See Part One for headers
"Wha-?" His body jerked. Someone was slapping him across the face. Hard.
"Mulder, dammit, open your eyes and look at me!" Leah's voice was harsh.
His eyes flew open. He was lying on his bed in the RV's back bedroom. "I'm awake," he coughed.
"Mulder, thank god." Leah laid her hand on his forehead and inspected his face intently, as if expecting his eyes to close again.
"I'm okay," he assured her, and it was only a small lie. Planting his palms against the mattress, he ordered his aching muscles into action. "What's going on?"
She wrapped an arm around his back and helped him sit. "You passed out. Do you remember?"
He licked his lips. "Sort of."
"Do you think you can get up?"
"Yeah." Groaning, he swung his legs over the edge of the bed. "What's wrong?"
"They took the boys, Mulder. I don't know why, but-"
Adrenaline surged through his body. "Who did?" His feet hit the floor. Feeling heavy-headed and unsteady, he grabbed his T-shirt from the foot of the bed and looked around urgently for his boots.
"Langly and Reyes." Leah held his boots out to him, her face tight with anger.
"What? Why?" He tied the laces quickly, trying to make sense of the situation. Langly and Reyes would only take the boys if they were trying to protect them. But -
"Where's Billy? Where are Ray and Dee?"
"I don't know," she said. "There's a little store back by the gate. Billy said William wanted juice and sent me to get some. When I came back, Billy and the others were gone and your supposed friends were carrying the boys in that direction." She pointed out the tiny window, toward a distant hill with group of white buildings perched at its top.
Mulder's gaze followed her finger. "Where the hell are we?"
"I'm not really sure. There was too much going on for me to really pay attention..."
Mulder went to the window and peered out, studying the structures at the top of the hill. He noted that the roof of the largest one swept up into a dramatic spire. This wasn't some isolated desert compound, then. Clearly, these buildings were meant to be seen.
He turned back to Leah. "How long have they been gone?"
"An hour, maybe. I didn't-"
"What!?" He grabbed her by the upper arms. "An hour? And you let me sleep? What the hell were you think-"
He knew he was squeezing too hard. He fought to retain his composure.
"I didn't *let* you sleep. You've been unconscious all day. I've been trying to slap you awake ever since I got back." She glared at his hands, then at him, and very calmly said, "Let go."
Mulder dropped his hands, embarrassed by his outburst. He had to focus. He had to keep a clear head. "Leah, I'm sor-"
"We don't have time for this." She reached for the doorknob. "Come on."
He took a deep breath and clattered down the steps behind her.
Outside, the twilight was hot and windy. Covered in reddish grime, the RV sat in the middle of a wide, weedy square of concrete. An abandoned parking lot, he thought, noticing a well-tended driveway passing close to one end. Though faded and worn, the words 'Visitor Center Parking, Lot G, Row 7,' were stenciled on the pavement inches from where they stood.
"'Visitor Center'?" Mulder read. "Where the fuck are we?"
There was a sudden clap of thunder. The wind showered them with sand. Shielding his eyes, Mulder looked up at the sky. Dark clouds churned in a slow circle above them.
"Has it been like this all day?" he asked.
"The weather. Has it been like this all day?"
"Yes. Lots of thunder and wind, but not one drop of rain."
"The storm's been called," Mulder mumbled, remembering Billy's words; remembering Sophie's.
"Nothing." Mulder shook his head. The wind picked up, whistling past his ears. He stepped closer so he wouldn't have to shout. "Look, Leah, I think this is it."
For about the millionth time in a year, Mulder wished he had some sort of weapon. "Where we've been headed. The place Billy keeps talking about. Avenda."
Her brow creased in confusion. "Avenda?"
"Yeah. This is probably going to be dangerous. I want you to stay here."
Leah frowned. "And do what?"
"Wait for me to come back."
She spoke without hesitation. "No."
"I have to find the boys. And Leah, I think - "
"Their mother - she's here somewhere."
Leah's face settled into a mask of studied detachment. "So?" she said. "I'm coming. You may need help."
"You'll help me most by staying here."
"I fail to see how sitting around waiting for Billy to pop in and lop my head off is going to help anyone, least of all you."
Mulder's brow rose in surprise.
"Trust me when I tell you both Langly and Agent Reyes have had a few choice things to whisper on the subject of Billy Miles, Mulder." She folded her arms across her chest. "I'm not going to sit here and wait for him to decide I'm expendable, or that I need replacing."
Mulder took a deep breath and leaned closer. The wind whistled between them. "Leah, you've lost so much. From what I've been told, this is my destiny. My fate. I can't drag you any further into this. I'd never forgive myself if you got hurt."
"And how do you know it isn't my fate, too? How do you know I'm not here for a reason?" Leah dropped her chin in challenge. "Everything isn't about you, Mulder."
He opened his mouth to argue with her, but found he couldn't. She was right: it wasn't about him and it never had been. He was just a tooth on a cog on a wheel in a damned big, damned scary machine.
He reached over and tucked one of her braids behind her shoulder. "I'm not going to talk you out of this, am I?"
She shook her head.
He took her hand, squeezing gently. Billy really had known what he was doing when he'd hand-picked Leah for Mulder. In another life, a life where Scully had never existed. . .
He cleared his throat. "Okay, then. Come on."
"The boys were wired, and I was trying to get them to nap," Leah explained, following him up the hill. "I know we crossed the border into Arizona at some point, and that's..." Something ahead of them caught her eye. Her lip curled in horror. "Oh my god."
Mulder stopped short. His gaze followed Leah's. Before them was a second parking lot with a maintenance cart idling near its entrance. The driver of the cart was slumped over the steering wheel. Nearby, two men in blue coveralls were lying on the ground. A weed trimmer was still running on the ground between them, vibrating a slow circle in a pool of blood.
An icy chill shot through Mulder's body. He looked away.
Leah's face had gone white. "Are they dead?"
Mulder went to the little vehicle and pressed his fingers to the driver's neck. He reached down and turned the key in the cart's ignition. The engine died. "This one is."
Thunder rumbled overhead. The wind gusted.
Mulder turned to look at the outbuildings. Two blue- clad bodies slumped next to some bushes in the middle distance. Another was propped against a wall, its head at an unnerving angle. Yet another lay in a black puddle of blood a little further away. "I'm guessing those guys are, too."
"Jesus," Leah murmured, coming up behind him.
Mulder reached for her hand. "If you want to go ba-"
He was interrupted by a familiar whirring sound, carried across the desert on the steady wind.
"Mulder, what is that?"
He was just about to say 'helicopter,' when a huge black chopper sprang over the top of a nearby butte and made straight for them.
Mulder spun, looking for an escape route or, barring that, a hiding place. Decision made, he tugged her hand. "Come on!"
"Who is it? Who's in the helicopter?" she yelled over the roar of wind and rotor blades as Mulder pulled her behind him.
"I don't know," Mulder called back. "And I don't want to. Come on!" A huge clap of thunder rumbled above them, shaking the ground, drowning out Leah's response.
They ran to the largest building, hugging the long, windowless wall, trying to blend into the evening shadows as they made their way around to the back of it.
"This way." Mulder tugged her up the spotless sidewalk, gingerly climbed over the lifeless body of a woman in a blue apron, and tried a door at the top of a long set of concrete stairs.
"Fuck!" Mulder snarled. The door was locked.
The whirring drone of a second helicopter joined the first. The wind was blowing at gale force now, and Mulder stood for a moment at the top of the stairway, watching the black sky. The helicopters wouldn't stay up if the wind got much worse; maybe the weather gods were on their side.
Standing at the bottom of the stairs, Leah shouted over the wind, shielding her face from blowing debris with one arm while she pointed with the other. "Mulder, look!"
Mulder descended and ran to join her. "Oh my god," he muttered.
There were two bodies lying near the smallest of the three buildings. Long blonde hair fanned out against the sandy soil.
"Holy shit." Mulder ran.
They reached Langly first. He was curled in on himself, clutching his abdomen, as if trying to ward off a beating. Twisted and cracked, his broken glasses lay a good three feet from his body. Mulder dropped to his knees and placed a hand on Langly's neck, avoiding a deep gash that had covered his friend's face in blood.
Warm. Langly's skin was warm. Trembling, Mulder searched for a pulse.
"She's alive," Leah called. She was bent over Reyes, whose form was sprawled near a service door a few feet away.
Something in Mulder's gut told him that time was running out.
He looked up at Leah just in time to see the side door of the small garage swinging slowly shut. He sprang up and dashed toward it, catching it just before it closed.
"Come on!" He waved for her to join him.
The churn of helicopter blades mixed with the relentless howl of the wind. One craft seemed to be circling the grounds. The other craft was obviously landing. A plume of reddish dust rose over the roof of the Center.
"What about your friends?" Leah shouted.
"Hold the door," he replied, when the helicopter whirled away from them. Choking on dust, he dragged first Reyes, then Langly through the open door of the cinderblock building, laying them on the cool tile of a dim hallway.
"God, it's freezing in here," Leah whispered, pulling the door shut behind them.
Mulder knelt and took Reyes' hand, checking her pulse. "We need to hide them somewhere until we can get some help."
She knelt next to Langly, examining his wounds. "He needs a doctor. Now."
"We don't have a doctor now," Mulder said, his voice thick with frustration. "Goddammit - we've got to find the boys."
"What are we going to do? We can't leave them to die."
He stood. "If someone had wanted them dead, they would be."
"That's very convenient, don't you thin-"
"Shh." Mulder walked quietly to the end of the hall. He flattened himself against the wall and peered cautiously through the door. All that he could tell about the room that lay beyond was that it was dark, frigid, and so silent that, for a moment, he was tempted to assume they were alone.
"What's in there?"
"Shh." He raised his hand. The silence beyond the door was not quite as complete as he'd originally thought. Somewhere in the icy recess beyond the hallway, a voice was calling out, its tone strident enough to twist his stomach into a knot the minute his ears detected it.
Leah had joined him by then. "Mulder, where do you think we should look for -"
He reached back and laid a finger on her lips, silencing her. "Hear that?" he whispered.
She frowned and shook her head.
"Screaming," he mouthed. The knot in his stomach got heavier. He drew a labored breath. "Stay here."
"Mul-" she began.
"Quiet," he hissed. He pulled a fire extinguisher from its mounting on the wall. "Lock that," he told her, pointing to the exterior door they'd just come through. "If anyone comes in-" he handed her the extinguisher.
Leah's mouth settled into a hard, thin line. She nodded her understanding. "Okay."
He gave her hand a quick squeeze. "I'll be back." He hurried through the door.
The temperature dropped a good ten degrees on the other side of the threshold. The air was so damp it seemed almost sticky. Shrill and hysterical, the voice rang out again, shouting some unintelligible phrase, the end of which swelled into a long, muffled scream. The tone of the voice was vaguely metallic, almost as if the owner of the voice had been stuffed into a tin can.
It was also unmistakably female.
The knot in Mulder's stomach drew tighter.
He rounded a parked maintenance cart. A white panel truck, light spilling from its open back, sat parked in the center of the room. Long shadows lurched away from the truck, stretching high into the eaves and across the chilly floor. Mulder held his breath, stooping and pressing his body against the cart.
Another long shriek pierced the quiet.
For a moment, Mulder froze, shocked into stillness by the desperation in the cry. Then he took a cautious step forward. His boot slid. He nearly fell. An acrid, familiar smell rose as he raised his foot, looking to see what he'd slipped in. Even in the poor light he could see the green ooze clinging to the bottom of his boot. It was already starting to eat away at his sole.
Heart racing, he squinted at the floor. A long film of slime was still bubbling.
The voice screamed again.
Mulder spun. This time the source of the voice was unmistakable. The voice was coming from inside the truck.
Skirting the green mess in front of him, Mulder edged toward the truck, flattened himself against its paneled side, crept slowly toward the square of light shining against the far wall.
He stumbled on something, looked down, then all around.
There were bodies lying everywhere.
Men in white coveralls lay scattered on the floor between the back of the truck and an open door in the wall of the garage. Mulder covered his nose and mouth to shut out the stench of blood. He didn't need to touch the men to know that they were dead.
Every hair on Mulder's body stood at attention.
Skirting a second puddle of slime, he made his way quickly up the loading ramp and stepped into the back of the truck. The interior walls were splattered with blood. Fighting the urge to retch, Mulder stepped over a tiny, headless corpse in a white lab coat, pushed his way past an elaborate wheelchair filled with a substance that looked a lot like hamburger.
She was weeping, pleading, begging for mercy. A moan tore through Mulder's body. No, he thought, not like this, not like this...
"Oh my god," she raved. "Oh my god, no!"
"Scully." He didn't realize he was speaking until he heard his own voice rising to join hers. "Oh my god, no."
He froze, staring numbly at the scattered clamps and scalpels, the knot in his stomach slowly turning into a heavy, searing pain.
"Scu-" he began, but he choked on her name.
She was naked. Restrained. Writhing in stirrups under a harsh white light.
Mulder closed his eyes.
She cried out. "Who's there?"
Raising his eyes from the floor, he forced himself to look toward the back of the compartment.
"Dammit, answer me..."
She sounded so frightened.
"Say something, dammit!" Terror stretched the upper ranges of her voice until it was barely recognizable. "I know you're still here. Where are you?"
Mulder wrapped his arms around himself, hugging his belly in agony.
She was here. She was alive.
Why couldn't he go to her?
"You son of a bitch," she sobbed. "Come back."
Come back, she was crying. Don't leave me here.
He took an unsteady step toward the bed and slipped in a pool of blood. He grabbed a metal cart to keep from falling, sending medical instruments clattering to the floor.
Scully flinched. She jerked her head back and forth, fighting the band that restrained it. "...son of a bitch..." she slurred. "...if you're gonna kill me too then just get it over with..."
He moved closer and forced himself to look at her face.
One year and one week ago, Scully had worn a sweet, sleepy smile. All she had wanted then was soft, clean cotton, a cold drink, a few hours of sleep.
All she had wanted was some time to herself.
Now her eyes were shut tight, her teeth clenched, her brow furrowed in agony. He wanted so badly to speak to her, but found he couldn't. What had gone through her mind, he wondered, when she'd lain alone in bed after his disappearance? Had she really thought he'd abandoned her? Would she spit in his face when he appeared at her bedside?
He bent toward her, bringing his face close to hers. Even the heavy smell of her fear could not hide the familiar scent of her body. He paused for a long moment, breathing her in. "Scully," he finally murmured. "Honey, it's me."
"Mul-? " Her eyes slid open and she stared at him for a wild second. Then her lids closed tightly again. "No. No, go away."
The fire in Mulder's belly blazed hot. He tried to swallow, but his mouth had gone dry. Do something, he told himself. You've got to get her out of here.
Feeling numb, he reached for the nearest restraint and began to unbuckle it.
Scully's eyes opened again. Misty and glazed, they settled on his face. Her breathing was ragged. A film of fear lay over her features. "Mulder?" she whispered.
"Yeah, it's me." He circled the bed, reaching for another cuff. The strap fell away, and he lifted her arm and laid it across her abdomen, taking in the bruises on her wrists, the clammy feel of her skin, the ridges of gooseflesh that covered her body. "We don't have much time, honey," he choked out. "Do you think you can walk?"
"Mulder..." she muttered. "You...it's...oh my god..."
"Shh, it'll be okay." The headstrap was buckled so tightly the stiff nylon had cut her flesh. Mulder cursed softly as he freed her.
Scully raised her head as the strap came away. "Thank you," she whispered, then a low, tearing noise came from her body, a long, wavering cry like an animal dying. Mulder couldn't tell if she was laughing or crying.
"It's okay," he said, the words meant to soothe them both. Heart racing, he kept working. A sheet was folded on a chair near the bed. He grabbed it and covered her, then set to freeing her feet.
Don't see the stirrups, he told himself. Don't see the clamps. Don't notice all that gear on the table, and don't think about the reason the table is parked between her knees. Focus, he told himself. Keep a clear head.
He shut his eyes tightly for a moment, taking a deep breath to calm himself, and then began gingerly removing clamps from her labia. She moaned and her legs began to tremble. "It's okay, honey," he quavered, "we're almost there..."
Focus, he told himself, don't think about this. You don't have a chance unless you keep yourself together.
All at once Scully's legs went rigid in the stirrups. "Nice one, guys..." she shouted, wrapping her arms around her body and twisting, trying to sit up. Mulder realized with horror that the noise she had been making was, in fact, a bitter kind of laughter.
"...first you drag Billy Miles out of mothballs to go boom boom boom and now you send *him*..."
"Scully, it's me," Mulder repeated, trying to keep his voice calm. "Really. Please. You have to be quiet. I don't know if we're alone."
"Not by a long shot, buddy," she said, rolling onto her back and looking him straight in the eye. Her voice dropped to an exaggerated whisper. "Trust me."
There were wire leads piercing the delicate skin of her chest. Mulder winced as he pulled each one free. "Scully, the people who hurt you - I think they're all dead."
She laughed again.
"Do you know who killed them?"
"You know who." Her eyes rolled back in her head. "You bastard."
Mulder felt the blood drain from his face.
Her eyes had closed again. He patted her cheek. "You've got to stay awake."
"...it's the drugs, Mu - " Her eyes flew wide again, and she stared at him in shock, as if she couldn't believe she was saying his name. "The IV," she muttered.
He took her hand, peeled away the tape, and slowly removed the IV tube. "There," he said, twining his fingers with hers and watching her blood rise up, slowly pooling inside the tiny hole the tube had left behind. "I wonder if there's something for you to wear; a gown, or -"
He stopped, still holding Scully's hand. There was a hard, yellow glint inches from the red smear: a familiar band of gold, he realized, still circling the ring finger of her left hand.
The one that matched his.
Seemed he *was* taken, after all.
Placing both hands on the gurney so he wouldn't fall, he allowed his body to crumple, laying his head gently between her breasts, listening to the slow thump of her heart.
She stroked his hair as he wept. "It *is* you, isn't it?" she whispered. "It's you. Where have you be-"
"Mulder!" A low, urgent call rang out from the other end of the compartment. "Where are you?"
Mulder raised his head, meeting Scully's gaze, shaking his head in wordless anguish and tracing her mouth with his fingertips.
"What are you doing, Mulder? We have to hurry." He could hear Leah coming up the ramp. "They're at the door. We have to find a way out!"
"Don't come in!" He helped Scully to an unsteady sitting position.
"Mulder," Scully said softly, and her eyes were both brighter and more frightened than they'd been a moment before. "We have to hide. Billy Miles is here somewhere..."
"I know," he said. He pulled off his shirt and slipped it over her head. "Here."
"They were screaming," she murmured, pushing her arms through the sleeves. "He stood by my bed and he was telling me something...I can't remember exactly what."
"I'll hold them off as long as I can!" Leah's footsteps rumbled back down the ramp. "Come on!"
He lifted Scully from the table and set her on her feet. "I'll hold you up. Just do the best you can..."
"Mulder, wait." Scully slumped against him. He wrapped his arms around her. She'd lost weight, and she was pale, so pale.
"It was about our son," she said, laying her head on his chest. "He was talking about William. Mulder, I think something terrible is about to happen."
Mulder swept Scully into his arms and quickly made his way to the back of the truck. He glanced down at her as they arrived at the top of the loading ramp and the look on her face stopped him in his tracks.
Her eyes roamed his features like she wanted to devour him. "Where have you been?" she rasped.
"Mulder!" Leah's voice came from the hallway. Something heavy struck the outside door.
He pulled her closer. "God, Scully, it's a long st-"
The pounding grew louder.
"Mulder, NOW!" Leah shouted, her voice echoing throughout the room.
"I'll explain everything later," he told her, brushing his lips against her hair. "We have to go."
At the bottom of the ramp he set Scully on her feet, and, wrapping his arm around her waist, helped her toward the hallway. "Oh my God," she murmured, looking down at the bodies scattered across the floor. "How did Billy-?"
Mulder didn't want to think about it, didn't want to know, didn't want to wonder whether Ray and Dee had been smiling when they'd taken all those lives. He didn't want Scully to think about it, either. "Billy isn't working alone," he said curtly.
There was a sickening crunch as the side door began to give way. Leah moved toward them, still clutching the fire extinguisher. "They're coming in," she barked, running backwards, her eyes on the crumpling door.
She stopped short just inches from where Mulder and Scully stood and spun abruptly around. Staring open- mouthed at Scully, she raised her eyes to Mulder's in silent question.
Mulder looked quickly from one woman to the other, wondering what needed to be said. "Um, Scully, this is Leah. Leah, Scully." The crunch of buckling metal drowned out his last syllable. "We have to get out of here."
"And go where?" Leah turned her back to them, brandishing the fire extinguisher defensively.
He scanned the room. On the far side, obscured from view by idling tow-motors and hastily abandoned equipment, Mulder spotted a studded-steel door with rounded corners, set into a steel frame about nine inches above the floor. Instead of a knob, there was a wheel at its center, making it look like it belonged on a ship or a submarine.
"Over there. Leah, come on!" He ran, pulling Scully behind him, just as the side door gave way. A harsh voice ordered them to stop, but Mulder kept running, half-dragging Scully through a macabre maze of discarded machinery and broken bodies.
Leah shouted like a battle-hardened warrior. There was the 'whoosh' of a fire extinguisher cutting loose, and the sound of men cursing and howling in pain. Mulder pulled the wheel on the heavy door and it swung open with surprising ease. He scooped Scully up, and, having nothing to trust but his instincts, lifted her over the threshold and into the darkness on the other side.
"Mulder," Scully panted as he set her gently on the cold floor, "what the hell is going on?"
"I have no idea," he answered, breathlessly. "But I'm pretty sure it isn't good."
"Mulder!" There was a loud metallic clang as a fire extinguisher crashed to the floor, then the thrum of Leah's shoes as she ran across the cement.
Mulder turned and reached for her. "Leah!"
A dark figure stumbled toward her, wiping its eyes.
"Hurry!" He extended his arm further, preparing to catch her hand.
Suddenly, and seemingly of its own volition, the door slammed shut, leaving Leah on the other side, plunging Mulder and Scully into eerie, silent darkness.
"What the fuck?" Mulder's harsh whisper echoed in the chilly air. He pushed on the door, slammed against it, pounded his fist on its smooth, uninterrupted surface. "Leah! Dammit, goddammit...Leah!"
"Mulder, wait." Scully's ragged voice came to him through the darkness. "Here, I think I found. . ."
The chamber was suddenly flooded with brilliant white light.
Squinting against the glare, Mulder inspected the door, looking for some way to open it. There was no knob, no latch, no wheel on this side. The door had obviously been designed with one-way traffic in mind.
"Where are we?" Scully asked, her voice filled with apprehension. "What is this place?"
He turned away from her, from the door, and looked around. They stood on a shiny pressed-metal platform at one end of a high-ceilinged, narrow room. The room itself wasn't very big - Mulder estimated that it was perhaps one hundred feet long and maybe six feet wide, more of a hallway than anything else. The floor was painted glossy white, and a covered drain about a foot wide ran down the center of the room. Tiny halogen lights were set into the ceiling, casting harsh white light onto every reflective surface. Row after row of gleaming stainless steel pipes lined the walls, making the whole room look like a post-modern log pile or a long, thin house of mirrors.
There appeared to be no way out.
"Fuck!" Mulder smacked his hand against the cold white railing in frustration.
Leah was as good as dead. His sons were gone. He'd rescued Scully from one trap only to deliver her to another.
He closed his eyes, his heart thudding madly against his ribs. A strange tingling pressure was building in the back of his head, and with it came a crushing sense of failure, of futility. Of defeat.
It was over.
But. . .no.
No, he thought, shaking off his despair. No, dammit, no.
Everything will be as has been written, he thought. Apparently, *this* was his destiny. This was where he belonged. There was nothing he could do but what had to be done.
But he'd sacrificed too much for this to be the end.
"Mulder." Scully placed her hand over his. Her voice sounded even weaker now, thinner, tinged with desperation. "They'll come through that door next."
As if to illustrate her point, the door thrummed as some buzzing thing slammed into it.
"I know." Pulling himself upright, Mulder took her hand, brought it to his mouth, brushed her cold knuckles with his dry lips. "So we have to go."
"But Mulder, it doesn't look like -"
"Looks can be deceiving," he said, with a brief smile. "Come on."
Something struck the door again. It rattled. The stairs shook as they ran down them, and when they reached the bottom, they found that the white floor was humming, vibrating so intensely they could barely stay on their feet.
"Shit!" Mulder quickened their pace. "I don't think the battering ram is doing this."
The floor shook harder.
The hum turned into a roar, drowning out Scully's words.
Then suddenly, everything was still.
"Jesus!" Mulder stopped dead, pulling Scully close.
"What's happening?" she whispered.
"I don't- "
Something wet hit his forehead.
"Oh god. Mulder..." Scully stared up at him, wide- eyed.
His nostrils filled with a dark, familiar aroma. He reached up, touched something slick and sticky on his forehead.
He looked up. Black oil oozed from the light fixture above them.
Then the roar came again, driving them forward. Mulder threw Scully over his shoulder in a fireman's carry, and ran for their lives.
Pipes trembled and shook, hissed and cracked. Suddenly the Oil was everywhere - a black tide seeping from the halogen fixtures, dripping from the ceiling, spraying from the pipes. It oozed down walls and across the floor, sliding and squirming toward the drain.
Squirming very deliberately toward the drain.
"Shit!" Mulder slipped, lost his balance, tumbled into an inky, writhing puddle. Rearing to his knees, he jerked Scully from the floor and swiped at a tendril of oil that was clinging to her cheek.
The oil slid from his fingertips and skittered away.
"Mulder!" Scully tugged at his hand, pointing to the end of the room. A wall had crumbled, exposing a round, narrow passage. Mulder's first thought was that it looked like a human-sized Habitrail. His second thought was that they had found their escape route.
"Come on." He pulled her hurriedly to her feet and together they slipped and slid forward to the opening in the wall.
He pushed Scully into the narrow passage ahead of him. "Go!" he shouted.
The passage was faintly lit, but Mulder couldn't tell where the light was coming from. The tunnel twisted and turned, seeming, at times, to double back on itself, but always ramping gently upward. It was difficult to gauge how far they'd actually traveled. The rumbling grew fainter the further they went, and after a short while, all Mulder could hear was their scuffling footsteps, their panted breaths, and the roar of blood rushing past his ears.
And then -
Mulder stopped, pulling Scully to a stop with him. He thought he was hearing a faint whispering sound, much like the one he'd heard this morning, in the store. He turned and peered behind them, fearing they'd been followed, but the sound wasn't coming from behind them, or in front of them. It was coming, he thought, from everywhere.
He shook his head, dizzy with the vibration. "Do you hear that?"
The sound intensified, becoming a buzz, then a hum.
"Yes, I hear it," she said. "It's residual - from the noise before. It's like an after-image, Mulder, it's -"
"No. Not that. Listen."
The humming swelled, developed rhythm, melody, harmony. Voices began to sing, seemingly miles away, but drawing closer.
It was a chorus, he realized. A chorus of thousands.
A flash of pain ripped through Mulder's brain. Before he could even clutch his head in agony, the pain receded, and suddenly he could hear the music perfectly. He could feel it in the marrow of his bones, reach out and touch it, if he wanted. It was a song of praise, a hymn, an anthem, its reverberation so clear he knew the radio of his mind had finally found the frequency it had sought so long.
He was hearing the truth.
'My true believers fare ye well, fare ye well, fare ye well...'
Mulder wanted to stop and listen, to let the truth wash through him. He tried telling his feet to stop, tried telling his legs to be still, but his body seemed to have lost the capacity to obey his brain. All they could do was go forward, now. They had to. The time was at hand.
'Let him lead his people home! Hallelujah!'
Mulder stumbled. He could feel a surge of energy at his back now. Their purpose, their fate, their destination had suddenly become so clear...
Scully spoke, but she sounded a hundred miles away. "Mulder, I can't keep-"
The passage brightened, the dim light taking on a pinkish cast, air swirling before his eyes like an ocean made of wine. The chorus kept singing, the melody shifting:
'Who will come and go with me, I'm bound for the land of Canaan. Fair Canaan is the land to see, I'm bound for the land of Canaan...'
"Mulder, that sound-"
"Yes," he murmured, increasing their pace. He had moved ahead of her, and was pulling her along beside him now.
The song changed, the melody morphing strangely, voices rising in intricate harmony:
'Hear the mournful thunder Roll from door to door, Calling home God's children, Get home by an' by...'
He tugged her around another tight corner and there, at the end of the passage, he saw faint beams of light, dropping like rope from the ceiling. "This way, Scully. Hurry."
"Mulder!" Her voice was sharp, terrified. She tugged his wrist, pulling with both her hands, reining him back, like she was digging her heels into the earth. "Mulder, stop! God, stop-"
"We can't." He jerked his arm, pulling her forward, and ran, his lungs straining for air. "I can't."
"Mulder, please! Stop!!" Scully strained against him.
But Mulder still ran, sweeping her along in his wake.
There was no time to waste. No time to explain.
There was a colossal clap of thunder and a roar, like a freight-train was barreling toward them. The floor beneath their feet shook.
The ropes of light grew thicker, more distinct as the roaring swelled. They reached the end of the passage. Above them, a wooden cellar-style door rattled on its hinges, violet light spilling in around its edges and leaking through its many cracks and crevices. There was another roar of thunder, then a flash of lightning and mad rattling of the door.
There wasn't time to talk, but he had to tell her, had to make sure there was no doubt, and never would be. Cradling her face in his hands, he pressed his lips to hers. It began as a gentle kiss, but as grief, horror, regret, and a dozen other emotions waved through him, he realized it was an act of contrition, too.
When the kisses ended, she pressed her lips to his bare chest. Then she reached up, wound her arms around his neck, and gave him a look so full of love that his heart ached for them both, for all they had lost, for all they would lose. "Mulder," she said, "when we get home, when we get out of-"
He enfolded her once again, giving silent thanks he'd had the chance to see her one more time. His voice was faint, perhaps too faint for her to hear, but he told her anyway. "I'm not getting out of this, Scully. Not this time."
Scarcely believing what he was doing, he let her go and reached for the door handle.
"Mulder, you can't go out there!" Scully grabbed him by his upper arms and shook him. In the hazy purple light he could see the terror in her eyes. "Do you hear that? There's a tornado out there. What the hell are you trying to do? Get us killed?"
"I have to go, Scully. The boys need me."
"'Boys?'" She caught his hand. "Mulder, what do you mean, 'boys?'"
He opened his mouth to answer, just as the door blew open under the force of the gale. Mulder threw Scully to the ground, shielding her body and crying out as the heavy wood smashed against them.
Then he was on his feet again, moving toward the open door. The air outside was an eerie shade of purple. Sand-devils spiraled by, fast and getting faster.
"No!" Scully seized his arm.
He turned and looked into her face. She gazed at him resolutely, her eyes wide and frightened, but her jaw set with determination. "I have to," he shouted over the roar of the wind. He brought her palm to his lips and planted a firm kiss there. "Stay here."
"No," She shook her head defiantly and took one step away from him. "I'm coming with you."
She put he hand in his. "Don't let go," she said.
Mulder clung to Scully's hand, bracing them against the tearing wind and the shaking ground. The storm seemed muffled, as if it were very far away, not swirling around them in violent rust-colored spirals. The smell of oil and ozone hung heavy in the air.
"Where the hell-?" Mulder squinted into the distance, trying to get his bearings. Between clouds of sand and the half-light of late evening, it was difficult to see much of anything, but they seemed to be in a depression of some sort, a vaguely circular hole. The earth slanted gently upward and away from them for a good distance, and then shot suddenly and sharply upward, forming an almost vertical wall. Mulder had the impression that they were standing at the bottom of a very large, very unsteady soup bowl.
"Oh my god." Scully turned to face him. "Mulder, I've been here before."
Mulder moved in close, trying to shield her from blowing sand. "You have?"
She nodded and pushed wind-whipped hair back from her face. "When I was thirteen, my family stopped here on the way to the Grand Canyon and took the tour." She pointed into the distance. "See that jagged white line over there? That's a mule track from an old mining operation."
"Mining?" Mulder lifted his hand to his eyes, squinting. His eyeballs felt dry and gritty, as if someone had replaced his eyelids with sandpaper, but he could just make out a faint zig-zag in the distance. "What kind of mining?"
"Silica," she said, reciting from memory. "Before that, iron." She peered around them, her brow furrowed in confusion. "Mulder, we're at the bottom of the Barringer Meteor Crater."
Before he could finish, Scully's grip on his forearms tightened. She was looking straight up. "Mulder, the sky. . ."
Mulder looked up.
Directly above them, the first stars of the evening glittered in the cloudless sky. Lower, however, at the rim of the crater, a ring of churning, lightning- spiked clouds raced around and around, like an apocalyptic merry-go-round. It was like standing at the center of a centrifuge, or. . .
"The storm, Scully," he said, realization dawning. Wrapping a protective arm around her shoulders, he drew her closer. "We're in the eye of the storm."
"'The One looked into the Void and saw nothing. And the One said, "Let the Void be filled."'"
"Wha-" Mulder cast about for the source of the voice.
"'And the One was made Two. Then the One looked into the Void and saw only itself. And the One said, "Let there be more." And the Two were made Many.'"
About twenty feet in front of them, where there had been nothing just moments before, there was a wide, flat rock. A figure stood on top of it, brandishing a long, thin knife that glinted in the light of the setting sun.
The figure raised its arms to the sky. "'And the Many went into the Void, seeking to fill it with the One and the Many.'"
Scully's grip tightened. "Mulder, is that-"
The earth trembled. Mulder felt that strange pressure at his back again, the irresistible impulse to move forward at all costs. Fighting against it with all his might, he stepped cautiously forward, pulling Scully behind him, shielding her body with his own. "Yeah," he said. "It's Billy Miles."
"No Mulder, not Billy," the figure on the rock spoke in a familiar tone of patient correction. "We are William now, for our name is our father's father's."
"Right," Mulder said, keeping his eyes on Billy's, careful to make no sudden moves. Holding his hands palms-up in front of him, fingers spread in a deliberate gesture of supplication and appeasement, Mulder took a few more careful steps. Nice mad dog, he thought. Nice crazy fucking bastard mad dog. He and Scully inched slowly forward.
A bolt of lighting tore through the circling clouds, a groan of thunder followed and the earth shook. The scent of oil grew thicker, stronger.
"'The Many went into the Void," Billy intoned, "'and filled the empty places. The One looked into the Void and saw that it was good.'"
"Okay, Bill. We're here. Now what hap-"
Something at Billy's feet had moved.
Oh god, Mulder thought, moving to block Scully's view. Oh god, no.
The something at Billy's feet moved again, resolving first into two separate somethings, then into two small human figures.
A jolt of foreboding charged through Mulder, followed by the shock of sudden clarity.
Billy was standing over his boys. On an altar. With a knife.
Nothing came with out a price, Sophie had told him.
And all would be as had been written.
Behind him, Scully let out a sudden, sharp gasp. "Oh my god!" She pushed past Mulder and moved toward the stone. "William?!"
"Scully!" Reaching out, his fingertips brushed her shoulder, but she twisted away from his grasp. "Scully, stop!"
Billy held his hands aloft, ignoring them, and continued his chanting. "'In that time, the Many spread, taking the One to all the empty places. In the days of Dul'usahn, the Many came to a new land, and sought to fill it. But a cry went up to the One. 'This is not our land, and these are not our people.'"
"William!" She charged toward the rock again.
Mulder knew he had to stop her, but his whole body felt like it had been filled with molten lead, hot and heavy and searing. "Scul-!"
The earth gave a violent jerk. Scully stumbled, lost her balance, and lurched to one side. That was all the opening Mulder needed. He snared her arm and held on tight, yanking her back. "No, Scully."
Scully's eyes flashed at him as she struggled. "Jesus Christ Mulder, he's got William! And that other child! He's got a knife! Let go of me!"
He strengthened his grip. "Scully, no."
"'And the One spoke into the Void," Billy continued, "'and told the Many to leave that land untouched and those people undisturbed. But the Many called to the one saying, 'We cannot leave, for we are held here, enslaved.'"
"William!" Scully screamed, her eyes wild with pain and panic. She turned on Mulder, trying desperately to push him away. "Mulder, let go, he's got our son!"
"No." Mulder wrapped his arms around her, fighting to pin her flailing body to his, cradling her head against his chest so she wouldn't have to see. It was enough that she was standing here, bearing witness as had been written.
"No!" Despite her weakened state, Scully fought back, becoming a wild animal in Mulder's arms, kicking and cursing, writhing and snarling.
He held her close, whispering into the crown of her head, knowing she wouldn't understand, couldn't understand, knowing his words would be like poison poured into her ears. "Every choice we've ever made, Scully, every decision we've ever come to, every time we've gone left instead of right, forward instead of back, every breath, every heartbeat, has led us here."
"'And the One said, 'The storm shall be called, and it shall carry you home.'"
"You aren't Mulder!" she growled, thrashing against his hold. "You can't be Mulder! Now let me go!"
Mulder held her tight, swaying almost instinctively from foot to foot in a futile effort to comfort her, to comfort himself. He grazed her forehead with his lips, sure it would be the last time he kissed her. "I'm sorry, Scully." In spite of the sincerity of his words, he nearly choked on them. "I'm so sorry, but it has to be this way."
Their struggle had brought them close to the rock. Scully feinted left, twisted right, and braced her feet against the base of the stone, pushing back, trying to unbalance him. "Let go of me, you bastard! William!"
But then she stopped struggling, staring at the children on the rock. "Two?" she murmured. "There are two?"
The boys looked up from their play, frowning puzzled little frowns, as if they'd suddenly become aware of Mulder and Scully's presence.
"Dada!" one of them called and smiled.
"Mama!" the other said, waving the object they'd been playing with.
Mulder felt the blood draining from his face, from his heart.
Will held a sand dollar, perfectly round, white as bleached bone.
Another bolt of lightning tore across the sky. The smell of oil had become so thick in the air that Mulder could barely breathe.
With one final burst of determined effort, Scully drove her elbow up and into Mulder's gut. He doubled over in pain and surprise, clutching his middle. Free of his grasp, Scully launched herself at the rock. Gasping for air, Mulder reached out, hoping to snag the hem of her shirt and bring her down. Instead, some unseen force hurled Scully back at him as if she were a rag-doll. Her body slammed into Mulder's, driving all the air from his lungs. Mulder let out an agonized howl as his shoulder snapped back too far and unhinged, and the two of them fell to the ground.
Scully tried to scramble to her feet, but the same force that had pushed her back was now holding them both down. Cursing, she struggled vainly for a few moments, until the last ounce of her energy was spent.
Mulder gasped, biting his lip. The pain in his shoulder was almost more than he could bear. "We knew, Scully," he rasped. "We knew when he was born that he wasn't an ordinary child."
"No," she wept, "No no no no."
"I think he-" Mulder stifled a moan, trying to force his brain to function when it was far beyond reason. "-I think *they* were ours to love, Scully, but not to keep."
Billy held a long iron blade in his hand. Its reddish surface was dull with age, but the blade had been freshly honed. He raised his arms, looking toward Mulder, his gaze strangely intimate.
"'And yea, they went into Utgeam," he said, "which is in the land of Avenda, where they remained for a time, as was told unto them.'" For a moment, something like emotion flickered behind his blank eyes. The he took the left hand of the boy standing to his left. He turned Will's hand palm up, baring the pale, tender skin of the boys' wrist.
Hot tears stinging his eyes, Mulder pulled Scully closer, hissing as pain shot through his shoulder and radiated outward. "Don't look, Scully. Please, don't..."
"'And they entered there, clean and whole, and awaited Rhulak, whose coming was foretold.'" Billy smiled at the child and the boy smiled back, trusting and unafraid.
Mulder tried to look away, but found he couldn't. As much as it sickened him, he knew that he had been born to bear witness to this act, to observe this sacrifice. Scully tensed against him and let out an anguished sob. Please let it be over, Mulder begged silently, his empty heart slowing to a listless thump. Please let it end.
Billy drew the knife gently across the child's palm.
William stared at the blood in fascination. Billy knelt next to him, holding the bleeding wound over the pristine sand dollar.
"Me now!" The boy on the right held up his left hand and Billy patiently lowered it, taking the right instead. Mulder winced as the blade struck, gashing the fleshy heel of the child's tiny hand. Will's eyes went wide, but he seemed too mesmerized by the blood rising up and flowing out of his wound to pay much attention to the pain.
The rock began to tremble, tiny cracks opening up in its smooth surface. It glistened in the half-light, grew dark then darker, shiny and slick as oil oozed from the fissures and pooled at its base.
Billy closed his eyes, still kneeling between the boys. He clasped his hands in prayer, the bloodstained knife nestled between them.
"This is not our land, Mulder," he said, his gaze intent on the sky. "And these are not our people."
Mulder struggled to move. "I know, Bill," he choked out.
Billy raised the knife. "We are going home."
"Doh home," William said.
"Doh home," his brother echoed.
Mulder sniffed, unsurprised to find his face wet with tears. He nodded. "Love you, Will. Go home, buddy."
In the space between Mulder's next two heartbeats, Scully stiffened in his arms and whimpered softly; William and William, grinning their toothy baby grins, waved bye-bye; a streak of lightning and a blast of thunder ripped across the sky; and Billy Miles, smiling the blissful, terrifying smile Mulder had come to know and hate, slit his throat from ear to ear.
Scully gasped and made a desperate lunge toward the boys but Mulder held her, watching as one by one Billy's fingers uncurled, allowing the knife to clatter to the ground. Drenched in his own blood, Billy leaned over the sand dollar, the gash in his throat spurting crimson.
Blood met blood.
The storm broke free, no longer held at bay on the lip of the crater, and contracted around them, closing in, engulfing them.
"William!" Scully wrenched herself free and crawled onto the rock, scrambling on her belly like a commando.
"Scully!" Mulder threw himself after her, grabbing for her feet and forgetting his injury. He yowled, cringing against the pain, but forced himself to keep crawling.
"Scully!" Mulder dragged himself across the fractured surface of the rock, through the sticky oil that was seeping from its every crevice. Blinded and battered by blowing sand, he scanned left and right, searching for Scully, for his sons. Fat, slug-like clots of oil slithered up and over his body, covering him like a living, liquid blanket of night.
Billy still stood in the center of the stone, arms outstretched, face lifted skyward, gazing into the storm.
Smiling. Still smiling.
"Scully!" Mulder screamed, his own voice lost in the howling wind. "William!"
Something made him reach for the bloodied sand dollar at Billy's feet. Lifting it, he held it up, offering it to the storm. Oil snakes slithered up his arm, coiling and writhing toward his outstretched hand.
A bolt of lightning shot down, struck the shell and splintered it, sent fragments flying in all directions. Mulder jerked his hand away with a howl. Fragments fell into the whirlwind and ignited it, brilliant color spreading throughout the spiral, flashes of light, color, and song spitting back at him.
In moments, the whole storm glowed, sang, burned from within.
The funnel tightened, loops of golden energy coiling and twisting at its center. The vacuum it created sucked up dust and sand and debris, somehow simultaneously pinning Mulder to the earth. Billy's lifeless body jerked, shot up, spun madly in the center of the storm, then exploded in an electric rain of sparks and color.
The rock beneath Mulder convulsed, heaved, shuddered, then crumbled and collapsed in on itself. Mulder landed on a jagged shard of stone that bit into his left shoulder blade, setting off another scream of pain. The ground under him throbbed, then pulsed, and Mulder, finding himself unable to move, was suddenly wet with oil, then immersed in oil, then sputtering, sinking, drowning. Black threads of oil rose around him, one by one, merging and growing, becoming streamers, then ropes, then endless glistening black pillars and columns, drawn up and up and up into the storm.
It seemed to last forever - for an age and a millennia and several pain-laden eternities. Mulder lay immobile, unable to do so much as close his eyes. He wondered, for a thousand years of agony or so, if he was going to die. His next thought was that he had already died, and perhaps was just waiting for his turn to fly up and fall apart.
Then the chaos stopped.
The storm was gone. The stars were gone. The sky was gone.
There was nothing but nothing.
Oh my god, he thought. Oh my god, *yes*.
Mulder looked into the Void, into the eye of the One.
The One looked back.
And the One was sorry. Very, very sorry.
Mulder blinked, once, twice, and found it utterly exhausting. He tried to remember which muscles he'd need to lick his dry lips, but drew a blank. His shoulder seemed to be the only part of his body with any desire to do anything, and all it wanted to do was throb.
It's okay, he told the One. Apology accepted.
Just don't come back.
Just don't ever-
"Dada!" A small voice interrupted his half-formed thoughts.
"Will?!" Mulder tried to speak but all that came out was a dusty croak.
"Dada?" A small familiar face came into Mulder's line of vision, blocking out all the endless nothing above him. Brow knit with concern, William frowned. "Tay, dada?"
"Fine," Mulder whispered. "Your mom?"
A second familiar face came into frame. "Shhhh," the second child brought a finger to his lips. "Mama seep."
A whirring noise caught his attention. Helicopter, he thought, and filed the information away.
"Is she okay?" Mulder rasped.
"Mama seep," the child repeated. "Shhhhhhhh!"
"Billy doh home," the first boy said, smiling happily.
"Ray doh home. Dee doh 'way," the other added. He threw up his hands. "All done!"
"Yeah," Mulder agreed. "All done."
Everything was as had been written, he supposed.
The helicopters were getting closer. Someone would find the boys, he thought. Someone would find Scully. Someone might even find him and hell, he might even live long enough to be found.
William reached down and patted Mulder's broken shoulder. "Owee?"
"Big owee," Mulder said. It hurt like hell but he couldn't even flinch.
William puzzled over this a moment, then knelt next to his father. His brother did the same.
"Doh seep, Dada." One boy leaned over and planted a wet kiss on Mulder's cheek. He laid his head on Mulder's chest.
A voice boomed through a megaphone, but the words were indistinct and formless, a jumble of sounds without meaning.
His other son laid his head on Mulder's chest. "Night night, dada. Night night."
Mulder used his final ounce of energy to blink up at the sky.
The stars were back, twinkling in the sweet, dry air.Right Bookend
Langly set her suitcase and laptop down in the hallway. "No way."
"Way." Monica opened her purse and started picking through it, looking for her keys. "It's not a curse, it's a virus. And apparently ... " She gave her purse a shake, but didn't hear the expected rattle. "You should have seen the CDC guy's face when I told him why I was there."
Langly chuckled. "I bet."
Ordering her brain to stop imagining her key ring on a cafe table somewhere in Port Au Prince, Monica wiggled her fingers towards the bottom of the bag, and sighed. "I think I put my keys in my suitcase."
Langly leaned against the wall and shoved his hands into his pockets, looking amused and decidedly smug. "You think?"
She felt herself flush. "Or...not?"
He laughed gently. "I put them on your bureau. They wouldn't have been safe at my place." Digging deeper into his pocket, he pulled out a single key. "I have a hard enough time keeping track of this."
She watched him as he fit his key into the lock, reaching over and running her fingers once again through the newly cropped locks. "I can't get over it, Rich."
Langly had gotten a haircut while she was away. She'd already done all the appropriate ooing and ahhing at the airport, and he'd seemed pleased enough that she was pleased. Still, when she'd asked him why he'd done it, he'd refused to explain, muttering something half-assed about it being too hot for long hair. For her part, Monica would bet cold cash that there was more behind his decision to get a buzz cut than a little hot weather.
He jiggled the knob and turned the key. "Can't get over what?"
"You with no hair."
The door swung open. Dropping his key into his pocket, he turned back toward the hallway. "I have hair," he said, then ran his hand vigorously across the top of his head until every hair was standing on end. "Look. Just like Vanilla Ice."
"That's better," she said. "Not so preppy."
He smiled at her, shrugged. "Next week when I meet your folks, I'll comb it flat and they'll be none the wiser."
Ah. So there it was. She scooped up her laptop. "They're not going to care what your hair looks like."
He picked up her suitcase and strode into the apartment. "Maybe, maybe not. I'm not taking any chances."
Monica sighed, wondering if things could ever get back to normal, or whatever passed for normal these days. It had only been in the last couple of months that he'd finally quit brooding about their trip to Arizona, what they had or hadn't seen there, should or shouldn't have done. He'd been in intensive care for a week after the incident at the crater, and he'd had a hard time processing the fact that the battle was over, the danger passed. It had been hard to convince him that Billy Miles and his kind were really gone.
She wished, for probably the thousandth time since last July, that Langly had had the chance to say good-bye to Mulder, as she had. If he could have seen the tranquillity, the look of fulfillment on Mulder's face, she was sure Langly would have been able to make peace with the whole situation.
Passing from the hallway to the living room, she switched on a lamp and took a grateful breath of the cool, familiar air. Setting her laptop in a chair, she turned to Langly and held out her hand. "C'mere."
He dropped her suitcase with an unceremonious thud and slipped his arms around her waist, his mouth hungry on hers. Monica shivered with pleasure. It was good to know he'd missed her.
He pulled back, smiling. "Oh. I forgot. Here..."
"Hmmm?" Monica's brain was taking a few minutes to function. Langly reached into his back pocket, pulling out his wallet. He withdrew a small photograph, and handed it to her.
A wrinkled newborn baby gazed back at her from the photo, brilliant blue eyes wide and alert, toothless mouth open in a kind of crooked smile.
She turned the picture over. Scrawled in blue was: 'baby girl, 7 lbs. 5 oz. Born April 17. Mother and daughter doing fine. Father and brothers delirious.'
Monica knew the handwriting well - it filled line after line in the files she worked with every day.
She tried to swallow the lump that had suddenly formed in her throat. "Oh my god," she managed, at last. "Not a word for almost a year and now this? What else did he say? Was there a letter? How are they?"
He shrugged. "From the look of it, they're doing great. But there wasn't a letter or anything. Not even a return address on the envelope. Still laying low, I guess."
They regarded the picture together. "I wish they'd come home," Langly said quietly, after a few minutes.
"Me, too. But I understand why they haven't. They wanted a fresh start, and the chance of that happening here was pretty damned slim."
His arm tightened around her waist. "Yeah, yeah. I know. I just - they're on their own up there, you know? Anything could happen."
She turned toward him and laid her hand lightly on his shoulder. "There's nothing to be afraid of. Not anymore." She raised the picture and held it where Langly could see. "My god, just look at her. Do you think she'd be here if it wasn't true?"
"Make it slow," she whispered, her breath rushing against his ear. He pressed himself into her, relishing her heat, her moisture, the silken feeling of being inside her.
God, yes. He was a lucky, lucky man. He closed his eyes and tipped his hips forward again, sliding into her as slowly as his aching body would allow.
"Oh my god, Mulder," Scully moaned softly. "Oh my god, yes..."
He swirled the tip of his tongue across her lower lip. "Shhhh...we're still sleeping, right?"
She gave a languid smile and rocked against him. "Dead...to...the...oh god, don't stop."
"Yes ma'am." Increasing their tempo, he tried to make his strokes even and deliberate. Keeping himself in check was damned tricky so early in the day, but he figured he was probably up to the task. And if he didn't get it right this time, hell, there was always tomorrow. They had the rest of their lives to practice.
The rest of their lives. He liked the sound of that.
He drove in hard and she rewarded him with a gasp and a clenching of her internal muscles and. . .
"Jesus, woman," he muttered, shivering. He wasn't going to last much longer.
She seized him by his nape, wrapping her legs around him and arching her back so she could rise to meet his rapid thrusts. He tried unsuccessfully to stifle a hoarse cry, then found himself laughing: it was ridiculous to try to be quiet at a time like this. Besides, the way she made him feel, he didn't care who heard.
Measuring his breaths, he closed his eyes.
"Harder," Scully whispered, locking her ankles together in the small of his back. "Faster, Mulder, god, oh my god..."
Mulder was vaguely aware of a pattering sound outside their locked bedroom door, but then Scully made a feral groaning sound, tightening around him and digging all ten fingernails in...
"Oh my god, Scully..."
Then his mind went blue-blank, swimming with stars.
"That," she gasped, when they'd finally stopped moving and he was lying beside her, damp fingers smoothing her tangled hair, "was amazing."
"Good morning to you, too" he answered, trying to catch his breath.
"I heard the boys in the hall," she panted. "I'm sure Min isn't up yet. Go see what they're doing. I don't think I can walk."
"Like I can?" he rasped.
"You can," she said. Rolling on to her side, she pushed him with both hands. "Hurry up. They might be trying to make toast again."
"My point exactly."
He shifted unsteadily off the mattress and lifted the sheet, digging around for the gym shorts he'd immediately discarded upon waking.
"Shit. Have you seen -"
"Here." She threw them at his head and stretched out like a contented cat, kicking the sheet back and fanning herself. Mulder had managed to get one leg into his shorts, but the sight of her body brought his forward progress to a grinding halt. Scully was all Renaissance curves now, all round belly and milk- filled breasts, all satisfied, all his.
He couldn't help himself. Shorts hanging off one leg, he fell back onto the bed and wriggled toward her.
She laughed and shoved him away. "Mulder, no. Go see what they're doing."
He rolled onto his back. "They can't burn the place to the ground without me?"
All the answer he got was a growl.
Fang and Fifi met him at the bedroom door, skittering and yapping as he made his way down the hall. "Yes, yes," he muttered, sidestepping first one, then the other, "walks for everyone. Hang on, just let me - "
Even though the kitchen was on the other side of the apartment, the ring of little voices and the scrape of a stool across the tile were unmistakable. The boys had only been out of their room for a few minutes, but Mulder picked up his pace, hoping they'd hear his footsteps and stop doing whatever it was they were doing. Bright and capable as both boys were, they still had an uncanny ability to cause big trouble fast.
"Here," one of them said as Mulder crossed the dining room. "Hold it."
"Not that one," the other answered. "Gwape."
Mulder came through the archway and into the kitchen. "Okay, why are you two up so early? Did you set an alarm or something?"
Will was standing on a stool by the open freezer. Liam was holding a Popsicle. Mulder scooped Will off the stool with one hand, collecting Liam's pop with the other. "Breakfast doesn't come from the freezer," he told them, trying unsuccessfully to plaster a businesslike expression over his post- coital smile.
Both boys arched an eyebrow his way.
"Well, not when Mama's home, anyway. Sorry, guys," he told them cheerfully, heading for the pantry. "You know the rules." He located a box of cereal and set it on the counter. "Hey, does anybody want to use the big boy potty?"
Both boys clutched their diapers and scowled. Liam shook his head.
Mulder sighed. Scully assured him they'd be toilet trained before high school. He was having his doubts. "All right, then. Bowl of cereal?" Mulder shook the box, rattling the Cheerios for emphasis. "We've got the honey-nut kind today."
Will wrinkled his nose, considering the offer. Liam cast a suspicious glance at his brother, as if his father's insistence on a proper breakfast was somehow insidious and evil.
"Want it in your Buzz Lightyear bowls?"
"Buzz!" All thoughts of Popsicles instantly forgotten, the twins turned and made for the kitchen table like a couple of crazed puppies. Ah yes, Mulder thought. When in doubt, invoke Buzz Lightyear. Gets' em every time.
He got the milk out of the 'fridge and found the bowls he'd promised the boys sitting dirty in the dishwasher. Washing them at the sink, he gazed out the window at their petunia-smothereed deck and the tiny patch of high-maintenance 'yard' just beyond.
He never could have imagined wanting to return to this city, wanting to reclaim these four walls. He'd found Scully, though, and everything had changed. Toronto was a peaceful place, all in all, sane and clean and far from Washington. The house was beautiful and well-located, and, as Billy had informed him late one night while they were driving to Arizona, it belonged to Mulder, lock, stock, courtyard, and ugly fountain.
The whole thing had been kind of hard to pass up.
Being a landlord wasn't a bad way to make a living, he reflected. It was good money, gave him lots of time for Scully and the kids, and, as a bonus, he'd gotten pretty damn handy with a cordless drill.
He looked down. Liam tugged impatiently at the leg of his shorts. "Bekfast."
A small, warbling cry echoed through the apartment, skimming the hardwood floors and bouncing off the cool walls. Next came the sound of footsteps and Scully's soothing murmur.
"You aren't the only ones up early," he told the boys, pouring milk on their cereal. "I wonder when Min's going to..."
"Morneen, Mista Mudda!" Adjusting her bathrobe and smoothing her hair, the boys' nanny hurried into the kitchen. "Missa Mudda get the baby."
"Not Mister Mulder, Min, just Mulder. And good morning."
Will waved his spoon. "Juice pease!"
"You wan' juice, litta turkeys?" Min shot across the kitchen like a nylon-wrapped bullet, her brightly embroidered slippers scuffing the tiles as she went. "I get."
Min had been working for them for over three months, but she was still just as enthusiastic as the day she'd arrived. Lately, Mulder had been joking that Min couldn't possibly be Mrs. Ko's great-niece. It was far more likely that Mrs. Ko had simply had herself cloned so she could be closer to the boys.
The boys still asked for Leah, of course. At first, he'd had to explain where she'd gone at least a couple of times a day. When they asked he told them that Leah loved them, but she had gone on a trip with a very special friend. She'd been away from that friend for a long time, and he had missed her. Now he wanted her to stay with him.
Occasionally, Leah sent Mulder cryptic postcards from out-of-the-way places. He was glad she'd gotten her life back, if not her memory. He hoped Jimmy Bond was helping her put the pieces together.
Fang whined and licked Mulder's foot. Fifi made an expectant circle in the archway. "Okay, okay. Hang on. We'll go out running."
He paused at the counter just long enough to pour Scully a glass of orange juice, and made a quick trip back to the bedroom.
Mulder pushed the bedroom door open. Scully was lying on her side, cradling their daughter while she nursed. "Min's up," he said, his voice dropping low. "How's our girl this morning?"
"Still beautiful," she said. "And still hungry. Growth spurt, I think."
"It's *all* a growth spurt, isn't it?" Mulder set the orange juice on the bedside table. He eased himself onto the bed. "Hey there, Sophie," he said, softly. "What's the plan today?"
Sophie opened her eyes for a moment, a tiny stream of milk running out of the corner of her mouth as she smiled. Then she put her hand on Scully's breast and patted it.
"Smart girl," Mulder whispered.
"I'll take the dogs out for a run," he told Scully. "Okay?"
Scully nodded but a frown of concern crossed her face.
She half-shrugged. "Do you know what day it is?"
"It's July 6."
"Oh." He let the information sink in, settle. "Oh. Right." He gave her a tight little smile. "Happy anniversary?"
"Not funny, Mulder."
"I'll be coming back. And it won't take a year this time." He lifted two fingers in a boy scout salute. "Promise."
Scully gnawed her lower lip. "I just - sometimes, I feel like I'm waiting for the other shoe to fall."
"There isn't another shoe, sweetheart." He traced the curve of her hip up and back. "We are out of shoes. We are shoeless. Speaking of shoes. . ."
She didn't look at him, or answer.
"Hey, trust me, Scully."
"I do." She shifted, lifting her breast so Sophie could have better access. "It's just. . ."
He lay down next to her, Sophie between them.
"The seed colony had a one-way ticket to a lifeless world. When it got here and found out there was already life, and plenty of it, life it was not even slightly compatible with, all it wanted was to go home. The iron ore trapped it, and every time it tried to interact with humans and explain the situation, well, you know how that usually turned out."
"Not well," she answered, steel in her voice.
"Not well at all." They both had souvenir-of Antarctica frostbite scars as reminders of that. "It took millions of years, and a lot of false starts, but yes, it finally figured it out. All it needed was a catalyst. So it built a couple of them, just in case."
"Will and Liam."
"Yes, Will and Won't." He gave a little smile but took in her clouded expression. "Hey," he squeezed her hip, "the IVF worked, Scully. Miracles one and two."
"Thanks to a lot of manipulation of that chip in my neck and some embryo-splitting and a surrogate mother and I am not sure what else."
"Well, sometimes miracles need help," he offered.
She nodded thoughtfully. "And all that pseudo- religious stuff?"
"What's religion but a set of instructions about how to make nice with the other kids in the sand box?"
She was silent a moment. "It's gone? For good?"
"Gone for good. It's left us our own path." He ran one finger down Sophie's soft cheek and smiled. "And the ability to make our own miracles from now on."
"Mama! Mama!" Will and Liam thundered into the room. Mulder wondered if they would ever learn to make an entrance that didn't involve lots of noise.
"Shhh, buddies," Scully told them. "Sophie's having breakfast..."
The twins stopped at the foot of the bed and stared. "My baby," Will said, elbowing his brother.
"No, mine," Liam argued.
"Ours." Scully closed her eyes and bent to kiss Sophie's forehead. "We'll be here when you get back," she told Mulder. "All of us. Now go run."
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