Part Three

NOTE: This is a WIP in the strictest sense of the word --  I therefore reserve the right to mess with, abuse, fold, spindle and mutilate it as I go. And I will; you know I will.

Many thanks to the usual suspects. Without you, I'm NOTHING! ;)

I followed Scully and William down the stairs, carefully tucking all my internal organs back in where they belonged. Scully had done this to me before -- said one thing, done another, thought a third, written a report about a fourth, eviscerated a fifth - me being the fifth.

I was used to it, of course; Scully had been pulling me to her with one hand while simultaneously pushing me away with the other since about ten minutes after we first met. For a while, I thought she was just a tease, which would have fit nicely with the whole honey-trap/mole scenario I presume Blevins and his handlers had had in mind. After a while, I wondered if maybe she wasn't just a teeny bit psychotic. It took me forever to finally clue in, and by the time I figured out that The Push-me/Pull-you Tango was actually some weird-ass Catholic-girl mating dance, it was almost too late.

Just the same, I thought as I narrowly avoided stepping on something wheeled and plastic that really did not belong on the stairs, if she intended to keep gutting me, maybe I should have an abdominal zipper installed. It would save us both time and trouble.

I guess the real question, though, was did she intend to keep doing this to me? Or, now that I was on my feet, was she planning to shove my ass out the door again?

Wow. Bitter and indifferent, all at once. Maybe that Paxil *was* good for something.

William peered at me over Scully's shoulder. "You comin' to the zoo, daddy?"

The zoo. I hadn't been to a zoo since - wow. A long time. And even then it had been work-related. But what hadn't?

That thought brought me up short. Really, which part of the previous decade hadn't been, in some way, a direct result of my time with the FBI? If I hadn't pledged my all for fidelity, bravery, and integrity, I might have missed out on that all-expenses-paid trip to Reticula Prime, or wherever the hell they took me. I'd certainly never have met Scully. There'd be no Will.

I stepped around a pile of picture books on the landing and wondered how much different my life would be at that very moment if I'd never been dead.

I wasn't sure how to feel about that, how to feel about any of it. I took a deep breath and decided not to feel anything.

"Daddy," William roused me as Scully wrestled him into this jacket. "Are. You. Coming. Tothezoo!?"

"Nope. Not today, Will."

He frowned. "Why?"

Why? "Um, I wasn't invited."

Scully turned her face so Will wouldn't see and shot me a *try again, asshole* scowl.

"I mean, this is a special treat for you and your grandma. Your, um, special day."

The scowl dissolved into a *much better* quirk of the lips. If she patted me on the head and scratched behind my ears, I was home-free.

The rain had stopped at some point and, beyond the front window, the sky was clearing. The news had promised sunshine, which looked to be on its way, and for half a second or so I wondered if Scully had packed sunscreen. Of course she had, I told myself; she knew what she was doing, and more to the point, she was good at this. I, on the other hand, was standing there with my hands in my pockets, feeling sorry for myself and practicing being useless. I was getting too good at both.

"Can I do anything?" I asked.

"Can you grab his stuff?" she suggested as she popped Will's Yankees' cap on his head. "I left it in the study, I think, by the bookshelf."

This much I could manage. "Sure."

The Bob the Builder backpack was right where she thought it would be. I did a quick inventory - extra t-shirt, sweat shirt, rolled-up pair of track pants, Shrek pajamas, animal crackers - organic whole wheat animal crackers, of course - Pull-ups, wet wipes, coloring book, crayons, approximately 45 toy cars, and ... no sunscreen. I flipped open all the flaps and pockets.

Nope. No sunscreen.

Will had Scully's fair skin and eyes the same pale blue shade that my mother's had been - a poster child, in other words, for the melanin-deprived. Spring had very recently sprung, but as I'd discovered on my late afternoon runs, the sun could be intense. Will needed more protection than a baseball cap could offer.

My brilliant deductive skills led me to Will's room, where, after some searching, I found a tube of fluorescent green gunk on his dresser. It had been tossed up against a framed copy of the only extant picture of the three of us, taken when William was all of four days old. I'd carried that photo's clone with me night and day for two years, but I'd lost it in the explosion.

If, in fact, there had been an explosion. The jury was still kind of out on that one.

I sighed and sat on William's bed, the *big boy bed* with the Buzz Lightyear comforter he'd proudly shown me as soon as I was up and walking, and stared at the photo, not really seeing it.  

We'd decided to save the world, whether the world wanted saving or not. As little as either of us liked the fact, we knew we could cover more ground and cover it more quickly if we split up. The supposed death threats against me would just lend credibility to my disappearance, or so we hoped.  So I'd left when Will was six days old, spent two years undercover with Gibson and the others, working on a way to take down the Supersoldiers once and for all. Scully'd stayed in DC with Will, working at Quantico as an instructor/pathologist/ some-time field agent, covertly spending the bulk of her time with the CDC team developing the vaccine. Thanks to hard work, determination, and some profoundly dumb luck, we'd both succeeded.

In her version of the story, during my last mission, which involved taking out the last of the Supes by way of brute force and magnetite, I'd gotten myself blown sky high and landed on my head, resulting in a coma. My version of events followed hers, up to a point, but had a few decidedly more Brothers Grimm twists. For 'successes,' read 'failure, doubt, frustration, bad food, boredom, no cable, aching loneliness, capture by the military, a mock trial, life on the run, the Gunmen dead, and Scully giving William up for adoption.' 

As you can probably imagine, I liked Scully's story a whole lot better. I just wasn't always sure it was accurate.

Hers was the only story that made sense, of course - we had defeated the Supes; she had found the vaccine; I was holding a Bob the Builder backpack, so William clearly hadn't gone anywhere. Frohike had only lifted an eyebrow and told me to quit weirding him out the day he showed up at the front door and I poked him in the shoulder four or five times trying to determine whether or not he was a ghost. And as far as I could ascertain from speaking to Gibson, to Skinner, to Doggett and Reyes, the threat of alien colonization - from without and within - had really and truly been laid to rest.

We'd saved the world. And the FBI was still paying my salary.

Fox Mulder, this is your happy ending.

Try telling my brain that, though. It stubbornly refused to listen.

I knew what my problem was, or a big part of it, anyway - thirty years of being too busy, too blind, and too chicken shit to actually deal with any of the deeply bad crap that had been thrown my way. The day they took Samantha I'd started running, and I'd set a pretty solid pace ever since. Now I'd come to an unexpected halt, and - surprise! - everything that had been chasing me was finally catching up. It was textbook, really.

Forty-two years old and I was finally doing something by the book. Scully would be so proud. The Scully I remembered, anyway. This Scully, I wasn't so -


I knew I had to stop doing that. If I was going to have even the slimmest chance of pulling my life together, I had to.

"Mulder?" Scully's concerned voice wound its way up the stairs.

Fuck fuck fuck.

"You okay up there, Mulder?"

Yeah, Scully, I thought, I'm fine. Fucking fabulous.

"Yep." I stood. "Be right there."


"Mulder," Scully said as I turned over the backpack, "'this' is Mark Alden."

The fabled Mark, as it turned out, was taller than me, younger, blonder, arguably better looking. His easy smile revealed more teeth than any one human being not named *Osmond* could possibly have use for. I could tell just by looking at him that he'd never given any thought to losing his hair or his flat stomach or his sanity. He stood in the driveway, holding my delighted son a little too comfortably in one arm and a really expensive Tonka truck in the other, looking at me like I was something that had been scraped off the bottom of his left shoe.

Naturally, I hated him on sight.

"Alden?" I said, extending my hand in an effort to play nice. "Any relation to Ellen?" I'd met Scully's friend Ellen a couple of times. She hadn't liked me. The feeling had been entirely mutual.

"Brother-in-law," Mark replied. Profiler that I am, I checked Alden over quickly, looking for a wedding band or some other obvious sign of domestication. He didn't appear to have any, which didn't make me like him any better.

He was paying most of his attention to William, but he shot Mrs. Scully a look that I couldn't readily interpret. She, suddenly, found the patch of weedy grass at her feet absolutely enthralling. You'd have missed Mark's frown if you hadn't been paying close attention, but, with my Spidey-sense on red-alert, I saw it. Then he turned his gaze on an otherwise oblivious Scully, and -

- and -

Ah, hell.

I'd seen the look on Mark's face before - seen it on Pendrell's face and Frohike's and Skinner's and, on any of her 'short skirt/low neckline' days, on the faces of half the law enforcement officers in the continental US. I'd seen it in the mirror once or twice or a million times, too.

I know I have a reputation for paranoia, and it might not be entirely undeserved, but trust me - drugged or undrugged, PTSD'd or not - there's a difference between thinking everyone wants what's yours, and damned well knowing it. Apparently, I wasn't the only one standing in that muddy front yard with a crush on the delightful Doctor Scully.

Well, tough, I thought, experiencing the first moment of perfect clarity I'd had in as long as I could remember. I may have been confused about any number of things - the meaning of life, my place in the universe, why my team could never win while I was in my right mind - but this wasn't one of them. As far as I was concerned, I'd seen her first, and until Scully herself told me otherwise, I had first dibs. I was living in her house, after all, eating her food, using up all her hot water, forgetting to wipe down her tub. And we shared a son, a fact that was never, ever going to change. Anyone who didn't like it could kiss my ass or sue it; whatever worked.

Scully would not take kindly to me killing Mark, I reasoned while making an effort not to grind my molars. Not in front of William, any way. Wounding him was probably out of the question, too.

So I did the next best thing; I took two steps closer to her and held out my arms to William. Wonderful, brilliant, gifted child - who is now definitely going to get a very sweet car for his 16th birthday - that he is, he leaned toward me, effectively falling out of Mark's arms and falling into mine.

I hoisted him, plastic yellow bribe and all, onto my hip. "Nice to meet you," I said to Mark. "Nice truck," I said to Will. "And, wow, it's not even your birthday or anything."

"Nice to meet you, too," Mark answered. He shoved his suddenly un-full hands in his pockets. "So you're 'the' Fox Mulder?"

"Yes," I said evenly, holding his gaze, "I am."

"Look, Grandma," William said ."Mark gived me a cool truck," 

"Gave," Scully corrected. "And yes, that's a very cool truck. What do you say to Mark, Will?"

William turned. "This is a very cool truck, Mark," he said seriously.

Mark chuckled a little uneasily.

"What else do you say, Will?" I piped in.

"Thank you, Mark. This is a cool truck."

There was a brief but unsurprisingly awkward pause in the conversation while we decided who got to take the next shot. 

"I didn't know you and Dana were still working together," Mark said at last.

"We're not," I answered.

Mark blinked. "Oh?"

"Working together, that is." I turned to Scully, and looped my free arm around her shoulders, startling her. "Are we, Dana?"

You had to know Scully, really know her, to understand the look she gave me. Someone else wouldn't have caught the meaning behind the slow blink, the tiny twitch of the lips, the drop of the chin, the three millimeter elevation of the left brow. But, even if I knew nothing else, I knew her, and I knew if looks could kill, they'd have been planning yet another funeral for me.

"No," she said, then turned back to him, not-quite smile in place. "No Mark, at the moment, I don't believe we are."


Note -- Part Four is over half done.  It'll be posted very shortly. 

No, really.