There was some unease around the children for a couple of days, but there was also plenty to do. It was fall and harvest was in full force.
Things would be better this winter. While fish would still be part of the diet, it would be supplemented by rabbit and pork, as well as the vegetables that the gardens and green houses had yielded.
The weatherproofing of the houses was a top priority, using some of the supplies brought in from the latest trip.
Mulder, Walter and Kevin entered the clinic for their lunch and spotted Katy running toward them all smiles.
Mulder picked her up and hugged her. She laughed and squirmed, "You stink!"
"Ah, the love of my precious daughter." He grinned as Walter and Kevin chuckled. Mulder raised his arm and pretended to bury her head in his armpit. She shrieked and pulled away, giggling and reached for Kevin, who rescued her.
"Hey, doesn't he stink?"
"No." She smiled smugly.
Mulder looked over at Walter; "I know who's doing more of his share this afternoon."
Kevin chuckled and hugged Katy. "Why are you in such a good mood, Precious?" He asked the little girl.
All three men froze, then Mulder met Walter’s eyes. "Esther?"
"All by herself?" Walter asked lightly.
"Silly Granddaddy, she's just a baby." Katy smiled up at him. "Her family is coming. Her Mom and Dad and brother and Aunt Jennifer and Uncle George and his family."
"Wow, that's a lot of people. Do you know where they're coming from?"
“Do you think they’ll need any help?” Mulder asked.
After a moment she nodded, “It’s getting cold, and the little ones can’t walk that fast. Will, Todd and Greg should go.”
“Will has to go. He has to meet Jennifer.”
Mulder looked at the other two, “Who’s Jennifer?”
Katy smiled even bigger, “The girl he’s going to marry.”
That startled all three of them into silence. Finally Mulder found his voice, “Uh, Katy, I wouldn’t mention that to anyone, especially Will. He needs to decide that for himself and . . . and he’s a little young.”
“They’re not getting married right away.” She spoke loftily.
“In any case, let’s keep this between us, okay?”
She shrugged, “Okay. They should leave in a couple of days. I’ll find them on the map.”
“That’ll be a big help. I’ll talk to Todd at lunch.”
Katy gave Kevin a quick kiss on the cheek and pulled away. The men watched her race on to her next stop. When she was out of earshot, Walter looked over at Mulder. “Wonder what made Esther’s family want to come here?”
“Katy hasn’t said anything about the old woman lately.” Mulder shook his head, “She seems happy about it. I better find Todd.”
“Eat first. Katy didn’t seem to think we needed to hurry.”
The three men left at first light three days later. Charlie and Mary were a little more comfortable, though not delighted to see their son off again so soon. Charlie himself ensured that they had plenty of vaccine, just in case.
Todd set a brisk pace, since the return trip would necessarily take longer with kids and babies as part of the expedition.
The community knew that Esther was coming and added accommodations for their new citizens to the work loads. Everyone was on a high about the newcomers.
"Daddy!" Katy was beside the bed, tugging on his arm to wake him. "Daddy!"
"Katy? What, what's wrong?" He glanced at the window; it was still dark outside, not even a hint of dawn. Scully stirred beside him.
"Katy, are you sick?" She asked the little girl.
"One of the others is with Esther, and they don't know it!"
Mulder blinked, trying to interpret her words. "Hold on, Katy, one of the others joined the group that's on its way here?"
Scully clutched at Mulder's arm, "Will, and Todd! Mulder."
"Don't panic. They couldn't have reached them yet. Let me . . . " He grabbed up his pajamas bottoms from the floor where Scully had tossed them the night before. He didn't even take the time to smile at that memory. He had sent Charlie's son into danger. Okay, not on purpose, but it had been his call.
He rose and saw Scully slip on her own robe. "Katy, how close are our people to Esther's group?"
She thought about that for a moment, "Late tomorrow they should meet them."
"Mulder, we can't reach them in time."
"Not physically." He ran a hand through his already tousled hair. "Katy, with my help, could you reach Todd?"
Katy shook her head, "Maybe Will."
That answer surprised him a little, but it didn't matter, as long as they could reach someone. "Okay, do we need to get the other kids?"
Katy shook her head; "I think we can do it with Walt and Lexie, if Mom helps."
Scully nodded immediately, pulling her robe closed to go wake the other two.
"Daddy, I'm sorry I didn't see him earlier."
Mulder stopped in mid-stride and turned back to her, taking her in his arms. "Oh Baby. Sweetie, you're wonderful. Don't you ever think that again. We love your help and what you can do is incredible, but we grown ups are responsible. Not you. Do you hear me?"
She looked up at him, her eyes brimming with guilty tears. He pulled her close, hugging her tight.
Scully hesitated when she returned with the others. "Mulder? Is everything . . . "
"It's okay. Katy was upset that she didn't see this coming."
"Oh Katy." Scully put the little ones on the bed and put her arms around Katy as well.
After a moment, Mulder cleared his throat. "Walt, Lexie, you guys awake?"
Walt nodded and Lexie said, "Daddy, 'ill needs us."
"That’s right, Honey. Think we can talk to him?"
"Momma and Daddy talk to 'ill." She smiled broadly.
Mulder turned to Scully, "Do you think they're awake enough?"
"They were waiting for me."
He nodded, a little less surprised each time. "Katy, what do we do?"
"Let's sit here." They all crawled back into Mulder and Scully's bed. They each had a child in their lap with Katy between them, though their shoulders touched. Mulder saw the fear in Scully's eyes and gave her a reassuring smile. She nodded and looked down at Katy.
"Just close your eyes, Mom." Scully did and felt Mulder's shoulder press into hers, more reassurance. It was quiet and Scully wondered what would happen, when suddenly she felt . . . elsewhere. She was in a different place; she could see Katy and watch her mouth move, but she couldn't hear her or move or speak herself.
Then, almost before she was ready, she was aware of Mulder's shoulder again, then his arms as he lowered her to the pillow. "It's okay Scully. Just sleep now." He lay heavily beside her, the kids cuddled up around them and all five slept again.
Charlie let himself into the house cautiously. There was no activity, which was unusual, but that didn't necessarily mean anything was wrong. Still, something was bothering him and when neither Mulder nor Dana had shown up for work, he had made it his job to find out why.
He saw that the bedroom door was ajar and moved to it, pushing it slightly more open. All five of them were in the bed. He entered the room quickly then and with a trembling hand, felt for Mulder's pulse.
The larger man stirred at his touch and he closed his eyes in relief. Mulder opened his eyes, "Charlie?"
"Yeah, I came to check on you." He whispered.
Mulder looked at his family, all over the bed. He rubbed his face, then carefully got out of the bed and followed Charlie into the living room. "What time is it?"
"Nine?" Mulder looked stunned at that.
"That's why I'm here. It's not like you."
Then memory of their pre-dawn activity came to him and he sank onto the couch. Shit, Will was in danger. Had they reached him?
"What? Is something wrong?"
Mulder glanced over at the door, wishing desperately for Scully to emerge. Charlie sat beside him.
"Uh, Charlie . . . "
"This is bad, isn't it?"
"I . . . I don't know. Katy, last night Katy . . . got some information about - "
"Will? Oh god, has something happened?" Charlie's face had gone ashen as he realized what Mulder was having so much trouble saying.
"He's fine, they're all fine, Charlie, I swear. It's the others. Something has happened to Esther's group. One of the aliens has joined them, and they don't know it. Will, Todd and Greg are walking into a situation and they're unaware."
Charlie sank back against the couch, shaking his head. Mulder looked up as Scully came out of the bedroom. She saw Charlie's face and flew to his side, taking him into her arms. He held her as well, neither speaking for a long moment.
"Mulder, he's my son. My first . . . What are we going to do? Can we reach them before . . . "
"Not physically. Katy sent him a message, that's why we were all still asleep. She only used the five of us, and I don't know if she . . . reached him."
Charlie nodded. "I need to talk to Mary."
Mulder nodded, "I'll come with you."
Both Mulder and Scully took his arms to help him up from the couch, and though he didn't need it, he appreciated the gesture.
Mulder kissed Scully, "Stay with the kids. I'll check back in a little while."
She nodded, "We'll go to the clinic after everyone's awake. Charlie . . ."
"I know, Sis. I need to see Mary." She hugged him again and watched the two of them leave with heavy footsteps.
They didn't talk on the way, but as they arrived, Mulder turned to him. "Why don't you go on into Scully's office? I'll get Mary. We don't need an audience."
Charlie nodded, though Mulder wasn't convinced he actually heard him. After leaving him, Mulder headed for the kitchen and saw Mary checking the timer on the oven. "Mary, can I borrow you for a minute?"
"Huh? Oh sure, Tricia, could you take these out in about five minutes?" She dusted her hands off and moved toward Mulder. Once in the hall, and heading toward Scully's office, she looked up at him. "Mulder? Is everything . . . "
He managed to wink at her and opened the door to the office. She spotted Charlie and hesitated, looking up at Mulder. "What is it? What . . . Will?" Mulder caught her as her knees buckled and seated her in the other chair. Charlie was kneeling in front of her, reassuring her quickly as Mulder gently pressed her head down between her knees.
"Mary, listen to me." Mulder said quietly, "Will is fine. Katy has learned that one of the 'others' has joined Esther's group. We're trying to get word to our guys, so that they can . . . "
"Can what, Mulder? And how?"
"Katy is how. Forewarned? I don't know. Mary, I'm sorry. I should have seen this. I should have - "
"Mulder," Charlie interrupted, "we all know the risks. We don't have control of the damn planet. This shouldn't have been that big a shock, but . . . "
"But it's your son." Mulder closed his eyes then, and sank into the chair Charlie had vacated. “I would never have let him go if I had known.”
“We know that. We also know he had to go. Maybe . . . maybe this is why.” Charlie looked up at him from beside Mary.
Mulder met his eyes then, and Charlie saw the hope deep in the other man’s eyes at those words. Mulder took a deep breath, “I . . . I have to go see Anne and Megan.”
“Oh god, I hadn’t even . . . Do you want me to go with you?”
“No. This is my responsibility. You stay with Mary. Just stay here as long as you need to. Mary - “
“Go on Mulder. Charlie is with me. They’ll need you. You’ll let us know if Katy . . . “
Mulder nodded, “Sure. I’ll, uh, I’ll see you later.” He forced himself to his feet. They watched him leave, then clung to each other, not speaking.
He tapped on Brittany’s door and heard the women in the kitchen. “It’s Mulder.” He called.
“Come on in.” Brittany called. “We’re back here.”
He joined them, glanced at Megan, then met Anne’s eyes. She stopped what she was doing and wiped off her hands. “What’s wrong?”
“Maybe we should - “
“No, we’re family here.” Anne glanced at Beth and Brittany. “Something’s happened to Todd?”
“No. They’re okay, but Esther’s family may not be. They’ve got an alien with them and they don’t know it. Our guys are walking into it.”
“Todd and Greg have faced them bef - Will. Oh no, Mary.” Anne’s eyes went wide.
“Can Katy do anything?” She asked.
For an instant Mulder had trouble believing this was the same young woman who had arrived with Mom. “We’ve already tried. I don’t know how much good we did.”
“So what do we do?” Megan asked with a shaky voice.
“We wait.” He said grimly.
Todd stretched and took the cup of coffee Will handed to him. “Thanks. Where’s Greg?”
Will motioned toward a clump of trees and Todd nodded.
“Todd, I had a strange dream.”
“You make sure you keep up with your own sleeping bag.” Todd grinned.
Will gestured with a friendly finger. “It was about Katy. Something . . . she was trying to tell me . . .” He shook his head.
Todd sobered immediately. “Is something wrong at home?”
“No. No, I’m . . . it’s out here. Something’s wrong, but it’s here. Not us, Esther’s family. I just don’t know what.”
Todd glanced over as Greg joined them. They told him of the dream, and he asked the silent question with his eyes.
Todd shrugged, “We need to be careful. We can discuss options on the way.” They hurriedly broke camp and headed out.
They’d been traveling a while when suddenly Will stumbled, his hand to his head. Todd grabbed his arm.
“Damn, Katy, let up!” The pain eased almost immediately.
He didn’t answer, his eyes closed. He shook his head as Todd and Greg exchanged glances. Then just as suddenly, Will sagged between them and they caught him. “Will!”
After a moment he looked up at them. “I’m okay. If you had any doubts, don’t. Something has happened to Esther’s family.”
“We need to hurry?”
“I’m still not sure what she’s trying to tell me.”
Greg looked over at Todd, “Maybe we shouldn’t meet them head on. Katy thinks they’re on this road, maybe we should head east and come up from the side.”
Will nodded, “That feels right.”
“Okay, let’s do it.”
They discussed different scenarios as they walked, making contingency plans. They didn’t know what was wrong, but at least they were aware.
It was late afternoon when they caught up with Esther’s party. Todd called a halt slightly away from them, to observe quietly. They had already stopped for the night and started a fire to keep away the chill. The women looked exhausted and most of the men not much better.
“There are more people than Katy mentioned.” Will observed.
Todd nodded. “You guys have syringes ready?”
They moved closer and Todd called out, “Hello? May we approach?”
The group didn’t seem all that startled to see them. One of the tired looking younger men straightened up. “You armed?”
“Yes, but they’re holstered.”
The young man glanced at one of his companions, then nodded. Todd, Greg and Will approached slowly, their arms out.
“We don’t have food to share.”
“That’s okay, we do. We’ve got three rabbits, if we can use your fire.”
Todd could see the man salivate and finally gave a small smile. “Deal?”
“Believe me, we’re not here to hurt you. We’re on our way home to our families. I’ve got a daughter at home.” Todd glanced over the assembled. A young woman emerged from a tent then, with what had to be Esther by the hand.
The little girl squealed with delight and pulled free, running as fast as her little legs could take her to Will. His face colored slightly, but he went down on one knee and hugged her.
The mother watched, surprised as he gathered her into his arms and stood. “Hello Esther,” he whispered, “Katy says hi.” Esther beamed at him, touching his face.
Will looked up and smiled at the young woman as she joined them. “I have a little sister just a little older than her.”
“Esther has always been friendly, but not like that. I’m glad to see it actually. When Stu joined us a couple of days ago, she seemed terrified. Oh, I’m Julie, Esther’s mother.”
“I’m Will. That’s Todd and Greg.”
“We really appreciate the food. My husband, George, was the man you spoke with first.”
“We appreciate you letting us join you. Are all of these people your family?” He knew better, but wanted her to talk. Todd and Greg were with George and the other man, though both had seen Esther’s reaction to him and had drawn their attention away.
“Mostly. The man with George is his brother, Peter. His wife, Chloe was getting water with my sister, Jennifer. Peter has two kids, Pete and Suzie. George and I have Esther and a son, John, who’s four. A couple of men joined us after we’d been on the road about a week, Philip and Lewis. They were a godsend. Then Stu joined us.”
Will looked at Esther again. “Did my little girlfriend here avoid Philip and Lewis too?”
Julie smiled, “No, but we hadn’t been on the road as long. We’re all on edge and exhausted, especially the children.
“Where are you heading?”
“Uh, you’ll have to talk to George about that.” She seemed wary suddenly.
“Sure. Just hoping we could travel with you for a few days.”
She seemed to relax slightly. “Extra hands would be nice.” She turned as two women came into sight. They hesitated and Julie motioned them to join she and Will. Quick introductions were made and Will noted that Jennifer was younger than he had first thought, closer to his own age than Julie’s.
The man Julie had pointed out as Peter moved to the second tent and the other children emerged from where they had been hiding. The scent of cooking meat seemed to draw the other three men from their semi-guard positions. Introductions were made and they allowed Todd, Greg and Will to wash up, which gave them some time alone.
Even alone, they spoke in low voices. “Okay. I don’t see a problem. Are you sure Katy was really talking to you?” Greg asked.
Todd looked at Will, who nodded, “It’s Stu.”
“You saw Esther run to me, she knows us. Julie says she’s normally friendly, but she’s terrified of Stu. She won’t go near him. And he joined them right before Katy started trying to tell me something.”
“Maybe she just doesn’t like him.”
“I don’t think he’s human.” Will said finally.
Greg leaned back and looked at him, then over at Todd. “Another clone?”
“That or an alien.” Todd replied.
“So what do we do?”
“Well, we’re not taking him home with us. What about this?” Todd sketched out a quick plan.
The other two men thought about it, and finally nodded. Will looked over at the group gathering around the fire. “If he’s human, we won’t have hurt him.”
Greg huffed, “Yeah, but he might hurt us.”
They ate dinner and shared a quiet moment. Then while everyone was relaxing, Todd nodded for the other two to take up their positions. Will’s hand was in his pocket and he looked nervous, but resolute.
Todd drew Stu’s attention, offering him more coffee. As the man held out his cup, Todd dropped the pot and simultaneously with Will, plunged syringes into either side of his neck. Greg had his gun drawn, pointed at the back of Stu’s neck.
The others froze, caught completely off guard by the attack.
As soon as they had plunged the needles, both took off running, getting as far away as possible. The smallest boy, John, and Jennifer were close, too close. Will raced toward them, grabbing John up in his arms and snatching Jennifer’s hand, pulling her after him.
When he felt they were far enough away, Will slowed and turned to watch. Stu was grabbing at the needles. He had managed to dislodge one, but he seemed to be changing, melting. Will glanced at the others, Greg was still aiming at the man. Todd had gotten the others to a safe distance.
Jennifer turned as well, to look at the man she had traveled with. She gasped as the man began collapsing in on himself, green goo bubbling where his eyes should have been.
She turned and buried her face in Will’s chest. His arm went around her, holding her tight and pulling John closer, so that he couldn’t see either.
Will finally looked over at Todd. Todd nodded, so Will leaned down and whispered in Jennifer’s ear, so as not to startle her further, “It’s over.”
“What did you do to him?” Now she pulled away and he released her.
“You know he wasn’t human.”
After an instant she nodded, “but how did you know?”
“It’s a long story. We have things we have to do.” She still looked scared, but not of him thank goodness.
“You okay Will?” Todd called.
“Yes.” He put his arm back around Jennifer, and shifted John against his hip, then led them back to the others.
“What was that?” George asked with a shaking voice.
“One of the others.” Todd spoke calmly.
“I’ve never seen one killed before. I didn’t know they could be killed.”
“It’s not something they want you to know. We know the rest of you are human, but we have to vaccine you anyway.”
Lewis finally spoke. “You want to kill all of us?”
“This won’t hurt you. Julie has already had it, and George. This is just a booster for them.”
The rest of the group gaped at Todd. ”How do you know that?”
Everyone went silent and looked at the baby in her mother’s arms.
Julie looked up at him, tears in her eyes. “So she is different.”
“Yes.” Todd looked over at Greg and Will. “You were vaccinated before she was born.”
“That . . . they said that was polio.”
Todd shook his head, “It was from . . . from Mulder.”
She drew in a quick breath and George’s arm went around her. “You know about Mulder?”
Todd nodded, “He sent us to get you.”
“Sent you . . . What’s going on?” George asked, his nerve returning slowly.
“We need to explain to you, I agree. But right now, we need to move. We’re assuming Stu was alone. In case he wasn’t, we need to put some distance between us and this place.”
“It’s getting dark.” Julie said.
“There’s a place not far from here, we won’t need to put the tents back up. Just pack and we’ll get going.”
Will and Greg moved to take the tents down and, after a moment, the others began helping in silence. They were on their way in less than twenty minutes. Greg and Will took the rear as Todd led them.
It was already dusk and it would get dark quickly after the sun set so Todd kept everyone moving. The three of them carried more than their share for now, but the effect of shock was showing on these uninitiated people.
Todd led them to a large house that they had passed earlier. It was deserted and in good shape. He’d already decided it was a place they needed to check for supplies on the way back. The group was nearly stumbling by the time they reached the place.
Greg, Will and Todd laid out the sleeping bags and settled the women and children, who were too tired to care by that time. The four men tried to help but Greg finally took George by the arm and led him to his wife. “Lie down. Tomorrow morning we can sort everything out.”
George looked like he wanted to argue, but Greg had already turned away.
Todd looked over at the exhausted people scattered around the living room. “They’ve been through a lot.”
“Think there are others out there?”
Todd shrugged, “I don’t know. I’ll take first watch.”
“Do you want two of us - “
“No. You two rest for a couple of hours. We might even take tomorrow to let them get their act together. This house isn’t all alone out here. We might find some good stuff.”
“Too bad we can’t fix another truck.” Will grinned.
“Yeah. Go on.” He turned away. Greg and Will looked at each other, then unrolled their blankets and stretched out.
They didn’t see Todd step out on the porch to give the rest of them quiet and they didn’t see his hands shake as he sank onto the top step.
Mulder looked around the room. Charlie was nowhere in evidence, so he glanced over at Scully. She nodded and he slipped away from the main room. He found Charlie finally, on the back porch, just staring out at the water.
“Do you want to be alone?” Mulder asked quietly.
shrugged, “I should be with Mary.”
“Mom’s with her, and Scully, and just about everyone else. Why don’t we walk?”
Charlie took a deep breath, but followed Mulder down the back steps. They walked in silence, but Mulder could actually feel Charlie’s pain. He was surprised when Charlie spoke.
“Can I ask you a question?”
“When . . . how did Dana handle it when she lost Emily?”
“Charlie, Will isn’t - “
“I know, I know, but how did she do it?”
“By withdrawing. She wouldn’t talk about it. I think she felt that she didn’t have the right to mourn, since she’d known her such a short time. We didn’t talk about her. I probably should have tried harder, but it hurt her so much to . . .”
Charlie nodded, “I know. I guess that’s why we never brought her up either.”
“It’s helped now that Katy knows. She asks questions and gets Scully to talk about her.”
“What about you?”
“Me? I . . . I guess Emily scared me.”
“Because of how she was created?”
“No. Well, not totally. The implications of her birth were . . . No, what scared me was that Scully would have left the Bureau, left me, if she had lived. She was ready to walk away in order to give Emily a home.” Mulder looked away, “Don’t get me wrong, Scully wouldn’t have gotten rid of me, but I would have had to do some major convincing for her to let me in. She would have thought she could do it alone, that she should do it alone."
"That sounds like Dana." Charlie nodded. "I went to her grave."
Mulder looked over at him, "What?"
"Yeah, I was out there for a conference and made Bill take me. He didn't want to, but he did. You know, he actually teared up, telling me about the little white . . ."
"Charlie don't do this."
"Did you ever go back?" Charlie looked up at Mulder when he stopped suddenly.
"Charlie . . . she, Emily isn't buried there."
"They took her body. They couldn't leave evidence like that behind. The coffin was . . . "
"Does Dana know?" Mulder nodded. "Shit, those . . . At least you were with her."
"I was close, but I wasn't with Scully when Emily died. I wanted to be, but she was in her pushing away phase then."
"She remembers that you were there. That you were the only one really there for her." They were both silent for a few moments. "I need to hold my wife." Charlie looked up at Mulder.
Mulder nodded, "Me too." They returned to the clinic.
Everyone seemed to be there. Mary stood as soon as she spotted Charlie and hurried into his arms. Mulder found Scully talking quietly with Anne, who was sitting with Maggie and Walter. He noted that Megan was with Becky and Langly and nodded, then folded Scully against him.
"How you doing?"
"I hate waiting."
"Tell me about it. Where's Katy?"
Scully pointed to a large chair by the fireplace. Katy had fallen asleep in Kevin's lap. The stress of the day had gotten to her too.
"Who's with the little ones?"
"Frohike and Beth. We're trying to keep them away from some of the tension, but with these kids . . . "
He nodded, pulling her close again.
It seemed that everyone jumped when Katy suddenly flailed her arm. “Run! Run!”
Mary whimpered and buried her face in Charlie’s neck. Mulder watched Maggie take Anne into her arms and Becky held Megan with Langly, looking awkward with his arms around both women.
Katy opened her eyes, stretching and smiled. She found Mulder and her smile grew. “They did it, they melted him.”
“They, they’re okay?” His arm tightened around Scully.
“Sure.” She yawned and cuddled into Kevin.
Charlie gave a soft laugh and buried his face in Mary’s hair. Anne was crying now with relief.
“Hey, help!” Langly gulped as Megan slumped against him. Byers was closest and helped lift her.
“Take her to my office, she’s probably just fainted.” Scully joined them, taking Megan’s wrist.
“Yeah, she’s fine.” Katy yawned, “She’s just going to have a baby.”
And then everyone seemed to be chuckling and hugging each other. Mulder grinned at Charlie, “What a homecoming present.”
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