Rating: R/NC-17 (Yes! Sex!)
Category: S, A, C, MSR
Spoilers: Assumes thorough and complete knowledge of every single episode. EVERY SINGLE ONE!
Timeline: Post *Existence.* Branches off wildly from there.
Archive: Sure. Thanks!
Thanks to: Euphrosyne for insta-beta, PD and Ebonbird, who helped in so many ways, Weyo, Dee, and Susan, for test driving, Pacquin for listening to Amanda whiiiiiiiine, Uncle Chris, cuz it was his idea in the first place, and Mulder, for being so damned pretty.
Special thanks: to the wonderful stalkers who asked for more. None of this would have been possible without your patience, encouragement, or really pointy sticks. Hope you like it!!
Summary: More of the same. Now with Texas Pete Hot Sauce.
Our Lawyer says: Chris Carter owns M&S; Fox owns The XFiles; we own this story. No infringement intended.
NOTE: This won't make a lot of sense unless you've read Book One and Book Two available at Ephemeral, Gossamer, from one of the dozens of archives thoughtful enough to house it, or here:
July 8, 2002
She dreamed she was a seagull, flying far from the sea.
Below her, vegetation clung to the time-worn ground like mold on a crust of bread. It was hot down there; she could see it clearly, the heat charging the air so that it danced like a film of water over the parched soil.
Seeing the ground below her shimmering, she couldn't understand why the air she flew in was so cold. Spreading her wings wide, she paused and circled downward, trying to dip into the rising heat and ease the shivering that threatened to drop her body from the sky. No matter how low she descended, though, the heat seemed to stay just beyond her reach, always a hopeful wing-flap away.
An unfamiliar voice sounded in her ear. "How about that view, huh? Ever seen anything like it?"
Bewildered, she cast about for the source of the voice and remembered the unmarked panel truck driving below her. She'd been following it - hadn't she? - following it for days. Now the truck was creeping past neat fences and carefully spaced cacti toward three angular buildings: two larger, one smaller, gleaming like cubist sculpture in the desert sun.
Another voice answered the first. "It's a hole in the ground."
"Damn big hole in the ground. Take us around there, son, back behind the center."
The truck followed a driveway to the smallest of the buildings, and she followed the truck, not wanting to be left behind. A garage door opened and the truck backed in.
The heavy door closed, squashing the daylight away. High in the dark eaves of what seemed to be a maintenance garage, she shook herself, puffing her chest and lifting her feathers, trying to trap some warmth against her shivering skin.
She didn't want to be here. She wished she could fly away. Something told her she had to stay, though, and pay attention. Something told her she had to bear witness.
Rounding the back of the truck, men tugged a loading ramp out of its housing and settled it into place. Behind them, a heavy steel door opened and men in white coveralls hurried across the concrete floor, pushing a cart loaded with medical equipment.
"Hurry." A small, female figure was standing in the back of the truck, tapping her foot impatiently at the top of the loading ramp. At first the seagull thought the figure had to be a child. But no, she realized, it was not a child, but a woman, very old, very tiny, and very irate.
"Get this equipment connected. Now." The tiny woman gestured to the white-clad men, and they manhandled the cart up the ramp as if their lives depended on it.
Bright light spilled from the back of the truck. Equipment began to hum. Another steel door in the garage clanged open, and a mechanized wheelchair, rigged with enough medical equipment to stock a small hospital and attended by a uniformed nurse, rolled through it and into the garage.
"Oh Christ, not now." The tiny woman frowned at the approaching chair. "Hauser! Tell him to go back to his room. I'll send for him when she's ready."
"Tell him yourself," a man with a spongy face muttered as he hurried away.
The tiny woman's voice was shrill. She waved an accusing finger at the wheelchair. "You! What do you think you're doing here?"
The body of the man in the wheelchair was bent grotesquely to one side, as gray and gnarled as a root. His bony fingers fluttered against the armrest of the chair. The nurse swung some equipment into position, and the man glanced at a series of words on a computer screen.
"I...need...see...her," a mechanized voice droned.
"We've only just gotten her. She's not ready."
"Fine." The tiny woman threw her hands up in defeat and, grumbling, stalked back into the truck.
The man with the spongy face called a younger man forward, and together they steadied the bulky wheelchair as it crept slowly up the narrow loading ramp.
Her heart pounding, the seagull dropped from the rafters and perched on a bank of equipment. She strained to see the face of the man in the chair. He was little more than a skeleton, his gray flesh pulled tight against twisted bone, his mouth skewed and drooling, his yellowed eyeballs rolling in their sockets like loose marbles.
The sight of the man sickened her, but she couldn't look away. Did she know him?
The wheelchair rolled across the truck bed. When the bird cocked her head to see where it was going, she saw a table. On the table, she saw a woman. Her heart swelled with pity. Poor thing, she wanted to caw. Poor thing, poor thing, poor thing...
The tiny woman pulled back a thin sheet, baring the woman's body to the icy air. The harsh light cast a bluish glow on the woman's skin, giving her a cadaverous look, but the seagull was relieved to see that the woman wasn't dead. Restrained in a nest of wires and tubing, the woman seemed to be stirring.
The tiny woman stabbed a withered finger at a white-clad man, barking orders the seagull could not understand, but which filled her with fear and apprehension, just the same.
The woman's pale legs were lifted, spread apart. They trembled violently as they were strapped into stirrups.
'Oh no,' the seagull thought. 'Oh my god, no.'
As the technicians hurried to focus lights and prepare instruments, the wheelchair edged closer to the bed. Seeing the shriveled figure in the chair, the woman's eyes grew wide with recognition. A shudder ran through her body, the motion as involuntary as an ocean wave.
The flesh on the crippled man's face twitched, his jaw worked up and down, and he made an animal sound somewhere in his throat, a tortured noise, like a dog in a muzzle. Seeming to understand just what was needed, the nurse grasped the man's sleeve and picked up his wasted arm. She stretched his hand toward the woman, brushing the twisted fingers along the woman's bare shoulder, stroking downward, stopping just short of her breast.
The woman squirmed; she began to pant with fear. Her forehead strained against a wide nylon strap that held her head immobile.
The nurse settled the man's fingers back on the armrest. He concentrated on his computer screen. "She...cold."
The tiny woman pulled a pair of out-sized latex gloves over her puny hands. "She's fine."
The tiny woman continued her preparations without looking his way. "I know what I'm doing,*daddy*," she said, her words dripping with sarcasm.
The crippled man twitched. "Not. . .funny."
The tiny woman straightened and glared at him. "It's not supposed to be, is it, *papa*?"
The seagull heard the sound of smothered chuckling from the white-clad men.
The woman on the table flicked the tip of her tongue over her lips. Her lips moved, but all the bird heard was a sigh.
"Cover...her," the man in the chair insisted.
Ignoring him, the tiny woman marched to the foot of the bed and positioned herself between the woman's raised legs. She thrust her fingers forward. A speculum followed. She gave a controlled shove.
Face taut with panic, the woman on the table struggled against her restraints and moaned.
"Damn it!" the tiny woman muttered. "She's fighting me. Put her back under. Now."
A white-clad technician scrambled to do as she had commanded.
A monitor on the wheelchair had been beeping steadily since the crippled man's first appearance in the garage. Now it began to blip at an accelerated, erratic rate.
"Calm him," the tiny woman ordered his nurse. "We don't need the old man keeling over before he can make his *contribution,* do we?"
The nurse quickly produced a syringe and prepared an injection.
The seagull heard heavy footsteps. A tall, square- jawed man walked up the ramp and into the truck. His eyes were hollow, his face, curiously blank. He looked as solid as stone, the bird thought, and as unforgiving. His massive shadow fell over the woman on the table.
The tiny woman all but cowered when the stone-man turned his steely gaze on her.
"Well?" he asked.
"We're nearly ready to proceed," she assured him. "I'm verifying ovulation."
The stone-man nodded once, then laid his huge hand on the flesh just below the restrained woman's navel. The woman groaned and writhed, but the stone-man didn't seem to care.
"We are truly blessed," he said, in a toneless voice.
"Truly blessed," the tiny woman echoed, without conviction.
"Blessed," the mechanical voice agreed.
'Oh no,' the bird thought, wanting the dream to end. 'Oh my god, no.' Her tiny heart beating out of control, she leapt from her perch and into the air, racing upward until cold steel stopped her progress. Wings beating wildly, she fluttered against the ceiling, trying to get her bearings.
The woman on the table flinched. "Wih..." she moaned.
The tiny woman glared at one of the white-clad men. "I told you to sedate her!" she growled.
"I have, doctor." The man fumbled with a syringe and bottle. "She's already had a dangerously high dos-"
Suddenly, every muscle in the woman's body seized. "William!" she screamed. "William!"
William? The seagull knew William. She squawked in alarm, trying desperately to escape...
The woman woke to the sound of her own voice screaming for her child. She struggled to move, but nylon straps held her immobile. Her eyes snapped open, but the blinding glare forced them shut again.
"Dammit!" someone cursed.
Rough fingers forced her lids apart, and a pinprick of bright light skittered madly across her eye.
"The time has come," a deep, familiar voice intoned.
"Get her back under," a shrill voice hissed. "Get her back under so we can get started.
'Oh no,' Scully thought as the drug raced through her veins. 'Oh my god, no.'
Will shifted in his sleep.
Mulder changed his position accordingly, sitting a little straighter, pulling the boy a little closer, adjusting his seat belt so that the strap was away from Will's face. There was a wet, faintly purple, faintly grape-scented spot in the center of Mulder's t-shirt where Will had drooled out the last traces of half-a-teaspoon of liquid Tylenol before finding enough relief to sleep, so Mulder maneuvered the child's limp body to avoid that, too.
Teething, Mulder felt he could now state without fear of contradiction, completely sucked.
A gust of wind blasted across the highway, peppering the windshield with grains of sand. For a moment, the RV veered slightly. Mulder leaned into the motion, tightening his grip on his son and bracing his feet against the floor.
"Nasty weather," he muttered.
"Yes," Billy replied, and said nothing more.
It wasn't exactly conversation, Mulder thought, glancing out the passenger window and into inky nothing, but it was something.
Billy had been driving since they'd left Toronto, Ray sitting ramrod-straight in the passenger seat beside him. This arrangement had changed so little over the preceding three days that it seemed like the two of them had come factory-installed with the vehicle. 'Gives the phrase 'auto-pilot' a whole new meaning,' Mulder had thought with a sneer after the second day.
Earlier that evening, though, Ray had been persuaded to vacate his choice seat. All it had taken was a miserable, cranky William pointing to the back of the Winnebago, scowling as he rubbed his mouth, and saying, "Ray doh seep now." The last time Mulder had glanced that way, Ray had been standing at attention between the tiny fridge and the side door, with Fang curled up contentedly on the toe of his shoe. He was probably still there.
"They are all sleeping, Mulder," Billy announced.
Mulder's brow rose.
"You were wondering."
"Yes, I was." He thought about telling Billy to stay out of his head, but knew there was no point - Billy could no more stop reading Mulder's thoughts than water could stop being wet.
"Perhaps you should sleep also."
"Not tired." Mulder yawned. "And don't bother telling me I'm lying. I already know."
Another blast of wind hit the vehicle, another shower of sand pelted its sleek metal sides. Billy drove on, maneuvering the unwieldy machine like he'd been born for it.
Mulder rubbed his eyes with his free hand. Perhaps sleeping *would* be a good idea. It certainly wasn't a question of being tired; he was absolutely exhausted. But it was the sort of jangling nervous exhaustion that made his brain race a mile a minute and relaxation impossible.
Somewhere along the way, day had become night for him. He'd barely spoken two words to Langly or Reyes since they'd come onboard in Maryland, and he'd seen very little more of Leah. He'd been sleeping, albeit fitfully, when everyone else was awake, and awake when everyone else was sleeping.
Everyone but Billy, of course.
"You haven't slept in a while, either, Bill. Or eaten."
"No Mulder," Billy replied, his gaze straight ahead. "I have not."
"I know you need to do those things, Bill. I've seen what happens when you don't." The weight of his son against his shoulder was making his right arm numb. Mulder lifted the child, moving him carefully so as not to wake him.
"So, maybe you're the one who should sleep? I mean, if you tell me where we're going, I can drive."
"I cannot sleep, Mulder."
"'And yea,'" Billy began in what Mulder was beginning to think of as his preacher voice, "'they went into Utgeam, which is in the land of Avenda, where they remained for a time, as was told unto them. And they entered there, clean and whole, and awaited Rhulak, whose coming was foretold.'"
Mulder rubbed the bridge of his nose. "What the hell does that mean?"
"It means that this is the time of fasting and atonement," Billy answered.
Mulder's mouth twitched. "Just so long as it isn't a time of sleep deprivation and rolling RVs into ditches."
Billy stared at the road ahead. "I understand."
"Right," Mulder thought. "Got it. I'll shut up now."
Trying to ease a cramp in his leg, he shifted in his seat again. He was getting tired of all this waiting. There were only so many times, after all, that he could pace from one end of the camper to the other without driving its other occupants to damned- near audible thoughts of murder. He wanted to be wherever they were going, to do whatever had to be done.
One way or another, he just wanted it all to be over.
The highway stretched before them, sitting on the desert like a crusty black scab. Mulder imagined it being peeled up by an enormous thumbnail, imagined asphalt and guard-rails being wadded up and tossed away.
The colonists could have done that to humanity; it would have been just that easy. But they hadn't, of course. The annihilation of humankind was hardly the point.
At least, that's what every molecule of his being, every cell of his body kept telling him. His vision on the Boardwalk back in Toronto had been long on the grand scheme of things, but short on detail. For a few brief moments, though, everything had seemed so clear. Then the universe had realized its mistake and gone back to being as murky and confusing as ever.
A butte in the distance came into focus, its steep sides and flat summit starkly outlined against the increasingly purple sky. Mulder glanced at his watch. 4:17.
"So, Bill, where are we? Or more to the point, where are we going?"
"You know, Mulder."
Pressing his forehead with the heel of his hand, Mulder let out a frustrated sigh. He regularly had more productive conversations with Fang.
Billy smiled. "All shall be as has been written."
Mulder sighed. "Look, Bill, we've been doing this on faith for almost a week. We've dragged Reyes and Langly half-way across the country, and Leah or Yves or whoever she really is away from the only home she can remember. You and Ray and Dee act like it's some kind of day at the beach, but the rest of us are pretty much - pretty damned much - in the dark."
"Yes, Mulder. Have faith. 'And yea, the people -'"
"No, Bill." Mulder cut him off before he could break out in another rash of zealotry. "I need for you to tell me. Where are we going?"
Bill turned his gaze away from the highway and toward Mulder. "We are going to Utgeam."
"Utgeam," Mulder echoed. "And that is?"
"Avenda. Right. And when we get there?"
"We shall await Rhulak. The storm shall be called." Billy smiled. "Prophecy shall be fulfilled."
"Right. Then what?"
"And then there will be great rejoicing."
Mulder scowled. "Of course there will."
If Billy understood Mulder's sarcasm, he gave no indication. "Will you not rejoice in Avenda when the storm has been called?"
About six facetious responses came immediately to mind, but Mulder struggled for an honest answer. "I don't know, Bill." He shrugged. "Will I? Will I have anything to rejoice about?"
Billy's impenetrable expression shifted no more than a hair's breadth, but Mulder, having spent months with him, immediately noted the change. The hair on the back of Mulder's neck bristled. Something told him he wasn't going to like Billy's answer.
Billy blinked twice. "William wishes for you to sleep now."
Mulder snorted and looked down at his son. "William's out cold, Bill. Don't change the-"
"Yes, Mulder. But William wish-"
Before Billy could finish, a tiny voice came from the sleeping compartment at the rear of the RV. "Dada! Dada! Doh seep! Doh seep now."
"Oh. THAT William. Right." Mulder unbuckled his seatbelt, hefted his son, and stood, shaking his head. He was turning to leave when Billy spoke again.
"There will be rejoicing."
Mulder nodded, suddenly weary. "I'll hold you to that, Bill. Night."
Mulder woke, hours later, with a stiff back, one sock missing, and a sleeping child tucked under either arm. He also had the vague sensation that he had forgotten something. Something important, he thought as his brain made the long, slow climb from half-asleep to half-awake, something he shouldn't allow himself to forget.
Breathing slowly, he closed his eyes and listened, taking in the hushed purr of pavement under the wheels, the distant sound of the engine, the quiet drone of air conditioning. Nothing unusual there.
He turned his attention to the inside of the vehicle, hoping to hear Leah's soft voice, or muffled murmurs from the occupants of the sleeping compartment next to his. Stretching and extending his senses further, he tried to pick up some trace of that weird, flat hum, the one he felt more than heard whenever Dee and Billy and Ray were talking to each other without words. Again, nothing unusual.
Well okay, he thought, trying to shift enough to relieve the pressure on his lower back, nothing unusual if you took into account that just over a week ago he had been the widowed father of a 14 month old boy living under what amounted house arrest in a foreign country, and this week he was the no-longer- widowed father of twins living in a luxury RV.
He snorted. Once he'd finished sweating the small stuff - like linear time and consensual reality and logic and reason and maddening crap like that - the rest had been a piece of cake.
Lifting his head, he glanced at the boys. They bracketed him like purple pajama'd bookends.
He'd been thrilled to meet his second son, of course. Thrilled and probably less surprised than he should have been. He still couldn't quite 'get' how he'd retroactively come to be the father of twins. Billy's explanation -'The one was made two, as was foretold,' - hadn't cleared things up much.
For their part, upon meeting, the boys had greeted each other with a gleeful "Bubby!", thrown their arms around one another in an awkward but sincere toddler embrace, and had immediately begun fighting about whose Tinky Winky was whose.
His train of thought derailed when the William lying on his right arm snuffled and rolled onto his side. Out of habit, Mulder craned his neck, looking for any stray toys or linens that might block a small airway. All clear, he was happy to note, and good thing, too; there was no way he could get a hand free to move anything without waking everyone.
'Everytwo?' he thought, and grinned at his own stupid joke.
Billy, Ray, and Dee referred to both boys simply as 'William,' and in the singular, which was weird, but then, what did those three do that wasn't? Most of the time, Mulder just thought of them as Will and Won't, and which child was which depended, at any given moment, on which one of them was exhibiting what Mulder had decided was their mother's stubborn streak.
William - the William he'd acquired in suburban Maryland - had a crescent-shaped mole high on his left inside thigh. Other than that, when dressed, at least, the boys were identical. Unnervingly identical.
He closed his eyes, squeezing the lids so tightly that bright points of light danced before him. The sensation he'd had on waking washed over him again, catching him unaware.
Forgetting something. He was forgetting something.
"No, Rich, you can't." Harsh whispering from the next compartment interrupted his thoughts.
"Then what are we supposed to do?" A second voice answered the first.
Reyes. And Langly. Reyes and Langly.
Mulder shook his head. He could have gone on guessing for a thousand years and the notion of 'Reyes' and 'Langly' turning into 'Reyes and Langly' would never have made it onto even an 'extremely extreme' list of possibilities.
He wondered, in a vague way, what they were arguing about, then decided not to waste his energy.
'Monica Reyes is among the faithful,' Billy had told him on the journey between Toronto and Maryland. 'She will serve William.' At the time, Mulder had wondered why Billy had mentioned it at all. But when they'd gone to the Gunmen's headquarters for help and found Reyes and Langly together, protecting this second William in the wake of Scully's disappearance, Billy's words had made sense. Well, as much sense as any of this did.
Which was no sense at all, really.
He blew out a long slow breath. He felt a headache coming on.
A red-gold head shot up before him. "Dada, up?"
Mulder blinked. "Yeah, I'm awake," he whispered. "Shhh. Your brother is still sleeping."
Will sat back on his heels and looked at his father, a puzzled expression on his face. "No shhh," he answered.
"Yes, shh." Mulder reached up and brushed the bangs out of Will's eyes. "You need a haircut, buddy." There was an idea, Mulder thought: get the boys different haircuts. At least he'd be able to tell them apart while they had clothes on. Not that Billy was likely to let anyone wielding scissors near either one of them, but maybe he could be persuaded.
"No shhh. No ki-et." The boy's frown of concentration deepened. "Doast?"
"What?" Mulder was so startled he forgot to whisper. "Toast? Did you say 'toast'?"
"Doast." Will nodded. "Pease doast."
"Toast." Mulder felt a smile spread across his face. William - his William -- didn't say *toast.* So that meant that this was the other William, Scully's William. Mulder was tempted to find a permanent marker and draw a big "S" on the boy's forehead. "Yeah, sure. We'll have some toast in a minute. Wait'll your brother wakes up and we'll have some toast."
"Hang on," Mulder answered. "You gotta get dressed and you need a clean diaper and your brother is still slee. . ."
A voice rose from his left. "No," the boy said, rubbing his eyes. "No doast. Cake!"
Oh, hell, Mulder thought, suddenly caught between two warring purple masses, so much for the toast theory. Grabbing a boy under each arm, Mulder swiftly brought hostilities to a halt. "You," he spoke to the boy under his right arm, "can have toast once you are clean and dressed. And you," he turned to the other child, "don't have to eat toast, but you aren't getting cake for breakfast. And you both need to be changed. You stink."
The RV lurched to one side, then came to a smooth halt. Before Mulder could react, there was a knock at the door of their small sleeping compartment.
Mulder felt a moment of panic. "Yes?"
"Mulder," Billy's voice came muffled through the door, "may I come in?"
Mulder self-consciously let go of the boys. "Um, yeah Bill, sure."
"Good morning, Mulder. Good morning, William." Billy turned to each of the boys in turn. "I hope you slept well."
"Well enough." Mulder tried to keep his tone bland. "What's going on?"
"We are stopping here."
Mulder felt his pulse quicken, his mouth go dry. "Oh?"
"Yes, Mulder," Billy smiled happily. "We have arrived in Utgeam."
"Oh." Mulder nodded. "Okay. So, um, what now?"
"Doast!" One Will shouted.
"Cake!" The other countered.
"Yes," Billy answered.
The boys cheered.
"Yes?" Mulder looked from boy to boy and back to Billy. "Yes what?"
"William wants French toast and pancakes, Mulder. We are stopping for breakfast."
Mulder wasn't sure what he'd expected from Utgeam, but he was pretty sure it hadn't been Uncle Ted's Good Eats, with its made-for-tourists cowboy kitsch, fiberglass cacti, and grinning purple donkeys in sombreros. Nonetheless, he reflected as their pink- polyester-clad waitress refilled his coffee cup, that was exactly what he'd gotten.
"Y'all need some Texas Pete?" The waitress carefully placed the bottle of ketchup Langly had requested in the middle of the table.
The U-shaped booth was designed to accommodate perhaps four slightly under-nourished super models. Seven healthy adult bodies and two high chairs, on the other hand, made for a ridiculously tight fit. There had been no other tables immediately available, though, and Billy hadn't taken the suggestion of sitting in two different booths very well. Stuck between Monica Reyes on one side and a highchair full of William on the other, Mulder was trying to eat his breakfast without poking Reyes in the ribs or knocking his coffee cup into Will's lap. Both were proving difficult.
Mulder glanced around the table. "We're good, thanks." He took another sip of his coffee, keeping his elbow carefully tucked in, but bumping Reyes' arm just the same.
"Sorry," he murmured for the fifth or sixth time since sitting down.
"S'fine." Reyes shook her head, lips quirked in a smile. She picked at her fruit plate and cast a suspicious glance Billy's way. "Kind of a tight fit, though."
"Yeah. Well, sorry about that, too. Who knew this place would be so popular?"
Langly quit shoveling pancakes into his mouth and mumbled something, his head down. Reyes snorted in response. Judging from the look on her face, Mulder thought he probably should be glad he hadn't heard whatever Langly'd said.
"So Mulder," Reyes began in an too cheery tone of voice, "how about you tell us exactly where-"
"Bubby! Twuck!" Overcome by excitement, Will pointed enthusiastically toward the front window of the restaurant and threw his sippy cup to the floor, where it bounced and rolled under the bench.
His brother wiggled in his high chair. "Twuck! Twuck!"
Mulder retrieved the cup, almost mechanically wiped the spout with his napkin, and returned it to the highchair tray. Craning his neck, he caught sight of a huge truck with a cherry-picker attachment in the field just beyond the parking lot. Two men were busy re-plastering a billboard that poked up out of the scrub.
"Yeah, truck," he agreed.
"Bid twuck," the other child commented.
"Yes. Big truck," Mulder said, offering a forkful of French toast to the twin nearest him. It was amazing how much repetition was involved in parenting. "Very big, very cool, very yellow truck."
"Twuck, Dada?" Will levered himself up against the highchair tray, trying to climb out, but hindered by his seatbelt. "Pease?"
"After breakfast," Mulder answered around a mouthful of omelet. He was hungrier than he'd realized. "You've both actually got to eat some food first. Sit down, buddy."
Carleena returned and began to refill Leah's water glass. "Ma'am," she said, addressing Dee, "you haven't touched a thing on your plate. Something wrong with your order?"
"No," Dee replied, fixed smile in place.
"And likewise, you two gentlemen." She addressed Billy and Ray. "Is something wrong with your food?"
"There is a struggle for heaven and earth," Ray replied, smiling blissfully.
Carleena seemed surprised by this news. "Is there, now?"
"There is," Billy assured her. "We are fasting."
"Oh." For a moment, Carleena's fat pink lips pursed. Then she brightened. "Oh! Y'all here for the Revival?"
"Yes, we are," Billy answered.
Reyes turned to Mulder. "Are we?" she whispered, sounding somewhat shocked.
"Well. . ." Mulder started, not entirely sure what to say. For all he knew, they were.
"Well, y'all should have said something!" Carleena started clearing their plates. "You didn't have to order anything. We ain't got no two egg minimum or nothing." She loaded the three untouched meals onto her tray and turned toward the kitchen. "I'll just pack' em up for you."
She stood between the highchairs a moment longer. "I just have to mention, these two are as adorable as can be," she said, nodding to the boys. She looked at Reyes, then at Leah, and then, drawing some silent conclusion, asked Leah, "Twins, huh?"
"Yes," Leah answered. After a quick glance at Reyes, she gave a tight little smile and turned her attention back to convincing William to eat.
"My grandbabies are twins. My daughter calls 'em Chelsee and Britnee. I said to her, 'Luanda Mae, why'd you call them that? All the good names already taken or somethin'?'" Carleena rolled her eyes. "Still, they are the sweetest little things, even with those goofy names. They're almost two now, will be in a month, I mean, and talking up a storm. Why, the other day we was at the Wal-mart in. . ."
"Carleena," Billy interrupted, pointing across the restaurant, "that man wishes for you to bring him the breakfast special number three with eggs over easy."
The waitress blinked at Billy in confusion, then nodded. "Of course," she answered. She turned on her heel and marched away.
Leah dropped her fork. It clattered noisily against her plate. Her gaze was focused down, but Mulder saw she was wide-eyed with fear.
"Leah, it's okay," he told her, in the most soothing voice he could muster.
"Have a nice day," Billy called after Carleena.
"It's okay, Leah," Mulder repeated. "She's all right. Bill, tell her the waitress is all right."
"Yes Mulder." Billy answered, "Carleena is fine. For in Utgeam-"
Mulder held up a hand. "Not now. Did you hear what he said, Leah? She's okay." He reached across the table and gently touched the back of Leah's hand, drawing her attention.
Leah closed her eyes, breathing in and out slowly. "Yeah." She nodded. "Yeah. Okay."
Mulder stabbed another forkful of hash browns. He turned to Billy. "Don't do that again."
"But the man at that table wished. . . "
"He can tell her himself, Bill."
"Yes, Mulder. I understand."
Langly cleared his throat. "Mulder," he began, his voice a low, harsh whisper, "what the hell is going-"
"Mulder," Ray interrupted, rising and reaching across the table with a handful of napkins, "William is sticky."
Mulder swallowed and sighed, thinking he'd had this conversation before. "Down boy," he muttered in Ray's general direction.
"I'll bathe them before we leave," Leah said tersely, to no one in particular. "If there's time." She turned to Mulder. "Will there be time?"
Mulder shrugged. "Billy, will. . ."
"'We know not the hour, but the hour shall arrive; we know not the day, but the day shall come,'" Billy unhelpfully supplied.
Leah lifted her brows. "Mulder?"
"It is a kid thing," Ray announced, his voice a shade too loud.
"A kid thing," Dee echoed, smiling proudly at the boys. "To be sticky."
"Something like that." Mulder nodded. He could feel Reyes and Langly's eyes on him, and wondered if perhaps he'd been mistaken, taking their cooperation for granted. After their initial shock at seeing him had faded, they'd seemed willing, almost eager to help, but now it occurred to him that their decision to board the RV may have had very little to do with acceptance or support of his situation. He needed a chance to explain things to them. Hopefully, he'd get five minutes to sit down and. . .
"Twuck?" William asked.
"Soon," Mulder answered. "Eat something first."
Will obligingly fed Will a hunk of pancake. Billy watched the boys with a radiant expression, stretching his arms toward them, as if embracing them from afar. "'And each was as a brother, and each also was a son, all waiting for Rhulak, whose coming was foretold.'"
"Billy," Mulder rolled his eyes, "not at the table, okay?"
"Mulder," Langly bit out harshly, "what in the fu-"
"Later, Langly," Mulder said. "We'll talk later, okay?"
Billy lowered his arms and turned toward Langly with a frozen smile. "'Ust'dan called to the people, filling their minds with confusion and deceit, for his time had not come, and he was smitten and silenced. The people waited as the sun soared. They waited for Rhulak to bless them with a sign.'"
Langly stared at Billy, swallowing nervously, then pushed his glasses up on his nose and dropped his gaze. "Oooo-kay," he said softly, exchanging a look with Reyes out of the corner of his eye.
Leah had produced a small package of wet wipes from her pack and was attempting to clean sticky hands and faces. "Well, the boys are done eating. I think it's time to go," she said. "The campground has hookups. I think we ought to stop here, at least for a few hours, so the boys can have proper baths and I can do some laundry. Can you see about getting us a space for the day, Mulder?"
"I will arrange it," Billy offered helpfully.
Leah didn't meet Billy's gaze. She tossed the dirty wipes on to her plate and continued. "The wipes aren't cutting it. I need to take them to the rest room."
"I'll do it," Mulder volunteered.
"Right. I'll get Fang, and you can take him over the playground while I start the laundry. He could use some fresh air."
"Yes ma'am." Mulder grinned at her. Leah always got bossy when she was nervous. "Anything else I can do for you, ma'am?"
Leah returned his grin. "That will be all, thank you."
Langly cleared his throat noisily and rose. "Need some help?" he asked Mulder, in a not-quite-friendly tone of voice.
"Wang!" both boys lifted their arms, waiting to be set free.
"Sure," Mulder told Langly. Ray and Dee swung into position behind them.
Billy rose. "I will take care of the bill."
Our Lawyer says: Chris Carter owns M&S; Fox owns The XFiles; we own this story. No infringement intended.