A quick cup of coffee and half a sippy cup of milk later, Mulder set Will down in the front hall and knelt to tighten his laces. Clutching his Tinky Winky doll with one arm, Will thumped Mulder's shoulder with his free hand. "Bubby tar, dada. Tay? Tay?"
Mulder couldn't help but smile. "Listen to you," he said affectionately, placing a hand on top of his son's head. It seemed like Will was picking up new words at the rate of about one a minute lately. "Talking like a big boy, huh? You'll be telling me I'm wrong about everything in no time at all."
"Bubby tar out, tay?"
"Okay," Mulder agreed. "Hang on just a minute and I'll find it."
He stood up and headed for a basket of toys that sat near the TV in his office. Will followed, then veered suddenly down the hallway, pointing toward the bedroom.
Mulder retrieved Will and returned to the basket by the TV. "No, bud, she's sleeping. We'll see her later."
He rummaged in the basket until he found the 'bubby tar' in question. The black Matchbox SUV, a gift from Billy, had quickly become one of Will's favorite toys. Mulder considered it completely inappropriate for a toddler, especially one who was teething, but Billy had only blinked at Mulder's objections and assured him that he 'understood.' Mulder had deliberately 'lost' the toy several times, only to have an identical replacement appear with the next grocery delivery, much to Will's delight and Mulder's frustration. When Mulder finally noted that Will never put the car in his mouth, but instead carried it with a kind of reverence, securely tucked in his tiny fist, he had relented and allowed his son to keep it. How it got dubbed 'bubby tar,' Mulder didn't know.
"Here you go, buddy." He handed Will the toy. "Not for your mouth, remember?"
"Tay." Will nodded. He waved the car at his father. "Bubby tar mama tar dada, tay? Weea? Mama? Tay?"
Mulder's stomach knotted. He tried to keep smiling. Mama.
It was natural, he supposed, that Will would come to think of Leah as his mother, though she'd never been presented as such. After all, his picture books were full of happy, smiling mommies and daddies and babies. It only made sense that Will would put one and one and one together and come up with three, even if it was the wrong three.
With a pang of guilt, Mulder realized he'd been unbelievably selfish all these months. Will should have the chance to know his mother, even though she would never be a part of his daily life. They needed to have a photograph of Scully, at least, something Mulder could point to and say, 'That was your mom, Will. She loved you very much. I loved her very much.' He'd ask Billy to get them one the next time he saw him.
"Mama? Weea? Out? Fahn?"
"We'll see Leah later, Will. She's tired right now." Mulder took the toy car and tucked it in Will's pocket.
"Yeah, Fang can come with us."
"Fahn!" Will ran toward the kitchen and called the dog, his thin little voice echoing through the apartment. "Fahn!"
Mulder brought his fingers to his lips. "Shh, Will," he whispered as Fang skittered enthusiastically into the room. Mulder clipped the leash to the dog's collar, then swung Will up onto his hip. They headed for the door, the little dog dragging his lead behind.
In the courtyard, the day was heating up. The air was already soggy and hateful, and would only get more unbearable as the day progressed.
As always, Dee was waiting to escort them, decked out in carefully coordinated indigo running gear. She had pulled the jogging stroller out of storage, just as she normally did, but instead of standing at attention next to it as he'd come to expect, she was sitting on the bench by the fountain, staring blankly at the water, her usual poker- face skewed by a look of vague discomfort.
Mulder buckled Will and Fang securely into the stroller. "Morning, Dee."
Dee did not stir, continuing to gaze listlessly toward the small concrete pool.
He propped his foot up on the bench, right next to where she was sitting. "Dee?"
Dee flinched, her head snapping toward him, her eyes growing wide.
"Didn't mean to startle you," he said, lifting an eyebrow and grabbing the toe of his shoe. Clearly, Dee was still a little dazed. He leaned over and began to stretch.
Dee shifted uncomfortably in her seat, her upper lip twitching slightly. "I am not startled, Sir," she said. Her gaze wandered back to the fountain.
"Dada!" Will complained, straining against his seatbelt. "Doh! Out out." He buried his face in Tinky Winky's stomach, rubbing his mouth vigorously back and forth against the plastic.
When Mulder finished stretching, he wheeled the stroller toward the gate. "Ready, Will? Let's go." The gatekeeper stepped aside to let them through. Dee remained motionless on the bench.
Mulder stared at her, perplexed. She wasn't going to let them go alone, was she?
Dee started again, then rose without answering and followed them out into the street.
Will waved his toys above his head. "Out, Dada," he called. "Bye bye!"
Mulder started more slowly than he usually did. Instead of running, he walked down Beech Avenue, past the florist's shop on the corner, past the bank and The Goof, down Silver Birch, taking his usual route, but at an altered pace. Reaching the green strip of park bordering the beach, he turned onto the asphalt jogging path and prodded himself to run. But his heart wasn't in it, and his mind was elsewhere, still puzzling over the night before and this strange morning after.
Will, apparently oblivious to his father's concerns, laughed, waving an arm and wiggling his fingers in the rushing air. He pointed to some seagulls on the path. "Quack-quack!" he laughed.
"Not ducks, Will," Mulder told him. "Sky rats."
The birds scattered, clearing a path for them with a chorus of irritated squawks. Will stretched out, reaching toward them and calling "Quack-quack!"
"Seagulls," Mulder told him again. "Not quack-quacks; seagulls. It's a different kind of water bird."
"Quack-quack!" Will insisted.
"Okay, you've convinced me." Mulder surrendered. "Quack- quacks. Whatever."
He ran harder, pushing himself, sprinting toward clarity or oblivion, whichever he could get with sweat and endorphins. The stroller buzzed along the pavement, its rubber tires emitting a hypnotic hum, while Dee's shoes smacked monotonously against the ground behind him.
Dee ran almost on his heels, becoming, quite literally, his shadow - if he veered left, he knew she would; if he slowed to get around a group of pedestrians, or sped up to challenge himself, she would alter her pace accordingly. Her positioning made it impossible for him to see what she was doing without stopping and making a deliberate 180- degree turn. It bugged the hell out of him - not only was it embarrassingly conspicuous, it was just plain annoying to have those inescapable footsteps crunching in his wake.
Today, stressed and hungry and sleep-deprived, confused by the events of the past two days, disheartened in a general, all-encompassing way, Mulder found he could focus on nothing but getting Dee the hell off his ass. 'Dee go away,' he thought, silently chanting in time with his footfalls, with hers, 'Dee go away Dee go away Dee go-'
All at once, the wheels of the stroller locked tight.
"Holy sh-!" Mulder jerked it upright to keep Will from spilling out, skidding to a painful stop. He bent immediately to check on his son. "You okay, Will?"
"A-din!" Will shrieked with delight, bouncing in his seat. "A-din a-din!"
"No, not 'again,'" Mulder replied, relieved to see that Will was unhurt and that Fang was no worse for the wear. He bent to check the tires, the footbrake, the unblemished pavement beneath them. Whatever had caused the wheels to quit turning wasn't immediately evident, but then, he was no mechanic.
"What in the hell?" Mulder mumbled, getting back up on his feet and brushing pavement crumbs from his knees. "Dee, can you tell why this...?" He looked up, expecting to see Dee standing vigilantly beside the stroller.
She wasn't there.
He turned and looked around. "Dee?"
"Dee bye-bye." Will pointed down the path, giggling.
Mulder spotted her about 300 feet ahead, shifting nervously from foot to foot, staring out at the lake. Even from that distance, Mulder could see something was wrong.
"Dee?" He frowned. He started pushing the stroller in Dee's direction.
"Dee bye-bye," Will repeated, clutching Tinky Winky, his laughter now coming in hiccuppy gulps.
Dee continued to fidget, but made no move to join them.
"Dee," Mulder called more forcefully, waving her back as he jogged toward her. As much as he hated having her around, her behavior was unnerving. "Come here."
Dee turned, staring at him in seeming confusion, then lifted her foot as if to return.
"No!" Will pointed and waved a single pudgy index finger at Dee, a gesture he'd acquired from Leah.
Dee froze, foot suspended in the air.
"What the..." Mulder stopped running. He let the stroller roll to a stop.
Will pointed again. "Doh!!"
Suddenly Dee turned and began marching resolutely toward the lake.
Mulder blinked, and blinked again. He stared at the figure moving across the beach. "Holy shit," he muttered, "She's not. . .Dee, stop! Wait..."
Dee picked up her pace. Mulder swallowed hard, turning to stare at his son, who was waving bye-bye to Dee, grinning gleefully under the brim of his baseball cap. Mulder mustered a stunned whisper. "Will?"
"Dee doh 'way! Dee doh 'way!"
Dee go away.
Will's pink lips stretched into a delighted smile. "Quack- quack!" he yelped, pointing toward the gulls near the waterline.
"Um, yeah." Mulder rubbed his forehead with his fingertips, feeling a little like he might pass out. "Will..."
"Dee quack-quack!" Will pointed again and began to giggle helplessly.
Mulder's face jerked in the direction of the water.
Dee had dropped into a squat and was waddling among the birds, hands tucked into her armpits, flapping as if she, too, were a gull. The birds ran frantically back and forth, dodging out of her way, taking flight, circling and returning, hovering above her as if she smelled of rotting fish.
Mulder tried to breathe, but his lungs seemed to have closed for business. "Will?" he gasped.
"Quack-quack!" Will shouted and clapped. "Dee, quack-quack! Yay!"
The breeze carried most of the sound away, but in the distance, Mulder heard Dee begin to quack.
Legs suddenly boneless, he crouched beside the stroller, cradled his head in his hands, and fought off the urge to hyperventilate. His running partner, 110 pounds of solid, straight-faced, humorless muscle, was out in the surf, running in crazed semi-circles, flapping her arms as if expecting at any second to take flight.
Will howled with laughter, quacking and cheering.
Mulder shook his head in wordless disbelief.
Was Dee doing this just for Will's amusement?
Or. . .
Fang barked, tugging Mulder momentarily from the morass of his thoughts.
"Woo-woo!" Will squealed, bouncing and clapping his hands in appreciation of Fang's barking prowess. Quivering with excitement, Fang let out a long string of yips and yowls.
"Fang. Shut the hel-" Mulder began, but before he could finish, Fang slipped out from under the seatbelt and took off after Dee, barking with all his strength.
"Fahn woo-woo!" Will squealed. "Dee woo-woo!"
Mulder's head snapped up.
At the edge of the water, Dee dropped to all fours and began barking madly at the waves breaking on the shore. Fang charged toward her, yipping full-force. The seagulls scattered.
No one seemed to notice. No one but Mulder and Will.
Mulder rubbed his brow. "No," he rasped.
"Dee woo-woo!" The baby clapped. "Yay!"
"Oh my god," Mulder murmured. "Will, no..."
Mulder turned, half-afraid yet half-expecting to see some wild gleam in his son's eye, some hint of monstrosity or madness. Something wrong. Something bad. Something evil.
All he saw was a delighted little boy. Scully's son. His whole life.
"N-n-no, Will." He shook his head unsteadily. He could hardly believe what he was saying. "Will, Dee is not a bird or a dog...oh god, Will, she's not...." Mulder groped for the right phrase, "Son...she's not a toy."
Will stopped clapping and regarded his father, a puzzled little frown drawing his sandy brows together. "Dee woo- woo?"
"No." He said it with more conviction than he felt. "Dee isn't a dog."
"No. She's not a duck, either. She's just -- she's just Dee, Will, and she's not having fun."
Will maintained a hopeful air. "Weea woo-woo?"
"Jesus, no!" Mulder spun off the pavement and up onto his knees. Bracing himself by gripping the side of the stroller, he brought his face close to his son's. "Will, people aren't -- You can't -- It isn't --"
Will looked at his father sadly for a moment, then he brightened. He reached up and placed his palm on the bridge of his own tiny nose. "Beep beep!"
"Will, no." Mulder closed his eyes and blew out a long frustrated breath. To the best of his recollection, Dr. Spock hadn't covered this. "Just - just no, okay? No."
"No, tay, no!" Will echoed. He flattened his nose again. "Beep beep!"
"I mean it, Will." Mulder glanced back at the water's edge, where Dee and Fang were still barking wildly, chasing any bird that dared to land on the beach. "What you're doing -- if, Christ, if you're even doing it -- you've got to stop. It's wrong, Will. You just can't. . ."
But even as he spoke, Mulder knew that Will just could.
Will grabbed Tinky Winky suddenly, and rubbed the toy across his mouth. "Nononononono!"
Mulder sighed as he removed Will's Yankees cap and laid his palm against the boy's warm forehead. All this and teething, too, he thought. Will swiped the doll across his mouth and chin again.
"William," Mulder pulled the now soggy purple plush toy away from the baby's face. "Listen to me. I know your mouth is hurting. We'll get you some medicine when we get home. But right now, right now Will-" he glanced at the surf again, "-Dee isn't a dog. I don't want Dee to -- to bark any more."
Will rubbed his mouth and nose with his open palm, then studied Mulder's face. "Dee no woo-woo?"
"Right." Mulder closed and rubbed his eyes again.
Will seemed to puzzle over this, then his expression brightened. "Dada!"
Something in Will's tone made Mulder open his eyes.
Will was staring at him thoughtfully. Mulder felt himself drawn into his son's eyes, which now seemed wider and rounder than any baby's eyes could, or should, be. It was almost as if, somewhere within his toddler's mind, he was weighing some hefty decision or choosing between two equally daunting alternatives. Tiny mouth pulled into a slight pucker, Will's brows turned down. "Dada," he repeated, in a grave voice.
Mulder caught his breath. "What is it, Will?"
Will reached out and grabbed Mulder's nose. "Beep b-"
Everything went black.
All at once Mulder was drowning, freezing, burning, flying, shaking, buzzing, trilling, thrilling - nerve endings never-ending, his whole being perfectly still, completely in motion...
"Ohhhhhhh...my....g-" A distant gasp of exhilaration, a groan of comprehension...
A voice -- his voice?
His heart stop beating, blood jelled in his veins, body collapsed into a single perfect point while his spirit dropped straight through the earth and emerged to leap into the sky and circle the planet like fog.
Everything lightened, brightened, color softened, turned purple - no, not purple - grape, yes, grape, sticky-sweet and pungent, luminescent and spherical, but somehow coarse as sand, unyielding as a chunk of steel clutched in a tiny fist. All grape, it was *all* grape and in the grape-purple purple grape of his consciousness, he glimpsed the multi- dimensional ALL, thick as honey, lighter than air, glimmering and glittering like a carnival in space. It was everywhere, nowhere, surrounding, subsuming, swelling, receding, glowing with color and crawling with life, the incomparable life of everything that shouldcouldwouldishasshall be--
And lighter still, brighter still, cobalt and indigo, navy, lapis, liquid cerulean, sky-sea blue ringing the deeper hues of the stratosphere, the richer shades inside, faceted as crystal, perfect, blissful, redeeming, sacred--
Then the buzz, rushing and harmonious - voices? No, a voice, *the* voice, the one, singular, solitary voice, singing, humming, rippling through him, beating him like a drumhead, plucking him like a harp string, playing him like an instrument in the symphony of the spheres --
He saw it all, WAS it all, and it was all him, and so simple, so natural, so right, and he wanted to stay in that One forever and--
Oh yes, oh yes--
The One is made of the Two: thought and action, motion and stillness, unity and separation...
Father nurtures Impulse; Mother nurtures Being; one nothing without the other, both whole, neither complete, neither either, nothing--
oh no. . .
. . .it was suddenly all barking orange dump trucks chasing seagulls in crazy circles and triangles carved from sand and big blue rubber balls and friendly armloads of warm white fluff and the taste of banana and sweet almond and he was riding the clouds, floating over a small suburban house, a canopied sandbox in its backyard, a dusty black SUV parked in a semi-circular drive, a black speck running in manic circles, laughter and sunshine, a peaceful home, a happy home, coming home, coming home, coming home, coming...
...and he wanted desperately to go inside, to crawl inside, to be inside, because...
. . . because it needed him, was Siren-singing to him, calling to him. Calling his name, calling his name because...
Something sharp and unyielding pressed into the back of his skull.
"Mulder?!" Desperately, this time.
He lifted -- no, someone else lifted -- his head and -- how could someone else lift his head? Did they borrow his neck, too? Is that why it ached?
"Jesus Christ, Mulder, don't, don't- "
The voice caught its toe on something, tripped over something, fell over something, slammed full force into something.
Into him. Slammed full force into him, into his chest, squeezed his heart. He gasped, dragging oxygen into atrophied, mummified, million-year-old lungs. His grateful blood re-liquefied and went on its way.
"Mulder? Mulder, open your eyes," the voice, Leah's voice, commanded. Her fingers pressed into the side of his neck.
His eyes opened. Leah's face, inverted, concerned, framed by black braids and green leaves and blue sky, peered down at him. She looked terrified.
"What happened?" his lips tried to say, but his ears only heard a muffed 'Wha hup?' in a voice that was almost, but not quite, his own.
"You passed out or - or something. Are you okay?" She swung around so she was sitting next to him, her hip next to his ear. She lifted his head again and swept away the pebble he'd landed on, put Will's bunched-up stroller blanket beneath his head like a pillow. Her hands were shaking.
"Something's going on, Mulder. Billy had them all gathered together, saying something about rays and dogs a-a-and prophecy and leaving. He sent me to find you - I ran, and I was half way down the path when I saw you collapse next to the stroller, and--"
"Stroller? Will!-" Mulder's eyes went wide and he tried to sit up, but he was weak as a kitten, and Leah's hand on his breastbone pinned him.
"Shhh," she whispered, but her voice was tense. "He's fine." Her eyes cut away. "He seems rather amused by it all, actually." She looked back down at Mulder again. "He's got your sense of humor, surely."
"Dry." Mulder lifted a leaden arm to his face and rubbed his forearm across his mouth. "And don't," he coughed, "don't call me Shirley."
"Right. Ha ha." She smirked a little and lifted the squeeze bottle to his lips, dribbled some water on them. "Glad you feel like joking. What happened? Did you get overheated, or - or what?"
The water tasted better than almost anything he'd ever put in his mouth. "No. I, um, I. . .let me sit up."
Leah acquiesced, but with a concerned frown. "Are you all right? Should I call an ambulance?"
Mulder took the bottle from her. "No." He paused. "But... no. Just give me a minute." He took a long pull, choked some of the water down the front of his shirt, swallowed the rest. His head ached, but the fog clouding his mind was. . .the fog was. . .
The mosaic tiles shifted again. He blinked, and in his peripheral psychic vision, another piece seemed to slide into place. A picture was forming; he could see it now, clearly.
It was a very big picture, indeed.
He turned to look at Will.
The boy was leaning forward, giving Mulder a concerned frown. "Tay, Dada?"
Mulder reached out and grabbed Will by the foot, the only part he could reach easily. He gave his son's leg a friendly shake. "Yeah, I'm okay."
Will beamed and clapped. "Yay!"
"Yeah," Mulder agreed, but with slightly less enthusiasm and a lot more awe. "Yay."
"Mulder." Leah's voice was tight and strained. "What did Billy mean? What did he mean about leaving? What - what's going on?"
Mulder took another long drink, and looked down at the black, black asphalt beneath them. Black ringed with blue. . .
He closed his eyes and massaged his forehead, looking for words. "It's um, I'm not sure, but I think. . .I think we- god, I just wish. . ."
He didn't understand; he couldn't understand. Yet, somehow, he knew, absolutely KNEW that it all made perfect sense, some kind of huge, overwhelming sense. The weight of the world - of a couple of worlds, actually - had just been unceremoniously dropped on his shoulders by a child whose biggest accomplishment to date had been drinking through a straw. It seemed, he thought, like something that should have devastated him, something that should have at least weighed him down.
Instead, the certainty of his burden set him free.
He turned to the sound of a familiar voice. Billy stood before him, Ray to his left, Dee, her knees red and her cheeks wind burned, to his right. All three of them were smiling those strange, beatific smiles, and for once, it didn't bother him. For once, the smile made sense.
"Hey, Bill." It was the only thing Mulder could muster.
Billy squatted near Mulder and spoke gently. "Agents Doggett and Reyes have visited Mrs. Ko. They are looking for you, and if we remain, they will succeed. As you now know, this is something we cannot allow."
"Billy, for Christ's sake," Leah all but hissed, "Mulder's hurt. Can't this w-"
Mulder raised his hand to stop her. "It's okay, Leah. I'm okay." His voice was a dry rumble. He swallowed another mouthful of water, then put the bottle down. "You know, you should have told me, Bill."
Billy blinked, then blinked again. "I have told you, Mulder."
"No." Mulder shook his head. "No. You should have told me *everything*. All of it. I needed to know." His gaze went to Will, who was currently driving his 'bubby tar' up and down his thigh and making 'vroom 'vroom" sounds. "This was a hell of a way to find out."
Billy's nodded. "I apologize, Mulder. It was not deliberate. William's recent pain has led us into a state of confusion. The knowledge was inside you, but I was not sure what you remembered, and what you had chosen to forget."
"Right here, Will." Mulder turned back to Billy. "But I didn't *choose* to forget what I knew. I didn't choose to remember everything wrong, either." He ground his molars, frustrated by his inability to express himself clearly, even to himself. "I didn't choose any of it, Billy. I didn't choose this. Why me? Why now?"
Billy's hand clasped Mulder's shoulder. The gesture was -- Mulder closed his eyes and rubbed them with the heels of his hands -- it was brotherly.
They were brothers.
Of course they were.
"You chose to be chosen, Mulder. The rest was foretold."
"Mulder," Leah's voice was soft and scared. "What. . .?"
"Out!" Will suddenly bellowed and kicked his heels against the stroller. "Out. Out now!"
"They're in danger, aren't they?" Mulder asked Billy, pretty sure he already knew the answer.
"Yes, Mulder. The time has come. We protected them as long as we..."
Mulder rubbed his forehead. "As long as you were supposed to, right?"
"In fulfillment of prophecy." Bill nodded, and his smile broadened a little. "Yes. But we knew neither the hour nor the day."
"Yeah." Mulder chuckled. "I hear prophecy's tricky that way."
He shook his head, overwhelmed by the boundless grandeur and microscopic significance of it all. Billy had been right all along, of course, and now...
Now he had a job to do. "Son of a bitch," he muttered helplessly.
"Sunbish!" Will echoed enthusiastically. "Sunbish! Out!"
Mulder got unsteadily to his feet. The beach and the boardwalk revolved slowly. The spirit was willing, he noted wryly, but the flesh still felt like it had had an encounter with a cosmic Mac truck. Carefully unbuckling the baby's belt, Mulder lifted Will, then planted a firm kiss on his soft cheek. "Geez, Will," he told him softly, "Don't let your mom hear that, okay? She'll skin me."
"Mama." Will brought his hands to the sides of Mulder's face, then nuzzled Mulder's chin. "Bubby. Tay, Dada? Mama. Bubby. Dada. Tay?"
"Yeah, Will." Mulder nodded and closed his eyes. He pressed his forehead against his son's, third eye to third eye, the two of them finally on the same wavelength. "Message received."
"Yay!" Will leaned in and wetly kissed the tip of Mulder's nose. "Yay!"
"What?" Leah's voice was an anxious whisper lost in the breeze. "Mulder, please, what's going. . .?
With his free arm, Mulder reached out for her, pulled her gently, easily to his side. She wrapped her arms around his waist, clinging to him, shaking like a baby bird.
He owed her so much, and there'd be no way to repay her. Ever. He pressed a chaste kiss to her forehead. "I have to tell you something, Leah. She's. . .she's alive," he whispered.
"She?" Leah murmured. She looked up at him and the light dawned. "Oh! You mean. . .?"
He smiled. "Yeah. Will's mom."
"But I thought. . ."
Mulder shook his head. "I remembered it wrong. I mean, I remembered it right, but that's not the way it actually happened."
Leah's eyes were wide. "I don't understand."
"It doesn't matter." He rested his chin on the crown of her head. "None of that matters now. He's coming. They need me. We have to go."
John Byers stared down at his salad, gingerly lifting a strip of Swiss cheese with his fork and regarding it with a puzzled frown.
"And you've eliminated any other plausible explanation?"
Looking somewhat resigned, Dana Scully gave a sigh and nodded. "I've eliminated every other plausible explanation. So, yes."
Byers looked up from his plate and gazed at her helplessly. No matter how hard he tried, he couldn't fully grasp the implications of what she was trying to tell him.
In truth, he suspected he didn't really want to.
Choking down a mouthful of something green and peppery, he redoubled his efforts to make this make sense. "Okay. We can't deny that there's a growth. And it's not the result of some kind of natural process? A keloid, say, or some other kind of scar tissue?
She shook her head. "First thing I checked."
"And you're positive this isn't just your body's way of dealing with the presence a foreign object? The way an oyster deals with a grain of sand, for example?"
"And it's not, um. . ." Byers searched his memory, trying to recall the dozens of benign tumors he'd researched the night before. "Not a sebaceous or epidermoid cyst? Not something viral or bacterial?"
"No, no, no, and no." She shook her head.
He paused a moment to sort out his thoughts. "And it doesn't hurt? You don't have any other symptoms?"
"No. If Mom hadn't noticed it, I probably wouldn't have, either."
He paused, marshalling his nerve, trying to force himself to say what it sickened him to think. "Is it, um. . ." he swallowed hard. "That is, Dana, . . . could it be. . . .?"
"No." She spared him a slight but reassuring smile. "It doesn't appear to be cancerous, either." She shrugged and folded her arms across her Yankees sweatshirt. "At least, not in any commonly used sense of the term. It's not growing out of control. It's not invasive in any meaningful way. I had my six month check-up five weeks ago and all my blood work was well within normal levels, my immunological response isn't heightened or suppressed. The growth itself is regular, spherical - well, you saw the sonogram and the x-ray. There's no evidence of cellular migration or metastasis. It's like, like a little ball of tissue has engulfed and effectively dissolved the chip. It's regular human tissue." She gave him her smallest, slightest frown, the one he knew meant she was most concerned. "It's just that the tissue isn't biologically mine."
He laid his fork on his plate, admitting defeat. Lunch was a pointless exercise. Under the circumstances, he just couldn't work up any appetite at all.
It was all too incredible, too far-fetched, too unimaginable. Human tissue didn't just float through the air and then take up residence somewhere and start scavenging for silicon chips.
"Is this - hypothetically, I mean, is this even possible?"
Scully sighed again, and brushed a strand of hair from her forehead. "No."
"Oh." There wasn't much else to say.
"What about you guys? Have you found anything?" she asked with forced ease, sliding off her barstool and sweeping dishes and glasses into a neat stack.
Byers downed the last of his drink and set the empty glass on the breakfast bar. "Well, we haven't heard back from everyone," he replied, "but nothing so far. No one we contacted at Mufon, the ASG, or any of their sister groups has reported or recorded anything like you've described. None of the other men and women like you, with, um, with implants have noted any changes to the chips themselves or any fresh or pronounced scarring or irritation of the implantation site. Of course, none of them may have thought to look."
Scully chuffed softly and began picking stray peas and carrots off the countertop. "I bet they'll all look now," she told him with a wry twist of her lips.
"Bet they will."
"Well." She headed for the sink with the dishes, then pulled down the dishwasher door. "I have the lab running some stuff now. I'm hoping to hear something soon. There's no point borrowing trouble, right?" She shook detergent into the machine, then closed the door, and the conversation, with a decisive bang.
Byers watched her fill the coffee carafe, all the while sinking deeper and deeper into his own maudlin thoughts. Ever since Langly decrypted that damned tape and found Fox Mulder's smiling face waiting there like a rusty razor blade in a trick-or-treat candy apple, Byers had been torn - no, shredded - by indecision and a sense of divided loyalty.
And now, seemingly out of the blue, this. Talk about a one- two punch.
He didn't consider himself an especially intuitive or insightful man, but every fiber of his being told him that, even though solid information was in short supply, it was wrong to keep the news of Mulder's reappearance from Scully. If she knew what they were keeping from her, he thought, rubbing at a spot on the countertop with his index finger, sweet Jesus, she'd string them all up by their balls.
And yet, every time he looked at her, all he could see were the faint lavender circles beneath her eyes, the hollow cheeks, the ashen complexion -- tell-tale signs of exhaustion or illness.
Or, he thought morosely, watching her pause a moment to lean against the counter, close her eyes, and massage her nape, the tell-tale signs of both.
"Um, can I help with anything?" he asked weakly.
"Thanks, but I've got it covered," she assured him. She reached into the cabinet under the sink and pulled out a can of Comet, a sponge, and a pair of out-of-place surgical gloves. She shook out some cleanser and started wiping. After a moment she said, "You know, it was a year ago."
Byers blinked. "Excuse me?"
"July 6th," she replied in an even, almost analytical tone. "That's the day Mulder disappeared." She scrubbed a little harder. "Again."
"Oh. Right." Byers sighed inwardly. No wonder she looked so beat. She probably hadn't slept. She'd probably been crying. "Of course."
Sometimes he felt that he would give anything, do anything to take Scully's grief away. It was a constant exercise of will to remember that her sadness and anger would lessen according to their own timetables, and that all he could do was what he was already doing; listen at all hours of the day and night, provide companionship and personal space as required, act as human Kleenex/cheering section/ inspirational speaker/foot masseur. Whatever she needed, he would try, had tried, to provide.
At any rate, he was just grateful she let him hang around.
"Year ago yesterday," Scully continued, directing her comments to the sponge.
"Really?" he began, not quite certain of what he was going to say. "Do you think. . ."
She paused. "Do I think what?"
"...that there's a connection?" Byers frowned. "Between the mass and the um, anniversary?"
"I don't see how." Scully stripped off her gloves and threw them in the sink, frowning. "What makes you ask that, John?"
"I don't know, exactly." He shrugged. "I'm just wondering. . .just thinking out loud, I guess. It's noth-"
There was a sudden clatter from the family room. Scully looked up, puzzled. "I thought Elisabeth took him out to the backyard," she muttered, crossing to look out the back door. "Gate's open. They must have gone to the park."
There was another loud thump, followed by several smaller crashes. "Damn dog," Scully muttered.
"I'll go." Byers rose. "Fifi, come here, girl," he called, expecting Scully's hyperactive black cockapoo to come running.
Instead, there was a knock on the front door. In the alcove, Fifi began barking and running in frantic circles, her toenails clicking noisily on the hardwood.
"Want me to get that?" Byers asked, just as the phone rang. "Or that?"
"I'll get the door." She walked past him toward the front hall, and over her shoulder asked, "Can you grab the phone?"
"Sure." He picked up the receiver. "Scully residence."
"That you, Byers?"
"Hey, Langly." Byers perched on the edge of the desk. "Any word?"
"Yeah, I just heard from Monica. They're coming back this afternoon."
He dropped his voice and turned his face toward the wall. "Did they find anything?"
The knocking at the front door became more urgent.
"What the hell?" Scully's voice echoed down the hall. A little louder, she called out, "Okay, who's been playing Bob the Builder in front of the door?"
"They went to that Korean grocery, Ko's." Frohike had joined the conversation via speaker phone. "Woman who owns the place identified Mulder by name right off the bat. Called him 'nice man with funny baby turkey.'"
"With what?" Byers asked over the din of the door and the dog.
"Funny baby turkey, whatever that means," Langly broke in. "Recognized Yves, too, but didn't know her name. Same for Billy Miles, Ray Hoese, and that lawyer chick, Denise Hill. The store owner directed them to where she thought they all lived, but the place was empty. Monica said it looked like someone, or rather, a whole lot of someones, left in a hurry."
"You can say that again," Frohike agreed. "I was hoping we were all having some kind of collective hallucination, but looks like no such luck, my friend."
"Elisabeth?" Byers heard Scully call up the stairs. "You guys up there? I thought you were going to play outside. Why's all this stuff. . .?" the end of her sentence was drowned out by the sound of shuffling objects and the door bell ringing. Fifi continued barking as if she were on some kind of mission.
Byers stuffed his finger in his ear and tried to pay attention to what his friends were telling him. "So what's next, then?" he asked, dropping his voice lower still. "Should we tell her, now, or what?"
"Yeah, I think we better. Langly and I can head over if you want," Frohike answered. "Christ, Byers, is there some kind of wild party going on over there?"
"Just Sunday lunch time in suburbia." Byers crossed the living room, receiver still to his ear, and glanced toward the front door. Scully had cleared a path through a huge pile of stuffed animals, cars, trucks, and TeleTubbie paraphernalia that someone must have dragged in from the family room. She was waving Walter Skinner in through the mess.
"Sir?" he heard her say. She sounded as surprised to see her former boss as Byers felt.
Skinner opened his mouth to speak, but before he could get a word out, the little black dog rushed at his ankles, snarling and latching on to his pant leg.
Byers frowned. Feef was usually such a nice dog. "Hang on, Langly," he spoke into the phone, then covered the mouthpiece with his hand "Fifi!" he called. "C'mere, girl. C'mon, Feef."
Skinner turned at looked at him blankly, dog still on his pant cuff.
". . .s that okay?" Frohike's voice drifted up.
"Yeah, sorry, let me move." Byers put the phone back to his ear and walked to the far side of the living room, hoping to get away from the cacophony. "I couldn't hear. What did you say?"
Frohike's response was drowned out by very loud thump followed by a series of small ones, the sound of glass shattering, and a small, familiar voice screaming, "Nonononononononononononono!"
"Shit, gotta go." Byers slammed the phone down and ran to see what was going on.
The Cheval glass that stood by the door had been knocked over, and long, spiked splinters of mirror lay scattered around the broken frame and all over the floor. Skinner stood with Scully's limp body slung over his shoulder.
"Oh my god. Dana! What happened to her?" Byers started toward them. "I'll call an amb-..."
"That won't be necessary." Skinner brushed his concern aside with a sniff, his face devoid of expression.
"Not necessary? What are you talking about?" Byers' heart raced. "Did she fall into the mirror? Did she faint?"
"NO!" A tiny voice bounced down the stairs as a matchbox car flew out of nowhere and smacked Skinner squarely in the middle of the forehead.
Skinner stopped, looking puzzled but otherwise unfazed. After a quick moment, he started to move toward the door again.
Byers found himself running before he knew what he was doing, blocking the exit, though he had no idea why. "A.D. Skinner," he said through gritted teeth, "what the hell is going on? Where are you taking her?"
"NO!" A purple super-ball pinged against Skinner's ear, followed in rapid succession by another matchbox car and a miniature backhoe. "Nonononononononnononononononnono!"
Looking up anxiously, Byers caught a glimpse of blue shorts disappearing into one of the upstairs bedrooms. He heard the sound of something being dragged across the floor overhead.
Skinner ignored the assault, drawing himself to his full height, Scully stirring weakly on his shoulder. "Move aside," he commanded, his voice a dull monotone.
Byers breath began coming in panicked gulps. This had to be a nightmare, right?
Sick with fright, he planted his feet and folded his arms. "Look, Skinner, I don't know what the hell you're thinking, but until an ambulance arrives. . ."
Scully moaned. Byers stepped forward, reaching for her. In an instant, he found himself thrown forcefully against the dull wooden pegs of the coat rack, Skinner's free hand crushing his chest with the easy strength of a polar bear.
"What the. . .?!" He began to struggle, to thrash and kick, but it was useless. The hand pressed harder and all the air left his lungs.
Byers heard clattering sounds, small crashes and thuds as more toys whizzed one by one down the stairs, accompanied by cries of 'Mama! Mama!' and a long string of frightened 'no's. Fifi's barking grew still more agitated and reached a higher pitch.
Byers stopped thrashing, his burst of adrenaline spent pointlessly. He stared at the AD's impassive face and realized. . .
. . .that it wasn't Skinner at all. Instead, a shorter, stockier man had somehow taken Skinner's place, his square features as solid and unsubtle as a block of granite, his lifeless, soulless eyes reminding Byers of the statues on Easter Island.
"Where are you taking her?" Byers gasped weakly. "Please, she's sick . . . "
"She is not sick. She is the favored one, the perfect vessel, honored above all other women," the being said quietly, maintaining his unyielding grip. "And she is ready."
"Ready?" Byers lips moved, but he made very little sound.
The hand pinning him pulled away and he fell like a brick, and gasped for air. He could feel the keen bite of glass slicing through his jeans and into the backs of his thighs. From his spot atop shards of shattered mirror, he could see William's terror-filled blue eyes reflected back at him from above a million times over.
Not wanting to draw his attacker's attention to the child, Byers looked away.
"Rejoice John Byers," he intruder said, re-adjusting Scully over his shoulder. "The time is at hand."
End Book Two
See you at Christmas!
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