Scully couldn't take her eyes from the boy. Mulder took a seat beside her, suddenly not sure what to say to her. She didn't seem inclined to speak at all.
"Scully? This isn't where I wanted us to talk, but maybe we're safer here."
"Tell me everything." Her voice was nearly steady.
Mulder looked over at the boy. "He figured it out, Scully. He overheard his parents, his adopted parents, talking. He was being 'released from the program' because he wasn't what they expected or something. His mother was making trouble because the money was going to stop. I think the father was trying to keep her from going public, anyway she was causing problems."
"I found your name in the file," Josh offered. "I just wanted to see what was going on. I didn't know you were my mom at first. I just wanted to know what was going on and I thought you might know. Mulder caught me looking in your windows, but you weren't there."
"How old - "
"I'm five and a half."
"Five?" It was the only word she managed to get out, and that strangled.
"He's special, Scully. He used the school bus system to get to your place. And from what's happened since, I think he got away just in time. You were the one that figured out what happened to Emily's mother. You know what they're capable of."
"Missing, like they said. But you know what's happened better than most."
She looked at the boy, but Mulder continued. "Josh knows what's going on. He's been tested his whole life."
Her head swiveled to stare at Mulder then. "You said he was healthy!"
"He is, Scully. I think that's why they don't want him anymore. He doesn't need their chemicals to keep him alive. He's, he's not a hybrid." Josh did look at him then and it honestly looked, to Scully at least, as though a piece of the puzzle had fallen into place for him.
"What chemicals are you talking about?"
Mulder blinked then. Scully had never known he had that vaccine for Emily. She'd said she wouldn't keep the child alive as a lab rat. Dr. Calderon.
"Josh," Mulder turned to him. "Do you know a Dr.
"Have you ever heard that name?"
Josh shook his head.
"Mulder, Josh grew up in DC, not California."
Mulder shut his eyes. "Who is your doctor? Who did the tests on you?"
"Uh, it was a team, but the head doctor was Dr. Hambright."
Mulder looked over at Scully, but she only shook her head. "We need to check into it, I didn't even think to ask."
"How long have you been together?"
"Since Thursday, the night you left. So, what four days?"
"Then I guess you're forgiven."
"Gee thanks, Scully." But he squeezed her hand. She was handling this as well as could be expected.
"Mulder, how are we going to keep him safe? What do we do now? Do you have a plan? When we take him in, they're going to call Social Services."
"No. Scully, take a breath. Josh was taken across state lines, the Bureau has jurisdiction. He will stay in our custody and we'll escort him back to DC."
Mulder shook his head. "We'll have to go into headquarters, cross the t's."
"But we haven't got a lead on his father."
"That's right. Josh was drugged. He woke up here alone. He doesn't know how he got here or who took him. That's why we have to take him back to DC. He needs to be low profile until we get him back. That will keep him safe."
Scully looked over at Josh, but he seemed more steady than she felt.
"Then we work on getting custody."
"And how do we do that?"
"He's my son, Scully. We can prove it through DNA. If someone I dated six years ago didn't tell me she'd gotten pregnant and gave the baby away, she couldn't have my consent and his adopted parents are gone. I'm blood." He shrugged.
Instead of answering she just looked at Josh.
"Come on, we've given Byers plenty of time to get out of here. We need do to a lot more talking, but let's get somewhere more comfortable. Are you ready, Josh? You know what to do?"
"What to do?" Scully questioned, her hand tightening around his hand.
Josh smiled. "Yeah. I'm scared and alone and I don't want to leave Scully's side."
She blinked. "Scully, it plays better than him clinging to me."
Nodding, she took a deep breath and they both seemed to help her to her feet.
"Dirty yourself up a little," Mulder advised Josh, who obediently got down and rolled around on the floor, making sure he got dirt in his hair and on his face. Mulder was trying to suppress a grin when he saw Scully's face. He moved to her immediately and his arm went around her. "It's going to be okay."
She looked up at him. He knew only he would be able to see the uncertainty, tinged with hope in her eyes. Josh was quickly beside them and with a steadying breath of his own, Mulder led them to the car.
They were quiet on the way back. Josh knew his role and he'd been able to do a little practicing with the guys. Scully would follow Mulder's lead. Now wasn't a good time to stress her further.
When he parked at the police station, he looked back at Josh and was surprised to see dried tear tracks in the dirt on his face. "Josh?"
"No, talk to me. Why were you crying?" Scully's head jerked around.
"I don't know. I'm happy, I found you two and I feel safe."
"Have you ever heard of happy tears?" Scully asked softly.
"Only girls . . . Oh. Really?" Josh brightened up immediately.
"Hey, don't look too happy," Mulder cautioned and the boy's face went bland. Scully's eyes widened at the familiar expression under all that blonde hair.
"Come on, this may take some time."
It did, but Mulder's authority, as well as his demeanor and a call from the Assistant Director of the FBI, won them their way. The fact that Scully was an MD and had already examined the boy helped. Josh stuck to her like glue and no one there doubted he felt safer in her presence.
Mulder finally called a halt to everything, advising the local police that he was taking them to the hotel for the evening and would be flying out first thing the next morning. Publicity had been kept to an absolute minimum due to the fact that the boy's father was still out there somewhere and they did not want him alerted that Josh had been found. The Amber Alert would be canceled only after they were back in DC, with more details at that time. At least the locals agreed on that and were happy to take on the task of continuing the search for the man. Mulder did feel a little guilt over that; these men were busy and knowing they were on a wild goose chase didn't feel right. He planned to have them call off the search as soon as he returned to DC.
They all breathed a sigh of relief once they were back in the car. Mulder carried their bags inside, Josh had nothing but Mulder had packed a few things for him in his bag. He took the keycards for both rooms, then herded them all into Scully's room.
"Why don't you clean up and get ready for bed, Josh. I'll order in. We don't need to be seen out anywhere tonight. We're guarding you."
The boy nodded wearily and took the clothing Mulder handed him. He trudged off to the bathroom, adrenaline gone now. Mulder looked over at Scully but she wouldn't face him, so with a sigh, he picked up the phone and ordered dinner.
Josh was so tired that he barely finished eating and Mulder worried at one point that his face was going to land in his plate. Mulder led him to the bed closest to the bathroom and got him under the covers. Scully moved then, tucking him in and whispering something to him that Mulder couldn't hear, then kissing his brow. The boy smiled in his sleep and rolled over.
Mulder took Scully's arm and she jumped at his touch. "Are you okay?"
"I don't know," she admitted and allowed him to lead her back to the table. He stood over her.
"Why don't you go ahead and get ready for bed too. We're not going anywhere tonight."
"Are you going to your room?"
He shook his head. "I'm in for the night too."
"We can't - "
"Sleep together? Yes, we can. Maybe we can't have great welcome back sex, but I'm going to hold you tonight. You need it and I need it."
She let her head rest at his waist. His hand came up to gently massage her shoulders. He felt her relax a little and after a moment she sat up, then rose and headed for the bath.
He had cleaned up their meal and set it outside by the time she returned. She'd worn one of his favorite nightgowns, anticipating welcome home sex as well, and the sight stirred him, but there would be other nights. He could be confident of that now. She still didn't look like she was ready to talk, so he took over the bath and returned to her shortly wearing only his boxers.
That did cause a glance from her, but it wasn't admonishing. Her eyes went back to Josh, his child-like snores faint in the room.
"Mulder, you have the same strikes against you with the adoption agencies that I had two years ago. You're single, you travel in your work, and you've had no long-term relationships."
"I have you."
"You know what I mean."
"Yes, I do. Scully, you were willing to give up the Bureau in order to be Emily's mother. I saw that. It scared the hell out of me at the time, because I thought it meant we'd be . . . apart."
"Now I understand that you and I won't ever be apart, regardless of what they throw at us."
There was a faint smile on her lips at that.
"What if we get married?" he said it gently, nearly a whisper, but her head swiveled toward him. "I know I'm not on one knee with a huge diamond in my hand, there's no champagne, but our son is sleeping in that bed and we deserve some happiness around that."
She just stared at him.
"Not the reaction I was hoping for there, Scully."
"Do you think we could be married to each other?"
"Yes. Don't you?"
"I . . . I . . ." she stopped then looking bemused.
"We'd probably lose the X-Files, but I don't see that stopping us from investigating them. Our son is an X-File."
She winced and he regretted his words. "I think I could get transferred to Quantico, go back to teaching. That would give me a more normal schedule."
"So you are thinking about it."
She looked surprised then. "I guess I am. Mulder, when they check the DNA, they're going to know he's mine as well."
"We'll go to a private lab to get it checked out."
"Gunmen private?" Her eyebrow was already rising.
"Best in the country. Fastest too. They only take private clients."
"Who were you dating six years ago?"
"The mother of my child."
"We've never dated."
"True, we skipped that part, went straight to loving each other. Scully, give me a shot at this. I don't know exactly what it all entails, but I already need to be with you to be me and he . . . he kind of fit right in with me. He feels right. Does that make any sense?"
She nodded, her throat closed.
"Was it like that for you, when you found Emily?"
She shook her head. "No," it was only a whisper. "Something wasn't quite right. I think it was knowing how sick she was, what she was already having to endure. I fell in love with her and you're right, I would have left the Bureau to care for her, but I think she was already mostly gone before I found her." She looked over toward the bed, at the healthy, sturdy little boy sleeping peacefully there. "I need to get to know him, but there is a . . . a tug. I see you in his face."
Mulder smiled a confused smile. "I see you there."
"The eyes are mine, but the brow, the lips, the nose are you. When I see his real hair color - "
"Yeah, that's mine. The nose, huh?"
She actually laughed then and he relaxed more at the sound. "Come to bed, Mulder. We have a long day tomorrow."
He nodded and pulled her to her feet. He took the side of the second bed closest to the door, she was closer to the boy. He spooned around her, both facing Josh, and fell asleep.
The bounce on the bed the next morning woke them both abruptly and Mulder reached for his gun before he realized it was Josh, sitting on his knees between him and Scully.
"You are going to marry her!"
They both blinked up at him.
"How do you know?"
"I dreamed it. We were in a little church and there were people there - the bald guy, Skinner? And the guys and some others I didn't know. I was the best man!"
Scully finally dragged her eyes away from the boy to meet Mulder's eyes.
"Uh, well, yeah we talked about . . ."
"Will we live in your apartment? Is there room for everyone, and what about school? Is there one - "
"Wait a minute!" Mulder finally got a word in. "We haven't figured all that stuff out yet. She didn't know about you this time yesterday, remember?"
"Oh, yeah." Subdued, he turned back to Scully. "Do you want to know me?"
She sat up and reached for him then. He came eagerly into her arms as they closed around her. Mulder had never seen her hold Emily like that. There had been a distance there, as though Scully were, not an intruder, but unfamiliar. Josh obviously didn't feel that way. Of course he was nearly twice the age Emily had been at the time and their personalities were very different. The little girl had been ill and under care her whole life. Had he ever even heard her speak?
Scully had kept a little distance too, knowing the child was hers, but not able to really feel it. And before she'd had that chance, it, Emily, was gone. Mulder never wanted to see her in that kind of pain again, but things were different with Josh. He was healthy, he was theirs. Mulder didn't have that feeling of being left out of the process this time, either. Strange as it sounded, he'd felt committed to the boy while they were still in the car with their burgers that night. It hadn't been a week, Mulder realized abruptly, and his entire life had done a 180. He was willing to give up, officially anyway, on the X-Files in order to make this happen for them.
Josh looked up at him from the comfort of Scully's arms. "She loves us." There was a wondering quality in his voice.
"I suspected that," Mulder's voice was husky and Scully caught his eye, nodding slowly. "We need to get ready to go. I don't want to miss our flight. Let's let . . . Mom take the bathroom first. It takes girls longer," he confided to Josh, who grinned and nodded.
Her eyebrow at its apex, Scully snorted but gave Josh a squeeze and left the bed. Josh took her place as though he'd always done this and smiled up at Mulder from her pillow. "She won't have any trouble getting a job at Quantico."
Mulder's brow furrowed. "We thought you were asleep."
"Yeah, then how come you know all the stuff we talked about?"
"I don't know," the boy shrugged. "I've always been able to do that."
"Do what exactly?" Mulder asked.
Josh shrugged. "I don't know, I always knew when my parents were going to fight. I always knew Mom, my adopted mom, was uncomfortable around me. I don't think she wanted kids, but I don't know why they'd bother to adopt me if they didn't want kids," he sighed. "I guess it was the money. Do you think they knew I'd be in that program thing when they adopted me?"
I'd guarantee it, Mulder thought, but didn't answer. "It's one of those things we'll need to learn." Changing the subject, he tousled Josh's hair. "How long does this blonde stuff last?"
"Six washes they said. I don't think I like it."
"Yeah, I never wanted to be blonde either."
Josh nodded. "And we like redheads."
"That's for certain, my man."
Mulder waited until they were at the airport and ready to board the plane before he called the station. There had been no activity at the warehouse overnight. Mulder appeared to mull that over, then spoke. "He may have made us, seen Agent Scully and I leave the place, even seen us take the boy. If so, he's on the run. We'll get the boy out of town and keep him under guard. I'll contact you when I know more, but I'm thinking he's slipped out of our grasp here. Yeah, thanks."
He nodded to Scully and they moved toward the gate. Josh got the window seat, then Scully with Mulder on the aisle. He raised the armrest between he and Scully, not because she needed the room, just to feel her next to him. He let the two of them talk quietly together for most of the trip, getting to know one another. Occasionally Scully would draw him into the conversation, but mostly he sat listening to them, Scully's hand in his.
He made one short call to the guys so that they could alert Skinner they were on their way back.
There was no press at the airport, so they were able to make their way casually to Mulder's car. "I'm going to drop you guys off at Scully's place, then I'll head in to brief Skinner. There'll have to be an announcement that you have been located and are in protective custody, but since your father hasn't been located, we have to keep it low key. I don't want a picture of you with the blonde hair out there. They're using your last school picture for the Amber alert. Does that sound okay?"
"Are you going to check into the adoption records?"
"Yes, officially, unofficially it was a sealed adoption. The guys are already working on that."
Scully shook her head. "I should have known."
About an hour later, Mulder walked into Skinner's office. Skinner was at Kim's desk discussing his calendar when he arrived. Kim smiled up at him, "Congratulations."
"I lucked out," Mulder winked at her, then followed Skinner into his office.
"That was quick, even for 'Spooky'," Skinner said dryly.
"Yeah, we caught a break. Any word on Milton?"
"No, I think we've actually helped them there, giving them the story of his disappearance. I'm not sure we're going to find the body. Is Josh okay?"
Mulder grinned. "Yeah. He and Scully are at her place, bonding."
"Scully. Is she . . . "
"Catching up quick. She recognized him immediately. She says he looks like me."
"He does, except for the eyes. Didn't you see that?"
Mulder shook his head. "I think I only saw the eyes. Uh, she'll be in to talk to you, but I believe she'll be asking for a transfer to Quantico."
"Mulder - "
"And she's accepted my proposal."
Now Skinner's eyes widened. "Proposal? The two of you . . . "
"It's one way to assure custody. We can prove he's mine, from an 'ill fated relationship' six years ago, but in order for someone like me to get custody, there has to be some stability in the home."
"You've checked into this?"
"She did, when she found Emily. Sir, I can't let this opportunity pass for her or me."
"What about the X-Files?"
Mulder shrugged. "They go unofficial again."
"You're okay with that?"
"It's safer. And I said unofficial, not gone."
"BSU for you?"
"I don't know. We haven't gotten that far. Scully doesn't like me to profile."
"Let me look into a few things. First I need to get a press release out that Josh has been found and his abductor is missing. I need your report asap."
"Already written in my head. I'll head down and type it up for you. Then I need to head back over to Scully's."
Skinner nodded his dismissal and turned toward his own computer.
Mulder headed for the basement after speaking with Kim for a moment and booted up his computer. The report flowed and he emailed a copy for Scully to review before he submitted it. They definitely needed to have their stories straight this time.
He waited for her reply; no need for another trip and when he got home he wanted to stay there for awhile.
After a couple of minor changes, he headed back up to Skinner's office. Rather than drop it off, he gained access to the office and they went over it. Skinner advised him that a news release would be sent out shortly with no current pictures and neither Mulder nor Scully would be interviewed.
Mulder was out of there as quickly as possible, and headed over to Scully's apartment. They were going to need a bigger place. Another thing to add to the list.
Scully and Josh were watching TV when he got there. Josh's school picture was on the screen and they were announcing that he had been located, but placed in protective custody while the search for his father continued.
Mulder took a seat beside Scully and listened to the broadcast. He had her hand in his and Josh's hand crept in with theirs.
They had a lot to work out, but being here together, the three of them - it was right.