Title: Shooting Star
Genre: Post-series, AU, familyfic
Summary: Seventeen years ago Mulder disappeared. Reunited after all this time, Mulder and Scully struggle to make themselves the family they should have been.
“Oh shooting star that fell into my eyes and through my body—
Not to forget you. To endure.”
—”Death”, Rainier Maria Rilke.
========= Eighteen =========
The July heat was oppressive, even though they had the windows open and a fan running in the hope to catch a breeze. Mulder slept only in his boxer shorts, and Scully in her lightest cotton summer pajamas, a tank top and shorts, and they had pushed away the sheet soon after going to bed. He slept fitfully, muttering and tossing, and had finally settled into something like a restful sleep curled around his pillow.
Scully didn’t think she was going to sleep at all, again. She couldn’t sleep in excessive heat, no matter what she tried, and the heat wave was going on four days now. She was exhausted and irritable, and had nearly bit off both the heads of her menfolk at dinner that evening, when Ben explained, “PMS,” and Mulder responded softly, “Oh, I see,” looking at her as if she were an exotic new creature that he didn’t know how to approach.
They were trying, though, the clueless dears. Ben had gotten her a pint of her favorite ice cream and Mulder had rubbed her neck, rolling the carton of ice cream over her shoulders until it started to melt. She’d cooled down briefly, but now it was approaching the wee hours of the morning and she still hadn’t slept.
She pushed herself up and out of bed. Mulder barely stirred, and she looked at him a moment, tenderly. She went to the other side of the bed so that she could bend and gently kiss his forehead, and smooth his hair back from his face. His hair was growing back nicely from its previous institutional buzz cut, thick and iron-grey. She thought it made him look distinguished and wise, like a village elder.
She went into the bathroom and turned on the light, and splashed some cold water on her face. Times like these she wished they had a swimming pool. How cooling a relaxing swim would be. The local pool usually did them all fine—Ben swam like an otter and Mulder swam happily, if without his former finesse, at every opportunity.
Her two water babies, she thought fondly, and ran her damp hand over the back of her neck. What a pair they were. Neither was sure of how to act as father and son but they were gentle with each other, encouraging and increasingly comfortable. They even had a few private jokes. They were improving.
“I’m in here, Mulder.” She patted her face with the hand towel and rubbed some lotion onto her hands and arms.
“I’ll be right there.” She rubbed some lotion onto the soles of her feet. Anything to cool down.
“Scully!” She heard him shifting around, and there was an edge of panic in his voice. “Scully!”
This was more than wondering where she was. Scully dropped the bottle of lotion and ran back into the bedroom. Mulder was tossing about, his eyes still closed, and his neck muscles were taut as again he screamed, “Scully!”
Scully grabbed him and hauled him into her lap, holding him to her chest. She stroked his forehead with her palm. “Sh, sh, Mulder, sh. It’s okay. I’m right here, baby. I’m right here. Sh. Sh.”
Eventually he calmed down and lay in her arms panting. He clumsily stroked her arm that she held over his chest with his fingertips, again and again.
When it seemed to her that he could speak calmly she whispered, “Was it a bad dream?”
“You were dying,” he said hoarsely. “You were dying and there was nothing I could do. I couldn’t save you. I couldn’t save you.”
“Sh…” She kissed the top of his head and rocked him gently from side to side. “It’s all right. It was only a dream.”
“It was real, Scully, it happened. You were dying. Your brother blamed me. Your mother did too but never said so, but I could see it in her face. And it was my fault. It never would have happened if you’d never met me.”
“No, Mulder, baby, that’s not true. It never was your fault. Bad things were done to me just like they were done to you. It wasn’t your doing. It wasn’t your fault.”
“You had cancer,” he said bleakly. “I went to your room one night and I cried. I tried to stay quiet so I wouldn’t wake you but it was so hard. I just wanted to scream and scream.”
“I wish you had woken me up. I could have comforted you.” She kissed his head again, cupping his forehead in her hand. “And I didn’t die, Mulder. I’m healthier than I’ve ever been. The—treatment—whatever you want to call it—our allies gave me cured of quite a few strange things, that I’ve noticed. I’m healthy. I’m robust, even.”
Mulder went on petting her arm, and then said, “You still have the dreams.”
“What dreams?” she whispered.
“Dreams like I had. That you’re dying. Sometimes I wake up and you’re tossing and turning and there are tears on your face, and I stroke your face until you calm down.” He craned his head to look at her. “Do you remember what you dream?”
“Sometimes,” Scully said through a tight throat. “I dream that I’m dying and there’s no one to take care of Ben. Sometimes I dream that a man that I hated, that I feared, I dream that he comes to me and says, ‘Oh, Agent Mulder, he’s been dead for years, here’s the body.’ And sometimes, Mulder, sometimes I dream that I find you and there’s nothing left of you, nothing but a shell.”
Mulder turned in her arms and embraced her gently. He kissed the center of her forehead and she closed her eyes. “And they’re only dreams.”
“Is it all right that I comfort you without waking you up?”
“Yes. It’s all right.” She was trembling, and he eased himself carefully around her so that now she was above him and he was supporting her. Her forehead fit perfectly into the crook of his neck, her breasts pressed comfortably against his chest. She shifted her hips against his waist and smiled as he moaned. “Show me, Mulder. Show me what you do.”
“Well . . .” His voice was raspy. “First I hold you tight, like this.”
“And sometimes I kiss you around your face, like this.”
“And I stroke your cheeks, like this.” He brushed the backs of his fingers and then his whole hands on her cheeks, and Scully couldn’t even form a response, gasping quietly instead. “Or over you forehead, like this.” His fingertips traced soft patterns on her forehead. “And if you’re crying I kiss your tears, like this.” He kissed beneath her eyes, and then pulled back to look at her.
“That explains why I’ve had so many sweet dreams lately,” she whispered, brushing her fingers gently against his neck. “You take such good care of me, Mulder.”
“I try.” He took a deep breath and shudderingly let it out. He rubbed her shoulders with his palms. “Are you feeling sleepy, Scully?”
“No. I feel very awake.”
Scully lifted her head from its comfortable position on his shoulder and grazed her lips over his. “I want you,” she whispered, and he groaned and clasped her waist.
“Yes,” he said simply, and slipped his hands under the hem of her tank top. As they slid up her sides, taking her tank top with them, he kissed her, his tongue playful and eager in her mouth. She held onto the kiss as long as she could as he eased off her tank top, breaking it only long enough for him to raise the top over her head, and she wrapped her arms around his head and resumed kissing him, hard and hungry.
It hit her again, as it did every time they made love, how much she had missed him, missed this. Every part of him was precious to her, tenderly and dearly beloved. She loved to climb into his lap at odd moments and kiss him for a while. She loved to wrap her arms and legs around him while he slept. She loved waking up to find him playing with a lock of her hair or stroking her forehead. She loved to hold his hand while they sat in the garden swing, saying nothing, nothing needing to be said.
He rolled them onto their sides and kissed her neck, as his fingers traced a path between her breasts and over her belly. He made a soft sound in his throat and lifted his mouth, and said, “You feel different,” before resuming to kiss her again.
“Different how?” She could hardly bear to lift her mouth enoug
h to speak but she was curious.
“It’s the heat.”
“Warm . . . heavy . . .” He took a nipple between his lips and tugged gently. “Full.”
“About to be filled,” she breathed, and grinned at his answering look. She loved the faint freckles scattered over his cheeks, and she had an urge to kiss each and every one. She’d only gotten to a few when he placed his hand on her shoulder and gently pushed her back.
“Scully. There’s something I want to ask you.”
“I’m not in the mood for stories, Mulder.”
“I don’t want a story. I’ve been thinking.”
“What is it?”
“Well . . . your body’s different. Your sleeping has been different. Your moods have been different. You said earlier it wasn’t PMS, you’re having meno-menopause,” he stumbled a bit over the word, “but I wonder if that’s true.”
“Believe me, Mulder, at my age it’s perfectly normal.”
“Mm,” he said, sounding unconvinced. “You had your period twice.”
He went on anyway, “And then you didn’t. And you didn’t again this month. And I looked at that book you have and I looked at that chapter you’re reading and it doesn’t sound like the same thing.”
Scully ruffled his hair with her fingers, scratching gently on his scalp. She wasn’t sure what touched her more, his desire to understand or his attempts to explain himself to her. “So what do you think it is?”
“I looked at one of the earlier chapters.” He had been steadily stroking her thigh, his hand warm and light. “I wonder if maybe you’re going to have a baby.” He looked up at her with hopeful, terrified eyes.
Scully nearly laughed, but took a deep breath and stopped herself. “Mulder, I’m fifty-three. Believe me, I’m not going to have a baby at this point in my life.”
“You had Ben.”
“Seventeen years ago, at an age when fertility is not always a question.”
“But you thought you couldn’t, and you did. And I wonder if, maybe, it’s still true, that you think you can’t but really you can.”
“Mulder. Love. Women my age do have babies but only after a great deal of medical interference. And I think—I’ve always thought—that Ben’s conception was a gift. A last way for our allies to say thank you. It seems greedy to expect it again.”
“But I’ve been thinking. They took away the cancer. Maybe they gave you something back. You said you’re healthy. I know you’re healthy. I just wonder if maybe you’re healthier than you know.”
Scully bit her lip, leaning her head against Mulder’s shoulder. It was a sweet flight of fancy but it was too ridiculous. To have another child, at their ages, at this point in their lives, with a son almost ready to graduate high school and so much rediscovering to be done. She said, “I can see why you’d want that to be true, Mulder, but I don’t see how it can be.”
“I don’t think you really think it is menopause.”
For a moment Scully said nothing, and ran her tongue over her lips.Mulder had always been able to see through her—it had seemed to her that he barely accepted the way she would gloss over whatever pain she might be in or worries she might have, but tolerated it because he respected her privacy. The old Mulder would have let her statement rest.
But this Mulder was within her boundaries, not outside them. This Mulder never let her get away with a simple if not quite true “I’m fine.” This Mulder would press and press until he was satisfied. This Mulder was never satisfied with anything less than the full truth.
She licked her lips again and said, not daring to look at him, “All right. The thought has crossed my mind.”
“Crossed?” he whispered.
“Moved in and started to set up house.” He touched her cheek and she raised her eyes to his at last. He was smiling, just a little. “But it’s impossible,” she said, and the smile didn’t fade.
“So was Ben,” he said softly, and kissed her lips. “You want it to be true. You want it just like I do. Tell me you want it to be true, Scully.”
“I don’t know,” she whispered, hiding her face from him again. “I don’t know. I just—it’s so—even ten years ago it would have been hard to grasp, and now—”
“Scully.” He kissed her hair, stroking her back. “Let’s find out before we start to worry.”
She took a deep breath and let it out. If it were true—if it wasn’t— “I want it to be true,” she whispered, her lips against his chest, and Mulder chuckled and tightened his arms around her even more.
“Just think,” he said softly, “how pretty you’ll look with a little baby, Scully.”
“There’s so much more to it than that.”
She could hear his smile. “I know. It’s going to be wonderfully fun, isn’t it.”
She laughed despite herself, and looked at him at last, resting her chin on his chest. “Mulder. It’s insane.”
“And this surprises you?” He looked so happy. “After shootings and diseases and fires and alien invasions, what’s one more miracle baby?”
“You know, if you’re wrong I might be more disappointed than relieved.”
“I’m never wrong.”
She kissed his smug smile and said, “You can believe that, if you want to.” She kissed him again. “You’re right often enough.”
His hand cupped the back of her head and pulled her close again, and kissed her with a fierce sort of tenderness that left her breathless. “Right or wrong, I love you,” he said, his voice rumbling, and the layers of meaning to it made her tremble. Her arousal, ebbing during this strange conversation, returned with such force that her hips thrust against his in a sharp lunge, and he clutched her hip with strong fingers. “I love you,” he said again, kissing her, and she whimpered, wrapping her arms around his neck.
Again and again he kissed her, whispering “I love you” with each kiss, and his gentle friendly hands touched her body until she was rising against him, silently asking for more, knowing she would not be denied.
And she was not denied. His lips were soft, his tongue warm and clever, seeking out the places on her skin that made her sigh and gasp. He touched her as if she were the most fascinating specimen of womanhood in existence, turning her this way and that to explore her, stopping to kiss a favorite place, holding her tightly as if he meant to press her into his heart. He stroked her sex delicately, and kissed her to muffle the sounds of her climax. And when he knelt between her thighs, poised and ready, he whispered, “Even if it isn’t true, I want to make it so,” and she could only nod.
Yes, she thought. Love like this deserves to be shared.
She moaned at his first few thrusts and had to turn away her face from him, overwhelmed. She loved the feeling of his cock inside her but she was so tightly coiled she thought it might become painful quickly. Mulder caressed her face with his fingertips and she opened her lips, darting out her tongue against them.
“I need—I need—”
“Anything you need, Scully. Always.”
“I need a minute.”
Mulder pulled out of her carefully and she pressed her hands to her eyes for a moment. She lowered them and opened her eyes, looking at him in the dim light. His skin was flushed and his cock was slick from being inside her, and it seemed to her it rose even higher under her gaze. She glanced up his face and he shrugged a little.
“Just what you do to me, Scully,” he said softly, and she lowered her hands from her face. She held out her arms to him and he lay against her as if he feared he might crush her. Scully adjusted herself, easing her hips against his, and they both moaned as she took him into her. They made love side by side, slowly, stopping now and again to just touch, to whisper and kiss, and then began again, moving together and together and together in a union that was as sweet as it was intense.
“Yes,” she cooed to him, “that’s it, my love, give it to me, let it go.”
“Not without you.”
His words made her gasp and he smiled briefly, obviously pleased. He lowered his head to her breast and suckled her, back and forth, his hips rocking ag
ainst her. Scully closed her eyes and then opened them, watching his mouth and his tongue as he tugged and teased and fondled her, and the sheer happiness on his face made her soul soar. She said his name and said it again, urgently, then insistently, and then called out to him as if his name was all that kept her alive and breathing.
She loved him so much. She loved the taste of his skin and the depth of his eyes. She loved his chest pressed against her breasts, his weight bearing down on her. She loved how adored he made her feel, how special and perfect. She loved the reverent way he kissed her body and the tender way he touched her skin. She loved the warmth of his mouth and the soft grunts he couldn’t hide when he was nearing his orgasm. She loved to relearn his body with her lips and tongue, to make him shiver and moan. She loved to feel his mouth on her breasts and his fingers between her legs. She loved to kiss his neck. She loved to suck his nipples. And more than any of the rest, she loved to feel him stroking within her, to run her hands over his straining muscles and shaking body, and to hear his hoarse triumphant shout when he came.
They lay quietly for a few minutes, both of them stunned wordless. Scully felt a brief tremor of shyness, but it passed as Mulder ran a lazy hand over her side. It came to rest on her belly, and he looked at her, uncertain and concerned, his mouth starting to turn down.
She lay her hand on top of his, and he sighed deeply. He shifted, easing out of her, and lay his head against her arm. She bent her arm to cradle his head, and stroked the fine grey hairs that fell over his forehead. She rubbed her cheek against his head, and again he sighed, circling his palm against her stomach. He lifted his head, and whispered, “Close.”
She closed her eyes obediently, and the last thing she felt before she drifted off was his tender kiss on her eyelids and his hand on her belly, circling and circling.
========= Nineteen =========
The carton of ice cream was empty except for a few meager scrapings at the bottom. Ben swirled his spoon to scoop them up, frowning when they barely filled the bowl. He ate the mouthful and crumpled the carton, and tossed it into the trash. He put the spoon into the dishwasher and pulled himself up to sit on the counter, and looked around the kitchen. Nothing sounded appetizing to him, not even popcorn. He supposed one in the morning was a little late for snacks, but he couldn’t sleep and everything in his room bored him. He wished he could call Emma.
He was not surprised to see Scully come into the kitchen. “I thought I heard something,” she said, sounding unsurprised too. “Hungry, Benjie?”
“Yeah—well, I don’t know. Restless. And we’re out of ice cream,” he added, and was puzzled to see his mother blush as if he’d said something suggestive.
“My fault. I’ve been craving dairy products lately.” She hauled herself carefully onto the counter beside him, and Ben noted absently that her feet didn’t reach as far as his did. It had been a weird day when he’d realized he had to look down to see his mother, not up.
“Is Mulder still asleep?”
“Uh-huh. He sleeps like a log now. Darndest thing.”
They both looked out the kitchen window at the dark and quiet back yard, and Ben said, “Jeff and Chris want to go camping the weekend of my birthday.”
“Uh-huh. It wouldn’t be just us, of course, Chris’s parents will come too—you know how they like to camp and hike and stuff—and so will the girls,” he finished, taking a deep breath at the reaction he expected.
“You know. Emma. Alyssa. And Jeff’s been seeing this girl, Felicity, who’s really nice and she’s a lot of fun and he likes her a lot.”
“I see. Chris’s parents and the six of you, camping for a weekend.”
“Yeah, like a last hurrah kind of thing. I mean, next year we’ll all be off to college, and it’ll be a nice way to end the summer.”
“But Benjie, it’s your first birthday with your father here and I’d like to do something special.”
“I thought you would, and I have it all figured out. If we leave Friday afternoon and come back early Sunday, we can still do something actually on my birthday, the three of us—or four, if you want Emma to come.”
“I’d love Emma to come. All right. I’ll call RaeLynn in the morning and tell her it’s okay with me.”
She swung her feet slightly and said, “Benjie. I want your thoughts on something.”
“How would you feel about expanding the family?”
“Expanding? You mean like adopting a kid or something?”
“No.” Her hair fell in front of her face as she looked down at her toes. “Not exactly.”
“Are you and Mulder going to get married?”
There was a tiny pause, then she said, “No. That subject has not yet arisen, though I suppose it ought to.”
“All in good time, I suppose.” She said after a moment, “I mean, how would you feel about the possibility of Mulder and me having another baby.”
Ben stared at the pattern in the tile on the floor, then looked back up at his mother. “What?”
“I think I’m pregnant,” Scully said, and Ben had a strange feeling of history repeating itself—that she had been this frightened, this worried, this hopeful, this brave, when she learned about him.
“But, isn’t that, like, impossible?”
“Stranger things have happened, and they’ve happened to me. A particular one goes by the name of Benjamin William.”
Ben rubbed the back of his neck. He didn’t know what to say, or how to take this. It felt like good news but it was too weird to comprehend. Knowing they were having sex—which he’d kind of figured, but didn’t want to think about, for a while—just gave him the shudders. Didn’t people their age not want sex anymore?
“Aren’t you too old to have a baby?” he blurted, then bit his lip.
Scully only smiled, though, and said, “Under normal circumstances, yes. But I don’t think this was made possible by normal circumstances.”
“You mean that whole thing with how I was conceived.”
“Yes. That. It does make me wonder what might have been,” she said, staring off at the darkness outside their window, and Ben had to wonder what might have been, too. Being a big brother, the oldest brother, being one of a group instead of the only.
“I won’t know until I see my gynecologist next week if it’s true or not,” Scully went on. “Mulder guessed and I’m beginning to think he’s right.”
“Mulder? How would he know?”
Again she blushed, and smiled at her feet. “Oh . . . there are ways. You’ll learn, in due time. Not for a long, long time, I hope.”
Ben blushed a little himself and said, “If and when, Mom, you won’t have to worry about grandchildren until I’m, like, thirty or something.”
“That’s a relief.” She said seriously, “I just think you’re too young right now. I remember, though, what it’s like, being a teenager. I remember it all too clearly, thinking you’re going to just burst from the hormones and the newness of everything. But I think you’re not ready emotionally at sixteen, no matter how ready physically you may be.”
“Whoa, whoa,” Ben said, holding up his hands. “We’ve had the sex talk already, okay? I get it. Yes. Waiting. Understood. Message received.”
“Yes, but that was when it was an abstraction. I just want to reinforce that you and Emma, no matter how much you care for each other and love each other, you’re both still children. Okay?”
“And since you’re about to witness first hand what having a baby can be like I hope it’ll encourage you to put it off until you’re good and ready. Stable and established and emotionally prepared.”
“Yeah,” Ben said. There were times when he wanted Emma so badly it left him shaking and wild, but in the last four months they’d found other ways to stay satisfied. And kissing her left him higher than running ever had. He said, “Are you happy about this? I mean, having another baby, it’s
a good thing, right?”
Scully smiled, nodding slowly. “It’s a good thing. When you reach this point in your life, Ben, you’ll see, you’ll understand what that need is like, to create something unique and miraculous and—and I don’t know how to explain it. But yes. I am happy about this. If it’s true it will be a wonderful thing.”
“What does Mulder think?” He could hardly imagine what Mulder would make of this, though it seemed to him Mulder had been more careful and gentle with his mother than ever the last few days, and quietly happy in a whole new way.
“He’s delighted. He wants it.” She added quietly, “He always wanted it for us, a big family. One of the best compliments he ever gave me was ‘I never saw you as a mother before.’ That meant a lot, because I hadn’t really, either—not in a real, ‘this could happen someday with this man’ kind of way.” She smiled at him. “And your feelings, Benjie?”
“Hey, if it’s what you two want, then cool. Okay. A little brother or a little sister, I think I can live with that.” He added shyly, “Do you . . . feel anything yet?”
“Oh, it’s far too early for that. The baby’s about the size of a raspberry seed right now. I do feel a little different but it’s the knowledge that’s doing it right now, not anything physical.” She slid off the counter. “I’m going back to bed. Don’t stay up too late, okay?”
“Okay. Hey, Mom?”
She paused in the doorway and turned. “Yes, sweetie?”
“I hope it’s true. I hope you’re right.”
She smiled. He loved making her smile like that. “Thanks. Good night. Love you.”
“Love you,” he answered, and realized as he watched her go that they still hadn’t solved the ice cream problem.
Scully gardened. She loved her garden. She loved to plant and weed and mulch. In early spring she loved to greet the first shy stems poking through the soil, and in late autumn she loved to watch the leaves turn colors and fall to the ground. She loved to think about bulbs sleeping all winter, safe and sheltered, and she loved the bright flowers and sweet fruit of summer.
It felt very metaphorical today. Beautiful and wondrous, like the first cherry blossoms in spring. Like an oak within an acorn, her baby slept inside her, waiting only for time to bloom. As the days passed she felt more and more certain of it, and the prospect, though it worried her—but it was her nature to worry—pleased her. A baby. Mulder’s baby. A son or a daughter, a brother or sister for Ben. She knew what their friends would say, what her mother would say, but at the moment it hardly seemed to matter. Everyone would see that sometimes miracles could happen twice.
So she gardened, and she sang softly, “Inch by inch, row by row, gonna make my garden grow, all it takes is a rake and a hoe and a piece of fertile ground . . .” and she couldn’t stop smiling. The sun was warm and the breeze was cool, and the soil was warm and damp beneath her fingers.
She usually wore a large straw hat when she worked outdoors to protect her skin, and she now sat back on her heels and fanned her face with the hat. Ben and Mulder had gone running earlier, and it felt strange, but nice, to have the house to herself. Perhaps when she finished weeding this patch she’d take a bubble bath, and have a leisurely lunch ready for them when they got back.
She had decided not to return to teaching in the fall. Mulder’s mysterious fortune was more than enough to keep them comfortable, and though she suspected it came from years of Consortium embezzlement—one must have money to rule the world, after all—Mulder considered it his, and wanted to use to for his family. Sometimes when she couldn’t sleep Scully would go to their bank’s website and check their balance online, to be sure it was all still there—but it always was, and Mulder assured her that even if it wasn’t he’d make sure they never went hungry. She always kissed him, long and hard, after he said things like that. She couldn’t stop herself. In fact sometimes she wondered how she stopped kissing him at all.
But it had been a wise decision, after all, not to go back to work. She didn’t want to teach with a new baby on the way. It would be hard enough to answer the questions of their friends and neighbors, she didn’t want to deal with superiors and students, too. And if her pregnancy with Ben was any indication, it would be a good six or seven months until she could deal with an autopsy again.
Scully put down her trowel and pulled off her gloves, and stretched her arms high above her head. She didn’t want to think about death. True, even with the Consortium gone the general level of weirdness in the world had not gone down, but it seemed to her there was less evil around. She’d been afraid, while she was expecting Ben, that she was bringing a child into a world that would fall apart at the slightest provocation, but so far her fears had proved groundless and the thought barely touched her now. She felt she was bringing a child into a safe place, a warm and loving place, a place where she or he was dearly wanted and fervently desired.
“You’re a very lucky little thing,” she said softly, placing her hand on her stomach. “I think you’re getting a good family.”
“Uh, hello?” someone called from by the gate, and she stood and went around the house.
“Walter,” she said, smiling, pleased, and she went to the gate and unlatched it. “How good to see you.”
Skinner smiled at her awkwardly. He looked out of place, she had to admit it, in his suit and wingtips here among the flowers. He had a manila folder in one hand, and he bent to quickly kiss her cheek.
“I knocked, but there wasn’t an answer, but your car was here . . .”
“Mulder and Ben have gone running, and I’ve been poking at the weeds a bit. Would you like to come inside?”
“Please.” He waited while she gathered up her tools and put them away, and followed her through the back door into the house. Scully poured them both glasses of ice water and he set the folder on the kitchen table and drank a few sips quietly. “How are you?” he said finally.
“I’m all right.”
“I’ve missed you,” Scully said. “Ben’s missed you too. And Mulder wants to see you. Your name has come up in our conversations quite a few times.”
“Would he even know who I am?”
“He would. He’s remembering more every day.”
“I see,” Skinner said. “Actually, it’s Mulder that I came here to talk to you about today.”
“I wondered. Is that what the folder is, there?”
He placed his hand on it and pushed it across the table towards her. “You know, in some of the smaller FBI branches and at some police stations Mulder is still listed as a missing person. It’s been changed in the database but I still hear reports sometimes.”
“So do I. People are so happy for me when I tell them he’s been found.”
“Uh-huh. I got this from a sheriff’s office in Montana a few days ago.”
“Did you tell them everything’s all right? It seems for a while there every lost soul was supposed to be Mulder, whether they matched Mulder’s description or not.”
“Scully, they found a body.”
The way he said it chilled her, and she said, forcing her voice to be light, “Well, obviously it’s the wrong body.”
“They ran a cast of the teeth against dental records in the missing persons database, and Mulder’s came up as a match.”
Scully put down her glass and looked at Skinner steadily. “What are you saying?” she said quietly. “Are you saying that the man I’m living with is not Mulder? Are you telling me that I’ve been fooled? That someone said, Let’s make a fake Mulder and hand him over to Scully? Why would someone do that? What sense does it make?”
“Scully, nothing they did makes sense to me, so this really doesn’t surprise me. But I do think it’s entirely possible that the man you’re living with is not Mulder, not the original Mulder, anyway, not our Mulder. He might be a clone. That might by why he had no memories when he was first found—it wasn’t amne
sia, he just had nothing to remember.” When she didn’t answer he pushed the folder closer to her. “Just look at these, okay? If I’m wrong tell me I’m full of shit and I’ll be glad to hear it, but it looks right to me. I just don’t want you to be burdened with this guy any longer than you have to be.”
“I think you should leave,” Scully said, looking him in the eyes, and he sighed.
“Just look at the reports, okay? Will you look at them?”
“I’ll look at them.”
Skinner nodded and stood. He pushed in his chair and leaned on it for a moment, gripping the back with both hands. “Scully. I didn’t bring this here to hurt you. I swear the last thing I want to do is cause you pain.”
“Goodbye, Walter,” she said, and he nodded again and left.
Scully stared at the folder until her eyes misted, and she pressed her hands to them. No. No. It couldn’t be true. Not now. This was a mistake, some terrible mistake, some yokel had gotten the results mixed up, she had her Mulder back—
She took a deep breath and wiped her eyes, took another deep breath and opened the folder. There were some photographs of the skeleton in its lonely grave—out in a field somewhere, it looked like—with string on stakes to show the dimensions of the dig. Whoever had buried this poor fellow had lain him on his side, his arms crossed and his legs drawn up. As far as she could see there were nothing else in the grave, not a scrap of fabric nor a personal piece of property to identify whoever this might be.
That’s because they took him in his pajamas, she thought, and snapped the folder shut. No. “No,” she whispered. They’d taken him at exactly the right moment—no gun, no badge, not even a pair of shoes that could be traced. They took him with nothing of his own but a pair of cotton pajama bottoms, which could be easily burned, the body dumped in the wilds of Montana—
“Dammit,” she whispered, and began to cry.
When she’d collected herself again she opened the folder and flipped past the photographs, to read the reports. Some boys had been walking their dog, the dog started digging at the ground, they saw the bones and got their father, their father called the police . . . very mundane, she thought. The sheriff wrote she thought the grave was further exposed because of unusually high runoff the previous spring.
Originally it appeared to have been buried fairly deep. Then came the routine missing persons checks, a few possibilities here and there until the dental records came through on one Fox Mulder, missing for seventeen years, and the sheriff wrote this was consistent with the degree of decomposition—
Scully closed the folder again and tasted blood on her lips. She dabbed her lips with her fingers and they came away dotted with crimson. Bitten through.
Well, she thought. That’s different.
She could picture it, that was the damning thing about it. They’d taken him out to the middle of nowhere after performing unspeakable acts on him, getting their revenge any way they knew how. Strip him of his clothes, his dignity, his happiness, his humanity, then kill him and leave him in a shallow grave. They’d do it. They’d done worse.
And somewhere along the way they’d created a copy and set him loose.
Why, she couldn’t begin to guess, but it made a strange sort of sense too. He’d be one clone among hundreds, thousands, and she was just desperate enough, needy enough, to believe he was the real thing.
Scully raised her eyes to look outside and realized dimly that some time had passed, it was almost noon. Ben and—and him—they’d be home soon.
She stood up so quickly she knocked over the chair, and ran to her study. She put the folder into the top drawer of her desk, and locked it for the first time since she’d bought it, tucking the key into a box of paper clips. She had to find a way to separate the lies from the truth, but not now. Not until she’d had a chance to think, to observe Muld—him—more, to make an educated guess.
And until she knew for certain, Muld—he—would not know anything was different. It had to be that way.
She heard the garage door open. “Mom, we’re home!”
“Hi,” she called, hastily wiping her face. They’d worry if they saw tears. She licked her lips, wincing a little, and wiped them with a tissue.
“Scully? Sweetheart?” He appeared in the doorway to the study, smiling at her. A vee of sweat darkened the front of his t-shirt. “Did you have a good morning?”
“Yes,” she said.
“Are you feeling okay?” The smile was starting to fade, and he came closer to her and put his hands on her shoulders. He kissed her forehead. “Do you need to lie down?”
“No. I’m okay.”
“You’re pale,” he observed. His big hands gently rubbed her shoulder blades. “I think you should lie down for a while anyway, little mama. Doesn’t a pre-lunch nap sound good? I may even join you.”
“Oh. All right.”
He frowned and kissed her forehead again. “And you’re hot,” he said. “Are you sure you’re okay?”
“I think I should lie down. You’re right.”
“I’m always right,” he said, with a ghost of a laugh, and she managed to echo it. “I’m, um, going to take a shower, I think.”
“All right.” She went to the green couch and took the afghan off the back, and wrapped it around herself before lying down. He stood there a moment, watching her, obviously puzzled.
“All right,” he repeated, and left the study, shutting the door. She heard him say, “Ben, your mother’s not feeling well, I think we should let her rest a while,” and Ben’s soft reply.
Scully buried her face in her arms and helplessly began to weep.
(“The Garden Song” is by John Denver.)
======= Twenty =======
Something was different about Scully, but Mulder couldn’t figure out what or why. She’d hardly said a word to him since he and Ben had come home for running, and every time he caught her looking at him she’d quickly look away. Her eyes were red as if she’d been crying, but she wouldn’t admit to anything being wrong.
Ben had been with his friends most of the day, so Mulder didn’t think he’d noticed anything different. But something was different, Mulder thought, and for reasons he didn’t understand it was directed only towards him.
Scully went to bed early, and Mulder went into her study and sat down on the leather couch. He picked up the afghan she’d slept under earlier that day and played with the tassels for a few minutes, puzzling. When they’d left the house that morning she’d been fine, she’d kissed him and said, “See you later, sweetheart.” And when they came back she didn’t kiss him, she acted as if she couldn’t even look at him. She hadn’t wanted to talk with him or tell stories or anything.
“What happened, angel?” he whispered, and buried his face in the wool of the afghan. It smelled like her, like lemon and baby powder and freshly turned soil.
With the afghan wrapped around his shoulders, Mulder got up and pulled his favorite photo albums from the bookcase. He set them on Scully’s desk and opened the one on top. This one was mostly pictures of Ben when he was a baby: red and squalling right after birth, in a white lawn gown for his baptism, naked in a plastic baby-bathtub, dressed up as a tiny jack-o-lantern for his first Halloween. He was a handsome, smiling baby, and Mulder touched the photographs gently, imagining what it would feel like to caress warm soft baby-skin and to hold the strong wriggling body in his arms.
Scully was in very few of these pictures, and Mulder guessed she’d been the photographer most of the time. But in the pictures someone else had taken Scully was always smiling, her face joyful, her eyes full of love for this little boy.
It might be the baby, Mulder thought, but why? She was so happy about it just a few days ago—just yesterday, even. What happened today?
He thought, If something happened, even if she’s not pregnant after all, she’d tell me, wouldn’t she?
He sighed and closed t
he photo album, and opened another. This one was smaller, with fewer pictures than any other, because it was mostly pictures of the two of them. Many of the pictures had been taken at crime scenes: they were in black-and-white, many other people were often milling about, and it was rare that either he or Scully were looking at the camera.
His favorite of these rather grim pictures seemed like the beginning, or even the end, of a story. In the picture they were outdoors—trees were blurry in the distance—and Scully’s head was lowered, but her eyes were raised to look up at him as his hand tenderly cupped her cheek. Every time Mulder looked at this picture he wondered if he hugged her next, or let her go, if she had cried or smiled. He was smiling faintly in the picture, but even at the poor angle the photographer had you could see the concern on his face.
Mulder stared at the picture a long time, studying it. Often he’d spend time looking at himself, trying to spur on any memories that might come from looking at his younger self. But this time he looked at Scully. Her shoulders were slumped as if in weariness or discouragement. She was leaning towards him a little, as if about to step into his embrace, and her head was tilted to the side, as if nuzzling the hand on her cheek.
Mulder eased the photograph out of its sleeve and turned it over. The spiky handwriting on the back read, “Scully&me, March 22, 1997, outside Tacoma WA. Case solved.” Beneath it, in rounder neater handwriting, it said, “This case was hard—most of them were—and Mulder was worried it might be too much for me. I was still doing chemo and there were many times he wanted to send me home to rest. I wouldn’t let him, but I nearly collapsed when it was all over. About five minutes after this picture was taken Mulder nearly carried me to the car.”
Mulder turned the picture over again and tenderly kissed Scully’s face, and put the picture back in its sleeve. He took out more of these crime-scene photographs and read his own short notes about the where and when, and Scully’s longer ones of what she remembered.
Those, he thought, must have been written much later, for Ben’s sake.
Near the end of the collection the pictures became more personal, pictures taken by a lover of the beloved. Scully laughing and threatening the camera with a can of whipped cream, or asleep and bare-shouldered in a tousled bed; or himself, mockingly striking muscle-man poses in jeans or sticking out his tongue as he was interrupted in trying to shave. He particularly liked one of himself proudly holding a pine tree that was as tall as he was, on the back of which Scully had noted, “Our first Christmas Together, 1999” and below it, “My dearest, why didn’t I take more pictures of you?” with a tear stain blurring the ink.
Mulder put all the pictures away and closed the album, and leaned his chin on the stack. The pictures had no answers for him—they were a record of love and longing and tender regret, but they told him nothing he didn’t already know.
He put the albums away and sat down at the desk again. Scully had a calendar in her blotter, and the only event she’d written in for all of August was “Ben’s birthday” on the 13th.
Ben’s birthday. He’d be seventeen. One more year and he’d be an adult, living on his own somewhere, going to college, away from his parents and their protection. He might even be in another country—he’d sent for information about Oxford, tentatively considering his father’s old school. Scully didn’t want him so far away, of course, but they could certainly afford to fly him home at every vacation or go visit him in England themselves.
Mulder had been thinking for days of what to get Ben for his birthday. He wanted it to be something special, something spectacular, something no one else had given him. But what, though? Ben’s needs were already filled, from his guitar to his computer to his bike, and though Mulder often scribbled down ideas nothing seemed to stick.
But he had an idea now, something that would tell Ben of their trust in him and their approval of his growing independence. Mulder started to pull open the top desk drawer, to write down this fabulous idea before it flitted away, but the drawer stuck. He tugged again and still the drawer stayed shut. He bent to look at it and jiggled it a little, and he finally noticed that the lock was turned.
Odd. Scully had never locked her desk before.
The vague sense of dread that had been receding while he looked at the photo albums returned with renewed force, and he sat back in the chair, eyes wide. The secret, the explanation, was in that locked drawer, he was certain of it. And it had to be something terrible if Scully felt she should lock it away. Usually the key was in the catchall tray at the front of the drawer, so he had no idea where else she might put it now. The top of her desk was neat and tidy, as usual: pens in their cup, laptop computer closed and set to the side, clock and lamp and framed pictures free of dust. He opened the unlocked drawers and looked through them quickly: bills filed as paid or unpaid, records of Ben’s shots and grades and childhood injuries, her own records, several folders of information about her long search.
But no key. No hint of what she felt she had to hide.
I want to understand, Scully, he thought. I want to understand why you’re afraid of me.
His head ached with worry but he dreaded going upstairs. How would he bear it if she turned him away? How would he sleep without a soft, warm Scully in his arms? How would he face his nightmares without Scully to kiss them away?
Of course she hadn’t turned him away yet. He turned off the lights and made sure the doors were locked, and went upstairs to their bedroom. She’d left the light on in the bathroom but the room was otherwise dark. Mulder undressed and brushed his teeth, and carefully climbed into bed beside her.
She was lying on her side, facing away from him. Her breathing was deep and even, and she barely stirred when he got into bed. He lay on his back for a few minutes then turned onto his side and lay his arm over her, spooning against her back.
“Mulder, I’m not in the mood right now.”
Her words were like a slap to the face, but he only said, “I’m just holding you, Scully.”
She sighed, but didn’t move.
Mulder said quietly, “You haven’t had much to say today.”
“No, I haven’t.”
“Are you feeling okay?”
He rubbed her stomach a little, and felt her stiffen. He stopped moving his hand. “Scully?” he whispered.
He could barely get the words out, he was so close to tears. “You sleep well, okay?” he whispered, and pulled his arm away and turned onto his back again. And Scully stayed facing away from him.
When Mulder heard Scully get up in the morning he stayed where he was, lying on his side. He listened to her move around, his eyes open wide, and hardly dared to breathe until she got into the shower. Usually in the mornings she would wake him up, and he would make breakfast while she and Ben got ready for the day. They’d eat breakfast together, and she would leave him with a kiss before taking Ben to school. And now that she was no longer working she’d come home quickly and they’d have the entire day to do whatever they liked: cooking, shopping, reading, talking, making love.
She didn’t even talk to him this morning. He squeezed his eyes shut when she came out of the bathroom, and he sensed her stand beside the bedside for a minute. Her hand briefly touched his hair, and then she sighed and left the room quickly.
He heard Scully knock on Ben’s door. “Ben? Honey? Are you awake?”
Ben’s reply was muffled, and then Mulder heard, “Where’s Mulder?”
“He’s still asleep. Let him rest.”
“Is he okay?”
“He’s okay.” They went downstairs.
Mulder lay still until he heard the car drive away, and then he sat up and hugged his knees. Why wouldn’t she even talk to him, ju
st kiss him good morning?
He hadn’t slept all night, and his head still ached. He rubbed his temples, trying to think. He used to make his living trying to figure things out, why couldn’t he do it anymore?
Think, Mulder, think. Where would she hide a key?
Well, her keychain was an obvious place. But obvious was wrong, Scully was never obvious.
The change between them had happened quickly, so whatever she had done, she had done it quickly too. Quickly enough so that she still smelled like the outdoors when she wrapped herself up in the afghan.
She’d been in the study. Whatever she’d hidden was in the study desk. So the key had to be in the study as well.
But he’d looked there already.
Well, he’d have to look again.
Mulder rose from the bed, wincing as the throbbing in his head increased with the movement, and went downstairs to Scully’s study. He tried to imagine her—angry, upset, wanting to hide whatever had caused this pain—
He stepped to the desk. “She’d take the key from the tray . . . put whatever it is in the drawer . . . ” He looked over the desk top again, still neat and straight, and pulled open the side drawer. “. . . and put the key away . . . into something . . . ” He looked through the folders again, looking for an extra weight that paper couldn’t give, and then sat down and sighed. He was right, he knew he was right, why was he missing it?
There was a box of ballpoint pens in the drawer. He shook the pens out onto the blotter, and then scooped them back into the box, disappointed. A box of pencils was next, and then a box of microcassettes. Nothing.
“Damn,” Mulder whispered. He wanted to tear the room apart to find that damned key. He yanked at the drawer, yanked and pulled and tugged, and finally shoved at the desk and fell back in the chair, frustrated and near tears.
Mulder spun in the chair, to see Scully standing in the doorway. She licked her lips and took a step towards him.
“I-I wanted a pen.”
Silently she came to him, and handed him one of the pens from the cup on the desk. He held it between the thumb and forefinger of both hands, and said quietly, “Thank you.” She only nodded, and turned to leave again. He said, “Scully?” and she paused.
“You go to the doctor today, don’t you?”
“Yes.” She ran her hand slowly up and down the door frame.
“Do you want me to come with you? I want to come with you.”
“I know you do . . . but I don’t think you should.”
Mulder nodded, his throat closing, and he whispered, “Scully?”
“What did I do?”
She turned around to look at him. “What?”
“What did I do to make you hate me?”
She looked at him a moment, and then she came back to him and put her hand gently on his neck. “Mulder,” she said quietly. “Mulder.”
“I must have done something. Tell me what I did.” He looked up at her, his vision blurring.
“You didn’t do anything, Mulder,” she said, and stroked his neck a time or two. “You never did anything to deserve all this pain.”
He closed his eyes for a moment, glad of her simple touch, and then grabbed her, wrapping his arms around her waist, pressing his face into her stomach. Scully gasped and pushed on him shoulders a moment, and then stopped and wrapped her arms around his head.
“I’m sorry,” she whispered. “I’m sorry.” She kissed his hair and pulled herself from his gasp, whispered, “I’m sorry,” once more and left the study as if she couldn’t bear him another moment.
Mulder leaned his elbows on the desk and covered his face with his hands. No, no, it couldn’t be this way, he couldn’t lose her like this. Not when only the day before she’d loved him so much. Their lives together, their family, their baby—was it the baby? It had to be. It had to be something about the baby. He couldn’t see what else would upset her so much. Maybe she could feel that something was wrong with the baby, or she was afraid, or . . .
He could hardly breathe as he thought it. Maybe she didn’t want to have the baby after all.
He pushed himself back from the desk and slowly stood, and went to find Scully. He finally saw her out in the back yard, sitting in the swing, her knees drawn up and her arms wrapped around them, her face pressed against her knees. He watched her for several minutes, and then resolutely opened the back door and went outside.
Scully looked up as he approached and let down her legs, and wiped her face with her palms. She watched him as he knelt down on the grass, but made no move to touch him.
Mulder said carefully, “I want to tell you something.”
Scully nodded. He wanted to kiss her sweet face until all the pain disappeared. He said, “I don’t ever want you to do something you don’t want to do because you think it will please me. Okay?”
“Mulder, I wouldn’t . . .”
“You have to decide what’s right, Scully. It’s not for me to tell you.”
She closed her eyes and lowered her head, and said quietly, “I’m going to Montana for a few days.”
“Montana? Why is that?”
“I have to see something. I have to find something out for myself. I don’t think you should come.”
“All right. But let me come with you to the doctor, Scully. I want to be there. Please.” He placed his hands on her knees, and she gently put her hands on top of them.
“I may make decisions you won’t like, Mulder.”
“Let me be there. Please. I won’t argue with any decisions you make, I promise, just let me be there.”
She stroked his hands lightly with her thumbs, and whispered, “Mulder, I’m afraid.”
“Just don’t shut me out, Scully, please, don’t stop talking to me. Please. I can’t—I don’t want to—there’s no point in me being without you.”
“There’s no point in me being without you, either,” she whispered, and her hands gripped his tightly. “Come with me. Come with me to the doctor. I need you to hold my hand, Mulder. I need you with me.”
He nodded, relieved, and bent his head to kiss her hands. He knew there was more, and they’d need to talk about it soon, but for now this was enough. This was enough for today.
=========== Twenty-one ===========
Earlier that day as Scully drove Ben to school, he let a few blocks in silence and then said, “So what’s going on between you and Mulder?”
“Nothing’s going on.”
“You hardly said a word to him last night.”
“I wasn’t feeling well last night.”
Ben tapped his fingers on his knee for a moment, then said, “I hate it when you treat me like I’m oblivious. Something’s up and I want to know what it is.” He said, when she didn’t answer, “Is something wrong with the baby?”
“We won’t know that until I go to the doctor today.”
“So it’s not the baby.” Again she didn’t answer, and he said, “Dammit, Mom, what are you hiding?”
“Don’t take that tone of voice with me, Benjamin.”
“You’ve always told me everything.”
“I haven’t told you everything any more than you’ve told me everything. Some secrets are just better kept,” she added, looking out at the road.
“So you’re keeping a secret.”
“Have you told Mulder?’
“Are you going to?”
“I don’t know.”
Ben looked out the window and said quietly, “But you will tell us, won’t you? I mean, you wouldn’t keep something important from us, would you?”
“I suppose I’ll have to, at some point. Just not yet, Benjie, okay? Not yet. I can’t yet.”
They drove in silence until they reached the school parking lot, and then Ben said, “Mom, if something’s wrong with the baby, you’ll tell us, won’t you?”
“I wouldn’t hide something like that.”
They looked at each other for a moment, then Ben leaned over and kissed her cheek, and quickly got out of the car. He walked rapidly into the school without looking back.
He felt nervous in his stomach, the same sickening feeling you get when you realize you’re about to witness a car crash. It was a dreadful feeling,
and he wished he could go home and talk to his folks until they told him what was going on.
Though he suspected Mulder was just as confused as he was.
What a terrible time for his family to fall apart, just as they were starting to make sense to each other. Mulder acted more and more like a father, and felt more like a friend, every day. His mother seemed so happy, so content, until this mysterious Bad Thing occurred. She’d seemed pleased about the baby, quietly pleased.
Ben wasn’t sure how he felt about that development, either. It was exciting, it was scary, it worried him—and he wanted to tell Emma about it so badly he wondered if he’d just blurt it out when he saw her.
He went to the library where they usually met in the mornings, and when he saw Emma sitting at their table he paused for a moment, looking at her. She was reading and making notes, her mouth pursed in concentration.
He sighed, and wondered if this tenderness and affection he felt was the same feeling Mulder had about Scully. He went to the table, approaching her from the side, and slid into the chair beside her. “Hey.”
She looked up, and her smile quickly became a look of concern. “Hey. Are you okay?”
“Yeah, I’m—can we go outside? I want to talk.”
“Sure.” She packed up her books and notebooks quickly into her backpack and they left the library. They walked slowly down the hall, and Ben took her hand. She squeezed it, looking into his face. “What is it?”
“Did you know—could you tell, before your mom left, that they were having problems?”
“Of course, they fought all the time and when they weren’t fighting they didn’t say a word to each other. Why?” She stopped walking and gripped his hand tightly. “Your parents aren’t fighting, are they?”
“They’re not talking, which is just as bad. And my mom admitted to me that she’s keeping a secret from us, that she can’t tell us, and—and—I—I’m not used to my mom keeping secrets from me.”
“But Ben, they’re so—”
“I know. And now they’re not. I don’t get it and I don’t like it. Oh, God,” he whispered, “Emma, what if he wants to leave? What if she wants him to go?”
“On Friday they seemed fine. They were holding hands and grinning at each other just like normal.”
“Yesterday morning they were fine. And then Mulder and I went running, and when we came back it was like—everything was different. She couldn’t even look at him.”
“Are you sure they didn’t fight?”
“I don’t know when they could have. I didn’t hear any yelling and Mulder never gets mad, and certainly not at my mom.”
“I don’t know what to tell you, Benjie. I don’t know if there’s anything I could say to help.”
“It’s okay.” He leaned over and kissed her. “It’s just so good to tell you. I don’t know what I’d do if I didn’t have you to tell things.”
She was about to answer when the bell rang over their heads. She sighed and reluctantly let him go. “We’ll talk more in study hall, okay?”
“Okay. I love you,” he said, and she smiled.
“I love you too,” she said, and ran up the stairs to get to her class.
Ben managed to make it through the rest of the day, barely. His class schedule was pretty easy—it was his senior year, he wanted to indulge himself—but still it was nearly impossible to sit through his classes when all he wanted was to go home and see if he still had a family. When he turned once more to look at the clock his English teacher said, “Do you have somewhere more important to be, Mr. Scully?” and Ben scowled at him, thinking, You can’t even imagine.
His last class of the day was gym, and he pushed himself hard, running so fast he thought his lungs would burst. He threw himself onto the grass and lay there, panting the hot August sun.
Jeff jogged up and plopped down onto the grass. “Trying to kill yourself, Benjie? It’s a million degrees out here.”
“I’m just running. Two laps like coach wanted.”
“Whatever.” Jeff lay down on the grass. “You excited for next weekend?”
“What about next weekend?”
Jeff sat up again and stared at Ben. “Hello? Next weekend? Your birthday, our last summer huzzah? What planet are you on?”
“Planet Earth, last I checked, what do they call it in your neighborhood?” He sighed. “Things are just weird at home, okay?”
“Ahh. When aren’t they weird at home? It explains you, though.”
Ben shoved him, and Jeff shoved him back, laughing. “Hey. I’m sorry, I’m sorry. Really. It seems like something’s always going on with you. Your mom’s gone or your godfathers are in a crisis or your Mystery Dad is here. You have a dramatic life. It’s hard to keep up.”
“Sorry. There, um, there might not be a camping trip.”
“Ben! No camping trip? Why the hell not?”
“I don’t think I should leave my folks. They might need me.”
“Moral support? I don’t know. I’ll tell everybody the camping trip’s on hold for now.”
“Until this crisis is over?”
“Yeah. I’m sorry, Jeffy.”
“Hey, it’s okay. It wouldn’t be you if you weren’t in a crisis.”
Their gym teacher ambled over. “Are you boys ready to join the class?”
“Sorry, Coach.” Jeff jumped to his feet.
“Can I have a minute, Coach?” Ben said.
“Feeling sick, Ben?”
The coach was standing with his back to the sun, and Ben had to squint to see him. “Any chance of me leaving early today?”
“Do you have a note from your parents?”
“Then there’s no chance, Ben.”
Ben sighed and got reluctantly to his feet. “It was worth a try.”
“Come on, boys, let’s work off some aggression.” He put his arms around both their shoulders and they walked over to the other side of the field, to join the rest of the class.
“So,” Ben said when Emma pulled into his driveway.
“Do you want to come be part of the Scully family drama?”
“Do you want me to be there?” she asked tenderly.
He sighed. “I don’t know . . . I just don’t want you to get embarrassed.”
“I don’t want you to face it alone.”
“And what if it’s nothing? What if it’s—what’s if everything’s fine?”
“I don’t know, Benjie. I don’t know what to do.”
He sighed again, looking up at his house, and opened the car door. “Thanks for driving me home. I think I should do this alone. I’ll call you.”
“Okay. It doesn’t matter when, Ben, just call me.”
Ben nodded. “I will. You’re perfect, you know that?”
Emma touched his hand and said, “Call me and tell me everything.”
Ben got out of the car and shut the door, then opened it again and leaned in. “She might be pregnant. That’s part of the reason why this is so bad.”
“Oh—Ben—is that—that’s good, isn’t it?”
“I don’t know. But it’s part of why this scares me.” He shut the car door again, and slowly climbed the front steps to go into his house.
It took him a few minutes to find his mother. She was sitting at her desk in the study, an unopened photo album in her lap. She stared unseeing out the window.
“Mom?” he said, and she jumped, her hand flying to her chest.
“Benjie! You startled me.”
“Sorry.” He came closer and leaned against her desk. “So what’s the news?”
“I am pregnant,” she said quietly, and Ben smiled despite himself. “Rebecca thinks it looks good, everything looks fine. We took some samples for testing, chromosomal testing, but she doesn’t think I need hormone therapy or anything they usually do with pregnant women my age. Just prenatal vitamins and lots of milk, she said.” She smiled tightly.
“Well, good. That’s good, isn’t it? That she thinks it’s okay?”
His mother nodded, running her hands up and down the sides of the photo album.
“So what will the chromosome tests say?”
“They’ll tell us the baby’s sex, for one thing. Anything abnormal. Down’s syndrome, for instance.”
“Is that a risk?”
“There are hundred of risks, Benjie.”
“So what are the odds?”
“I don’t know the odds. You know,”
she mused, “when I was pregnant with you I used to have these dreams—which everyone told me was normal, especially with the first one—that I’d give birth to something inhuman. I had these tests done then, too. And even though they said everything was normal I was still afraid.”
Ben said softly, “And if the baby’s not normal?”
“That will depend on how abnormal the baby is. If it seems the baby will not survive outside the womb . . . I don’t know,” she said in an honest, painful way that made Ben’s heart ache. “I don’t know what to do. We’ll just have to wait and see.”
“Oh, Mom,” he said.
She nodded in acknowledgement, still caressing the photo album. It was her special album, her realized, it was the one with pictures of her and Mulder before he was born, that she had just begun to add new pictures to recently. And he realized too what was missing here, who should also be in this room.
“He’s not here.”
“I can see that, but where is he?”
“Not here means not here, Ben. I don’t know where he is.” She took a deep breath, visibly steadying herself. “On the way home from Dr.Forstrom’s we stopped at the park to talk, and at the conclusions of our conversation he walked away. I waited, but he didn’t come back. So I came home.”
“He just walked away?”
“Without looking back.”
“What did you say to him?” Ben said, and winced at the way her eyes flared at him.
“What did I—” She stopped herself and said shortly, “I didn’t tell him to leave, if that’s what you’re thinking.”
“There has to be a reason that he’d just up and leave.”
“Ben, sit down. I have a story to tell you.”
Mulder was elated when they left the doctor’s office. “Did you hear that? Isn’t it wonderful? She thinks it’s okay. She thinks you’re fine. Scully, I’m so happy, I’m so glad.”
“Uh-huh,” Scully said, and Mulder stopped and held her chin gently in his fingers.
“Scully. Come on. Tell me you don’t feel better now. Aren’t you even a little relieved?”
“A little.” She lowered her head while another couple passed them, and said, “Could we talk about this someplace else?”
“Where do you want to go? Should we go home?”
“No—no, let’s go to the park. I want to be outside.”
“Sure,” he said, his face concerned and worried, and he held her hand as long as he could.
The park was quiet. It was too hot for runners. There were a few people reading or napping in the shade and by the fountains, but otherwise Mulder and Scully could almost have been alone.
They walked slowly, holding hands, and Scully could feel him trembling. She said quietly, “Mulder, tell me something. Tell me the first thing you remember. The very first thing.”
He thought about it for a while, and said, “The first thing, the very first thing, is waking up in a bright, bare room. I can’t move, and I’m hungry and thirsty and alone and scared, and I don’t know where I am or who to leave. That’s the first thing I remember. I remember being afraid.”
Scully closed her eyes for a moment, touched by the pain in his voice. He went on softly, “Everything after that is fuzzy for a long time. I remember some people who were very gentle with me. And then I remember Alex, how he took care of me. And then the hospital where they helped me, and then . . . you know the rest.”
“The first people you were with, Mulder, did they tell you anything? Do you remember?”
He shook his head. “They may have talked to me but I don’t remember anything they said. It’s like remembering a dream.”
They walked on for a while, and she said, “When did you start remembering me?”
“You were always there, Scully.”
“Even when I wasn’t sure who you were, I knew you. I always had my angel.”
“Mulder. Mulder. Are you sure? Before you saw me in the asylum, you remembered me?”
“Yes. I’m sure. I remembered the way you look and the sound of your voice, and the way it felt when you touched me. Even when they told me you weren’t real, that I’d only dreamed you, I believed in you.” He looked at her as they walked, and said, “Why? What is it?”
Scully stopped walking and leaned against him, her cheek against his chest. He looked like Mulder. He sounded like Mulder. He even smelled like Mulder. Surely that meant something. Surely they couldn’t copy his scent, the rumble in his voice, the absorbing way that he kissed her.
She hated being full of doubts like this. She’d felt it, through every cell of her body, that this man was her Mulder from the first moment she touched him in the dark asylum cell—but if that instinct could be fooled, who knew what else she’d been wrong about over the years.
Mulder put his arms around her and held her close, and started to stroke her hair. “Are you still scared?”
“Not as much. I’ll feel better once the test results are back.”
He nodded slowly, still stroking her hair. “Scully? What are you looking for, with the tests?”
“Even with me?”
“Even with you.”
He swallowed hard, his hand pausing. “Do you think there might be something wrong with me?”
“I don’t know.”
His head bent over hers, and she felt his lips on her hair. “Scully,” he whispered. “How come you didn’t do all this before? Have tests run on me and everything?”
“Because it hadn’t occurred to me before that I might need to,” she said quietly. “I just want to be sure I’m giving birth to a healthy child.”
“And if you’re not?” His voice was raw with pain. “If the baby’s not healthy, Scully, what are you going to do?”
She pressed her face against his chest, her eyes closed and her hand on his sides. “We keep talking around this. I don’t want an abortion.” She felt him sigh with relief, and pressed her trembling lips together. “So I don’t have an answer, really. I don’t know what I’m going to do. I don’t know what I should do.”
“Do you want to know what I think?”
“I think you’re forgetting that I’m here with you,” he said slowly. “I think you’re forgetting that I’m going to help you as much as I can. And I think you’re forgetting that I’m worried, too.”
“No,” Scully whispered, “I’m not forgetting any of that.”
He raised her face and kissed her forehead, and chastely, her lips. “You sounded so lonely just now, Scully. Don’t be lonely.”
“Mulder . . .” She felt ridiculously close to tears, and concentrated for a moment or two on just inhaling and exhaling.Lonely. That summed it up.
She looked up at him and said, “I still need to go to Montana.There’s something there that I have to figure out.”
“Okay. When will you be home?”
“I’ll leave Wednesday and be back Friday or Saturday. It depends on what I find.”
“What are you looking for?”
She had to tell him. It felt wrong to hide it. Ben had been so upset, she couldn’t imagine what Mulder must be feeling now. He was so patient with her. Sometimes she felt it was more than she deserved.
“Mulder,” she said, “on Sunday Walter Skinner brought me a file that he’d gotten from a sheriff in Montana. They found a skeleton in the woods, and when they ran the dental cast of the skeleton through the missing persons database, it matched with you.”
His stroking hand stilled, and he said, “Scully. Scully. What are you saying?”
“I have to go to Montana to find out who the body really belongs to.”
Mulder let go of her and stepped back a pace. “Scully.” He had that look she knew, his lips turned down and his eyes dark with misery. “Scully. That body—it’s not true. I’m Fox Mulder.” He pounded his chest with his open palm. “I am Fox Mulder!”
“Yes, Mulder, my dear, yes, you are, you are Mulder—but this body— I have to solve this. I have to find out why it matched with you.”
He wiped his eyes savagely with the back of his hand. “Scully,” he said. “Is this why you want the tests with the baby? You think I’m one of those things—”
“I don’t—oh, Mulder, I don’t know what to think.”
She stepped towards him, reaching out to him. He looked at her outstretched hands as if her touch would burn. “Please, Mulder. I’m just trying to find out the truth.”
“And what if the truth is he’s Mulder, not me?”
“Then—then we’ll figure something out.”
“You want to get rid of me.”
“Then why is there any doubt in your mind? If you really think I’m me and not him you wouldn’t go.”
“I have to know,” she whispered. “I have to be sure.”
He closed his eyes, breathing in shuddery gasps. “I knew you,” he said, his voice rough. “From the first moment I knew anything, I knew who you were. You were the only thing I had to cling to, the only thing I knew for certain. And now you tell me it’s a lie, that my own memories are actually someone else’s, that I’m not me? Scully, what does it mean? Who am I, if I’m not Fox Mulder?”
“I don’t know,” she said. “I don’t understand it, I’ve never understood any of it. I don’t know why you were taken away from me in the first place. I don’t know why they’d create a clone and kill him—”
“Or hand him over to you,” he said bitterly, and she lowered her head and allowed her arms to drop.
“Or that, either.”
He stood there in the path, breathing hard and his hands clenching and unclenching, and he said, “Scully, tell me something: do you love me for who you think I was or for who I am?”
“I just love you, Mulder. Who you are and who you were. I love all the parts that make up you.”
“And if that body is the real Mulder?”
“I don’t know what’s going to happen,” she whispered, and bit back a sob when he turned and walked away from her as rapidly as he could go.
=========== Twenty-two ===========
Ben took the car and drove around the park and the neighborhood until sunset. He was about to go home, feeling defeated and powerless, when he passed by the waterfalls where he and Mulder usually stopped to recover from their runs. They’d been there just a few days before, sharing a bottle of Gatorade and talking about the colleges he was considering, and how tempted he was to go wherever Emma went. “If that school offers you what you want,” Mulder had said, “then go. Emma’s being there will only be a plus. But if it’s not where you really want to be, you may resent her for it, over time.”
Ben kicked his shoe against the paved path. Mulder had been a dad that day, a real dad, not a kid who needed looking after or a stranger to be watched over. More and more Mulder was like how Ben had imagined having a dad would be, and now this—
“Fuck this,” he said, and jumped when a soft voice said, “Your mother doesn’t like it when you swear.”
“Mulder?” He squinted in the soft twilight, and saw him, sitting on one of the stones at the top of the falls. His pants were rolled up and his shoes were set aside, and he waved to Ben in a small, embarrassed gesture. Ben waved back, and said, “Have you been here all day?”
Ben looked at him a minute more, then took off his shoes, rolled up his jeans and climbed to the top of the falls and joined Mulder on the stone. It was only four feet or so off the ground, and then the creek meandered off to the little kids’ portion of the park, with the petting zoo and the swing sets and the bridge where Scully had taught him to play Pooh Sticks when he was four.
“So,” he said.
Ben pulled on his shoelaces and said, “Mom’s worried about you.”
“Did she have dinner?”
“She made scrambled eggs and cheese. She ate a little of it.”
Mulder nodded wearily. “She needs the protein.”
They both listened to the rushing water and Ben said, “The park closes at sunset. We’re not supposed to be here.”
“That’s an easy rule to get around.”
Ben closed his eyes and opened them, and said, “So are you leaving us, then? Is that what this is?”
“I don’t want to go.”
“Mom doesn’t want you to leave. I don’t, either.”
“Did she tell you?” Mulder looked at him for the first time since Ben had joined him on the rock. “Did she tell you what’s going on? Did she tell you the whole story?”
“She told me.”
“I may not even be human. How’s that for good news. Having this baby may kill her. She hasn’t said so to me but I know she’s thinking it.She’s afraid. She’s right to be afraid,” he added softly, and Ben put his hand on his back.
“She doesn’t want you to leave,” he said again, and felt a shudder go through Mulder.
“I don’t want to leave. I don’t. But if it’s best for her and for you—I don’t know, Benjie, I don’t know what to do.”
“Come home,” Ben said, and Mulder shook his head.
“No. I can’t. Not yet. I—”
“Oh, don’t make this a matter of pride,” Ben said, and Mulder closed his eyes. “It’s where you want to be, it’s where you’re wanted—she wants you home.”
“It’s not about pride.”
Mulder sighed. “All I’ve wanted, for as long as I can remember, is a place where I feel safe. If I’m not safe there I’m not safe anywhere.”
“What does this have to do with safety?”
“If I’m not Mulder, what happens to me?” he said passionately. “Where do I go? What do I have? I’ll have nothing. No family, no history, no joy of any kind. What’s the point of me even being alive if I’m not Mulder?”
“I don’t think Mom would just kick you out.”
Mulder hunched up as if he’d been struck, and said, “Maybe, but she wouldn’t love me anymore so it wouldn’t matter anyway. I may as well go back to the asylum or something, where they take care of you but you don’t really matter to them.”
“You matter,” Ben said, and Mulder looked at him intently again. “You matter to everybody.”
“Do I matter to you?’
“Of course you do. You’re my father.”
“What if I’m not?”
Ben felt like he was about to cry, and he said quietly, “What’s a father, anyway? It’s just biology. You’re my dad, and that’s what matters.”
Mulder closed his eyes again, and then leaned against Ben a little and put his head on his shoulder. “Okay,” he said. “Okay. I can live with that.”
“Will you come home now?”
“Soon.” There was a long pause, and they both just listened to the waterfall and the soft sounds of the neighborhood at night. Mulder said, “I’m so tired.”
“I’m not surprised, being out in the sun all day.”
“I wasn’t out here all day. Most of it. A lot of it. My head is killing me.”
“I have the car. Come home with me.”
The sigh Mulder gave was heavy and long. “All right,” he said, his voice barely audible. “All right.”
Scully began to cry when she saw Mulder get out of the car, which surprised all three of them. She had been waiting on the front steps, wondering and worrying, and got to her feet when the car pulled up. She went to Mulder and paused for a moment, uncertain, and the sorrow in his face deepened.
“I’m sorry,” he whispered, and she threw herself into his arms. He caught her, stumbling a little, and held her tight, one hand in her hair and the other clasping her waist, and she pressed her face against his chest and clung to him.
Ben shuffled his feet for a moment, then said, “I’ll be inside,” and went into the house so quickly the door slammed behind him. Scully blessed his sense of timing and tried to get a hold of herself, to calm her tears and slow her breathing.
Finally she looked up and cupped Mulder’s face in her hands. She whispered, “I’m sorry, Mulder, I’m sorry, I’m sorry.”
“It’s okay,” he said. “Don’t cry.” Still holding her, he drew her to front steps. They sat down carefully, with Scully on the top step and Mulder between her legs on a lower one. For a few moments they sat in silence, watching the neighborhood descend into twilight, and then Mulder sighed and leaned against her.
“I shouldn’t have walked away like that.”
“I didn’t want to tell you. I knew how much it would hurt you. Maybe I shouldn’t have—”
“No, it’s good that you did. If I’m not the real Mulder—” He paused and cleared his
throat. “I don’t want to endanger you and the children. Ever.”
“Oh, Mulder,” she whispered, and kissed his soft hair.
“What are we going to do, Scully?” he said quietly. “What are we going to do?”
“I know what I want to do,” she said, just as quietly. “I know what I’m tempted to do. I’m tempted to forget it, to send back the papers and tell them they’ve got the wrong person, to just go on with our lives.” Her hand raked through his hair restlessly.
Mulder thought about this a long time, then said, “No.”
“Isn’t the truth what we’ve always wanted? Even if it’s uncomfortable or inconvenient? It’s not right to ignore it.” He nuzzled her arm a little. “Even if it would be easier.”
“So what do you think we should do?”
Again he thought about it, and said, “I want you to go to Montana and I want you to look at the body. And I want you to tell me the truth when you come home.”
Scully took in a deep breath and let it out. “All right.”
“And we’ll make whatever decisions are necessary about the baby when that time comes, too.”
“I don’t see that there are really any decisions to be made. I want this baby. I don’t care what it does to me. If it’s deformed, if it’s mentally deficient, whatever, I don’t care. We’re going to love this baby and take care of it and give it the best of everything.”
“I don’t want the baby to suffer,” Mulder said, lowering his head.
“I don’t, either.”
“But if it’s not normal, Scully—”
“I’m not going to give up on this child, Mulder.”
Very slowly, he nodded. “All right.”
Again they watched the evening darken around them, and Scully said quietly, “When I was pregnant with Ben I used to have dreams. Very vivid dreams about what might be growing inside me. My baby ripping its way out of my stomach . . .” She paused and he looked up at her, his head still in the circle of her arm. His thumb brushed lightly over the faded denim over her knee. “Things like that. It was so strange, me being pregnant when I knew—I knew, I had proof—that I couldn’t conceive. It frightened me. I couldn’t understand why it had happened. I mean, we’d talked about having a baby but we knew it was going to be expensive and arduous and there would be risks and frustrations. And then for me to just be pregnant . . . it was like a miracle. At the time I wasn’t terribly open to miracles.”
He placed his hand lightly on her stomach, and then leaned into her and kissed her belly. Scully gave a small gasp, which made the corner of his mouth quirk in a tiny smile. “This is a miracle,” he said. “This stuns me. Our own little baby . . .” He looked up at her, an intensity in his eyes that made her shiver. “We’ll take good care of her, Scully, no matter what happens. She won’t suffer for anything.”
“She?” Scully whispered. “You think it’s a girl?”
He blushed and said, “Yes. A little girl with your blue eyes. She told me.”
“Oh, she did.”
“Yes. She whispers to me.”
“What else has she told you?” Scully said, smiling at his game. He slipped his arms around her and moved closer, and planted another kiss on her belly.
“She tells me not to worry,” he whispered, and leaned his head against her stomach. “She tells me how happy and warm she is inside you. She tells me to not be afraid.” He looked up at her again. “What does she tell you?”
“Mulder, she doesn’t—”
“Shh. Just listen.”
Scully closed her eyes and tried to focus herself. She couldn’t help but feel a little silly, listening to a mute and muffled fetus as if it actually could speak to her—
She gasped and her eyes flew open, and Mulder smiled at her. “There.You heard something, didn’t you?”
“I’m not sure—Mulder, it was like a laugh, a little girl’s laugh— I’m imagining things.”
“Maybe,” he said, and leaned his head against her stomach again. She combed her fingers through his hair, wondering at him, and he said, “That feels awfully good, Scully. My head’s been hurting.”
“My poor sweetheart. Do you want to lie down?”
“Not yet. Will you rub my head some more?”
“Of course.” She rubbed his head with both hands, at the bumps of his skull behind his ears and where his spinal column joined his head, his temples and the points of his jaw. His head was hot as if he were running a fever. “How long has your head been hurting you?”
“Did you eat anything today?”
“Yeah. I went to Mama’s CafÃƒÂ© on Green and had a bagel sandwich. They were surprised I was there alone, usually Ben comes with me.”
“Do you feel nauseous?”
“No. I don’t think it’s a migraine. It just hurts.”
“What do you mean?”
“Like it’s . . .” He touched his temple. “Not that it’s here, on the surface. Like it’s inside. Deep inside.”
Scully frowned. “Mulder, the brain has no nerves. It can’t feel pain.”
“I don’t know how else to explain it to you. It’s deep inside. That’s what it feels like.”
“Maybe we should take you to a hospital. It might be an aneurysm or a stroke.”
“I feel okay everywhere else. It’s only my head that hurts. Well, and my feet hurt a little from the walking.”
“Poor baby,” she whispered, and kissed him again, gently. She continued rubbing his head, and he sighed in contentment.
“Tell me a story.”
She smiled at the familiar request. “What kind of story?”
“Tell me about the first time you told me you loved me. Or told Mulder,” he added in a whisper, and she kissed his hair.
“Sh. Enough of that. I’ll tell you the story and then I want you to go to bed, okay?”
She took a few minutes, rubbing his scalp and putting her thoughts together. She began softly, “It took me almost a year to answer you. The problem was, I didn’t think you meant it the first time you said it—I thought you were dopey from pain and painkillers . . . well, anyway, I didn’t think you meant it. You know that part of it.” Under her hands he nodded. “As the year went by I kept getting the sense from you that there was a lot still unspoken between us, and that you were waiting for me to make up my mind. Or come to my senses. A little of both.
“And then our confrontation occurred. I was told you’d been kidnapped, I was told you’d been killed, I was told you’d killed yourself. I was told a thousand lies. And when I found you . . . Oh, Mulder, when I found you . . .”
“You cried,” Mulder whispered. “You cried.”
“I cried,” she confirmed softly. “And after the fighting and the destruction and all of that—and after our first kiss—” He chuckled and she smiled at the sound. “We were on our way home. Some of our allies had a military convoy truck. You and I and a few others were riding in the back. You were asleep in my arms. We were out West somewhere, Idaho or something, and it was very cold. It was early October or so. We’d been given these big army surplus coats, and I’d spread one over you as a blanket. Your head was right about where it is now, right against my breast, and I could see your face in the moonlight. It was very quiet, except for the wind. Everyone was asleep, I think, except the driver and me.
“And I was watching you and thinking about what we’d just gone through, and I kept getting distracted by the shadow of your eyelashes on your cheeks.” He chuckled again. “I started thinking about all the things you’d done for me, all the times you’d comforted me, even all the times you’d make me angry and then tried to make up for it in your own peculiar way. And I thought about how much I loved looking at you. I used to daydream about you so much. I used to fantasize about what it would like to kiss you and make love with you . . . and everything. Live with you. Be your lover, not just your friend. And I thought, it’s about so much more than love between us, but love is the only word we’ve got for it. And I thought, he deserves to know.
“So I bent my head, just like this, and I whispered it, very softly, into your ear
like this, ‘I love you.'” A deep shiver passed through Mulder and she remained with her head bent, and whispered, “And then you shocked the hell out of me by stirring a little and saying, ‘Your secret is safe with me,’ without even opening your eyes.”
Mulder laughed outright this time, and Scully paused in rubbing his scalp to kiss him again. “Of course I didn’t feel I should let on that I’d expected you to be asleep, so I just said, ‘All right,’ and eventually you went back to sleep. And eventually so did I.”
“That’s sweet,” Mulder whispered.
“I’ve always thought so. It was a lot like us. Not conventional, but suitable for you and me. In the morning when I woke up, you’d spread the coat over both of us and you were holding me and watching me.When you saw I was awake you smiled the biggest smile I’d ever seen you use, and you said, ‘Good morning, and I love you too.’ I kissed you and you held me, and we just lay there and watched the world go by as we were driven home. We really didn’t talk about it until we got to my apartment later on and decided we really did want to be together. And I got better at saying I love you.”
“That’s a good story,” Mulder said wistfully.
“It’s a true story. Best kind. Now, I want you to go to bed, Mulder. Day-long headaches worry me.”
He got reluctantly to his feet and helped her to hers, and said, his hands on her shoulders, “Will you hold me tonight, Scully?” with a painful look in his eyes that melted Scully’s heart.
“Of course I will,” she said, and kissed him.
============= Twenty-three =============
Even though he’d told her to go, that he wanted her to go, Mulder didn’t want to let Scully out of his arms when her flight was called.It seemed like she was going very far away for a terribly long time.He kissed her again and again until she was blushing.
“Promise you’ll be back Saturday,” he said.
“I’ll be back Saturday. Early on Saturday, in fact. We’ll talk when I get back, okay?” She looked up at him and held his face between his hands. “I have to go. They’re not going to hold the plane for me.”
“I’ll call every night. I love you.” She stood up on her toes to kiss him, and then went to Ben and hugged him tight, too. “Be good. And I love you.”
“Love you,” Ben said. He wasn’t smiling—he looked more troubled than anything else. But he just waited back with Mulder while they watched Scully go up the concourse onto the plane. “Well,” he said, once she was out of sight, “back to school for me, I guess.”
“Just drop me off at home. I have the house key.”
“Are you sure?”
“The car’s no use to me.” They both drifted to the large window overlooking the runway, watching the technicians work around the plane. The last of the luggage was brought on board, signals were given by light and by flag. Mulder sighed. Take good care of my girls, he thought.
“We could go out to breakfast or something,” Ben was saying.
“You need to get to school.”
“‘Need’ is a relative term.”
Mulder smiled at him. He was tempted to have Ben stay with him, but Scully would want him to go to school. “You can stay home if you’ll work on applications today,” he said, and Ben groaned.
“All right, all right, I’ll go to school.” Neither of them moved away from the window. They watched as the technicians coaxed the plane away from the airport and the plane awkwardly rolled out onto the runway. Clumsy things, airplanes, Mulder thought, until they leave the ground.
He kept his eyes on the plane that would carry Scully away. She hated flying, he knew that, and still she was willing to get on any plane and let it take her where she needed to be. She trusted them to get here there safely. Amazing—he wasn’t so sure he could get in one himself.
They both breathed sighs of relief when Scully’s plane took off safely, and Mulder smiled at Ben again. “She’ll call.”
“She’s going to be just fine.”
“I know. Should we go?”
“Yes.” He looked longingly at the speck Scully’s plane had become, and then started back towards the lot where they’d left the car, Ben falling into step beside him.
“You know, I’d be happy to teach you to drive,” Ben said as they were waiting at the toll booths.
“It’s all right.”
“You’d be more independent.”
“It’s okay, Ben. I like walking.”
Ben shrugged and rolled down the window to pay the toll booth clerk.
Mulder watched the highway as they passed by, leaning his chin on his hand. He was frightened by the days to come, of the crushing loneliness for Scully he already felt, of what knowledge she would bring home.He wanted to crawl into bed and not move until she came home—and then only if she came home with good news.
Oh, God, he thought, pressing the heels of his hands against his temples, what will I do if I’m not Mulder?
“Mulder? Are you okay?”
He lifted his head from his hands and looked out the window again.
“I’m okay. My head hurts.”
“Are you sure you’re okay?” Your head hurt yesterday too.”
“And the day before. It’s nothing.” He rubbed his forehead, sighing.”I’ll take a nap later.”
Ben sighed, looking unconvinced, and just continued driving.
When Ben was safely off to school and he was home alone, Mulder wandered around the house a bit. There was hardly an object in the house that Scully hadn’t chosen, that didn’t speak of her tastes and preferences. The house even smelled like her, a faint scent of honey and vanilla.
He had felt too poorly to make love with her the night before but he suddenly wished they had nonetheless. He wished he had left some mark on her to remind her that it was his body she craved, his kisses that made her moan and tremble, his child that grew within her body.
She had believed he was Fox Mulder before, surely she could again no matter what she discovered about the body in Montana.
He went into her study, wanting to look at their pictures again, when his attention fell on her desk again. He tried the top drawer, and it was still locked. He opened the other drawers and took out everything he hadn’t tried before: boxes of ballpoint pens, blank floppy disk labels, paperclips, staples. He opened each one and went through them, and finally found the key in the box of paper clips.
For a long time he just sat at the desk, holding the key. If she’d taken the file with her she would have left the drawer unlocked. The file was still here, and it might tell him something, anything.
He unlocked the drawer, put the key aside. He took a deep breath and let it out slowly, closing his eyes. He opened the drawer and felt out the folder, took it out of the drawer and opened his eyes.
He opened the folder, and gasped at the first photograph. The skeleton looked vulnerable, fragile. Lonely. He touched the black-and-white outline of the bones and felt tears come into his eyes. What a terrible way to die, alone and frightened, surrounded by strangers and with a gun to your head. He must have been terrified.
Hastily Mulder turned the picture over and wiped his eyes with the back of his hand. Typed reports followed on the next pages, and he read these as best he could, running his finger along the lines and his lips moving in concentration. He didn’t know all the words but he knew enough to understand.
Dental cast. Decomposition. Shallow grave. Nothing to identify the body but the body itself, and the story the body told made his heart ache. A man in his late thirties had died in a field of a gunshot would to the head. There were broken bones in his hands, in his legs and feet. He had suffered, this man, and had gone unmourned for seventeen years. And every means they had of identifying the body indicated that it was that of Fox Mulder.
He is me, Mulder thought, and covered his face with his hand.
Ben didn’t know what he’d find when he came home. Mulder curled up in a corner, maybe. “Mulder?” he called quietly as he shut the front door.
“In here,” Mulder said just as softly, and Ben went into the study.
Mulder was on the couch, a file folder open in his lap. “How was school?”
“It was okay. Has Mom called yet?”
Ben took off his backpack and let it slide to the floor. “How are you?”
“Oh. Fine. I’ve been sitting here feeling sorry for myself but I think I’m over that now.”
“I’ve been letting go of my life. It’s all going to be taken away from me anyway,” Mulder said matter-of-factly. “You. Scully. Our baby. Even if she lets me stay it won’t be the same. We won’t be a family anymore. It’ll be you and her, and me, the stranger. And who knows what the baby will be.”
“Don’t you think,” Ben said slowly, “that if the baby was—something else? Something dangerous? That Mom would know, that she’d feel it.”
“Maybe it would be better if she doesn’t have the baby at all.”
“Don’t say that!” Ben exclaimed, and Mulder leaned his head in his hands. “Don’t say that. Mom wants this baby and so do you, I know you do. Don’t say things like that.”
“Ben.” Mulder looked up at him, still holding his head. “That body in Montana is your father, not me. I’m sure of it. Look at this.” He held out the folder, and Ben took it and sat down on the floor. He looked through the papers, skimming over the reports, and grimaced when he saw the photographs.
“So it’s a body.”
“It’s Fox Mulder’s body.”
“I don’t believe that. I don’t believe it for a second. If Mom had any doubts about who you are—”
“She didn’t know about this before. It was enough to make her doubt. It’s enough to make me doubt.”
“Don’t you think you’re jumping to conclusions? There could be any number of reasons why this body was identified as Mulder—it could have been a mistake—”
“Ben.” Ben shut his mouth and looked down at the papers in his hands, frowning. “It’s over. We’re not a family. We’re a cruel joke. We’re one last laugh for a bunch of dead evil men.”
“I refuse to accept that,” Ben said, and something in Mulder’s eyes sparked. “I refuse to believe that all of this is a lie.”
“A lie,” Mulder said. “A trick. A joke.”
“No. She believes in you.”
“She loves you.”
“She loves Mulder.”
“Why would you remember her if you weren’t Mulder? Everything that you’ve remembered, everything that’s come back to you—I refuse to believe that’s a lie.”
“They could have implanted those memories in me. You know they’re capable.”
“No,” Ben said. “No.”
“When your mother calls I don’t want to talk to her. I don’t think she’ll want to talk to me, but when she calls tell her—tell her anything.”
“I’m not going to lie to her,” Ben said and wiped his eyes with his forearm. “You weren’t here. I was. I saw what it was like for her. You think she can just turn her back on you? That’s bullshit. So if you want to tell her you’ve given up you can do it your own damn self.”
Mulder raised his eyes to look at him and said, “All right. I will.”
Scully put her notes in one neat pile and the photographs in another. It had taken most of the day to get to this small farming town, and she already felt exhausted and frustrated and lonely. She hadn’t had a chance to look at the body yet, but the sheriff had been kind enough to give her another copy of the reports and photographs.
She moved from the table to the bed and made herself comfortable, taking the phone from the night table. For a moment she sat there quietly, the phone on her knee and her hand on her stomach. She whispered, “Are you okay in there, little baby?” It was real to her now, and she felt she’d gone throughout the day with the gravity of pregnancy upon her. No coffee, I’m pregnant. No aspirin, I’m pregnant. Eat plenty of protein, drink lots of milk, I’m pregnant. Get plenty of rest, I’m pregnant.
And even though she was afraid for this child—and for herself, she could admit that—she was thrilled, too. A baby, a real baby, a pregnancy that was causing her no more problems than some fatigue and heartburn—it seemed too good to be true. It seemed like a blessing.
It seemed like a miracle.
She sighed and patted her tummy a few times, and then dialed the number for home. It rang a few more times than she thought it should, and she counted the time zones once again. It was only ten in Virginia, Ben was usually awake and Mulder probably would be. She was about to hang up and dial again when the ringing cut off abruptly and Ben said, “‘Lo?”
“Hi, sweetie. It’s me.”
“Are you okay, sweetie? You sound tired.”
“I’m okay. I miss you.”
“I miss you too. How was school?”
“Okay. It was okay. Do you want to talk to Mulder?”
Scully didn’t answer for a moment. He’d never been so abrupt with her. Something must be really wrong. “Yes,” she said. “Let me talk to Mulder. I love you, Benjie.”
“Love you. Here’s Mulder.” She heard him hand off the phone, and his voice faintly in the background: “Take it, damn it.” Her hand crept to her stomach as she listened to the phone rub against fabric and Ben insist again, “Take it. Talk to her.”
She could hear him breathe but he said nothing. She said, “Mulder,” and he heaved a long sigh. “Mulder. I miss you.”
The question threw her. “W-why? Because I love you.”
“I don’t think that’s true.”
“I think you’re in love with a memory, that’s what I think. I think you wanted him back so badly you were willing to accept me as a substitute even though you weren’t sure. And I think you’re not going to look at that body as closely as you should so you can believe you really have him back.”
“Mulder . . .” Her eyes stung. Her throat closed. She whispered, “Mulder, don’t say those things. It’s not true.”
“When you come home, I’ll be gone. I think that’s best for everybody. And I think you should abort the baby. I think that’s best too.”
“No,” she whispered. “You know how I feel about that. I want to have this baby. I want to be with you.”
“Why? I’m not Mulder.”
“Yes, you are. You are. You’re the best of Mulder, you’re everything that made me love him in the first place, the sweetness and the gentleness and the tenderness and the empathy. I love you, I need you, I want you with me and I want our children, Mulder. I want our little girl.”
“I don’t want to live a lie.”
“It’s not a lie. What about your memories, Mulder? You’ve remembered so much, things no one would know but you.”
“You believed it wasn’t me when Skinner first brought you the folder. Despite my memories.”
“That was wrong of me, Mulder, but I was so upset. I couldn’t believe that someone would do this kind of thing, after all these years. But I will figure this out, Mulder, and I believe you are who we think you are, that you are Fox Mulder, that you always have been.”
“I looked at the folder,” he said, and his voice broke. “I looked at the pictures. I read the reports. If that body isn’t Mulder, who is it?”
“Who are you, if you’re not Mulder?” she said tenderly.
“I’m nobody. I’m nothing. I’m a byproduct, a mistake.”
“You’re the man I love,” she said, and she heard him sob. “Mulder. Love. My sweet love. I refuse to believe you’re a mistake, and I refuse to believe you were given to me as some kind of joke. I love you so much. I love you. Don’t give up, Mulder, don’t give up on us and our family. Please. I love you so much.”
He cried quietly into the phone, and she whispered to him as soothingly as she could until he stopped. He whispered, “I love you too, angel. Come home soon.”
“I will. You’d better be there to meet me, Mulder.”
“I will. I won’t go anywhere.”
“Sleep well, and dream of me.”
“I will. They’ll be sweet dreams. Good night.”
Scully slowly hung up the phone after Mulder did, and she lay on the bed for a while and tried to breathe slowly and calmly. She put her hands on her s
tomach again, and closed her eyes, concentrating. She thought, Give me something, little baby, give me anything to let me know you’re okay.
There was no epiphany, though, no flash of light or disembodied voice. She sighed— it was nice to dream but this was what she’d really expected—and got up to get ready for bed. She’d just have to wait until the test results came back, which she’d known in her heart would be the case.
She was in her pajamas and brushing her teeth when she heard a knock on the door. She spat out the toothpaste and wiped her mouth, pulled on a bathrobe and went to answer it.
And she gasped and gripped the doorframe when she saw who stood there.
“Hey, Scully,” Krycek said. “Can I talk to you?”
============ Twenty-four ============
“Come in,” Scully said when she’d recovered her composure, and she stepped aside to let Krycek into the hotel room. He had grown a short beard since she saw him last, which made him look even more rakish and dangerous. He smiled sheepishly when he saw what she was wearing.
“Sorry. I didn’t think you’d be going to bed already.”
“I’m still on Virginia time, and it’s been a long day.”
“You look good, though,” Krycek said, and his shoulders shifted uncomfortable under his jacket. “You look . . . radiant.”
“I’m pregnant,” Scully said, which had the effect she’d thought it would have: his eyes widened and for a moment he just stood there with his mouth open.
“Wow. Well. Congratulations . . . but I guess that makes this latest development really complicated.”
“In a word. What brings you to Montana?”
“You,” he said, sitting down at the table.
“Ah,” Said Scully, belting her robe tighter.
“Don’t panic, it’s not like that. Sit down, please. Let’s talk.”
Scully sat down opposite him at the table. This man still made her uncomfortable, despite all the time they’d spent together the previous spring. Still, she’d chosen to trust him before and she felt she could do it again. “How much do you know about all this?”
“I know there was a clone.”
Scully leaned her head on her hand and looked at him. She hadn’t thought he would be so blunt. Or so honest.
He went on slowly, “It was created to take Mulder’s place during the colonization. They felt having a Mulder they could control would facilitate things with people who believed in his cause.”
He shrugged. “I’m not sure. I guess having a familiar face telling you everything is okay works better than a stranger telling you so.”
“But his friends would know it wasn’t him. I would know.”
“It was taught about Mulder, his life and his family and his work. And you. It was in love with you.”
Scully lowered her eyes. What a strange admission. “How can that be?”
“It was taught to. It was taught that it was Mulder, with differences. The real Mulder would have detected them, and eventually so would everyone else, but the theory was by the time everyone realized they had a fake Mulder it would be too late.”
“But in essence, he knew everything that Mulder knew.”
“In essence. Yes.”
“Do you know what happened to him?”
“No. I always assumed it was destroyed about the time the colonization failed. Truth is, now I’m not so sure you even brought the real Mulder home, that the reason it was taken was because it was the clone.”
Scully inhaled sharply. “Don’t-don’t say that—don’t even think it—”
“I’m sorry,” he said, genuine concern in his eyes, and he reached across the table to take her hand in both of his. “I’m sorry. It’s just a theory. I don’t know why they took him, and when I heard about this I thought, hey, maybe . . . I’m sorry.”
She had nothing to say to this. She only looked down at their joined hands, and puzzled over what it was about this sight that struck her as strange. Just a man. Just two pairs of hands.
She said softly, “He.”
“He. You keep saying ‘it.’ He was a man, Krycek. Or is a man.Whoever he is, this body deserves justice as much as anybody else, and I intend to discover what happened.”
“Scully,” he said gently, “I never thought they’d give me the clone Mulder to take care of—unless they didn’t know he was the clone. I wish I could just hand over the answers, but . . . I only know what I know. If it makes you feel any better, our Mulder, your Mulder, he bleeds red.”
She nodded, still looking at their hands. She’d seen Mulder’s blood. Just a few weeks ago he’d cut his finger slicing vegetables and she’d sucked his finger until the bleeding stopped. Not that she’d tell Krycek this, of course. Krycek had nice hands, really. Not as sensual as Mulder’s, but strong—
She looked up at him quickly and yanked back the left sleeve. He said nothing, didn’t even jerk away, as she ran her fingers over warm, real skin and the dark hair that sprinkled his arm.
She looked up at him again and said, “You lost this. I know you did.Mulder told me about it, Skinner told me about it, when I went to that hospital in Tennessee the doctor mentioned you only had one arm. It happened while you were in Siberia.”
“Yes,” Krycek said, his eyes holding her steadily.
“What the hell is going on? Are you a clone too?”
“No.” He grinned a little. “No. It’s all me.”
“Then how—this isn’t possible.”
“Nothing’s impossible. Only improbable.” He winked at her and she dropped his hand.
“I don’t know what to think of all this. How do you grow back a limb?”
“With help. A lot of help. And time. Mostly time.”
She studied him a moment more, and picked up his hand again. She inspected it carefully this time, from fingernails to wrist. It looked perfectly normal, with lines and freckles and scars. She said slowly, “The people who helped you—”
“Don’t assume they were people,” he said.
“What were they, then? Reticulans?”
He actually chuckled, still not pulling his hand from her grasp. “You’re so damn funny, Scully. It’s a pity more people don’t know that.”
“This is important, damn it. Could they help Mulder? Could they do anything to help us find out who he really is?”
“I don’t know. Rebuilding a limb, that’s easy by comparison, you know, to brain surgery.”
“I don’t even want to think about surgery. Just . . . I don’t know. There’s got to be something we can do.”
“The body might tell you something.”
Scully sighed, feeling defeated already. “That body is going to be exactly like Mulder in every respect. DNA, blood type, dental cast. If every test I perform says that he’s Mulder, and every test I perform on my Mulder says that he’s Mulder, I’m not going to know anything more than I do now. “
“There is the baby. And there is Ben.”
Scully lowered her head wearily. “Ben is so normal. I’ve always wondered how. I expected him to be—anything but what he is.” She put her hand on her stomach and whispered, “After everything that happened to Mulder and to me, maybe Ben is so normal because his father wasn’t the real Mulder.”
“Scully, come on now.”
“How’s that for an extreme possibility?”
“A little too extreme for my taste. What are you going to do if he’s not Mulder?”
She’d been asking herself that for several days now, and said quietly, “I don’t know. Maybe I won’t tell him. Maybe I’ll tell him he is the real Mulder whether he is or not.”
“Krycek—I love him. It’s as simple as that.”
“Wow,” Krycek whispered. “That’s—wow. I don’t know if I could be that forgiving.”
“It’s not his fault, you know,” Scully said gently. “Whatever I may feel about all this, he doesn’t deserve to be kicked out of his home or taken away from his family. He deserves love as much as anybody else, and it’s my—my desire, really, to give it to him.”
Krycek listened to her with an incredulous expression, and then said, “Wow. I know there was a reason I liked you. Good night, Scully.” He stood up from the table and started for the door.
Hey!” She turned in her chair. “Are you going to keep doing this? Appearing and disappearing?”
“Like magic,” Krycek said, waving his fingers, and he opened the door and left.
Scully locked the door after him and then looked out the window through the blinds. The parking lot was quiet—if Krycek had driven here he’d parked out of sight. She felt sorry for him in a way, for the lonely, nomadic life that he led. She couldn’t imagine living on the run, trusting nothing, loving no one. She pitied him, she thought, much the same way she pitied the remains that awaited her attention in the county morgue.
She sighed and let the blinds fall closed. She got into bed and turned out the light, and grasped one of her pillows tightly to her chest. It wasn’t Mulder, but it would have to do.
The thing about pain, Mulder thought, is that you get to a point where you think it can’t get any worse—and it does—and you think you can’t bear it—but you do.
He lay perfectly still in bed, the sheets cocooned around him. Light, movement, sound—everything made the throbbing in his head worsen. Even with his eyes closed he saw explosions of color against his eyelids, pulsing in time to the pain.
When he’d been homeless he’d had headaches like this, but he’d always thought it was from being cold and hungry and exposed. And now as he remembered it, a bad hallucination usually came right after a headache likes this. He’d never made the connection before but it made sense to him now.
I should tell Scully, he thought. She’ll know what to do.
Ben knocked on the door and Mulder lifted his head enough to say “Come in,” and let it fall, exhausted even by that small effort.
“Hey, I’m about ready to leave—are you okay?” Ben came into the room and sat down on the bed.
“No. It hurts.”
“Your head? Still?”
“Still. Hurts a lot.”
“Do you want me to stay with you? If you’re this sick you probably shouldn’t be alone.”
“Scully wouldn’t like that.”
“Mom wouldn’t like you suffering by yourself, either.”
“Ben.” Even the dim light of the bedroom made his eyes water. “Go to school. I just need to rest.”
Ben sighed and said, “All right, but is there anything you need before I go?”
Mulder cracked an eyelid at him and said, “Water would be great. And something for the pain.”
“Okay.” Ben stood. “Are you sure you don’t want anything to eat?”
“No.” Speaking hurt less than shaking his head. “I don’t think I could keep it down.”
“Right.” Ben left, leaving the door open. In a few minutes he came back with a glass of ice water and a large pitcher of more, which he set down carefully on the nightstand. He brought out a bottle of ibuprofen from the bathroom and shook out two pills, and Mulder sat up long enough to take them with a few sips of water.
“Go to school,” he mumbled as he burrowed beneath the covers again.”I’ll be okay.”
“All right. I’ll leave Jeff’s cell phone number by the phone, if you need anything call him and he’ll get me, okay?”
“Mom’ll have my head if anything happens to you.”
“No, she won’t, and nothing she’s going to happen. Go. Have a good day.”
“Yeah,” Ben said reluctantly, and left again, this time closing the door.
Mulder listened to him leave and to the silence that followed, and willed himself to relax. Let the medicine do its work, he thought, and took deep breaths from the bottom of his lungs, letting them out slowly. Thinking about it only makes it worse. Relax. Breathe. Think about Scully.
That did bring a tiny bit of a smile, and he eased his face against the pillow that still smelled of her. Scully. Warm, pretty, trusting Scully. Scully who kissed him with her eyes open, Scully who slept curled up on top of him, Scully who laughed at his jokes, Scully who’d risked her life for him again and again, Scully who crept into bed beside him and whispered, Don’t be lonely, Mulder, don’t be frightened, my dear . . .
—her lips were warm and soft, trailing over his chest, and she reaches up to run her hands through his hair and nuzzle his face, and she whispers I love you, I love you so much, and he spans her waist with his hands and whispers I love you, kiss me, and she kisses him, her breasts crushed against his chest and her tongue deep in his mouth, and she stops it only long enough to whisper in his ear, I’m so wet for you and she takes his hand and presses it between her legs and he moans, he moans, wanting to be there in this warm wet welcoming place deep inside her—
—he’s shaking with nervousness, so eager, so hungry for this woman he’s been desiring for so long, he can barely unbutton her blouse, and she finally puts her hands on top of his and says, Let me, and deftly unbuttons her blouse beneath his hands and finally she’s naked, glorious and beautiful, her breasts are rosy pink and creamy and all he can do is stare reverently, yes he’s seen them but this is the first time she’s made herself naked for him, they’re alone and safe and as soon as he remembers to move again he’s going to touch them, he’s going to kiss them, and she says in her dry wonderful way, Any day now, Mulder, and he laughs and sweeps her into his arms and kisses her, kisses her again and again and cups her breasts in his hands and finally slides his mouth down her neck and her shoulders and her breasts and when he gently takes one nipple between his lips she moans and thrusts her hands into his hair, her back arching—
—they’re sitting in a meeting and the room is dark while the agent in charge shows slides of the case in question, and her hand suddenly and lightly touches his knee and it’s all he can do to keep from gasping, and when he glances at her she’s got a quiet “I win” smile, so he gently touches her knee back and the smile flees, replaced by a flush and her eyelids lowering, and when the meeting is finally finally over they walk demurely to the elevator, wait quietly through the ride, don’t look at each other, don’t speak, don’t touch, walk down the hall to the office, go into the office, shut the door, lock the door, and she’s on him, her legs wrapped around his waist and her tongue demanding entrance to his mouth, and he stumbles against the wall to lean her against something solid and when he reaches beneath her skirt, she’s been wearing skirts now nearly all the time and he loves it, easy access, when he reaches beneath her skirt he’s delirious with joy to find that above her stockings there’s nothing but warm moist Scully and he slips a few fingers into her before he even realizes it and she moans into his mouth Ahh yes fuck me—
—she sleeps, peaceful, and he watches her, peaceful himself, gently stroking the soft bright hair at her neck and thinking Thank God, Thank God, and he wants to kiss the marks on her face away while she sleeps but when she wakes he’s in his own bed on the other side of the room and he smiles at her and teases her about their freezer burn, and she smiles a little and gets up from the hospital bed and goes to him, takes his hands in hers and says, Thank you, Mulder and he says What for? as if he didn’t know and she says seriously For my life and she kisses him on the forehead and leans hers against his for a moment, and when she pulls her hands from his and gets back into bed to sleep some more, to heal, he realizes too late that he should have taken that chance, she was offering but he was too afraid, he was always too afraid—
—he’s terrified, scared shitless, and the ache in his head from the gunshot wound is killing him and his ass hurts from the fall down the shaft but he has to find Scully, Scully is here in this nightmlare she’s in one of the pods oh God please help me find her don’t die on me Scully you can never die please never die and he sees her, her mouth frozen in horror and drowning in green goo and he pounds the ice desperate please Scully please and the glass and ice break and the goo rushes out an
d he gets out the antidote and the needle please please work please and she’s gagging, he pulls out the cord that would have nourished the alien fetus and she breathes, she breathes, and she whispers, Cold—
—the men whisper, We’ve gone too far, we can’t reverse it—
—he kisses Scully deeply and says I’ll be right back, let’s read the comics in bed and she stretches and purrs Hurry back and he grins at her and pulls on pajamas and goes to the door, and the paper’s right there like always and he picks it up and hears the footsteps but doesn’t think about them until they stop and he looks up and realizes his luck has run out forever and he wants to shout Scully run away! but they don’t give him time to say anything, they have him, they’re dragging him away and he knows he’s never going to see Scully again, they’re going to kill him and he has no way to defend himself, he’s in his bare feet even, his feet are cold—
—he’s so cold—
============ Twenty-five ============
Ben sat in a hard plastic chair in the E.R. waiting room. There was a TV on at the other side of the room, two talking heads nattering on about celebrity faux pas and astronomical findings.
News, Ben thought. Must be six.
He craned his neck around the partition that separated the waiting room from the E.R. itself, but as far as he could tell nothing had changed. There was a line of people at the admittance desk, there were nurses and technicians hurrying around importantly, there was a woman weeping and rocking back and forth. She saw Ben looking at her, and he pulled back quickly, embarrassed by her grief.
He’d never felt so alone before. He felt very young. He wanted someone to tell him what was going on. He wanted his mother.
He leaned his head on his hands and his elbows on his thighs. If he called the hotel again they might tell him if she’d checked out.Everyone he’d called was out—Emma was tutoring, the guys were away from their apartments, Skinner answered neither his office nor his home, his grandmother was in California. He wanted somebody, anybody, someone to sit beside him and tell him he could stop being strong.
He sensed someone approach him and he looked up, hoping it was a nurse or a doctor. It wasn’t, but it was almost as good: Emma, along with her father and sister. She looked like an angel in this crowded, noisy place, and he stood up and she wrapped him up in her arms.
“It’s okay, Benjie,” she whispered. “It’s okay.” All he could do was hold her, his head on her shoulder. “I got your message when I came home,” she said softly, stroking his face. “Dad came ‘cause he hopes he can be some help.”
“Thanks, Mr. Hicks,” Ben said thickly, and the older man nodded. Zoe’s eyes were very big and she was holding her father’s hand, and her other hand crept into Ben’s. He smiled at her and squeezed it. “Thanks for coming too, Squirt,” he said, and she giggled shyly.
“What happened?” Mr. Hicks said, as they all sat down in the plastic chairs.
“I came home school—and he’d been feeling bad when I left, so I thought I’d look in on him—I’d hoped that he’d call. And, um, when I opened the door he was on the floor. He looked like he’d tried to walk but fell. He was all crumpled up. I knelt down next to him and he was cold, and—and—at first I thought he was dead.” Zoe and Emma both squeezed his hands, and he had to take a minute to find his voice enough to go on. “And then I, um, I picked up his head a little and he jerked and his arm flailed out, and he said, um, he said—” Ben could barely squeeze the words out past the lump in his throat. “He said, ‘Don’t hurt me anymore.’ He didn’t even know me. He didn’t know who I was. All he would say was ‘Don’t hurt me anymore.'” Mr. Hicks quietly handed him a packet of tissues and Ben blew his nose. “I got him into the car and brought him here. I wrapped him up but he wouldn’t stop shaking and he was so cold. They’re doing tests, I guess. They haven’t asked me many questions. I’m so scared and I can’t reach my mom and—” He started crying hard, and Emma pulled him to her again, wrapping him up in her strong arms.
“I’ll go see what I can find out for you,” Mr. Hicks said softly, rising from the chair. “Zoe, honey, will you get us some sodas? Here’s some change.”
“Sure, Daddy,” she said just as softly, and briefly touched Ben’s shoulder before she hurried off.
After a few minutes Ben lifted his head and self-consciously wiped his face. “Sorry.”
“For what?” She stroked his face and smoothed back his hair.
“I should have warned you about this possibility before you got involved with me.”
“You did warn me,” she said, smiling. “Remember? You said, and I quote, ‘I don’t want to bother you with my weird family.’ Lucky you it’s not that easy to scare me off.”
“I am lucky,” he said, weaving his fingers between hers.
“Damn straight you are.” She stroked their joined hands with her free one. “Why can’t you reach your mom?”
“She must be doing the autopsy now. She gave me the number for the hotel but I don’t know what to ask for to find where she’s at. She might be at a morgue or a hospital or a sheriff’s office . . . I just don’t know. I have to wait for her to get back to the hotel.”
“How soon can she be back?”
“I don’t know. Probably not until tomorrow morning, early.” He sighed heavily, leaning his head against her shoulder. “I called the guys and I called Walter, but they’re all out, and Grandma is visiting my uncle Charlie.”
“Shh,” Emma said softly, stroking his face again. “You’re getting upset. It’ll be okay. It will.”
“I don’t get what’s happening to him. He was fine a couple days ago and now everything’s coming down on him—it’s too much, Em. It’s too much.”
“Benjie,” she said softly. “Shh.”
“What if he dies?” Ben whispered, and started to cry again. “Now with the baby and everything—oh, I don’t want him to die—”
“Benjie, Benjie,” Emma said.
“I want my mother. I want her here.”
“Benjie,” she said again, kissing his hair, and he held onto her and sobbed himself raw.
Byers was the first to show up. He gave Ben a strong and simple hug, and listened to what happened solemnly. Ben managed to speak calmly this time, to get through it without breaking down, but he thought it was mostly due to weariness. It was past nine and they’d been in the hospital almost six hours, and there had been little news. The doctors knew what it wasn’t—it wasn’t a stroke, it wasn’t a seizure—but they couldn’t figure out what it was.
“I’d like to see his chart, if we get the chance,” Byers said.
“Are you a doctor?” said Mr. Hicks.
“I know something about medicine.”
Zoe had fallen asleep under her father’s suit coat, and eventually Mr. Hicks said, “I think we’d better get home. There’s not much we can do here. But we’ll stay if you need us, Ben.”
He looked at Emma, who squeezed his hands again, and he said, “Go ahead. We’ll just be sitting here waiting anyway. I’ll call if—if anything happens.” He squeezed her hands back, and she nodded slowly.
“I’ll get your assignments from school tomorrow,” she said.
“Thanks. Thanks for coming. I’m glad you were here.”
Again she nodded, and let go of his hands to wake up Zoe.
After the Hickses had left Ben and Byers sat quietly for a while, watching the news. The same talking heads, Ben thought, giving the same news, it’s like no time has passed at all. Byers said, “Did you have any warning at all?”
“No—well, he’d mentioned the last couple days that his head hurt. It started when Mom got that file. I have to wonder if the two are connected somehow.”
“Paper wouldn’t have this kind of consequence, unless it was effected chemically somehow. And then it would probably effect you and Scully too.”
m’s been fine. I’m fine. It’s just him. I’m thinking more about the timing, not the file itself. That maybe because of that body something was triggered in Mulder—or Not-Mulder—” He sighed.
Byers sighed too. “I have a hard time believing that he’s a clone. There’s so much about him that’s Mulder. I mean, he’s not the same Mulder and I wouldn’t pretend otherwise, but it’s enough that—well, I know my friend.”
“I just want him to be okay,” Ben said. “I don’t care about the rest of it. I just want us to be a family. I mean, what will happen if he dies? What will Mom do?”
“I expect,” Byers said slowly, “that she’ll do what she did before: she’ll pick herself up and she’ll go on. Only this time she’ll have you to help her.”
Ben frowned, but nodded, accepting it. Yes. She would grieve and then she would go on. He stood up and stretched. “I have to walk around a little. My ass is killing me.”
“I’ll be here,” Byers said, and Ben nodded and wandered towards the main body of the hospital.
He’d spent little time in hospitals: neither he nor his mother were ever seriously ill. It made him nervous, all this life around him at its most basic. He wished he’d brought something mindless to do to occupy himself, but when you’re rushing out the front door with your delirious father you tend not to think about busywork.
Coffee, he thought, passing the cafeteria. Coffee might be good. If nothing else it would keep his hands occupied.
He bought a cup of coffee, and then after a moment went back and bought one for Byers, too. He came back to the waiting room and saw that Langely and Frohike were there, and the three of them had their heads together in a serious discussion. “Hey,” he said, and they all looked up. “Sorry, I only have the two cups.”
“Hey, Ben.” Langley looked uncomfortable—he didn’t like hospitals either, Ben knew.
“Hiya, Ben.” Frohike waved away the coffee cup. “I’ve had about twenty cups already today, I’m set. We’re trying to figure out a way to get Mulder’s charts.”
“I think I’d rather wait and see what’s going on,” Ben said, giving the other cup to Byers, who drank from it gratefully. “You know, for the doctor to tell us.”
“They’re looking for conventional things,” Langely said. “If it’s some freaky voodoo we’ll spot it.”
“Freaky voodoo,” Ben said, smiling for the first time in hours. “I’m so glad you guys are here.”
“What about Scully? Where is she?” Frohike said.
“I called the hotel again about half an hour ago and she still wasn’t back. They said they’d give her the message as soon as they could. I hope this doesn’t mean it’s bad news, that it’s taking her so long.”
“Maybe she’s just being thorough,” Byers said, and Ben nodded.
“Yeah, I know. One disaster at a time, I guess.”
They all fell silent as a doctor in a lab coat approached them.
“Ben Scully?” he said.
“That’s me. I’m with Fox Mulder.”
“Right. May I join you?” He pulled over another plastic chair and sat down. He said gently, “Son, we’ve run every test on your father that we have. We’ve ruled out what it isn’t, but we’ve been unable to discover the cause, or even the exact effect the episode had on him. I’d like to keep him here a few days more, to observe him and see what more we can learn.”
“How is he now?”
“He’s resting. He regained consciousness about ten minutes ago. We have him in the ICU. Would you like to see him?”
“Yes,” Ben said, rising, and he followed the doctor from the emergency room to intensive care. The Gunmen tripped along behind, but they waited outside.
Mulder looked sallow in the fluorescent light, and very thin under the covers. There were purple circles under his eyes and his hand, unencumbered by the IV, traced back and forth on the coverlet. Ben paused in the doorway, uncertain, and said softly, “Mulder?”
Carefully Mulder turned his head to look at him, and he attempted to smile. “Hey.”
“Hey.” Ben came to the side of the bed and put his hand on Mulder’s. “You scared me.”
“Are you feeling better?”
Mulder closed his eyes and sighed. “I don’t know. It was like—there was so much happening, but it wasn’t really happening. And it overwhelmed me. It was too much.”
“Your brain just took some time out, huh?”
Mulder attempted that feeble smile, and said, “Yeah, I guess.”
Mulder’s hand still felt cold to Ben’s touch, and his skin was as dry and fragile as paper. Ben said, “I’ve called Mom’s hotel but I haven’t been able to reach her yet. She’ll be here soon, I’m sure, though.”
Mulder nodded and turned his head away.
“Mulder,” Ben said. “You’ll be fine, though, right? You’re going to be okay.”
Mulder said, his voice barely above a whisper, “I wanted to get you a car.”
“For your birthday. I wanted to get you a car. Any one you want.”
“Oh . . . it’s . . . it’s okay, I don’t need anything.”
“Benjie?” He turned his head back to look at Ben. “Stay with me, please? I don’t want to be alone.”
Ben nodded, trying to keep his lips from trembling. “I’ll stay. Of course I will.”
Mulder nodded gratefully and closed his eyes. After a moment he said, “I remember things.”
“Yeah. I think I’m remembering them. I remember the first time I saw your mother. She was so young. She looked ‘way out of her depth. I thought she wouldn’t last long with me, I think I—or the work—would scare her away. She had such a sweet babyface. I didn’t want to like her, Benjie, and I sure didn’t think I’d ever love her.” He looked at Ben again and said seriously, “I should have been there, for everything, for your whole life. It’s not fair to you that I wasn’t.”
“Don’t apologize for that,” Ben said. “I know I used to be angry about it and I’m sure Mom told you, but I’m not anymore. I’m just glad you’re here now.”
Mulder closed his eyes again. “I’m so tired.”
“Do you want to sleep?”
“Not yet. Not just yet.” He opened his eyes again with visible effort. “I love your mother very much. I hope you understand that.” Ben nodded. “And I love you, Benjie. My beautiful boy.”
“Don’t talk like you’re dying,” Ben whispered.
“I just want to cover my bases. Your sister, Benjie—if I do die, will you tell her about me?”
“You’re not going to die. You’re going to be just fine.”
“Promise me, Benjie. Please. I need to know you’ll do this for me.”
“I’ll tell her anything you want her to know. I’ll tell her everything. You think it’s a girl?”
“I think it’s a girl. Your mother—once when we were talking about names she said she wanted a girl named Lily.”
“That’s when you named me,” Ben said softly. “You told me about that. You said you liked the name Benjamin and so when I was born Mom named me what you wanted her to.”
“I think otherwise you might have been something like . . . I don’t know. Billy number three.”
“I don’t know, she’s never said.” Mulder’s eyes had drifted closed, and Ben wondered if he should let him rest or wake him.
Suddenly his eyes jerked open and he gasped, “Liam.”
“Liam. That’s what she said she liked for a boy’s name. I remember. She liked Irish names, but not very unusual ones. She thought Liam would—would work here—” He closed his eyes and pressed the heel of his hand to his eye.
“Should I get the nurse?”
“No. Give me a minute. They have painkillers or something in the IV. They want me to sleep, I think.” He said after a moment, not removing his hand, “I liked to imagine her with an armful of babies. I knew it was, you know, a daydream, but there’s something so nurturing about her that I could see it, I could see her with a huge family. You should have had brothers and sisters, Benjie.”
“Maybe you should sleep,” Ben said quietly.
“The first time I saw her as a mother it scared me,” Mulder went on. “I knew she could have anyone she wanted, and I wanted it to be m
e, but—oh, Benjie, I was so scared of being a father. My father wasn’t—if I know anything about being a good father it’s from doing the opposite of what my father did.”
“You’ve been a good dad,” Ben said. “You have. We’ll all learning this together and you’re doing just fine.”
“I wish I could do more. I wish I could have done more. I wish I could have seen you born. Or taught you to ride a bike. Or to drive. Or to shave. I feel like I haven’t given you anything and I want to give you things, Benjie. I want to give you things only a father can give you and I haven’t given you anything.”
“You mean my dashing good looks aren’t enough?” Ben said, and Mulder smiled, as he hoped he would.
“You get your looks from your mother, too. I know everybody thinks you look like me but I see so much of her in you.” His words were starting to slur together and he was having a harder time keeping his eyes open.
“You should sleep,” Ben said again. “I’ll stay with you as long as they’ll let me.”
“Promise?” The word was barely a murmur.
“Promise. I’ll be here.”
Mulder nodded almost imperceptibly, and it seemed to Ben he fell asleep quickly. His hand didn’t let go.
=========== Twenty-six ===========
Scully had her first bout of morning sickness that morning. Telling herself it was just nerves did nothing to help soothe them, and she lay back down in bed and put her hands on her stomach. She said, “Now, listen, you in there. I have to find out the truth about your daddy but I can’t do that if I have to run to the bathroom every five minutes. Okay? Do we understand each other?”
She sighed and stroked her belly hand-over-hand. “It’s okay, though. You’re doing exactly what you need to be doing. You keep growing in there. We love you very much.” She stroked her stomach for a while longer, and then forced herself out of bed and into the shower.
Her longing for Mulder was very great. It was one thing to be away from him for a few hours, knowing they would be together in the evening—this was awful. Her family seemed very far away.
Once her shower was done she wrapped herself up in the thin hotel towel and picked up the phone. She dialed home, wanting to hear Mulder’s voice. She hoped, for once, that Ben was taking the day off from school so that she could talk to him, too.
The phone rang and rang, and finally the answering machine picked up. She sighed. Ben had gone to school after all, and apparently Mulder had gone out as well. But, she thought, that was good, it might mean he was feeling better. She hoped that’s what it was.
She said after the beep, “Hi, guys, it’s me. I just called to say I love you and miss you very much. I’ll call again when I get back from the coroner’s. I love you, Mulder. I love you, Benjie.” She hung up the phone.
There was no more putting it off. She had business to intend to, people to meet with, lies to uncover. She dressed and made up her face, dried her hair and called the sheriff’s office one more time to confirm the address of the morgue. She decided to skip breakfast, however—her stomach still roiled at the thought of food.
Nerves, she told herself. Just nerves.
The sheriff’s name was Rachel Dunlap, and she was a tall, bony woman with startlingly blonde hair that she wore pulled up in a bun. Her handshake was firm, and Scully sensed her sizing her up with a glance. “Agent Scully,” she said in a throaty smoker’s voice.”Pleasure.”
“Likewise, Sheriff Dunlap.”
“I’m not sure why you made this trip, though. I was under the impression the missing persons database was kept fanatically up-to-date and correct.”
“There are some—irregularities.” Scully couldn’t help but grimace as they walked past the receiving desk to the vaults, as the smell of death and chemicals assaulted her. Was it her imagination or did it smell stronger than she remembered?
“I got that impression from your phone call.” She swung open a door and the coroner turned from a table to greet them.
“Rachel, hi. You must be Agent Scully. Larry Kirkpatrick.” He was young, dark-haired, and a hemp-and-bead necklace peeked from beneath the collar of his lab coat. “I’ve got the remains ready for you, just as the sheriff asked.”
“Thank you.” Scully shook his hand quickly and moved to the examining table, where a sheet still covered the bones. She grasped the edge and took a deep breath.
“You need help?” Kirkpatrick said, and Dunlap put her hand on his shoulder and shook her head. Scully ignored him and pulled back the sheet.
The bones were carefully arranged on the examining table. They were long and slender, and, judging from their patina, had been in the ground a very long time. The skeleton appeared intact, even to the tiniest bones of the fingers and toes. Silently Scully picked up the right hand, the one with the broken fingers. The breaks were sloppy, jagged, and had not healed much prior to death. The same was true with the broken femur and collarbone: barely healed, careless. The shattered bone in the back of the skull was the worst, however, and she had to close her eyes and turn away for a moment. It didn’t make the picture in her mind any less clear.
Shot like a stray dog, she thought, and put her hand on the skull’s face. She wished she was a forensic artist as well, able to form the features of the face just from the contours of the bones. She had no doubt, however, that she would know the face it would make.
She said softly, “Were any of the bones damaged in transit?” as she brushed her thumb over the forehead.
“No, we were very careful.”
“Those breaks occurred shortly before death,” Kirkpatrick said quickly, and Scully nodded.
“Yes. I concur.” You poor dear, she thought, how they must have hurt you. “They didn’t have much time to heal.”
“They look almost like they were done on purpose,” Kirkpatrick said, stepping closer to her. “Deliberately brutal, don’t you think? But they didn’t contribute to his death, I bet.”
“I think the gunshot wound took care of that. The breaks were made for another reason.”
Kirkpatrick glanced from her to the silent sheriff, and said, “I understand you knew him.”
“Yes. We worked together. He—Agent Mulder—he was shot here,” she indicated the collarbone, “and here, in the leg. These fingers were broken during an undercover assignment. These breaks were made as if to hide the older wounds.”
“Or to copy them,” Dunlap said softly, and both Scully and Kirkpatrick looked at her.
“Why would anyone want to do that?” Kirkpatrick said.
“Copy,” Scully whispered. She closed her eyes again and said clearly, “Those fucking sons of bitches. He’s the copy. It’s not him.”
“I don’t get it,” Kirkpatrick said.
“You know who did this to him, don’t you,” Dunlap said, businesslike.
“Yes. I think I do. I know their faces if not their names.”
“Well, that’s a start.”
“Oh—they’re long dead and gone. Gone to their just punishment, I hope. Any evidence of their connection to this crime is long erased as well. Sheriff, I’d like to have these remains shipped to Virginia.I’d like to give him a proper burial.”
“But if it’s not Agent Mulder—-” Kirkpatrick began.
“No, it’s not Agent Mulder. But it almost was. Can we arrange that?”
“I am so confused,” Kirkpatrick said, and Dunlap smiled at him thinly.
She said to Scully, “I’ll have our secretary start the paperwork to have the remains shipped. Will you wait until it’s ready?”
“Do you think it can be ready by Saturday morning?” Dunlap smiled again, genuine this time. “I’ve got some strings I’ve been dying to pull. It will be ready.”
“Do you have a phone I can use?” Scully asked Kirkpatrick, who just gestured to his desk and gave a long-suffering sigh. Scully dialed home again, making sure Kirkpatrick saw she paid for it on her own card, and waited impatiently through the rings. Be home, Mulder, I have such wonderful news for you&mdas
Someone picked up the other end of the line, but it remained silent. She said, “Hello?” Nothing. “Is anyone there?”
In answer she heard a moan, soft and low and heartbreaking.
“Mulder?” she said. “Mulder, sweetheart, is that you? Are you all right?”
“Mulder?” Kirkpatrick said, still confused by this drama, and Dunlap shushed him, watching Scully closely.
Again the voice moaned, and whispered something, the words slurring together into incoherence. “Mulder,” Scully said. “Mulder. Love. Can you hear me? Call Ben. Call Byers or any of our friends. Call—no, she’s out of town. But call someone, baby, okay? Call someone to come help you. I’ll be home as soon as I can. Can you hear me, Mulder? Do you understand? Call Ben at school. Tell him to come home and help you. Okay? Mulder?”
“. . . help me . . .” His voice was tiny and weak as a newborn kitten’s mew, and Scully closed her eyes and pressed her hand to her stomach a moment.
“I’m coming. I’m on my way. I’ll be there as soon as I can. I love you. Hold on, Mulder. Hold on.” She hung up the phone, not wanting to, and said to Dunlap, “I guess I won’t be here Saturday.”
“I’ll have the body shipped as soon as I can. Go on, Agent Scully.”
“Thank you so much for everything, you’ve been so understanding and this is such a strange situation—”
“I’ll say,” Kirkpatrick said, and Dunlap rolled her eyes.
“Look,” Scully said, “I know it sounds fantastic but this is what happened: a copy, a clone, of Agent Mulder was created so that his enemies would have a Mulder they could control. They made these breaks to fool me, and to fool anyone who might be suspicious enough to examine his bones for wounds we knew he had. But before they could replace the real Mulder with this copy things went wrong—God, you must have been a child, ten or eleven, maybe?—and they had to kill him. The real Mulder, the actual Mulder, is back in Virginia and he’s ill and he needs me and he’s the father of my children and I going home now, so please don’t ask me any more questions, I have to leave.”
“Oh,” Kirkpatrick said faintly, and looked at the body as if he’d never seen a skeleton before.
“All right,” Scully said. “Good bye. Thank you. Good bye.”
“God speed,” Dunlap said, which struck Scully as a strange thing to say, but she hardly paused to consider it as she left the morgue and sped the rental car back to the hotel.
Even driving a good twenty miles above the speed limit, it took Scully four hours to reach the tiny airport in Great Falls, and then she had to wait an hour for the next commuter flight to the nearest large airport in Salt Lake. That flight only took forty minutes, though, and with some juggling of layovers and transfers she managed to find a flight that would bring her home around midnight.
She nibbled crackers to keep her stomach calm, wishing, not for the first time, that some Star Trek gadgets had come into everyday use. I could use a transporter right now, she thought, and smiled ruefully.She’d always hated flying but this was even worse than usual. She would have given anything to be home in a nanosecond, without jitters and airsickness to deal with.
Oh, and she could smack herself: she could have called Ben’s school, had them pull him from class and tell him it was an emergency— “Dammit,” she whispered, looking out the window at the clouds beneath the wings. Her family needed her to think ahead and she just jumped into the car, putting herself out of touch for hours and hours. She missed her cell phone for the first time in years.
By this time, she thought, glancing at her watch and counting the time zones again, he’ll be home. He’ll have found Mulder. Oh, God, Benjie, having to deal with that by yourself—
But he would know to get help if he needed it. He would know who to go to. And he would know—or he soon would—that she wouldn’t leave him to deal with an emergency by himself for long.
Be well, my babies, she thought, and ate another cracker, forcing it past her dry mouth.
The definition of eternity, Scully thought, is how long it is between passengers to disembark and luggage to show up on the baggage carousel. She looked at her watch again and sighed. All those years of only taking carryon baggage and now when she really needed it she had to wait. And she still had to find a rental car or a taxi that would be willing to take her home. At this rate she wouldn’t get to the hospital until two or three.
Someone jostled her arm and she glanced up, mumbling, “Excuse me,” and then looked up again. “Krycek?” she said incredulously.
“Hi.” He grinned at her. “I thought you could use a ride.”
“How did you get here? When did you get here?”
“I left Montana late last night and then I heard about Mulder—”
“And how did you hear about Mulder? And what did you hear about Mulder?”
He shrugged. “I still have resources, you know. And what I heard is that he had a seizure of some kind, that he collapsed.”
“Is he all right?’
“Stable, I think.”
“And how did you know to meet me here?”
He grinned again. “Resources. You’ve forgotten how to be incognito.”
“I haven’t needed to be. As soon as my suitcase comes will you take me to the hospital?”
“That’s what I’m here for.”
They waited in silence for a few minutes more, then Scully said, “Why are you doing this? What does helping me possibly bring you?”
“Would you believe me if I said I’m doing it because I’m nice?”
He chuckled softly. “Would you believe me if I said I’m doing it because I like helping you?”
“Not really, no.”
“All right . . . would you believe me if—”
“I’d believe you if you told me the truth.”
He looked down at his feet for a moment, then shrugged without looking up again. It seemed to Scully like something Ben would do— not the first time this much older man reminded her of her son. He really is still a boy, she thought, and resisted the urge to touch his face and smooth back his hair like she did to Ben.
He said, “Because I can, Scully, okay? Because I can. Maybe I do get something out of it but it’s not anything I can explain and not anything you’d understand. Okay?”
“Okay,” she said softly. “It’s okay.”
“Here comes the luggage,” he said with relief, and stepped closer to the carousel.
The car ride from the airport to the hospital was no more uncomfortable than any other journey Scully had taken with Krycek recently, though she had little to say. When he pulled into the visitors’ parking lot she said, “Are you going to come up and see him?”
“Oh—um—I don’t think I should.”
“No, really. It’s okay. You take good care of him, okay?”
She nodded and got out of the car, and took her suitcase from the back seat. She leaned into his window and said, “You know, I don’t understand you at all.”
Krycek smiled uncomfortably and said, “You’re not supposed to. I’m dark and mysterious.”
“Right. I forgot. I think you should come up and see him. I think he’d like to see you.”
He shook his head. “Nah. Thanks, though. Tell him I’m thinking about him, okay?”
“I will.” She paused. “Alex? Are you—do you—are you in love with him?”
He stared at her for a moment, then smiled uncomfortably again and said, “You know, I’ve been asking myself that for years. I still don’t have an answer. See you, Scully.”
“See you,” she said softly, and hiked up her suitcase and carryon bag and went into the hospital.
It took her several minutes more to get Mulder’s room number and the name of his doctor, but finally she was on the elevator headed for the ICU. She was trembling. She licked her lips and wished she had more crackers, and then the elevator stopped at the proper floor and she got out.
“Fox Mulder?” she said to the desk nurse, who pointed down the hall.
.” Scully walked rapidly down the hall, took a deep breath, and pushed open the door.
Mulder lay in the hospital bed, his eyes closed, his monitors beeping steadily. Ben sat beside him, clutching Mulder’s hand even in his sleep. Scully set down her suitcase and carryon bag and went to Ben, and gently smoothed her hand over his face to wake him up.
He gasped and opened his eyes, and then said, “Mommy,” in a way he hadn’t for years. He slid forward in the chair and wrapped his arms around her, pressing his face against her stomach. His shoulders shuddered.
“Shh, sweetie, shh. It’s okay. I’m here now. It’s okay.” She glanced at Mulder, but he slept peacefully on, so she ran her hand through Ben’s hair and held him for a while first.
=========== Twenty-seven ===========
Ben was completely exhausted. Even his hair looked flat and tired, and Scully combed it with her fingers, trying to give it some life.
She said, “I’m glad you weren’t alone the entire night.”
“Yeah. It was nice of the guys to stay with me. I was surprised Walter didn’t come, though.”
Scully decided to keep her own feelings on this to herself. “It was good of Emma to stay with you, too.”
“Yeah.” His head drooped.
“You should go home and sleep, Benjie.”
“Yeah.” He roused himself a little. “Not yet, though. I want to see how he’s doing.” He said, after a pause, “He called me his beautiful boy.”
She smiled. “You are his beautiful boy.”
Ben laughed softly and his eyes drifted closed.
She went on stroking his hair. They both had been speaking quietly so they wouldn’t disturb Mulder, though she thought a brass band might not wake him up before he was ready.
Ben said eventually, “So now that you know what happened here, it’s your turn.”
“We have the real Mulder,” she said, and Ben smiled slowly.
“We do? Are you sure?”
“I’m sure. They tried to reproduce some wounds that Mulder has but they killed him before the wounds could heal. Those gave it away.”
“Why would they do that?”
“I suspect because colonization went wrong. When they originally kidnapped Mulder, they intended to kill him and replace him with the clone—”
“But you rescued him first.”
“It doesn’t explain why they took him again.”
“No, it doesn’t.”
Ben sighed and leaned his head on his hand. “Every answer we get raises ten more questions.”
“I know, and it’s frustrating, but you get used to it. At this point I’m grateful for any answers at all.” She could see Ben struggling to stay awake, and she said, “Benjie, lie down. I know that couch is just a glorified bench—”
“I’m awake,” he mumbled, his eyes closed.
“Benjie. Lie down.”
He forced himself up from the chair and stumbled to the long bench against the wall. Without opening his eyes he lay down on his side with his head pillowed on his arm. “Wake me if anything happens.”
“I will. You sleep.”
Ben nodded against his arm. After a moment Scully stood and laid the spare blanket from the foot of Mulder’s bed over her son, and gently stroked his face before taking her place again at Mulder’s side.
He looked peaceful as he slept, serene. She studied him carefully, every familiar and beloved feature. She moved her chair closer to his bed and leaned her head on the mattress by his head and closed her eyes.
She wasn’t sure if she dozed off or not, but the light in the room was brighter when she heard a soft, “Scully?” She lifted her head, and Mulder smiled at her. “Scully,” he said, pleased.
“Hi.” He slipped his hand over hers and she clasped it tightly. “Hi, Mulder.”
“I’m here. I got here just a little while ago.”
“You’re here,” he said again, and brought her hand to his mouth and kissed it gently.
“How do you feel?”
“Like I’ve been hit by a truck. You look tired.”
“I haven’t slept much.”
“You need to sleep. How is the little one?”
She smiled as his thumb caressed her cheek. “She’s fine. We’re both thriving. Do you remember what happened?”
“Vaguely. I was thinking about you, and then I started remembering—I think it was remembering—and then it was happening, it was real.”
“You were hallucinating.”
“I guess so. It seemed real. I was cold.”
“Ben said you fell out of bed. Do you remember me calling you? I called home and you were incoherent, but you did say ‘Help me.’ Do you remember?”
Slowly Mulder shook his head. “I don’t—I’m not sure. I remember hearing your voice but I’m not sure if it was real or if I dreamed it.” He kissed her hand again. “What did you call to tell me?”
She smiled more deeply. “I called to tell you that you’re you.”
“What?” he whispered, smiling himself.
“You’re you. You’re Mulder. They tried to copy you. I think they even gave him fillings he didn’t need to match your mouth. But you are the real thing.” She tenderly cupped his face in her palm. “Welcome home, baby. I’ve missed you.”
He closed his eyes. “I’m me,” he whispered. “I’m me.”
“I’m having the remains shipped here. I want to give him a decent burial. I want to give him a name.”
“Fox Mulder the second,” Mulder said dryly, and opened his eyes when she chuckled.
“No . . . but I do want to bury him under the name of Mulder. Is that all right?”
He nodded. “All right. We’ll give him a name.” He looked at her through half-closed eyes. “Hey.”
“Hey, there’s a little more room in this bed if you don’t mind squishing.”
“I don’t mind that at all,” Scully whispered, and carefully got into the bed beside him and lay her head on his shoulder. He sighed in contentment.
“Will you sleep now?”
“Yes.” She yawned. “Just a little while.” She closed her eyes, soothed by the sound of his breathing and the beat of his heart.
Mulder’s doctor barely looked old enough to be done with high school, much less med school. He smiled when he came into the room, and Scully supposed it was at the way Ben and Mulder both clung to her hands.
“Dr. Scully,” she answered, and Mulder squeezed her hand.
“All right. I’m Dr. Kessler. I’ve been looking after Mr. Mulder. We’re—we’ve been quite puzzled by his condition.”
“When can I take him home?” Scully said, and Kessler smiled again.
“Well, we would like to keep Mr. Mulder here overnight, at least. I’d like to observe him, and try to find an effective method of treatment and prevention. I’ve outlined a course of aggressive anti-seizure medication—”
“I want to go home,” Mulder said softly. “I don’t want to stay here.”
“Mr. Mulder—you’ve had a traumatic event—”
“I want to go home,” he said more firmly. “I don’t want to stay here. I want to be with my family. I don’t like hospitals, and no offense, but I don’t like doctors, either.” He glanced at Scully and squeezed her hand again.
“Mr. Mulder,” Kessler said gently, “this has happened to you before, and without proper treatment it will happen again.”
“I don’t want the proper treatment!” Mulder said, and Scully clasped both her hands around his. Ben shifted uncomfortably in his chair. “I know what the proper treatment is and I don’t want it!”
“Mulder,” Scully said, “at least listen to him. Please.”
He looked away from Kessler to her. “No. He wants to put me back on the drugs and I don’t want the drugs, Scully, they make me forget. I don’t want to forget. ” His lips started to trembled. “Don’t make me go back on them, Scully, please. I don’t want to forget anymore.”
She rubbed his arm and looked at Kessler, who was obviously displeased by this. “No medication,” she said quietly. “We’ll take our chances.”
“I can’t emphasize enough that I think this is a mistake.”
“Well. It’s our mistake to make. And I agree with Mulder: I don’t want him medicated into oblivion.”
“It is your choice,” Kessler said slowly. “But do you honestly want to bring him back here a
gain when the episode repeats?”
“We’ll deal with things as they happen,” Scully said, and Mulder leaned his head against her shoulder. She stroked his face gently. “We’ll deal. We have before, we can again.”
“If you check him out now it will be against doctor’s orders.”
“Yes. Well. So be it, then.” She pressed her lips to Mulder’s forehead for a moment. “Let’s get you out of here.”
Scully drove them home. Ben fell asleep in the back seat at once, his head lolling against the window. Mulder leaned his head on his hand and watched the streets go by, and every few minutes touched her hand or smiled at her shyly.
They were near home when she finally said, “When we get home I want you to go straight to bed, okay? I want you to rest for a while.”
“Okay,” he said softly. He added after a moment, “Will you be coming with me?”
Scully chuckled. “Later.” She glanced back at Ben “I think we’re all going to want a good long sleep today.”
He nodded, looking out the window again.
Once they reached home Scully put Mulder to bed immediately. Ben called Emma briefly and then went to bed himself. For a while Scully tried to put her things in order, reading mail that had come in her absence and messages that Ben had taken, but then finally she admitted to herself she was tired and wanted nothing more than to sleep. The rest could wait.
She went upstairs to their bedroom and quietly undressed and slipped into bed beside Mulder. He turned towards her and wrapped her up in his arms without opening his eyes.
“Knew you couldn’t stay away,” he murmured.
“It’s strange to go to bed at ten in the morning.”
“Nowhere I’d rather be.”
Scully smiled, pressing her nose against his chest. “There’s nowhere I’d rather be, either.”
“You haven’t told me how the little one’s doing today.”
“Oh . . . she’s fine. I did throw up yesterday but I think it was nerves. I’m a lot better, now that I’m home.”
They were settling into a comfortable pre-sleep languor when he said hesitantly, “Scully. Are you okay with me not wanting to go back on medication?”
“Well . . . the way I see it, it’s the lesser of two evils. You go on medication and forget everything again, or you stay off it and we take our chances. I’d rather take my chances—I only wish I knew what to do if this happens again. If there’s anything we can do for the pain or if you’ll hallucinate again or—well, I don’t have any answers anyway.”
He sighed, stroking her hair. “I don’t want to be that way again, Scully. I don’t want to be drooling and tired and grayed-out all the time. It’s no way to live.”
“No. It’s not.”
“But I’m still afraid. The pain was . . . bad.”
“Oh, sweet baby.” She kissed his face tenderly.
“And what if this goes on for years? What if I’m taking care of the baby and no one else is around and this happens again?”
Scully felt a deep shiver go through her and she said, “Mulder, if you’re afraid, we can go back to the hospital, we can talk to Dr. Kessler, we can find an alternative to what you were on before. But if you’re willing to take the risk then I’m willing to take it with you, okay?”
He closed his eyes for a moment, sighing again, and then kissed her and pulled her to him and held her close. “I’m willing.”
She let a few minutes pass, and then said, “Mulder.”
“If—” she paused, wondering how to say this. “If my examination had shown he wasn’t the clone—” She paused again, and looked up at him. He was looking at her, waiting, his face worried. She said, “I’d still be in love with you.”
He smiled at her, happily, beautifully, and kissed her quickly. “Thank you.”
“It’s just the truth, sweetheart.”
“I’m so glad you’re home.”
Scully nodded in agreement and laid her head on his chest again.
End of Part III.