Rating: NC-17 (language, violence, adult situations and graphic sexual descriptions)
Classification: Col/Post Col, MSR, /O, Consensual and (implied) Non-Consensual Sex, Angst, Mytharc
Warning: “Abaddon’s Reign” is a grownup tale set in harsh times. A number of scenes contain graphic descriptions and portray adult situations that may offend some readers. Please, read with caution.
EPILOGUE MUSIC [mp3]
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Sea of Glass
Continued from Book VIII
Safe Camp II
March 22, 2003
Alpine was a reasonable place to settle. Far enough from Salt Lake City so as not to be polluted by the acrid smoke that, four months later, still churned above the enormous crater where Harmony I once stood. Yet near enough to logistically relocate 782 men, women and children from Antelope Island to their new home in the Bridger-Teton National Forest.
When the refugees arrived, they found six restaurants, three gas stations, and God only knew how many fireworks stands -- all abandoned -- lining Alpine's two main thoroughfares, U.S. Highways 26 and 89. Promotional posters, yellowed with age, hung in the windows of the local establishments advertising Alpine Mountain Days, a summer festival with Indian dancing, mountain men, country music, horseshoe tournaments and black-powder shoot. The event was to have been held the third week in June, but the date came and went without fanfare, the town's 542 residents dead six weeks by that time, their bellies torn open, their bones stripped bare.
The newcomers buried the bodies, moved into the modest homes, and scavenged for food. They discovered industrial-size cans of soup, beans, shortening and other assorted edibles in the restaurants. Candy bars, chips, snack cakes and Slim Jims filled the gas stations' shelves. Residential pantries were stocked with sugar, flour, salt, yeast, homemade jams and pickles.
Supplementing their windfall was an abundant supply of fresh kokanee, mackinaw, and trout in the 25-square-mile Palisades Reservoir to the north. Determined anglers hacked holes through the ice to fish. Pine boughs and scraps of lumber served as windbreaks. The catch was cooked over open fires and eaten on the spot or taken away to be shared with neighbors too frail to spend long hours out in the open.
But it was neither the canned food nor the fish or even the reservoir's limitless drinking water that made Alpine a practical choice for Safe Camp II. It was the former Elk Feedground, where several hundred animals, tame enough to let a person approach, wandered the Salt River Range from Alpine south to Cokeville. With careful management, the herd could provide fresh meat for years to come.
Despite its advantages, Alpine was no Garden of Eden. Located in the Rocky Mountains, snow came early and stayed late. The winter of '03 was harsher than most, with deep, drifting snow and temperatures sometimes dropping to forty below. Those able-bodied enough to wield chainsaws and axes cut firewood for themselves and the sick and elderly. Water was toted from the reservoir. Woodstoves and kerosene heaters, transported with great effort from the neighboring towns of Etna, Freedom, Thayne, and as faraway as Bondurant and Jackson, were installed in houses that lacked them. Several homes burned to the ground when jury-rigged flues overheated and fires blazed out of control. Three children died of smoke inhalation, adding to the number of lives lost. Illness, accident, hypothermia, and despair -- these were the new enemy.
By March, the days were growing longer and temperatures were on the rise. Snow began to melt. The refugees felt hopeful for the first time in nearly a year. They started to call themselves settlers instead of refugees.
They also began to attend regular Sunday services, officiated by Father Richards at the Star Valley Baptist Church, the only formal house of worship in Alpine. It didn't matter to the old priest that the church and many of his parishioners were not Catholic. He was content to lift the settlers' spirits as best he could by recounting God's loving messages regardless of denomination.
Gibson lived with Father Richards in the church's basement. Its dark-paneled rooms were damp and chilly, but the priest often recited prayers in his head and Gibson found these comforting. Not the words so much as their gentle cadence. Father Richards' pious meditations played like a soothing melody, a welcome contrast to the cacophony of fear, loneliness and grief that blared in the minds of Earth's other survivors. By focusing on the priest, Gibson could almost tune out the rest of the world's woes. Almost.
After dinner, Gibson and the priest customarily played chess in their small kitchen. Gibson had been frank about his mind-reading ability, but Father Richards pressed him to play anyway. They lit a hurricane lantern, opened a couple of bottles of beer, and settled into folding chairs, the dinner table and chessboard between them. The priest drank heartily as they played, claiming the alcohol eased the aches in his arthritic knees. Gibson matched him swallow for swallow, on the pretense of giving Father Richards a winning chance at their game. In truth, he liked the lightheaded, carefree way it made him feel. It afforded him a rare opportunity to relax.
This particular March night, Father Richards began their game boldly, leading with his knight.
"B1 to C3."
Gibson slid a pawn forward, biding his time. The beer's bitter effervescence prickled his nose, its yeasty odor reminiscent of the restaurant in Bluff, Utah, where Mulder, sullen and scared, had downed two bottles in quick succession in an attempt to numb his sorrow while confessing his anger over Scully's imagined betrayal.
So much had changed since that day. Some for the better. Some not.
After an hour of play and three beers apiece, Gibson quietly announced, "Bishop to B4. Check."
"As usual, my young friend, you have bested me." The priest hunched over the board and squinted at the chessmen.
"Game's not over yet, Father."
Gibson had left an opening. Not an obvious one; the priest would have to hunt for it. And while he searched, Gibson was free to think...and remember...
Salt Lake City
Four Months Earlier
The needle on the speedometer approached sixty. The engine wasn't designed for high speed and it whined in protest as the Humvee careened down the outer runway. Gibson's knuckles were white on the wheel. Scully felt more than heard the rumble of the tires on asphalt. Her voice vibrated when she spoke. "William's at Safe Camp?"
"I thought..." Ca-Lo had sent his army to destroy the camp after kidnapping her.
"He did," Gibson said, obviously reading her thoughts. "Everything's gone."
"And you left William there?" Scully asked, appalled. "Not alone, I hope."
"Of course not." Gibson tugged the wheel hard to the right. The Humvee veered off the pavement and crossed a lumpy, gravel-covered median. Scully hugged her belly as they jounced over a curb. The baby kicked, agitated. Another spin of the wheel and they skidded onto an access road leading out of the airport. "We left him with Kenna and Royal."
Scully knew Royal Jackson and was relieved to hear he was alive, but he would not have been her first choice as caretaker for William. Hopefully this Kenna person was better qualified. "How long before we get there?"
"Two to three hours."
A fraction of the time it had taken on horseback.
Scully twisted in her seat to look out the rear window. "Something's happening."
Tse'Bit'a'i' hovered a few meters above the tarmac. A blue-white halo pulsed beneath it. The ship seemed to hang for a moment, a behemoth fighting gravity, then suddenly it shot straight up and disappeared into the night sky, a pinprick of light indistinguishable from the backdrop of stars.
Gibson hit the accelerator hard. The engine roared as they sped up the onramp to Highway 15. A flare of molten-red brightened the sky. Strings of plasma arrowed earthward like lightning bolts. One by one they struck the grounded warships. White-hot metal and orange gases spewed into the air. Concussions rocked the Humvee a quarter of a mile away.
"My God." Panic welled in Scully's chest. "Did Mulder and Skinner make it off the ship?"
Gibson remained tightlipped, eyes locked on the road ahead. Scully knew he was privy to what was happening and his silence infuriated her.
"Ca-Lo's at the helm, isn't he?" she asked. It didn't take a mind-reader to guess the truth.
More flashes illuminated the landscape.
"Answer me, Gibson. I know you can hear what's going on."
"Yes, he's attacking the ships."
"Why? Why is he destroying them?"
"He's doing it for you."
This shocked her. She had refused to marry him, had told him he was the devil and she hated him for the things he had done to her, the things he had threatened to do to William.
Gibson's glasses reflected more explosions. "He doesn't hate you."
She didn't care. She felt no sympathy for him. He had chosen his fate.
"Are Mulder and Skinner okay?" she demanded.
"Yes. They got away."
Relief surged through her. Again she turned to look back. "Where are they? I don't see a car."
"They're not in a car."
"They stole a helicopter." The sky crackled and glowed. Gibson grabbed her arm. "Close your eyes!" he ordered unexpectedly.
She did as he asked, just as a blinding light, bright enough to penetrate her closed lids, flooded the car's interior. The ground shook violently. The Humvee shimmied off the pavement. Eyes shut tight, Scully gripped the seat. The car fishtailed as Gibson fought to gain control and get them back on the road.
"What's happening?" she begged.
The vibration subsided. "It's okay. You can open your eyes."
They were still on the road, speeding away from the city, away from danger. The sky had taken on a strange, sickly yellow hue.
"Look for yourself." He tilted his head toward the rear window.
Behind them, a massive mushroom cloud ballooned over the city. Scully gaped at the plumes of swirling smoke.
"Oh my God... Mulder!"
Mulder shielded his eyes with an upraised arm.
Skinner's left hand adjusted the collective control while his right worked the cyclic. The cockpit dipped steeply as they banked to the west. Shockwaves struck them side on. Mulder was thrown hard against his safety harness. The chopper began to spin and Skinner wrestled with the controls. Mulder felt like he might throw up.
"I always preferred the Tunnel of Love to the Cyclone, Walter," he said through gritted teeth.
"In that case..." Skinner's feet pressed the floor pedals and his head swiveled as he double-checked their bearings. After a few stomach churning seconds, the helicopter stopped its dizzying rotation. A few additional adjustments leveled them out. "Pucker up, sweetheart."
Mulder grinned and asked, "Rain check?"
To the east, fiery debris arced through the air. A ball of flame engulfed Harmony I.
"Hallefuckinglujah." Skinner took them higher.
"Apparently Ca-Lo didn't like what he found in the NDP archive."
"A chronicle of the Mulder family tree."
"He was telling the truth? You two were brothers?"
"Not exactly. He was my clone."
"Jesus, don't tell me their experiments started as long ago as that." Revulsion darkened Skinner's eyes. "Can't say I'm sorry to see him go."
"That makes two of us."
"Three, if you count Scully." The Blackhawk raced northeast across Great Salt Lake. "I'm sure she'll be relieved he's gone."
"Uh, about that... Did she say anything to you?"
"Or her pregnancy." Below them, the lake's rough surface reflected the flames from the alien stronghold. Smoke chugged westward; sparks writhed and churned. The distinctive vinegary odor of spent plasma seeped into the Blackhawk and stung Mulder's sinuses and throat. "As you know, I'm usually not the kind of guy who needs scientific proof to believe something, but in this case I'd be grateful for a reliable PCR."
Skinner shot him a confused glance. "You don't think...?"
Mulder shrugged and Skinner's grip tightened on the controls. His knuckles looked ready to pop through his skin. "Son of a bitch. She told me he was a liar, a...a 'trickster.' 'Unusually persuasive' were her exact words. She said he could make people do things they wouldn't ordinarily do -- like Robert Modell."
Mulder's queasiness returned. "Did she say if he made her do something she didn't want to do?"
"No, but she was definitely upset. I thought it had to do with your argument."
"So she told you about that."
"No details. Just that you were angry about William."
"I accused her of betraying me," Mulder confessed.
Skinner scowled at him. "Wonderful. You convinced her of it, too."
"No, no, I was wrong. She *saved* William. I see that now." Gibson had opened his eyes to the truth. The chip in Scully's neck had left her with no other options. "I've been such an ass."
Skinner's expression remained stern. "You have to apologize."
"No shit. I just hope it'll be enough." Would she forgive him? For everything?
Antelope Island came into view. Mercury vapor floodlights illuminated three windowless towers on its southeastern shore. Mulder was surprised to see dozens, maybe hundreds of people streaming from the exits. They were dressed in ragged clothes, not the enemy's oil-black uniforms.
"Prison break?" Mulder asked.
"That would be my guess."
"The explosions across the bay could've spooked the guards."
"Provided a diversion."
Three sets of headlights snaked northward away from the prison. "Looks like the rats are leaving the ship," Mulder said.
"They're heading for the causeway. It connects the island to the mainland at West Point."
"You want to cut them off?"
Skinner shook his head. "We don't have weapons. Better to let them go. It'll make our little rescue mission a hell of a lot easier." He glanced at Mulder. "When we land, you stay put. Give me a few minutes to explain things before you show your face."
Mulder fingered the neck of his military uniform. His resemblance to Ca-Lo had been an asset aboard Tse'Bit'a'i'. Here it could prove deadly. "Can you convince them I am who I am?"
Skinner circled the towers and began their descent. "More than half of them are members of the North Utah Infantry. Yeah, I can convince them."
"Did they make it? Were they out of range?" Scully peered out the window at the smoke-filled sky, uselessly searching for Mulder and Skinner's helicopter.
"They're okay," Gibson assured her.
She felt her heart begin to beat again. Sucking air into her lungs, she tried to steady the tremors in her arms and legs.
"What about Dibeh? Was she with them?"
Gibson shook his head. "She stayed on board."
"On board? Why?"
"There was nothing for her here," Gibson said softly, eyes briefly leaving the road to glance her way. "She didn't suffer in the end. She didn't die afraid."
Scully's rational side understood the hardships the hybrid would have faced, had she chosen to leave with Mulder and Skinner and live among humans. And she was grateful Dibeh's death had been mercifully swift. Yet her heart ached at the loss of her friend. Dibeh had risked her life to save her. The small, silent aide had been selfless and kind. Scully would miss her dearly.
Tears stung her eyes and she turned toward her window to hide them from Gibson. Not that it was possible to hide anything from him, for he witnessed everything -- fear, pain, death. How did he bear it? How could anyone?
The baby shifted inside her, making her wish for Mulder's comforting presence. She needed to see he was safe. Needed to feel his arms around her.
"He'll join us as soon as he can," Gibson assured her.
"Why isn't he coming now? What's he doing?"
"There are prisoners on Antelope Island."
"And he and Skinner have gone to free them." Typical. Thinking of everyone's safety but their own. "I don't want to be kept in the dark, Gibson. I want to know the truth, no matter what it is, as soon as you know it."
He hesitated before answering, obviously reluctant to agree. After a moment, he nodded and urged her to "Try not to worry."
For the next two hours she counted mile markers and read road signs in a futile effort to keep her mind off of what was happening at the prison. When worry threatened to overwhelm her, she concentrated on William. It had been more than a year since she'd handed him over to Skinner in Our Lady of Hope Church. He would be changed, a toddler, not the pudgy baby she remembered. She tried to picture him. Hair longer. Face narrower. Nose more defined. He'd had only two teeth when she last saw him. Now he would have a mouthful. Was someone teaching him to brush? Did they read to him, the way she had? Did they sing him songs? It grieved her to think she had missed his first words, his first steps, his first birthday. She anticipated holding him, breathing in his scent and whispering in his ear: I love you, Sweet William. I have never stopped loving you. You have been in my thoughts every minute of every day.
"The woman taking care of William," Scully said, breaking their long silence, "you said her name is Kenna?"
"Kenna Douglas. She found William last May, after the aliens killed the Van de Kamps."
So this Kenna woman was not a survivor of the Safe Camp massacre as Scully had assumed. "Van de Kamp?"
"The people who adopted William. Kenna lived next door."
Questions whirled through Scully's mind. How had Mulder and Gibson found William? What did Mulder say when he first saw his son? What was William's reaction? But her throat tightened and all she could manage was, "How is he?"
This brought mixed emotions. She was glad he was okay -- it was why she had given him up in the first place. And yet she couldn't help but feel a stab of jealousy. Another woman was caring for her son, cuddling him, making him smile. "She's good to him?"
"Yes. He's grown pretty attached to her. Are you going to be okay with that?"
"She saved his life. I don't resent his affection for her."
Gibson glanced at her. "She loves him, you know."
It was understandable. "She's been caring for him for nearly a year."
"She won't give him up easily."
"But I'm his mother."
"Not in her mind."
Scully's heart beat faster. "He's safe. That's all I care about."
A billboard for Rendezvous Beach came into view.
"We're almost there," Gibson said.
Minutes, not miles, now separated her from her son, and her nervousness returned tenfold. She shoved her hands into her lap to still their shaking.
Craters and debris blocked the road. Gibson slowed the Humvee to snake around them. The jostling high beams revealed the camp and its devastation in stages. Gone were the RVs and tents. The main office was demolished. Nothing but rubble remained everywhere. Rubble and bodies. Lots of bodies.
"Ca-Lo is responsible for this," she said bitterly.
"He's also responsible for ending the invasion."
She placed a hand on her abdomen. Maybe he had stopped colonization, but she could not forget what he had done to her personally.
An open fire glittered beyond the old infirmary and Gibson steered toward it. "That's them."
Three figures came into view, lit by the flickering blaze. Scully recognized Royal Jackson, sitting on the tailgate of a pickup truck, bundled in blankets. A slender, dark-haired woman in an oversized parka fed broken two-by-fours into the fire. But it was the small boy who tottered around her in too-long blue jeans and a pale blue, hooded coat that held Scully's attention. It was him...William...her son. Her fear that she might not recognize him evaporated instantly. He was her child, the little boy she had rocked and nursed and sang to. He had changed, but she would have recognized him whether it had been twelve months or twelve years that had passed.
He bent down and picked up a foot-long stick from the ground. Grasping it firmly in his mittened fist, he waved it at the sparks and smoke. He stepped closer to the flames and, mimicking the woman, he hurled his little stick. It fell short of its mark. He scurried precariously near the fire to collect it and try again. Sparks drifted mere inches from his hair and face. He blinked against the heat. Why didn't Kenna or Royal call him back? He was too close. Too close!
Scully unbuckled her seatbelt. "Stop the car," she ordered and opened the door. Gibson hit the brakes and she staggered from the still-moving vehicle. "William! William, no!"
He looked up, startled. But before she could reach him, Kenna scooped him into her arms. He laughed as she swung him onto her hip, his cheeks cherry red and eyes shining.
Scully longed to rush forward and snatch him away from this careless woman. It took every ounce of control she possessed to hang back and take this initial meeting slowly. She didn't want to frighten William or antagonize Kenna. Her goal was to get her son back, with as little trauma to William as possible.
Kenna was younger than Scully had imagined when trying to conjure up her image in the car -- a leggy teenager, not a kindly older woman. She had long, shiny hair that fell to her waist, full lips, and wide, fiercely protective eyes. William clung to her, one small arm looped over her shoulder. His other hand went to his mouth and, smile now gone, he nervously gnawed his mittened thumb.
Suspicion narrowed Kenna's eyes. She tightened her grip on William. "Who the hell are you?"
Gibson appeared out of the dark to stand beside Scully. "Kenna, this is Dana Scully, William's mother."
Royal hopped down from the tailgate, a broad grin splitting his dark face. "You're alive! You made it."
"Yes, we made it," Gibson replied.
"Where's Mulder?" Kenna demanded at the same time Royal asked, "You find Commander Skinner?"
"They'll be along in a day or so."
"Kenna, I've come for my son." Scully took a hesitant step toward them, arms outstretched.
"Stay away from him! I know all about you. I know what you did." Kenna shuffled backward, nearer to Royal, putting the fire between her and Scully.
William stared solemnly at Scully, his expression mirroring Kenna's, full of distrust and fear. Not a glimmer of recognition registered in his blue-gray eyes. Scully's hopes sank at the realization he considered her a stranger, not his mother. It had been unrealistic to think he might remember her and yet it broke her heart to discover he did not.
"You gave him away," Kenna accused. "Mulder said you tossed him out like yesterday's trash."
"It wasn't like that," Scully protested.
"Liar! I know what happened. Mulder told me."
Scully chose her next words with care. "Mulder might have seen it that way, but--"
"But nothing. You didn't want your baby? Fine. Now he's mine, mine and Mulder's. And as soon as Mulder gets back, he's going to take me and William away from this awful place. We're...we're going to the Grand Canyon. Find a decent house to live in. And you can go to hell!"
"I won't let you take him."
"You've got no choice." Kenna squared her shoulders. "Mulder doesn't love you any more. He loves *me*. Tell her, Gibson," she challenged. "Tell her how he feels about me."
"He doesn't love you, Kenna," Gibson said softly.
"No? Then why did he sleep with me? Tell me that!"
Scully looked at Gibson to see if Kenna was lying. He blushed darkly, giving her the answer. Mulder had slept with this teenager, William's substitute mother.
"It's true?" she stammered, silently pleading with him to deny it.
Gibson opened his mouth, but Kenna spoke first. "Yes, it's true. Tell her, Gibson. Tell her what happened. Give her the details. Mulder slept with me because he didn't want her any more. I know you heard it. You're always listening in on private conversations. Tell her."
Unable to meet Scully's gaze, Gibson stared at the toes of his worn sneakers.
Scully's throat tightened. She felt nauseated and dizzy. "Gibson?"
"There's some truth to what she says," he admitted.
His eyes met hers, glistening with sympathy and regret. "Sorry."
Scully turned and staggered away from them. Her feet felt leaden, her legs numb. The uneven ground seemed to tilt and shift. She had lost her son *and* Mulder. And there was no one to blame but herself.
The prisoners scattered at the Blackhawk's approach, reluctant to be recaptured and forced back into their cells by an envoy of the alien army. But a few stragglers noticed it was Skinner who emerged from the pilot's seat. Recognizing him, they whooped with delight and called the others back. Skinner was soon surrounded by the ragtag remnants of his North Utah Infantry. Ignoring protocol, they slapped him on the back and welcomed their old commander with broad smiles and tear-filled eyes. He was equally glad to see them, his comrades in arms, his friends.
"Can't believe it's you, sir!"
"What are our orders, Commander? Where's the battle?"
"We heard explosions! What's happening?"
Skinner raised his hands to silence them. "It's over. The aliens are dead."
"All of 'em?"
"Yes, all of them. We've won!"
A cheer went up. They were free. Their enemy was vanquished and they were finally, truly free. They embraced one another. Shook hands. Wept openly. Their joyful celebration continued for several long minutes, their enthusiasm unabated...until Mulder stepped from the helicopter.
All smiles faded. Fear, then anger, sparked in the prisoners' eyes.
"What's *he* doing here?"
"Kill the fucking bastard!"
Again Skinner raised his hands for silence. The epithets grew fewer and fainter until finally they ceased altogether. "This man isn't who you think he is. His name is Mulder. He's a friend."
"Sir, he's the enemy! It's Ca-Lo!"
"The bastard who put us here."
"He killed my wife! And my children!"
"No. Ca-Lo is dead," Skinner shouted to be heard above the protests. "This man isn't him."
It took persistence and a recounting of Ca-Lo's kamikaze death to get the mob to accept Mulder for who he was. They trusted Skinner and eventually he was able to cool their hatred with the truth.
Appeased, they filled him in on the details of their escape, how Father Richards had led an uprising after the explosions started on the mainland. Stealing Warden Travis's Taser, the priest subdued him with his own weapon.
"It was really quite easy," Father Richards explained. "He never anticipated trouble from a weak, old man like me."
Travis's transponder allowed Father Richards to release other prisoners on the block. With the guards' attention focused on the trouble in Salt Lake City it had been fairly simple to stealthily overtake the floors above and below, confiscate the guards' weapons and release the prisoners before moving on to the next tower. By the time the klaxons blared, Towers I and II had been emptied and the guards were either dead or running for their lives.
Skinner congratulated his troops and the priest, and over the next hour they made plans for their relocation. Mulder volunteered to stay behind with Father Richards to organize ground transportation for the bulk of the escapees while Skinner flew the most severely injured to their new home.
They quickly located a small fleet of military vehicles in the prison garage. Not nearly enough to carry everyone in a single trip, but over a week's time, they would be able to shuttle them all to Alpine, Wyoming, a location Skinner had considered the previous year when searching for an appropriate headquarters for his infantry.
Skinner appointed four lieutenants, men and women he knew were expert marksmen, to serve as gunners in case they ran into renegade soldiers, humans who had once served in the alien army. The sick and injured were triaged. Those in the worst condition were loaded onto the Blackhawk for immediate evacuation.
Pushing the chopper's carrying capacity to its limit, Skinner decided to chance adding one more and selected Dr. Davis, an experienced combat surgeon, to ride along with him. Medics Johansson and Perez would remain behind to care for those awaiting transportation.
"Your Dr. Davis could use Scully's help setting up an infirmary and getting those patients stabilized," Mulder suggested.
"I agree, but we don't know where she is."
Mulder smiled for the first time since landing on Antelope Island. "Yes we do. William's in Safe Camp. Gibson will take her to him."
Skinner agreed to stop at Bear Lake to look for her, after dropping off his current load in Alpine and refueling in Jackson. "Sorry you can't come along, Mulder. I know you're anxious to see her."
"It's okay. The injured take precedence. I can help here. Scully will understand."
Skinner appreciated his grasp of the situation and his willingness to put the refugees' needs first. There would be time enough for a reunion later.
Before departing, Skinner gave Mulder directions to Alpine, along with a bit of friendly advice. "Change your clothes."
"My pleasure." Mulder looked down at Ca-Lo's uniform. "I sure as hell don't want to show up at Scully's door dressed like this."
As it turned out, Skinner found Scully at Rendezvous Beach with her son and the others, just as Mulder had predicted. He jogged from the helicopter to wrap her in a bear hug. "Jesus, you're a sight for sore eyes."
She blinked back tears and kissed his cheek, clearly as pleased to see him as he was to see her.
Feeling elated, he hugged Gibson and Royal in turn.
"Good to see you alive, sir." Royal grinned from ear to ear.
"You, too, son."
"Where's Mulder?" Scully asked, brow furrowing as she craned to see inside the Blackhawk.
"He stayed behind to oversee ground transportation to Safe Camp II, which is where I'm taking you now. We've got people in need of medical attention."
Her disappointment over Mulder's absence was obvious. But she quickly buried her personal feelings behind a mask of professional duty. "Let's get started."
Safe Camp II
Two Weeks Later
Scully sat on the living room floor with William. Late afternoon sun flooded the room and frost glittered on the windows. Yesterday's storm had dumped three feet of fresh snow on the mountain community. Scully was grateful the winds had died down and the skies were now clear, because today was the day Skinner was bringing Mulder home.
The washboard texture of a frayed, braided rug served as roadways for William's toy fire truck. He followed a groove past Scully's slipper-clad feet, vroom-vrooming as he pushed the truck along. She wondered where he had learned the sound in this car-less world of post-alien invasion. Had Mulder taught it to him?
"Where did you get your truck?" she asked, hoping to learn something about Mulder's relationship with their son.
He babbled nonsense about nightcrawlers and raisins, then burst into a tuneless and almost unrecognizable rendition of "Joy to the World" -- the song she had taught him while giving him his bath earlier in the day.
Her limited time with William was a gift. She had struck an uneasy truce with Kenna a week ago after William took a tumble that sliced open his forehead. The laceration required stitches. Alarmed by the bleeding, Kenna had grudgingly agreed to let her sew him up.
It had been heartbreaking to hear him cry for his mama and know he meant Kenna and not her.
"You see how it is?" Kenna held him in her lap as Scully stitched his brow. "He's *my* son, not yours."
Scully ignored her ridiculous claim.
Her silence angered Kenna. "Say it," she demanded, "or I won't let you near him again."
"He'll need these stitches removed in a few days."
"I'll take them out myself if you don't say it!"
Reluctantly, Scully repeated the lie. It seemed her only option if she were to properly treat her son. Appeased, Kenna agreed to let her stay overnight in the guest room, in case William's cut became infected.
In the days that followed, Scully learned that as long as she didn't try to usurp Kenna's role as William's mother, Kenna tolerated her being near him. But if she tried to overstep her bounds by giving William a hug or a kiss, Kenna scooped him out of arms' reach and harshly reminded Scully she was in their house to tend to William's injury and would be leaving as soon as the stitches came out.
"Tell him I'm his mama," she insisted several times a day.
Contact with her son was worth any humiliation, so Scully nodded and said the words. It seemed apt punishment for giving him up in the first place. Kenna rewarded her by letting her do more than swab William's forehead with antiseptic. She was allowed to give him a bath, teach him a song, or, like now, sit quietly beside him while he played with his truck.
Pots and pans clattered in the kitchen across the hall where Kenna was preparing a feast in honor of Mulder's homecoming -- roasted elk seasoned with pungent garlic and rosemary. A fresh-baked pie sat on the counter cooling, filling the house with the mouth-watering aroma of apples, cinnamon and cloves. Earlier William had begged for a taste and Kenna indulged him with a spoonful of the canned filling. She told him how much his daddy enjoyed her cooking, especially her apple pie.
"What does Daddy love?" Kenna had asked as she handed him a piece of crust sweetened with sugar.
"And *who* does Daddy love?"
"That's right. Who else?"
"Who is mama?" she said slyly, casting a satisfied smirk in Scully's direction.
The demonstration was clearly intended to keep Scully in her place.
To hurt her further, Kenna insisted that Mulder was going to marry her as soon as he returned. She even claimed to be pregnant by him. Scully hoped it wasn't true, but given the fact that Mulder had slept with her, it was entirely possible.
The faint drum of helicopter rotors drew William's attention from his play. "Dada?"
Scully rose awkwardly from the floor, the weight of the baby putting her off balance. William was already at the window, standing on tiptoe and peering over the sill when she joined him to look out at the approaching Blackhawk.
Snow blanketed the yard and long, purple-black shadows stretched like splayed fingers from the trees along the property line to the open area where Skinner was setting down the chopper. Snowflakes churned and momentarily blocked the view with a spray of diamond-bright light. Scully's heart beat faster as the rotors slowed to a stop. The veil of snow settled and she saw Mulder, rigid and apprehensive in the passenger seat, a small rucksack in his lap.
"Yes, sweetie. It's him."
This time it was really and truly him.
Kenna appeared in the living room doorway and William ran to her, arms flailing with excitement. "Dada! Dada!"
"I see, honey." Kenna lifted him to her hip, giving him a better vantage. "Look, he's getting out."
Mulder gingerly climbed from the chopper, favoring one leg. He stood for a moment to squint at the house, hand shading his eyes against the glare. He looked thinner than Scully remembered. His hair was longer and the stubble on his cheeks and chin was speckled with gray. He wore tattered jeans, a too-thin coat and no gloves.
She quickly shrugged into a sweater and hurried outside, forgetting she was still in her slippers, but not caring when snow spilled into them and chilled her feet. Mulder smiled when he saw her, a broad, genuine grin that lit his face and lifted her heart. She ran toward him.
"Oh my God." A laugh bubbled out of her. "Mulder."
She slogged through drifts, closing the gap between them. They met halfway and Mulder wrapped his arms around her. Her feet momentarily left the ground when he lifted her and squeezed.
"Scully." His cold nose nuzzled her neck and his fingers kneaded her back as he drew her more tightly to him.
Tears filled her eyes and a sob shook her chest. She had missed him so much. And she deeply regretted their hurtful argument. Was he still angry? How was he going to react to her pregnancy? Would he renounce the baby if she couldn't prove it was his? Would he leave her to make a new life with Kenna? It suddenly seemed possible, even plausible that Kenna had been telling the truth. Mulder had fallen in love with her, the pretty young woman who had rescued his son.
Scully's throat tightened and her chest ached as she tried to push these thoughts from her mind. He was here now, in her arms, whole and real and safe. The rest didn't matter.
She captured his face and kissed him hard on the lips, lips chapped and pale from too much time outside in the cold. He looked exhausted but responded with enthusiasm, plunging his fingers into her hair and pressing his mouth over hers. His lips devoured hers, urgent and loving, tasting of bitter coffee and stale cigarettes. She melted into him, wondering when he had started smoking. So much had changed. He seemed a different person. And yet, he was achingly familiar. The man she had loved for years. And still loved. Hot tears coursed down her cheeks, wetting his. She clung to him and reveled in the solid feel of his shoulders, the heat of his body.
"Now that's what I call a homecoming," he said with a shaky voice when their lips finally parted. Tears brimmed in his eyes. He ran his thumb over her lower lip, wiped her wet cheeks, stroked her hair. "Look at you." His focus dropped to her swollen belly. Then to her slippers. "Let's get you inside."
Hand to her back, he prodded her toward the house. But when he spotted Kenna glaring back at him from the front steps, his smile faltered. "Everything okay here?"
"It will be," she promised, praying it was true, hoping with all her heart they would be able to mend their differences and work out some sort of future together.
The Next Morning
Luxuriating in the warmth of thick blankets and linens blessed with Scully's soft fragrance, Mulder breathed deeply, his nose pressed into her pillows. She was still there, even though she was elsewhere in the house. With William...and Kenna.
Mulder rose and dressed quickly. For better or worse, he and Scully had talked very little the previous night. Skinner had joined them for dinner and, feeling celebratory now that the relocation effort was finally at an end, regaled them with his plans for the future. There was much to be done if they were to survive the winter in Alpine. Kenna remained unnaturally quiet throughout the discussion. She kept a watchful eye on Mulder and appeared shocked when he declined a slice of apple pie in favor of sleep. She showed him the way to her bedroom, but he shook his head, insisting the twin bed in William's room was where he wanted to spend the night. Sometime later, Scully woke him there and led him to her room down the hall.
Lying in bed together, she had asked about his limp and the scars on his face. He skipped the goriest details to tell her instead about Eric Hosteen and his daughter Jewel. In turn, she described Alpine's infirmary and the progress of her patients. She avoided any mention of Ca-Lo, her imprisonment, her pregnancy, or Kenna. He had wanted to delve deeper, but was afraid her answers would be too painful...for the both of them. Sleep overtook him before he could work up the courage to ask his questions or make any confessions.
He dreamed about paternity tests and children who looked like him but who weren't his.
Following the scent of fresh coffee, he limped down the carpeted hallway toward the kitchen. Lining the walls were photographs of a typical family with three children, a father and only one mother -- a contrast to the bizarre situation he found himself in now.
A hell of my own making, he had to admit.
Tentatively, he entered the kitchen. Kenna was drying dishes and putting them away in bead-board cupboards. Scully kneaded dough on a butcher-block counter beside the sink. William played with Legos on the linoleum floor. Dressed in an oversized sweater and corduroy pants, torn at the knees, he paused in his play to smile shyly up at Mulder.
Mulder crouched beside him, the effort causing his leg to throb. "What'cha making, son?"
The colorful lump of plastic parts looked nothing like a helicopter.
Mulder pointed to the collection of Lego people. "Who are they?"
William picked up a cylindrical construction worker in a red hardhat. "Unc Walt."
"And this one?" Mulder tagged a road worker wearing an orange vest.
"Me." William grinned.
Mulder fingered a helmeted figure on a three-wheeler. "What about him?"
"Vroom, vroom!" William drove the cyclist into a pile of blocks, scattering them across the floor. Mulder realized he was remembering the day he and Gibson arrived in Cache on the Scout, spewing gravel, engine roaring.
"Careful, William," Kenna admonished. She lifted him, kissed his cheek with a loud smack and placed him in his highchair. Casting a disapproving glance at the Legos, she stooped to collect them. "He's too young for these. Pieces are too small. He could choke."
Mulder helped her gather them, then rose and hobbled over to Scully.
"Make one Martha Stewart crack and I'll break your other leg." She paused to wipe a stray hair from her eyes. Flour smudged her face and sweater and collected on the shelf of her stomach and larger-than-normal breasts. Her cheeks were pink from exertion, her hair askew. She was beautiful. Breathtakingly so.
Ignoring Kenna's watchful stare, Mulder leaned in and kissed her on the lips. "Morning," he murmured.
She placed the smooth, heavy mound of dough into a large ceramic bowl, covered it with a damp towel and lifted it from the counter.
"Here, let me get that." He looked pointedly at her belly and reached for the bread.
"I can do it..." she protested, but relinquished the bowl without a struggle.
"Where are we taking it?"
"Living room." She led the way.
"Any place in particular?" he asked as they entered the room.
"Bookshelf beside the woodstove. It's warm enough to make the bread rise, but not hot enough to kill the yeast."
He set the bowl between a stack of Dirt Bike magazines and an antique, wind-up clock that ticked loudly. "When did you learn how to bake bread?"
"Last week. Part of my crash course in survival techniques."
Rid of the bowl, he put his arms around her. "I enjoyed last night," he said, nuzzling her ear.
"Mulder, we didn't do anything last night."
"We slept in the same bed."
She peered past him toward the kitchen where Kenna was singing to William. "This might not be the best place for this," she said, pushing gently against his chest.
He refused to release her and buried his nose in her hair. "Tell me everything I've missed."
"That's a tall order."
"Okay, start with the living arrangements. I have to admit, I was a little surprised to find you here with Kenna."
"William's not ready to leave her."
"He'll never be ready unless you and Kenna--"
"I won't put him through any more upheaval. He's devoted to her and he barely knows me."
"But you're his mother."
"And he'll learn that, in time. For now, this is the way it has to be...for his sake." Her willingness to sacrifice her own happiness for that of their child was as unwavering now as it had been the day she gave him up for adoption. Mulder no longer doubted her motives. Her decision had been selfless and he felt ashamed for his previously misguided accusations. She'd had William's best interests at heart, then as now.
Scully slipped out of his embrace and busied herself straightening books, folding an afghan, picking up toys, anything, it seemed, to avoid looking directly at him. At last she said, "Kenna told me you asked her to marry her."
"That's not true. You can ask Gibson."
"He said it wasn't true."
"See?" Mulder felt his panic start to subside.
Scully pinned him with a serious stare. "The point is, *she* thinks it's true."
"I'll talk to her."
"No, don't. She's..."
"Two aliens short of a full blown invasion?"
"That's not funny."
"I know. I'm sorry." He glanced over his shoulder at the empty doorway. "But aren't you concerned about her being around him?"
"She seems a bit off, I'll admit. But she's good to him, Mulder. She kept him alive. I'll always be grateful to her for that."
Maybe not when you learn the whole truth, he thought miserably, knowing he had to tell her about his short-lived affair -- before Kenna told her. If it wasn't already too late.
Stalling while he gathered his courage, he fed a log into the woodstove. The fire snapped and crackled as it radiated warmth and the piney scent of green wood. Scully lowered herself into a nearby chair, a rocker with a padded seat and back. She rested her hands on the rounded curve of her belly and watched while he rearranged logs with the poker.
"They saved my life," he blurted, not ready to confess his infidelity, not with William and Kenna so close by.
Scully's brows rose. "When?"
"The day it all went to hell. After I let the aliens out. And the ship took off with you in it."
"I don't understand. How did they save your life?"
"I...I don't really have an answer for that."
"You do realize they're dead?"
"Of course." Mulder closed the door on the woodstove and hung the poker back on its hook. "I've seen other ghosts, too," he said, as if this admission would help her believe he had actually seen Byers, Frohike and Langly.
"Krycek. X. Deep Throat."
"Given what you were going through, it's not unrealistic you'd be thinking of them."
She didn't believe him and he found it difficult to keep sarcasm out of his response. "And your sister? Why would I be thinking of her, given what I was going through?"
"You saw Missy?"
"At a gas station in Wyoming."
Concern knotted her brow. "How long have you been having these...visions?"
"The first was the day I broke into the facility at Mount Weather, before I was captured."
"Jesus, Mulder, I visited you in your cell. I saw you at your trial. Why didn't you tell me?"
"I was afraid you would think I was crazy."
A half-hearted laugh chuffed from her lungs. "And that doesn't worry you now?"
"No, because I don't see them anymore."
This seemed to surprise her. She considered a moment and he thought he read a mix of pity and relief in her eyes. "Maybe you don't see them anymore because you no longer need to see them."
He shook his head, knelt in front of her, and clasped her hands between his. "They weren't a mental manifestation, a coping mechanism, if that's what you're thinking. They helped me, Scully."
"That's what I'm saying."
"No, I mean, they helped me in a literal, physical sense. The Gunmen carried me to safety, away from Tse'Bit'a'i'. They saved my life."
"I believe you." She stroked his face. "I do."
The gesture felt patronizing. He ducked away from her hand. "Really? It used to take a lot more than my say-so to convince you that something as unlikely as ghosts were real."
"I've changed, Mulder." Tears shone in her eyes. Her hand went to her stomach. "In more ways than the obvious."
What had happened to her aboard Tse'Bit'a'i'? What had she endured at the hands of his nefarious clone? He desperately wanted to ask if Ca-Lo had touched her, forced himself on her, fathered the child she was carrying. He covered her hand with his own. "I don't remember you being this big with William." Leaning forward, he put an ear to her stomach and listened. "Maybe there's more than one in there. William plus quadruplets would make a great basketball team," he joked, hoping to steer their conversation into less distressing territory.
She appeared to appreciate his humor and relaxed a little. "Bite your tongue. One healthy baby will be plenty."
"You realize I'm finally going to be able to put my Lamaze skills to use."
"I'll hold you to it. I hated that you couldn't be with me when William was born."
He was about to tell her how deeply he regretted it, too, but the opportunity was lost when William raced into the room and happily shrieked "Dada!"
Mulder caught him in the crook of his arm and lifted him into Scully's lap. "Hey, big guy, how would you like to go sledding with your ol' man later today?"
It was doubtful William knew what a sled was, but he replied with an enthusiastic "Yay!"
"Maybe we can convince your Mom to come watch us." He winked at Scully.
William's head swiveled. His faint brows drew together. He stared hard at Scully. "Mama kitchen," he said earnestly.
"No, mama's right here," Mulder said.
"It's time, Scully. It's past time. Son, I want you to meet your real--"
A crash of glass stopped him mid-sentence. Kenna stood in the doorway, face stricken. Spilled coffee and shards of a broken carafe littered the floor around her feet. "Lies!" she hissed.
"Kenna..." Mulder stood and lifted William from Scully's lap. "You know the truth."
"That's right, I do." She marched up to him, latched onto William and tried to pull him away from Mulder. "Let go."
William whimpered and Mulder relinquished him, rather than play tug-of-war with his son.
"You're a fine one to talk about the truth." Her eyes narrowed. Her mouth twisted with anger. "How honest have you been?"
She whirled and stalked from the room, taking William with her.
Shortly Before Dawn the Next Day
Bone-chilling cold. Sting of sleet on bare skin. Darkness everywhere. "We'll be there soon, William, I promise."
Gibson woke with a start. He knew instantly it wasn't a bad dream that was making his heart pound.
Kenna was out on the frozen reservoir. With William.
He tossed off his blankets. Not taking time to light a lantern, he pulled on his pants, shoved his feet into his boots, and hurried to the next room to wake Father Richards. "Get Mulder," he urged.
"What's the matter?" Father Richards rose groggily from his bed.
"Kenna's taken William. I think she's gone to the reservoir. I'm going after them."
The priest fumbled to light the lantern on his bedside table. The room brightened when he touched match to wick. He held the lamp out to Gibson. "Take this."
"I don't need it."
"Maybe not, but it'll help us find you."
Gibson nodded, grabbed the lantern and headed for the door. "Bring Mulder as soon as you can," he called over his shoulder.
Outside, a northerly wind whistled past his ears. Sleet needled his face. He stumbled through knee-high snowdrifts, homing in on Kenna's thoughts, using them to guide him to her.
"She isn't your mama, William...*I* am...I know what's best for you...she gave you away...I'll never leave you...I love you..."
It seemed an eternity before Gibson arrived at the reservoir and spotted Kenna near the outlet, where the ice tapered, translucent and dangerously thin, and open water gurgled through a grate in a small dam. It rushed downstream on the opposite side, a deep, black crevice in the snow.
Kenna was dressed in only a thin nightgown. Her head, arms and feet were bare. Thankfully, she had bundled William in a snowsuit, hat, mittens and boots. Reading the boy's thoughts, Gibson knew he was neither cold nor frightened.
Surprised, she spun to face him. "Gibson?"
He slogged closer, lamp held high so she could see his face. He tried to smile. "Where are you going?"
"Don't you already know? Thought you could read minds."
He nodded, conceding the point. "You can't get to the Grand Canyon on foot."
"Yes I can. Don't try to stop me."
"You're going in the wrong direction. It's that way." He swung the lantern toward town.
"No it's not. You're trying to trick me."
"I'm not, I swear."
She backed away from him...closer to the outlet. "Don't follow me."
"Kenna, please." He continued toward her. A few more steps and he might be able to grab hold of her arm--
"I said don't come any closer!" She stumbled back, one, two, three steps.
A loud pop ricocheted through the ice. The sound provoked a primal response in Gibson, an almost overwhelming fear. His muscles tightened, his heart pounded, every neuron screamed at him to run to safer ground. He held his breath and listened for confirmation that the ice was going to collapse beneath their feet. When nothing happened, he fought his instincts, tried to quell his panic and stand firm.
"Okay. I'm not following you. I've stopped. Please, come back before you fall in."
Kenna clung to William. She shivered as much from fear as from the cold. "What do you care? You're *her* friend."
"I'm your friend, too."
"No you're not. You brought her here. She wants to take William and Mulder away from me."
The ice snapped and spider-webbed beneath her feet. One fissure zigzagged past Gibson, splitting ice and snow.
He felt helpless. Even with his telepathic powers he didn't know what to say or do to stop her. He had no experience with situations like this.
"Kenna!" Mulder's voice cut through the clatter of sleet on frozen snow. He loped toward them, coat flapping, bare chest exposed. Far behind him, Father Richards followed the crooked trail of his footsteps, a bobbling light in the dark.
"Come off the ice, Kenna." Mulder slowed when he reached Gibson. He was breathing hard. Frightening thoughts swirled through his mind, bombarding Gibson with worst case scenarios. Inwardly he was falling apart. Outwardly, his face remained a mask of calm, his voice steady and sympathetic. "You're putting William in danger."
This got Kenna's attention. She stiffened and looked down at the cracks in the ice.
"I know you don't want to hurt him," Mulder pressed, keeping his tone free of reproach. Gibson was impressed. Mulder didn't need his mind-reading ability; he had a gift for understanding human behavior and motivation. "He's depending on you to keep him safe."
"I...I love him."
"I know you do."
"And he loves me."
"Yes, yes, he does."
"I've taken good care of him."
"You have." Mulder inched closer. The ice creaked and sagged beneath him.
"Mulder, it won't hold all of us," Gibson warned.
"Then back away." Mulder stepped closer to Kenna, ignoring the danger. He had done this sort of thing before, put himself in harm's way while talking desperate people off ledges, stopping kidnappers from killing hostages. "Kenna, I appreciate everything you've done for William."
"Then why don't you love me?"
"We can talk about that." He was almost within reach. "Come back to the house."
She shook her head and began to cry. "What's the point? You hate me."
"I don't hate you."
"I didn't take the Tylenol! Honest. And it's not like I lost it on purpose...like I gave it away. The way *she* did! It was an accident. You have to believe me."
"I believe you," he lied, not understanding what she was referring to.
She choked on her sobs. "We can try again. I'll be more careful. Please, please don't take William away."
William looked up at her with troubled eyes. "Mama sad."
She soothed him as she sniffled, kissed the crown of his head and rocked him in her arms. Her skin was pebbled with gooseflesh. Her trembling lips were blue. The cold had turned the scars on her neck bright crimson. "I'm taking him to the Grand Canyon, Mulder. You can come with us if you want." She turned. Took a step toward the open water. Gibson knew then she intended to end her life and drown them both.
Mulder realized it, too. He lunged, grabbed her arm. The ice cracked and snapped.
"Give him to me, Kenna. Please," Mulder begged, hanging on to her.
She shook her head, but didn't struggle when Mulder lifted William from her arms and drew her to firmer ice. Her thoughts were a jumble of memory and fantasy, her mind a victim of the unimaginable events she had witnessed over the past seven months.
"Rick will be home soon," she mumbled. "He'll be hungry. We're going to the Grand Canyon."
Mulder passed William to Gibson, then lifted Kenna in his arms. She hung limply as he carried her across the ice. When he reached shore, he headed away from the house they had shared, intending to take her to a new place where she could be watched and cared for, away from William.
"Where Dada go?" William stared after his father.
Father Richards tweaked his rosy cheek. "What do you say we get you back home, young man? Poor Dana was beside herself with worry."
Gibson could hear Scully's panic even now. She had desperately wanted to come after her son, but was afraid her presence would ignite Kenna's anger and endanger William further. So she put her trust in God. And in Mulder.
Kenna had imagined she could hurt Scully by telling her about Mulder's infidelity. She had hoped to drive an irreconcilable wedge between them. Thing was, she hadn't understood Scully's faith. Or Mulder's love...
Mulder paced, impatient for Scully to return home with William. She had taken him to Vic's Motel, a tidy establishment where Royal Jackson lived with a rotating harem of five or six women. Kenna stayed in one of the motel's twelve guest rooms. She wasn't one of Royal's lovers, but he and the women kept an eye on her, making sure she got enough to eat and returning her to the motel whenever she wandered away.
"Why?" Mulder demanded the moment Scully walked through the door with William asleep against her shoulder.
"Shh. Keep your voice down." She went directly to William's bedroom.
Mulder limped after her. "Why did you take him to see her?"
"We had this conversation earlier. My answer's still the same: he was asking about her."
"You couldn't tell him she moved away?"
She laid William in his crib and unzipped his snowsuit. "She was the most important person in his life for months. He misses her." She handed the snowsuit to Mulder, along with William's boots, mittens and hat. "I want what's best for our child."
"So do I." He dumped William's things onto the changing table.
"Do you? Is that the real reason you want to cut Kenna out of William's life?"
Guilt heated his cheeks. How much had he contributed to Kenna's breakdown? "She could've killed him that night on the ice."
"She was sick, Mulder. She didn't realize what she was doing."
"That's my point."
Scully placed William's favorite plush toy -- a threadbare and food-stained beagle -- beside his head. A mobile of circus animals hung from the headboard, a relic of the crib's original occupant. Touching it lightly, Scully set its elephants and tigers twirling. She watched them bobble and whirl for a moment, seemingly lost in thought. Finally, she said, "When we tried IVF...and it failed...I...I was very disappointed." She kept her eyes focused on the rotating animals.
"I thought it was my last chance."
Mulder moved to stand behind her. He threaded his arms beneath hers and embraced her swollen waist. Her coat still carried the chill of the outdoors and the distinctive, musty odor of Vic's Motel.
She reached into the crib and stroked William's cheek. His lips puckered and he stirred, but his eyes remained closed. "You told me to never give up on a miracle. Remember?"
He kissed her ear. "Yeah, I was hoping to get lucky, so to speak."
"We both got lucky." He thought he heard humor in her voice, but when she turned in the circle of his arms to face him, her expression was deadly serious. "There's something I haven't told you. Something that happened to William while you were in hiding."
"I know about Jeffrey Spender's visit, if that's what you're referring to. Gibson filled me in on the details." At her surprised look, he explained, "We had a lot of time to kill. You can only play I Spy With My Little Eye for so long, you know."
She slid out of his embrace, removed her coat and dropped it on the twin bed opposite the crib. "Several weeks before Jeffrey showed up claiming to be you, William was kidnapped."
"Kidnapped? By who?"
"A man named Josepho. He was part of a religious group, what Agent Doggett described as a whacked-out UFO cult. Josepho was their leader. He told me I had to choose between your life and William's."
She returned to the crib and drew a fleecy blanket over their sleeping son. Together they watched his small chest rise and fall. Steady. Unconcerned.
"I couldn't, of course," she said. "I wouldn't. I loved you both. So I refused. I tailed Josepho, looking for William."
"And you found him."
"I can hardly describe it, let alone explain it."
"I followed him to a ship...an alien ship."
"I'll save my 'I told you so' for later." His head dipped and his cheek grazed hers. He offered her a smile.
Her expression remained solemn. "The ship took off. The site was in ruins. On fire. Everyone was dead. Except William. He...he didn't have a scratch on him."
"How do you explain that?"
"I can't. But there were other things that happened while you were away, other things I can't explain."
"I saw William levitate objects." She reached out and stilled the mobile.
"He seems like a perfectly normal kid now."
"Jeffrey Spender injected him with something."
"You think the injection changed him?"
"I don't know, that's not my point." She turned and looked up at him, her expression unbearably sad. "My point is that despite every precaution, I couldn't protect him. From the cult. From Jeffrey. No more than I could protect you from the men who wanted you dead."
"What I'm trying to say... What I *am* saying is that you were right, Mulder. I wanted to send William away. I wanted to send you away, too. I thought it would save you. But I was wrong."
"No. You weren't." *I* was wrong, he thought.
His expectations had been unrealistic. His anger misguided. The last few months had taught him the truth about responsibility and self-sacrifice -- the altruistic side of love. Scully hadn't betrayed him or William. She'd put their needs ahead of her own, suffered to keep them safe. And how had he responded? By lashing out at her, blaming her, accusing her of being selfish and disloyal, words that more closely described him than her. His behavior had been abominable. His betrayal unforgivable.
"After our escape from Mount Weather, when we were headed to the Anasazi Pueblos, I pulled over while you were asleep in the car. The Gunmen appeared to me at the side of the road." He paused to see if she would dispute this claim. When she didn't, he continued. "Langly told me to hang a big U-ie and never look back. Byers wanted to know why I was willing to risk perfect happiness -- not to mention our lives -- to chase after answers I already knew. Frohike called me crazy. "
"What did you tell them?"
"I needed to know if I could change the future." The Keeper of the Truth in the pueblos had unfortunately turned out to be only C.G.B. Spender, eager to gloat over their powerlessness. Which meant Mulder had risked Scully's life for nothing. Again. "I never did save the world."
"That's not entirely true. Ca-Lo was your clone and he destroyed the aliens."
"Which makes me a hero by proxy? That's a stretch, don't you think?"
"Does it matter? The world has a future now."
More time for us to hurt each other? "I owe you an apology, Scully," he admitted, wanting to set things right. "To be honest, I owe you a whole bunch of apologies."
"You don't owe me anything. You brought back our son, just like you said you would."
"No, I didn't trust you. I questioned your motives. I said...terrible things." He felt ashamed and hung his head. It was time to come clean, tell her the truth. All of it. "I... I slept with Kenna. I'm sorry, Scully. It was a stupid, selfish thing to do and I regret it more than--"
"Stop, Mulder. I already know about it. Kenna told me."
An uneasy sigh sifted from his lungs. "I was afraid of that."
"No, it's okay."
"It's not okay. I--"
She silenced him by running her fingers across his lips. She appeared neither angry nor hurt.
"There's no such thing as perfect happiness, Mulder. Byers was wrong."
"That's a pessimistic point of view."
"Not really. Happiness doesn't have to be perfect. Not as long as we can forgive one another for our mistakes." Her expression was earnest. She was forgiving him. After all the hurt he had caused.
His throat tightened. "Is it enough?"
"I hope so, because I have a confession to make, too." Her gaze dropped to her rounded stomach. "I'm hoping you can forgive this child and love her..."
"Even if Ca-Lo is the father and not me."
"Yes. How did you know?"
"It doesn't matter. What matters is I don't care."
She searched his face, trying to gauge his sincerity. "We could look for a lab where I could run tests, maybe learn the truth," she suggested.
He shook his head and gathered her into his arms. She had referred to the baby as "her." They were going to have a little girl. A sister for William. Emotion threatened to overwhelm him as memories of Samantha resurfaced.
"She's your daughter, Scully. I love her for that reason alone. However she came to be, I'm her father now. I don't need a test," he said, meaning it. "Do you?"
"No." She leaned into him and clutched at the fabric of his shirt. He felt her shoulders hitch as she cried silently, face pressed against his chest. He stroked her hair, kissed the crown of her head, and tightened his embrace.
There was no point kidding himself; they faced difficult times ahead. They would need to work hard to rebuild their lives, keep watch for another invasion, and bring a new baby into a harsh, uncertain world. But Scully had forgiven him. They had their son back and a daughter on the way. They were a family again.
It might not be Byers' idea of perfect happiness, but at this moment it seemed damn close.
Sometime Around Christmas
Shortly after dawn Mulder and Skinner took off on a "top secret mission" in the helicopter. While they were gone, Scully kept William occupied by making cookies shaped like stars and candy canes -- part of their contribution to the town's holiday feast to be held at the church later in the day. No one knew for certain if today was actually Christmas, but it was deemed close enough. People felt celebratory and declared this the day to give thanks.
William got more frosting on his face and fingers than on the cookies, but Scully enjoyed hearing him laugh and "sing" carols as he alternately licked the spatula and drummed his highchair tray. Every few minutes he asked "Where Dada?" She reassured him everything was fine. "Daddy will be home later."
"You've had plenty." She handed him a wet dishrag. "Wipe your face, please."
He smeared frosting into his hair, then sucked on the cloth.
"You need a bath, young man."
"No more cookies. They're for after dinner."
She filled the kitchen sink with water warmed on the stove, undressed him and sat him in the sudsy water. He splashed happily as she shampooed and bathed him. She loved the slippery feel of his sturdy arms and legs, the vibration of his chest when he laughed. She inspected him from head to toe and marveled at the changes in him. When thoughts of lost time and missed milestones brought tears to her eyes, she painted her chin with a soap suds beard, making them both giggle.
William objected when it came time to drain the water and get out. But he settled down quickly after she wrapped him in a big towel and carried him to his room to diaper and dress him. She put him down for his nap and read to him -- "Green Eggs and Ham," "The Cat in the Hat," "The Night Before Christmas," books she had discovered in the toy chest beneath his crib. She stayed long after his eyes had closed and his breathing slowed, content to watch him sleep, loath to leave him alone after being separated for so long.
Mulder and Skinner returned in late afternoon, dressed as the most pathetic looking Santa Clauses Scully had ever seen. Their false white beards were thin, straggly things, dingy and askew, the elastic that held them in place clearly visible. Mulder had stuffed a bed pillow under his red coat and cinched it in place with a wide leather belt with an enormous Budweiser Beer belt buckle. Skinner's coat hung loose, but he sported shiny black boots and a fur-trimmed hat with a jingle-bell pompom.
They hoisted several bulging sacks of gifts from the Blackhawk. The settlers gathered around and braved the winter chill to see what surprises these unlikely St. Nicks had brought back from distant towns. Old and young alike stared with glittering, wide eyes as Mulder and Skinner ho-ho-hoed, poked fun at one another and distributed gifts, starting with toys for the camp's children.
Spirits ran high as kids were given skates and sleds, action figures and baby dolls, puzzles and toy ponies, cars and trucks. The adults received more practical presents: warm coats, toiletries, food, blankets, space heaters. These everyday items seemed nothing less than miraculous to the luxury-starved settlers.
William blinked in wonder when Mulder handed him an eight-inch die-cast motorcycle, complete with rider and passenger. "Vroom vroom." Mulder winked and William shyly took the toy.
After doling out dozens of presents, Santas Skinner and Mulder surprised everyone by hauling a fully decorated artificial Christmas tree from the Blackhawk. They carried it on their shoulders to the church and stood it in one corner of the large meeting room, which was set for dinner with rows of folding tables and chairs, mismatched tablecloths, dinnerware and candles.
Shortly after dusk, everyone gathered together and Father Richards offered a prayer of thanks. After a collective "amen," he smiled and announced, "Okay, let's eat!"
Platters of wild turkey, fresh trout, casseroles, breads and desserts were passed from table to table. When the supply of wine ran low, Skinner sent Royal to the Blackhawk for a stash of eighteen-year-old Glenfiddich Scotch. The night continued with numerous, heartfelt toasts, joyous singing and even dancing as several talented musicians played fiddle, guitar, flute and drums. Traditional favorites like O Come All Ye Faithful and Twelve Days of Christmas were intermixed with everyday tunes like Hey Jude, American Pie and Bridge Over Troubled Water. People were grateful to be alive, happy to be among friends.
Mulder held William throughout the evening. Scully stuck close by, thankful they had worked out their differences. She loved him and William with all her heart and was relieved to have them both back in her life. To think that only a few months ago, it seemed likely she would never see either of them again. But here they were, the three of them together, with a baby on the way and a hopeful future ahead.
Across the room, Kenna skulked at the fringe of Royal's entourage. She cradled a plastic baby doll in her arms. Every now and again, she caught William's eye and waved. He smiled back and Scully worried that his friendliness would encourage Kenna to come over. But she remained where she was and there were no uncomfortable confrontations.
At evening's end the settlers parted reluctantly. A group of inebriated revelers followed Royal and his seven or eight female companions to Vic's, where the party would continue until sunrise. Kenna trailed after them, baby doll hugged tightly to her chest.
Mulder lifted William onto his shoulders and offered his arm to Scully. They bid goodnight to Gibson and Father Richards, then sauntered across a moonlit landscape toward home, their breaths pluming the air. Stars winked overhead, brilliant as gemstones in the dark night sky. Laughter and jovial voices eddied around them, people called goodnight, wished one another happy holidays. A snowball sailed past Mulder's left shoulder and he spun to find three neighborhood boys stifling giggles. "Thanks for the Christmas presents, Mr. Mulder," they shouted before dashing off.
Inside the house, Mulder volunteered to put William down for the night. "You go ahead and get ready for bed, Scully. I'll take care of Junior."
"Want Mama." William sleepily rubbed his eyes and reached for Scully.
Was it a slip of the tongue?
"You heard the man." Mulder handed him to Scully. "He's all yours...Mama."
Tears filled her eyes. Whether William was aware of what he had said or not, he had called her mama and it was music to her ears.
She was still smiling twenty minutes later when she joined Mulder in the bedroom.
"He asleep?" Mulder deposited his pants atop a chair in the corner, then climbed into bed wearing only boxer shorts.
"Out like a light." Scully undressed quickly. The room was chilly. She slipped a heavy flannel nightgown over her head. "We'll have to move him out of that crib and into a bed before the baby comes."
"He's too big for it anyway. I caught him trying to climb out a couple of days ago."
"You didn't tell me that."
"Didn't want you to worry he might take a tumble and crack open his skull."
"Thanks for that image. I'll sleep well tonight," she teased. "Did you hear him? He called me mama."
"I heard. That's great."
"Best Christmas present I could've received." She blew out the lantern and slid into bed.
He spooned behind her, covering her with the comforter and one warm, heavy arm. Moonlight flooded the room as brightly as any streetlamp. He drew her closer, until his chest blanketed her back and his groin cradled her hips. "Then I guess there's no point in giving you this."
He opened his fist to reveal a tiny velvet gift box.
"You got me a present," she said, delighted as a child. She grabbed the box from his hand, yanked off the bow and opened the lid. A diamond solitaire ring sparkled inside. "Skinner picked this out, didn't he?"
"Busted. I was lobbying for a glow-in-the-dark Dick Tracy secret decoder ring, but he nixed the idea. You disappointed?"
"A decoder ring would've come in handy--"
"That's what I said."
"But this is beautiful."
"I didn't pay for it."
"The sentiment is genuine, if that counts for anything."
"Depends on the sentiment." She tilted the box, watching the stone sparkle in the moonlight.
He plucked the ring from the box and slipped it onto the third finger of her left hand. "I'm hoping to dazzle you into not noticing you've inadvertently hitched your wagon to an idiot's horse."
"I have a wagon?"
"You do. And a horse. And an idiot. If you'll have us." He tried to manipulate the angle of her hand to reflect moonlight off the ring into her eyes.
She ignored the blinding flashes of light and his boyish attempts to distract her. "Does this idiot love me?"
"With all his heart."
"Then I'm a lucky woman." She leaned back and kissed his chin.
He rose up on one arm, leaned over her and pressed his lips to hers. The angle was awkward. She tilted her head to give him better access. His hand slid up her neck and cupped her jaw, pinning her in place as his tongue plundered her mouth. Her heart beat faster. Heat radiated out to her fingertips and toes. She gasped when his lips abandoned hers. Feather-light kisses taunted her cheek, her temple, her ear. His darting tongue teased her lobe and the creases of her neck. She had missed this: the feel of his body, solid and warm against hers, the rasp of his cheek upon her skin, his panting breaths and wandering hands and heavy-lidded gaze. So familiar. So cherished.
Shaking, she whispered, "Make love to me, Mulder."
His hands stilled. Doubt replaced desire in his dark eyes. "I-I want to, but..."
"I don't want to hurt the baby."
"It's virtually impossible to harm a fetus by having sex, Mulder."
He didn't look convinced. "I can wait, if you think we should."
"Well, I can't." She pressed her buttocks to his lap, rubbing against his rigid penis. He moaned softly and ground his hips against her spine. Desire pulsed low in her belly. An unexpected surge of wetness dampened her curls and slicked her inner thighs. "This position would be perfect; it'd avoid deep penetration. We'll be okay."
The mattress dipped and creaked as he shimmied out of his boxers. She tugged her nightgown higher, baring her backside. His fiery erection poked between her legs. She was eager, almost desperate, for him to enter her. But he hesitated and drew back.
"Mulder..." His name scraped past tightened vocal chords, her frustration obvious. "You won't hurt the baby. Or me. It's okay, really."
"No, it's not that. I was just thinking..."
"I should use a condom."
She hated the idea of delaying their lovemaking, or abstaining altogether if a condom couldn't be procured, but the suggestion was a sensible one and necessary. "We've both had unprotected sex with other partners."
"Hold on. I'll see what I can find." He rolled over and rummaged through the nightstand. "Nothing here."
"Try the medicine cabinet."
"Be right back."
A few minutes later he returned with a foil packet. "Expiration date's still good," he announced and crawled into bed behind her. She heard him tear open the wrapper and a moment later his sheathed erection prodded her inner thighs.
Turning her head to look into his eyes, she laced her fingers through his hair and drew his mouth to hers. They kissed as he pushed slowly into her. Inch by inch, her softness enveloped him.
Pressure, fullness, heat. The feeling was divine.
He hissed with obvious pleasure. "Are you sure I'm not hurting you?"
"I'm fine. More than fine. I'm..." Sated was the only word to describe the way she felt.
She drew his hand to her breasts. They were fuller, the nipples larger and more sensitive because of her pregnancy. She overflowed his palm and her voluptuous curves seemed to please and excite him. He groped her. Tugged gently at her left nipple. The sensation was exquisite. And powerful. Pleasure rocketed through her. Blissful pinpricks of electricity tingled her where their flesh met.
"You can go deeper," she urged, wanting to feel more of him.
He complied, deliberate and measured, his eyes locked on hers to gauge her reaction as he buried himself in her.
He began a dawdling withdrawal. Then returned, unhurried, careful.
"Mmmm," she hummed. "S'nice."
"Let's try for something better than just nice." He hooked his arm over her jutting abdomen. His hand caressed her belly, meandered lower, discovered her damp curls. He fingered the sensitive nub of her clitoris. He pressed and plucked at her flesh. She arched against him, delighted by the sensation of his hand upon her, the press of his cock inside her. It had been too long since they were joined like this.
Her ardor blossomed. Her blood became fire and her pulse a drum in her ears, its thunder muting her sudden cry of delight. A grunt punctuated his own release moments later.
His movements ceased. He embraced her tightly and plowed his nose into the nape of her neck. His ragged breath puffed hotly against her sweaty skin. His penis grew flaccid inside her.
"Damn, I was hoping to last longer," he groaned.
She chuckled, completely satisfied. "We can always do it again later."
"Hold you to it." He yawned. Slipped out of her. She heard him remove the condom and throw it in the wastebasket beneath his nightstand.
She rolled over to face him.
"C'mere." He gathered her into his arms.
Snuggling against his chest, she listened to his heartbeat. His breathing slowed. Soon, a gentle snore whistled from his nose.
"I love you," she whispered, content to let sleep capture her, too.
It had been a good day. A very good day indeed.
Star Valley Baptist Church
March 23, 2003
"Ah ha! There's hope!" The priest's face lit up. He had found the opening Gibson had left for him.
Gibson was pleased. He liked Father Richards. Admired his persistence. And his optimism. The priest was a natural leader. The settlers looked up to him and considered him a hero after his role in their daring escape. Rightly so. His confidence and good cheer would see them through future hardships. And while Father Richards tended to the settlers' souls, Gibson would watch over their daily lives and bear witness to their hopes and heartaches.
In Royal Jackson's case, there weren't many heartaches. His arm had healed months ago and his reputation as an adventurous lover drew an inordinate number of young women to his rooms at Vic's Motel. Appreciative of his attentive style, they lavished him with favors, sexual and otherwise. He never wanted for a home-cooked meal or a bedmate.
Walter Skinner, on the other hand, preferred a more solitary existence. He took an occasional partner, but more often than not he was piloting the Blackhawk in search of other settlements and old friends. The helicopter had a range of approximately 350 miles, forcing him to leapfrog from one airport to the next, where he used a manual pump to fuel up with av gas. To date, he had located two enclaves of survivors, two out of the countless settlements Gibson knew were scattered around the globe. Skinner hoped to locate others and eventually set up a network of trade routes to help distribute limited resources and trade for luxury items. He also planned to make a journey north after snowmelt to bring back John Doggett, who Gibson had recently detected on the move in Canada, heading east through Ontario toward Hudson's Bay. Skinner held out hope that Monica Reyes was with him, but so far Gibson had picked up nothing to indicate the two were together.
Kenna Douglas cared nothing about outsiders and faraway settlements. She remained locked in a dream world that was blissfully more pleasant than her real one. In her addled mind, she walked the rim of the Grand Canyon each day, arm in arm with her dead husband Rick, their several imaginary children in tow. The number and ages of their sons and daughters changed with each new sunrise, but she loved them as genuinely as she had loved William. The townspeople were tolerant of her, watching over the slender, scarred young woman who talked to herself as she wandered the snowy thoroughfares of Alpine. Royal made sure she was dressed warmly before she went out. And his female companions fed her regularly and saw to it she was tucked safely into bed each night.
Scully continued her visits to Kenna, her emotional reserves replenished since Mulder and William's return and the birth of her new baby. She felt strong and capable, once again ready to wage battle against any threat, whether it be an outbreak of influenza or a second alien invasion. She pestered Gibson for news of her mother and brothers. So far he had located none of them, but Scully held out hope. She looked forward to introducing them to the newest member of the family.
True to his word, Mulder did love Scully's baby -- a small but feisty daughter, born on February 16, 2003. This time, he was in attendance for the birth. They named the baby Abigail at Father Richards' suggestion. He said it meant "my father rejoices," which made it a perfect choice. Little Abby was clearly the apple of Mulder's eye. He fell head over heels in love with his little girl the moment she took her first breath. She squirmed and bawled gustily as he lifted her, red and wrinkled, onto Scully's deflated belly. He grinned like a lunatic and cried openly when Scully put the baby to her breast and coaxed her to suckle.
"She has your eyes," Scully said breathlessly, exhausted after hours of labor.
Abby did indeed have her father's eyes. Curious and full of wonder. A shock of dark hair fuzzed her soft scalp. She smelled like sour milk and morning mist, and Mulder could not get enough of sniffing her. Or counting her tiny toes and fingers, marveling at her little nails, her long eyelashes and shell-shaped ears. But most of all, he loved the warm weight of her in the crook of his arm. "Five and a half pounds of pure perfection," he boasted, experiencing the same mix of pride and nervousness he'd felt after William was born.
William took the birth of his new sister in stride. Mulder and Scully lavished him with attention and did their best to make him feel a part of things. While Scully and Abby napped, Mulder took William outside to play with the town's other children. They made forts with snowman guards and piles of snowball ammunition. When the roughhousing threatened to overwhelm young William, Mulder lifted him onto his shoulders and took him to the reservoir to watch the fishermen set traps. They caught snowflakes on their tongues, which delighted William no end. As his giggles echoed through the forest, Mulder tipped his head back to listen, immersing himself in his young son's joy, grateful beyond words for this chance at a new and better life.
Not everyone felt so fortunate. Many had lost their loved ones. They grieved for their dead.
Gibson's thoughts drifted to Dibeh and Ca-Lo. Victims both. And unsung heroes. How different might their lives have been had they not suffered at the hands of alien masters? Born free, would Ca-Lo have been more like Mulder? And how would Mulder have fared in Ca-Lo's place?
Circumstances drive our choices, he thought. Fate molds character like soft clay beneath a potter's hands. Fear and loneliness give rise to imagined grievances and unfortunate decisions. He knew better than anyone that people were imperfect beings, who often acted selfishly and thoughtlessly, made frequent mistakes, and inadvertently hurt those they professed to love. But in the end it was their capacity to forgive that allowed them to unburden their souls and soar with angels.
Scully was right, he thought. There is no perfect happiness. But there is forgiveness. And it is enough.
"Care for another?" Gibson offered a Coors to Father Richards.
"Since you're twisting my arm, don't mind if I do." The priest took the bottle and rubbed it like a good luck charm as he contemplated his next move.
Gibson sipped his beer and waited. He had a nice buzz going. The voices in his head hummed like drowsy bumblebees and the future seemed suddenly as promising as a summer afternoon.
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