The next morning, Mulder saw what she meant. The curls were out of control. With a growl, she pulled it back into a clip and gave up. She was definitely not in a good mood.
He carried the few things they had used overnight out to the car, and then took Will. She followed and watched him buckle in the boy. He knew how to do it now, and she watched as he tested the straps in any case.
He drove them into the neighborhood and slowed down. He glanced over at her and saw her jaw hanging slack, same as his. It was the neighborhood from the dream. "It, it's that one," she said with a shaky voice. She was right. He looked over at it. All of the houses were a shade of beige, but some had a hint of pink or green. Theirs was green with a double car garage sticking out front.
"Mulder - "
"I don't know," he answered her unspoken question. Silently he pulled into the short driveway and turned off the engine. He looked over at her and saw her fear. "It'll be okay."
She didn't respond, but unbuckled her seat belt. He did the same, then opened the back and hefted Will from his seat. He leaned in and whispered to the boy. "Do you have anything to do with this?"
Will smiled and wiggled to get down. Holding his hand, Mulder joined Dana, and they headed for the front door. The key fit and they stepped inside.
It was empty. All of the walls were cream with a beige brown carpet. There was a tiny bit of hard wood at the entrance, enough room for a mat before stepping on the carpet. There was a wall dissecting the downstairs into a formal area on the side with the front door and a family room on the other side with the sliding door and fireplace. The wall stopped about four feet from the stairs, but couldn't be called a hall, just an opening. It was a good size family room, twice the size of the formal area, with the kitchen around the corner behind the stairs. There was a space for a table, but no dining room, just off of the kitchen. The fireplace was on the outside wall opposite the kitchen and around the corner from the sliding doors. A small patio and yard was visible through those doors. Mulder opened a door to reveal a half bath. Dana moved on into the kitchen and he followed with Will.
It was 'U' shaped with the sink facing the great room and the counter had space to eat if they bought some stools. The counters were a mottled dark gray linoleum, which worked okay with all the white of the appliances and cabinets. The appliances were white and basic. There was a microwave over the stove, which was beside the refrigerator.
"What do you think?"
She looked up and tried to smile. "It's very nice."
"But how did we know about it?"
He shook his head. "Let's shelf that for now. Want to go upstairs?"
She nodded and moved out of the kitchen. She followed him up the stairs, watching Will in his arms.
"We've got to get a stair guard," she said to him.
"First thing, I was just thinking that." There was a small sitting area at the top of the stairs. He turned left into the master suite. This would make up for anything plain downstairs. There was a tray ceiling and three windows that gave great southern light into the room. She moved into the large bath and walk in closet. She did smile now as she looked back at him. He gave her an answering smile, then followed her back through the sitting area to the nice size front bedroom with two windows. There was full bath between it and another bedroom on the back of the house.
"This should be Will's room," Dana said of the back bedroom. "It's not that close to the stairs, and it not over the garage, so that shouldn't wake him up."
Mulder looked a little surprised at that. Another thing he hadn't thought to consider. "Yeah, good idea. Do, uh, do you want to go look for furniture?"
"What do you want to get?"
"Well, it's your money."
"It's our house, at least for now. I think you'd be better at picking out what we need and could probably make it look like it belongs."
Her lips twitched then. "I'll take that as a compliment."
"Thanks. We need to make a list."
He picked up Will, tucked him under his arm and raced down to stairs to Will's squeals. Dana followed more slowly. "I'll get the boxes we do have out of the car. You start on the list."
"Chicken!" she called out to him as he headed outside.
When he brought in the last box, she was leaning against the counter in the kitchen, watching Will who was looking out the sliding door.
"Okay, bare minimum - we need a couch, table and chairs for down here. Two bedroom sets, and a crib for upstairs."
She chuckled. "Okay, a TV and something to put it on."
"And a chair. We only need one bedroom set."
"Excuse me?" Her eyebrow started to rise.
"Uh, I can sleep down here, on the couch. We need to get one long enough for me."
"You want to sleep on the couch?"
"I'll be kind of on guard . . . " He stopped that her expression. Shit, he'd brought it all back when she’d been in a good mood. "Let's go on."
She nodded. "Let me change Will first."
When she was through they turned to the door, and she started when they heard the knock. Mulder immediately stepped in front of her and looked through the side window. He looked back to tell her it was okay, and saw her clutching Will to her. "It's okay."
He nodded. "Trust me, please?"
She closed her eyes, but nodded. He opened the door as she stepped up beside him.
"Hi! I know you're moving in and don't need any company," the brunette with the ponytail said. "I'm Marge Carpenter and I live next door. I saw the truck with your stuff isn't here yet, and I thought you could use this." She held out a baby gate, and Dana smiled.
"We were just talking about that."
"Won't you come in?" Mulder asked, stepping aside. "I'm William Hale, this is Katy and Will."
Marge stepped inside, and propped the baby gate against the wall. "You'll be able to get a lot more done with the steps blocked off, I know. And don't worry about getting it back. Mine are way beyond me being able to stop them with this."
"How many do you have?" Dana asked.
"Two, Kevin is six, and Candice is three. How old is Will?"
"A year, just barely."
"Ah, the twos are still to come. You're welcome to escape to my house any time. Well, I know you're busy, when is the truck expected?"
"That's the fun part," Mulder said. "We are now officially educated, but along with losing student housing, the stuff that was 'ours' wasn't worth keeping, so we get to go shopping."
Marge's eyes gleamed. "Now that is fun. Check out Furnitureland South on Nicholasville. They always have a sale and good discounts. Head into town, cross the bridge and it's on the right. Were you in UK's graduate housing? I have a friend that's over there."
"No, we were in North Carolina."
She nodded and missed the evasion. "Okay, gotta run see if I still have a house. I'm right there," she pointed next door. "Hollar if you need anything."
"Thank you," Dana said, watching the woman hurry away. She turned to Mulder. "Can I trust her?"
"How do you know?"
"Just a feeling. Come on, let's head over to Nicholasville."
He had no trouble finding the place, and followed her inside looking bemused. "This is definitely your field."
"Have you never bought furniture?"
"I have a couch and a TV. Oh yeah, and a couple of tables, but none of them match like this."
She looked at him for a moment, then led him on inside. Her choices were well thought out and coordinated in a way he didn't even try to follow. She was holding on, making the best of the situation, but not what he could call comfortable yet. Leaving the decisions to her after a few minutes, he took Will over to the children's furniture and let him climb on the bunk beds, advising the boy that this was far in the future for him. He spotted her watching them, trying to keep Will in sight even as she worked with the salesman, so Mulder returned to her side. He didn't want to make this any worse for her. He found Dana studying the bedroom furniture. She was standing at a fairly plain set, with a maple stained wood.
He was behind her, and noted her glance a couple of times over at a four-poster dark cherry wood set with rice pattern posts. Then he watched her turn her back on it. She asked the very attentive clerk some questions about the maple set.
Mulder stepped closer. "Excuse me. How much is that one?" He pointed to the one she had been trying to ignore.
"Oh, that's a lovely suite, made by Broyhill. It comes with six pieces, bed, dresser, bureau, two side tables and the mirror. I can let you have that, along with everything else you're purchasing for, um, $1900."
"Great, we'll take it."
"It's pretty, I like it. You got to pick the couch and chair. We're going to need something to hold the TV, and a table and chairs."
"We're headed that way," the salesman, his smile growing every minute, responded.
Mulder grinned and looked down at Will. "She needs our help."
"Oh I do?"
"Definitely. You probably don't even know the size cabinet we need for the big screen."
"Big screen?" She shook her head, but didn't dispute it. Mulder trailed her, Will in his arms. They looked over the TV cabinets and chose one. Mulder found a matching coffee table, but Dana vetoed it. "It's got sharp corners."
"Oh, yeah." Shit, another thing he'd never thought of.
"There's more over there," the salesman pointed. "Pick out any one you like. With this order, it's on the house."
Dana blinked at that, but followed Mulder over to the other side of the store. "Free? He's giving us a coffee table for free?"
Mulder grinned. "We've made the man's commission for the month. What do you like?"
She picked a rounded one that matched the TV cabinet, and the salesman added it to the order.
They left with the promise that the small truck would be by with at least part of their furniture that afternoon. The bedroom set, which had to be dissembled and set up would be delivered the next day.
They headed for the car, and after they were in and buckled, Mulder looked over at her. "TV shopping now?"
She tried to stifle the chuckle. "I suppose you're the expert there."
"Definitely," he affirmed.
They had only been home a few minutes when the van pulled up with most of their new furniture. Mulder helped the two guys unload the truck, while Dana kept Will out of the way. Mulder looked down at her as he hauled the mattress up the stairs, holding their son and smiling at the new kitchen table. He didn't understand the emotion that threatened to overwhelm him. He'd been doing this to protect her, protect their son, but this felt . . . different. Even if it was 'acting' it felt like a family.
As though she felt his eyes on her, she looked up and something caused color to flood her face. The older delivery man cleared his throat and Mulder jerked, and continued up the stairs. That was . . . awkward.
Once the men had left, she had him rearrange the furniture a little, then he sat down on the floor and began working on setting up the TV. Will 'helped' by crawling over him and trying to put things in his mouth. When he finally got it hooked up, Mulder was exhausted and knew she was laughing at him somewhere upstairs.
"Okay, Big Guy, let's see what's on." He took the baby over to the couch and stretched out. Within moments, both of them were sound asleep in front of ESPN.
Dana slipped downstairs to check, and stopped dead on the next to the bottom step, watching them. Again, in nearly identical positions, Will perfectly comfortable on Mulder's chest. What was going on?
The boys woke from their naps to the smell of dinner cooking, and after a quick change for Will, came to offer their assistance.
"Oh sure, now that everything's ready . . . " She tried to glare at them but Will was so obviously happy in Mulder's arms, she couldn't sustain it.
That night he lay on the new couch, wide awake, thinking about what the hell he had done. Could he keep them safe this way? 'They' knew he and Dana were missing; they had to assume that he knew about Will, and the boy's parentage. What was it about Will? Was he different from other kids? Dana had been in their custody, they had impregnated her. He had been . . . changed by them the night they had taken Samantha. Okay, he hadn't admitted that to himself before, but it was true. They had 'enhanced' him, his memory, his intellect - okay he'd only been twelve, but he knew. Hadn't his grades improved dramatically? It wasn't just that he'd had few friends left after that, or that the mothers of his friends had kept them away, and therefore more time to study. He had understood things better. So he was different, and for some reason they had wanted a child from him, from them.
He couldn't talk to her about this. She already thought he was a fool, believing in extraterrestrials. At least she had believed him when he had told her Will was his. She wouldn't admit it any more than he would, but they had both known it on some level.
They should be safe here, at least for a while. He'd keep emergency supplies in the car, and hope.
Upstairs was no better. The mattress was on the floor and she was comfortable enough, but her mind wouldn't quit. What the hell was she doing? She was in a state where she knew no one but the man that had kidnapped her and her son. He was Will's father; somehow she knew that, but it made no sense.
It felt like the first time she'd drawn a breath since she had stepped out of her car at the airport. He had said he was an FBI agent and shown her his badge, but so what? He could have been stalking her, followed her into that grocery and just lucked into a robbery. That's idiotic, she chastised herself. He had been good to her and to Will, but he had drawn a gun on her. Okay, he'd been back in less than an hour with all kinds of supplies that proved he had her best interests at heart. Had he really signed to build this house on the day that Will was born? Will, the baby liked Mulder and trusted him. That was not feinted. They got along famously. He had shown her where he was hiding the cash that came in the box, and given her the ID in her new name. She wasn't being held prisoner in any way she would have thought, having only one car wasn't the same, was it?
The pictures of her apartment returned to her mind. That could have been staged by these 'friends' of his, the ones that did DNA tests and hacked into government computers. So why was she lying here trusting him? What was it that made all this bearable? Okay, he was more than attractive, though he'd made no move since everything had fallen apart. He hadn't even attempted to kiss her, and no, she was not sorry about that! Those eyes - could he look at her with those beautiful eyes and be lying? God! She was more than a fool, putting her son in danger, but something about him was keeping her from being scared out of her mind.
She finally fell asleep from sheer exhaustion, but was awakened by Will crying out not long after. She blearily made her way to his room, but he was sound asleep. She heard it again, and realized the sound was coming from downstairs.
What was going on? Was that Mulder? Was he hurt? He was all they had right now. If someone had found them, broken in . . . She moved quietly to the stairs and stepped over the baby gate now placed at the top to prevent Will tumbling down. The steps were new and didn't squeak as she made her careful way down.
The TV was on, but the sound was muted or turned very low. From the light she could see him on the couch and realized he was caught in a nightmare. Later she would question herself, but it didn't occur to her not to go to him.
He was restless, his voice rising now. "Don't take . . . No . . . No . . . please don't . . . " He sounded agonized.
She touched his shoulder. "Mulder? Mulder, wake up." A tear trailed down his face into his hair.
"Mulder." She shook his shoulder now and he woke abruptly, jerking away from her hand. "Sorry, I - "
"What are you doing down here?"
"I heard you. You were having a bad dream."
He looked more embarrassed than anything else. "Did I, did I say anything?"
"You were asking someone not to take something. Your sister?"
He sat up then, letting the afghan fall into his lap. He didn't have on a t-shirt; she wasn't sure what was under the afghan. For some reason it didn't seem to matter. She took a seat at the far end of the couch and tucked one leg under her.
Now he looked a little frightened, but kept quiet.
"Were you dreaming about when your sister was taken?"
He shook his head. "Actually I was, it was you, you and Will."
She blinked at that. She bit her lip, then looked up at him. "You’re really not a stalker or - "
"I'm not a stalker. The Bureau frowns on it."
"You really work for the FBI."
He nodded. "You saw my badge."
"I also saw my new driver's license."
His lips quirked then. "Touche."
"You really do care about Will."
"And you," he said before he could stop himself.
"You're the mother of my child."
That statement rendered her speechless for a moment.
"Who was with you?"
"With me?" she asked.
"When Will was born. Who was your coach?"
"Oh, I didn't have one. I went in alone."
"Alone?" He looked disturbed at that.
"Well, Allen had already made it quite clear that he wasn't interested in being involved in any way. And my parents weren't especially thrilled that their medical student daughter had . . . Anyway, maybe if I had it to do over, I would have liked to have Mom there, but at the time I was being very . . . independent."
"Were you okay?"
She shrugged. "It was . . . difficult, and I wasn't as prepared as I should have been."
"I'm sorry I wasn't . . . "
"Me too." He looked up startled to see that she looked just as surprised as him. "I'm sorry - "
"The woman, the one that supplied your . . . are you close?" His expression made her regret the question instantly. She wasn't sure he had meant to mention the possible mode of transportation of his DNA. "I'm sorry, that was - "
"I thought so, I guess. Remember, I mentioned her to you. I said she’d run screaming if I got her . . . We had been together for awhile, but I probably shouldn't have been surprised."
"What, that she betrayed me? I guess I'm used to that."
"Sorry, just a little self-pity," he tried to grin but it didn't quite come off.
"Why should you be used to that?" she pressed.
He sighed, realizing she really wanted to know. "I've had two 'significant' relationships in my life, not counting you, of course." She did smile faintly then, but didn't interrupt. "The first was while I was at Oxford. Phoebe. She enjoyed pursuit, but when she realized she'd caught me, I guess I wasn't as interesting. She liked seeing how many times she could get me back after 'experiencing' other men." He continued though she opened her mouth to speak. "Then Diana. Shouldn't have dated a co-worker, right? She seemed to be interested in my project, the X-Files, and believe in the conspiracy like I do, but apparently she was more mixed up it in than I was."
There was silence for a moment, then, "If she's the reason I have Will, I'm grateful."
He looked over at her surprised and smiled for real. "Me too."
"Neither of those women sound especially bright to me. In my opinion, they have very skewed views of what life is about."
"I hadn't thought about it that way. I'm sorry you had to go through everything that happened to you, especially alone, but Will seems like a super kid."
Her smile was full wattage then. "He is. I was concerned about having the responsibility all alone. Of course I had to drop out of school, but it's not been what I feared. I mean, yes, I had little sleep in the beginning, but he's really fun to be around. I've been very lucky that he hasn't been sick, even when the others in the daycare get something, he usually just keeps on truckin'. I feel . . . I feel good around him. Maybe all mothers feel that way - "
She didn't ask where he'd gotten that insight, just settling back on the couch.
"I don't understand."
"Don't understand what?" he asked.
"Why I'm sitting here, comfortably, visiting with you after . . . "
He nodded. “I’m sorry for - "
“Don’t apologize. I, I trust you. Will trusts you.” The expression on his face caused her cheeks to warm. “I guess I should let you get back to sleep.”
“I’m through sleeping for the night, but you should try to get some more rest. Will's gonna be up in a few hours.”
“Do you think you could sleep in the bed? I could take the couch for the rest of the night.”
“There’s no need for that. I don’t need that much sleep.”
“Would you mind the company?”
“Not at all, if you’re not tired.”
They visited, speaking of less critical things, just getting to know one another, as they would have on dates had things been different.
He glanced over at the TV, which was still on mute and when he looked back, he realized she had fallen asleep, her head on his shoulder. He couldn’t help but watch her sleep against him. She had given him the chance to regain her trust under damn trying circumstances. Now she had gotten comfortable here against him. He let his arm go around her and allowed himself to get comfortable as well.
He woke first, to find that they had stretched out and slept quite comfortably together there on the couch for the rest of the night. She certainly wouldn’t be happy to find them cuddled together. He carefully removed himself from her arms and headed upstairs.
He took a shower, on the cool side to bring his libido down, and got dressed.
She woke up confused. Where was . . . oh God! She’d fallen asleep down here with . . . Where was he? Had he gone upstairs when she took over his space? No, it came to her, the feel of his arms holding her, her arms holding him as well. She felt her face flame at the memory. Was she still attracted to him? Well, yes, physically. What woman wouldn’t be? But under the circumstances . . .
She rose from the couch and hurried upstairs. She had just reached the top when the door to the hall bathroom opened and he emerged, dressed, but with his hair slicked back and still wet.
They looked at each other for a long moment, then she turned away. Silently he watched her enter the master bedroom and shut the door. He felt his mood plummet, the memory of the feel of her evaporating.
After another moment he turned toward the nursery. He hadn’t heard anything, but something made him step inside. Will was awake, standing quietly in the crib. He reached for Mulder when he saw him.
“Hi, Son. Did you sleep okay?”
The boy merely held up his arms to be picked up.
“I think I better change you first.” Mulder dressed Will for the day, with considerably less skill than she exhibited, but he’d learn.
Mulder played with Will while she fixed breakfast with what was available. They were slightly embarrassed around each other, but Will’s delight eased that. In her head, she began making a list of essentials. They were barely finished when the bell rang. The men brought the bedroom furniture and Mulder helped them carry it in. Once assembled, they arranged the room to her satisfaction and the two men from the store headed downstairs.
Mulder went with them to let them out, and in a couple of minutes Dana came down with Will in her arms.
“You like it?”
“I love it. I’ve looked at that bedroom suite for ages, but I never thought I’d . . . thank you.”
“You still need bedroom furniture.”
He shook his head. “The couch is fine. It’s where I slept in my apartment. I’m used to it.”
“You slept on a couch?”
He shrugged. “It wasn’t that big a place. I used the bedroom for storage.”
“You must have had a lot of stuff to store.”
He only smiled.
“Well, Will and I need to get some supplies. I thought I’d get groceries. Is there anything - “ She saw his expression then. “Mulder?”
“You, uh, you will come back.”
Her eyes widened. “I, yes. Mulder, I didn’t . . . Look,” she took a deep breath, “it would be easier if you kept Will while I ran the errands. I could get back quicker.”
“You, you’d do that?”
“You were good with him last time. You need some time to get to know how to look after him, get to know him.” She gave a tiny shrug.
“You . . . you’d - “
“Mulder, I’ll be back as quick as I can. Do I have a budget?”
“Uh, no, whatever you . . . “
She handed him the baby. Mulder took him, looking bemused. Dana leaned in and gave Will a kiss on the cheek and then without thinking did the same for Mulder. She drew back, blushing and he just stared at her. Will laughed out loud drawing their attention.
“He seems pleased with our arrangement,” she managed to say, which drew a laugh from Mulder.
“He’s not alone.”
Color flooded her face again, remembering last night and she turned away, picking up the keys from the counter.
“Dana, be careful. Don’t be . . . too long.”
She nodded, looking at the baby one more time. He met her eyes and nodded.