


Every hair on Mulder's body stood at attention.

Skirting a second puddle of slime, he made his way quickly up the loading ramp and stepped into the back of the truck. The interior walls were splattered with blood. Fighting the urge to retch, Mulder stepped over a tiny, headless corpse in a white lab coat, pushed his way past an elaborate wheelchair filled with a substance that looked a lot like hamburger.


She was weeping, pleading, begging for mercy. A moan tore through Mulder's body. No, he thought, not like this, not like this...

"Oh my god," she raved. "Oh my god, no!"

"Scully." He didn't realize he was speaking until he heard his own voice rising to join hers. "Oh my god, no."


He froze, staring numbly at the scattered clamps and scalpels, the knot in his stomach slowly turning into a heavy, searing pain.

"Scu-" he began, but he choked on her name.

She was naked. Restrained. Writhing in stirrups under a harsh white light.

Mulder closed his eyes.

She cried out. "Who's there?"

Raising his eyes from the floor, he forced himself to look toward the back of the compartment.

"Dammit, answer me..."

She sounded so frightened.

"Say something, dammit!" Terror stretched the upper ranges of her voice until it was barely recognizable. "I know you're still here. Where are you?"

Mulder wrapped his arms around himself, hugging his belly in agony.

She was here. She was alive.

Why couldn't he go to her?

"You son of a bitch," she sobbed. "Come back."

Come back, she was crying. Don't leave me here.

He took an unsteady step toward the bed and slipped in a pool of blood. He grabbed a metal cart to keep from falling, sending medical instruments clattering to the floor.

Scully flinched. She jerked her head back and forth, fighting the band that restrained it. "...son of a bitch..." she slurred. "...if you're gonna kill me too then just get it over with..."

He moved closer and forced himself to look at her face.

One year and one week ago, Scully had worn a sweet, sleepy smile. All she had wanted then was soft, clean cotton, a cold drink, a few hours of sleep.

All she had wanted was some time to herself.

Now her eyes were shut tight, her teeth clenched, her brow furrowed in agony. He wanted so badly to speak to her, but found he couldn't. What had gone through her mind, he wondered, when she'd lain alone in bed after his disappearance? Had she really thought he'd abandoned her? Would she spit in his face when he appeared at her bedside?

He bent toward her, bringing his face close to hers. Even the heavy smell of her fear could not hide the familiar scent of her body. He paused for a long moment, breathing her in. "Scully," he finally murmured. "Honey, it's me."

"Mul-? " Her eyes slid open and she stared at him for a wild second. Then her lids closed tightly again. "No. No, go away."

The fire in Mulder's belly blazed hot. He tried to swallow, but his mouth had gone dry. Do something, he told himself. You've got to get her out of here.

Feeling numb, he reached for the nearest restraint and began to unbuckle it.

Scully's eyes opened again. Misty and glazed, they settled on his face. Her breathing was ragged. A film of fear lay over her features. "Mulder?" she whispered.

"Yeah, it's me." He circled the bed, reaching for another cuff. The strap fell away, and he lifted her arm and laid it across her abdomen, taking in the bruises on her wrists, the clammy feel of her skin, the ridges of gooseflesh that covered her body. "We don't have much time, honey," he choked out. "Do you think you can walk?"

"Mulder..." she muttered. "'s...oh my god..."

"Shh, it'll be okay." The headstrap was buckled so tightly the stiff nylon had cut her flesh. Mulder cursed softly as he freed her.

Scully raised her head as the strap came away. "Thank you," she whispered, then a low, tearing noise came from her body, a long, wavering cry like an animal dying. Mulder couldn't tell if she was laughing or crying.

"It's okay," he said, the words meant to soothe them both. Heart racing, he kept working. A sheet was folded on a chair near the bed. He grabbed it and covered her, then set to freeing her feet.

Don't see the stirrups, he told himself. Don't see the clamps. Don't notice all that gear on the table, and don't think about the reason the table is parked between her knees. Focus, he told himself. Keep a clear head.

He shut his eyes tightly for a moment, taking a deep breath to calm himself, and then began gingerly removing clamps from her labia. She moaned and her legs began to tremble. "It's okay, honey," he quavered, "we're almost there..."

Focus, he told himself, don't think about this. You don't have a chance unless you keep yourself together.

All at once Scully's legs went rigid in the stirrups. "Nice one, guys..." she shouted, wrapping her arms around her body and twisting, trying to sit up. Mulder realized with horror that the noise she had been making was, in fact, a bitter kind of laughter.

"...first you drag Billy Miles out of mothballs to go boom boom boom and now you send *him*..."

"Scully, it's me," Mulder repeated, trying to keep his voice calm. "Really. Please. You have to be quiet. I don't know if we're alone."

"Not by a long shot, buddy," she said, rolling onto her back and looking him straight in the eye. Her voice dropped to an exaggerated whisper. "Trust me."

There were wire leads piercing the delicate skin of her chest. Mulder winced as he pulled each one free. "Scully, the people who hurt you - I think they're all dead."

She laughed again.

"Do you know who killed them?"

"You know who." Her eyes rolled back in her head. "You bastard."

Mulder felt the blood drain from his face.

Her eyes had closed again. He patted her cheek. "You've got to stay awake."

"'s the drugs, Mu - " Her eyes flew wide again, and she stared at him in shock, as if she couldn't believe she was saying his name. "The IV," she muttered.

He took her hand, peeled away the tape, and slowly removed the IV tube. "There," he said, twining his fingers with hers and watching her blood rise up, slowly pooling inside the tiny hole the tube had left behind. "I wonder if there's something for you to wear; a gown, or -"

He stopped, still holding Scully's hand. There was a hard, yellow glint inches from the red smear: a familiar band of gold, he realized, still circling the ring finger of her left hand.

The one that matched his.

Seemed he *was* taken, after all.

Placing both hands on the gurney so he wouldn't fall, he allowed his body to crumple, laying his head gently between her breasts, listening to the slow thump of her heart.

She stroked his hair as he wept. "It *is* you, isn't it?" she whispered. "It's you. Where have you be-"

"Mulder!" A low, urgent call rang out from the other end of the compartment. "Where are you?"

Mulder raised his head, meeting Scully's gaze, shaking his head in wordless anguish and tracing her mouth with his fingertips.

"What are you doing, Mulder? We have to hurry." He could hear Leah coming up the ramp. "They're at the door. We have to find a way out!"

"Don't come in!" He helped Scully to an unsteady sitting position.

"Mulder," Scully said softly, and her eyes were both brighter and more frightened than they'd been a moment before. "We have to hide. Billy Miles is here somewhere..."

"I know," he said. He pulled off his shirt and slipped it over her head. "Here."

"They were screaming," she murmured, pushing her arms through the sleeves. "He stood by my bed and he was telling me something...I can't remember exactly what."

"I'll hold them off as long as I can!" Leah's footsteps rumbled back down the ramp. "Come on!"

He lifted Scully from the table and set her on her feet. "I'll hold you up. Just do the best you can..."

"Mulder, wait." Scully slumped against him. He wrapped his arms around her. She'd lost weight, and she was pale, so pale.

"It was about our son," she said, laying her head on his chest. "He was talking about William. Mulder, I think something terrible is about to happen."


Mulder swept Scully into his arms and quickly made his way to the back of the truck. He glanced down at her as they arrived at the top of the loading ramp and the look on her face stopped him in his tracks.


Her eyes roamed his features like she wanted to devour him. "Where have you been?" she rasped.

"Mulder!" Leah's voice came from the hallway. Something heavy struck the outside door.

He pulled her closer. "God, Scully, it's a long st-"

The pounding grew louder.

"Mulder, NOW!" Leah shouted, her voice echoing throughout the room.

"I'll explain everything later," he told her, brushing his lips against her hair. "We have to go."

At the bottom of the ramp he set Scully on her feet, and, wrapping his arm around her waist, helped her toward the hallway. "Oh my God," she murmured, looking down at the bodies scattered across the floor. "How did Billy-?"

Mulder didn't want to think about it, didn't want to know, didn't want to wonder whether Ray and Dee had been smiling when they'd taken all those lives. He didn't want Scully to think about it, either. "Billy isn't working alone," he said curtly.

There was a sickening crunch as the side door began to give way. Leah moved toward them, still clutching the fire extinguisher. "They're coming in," she barked, running backwards, her eyes on the crumpling door.

She stopped short just inches from where Mulder and Scully stood and spun abruptly around. Staring open- mouthed at Scully, she raised her eyes to Mulder's in silent question.

Mulder looked quickly from one woman to the other, wondering what needed to be said. "Um, Scully, this is Leah. Leah, Scully." The crunch of buckling metal drowned out his last syllable. "We have to get out of here."

"And go where?" Leah turned her back to them, brandishing the fire extinguisher defensively.

He scanned the room. On the far side, obscured from view by idling tow-motors and hastily abandoned equipment, Mulder spotted a studded-steel door with rounded corners, set into a steel frame about nine inches above the floor. Instead of a knob, there was a wheel at its center, making it look like it belonged on a ship or a submarine.

"Over there. Leah, come on!" He ran, pulling Scully behind him, just as the side door gave way. A harsh voice ordered them to stop, but Mulder kept running, half-dragging Scully through a macabre maze of discarded machinery and broken bodies.

Leah shouted like a battle-hardened warrior. There was the 'whoosh' of a fire extinguisher cutting loose, and the sound of men cursing and howling in pain. Mulder pulled the wheel on the heavy door and it swung open with surprising ease. He scooped Scully up, and, having nothing to trust but his instincts, lifted her over the threshold and into the darkness on the other side.

"Mulder," Scully panted as he set her gently on the cold floor, "what the hell is going on?"

"I have no idea," he answered, breathlessly. "But I'm pretty sure it isn't good."

"Mulder!" There was a loud metallic clang as a fire extinguisher crashed to the floor, then the thrum of Leah's shoes as she ran across the cement.

Mulder turned and reached for her. "Leah!"

A dark figure stumbled toward her, wiping its eyes.

"Hurry!" He extended his arm further, preparing to catch her hand.

Suddenly, and seemingly of its own volition, the door slammed shut, leaving Leah on the other side, plunging Mulder and Scully into eerie, silent darkness.

"What the fuck?" Mulder's harsh whisper echoed in the chilly air. He pushed on the door, slammed against it, pounded his fist on its smooth, uninterrupted surface. "Leah! Dammit, goddammit...Leah!"

"Mulder, wait." Scully's ragged voice came to him through the darkness. "Here, I think I found. . ."

The chamber was suddenly flooded with brilliant white light.

Squinting against the glare, Mulder inspected the door, looking for some way to open it. There was no knob, no latch, no wheel on this side. The door had obviously been designed with one-way traffic in mind.

"Where are we?" Scully asked, her voice filled with apprehension. "What is this place?"

He turned away from her, from the door, and looked around. They stood on a shiny pressed-metal platform at one end of a high-ceilinged, narrow room. The room itself wasn't very big - Mulder estimated that it was perhaps one hundred feet long and maybe six feet wide, more of a hallway than anything else. The floor was painted glossy white, and a covered drain about a foot wide ran down the center of the room. Tiny halogen lights were set into the ceiling, casting harsh white light onto every reflective surface. Row after row of gleaming stainless steel pipes lined the walls, making the whole room look like a post-modern log pile or a long, thin house of mirrors.

There appeared to be no way out.

"Fuck!" Mulder smacked his hand against the cold white railing in frustration.

Leah was as good as dead. His sons were gone. He'd rescued Scully from one trap only to deliver her to another.

He closed his eyes, his heart thudding madly against his ribs. A strange tingling pressure was building in the back of his head, and with it came a crushing sense of failure, of futility. Of defeat.

It was over.

But. . .no.

No, he thought, shaking off his despair. No, dammit, no.

Everything will be as has been written, he thought. Apparently, *this* was his destiny. This was where he belonged. There was nothing he could do but what had to be done.

But he'd sacrificed too much for this to be the end.

"Mulder." Scully placed her hand over his. Her voice sounded even weaker now, thinner, tinged with desperation. "They'll come through that door next."

As if to illustrate her point, the door thrummed as some buzzing thing slammed into it.

"I know." Pulling himself upright, Mulder took her hand, brought it to his mouth, brushed her cold knuckles with his dry lips. "So we have to go."

"But Mulder, it doesn't look like -"

"Looks can be deceiving," he said, with a brief smile. "Come on."

Something struck the door again. It rattled. The stairs shook as they ran down them, and when they reached the bottom, they found that the white floor was humming, vibrating so intensely they could barely stay on their feet.

"Shit!" Mulder quickened their pace. "I don't think the battering ram is doing this."

The floor shook harder.

"Mulder -"

The hum turned into a roar, drowning out Scully's words.

Then suddenly, everything was still.

"Jesus!" Mulder stopped dead, pulling Scully close.

"What's happening?" she whispered.

"I don't- "

Something wet hit his forehead.

"Oh god. Mulder..." Scully stared up at him, wide- eyed.

His nostrils filled with a dark, familiar aroma. He reached up, touched something slick and sticky on his forehead.

"Oh shit."

He looked up. Black oil oozed from the light fixture above them.




Then the roar came again, driving them forward. Mulder threw Scully over his shoulder in a fireman's carry, and ran for their lives.

Pipes trembled and shook, hissed and cracked. Suddenly the Oil was everywhere - a black tide seeping from the halogen fixtures, dripping from the ceiling, spraying from the pipes. It oozed down walls and across the floor, sliding and squirming toward the drain.

Squirming very deliberately toward the drain.

"Shit!" Mulder slipped, lost his balance, tumbled into an inky, writhing puddle. Rearing to his knees, he jerked Scully from the floor and swiped at a tendril of oil that was clinging to her cheek.

The oil slid from his fingertips and skittered away.

"Mulder!" Scully tugged at his hand, pointing to the end of the room. A wall had crumbled, exposing a round, narrow passage. Mulder's first thought was that it looked like a human-sized Habitrail. His second thought was that they had found their escape route.

"Come on." He pulled her hurriedly to her feet and together they slipped and slid forward to the opening in the wall.

He pushed Scully into the narrow passage ahead of him. "Go!" he shouted.

The passage was faintly lit, but Mulder couldn't tell where the light was coming from. The tunnel twisted and turned, seeming, at times, to double back on itself, but always ramping gently upward. It was difficult to gauge how far they'd actually traveled. The rumbling grew fainter the further they went, and after a short while, all Mulder could hear was their scuffling footsteps, their panted breaths, and the roar of blood rushing past his ears.

And then -

Mulder stopped, pulling Scully to a stop with him. He thought he was hearing a faint whispering sound, much like the one he'd heard this morning, in the store. He turned and peered behind them, fearing they'd been followed, but the sound wasn't coming from behind them, or in front of them. It was coming, he thought, from everywhere.

He shook his head, dizzy with the vibration. "Do you hear that?"

The sound intensified, becoming a buzz, then a hum.

"Yes, I hear it," she said. "It's residual - from the noise before. It's like an after-image, Mulder, it's -"

"No. Not that. Listen."

The humming swelled, developed rhythm, melody, harmony. Voices began to sing, seemingly miles away, but drawing closer.

It was a chorus, he realized. A chorus of thousands.

A flash of pain ripped through Mulder's brain. Before he could even clutch his head in agony, the pain receded, and suddenly he could hear the music perfectly. He could feel it in the marrow of his bones, reach out and touch it, if he wanted. It was a song of praise, a hymn, an anthem, its reverberation so clear he knew the radio of his mind had finally found the frequency it had sought so long.

He was hearing the truth.

'My true believers fare ye well, fare ye well, fare ye well...'

Mulder wanted to stop and listen, to let the truth wash through him. He tried telling his feet to stop, tried telling his legs to be still, but his body seemed to have lost the capacity to obey his brain. All they could do was go forward, now. They had to. The time was at hand.

'Let him lead his people home! Hallelujah!'

Mulder stumbled. He could feel a surge of energy at his back now. Their purpose, their fate, their destination had suddenly become so clear...

Scully spoke, but she sounded a hundred miles away. "Mulder, I can't keep-"

The passage brightened, the dim light taking on a pinkish cast, air swirling before his eyes like an ocean made of wine. The chorus kept singing, the melody shifting:

'Who will come and go with me, I'm bound for the land of Canaan. Fair Canaan is the land to see, I'm bound for the land of Canaan...'

"Mulder, that sound-"

"Yes," he murmured, increasing their pace. He had moved ahead of her, and was pulling her along beside him now.

The song changed, the melody morphing strangely, voices rising in intricate harmony:

'Hear the mournful thunder Roll from door to door, Calling home God's children, Get home by an' by...'

He tugged her around another tight corner and there, at the end of the passage, he saw faint beams of light, dropping like rope from the ceiling. "This way, Scully. Hurry."

"Mulder!" Her voice was sharp, terrified. She tugged his wrist, pulling with both her hands, reining him back, like she was digging her heels into the earth. "Mulder, stop! God, stop-"

"We can't." He jerked his arm, pulling her forward, and ran, his lungs straining for air. "I can't."

"Mulder, please! Stop!!" Scully strained against him.

But Mulder still ran, sweeping her along in his wake.

There was no time to waste. No time to explain.

There was a colossal clap of thunder and a roar, like a freight-train was barreling toward them. The floor beneath their feet shook.

The ropes of light grew thicker, more distinct as the roaring swelled. They reached the end of the passage. Above them, a wooden cellar-style door rattled on its hinges, violet light spilling in around its edges and leaking through its many cracks and crevices. There was another roar of thunder, then a flash of lightning and mad rattling of the door.

There wasn't time to talk, but he had to tell her, had to make sure there was no doubt, and never would be. Cradling her face in his hands, he pressed his lips to hers. It began as a gentle kiss, but as grief, horror, regret, and a dozen other emotions waved through him, he realized it was an act of contrition, too.

When the kisses ended, she pressed her lips to his bare chest. Then she reached up, wound her arms around his neck, and gave him a look so full of love that his heart ached for them both, for all they had lost, for all they would lose. "Mulder," she said, "when we get home, when we get out of-"

He enfolded her once again, giving silent thanks he'd had the chance to see her one more time. His voice was faint, perhaps too faint for her to hear, but he told her anyway. "I'm not getting out of this, Scully. Not this time."

Scarcely believing what he was doing, he let her go and reached for the door handle.

"Mulder, you can't go out there!" Scully grabbed him by his upper arms and shook him. In the hazy purple light he could see the terror in her eyes. "Do you hear that? There's a tornado out there. What the hell are you trying to do? Get us killed?"

"I have to go, Scully. The boys need me."

"'Boys?'" She caught his hand. "Mulder, what do you mean, 'boys?'"

He opened his mouth to answer, just as the door blew open under the force of the gale. Mulder threw Scully to the ground, shielding her body and crying out as the heavy wood smashed against them.

Then he was on his feet again, moving toward the open door. The air outside was an eerie shade of purple. Sand-devils spiraled by, fast and getting faster.

"No!" Scully seized his arm.

He turned and looked into her face. She gazed at him resolutely, her eyes wide and frightened, but her jaw set with determination. "I have to," he shouted over the roar of the wind. He brought her palm to his lips and planted a firm kiss there. "Stay here."

"No," She shook her head defiantly and took one step away from him. "I'm coming with you."

"Scully, I-"

She put he hand in his. "Don't let go," she said.


Mulder clung to Scully's hand, bracing them against the tearing wind and the shaking ground. The storm seemed muffled, as if it were very far away, not swirling around them in violent rust-colored spirals. The smell of oil and ozone hung heavy in the air.

"Where the hell-?" Mulder squinted into the distance, trying to get his bearings. Between clouds of sand and the half-light of late evening, it was difficult to see much of anything, but they seemed to be in a depression of some sort, a vaguely circular hole. The earth slanted gently upward and away from them for a good distance, and then shot suddenly and sharply upward, forming an almost vertical wall. Mulder had the impression that they were standing at the bottom of a very large, very unsteady soup bowl.

"Oh my god." Scully turned to face him. "Mulder, I've been here before."

Mulder moved in close, trying to shield her from blowing sand. "You have?"

She nodded and pushed wind-whipped hair back from her face. "When I was thirteen, my family stopped here on the way to the Grand Canyon and took the tour." She pointed into the distance. "See that jagged white line over there? That's a mule track from an old mining operation."

"Mining?" Mulder lifted his hand to his eyes, squinting. His eyeballs felt dry and gritty, as if someone had replaced his eyelids with sandpaper, but he could just make out a faint zig-zag in the distance. "What kind of mining?"

"Silica," she said, reciting from memory. "Before that, iron." She peered around them, her brow furrowed in confusion. "Mulder, we're at the bottom of the Barringer Meteor Crater."

"Barring- "

Before he could finish, Scully's grip on his forearms tightened. She was looking straight up. "Mulder, the sky. . ."

Mulder looked up.

Directly above them, the first stars of the evening glittered in the cloudless sky. Lower, however, at the rim of the crater, a ring of churning, lightning- spiked clouds raced around and around, like an apocalyptic merry-go-round. It was like standing at the center of a centrifuge, or. . .


"The storm, Scully," he said, realization dawning. Wrapping a protective arm around her shoulders, he drew her closer. "We're in the eye of the storm."

"'The One looked into the Void and saw nothing. And the One said, "Let the Void be filled."'"

"Wha-" Mulder cast about for the source of the voice.

"'And the One was made Two. Then the One looked into the Void and saw only itself. And the One said, "Let there be more." And the Two were made Many.'"

About twenty feet in front of them, where there had been nothing just moments before, there was a wide, flat rock. A figure stood on top of it, brandishing a long, thin knife that glinted in the light of the setting sun.

The figure raised its arms to the sky. "'And the Many went into the Void, seeking to fill it with the One and the Many.'"

Scully's grip tightened. "Mulder, is that-"

The earth trembled. Mulder felt that strange pressure at his back again, the irresistible impulse to move forward at all costs. Fighting against it with all his might, he stepped cautiously forward, pulling Scully behind him, shielding her body with his own. "Yeah," he said. "It's Billy Miles."

"No Mulder, not Billy," the figure on the rock spoke in a familiar tone of patient correction. "We are William now, for our name is our father's father's."

"Right," Mulder said, keeping his eyes on Billy's, careful to make no sudden moves. Holding his hands palms-up in front of him, fingers spread in a deliberate gesture of supplication and appeasement, Mulder took a few more careful steps. Nice mad dog, he thought. Nice crazy fucking bastard mad dog. He and Scully inched slowly forward.

A bolt of lighting tore through the circling clouds, a groan of thunder followed and the earth shook. The scent of oil grew thicker, stronger.

"'The Many went into the Void," Billy intoned, "'and filled the empty places. The One looked into the Void and saw that it was good.'"

"Okay, Bill. We're here. Now what hap-"

Mulder stopped.

Something at Billy's feet had moved.

Oh god, Mulder thought, moving to block Scully's view. Oh god, no.

The something at Billy's feet moved again, resolving first into two separate somethings, then into two small human figures.

A jolt of foreboding charged through Mulder, followed by the shock of sudden clarity.

Billy was standing over his boys. On an altar. With a knife.

Nothing came with out a price, Sophie had told him.

And all would be as had been written.

Behind him, Scully let out a sudden, sharp gasp. "Oh my god!" She pushed past Mulder and moved toward the stone. "William?!"

"Scully!" Reaching out, his fingertips brushed her shoulder, but she twisted away from his grasp. "Scully, stop!"

Billy held his hands aloft, ignoring them, and continued his chanting. "'In that time, the Many spread, taking the One to all the empty places. In the days of Dul'usahn, the Many came to a new land, and sought to fill it. But a cry went up to the One. 'This is not our land, and these are not our people.'"

"William!" She charged toward the rock again.

Mulder knew he had to stop her, but his whole body felt like it had been filled with molten lead, hot and heavy and searing. "Scul-!"

The earth gave a violent jerk. Scully stumbled, lost her balance, and lurched to one side. That was all the opening Mulder needed. He snared her arm and held on tight, yanking her back. "No, Scully."

Scully's eyes flashed at him as she struggled. "Jesus Christ Mulder, he's got William! And that other child! He's got a knife! Let go of me!"

He strengthened his grip. "Scully, no."

"'And the One spoke into the Void," Billy continued, "'and told the Many to leave that land untouched and those people undisturbed. But the Many called to the one saying, 'We cannot leave, for we are held here, enslaved.'"

"William!" Scully screamed, her eyes wild with pain and panic. She turned on Mulder, trying desperately to push him away. "Mulder, let go, he's got our son!"

"No." Mulder wrapped his arms around her, fighting to pin her flailing body to his, cradling her head against his chest so she wouldn't have to see. It was enough that she was standing here, bearing witness as had been written.

"No!" Despite her weakened state, Scully fought back, becoming a wild animal in Mulder's arms, kicking and cursing, writhing and snarling.

He held her close, whispering into the crown of her head, knowing she wouldn't understand, couldn't understand, knowing his words would be like poison poured into her ears. "Every choice we've ever made, Scully, every decision we've ever come to, every time we've gone left instead of right, forward instead of back, every breath, every heartbeat, has led us here."

"'And the One said, 'The storm shall be called, and it shall carry you home.'"

"You aren't Mulder!" she growled, thrashing against his hold. "You can't be Mulder! Now let me go!"

Mulder held her tight, swaying almost instinctively from foot to foot in a futile effort to comfort her, to comfort himself. He grazed her forehead with his lips, sure it would be the last time he kissed her. "I'm sorry, Scully." In spite of the sincerity of his words, he nearly choked on them. "I'm so sorry, but it has to be this way."

Their struggle had brought them close to the rock. Scully feinted left, twisted right, and braced her feet against the base of the stone, pushing back, trying to unbalance him. "Let go of me, you bastard! William!"

But then she stopped struggling, staring at the children on the rock. "Two?" she murmured. "There are two?"

The boys looked up from their play, frowning puzzled little frowns, as if they'd suddenly become aware of Mulder and Scully's presence.

"Dada!" one of them called and smiled.

"Mama!" the other said, waving the object they'd been playing with.

Mulder felt the blood draining from his face, from his heart.

Will held a sand dollar, perfectly round, white as bleached bone.

Another bolt of lightning tore across the sky. The smell of oil had become so thick in the air that Mulder could barely breathe.


With one final burst of determined effort, Scully drove her elbow up and into Mulder's gut. He doubled over in pain and surprise, clutching his middle. Free of his grasp, Scully launched herself at the rock. Gasping for air, Mulder reached out, hoping to snag the hem of her shirt and bring her down. Instead, some unseen force hurled Scully back at him as if she were a rag-doll. Her body slammed into Mulder's, driving all the air from his lungs. Mulder let out an agonized howl as his shoulder snapped back too far and unhinged, and the two of them fell to the ground.

Scully tried to scramble to her feet, but the same force that had pushed her back was now holding them both down. Cursing, she struggled vainly for a few moments, until the last ounce of her energy was spent.

Mulder gasped, biting his lip. The pain in his shoulder was almost more than he could bear. "We knew, Scully," he rasped. "We knew when he was born that he wasn't an ordinary child."

"No," she wept, "No no no no."

"I think he-" Mulder stifled a moan, trying to force his brain to function when it was far beyond reason. "-I think *they* were ours to love, Scully, but not to keep."

Billy held a long iron blade in his hand. Its reddish surface was dull with age, but the blade had been freshly honed. He raised his arms, looking toward Mulder, his gaze strangely intimate.

"'And yea, they went into Utgeam," he said, "which is in the land of Avenda, where they remained for a time, as was told unto them.'" For a moment, something like emotion flickered behind his blank eyes. The he took the left hand of the boy standing to his left. He turned Will's hand palm up, baring the pale, tender skin of the boys' wrist.

Hot tears stinging his eyes, Mulder pulled Scully closer, hissing as pain shot through his shoulder and radiated outward. "Don't look, Scully. Please, don't..."

"'And they entered there, clean and whole, and awaited Rhulak, whose coming was foretold.'" Billy smiled at the child and the boy smiled back, trusting and unafraid.

Mulder tried to look away, but found he couldn't. As much as it sickened him, he knew that he had been born to bear witness to this act, to observe this sacrifice. Scully tensed against him and let out an anguished sob. Please let it be over, Mulder begged silently, his empty heart slowing to a listless thump. Please let it end.

Billy drew the knife gently across the child's palm.

William stared at the blood in fascination. Billy knelt next to him, holding the bleeding wound over the pristine sand dollar.

"Me now!" The boy on the right held up his left hand and Billy patiently lowered it, taking the right instead. Mulder winced as the blade struck, gashing the fleshy heel of the child's tiny hand. Will's eyes went wide, but he seemed too mesmerized by the blood rising up and flowing out of his wound to pay much attention to the pain.

The rock began to tremble, tiny cracks opening up in its smooth surface. It glistened in the half-light, grew dark then darker, shiny and slick as oil oozed from the fissures and pooled at its base.

Billy closed his eyes, still kneeling between the boys. He clasped his hands in prayer, the bloodstained knife nestled between them.

"This is not our land, Mulder," he said, his gaze intent on the sky. "And these are not our people."

Mulder struggled to move. "I know, Bill," he choked out.

Billy raised the knife. "We are going home."

"Doh home," William said.

"Doh home," his brother echoed.

Mulder sniffed, unsurprised to find his face wet with tears. He nodded. "Love you, Will. Go home, buddy."

In the space between Mulder's next two heartbeats, Scully stiffened in his arms and whimpered softly; William and William, grinning their toothy baby grins, waved bye-bye; a streak of lightning and a blast of thunder ripped across the sky; and Billy Miles, smiling the blissful, terrifying smile Mulder had come to know and hate, slit his throat from ear to ear.

Scully gasped and made a desperate lunge toward the boys but Mulder held her, watching as one by one Billy's fingers uncurled, allowing the knife to clatter to the ground. Drenched in his own blood, Billy leaned over the sand dollar, the gash in his throat spurting crimson.

Blood met blood.

The storm broke free, no longer held at bay on the lip of the crater, and contracted around them, closing in, engulfing them.

"William!" Scully wrenched herself free and crawled onto the rock, scrambling on her belly like a commando.

"Scully!" Mulder threw himself after her, grabbing for her feet and forgetting his injury. He yowled, cringing against the pain, but forced himself to keep crawling.

"Scully!" Mulder dragged himself across the fractured surface of the rock, through the sticky oil that was seeping from its every crevice. Blinded and battered by blowing sand, he scanned left and right, searching for Scully, for his sons. Fat, slug-like clots of oil slithered up and over his body, covering him like a living, liquid blanket of night.

Billy still stood in the center of the stone, arms outstretched, face lifted skyward, gazing into the storm.

Smiling. Still smiling.

"Scully!" Mulder screamed, his own voice lost in the howling wind. "William!"

Something made him reach for the bloodied sand dollar at Billy's feet. Lifting it, he held it up, offering it to the storm. Oil snakes slithered up his arm, coiling and writhing toward his outstretched hand.

A bolt of lightning shot down, struck the shell and splintered it, sent fragments flying in all directions. Mulder jerked his hand away with a howl. Fragments fell into the whirlwind and ignited it, brilliant color spreading throughout the spiral, flashes of light, color, and song spitting back at him.

In moments, the whole storm glowed, sang, burned from within.

The funnel tightened, loops of golden energy coiling and twisting at its center. The vacuum it created sucked up dust and sand and debris, somehow simultaneously pinning Mulder to the earth. Billy's lifeless body jerked, shot up, spun madly in the center of the storm, then exploded in an electric rain of sparks and color.

The rock beneath Mulder convulsed, heaved, shuddered, then crumbled and collapsed in on itself. Mulder landed on a jagged shard of stone that bit into his left shoulder blade, setting off another scream of pain. The ground under him throbbed, then pulsed, and Mulder, finding himself unable to move, was suddenly wet with oil, then immersed in oil, then sputtering, sinking, drowning. Black threads of oil rose around him, one by one, merging and growing, becoming streamers, then ropes, then endless glistening black pillars and columns, drawn up and up and up into the storm.

It seemed to last forever - for an age and a millennia and several pain-laden eternities. Mulder lay immobile, unable to do so much as close his eyes. He wondered, for a thousand years of agony or so, if he was going to die. His next thought was that he had already died, and perhaps was just waiting for his turn to fly up and fall apart.

Then the chaos stopped.

The storm was gone. The stars were gone. The sky was gone.

There was nothing but nothing.

Oh my god, he thought. Oh my god, *yes*.

Mulder looked into the Void, into the eye of the One.

The One looked back.

And the One was sorry. Very, very sorry.

Mulder blinked, once, twice, and found it utterly exhausting. He tried to remember which muscles he'd need to lick his dry lips, but drew a blank. His shoulder seemed to be the only part of his body with any desire to do anything, and all it wanted to do was throb.

It's okay, he told the One. Apology accepted.

Just don't come back.

Just don't ever-

"Dada!" A small voice interrupted his half-formed thoughts.

"Will?!" Mulder tried to speak but all that came out was a dusty croak.

"Dada?" A small familiar face came into Mulder's line of vision, blocking out all the endless nothing above him. Brow knit with concern, William frowned. "Tay, dada?"

"Fine," Mulder whispered. "Your mom?"

A second familiar face came into frame. "Shhhh," the second child brought a finger to his lips. "Mama seep."

A whirring noise caught his attention. Helicopter, he thought, and filed the information away.

"Is she okay?" Mulder rasped.

"Mama seep," the child repeated. "Shhhhhhhh!"

"Billy doh home," the first boy said, smiling happily.

"Ray doh home. Dee doh 'way," the other added. He threw up his hands. "All done!"

"Yeah," Mulder agreed. "All done."

Everything was as had been written, he supposed.

The helicopters were getting closer. Someone would find the boys, he thought. Someone would find Scully. Someone might even find him and hell, he might even live long enough to be found.

William reached down and patted Mulder's broken shoulder. "Owee?"

"Big owee," Mulder said. It hurt like hell but he couldn't even flinch.

William puzzled over this a moment, then knelt next to his father. His brother did the same.

"Doh seep, Dada." One boy leaned over and planted a wet kiss on Mulder's cheek. He laid his head on Mulder's chest.

A voice boomed through a megaphone, but the words were indistinct and formless, a jumble of sounds without meaning.

His other son laid his head on Mulder's chest. "Night night, dada. Night night."

Mulder used his final ounce of energy to blink up at the sky.

The stars were back, twinkling in the sweet, dry air.



Langly set her suitcase and laptop down in the hallway. "No way."

"Way." Monica opened her purse and started picking through it, looking for her keys. "It's not a curse, it's a virus. And apparently ... " She gave her purse a shake, but didn't hear the expected rattle. "You should have seen the CDC guy's face when I told him why I was there."

Langly chuckled. "I bet."

Ordering her brain to stop imagining her key ring on a cafe table somewhere in Port Au Prince, Monica wiggled her fingers towards the bottom of the bag, and sighed. "I think I put my keys in my suitcase."

Langly leaned against the wall and shoved his hands into his pockets, looking amused and decidedly smug. "You think?"

She felt herself flush. "Or...not?"

He laughed gently. "I put them on your bureau. They wouldn't have been safe at my place." Digging deeper into his pocket, he pulled out a single key. "I have a hard enough time keeping track of this."

She watched him as he fit his key into the lock, reaching over and running her fingers once again through the newly cropped locks. "I can't get over it, Rich."

Langly had gotten a haircut while she was away. She'd already done all the appropriate ooing and ahhing at the airport, and he'd seemed pleased enough that she was pleased. Still, when she'd asked him why he'd done it, he'd refused to explain, muttering something half-assed about it being too hot for long hair. For her part, Monica would bet cold cash that there was more behind his decision to get a buzz cut than a little hot weather.

He jiggled the knob and turned the key. "Can't get over what?"

"You with no hair."

The door swung open. Dropping his key into his pocket, he turned back toward the hallway. "I have hair," he said, then ran his hand vigorously across the top of his head until every hair was standing on end. "Look. Just like Vanilla Ice."

"That's better," she said. "Not so preppy."

He smiled at her, shrugged. "Next week when I meet your folks, I'll comb it flat and they'll be none the wiser."

Ah. So there it was. She scooped up her laptop. "They're not going to care what your hair looks like."

He picked up her suitcase and strode into the apartment. "Maybe, maybe not. I'm not taking any chances."

Monica sighed, wondering if things could ever get back to normal, or whatever passed for normal these days. It had only been in the last couple of months that he'd finally quit brooding about their trip to Arizona, what they had or hadn't seen there, should or shouldn't have done. He'd been in intensive care for a week after the incident at the crater, and he'd had a hard time processing the fact that the battle was over, the danger passed. It had been hard to convince him that Billy Miles and his kind were really gone.

She wished, for probably the thousandth time since last July, that Langly had had the chance to say good-bye to Mulder, as she had. If he could have seen the tranquillity, the look of fulfillment on Mulder's face, she was sure Langly would have been able to make peace with the whole situation.

Passing from the hallway to the living room, she switched on a lamp and took a grateful breath of the cool, familiar air. Setting her laptop in a chair, she turned to Langly and held out her hand. "C'mere."

He dropped her suitcase with an unceremonious thud and slipped his arms around her waist, his mouth hungry on hers. Monica shivered with pleasure. It was good to know he'd missed her.

He pulled back, smiling. "Oh. I forgot. Here..."

"Hmmm?" Monica's brain was taking a few minutes to function. Langly reached into his back pocket, pulling out his wallet. He withdrew a small photograph, and handed it to her.

"What is-"

A wrinkled newborn baby gazed back at her from the photo, brilliant blue eyes wide and alert, toothless mouth open in a kind of crooked smile.

She turned the picture over. Scrawled in blue was: 'baby girl, 7 lbs. 5 oz. Born April 17. Mother and daughter doing fine. Father and brothers delirious.'

Monica knew the handwriting well - it filled line after line in the files she worked with every day.

She tried to swallow the lump that had suddenly formed in her throat. "Oh my god," she managed, at last. "Not a word for almost a year and now this? What else did he say? Was there a letter? How are they?"

He shrugged. "From the look of it, they're doing great. But there wasn't a letter or anything. Not even a return address on the envelope. Still laying low, I guess."

They regarded the picture together. "I wish they'd come home," Langly said quietly, after a few minutes.

"Me, too. But I understand why they haven't. They wanted a fresh start, and the chance of that happening here was pretty damned slim."

His arm tightened around her waist. "Yeah, yeah. I know. I just - they're on their own up there, you know? Anything could happen."

She turned toward him and laid her hand lightly on his shoulder. "There's nothing to be afraid of. Not anymore." She raised the picture and held it where Langly could see. "My god, just look at her. Do you think she'd be here if it wasn't true?"


"Make it slow," she whispered, her breath rushing against his ear. He pressed himself into her, relishing her heat, her moisture, the silken feeling of being inside her.

God, yes. He was a lucky, lucky man. He closed his eyes and tipped his hips forward again, sliding into her as slowly as his aching body would allow.

"Oh my god, Mulder," Scully moaned softly. "Oh my god, yes..."

He swirled the tip of his tongue across her lower lip. "Shhhh...we're still sleeping, right?"

She gave a languid smile and rocked against him. " god, don't stop."

"Yes ma'am." Increasing their tempo, he tried to make his strokes even and deliberate. Keeping himself in check was damned tricky so early in the day, but he figured he was probably up to the task. And if he didn't get it right this time, hell, there was always tomorrow. They had the rest of their lives to practice.

The rest of their lives. He liked the sound of that.

He drove in hard and she rewarded him with a gasp and a clenching of her internal muscles and. . .


"Jesus, woman," he muttered, shivering. He wasn't going to last much longer.

She seized him by his nape, wrapping her legs around him and arching her back so she could rise to meet his rapid thrusts. He tried unsuccessfully to stifle a hoarse cry, then found himself laughing: it was ridiculous to try to be quiet at a time like this. Besides, the way she made him feel, he didn't care who heard.

Measuring his breaths, he closed his eyes.

"Harder," Scully whispered, locking her ankles together in the small of his back. "Faster, Mulder, god, oh my god..."

Mulder was vaguely aware of a pattering sound outside their locked bedroom door, but then Scully made a feral groaning sound, tightening around him and digging all ten fingernails in...

"Oh my god, Scully..."

Then his mind went blue-blank, swimming with stars.

"That," she gasped, when they'd finally stopped moving and he was lying beside her, damp fingers smoothing her tangled hair, "was amazing."

"Good morning to you, too" he answered, trying to catch his breath.

"I heard the boys in the hall," she panted. "I'm sure Min isn't up yet. Go see what they're doing. I don't think I can walk."

"Like I can?" he rasped.

"You can," she said. Rolling on to her side, she pushed him with both hands. "Hurry up. They might be trying to make toast again."

"Fuck. Toast."

"My point exactly."

He shifted unsteadily off the mattress and lifted the sheet, digging around for the gym shorts he'd immediately discarded upon waking.

"Shit. Have you seen -"

"Here." She threw them at his head and stretched out like a contented cat, kicking the sheet back and fanning herself. Mulder had managed to get one leg into his shorts, but the sight of her body brought his forward progress to a grinding halt. Scully was all Renaissance curves now, all round belly and milk- filled breasts, all satisfied, all his.

All his.

He couldn't help himself. Shorts hanging off one leg, he fell back onto the bed and wriggled toward her.

She laughed and shoved him away. "Mulder, no. Go see what they're doing."

He rolled onto his back. "They can't burn the place to the ground without me?"

All the answer he got was a growl.

Fang and Fifi met him at the bedroom door, skittering and yapping as he made his way down the hall. "Yes, yes," he muttered, sidestepping first one, then the other, "walks for everyone. Hang on, just let me - "

Even though the kitchen was on the other side of the apartment, the ring of little voices and the scrape of a stool across the tile were unmistakable. The boys had only been out of their room for a few minutes, but Mulder picked up his pace, hoping they'd hear his footsteps and stop doing whatever it was they were doing. Bright and capable as both boys were, they still had an uncanny ability to cause big trouble fast.

"Here," one of them said as Mulder crossed the dining room. "Hold it."

"Not that one," the other answered. "Gwape."

"No, Nanna."



Mulder came through the archway and into the kitchen. "Okay, why are you two up so early? Did you set an alarm or something?"

Will was standing on a stool by the open freezer. Liam was holding a Popsicle. Mulder scooped Will off the stool with one hand, collecting Liam's pop with the other. "Breakfast doesn't come from the freezer," he told them, trying unsuccessfully to plaster a businesslike expression over his post- coital smile.

Both boys arched an eyebrow his way.

"Well, not when Mama's home, anyway. Sorry, guys," he told them cheerfully, heading for the pantry. "You know the rules." He located a box of cereal and set it on the counter. "Hey, does anybody want to use the big boy potty?"

Both boys clutched their diapers and scowled. Liam shook his head.

Mulder sighed. Scully assured him they'd be toilet trained before high school. He was having his doubts. "All right, then. Bowl of cereal?" Mulder shook the box, rattling the Cheerios for emphasis. "We've got the honey-nut kind today."

Will wrinkled his nose, considering the offer. Liam cast a suspicious glance at his brother, as if his father's insistence on a proper breakfast was somehow insidious and evil.

"Want it in your Buzz Lightyear bowls?"

"Buzz!" All thoughts of Popsicles instantly forgotten, the twins turned and made for the kitchen table like a couple of crazed puppies. Ah yes, Mulder thought. When in doubt, invoke Buzz Lightyear. Gets' em every time.

He got the milk out of the 'fridge and found the bowls he'd promised the boys sitting dirty in the dishwasher. Washing them at the sink, he gazed out the window at their petunia-smothereed deck and the tiny patch of high-maintenance 'yard' just beyond.

He never could have imagined wanting to return to this city, wanting to reclaim these four walls. He'd found Scully, though, and everything had changed. Toronto was a peaceful place, all in all, sane and clean and far from Washington. The house was beautiful and well-located, and, as Billy had informed him late one night while they were driving to Arizona, it belonged to Mulder, lock, stock, courtyard, and ugly fountain.

The whole thing had been kind of hard to pass up.

Being a landlord wasn't a bad way to make a living, he reflected. It was good money, gave him lots of time for Scully and the kids, and, as a bonus, he'd gotten pretty damn handy with a cordless drill.


He looked down. Liam tugged impatiently at the leg of his shorts. "Bekfast."


A small, warbling cry echoed through the apartment, skimming the hardwood floors and bouncing off the cool walls. Next came the sound of footsteps and Scully's soothing murmur.

"You aren't the only ones up early," he told the boys, pouring milk on their cereal. "I wonder when Min's going to..."

"Morneen, Mista Mudda!" Adjusting her bathrobe and smoothing her hair, the boys' nanny hurried into the kitchen. "Missa Mudda get the baby."

"Not Mister Mulder, Min, just Mulder. And good morning."

Will waved his spoon. "Juice pease!"

"You wan' juice, litta turkeys?" Min shot across the kitchen like a nylon-wrapped bullet, her brightly embroidered slippers scuffing the tiles as she went. "I get."

Min had been working for them for over three months, but she was still just as enthusiastic as the day she'd arrived. Lately, Mulder had been joking that Min couldn't possibly be Mrs. Ko's great-niece. It was far more likely that Mrs. Ko had simply had herself cloned so she could be closer to the boys.

The boys still asked for Leah, of course. At first, he'd had to explain where she'd gone at least a couple of times a day. When they asked he told them that Leah loved them, but she had gone on a trip with a very special friend. She'd been away from that friend for a long time, and he had missed her. Now he wanted her to stay with him.

Occasionally, Leah sent Mulder cryptic postcards from out-of-the-way places. He was glad she'd gotten her life back, if not her memory. He hoped Jimmy Bond was helping her put the pieces together.

Fang whined and licked Mulder's foot. Fifi made an expectant circle in the archway. "Okay, okay. Hang on. We'll go out running."

He paused at the counter just long enough to pour Scully a glass of orange juice, and made a quick trip back to the bedroom.

Mulder pushed the bedroom door open. Scully was lying on her side, cradling their daughter while she nursed. "Min's up," he said, his voice dropping low. "How's our girl this morning?"

"Still beautiful," she said. "And still hungry. Growth spurt, I think."

"It's *all* a growth spurt, isn't it?" Mulder set the orange juice on the bedside table. He eased himself onto the bed. "Hey there, Sophie," he said, softly. "What's the plan today?"

Sophie opened her eyes for a moment, a tiny stream of milk running out of the corner of her mouth as she smiled. Then she put her hand on Scully's breast and patted it.

"Smart girl," Mulder whispered.

"I'll take the dogs out for a run," he told Scully. "Okay?"

Scully nodded but a frown of concern crossed her face.

"Something wrong?"

She half-shrugged. "Do you know what day it is?"

"Um, Saturday?"

"It's July 6."

"Oh." He let the information sink in, settle. "Oh. Right." He gave her a tight little smile. "Happy anniversary?"

"Not funny, Mulder."

"I'll be coming back. And it won't take a year this time." He lifted two fingers in a boy scout salute. "Promise."

Scully gnawed her lower lip. "I just - sometimes, I feel like I'm waiting for the other shoe to fall."

"There isn't another shoe, sweetheart." He traced the curve of her hip up and back. "We are out of shoes. We are shoeless. Speaking of shoes. . ."

She didn't look at him, or answer.

"Hey, trust me, Scully."

"I do." She shifted, lifting her breast so Sophie could have better access. "It's just. . ."

He lay down next to her, Sophie between them.

"The seed colony had a one-way ticket to a lifeless world. When it got here and found out there was already life, and plenty of it, life it was not even slightly compatible with, all it wanted was to go home. The iron ore trapped it, and every time it tried to interact with humans and explain the situation, well, you know how that usually turned out."

"Not well," she answered, steel in her voice.

"Not well at all." They both had souvenir-of Antarctica frostbite scars as reminders of that. "It took millions of years, and a lot of false starts, but yes, it finally figured it out. All it needed was a catalyst. So it built a couple of them, just in case."

"Will and Liam."

"Yes, Will and Won't." He gave a little smile but took in her clouded expression. "Hey," he squeezed her hip, "the IVF worked, Scully. Miracles one and two."

"Thanks to a lot of manipulation of that chip in my neck and some embryo-splitting and a surrogate mother and I am not sure what else."

"Well, sometimes miracles need help," he offered.

She nodded thoughtfully. "And all that pseudo- religious stuff?"

"What's religion but a set of instructions about how to make nice with the other kids in the sand box?"

She was silent a moment. "It's gone? For good?"

"Gone for good. It's left us our own path." He ran one finger down Sophie's soft cheek and smiled. "And the ability to make our own miracles from now on."

"Mama! Mama!" Will and Liam thundered into the room. Mulder wondered if they would ever learn to make an entrance that didn't involve lots of noise.

"Shhh, buddies," Scully told them. "Sophie's having breakfast..."

The twins stopped at the foot of the bed and stared. "My baby," Will said, elbowing his brother.

"No, mine," Liam argued.

"Ours." Scully closed her eyes and bent to kiss Sophie's forehead. "We'll be here when you get back," she told Mulder. "All of us. Now go run."



 Book Three

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