Doggett tapped on Kersh’s door, but entered without waiting. Kersh looked up, his eyes narrowed. “Did we have an appointment?”
“I’ve got some news. I wanted . . . “ He looked back and made sure the door was closed tight.
“Is something wrong?” Kersh’s curiosity was piqued now.
“Yeah. Something major.” He approached the desk and laid a file on it.
Kersh looked up at him, not bothering to touch the folder. “What?”
John took a deep breath. “Skinner called me into his office after hours two days ago. He gave me an assignment that he needed early the next morning. I didn’t think too much about it, but the next morning, he didn’t come in. He hasn’t been seen since.”
Kersh frowned, “What? Are you saying Skinner’s missing?”
“Well, I went over to his place, but I couldn’t get an answer. Not a big deal, but today I checked again. His car was at his place, so I tried again.” The man hesitated.
“John, what?” Kersh’s voice was harsh now.
“I was . . . uncomfortable. Something seemed . . . wrong. I got the manager to let me in.”
“You broke into Skinner’s apartment?” Kersh’s eyes narrowed.
Doggett sank into the chair in front of the desk. “I didn’t let the super come in with me, so I’m the only one . . . There had been a fire. I think it was supposed to destroy the whole apartment. There was a body, burnt beyond recognition.”
“A body? In Skinner’s apartment?”
“I was able to get two partials off the left hand.” He swallowed, “It was Skinner.”
“What?” Kersh was on his feet now. “The body, are you telling me Walter Skinner is dead?”
“Murdered. I haven’t told anyone yet. I brought the information directly to you.”
Kersh sank back down in his chair. He seemed speechless for a long moment, then opened the file and winced slightly. Finally he met John’s eyes. “You’re sure about the ID?”
John looked down, shaking his head. “We lucked out getting those prints. The fire was to destroy the body. I've never seen a fire like that before, but I've heard about them. When I was down in the X-files - "
Kersh's head jerked up. "This is no X-File."
"No sir, it's a murder, but the resemblance . . . "
"I want the circumstances kept quiet. Has anyone else seen this?"
"No sir, I haven't even called the police. I handled it myself.”
Kersh nodded. “Thank you. I, I need to, to handle this carefully. There needs to be a press release. Does he have any family?”
John shook his head, shrugging. “He’s never mentioned any to me. I could contact his former secretary, Kim, right? She might know.”
“What about the evidence? We need to be able to close this case. Skinner’s a . . . was an Assistant Director.” Kersh wiped his hand over his mouth. “Shit.”
“Do you want me to head the investigation?”
“What? Uh, yes. I need to oversee it. We have to do everything . . . Is his body still there in his apartment?”
“Yes sir. You want to head over there with me? We could - “
“No. No, I’ll handle things here. I’ll look over all of your notes as soon as you get back.” Kersh glanced over at the cabinet that faced the desk and the visitor chairs, then quickly away. “I need to make some calls, John.”
“Yes sir. I’ll get back to you as soon as I know anything.” John reached for the papers he’d placed on the desk.
“Leave those.” Kersh spoke quickly.
“Uh, sure.” John withdrew his hand and moved toward the door. He reached into his pocket and touched the small polished stone. There had been no reaction around Kersh. At least they now knew he was still human, at least technically. “I’m going to have to get the police over there. Have the body removed.”
“Do that. Have the body delivered directly to Quantico.” He nodded his dismissal, his hand already reaching for the phone.
Mulder opened the back door for Scully as Walter got out of the front passenger’s seat. “You doing okay?”
“Pretty good.” She smiled up at him. “Katy got a nap, but I’m sure she wants to stretch a little too.” She unbuckled the baby and handed her out to Mulder. Walter opened Danny’s door.
“They have great cheeseburgers here, Uncle Walter. We stopped here on the way to see you. And there’s a playground in the back with swings.”
Walter grinned at him. “I’ll push, after we eat.”
Danny nodded and took his hand. “Leave your hat on, okay?”
Walter glanced over at Mulder. “Okay.”
Mulder got them a table while Scully took Katy into the ladies room to change her. Walter and Danny used the men’s room, then came out to hold the table so that Mulder could go.
He waited for her and gave her a quick kiss, then walked Scully to the table when she emerged. The U.S. News Today caught his eye and he grabbed one and brought it to the table.
“I’m sure it was a nice funeral. You were buried in Arlington.” Mulder had chosen a table away from everyone else, but he still spoke quietly. “Says the President sent a representative.”
Skinner shrugged, “At my rank that’s normal.”
“Walter, you deserved it.” Scully said gently.
He looked at her an instant, "thanks." He turned back to Danny then to continue a discussion on Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Danny was bringing him up to speed as quickly as he could. Mulder caught Scully's eyes and shrugged slightly.
Walter assured Danny the cheeseburger was a good as the boy had claimed, then they excused themselves to go out to the playground, giving Mulder and Scully some time alone. Scully immediately pulled out a blanket and covered herself to nurse Katy.
"Not much reaction to being buried." Mulder glanced toward the door the two had exited. He wasn't as worried about having Danny out of his sight now. The boy could protect himself and Walter.
"Not much surface reaction." Scully remarked. "I'm sure he was affected, but what could he say? I'll check with Danny later to see if he needs anything."
Mulder nodded and watched Katy as she suckled, her small fist opening and closing at Scully's breast. She looked tiny and helpless; Danny had assured them that she would be able to assist him in a matter of months if necessary. He was already training her.
Mulder's mind drifted back to Washington. A whole pod of 'them', working at the Bureau. After Danny had disposed of the three replacements, they had all vanished for a couple of days. Most had returned, but obviously they were worried. Only one body had been recovered - the one from the alley. One of them had been disposed of completely, the other was now buried in Skinner's grave.
With Danny's help, Scully had been able to plant Skinner's DNA and it had passed their examination. Mulder hadn't asked if Danny had clouded any minds and didn't intend to at this point. Skinner was officially dead and off their radar. Mulder didn't mind if the replacements were worried. His friends now had a warning system, not as accurate as Danny, but more than they'd had before.
The guys were trying to track down the missing agents. The question was, would they take over someone else's identity or just go underground? Mulder had no doubt they had pulled out all the stops to discover what had destroyed the being sent to kill Skinner. It would have been nice if they hadn't recovered that body either, but Doggett had been able to secure the vertebra that Danny had twisted and destroyed.
All three of the twisted metal vertebrae were now in the trunk of the car. Danny assured them they were useless, but Mulder hadn't felt safe leaving them behind.
"Mulder?" Her hand on his arm brought him back to the present. "Where'd you go?"
"Sorry." He leaned over and gave her a kiss, then took Katy from her. "Just thinking."
"Um hum." Scully watched him closely for a moment.
"Really, nothing we haven't already thought about." He rose and held out his hand to help her to her feet. "Let's go check on our kids and walk a little." He grinned at her expression when he'd referred to Walter as one of their children. "I know you're cramped in the back like that."
"Not as cramped as you would be." Scully smiled up at him. "I really don't mind being with the kids. Walter said he'd get a car as soon as we're home. It is safer this way."
Mulder nodded, but he missed her beside him. He was used to reaching for her hand, or resting her palm on his thigh as they drove. If Skinner, no, he was Walter now, reached for him Mulder would punch him. That visual brought a smile to his lips and Scully cocked an eyebrow at him, but didn't ask.
"I'll let Walter drive for awhile. I want us home tonight."
Scully nodded, "Yes. I'd like to sleep in my own bed tonight."
"Our own bed, Scully."
Her lips twitched, but she nodded. "Walter can have Danny's bed and Danny can sleep on the couch until he gets his own place."
"I'll help him get one right away." Mulder said dryly.
"Are you going to mind if I help him get set up?"
"No, I think some ruffles at the windows, and maybe a pink floral bedspread - "
"Mulder . . . "
"No, go ahead. He said he was going to look for night work, security or something. He'll be home during the day while I'm at work."
"That's not going to bother you, is it?"
Mulder hesitated, "Maybe, but only because I'll be jealous of the time he'll have with you and the kids."
She leaned into him and his free arm went around her. "It also means we can do research in shifts, Mulder."
"So I'll have to get after you for working too hard?" He teased lightly.
"I am completely recovered from Katy's birth."
"Yeah," he kissed the top of her head, "but am I?"
She rolled her eyes as he led her outside to find the rest of their family.
Walter took over the driving, to give Mulder a break. They were all anxious to get home. What would normally be only a six hour drive had doubled with the backtracking near Washington and the stops for the kids.
It was late when they pulled in, Mulder driving once again. Scully and the children were asleep in the back.
"Mulder, I'll take Danny in, then I can unload the car and lock up. I know you have to be at work in a few hours."
"I'm not going to let anything happen to your family, Mulder."
Mulder met his eyes then, "I know. Okay." He tossed the keys to Walter across the top of the car, then opened Scully's door. He saw Walter gather Danny into his arms and head for the apartment. The two of them were growing close. Danny had saved his life.
"Scully?" He touched her face lightly with his lips and fingers.
"Mmm . . . Mulder."
"Good guess. Come on, we're home."
She roused then, "Sorry, I didn't mean to sleep - "
"I wanted you to. Walter kept me awake." He took her hand and lifted her out, then reached in and unbuckled the baby, taking her to his chest. Scully carried the diaper bag as he led them inside.
Nothing had been disturbed. Mulder's eyes took in the whole place. Walter had placed Danny on the couch and covered him with a blanket. Scully, and then Mulder, leaned over and kissed him.
"We're okay, Dad." He murmured sleepily.
"I know, Kiddo. Go back to sleep."
The words were unnecessary; Danny was already out like a light.
Mulder stood there for a moment, watching him sleep. He'd always been ambivalent about kids. He'd gone through the in-vitro because it meant so much to Scully, not for any need to propagate on his own part. He'd mourned that loss, but it hadn't been as real to him as it had to Scully.
When he'd finally been returned and seen her, the shock, the unending multitude of changes had knocked him for a loop. He'd actually doubted that he had fathered this precious child, the child which had brought them together finally.
"Mulder?" She touched his arm lightly. "You okay?"
"Yeah. I'm good."
"Come on to bed. You have to be up early."
He nodded and put his arm around her. Walter would lock up.
Mulder had risen at 5:30, showered and dressed, then given Scully a light kiss on her forehead.
"Mulder?" Her arms went around his neck. "I was going to fix you breakfast."
"I'll grab something on the way." He glanced over as Katy stirred. He picked the baby up and brought her to the bed. "Feed her, then go back to sleep. I'll check in later."
"I love you." She pulled his face back down to her and claimed another, more thorough kiss before letting him go.
She nursed Katy then changed her and after returning her to the crib, climbed back in the bed and followed Mulder's advice.
The smell of coffee woke her sometime later and she donned a robe to investigate. Danny and Walter were at the table, sharing pop-tarts. Scully looked down with distaste. "I guess I need to do some shopping today."
"Yeah, the milk was bad." Danny looked up at her.
"Sorry Honey. We'll fix that in a little while. Walter, did you sleep okay?"
"Very well, thank you." He grinned at Danny, then looked back up at Scully. "What can I do to help?"
She sighed and sank into the chair next to Danny. "Well, there's laundry or groceries."
"Why don't I take laundry and Danny. You can have groceries and Katy. And could you please pick up a newspaper. I've go to find a job."
She nodded, "Sounds like a plan."
"I also want to check about an apartment here." He added.
"Don't worry about getting it all done today, Walter. You're going to be here a while."
He smiled, relaxing slightly.
Mulder arrived at the worksite and was greeted by a chorus of "Rob!" "Good of you to remember us." "Enjoy your time off?"
He grinned, "Yeah, the family oohed and aahed over the baby. I'm ready to get back to work."
The foreman clapped him on the back, "I hear you Buddy. Only so much in-law time you can take. Be grateful they didn't come to you, so you could leave when you wanted to." Mulder chuckled and nodded. He was getting good at this act. "I've got you on second floor today." He glanced at his clipboard, "Oh, meet Joe. He started a couple of days ago."
Mulder put out his hand to shake and nodded at the new man. Then he noticed that the small stone on the long cord around his neck was no longer against his skin. His jacket covered it, but the piece of magnetite was pressing against the fabric of his t-shirt, away from him and toward this new guy, Joe.
He managed to keep the smile on his face and his breathing under control. He needed to talk to Scully and Danny. Mulder glanced over at the tool box, “Hey you guys, are you gonna work today or not?” He started in that direction.
Laughing at him, with more comments about the in-laws, the other guys followed him to work. Joe didn’t seem to be paying any special attention to him, but would he? He grabbed up the plans to see what they were working on for the day.
At the first break, he headed for the port-a-john. It was the only privacy available, but even then he couldn’t use his cell phone. *Danny, can you hear me?*
Immediately he felt a gentle touch in the middle of his forehead.
*I think one of ‘them’ is working here on the site.*
The touch seemed to stroke him then and he smiled. Danny was comforting him.
*Danny, one for yes, twice for no. Does he know who I am?*
Two quick touches on his forehead. Mulder actually broke out in a sweat of relief. He hadn’t realized how tense he was.
*Okay, I’ll be home at regular time. Tell your mother and sister I love them.*
Mulder took a deep breath and emerged, heading back to work. He kept his distance from Joe, trying not to be obvious about it. He seemed like a regular guy, not showing off his strength, joking with the others.
Walter came into the kitchen to move the first load to the dryer and spotted Danny sitting at the table. He didn’t even seem aware of Walter, concentrating on something that was very definitely upsetting him.
“Danny? Danny, talk to me. What’s wrong?” He sat down beside the boy.
His big eyes looked up at Walter. "One of them is working with Dad. He’s there right now.”
Walter froze for just a second. “Do we need to get over there? I can - “
“No. He doesn’t know Dad, I mean, he knows about him but he doesn’t realize that’s him. They call him Rob there, and his hair’s different.”
“Then why do you look so worried?”
“I’m trying to read him. Why is he here? Is he looking for us?”
“Okay, just relax. Can you keep an eye on him without . . . hurting yourself?”
Danny actually smiled then. “Yeah.”
“Then do that. If he recognizes your father, or does something . . . strange, let me know. Otherwise, we have to not let on that we know.”
“I think I can twist his neck from here.”
Walter blinked, the site was miles away. “Don’t Danny. We need to talk. If Mulder isn’t in danger, we need to wait.”
After a moment, Danny nodded, but the worried look didn’t leave his face.
“Come on, help me make sure I don’t turn our underwear pink.” Walter clapped the boy lightly on the shoulder and Danny grinned up at him.
Scully hurried in a little bit later with a very fussy Katy in her arms. With no preamble she turned to Danny. “What’s wrong? Is Mulder okay?”
Danny looked up and she saw the worry in his eyes. She looked up at Walter, “What? What’s wrong?”
“Mulder’s okay. Danny’s keeping an eye on things.”
“Things? What things?” She patted the baby, trying to comfort her.
“Danny and I will get the groceries out of the car, then we’ll bring you up to date on everything.” Walter put his hand on her shoulder. “I swear, Mulder’s okay. Look after Katy. We’ll be right back.”
Danny smiled reassuringly, then followed Walter out to the car.
When they returned, Scully was in the easy chair, a shawl over her shoulder as she nursed Katy. Walter looked away immediately and Danny made a point of not looking up at him. They started putting the groceries away and in a few minutes Scully joined them. Katy had calmed down and drifted off. She was in her crib now, so that they could talk.
“Okay, talk to me.” Walter was reminded of the formidable agent that took no grief from anyone.
Walter looked down at Danny, then turned to Scully. He took a deep breath, “Mulder is fine. He contacted Danny. There’s a, one of them, working with Mulder.”
Her eyes grew impossibly huge. “We have to get him. He has to get out of there.”
“No, Mom. I’m watching the guy. He doesn’t know who Dad is. I don’t know why he’s come to Cleveland, but Dad’s okay.”
“Are you sure?” She looked like she was about to cry.
“I promise. If he makes a move, I can twist him from here. Mom, I won’t let anything happen to Daddy.”
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Mulder, Scully, the Lone Gunman and Skinner all belong to Chris Carter, 10-13 and Fox. No infringement intended.