Lives Reclaimed - Full text


 

 
Summary:  After the events of I Want To Believe, Mulder is given another case with far reaching consequences and Scully is pulled along for the ride.

Disclaimer:  Ah, Chris, you know by now we aren't making money off this stuff!  Otherwise, we'd both be livin' la vida loca!  So same old same old -- no copyright infringement intended.
Archive:  yes

Comments to [email protected] and [email protected]

Donna here - Gotta admit this was a dream come true.  I've been reading and corresponding with Vickie for years.  My hubby already knows that I'm leaving all my 
unfinished stories to Vickie because her style feels right to me, and then to get to write with her!  She tosses me this incredible idea and asks me to work with her - and on top of that, I 
get to meet her at CrystalCon, so we can collaborate <g>.  Hope you guys enjoy this as much as I did working on it.

Vickie's Turn:  I've been trying to coax Donna into doing a case file for years and I finally got the job done.  I had a blast.  She is one incredible writer and it was so much fun 
following the breadcrumbs we kept tossing at each other.  I want to do it again -- as soon as possible.  Hope you enjoy reading it as much as we did writing it.  And now, without further 
ado, we happily give you:  Lives Reclaimed
 

He wasn't asleep when he heard the noise.  It was hard to sleep in this room.  It was too dark and the nightlight was too far away.  The closet door didn't close all the way and the window rattled.  His newest 'mother' had told him it was an old house, and that they would trim back the tree when it was warmer outside, but they always said things like that when he was new.  After a while, they would see how much trouble he was, and they would stop making promises and stop being nice, and then the lady in the beige jacket would come and he'd have to pack again. 

But when he heard the noise, he knew.  He knew there wouldn't be time for nice promises or even pancakes for breakfast.  He couldn't say how he knew, but every fiber in his body told him to run, to hide, to stay absolutely quiet, to wait, to watch. 

The closet was darker than the room, and it frightened him, but the noise came again so he shoved aside the shoeboxes and old coats and cowered in the far corner.  He left the door open just as much as it had been when he'd been lying in the bed; open just enough so he could see out of the crack. 

He closed his eyes and put his head on his drawn up knees.  Slowing his breathing, he chewed on his lip and let his mind wander. 

A crash.  Glass breaking, splintering, cascading down like brilliant snowfall.  A scream -- his new mother.  Loud cracking noises and moaning.  Blood, running along the floor. 

His new mother, her eyes open but not looking at anything, her arm stretched out toward his new father -- more blood, lots and lots of blood. 

He squinted his eyes more tightly shut and tried to think of other things, anything to block the images that flooded his mind.  He thought back, way back, to when he was very, very little.  Rocking back and forth in the far corner of the dark closet, he let the words of an old song flow through him.  Jeremiah was a bullfrog, was a good friend of mine . . . 

***** 

J. Edgar Hoover Building
Deputy Director Walter Skinner's office
10:45 am 

"Mulder, I want you to take this case." 

"That's why you called me in?  A case?  You sounded like . . . well, you sounded - " 

"The case is in Wyoming.  It's a murder, with one witness." 

"Wyoming?  You know I don't usually go that far from home.  I don't know if Scully - " 

"A seven-year old boy." 

"Shit."  Mulder sank into the familiar chair in front of Skinner's desk.  Scully wasn't beside him, so it didn't feel right, but he needed to hear the rest of this.  Skinner knew him too well. 

"Was he hurt?" 

Skinner looked down at the file and didn't answer. 

"He was," Mulder answered himself. 

"No, not physically.  But the boy's not . . . he's a foster child, been bounced around a lot."  He looked at the file again.  "He's non-communicative since the incident." 

"Trauma?" 

"Probably.  It hasn't helped that the kid has had so many 'homes.'  The lack of stability has, I'm sure, made his condition worse." 

"I've never practiced psychology.  You're going to need Scully on this one." 

Skinner nodded.  "Here's what I have on the boy, it's not much.  His name is Eddie Vender.  This was his fourth foster home in six months." 

"Great, no trust issues there," Mulder muttered and Skinner nodded again. 

"This boy, there's been a history.  The local police say that he's been a witness to other attacks." 

Mulder looked up stunned.  "They can't think . . . " he sputtered. 

Skinner held up his hand.  "No one is accusing the child, Mulder.  He's only seven-years old.  But it seems that there is more to this story and only the child can tell us that." 

"No wonder he's not communicative," Mulder said with a deep sigh.  "I still don't know how I can help." 

"I've seen you with kids, Mulder.  You're a natural.  And we're at our wit's end." 

"Please don't tell me I'm his only hope -- I hate it when you do that, Walter," Mulder replied with a smirk. 

"No, I'm certain you're not Obi Wan.  But we do need you on this." 

"Fine.  I'll go," he sighed. 

"Good.  Kim has your plane ticket, you leave tomorrow morning." 

"You knew I'd take this?" Mulder commented. 

"Yes, Mulder, maybe I'm just getting psychic in my old age," Skinner deadpanned and both men shared a chuckle.  "Give my best to Scully.  How's she doing?" 

"Busy, since she's being asked to consult on a lot of Sandoff's cases.  They're after her to write an article for the Journal of the American Medical Association." 

"Wow.  Well, can't say I'm surprised," Skinner said with a proud smile.  "Anyway, see Kim on your way out.  You'll be working with an old friend of mine, Agent Jerry Welch.  He's the ASAC on this.  He'll meet you at the airport.  

*****

Mulder and Scully residence
outside Richmond, VA
4:30 pm 

She reached for the door and was startled to find it locked.  Instead of knocking, she slipped her key into the slot and let herself in.  It was quiet, too quiet.  Where was Mulder?  He usually ran in the mornings.  She looked toward his office and spotted his running shoes in the middle of the floor, in front of his chair.  Okay, that wasn't right. 

"Mulder?"  she called just to be sure he wasn't upstairs.  Would he have taken a nap?  There was no response so, uneasy now, she began looking around.  There was no sign of a struggle, there was also nothing laid out to thaw for dinner.  If he had left on his own, surely he would have left a note.  Scully retraced her steps, knowing she would have noticed a note, but looking anyway. 

She was returning downstairs when she heard the car in the driveway and hurried to the front door.  Mulder was emerging from what was obviously an FBI fleet car. 

He waved the driver off, then looked up and smiled.  He saw the fear in her eyes and hurried up the stairs with a paper bag in his hand. 

"Scully?" 

"I, I didn't know where you were."  It sounded weak to her ears, but it was out there now. 

"I'm sorry.  I thought I'd beat you home.  Apparently this call didn't rate a helicopter, and it's a long drive." 

"You've been to DC?"  She finally faced him, to find him watching her closely. 

"Uh, yeah.  Skinner called, and I made the driver stop by Wang's since you can't get decent Chinese takeout out here."  He indicated the bag in his hand.  She still didn't smile. 

"What did he want?"  She wanted to kick herself.  She sounded feeble, like one of those clingy women she couldn't stand. 

"He uh, yeah, there's a case.  Look, why don't we eat and talk about it after.  You don't want Wang's to get cold." 

She turned away, allowing him to stall for a little while.  Skinner had called him, and Mulder had hurried to meet him.   

It seemed like just days ago when she would call, just to check in, at least once a day.  Now with so many requests for consults, she hadn't even realized she had allowed that to drop.  He had been called to DC, gone and come back and she hadn't even realized it.  

Mulder dished up the Chinese food that had been such a staple in his, and then their lives at one time, and set the plate before her with a flourish.  "Look, it can be eaten off of a plate too."  He was teasing her, trying to help. 

She attempted a smile and he sank into his chair, next to her.  "Scully, I'm sorry.  I should have called and let you know what was going on, but I knew how busy you were going to be today and I really did think - " 

"Mulder, you're not my prisoner.  I know that now you can move around more, do things you've been wanting to for ages." 

"Not without you." 

"I can't go off on a case right now." 

"No, I understand that, but that doesn't mean I won't need to consult you," he grinned, "probably at least twice an hour." 

She huffed at that and finally picked up her fork.   

He allowed her several bites, taking a few himself before he continued.  "Want to hear about it?" 

"Of course I do." 

Mulder took her hand and squeezed it.  "It's a murder, I don't have all the details on why the FBI's in on it.  Anyway, there's a witness, a seven-year old boy.  I'm picking up vibes from Walter that he might be more than a witness.  Things have happened around the kid before.  He's a foster kid, moved around a lot and stuff seems to follow him." 

"A seven-year old that's been moved a lot?  Do you know why?" 

Mulder shook his head, his mouth full of moo-shu pork. 

"Where is this?" 

"Oh, Wyoming."  Her eyes widened.  "Yeah, that's the downside.  I'm to report to Jerry Welch.  You know him?  He's the ASAC on this." 

"I'm not sure; I think I've heard the name." 

"He's a friend of Walter's.  I have to leave first thing in the morning.  Remember how much Kim loves those morning flights?" 

Scully did chuckle then.  "I suppose you need a ride to the airport." 

"I'm more in need a really good night's . . . uh sleep.  Since we're going to have to get up so early, we really need to get to bed pretty soon." 

She cut her eyes at him and very slowly picked up her fork and resumed eating managing to hide her smile, at least from her lips. 

***** 

She didn't sleep well that night, despite the exercise they had indulged in prior to drifting off.  Her dreams were unremembered, but she knew vaguely that they had something to do with Mulder being away.  She refused to dwell on that, it was a case, not even an X-File, and Walter was sending him to work with someone he trusted.  The feeling of, not impending doom, but something was tugging at her. 

No way would she let Mulder see that, especially after the way she had acted last night.  Besides Mulder was so excited about another case . . . 

***** 

Natrona Co. International Airport
Casper, WY
9:55 am 

Mulder looked up when he heard his name called.  The man coming toward him was just an inch or two shorter than Mulder, and right at the same age.  He was sandy haired, in regulation cut, but the gray suit and dark glasses were a dead giveaway to his occupation.  On second look, Mulder realized he looked vaguely familiar. 

"Fox Mulder," the man called again, extending his hand. 

"Agent Welch, nice to meet you," Mulder replied, shaking hands with the man.  When Mulder gave him a curious look, Welch smiled. 

"You know me, but you can't place me," he said with a grin. 

"Something like that," Mulder agreed. 

"You were profiling at the time.  Came out here with Bill Patterson back in '90.  Anthony Lee Prescott -- ring any bells?" 

Mulder's eyes lit up.  "Oh man, how could I forget," he said, shaking his head.  "But, well, some of that time is still pretty shaky," he admitted. 

Welch grew serious and nodded.  "You were pretty sick.  I was in on the capture, but you were already in the hospital at the time.  Double pneumonia, right?" 

Mulder nodded.  "Yeah.  I just remember seeing Prescott's car in my dreams -- after that, nothing till they were hauling me off the airplane at Dulles." 

"Well, I was mightily impressed with your work, Agent, er, sorry, Fox." 

"Mulder's fine, if you don't mind.  Avoids all those unfortunate 'agent' mistakes," Mulder corrected with a smile. 

Welch shrugged.  "Fine by me.  The car's just outside.  The crime scene is about an hour's drive, if you want to head out there." 

"Sounds like a plan," Mulder concurred and hefted the strap to his suitcase onto his shoulder. 

Outside it was cool, but spring was in the air.  The mountain range to the south was still snowcapped, but along the roadside, there was the gentle hint of green.  While they drove, Mulder flipped through the file. 

"This one has us baffled.  The local law almost quit over this.  There hasn't been a murder in Glenrock for over ten years and to have a double murder like this -- it's just unheard of." 

"Why did they bring us in -- besides being out of their league?" Mulder asked. 

"We've been following this case for a while," Welch said. 

"This perpetrator's hit before?" Mulder asked, looking over at Welch. 

Welch drew in a deep breath.  "We have reason to believe that three other cases are related." 

"All in Wyoming?  Do you have those files?" 

"My briefcase, back seat.  Files are in the front pocket."  

Mulder twisted around and found the other file folders.  He opened them one by one, scanning the contents quickly and then flipping back and forth between them.  When he realized what he was seeing, he looked over at Welch.  "The connection, aside from method of operation, is the boy." 

Welch nodded.   

"You think the boy is involved?" 

The other man sighed.  "We can't figure it out.  If it's an attack on the boy, he's never been touched.  In fact, he's usually the one to call 911.  If he's the perpetrator -- " 

"He's only 7," Mulder countered. 

"Not quite 7, actually.  His birthday, from what we can find, is sometime in May." 

"From what you can find?  Aren't his records available?" 

"There's some confusion.  We have the records from the last four foster homes, but his birth records are . . . I don't know.  They say they were lost or destroyed or something.  No one seems to want to own up to what actually happened.  We just know he entered the foster system four years ago and he's been placed with five different families.  Four of those families were murdered while the kid was present in the house.  You do the math." 

"You aren't suggesting -- " Mulder objected, echoing his words with Skinner. 

"Mulder, no, I'm not suggesting anything.  We have no idea what has happened here, but we do know that where this kid goes, trouble follows.  Maybe he's attracted the wrong attention, maybe it's some kind of freak coincidence -- " 

"If it's a coincidence why does it feel so contrived," the former agent muttered, shaking his head. 

"We just don't know.  And when I called DC, Walt said that you'd resurfaced and were consulting, so I jumped at the chance.  Spooky stuff, Mulder.  It used to be your middle name," Welch smirked. 

"First name, actually," Mulder replied with a sigh, flipping back and forth in the folder.  Finally, after he'd read all there was, he closed all four folders and just stared out the window at the pleasant afternoon. 

***** 

"Are you saying some serial killer is following a little boy, but not hurting him, just killing everyone around him?" Scully sounded skeptical. 

"Yeah.  Makes no sense, right?" 

"Have you talked to him?" 

"Not yet.  The county has him again and are 'protecting' him, finally.  I think even they've finally noticed something." 

"Why are you angry at the county?" 

"Scully, this kid is not yet seven years old!  They don't even know his birthday for sure, because they can't find his original paper work.  Protecting this kid is the last thing they've been doing.  And now he may be being stalked for who the hell knows why." 

"You can help him, Mulder.  Come on after all these years, I know as soon as you meet him you'll get some sort of 'feeling' and - " 

"I know Welch." 

"Excuse me?" she questioned, caught off guard by the change in subject. 

"Welch, the ASAC.  We met when I was profiling for Patterson.  He reminded me of my 'spooky' reputation." 

She was silent, absorbing that.  Finally, "Are you okay?" 

"I miss you." 

"Are you going to be able to work with him?" 

"Yeah.   He's not one of those.  He remembers my work fondly." 

"Oh, do I need to come defend my territory?" 

For the first time Mulder chuckled.  "I think I can hold him off, but I do wish I had my teddy to cuddle with tonight." 

"Teddy bear?" 

"No, that blue teddy that you - "  He stopped at her snort. "I need to get moving.  We just stopped to drop off my bag.  I'm gonna call you after I talk to the kid.  Maybe I will get some sort of 'feeling' and you can interpret it for me." 

"Hurry home.  It's lonely back here." 

She hung up and turned back to her desk.  She was already dreading the empty house tonight.  At least this Welch guy didn't sound hostile.   

So why was she having a bad feeling about the case.  She shoved that aside and picked up Timothy's chart.  It was just that they were separated.  That didn't happen anymore and she didn't like it. 

***** 

Quinlins' Residence
3 miles west of Glenrock 

The road was just gravel and wound around a hill before opening up to a farmhouse nestled in a copse of aspen trees.  A small creek meandered just a few yards from the wraparound front porch. A well-worn porch swing swayed in the gentle breeze.  The only image to disturb the rustic peace was the yellow crime scene tape making an x across the front door frame. 

Welch pulled the black Taurus up to the front walk and Mulder put on his sunglasses to abate the onslaught of the bright afternoon sun.  It was warm in the sun and the breeze was sweet with the smell of moist loam.  A manicured flower garden along the walk was displaying the first shoots among the brown of last fall's decaying leaves. 

Mulder steeled himself for a moment before entering.  Even after the cases he'd been consulting on, even after finding disembodied heads and severed limbs in a frozen West Virginia river, he still felt out of place.  Six years and almost two before that since he'd witnessed man's inhumanity and delved into the motives 24/7 and Mulder had come to a conclusion -- maybe you couldn't go home again.  At least not without causing some damage along the way.   

Not that he could ever tell Scully.  She still tread softly around him when he was in the office with a case file.  He did his best not to bring the cases out of the office and into the rest of the house.  He'd promised her to keep the darkness at bay and she's promised to be there with him, in their home.  It was a truce, and he understood why she felt as she did, but he still felt her absence from his side like a phantom limb.  He ached to pull out his cell phone and call her, but Welch had already entered the front room and Mulder pushed past his weakness and followed the agent into the house. 

It was a nice house, a family house.  The walls were clean, the furniture bright and cheery.  The fireplace was obviously more than just for show as a stack of firewood sat neatly beside it.  Mulder could almost picture where they probably put up the Christmas tree each year so that the tree and fireplace would be in all the pictures.  After getting a good look around the living room, the two walked through the entire bottom story, looking in the dining room, kitchen and family room with a big box of toys sitting next to the television and a shelf of kid friendly videos within easy reach.  Mulder also noticed a shelf of books on a bookcase with titles he remembered from his own childhood.  These people were prepared to have a young child in their home.  It made Mulder relieved and yet saddened him at the same time. 

"They were killed in the bedroom.  It's upstairs," Welch told him as he made his way back to the staircase in the front of the house leading to the second story. 

Mulder nodded and followed up the steps.  Upstairs the walls were smudged with fingerprint powder and the smell brought back many memories.  One memory was so strong that Mulder stooped for a moment to check out the heat register to see if the screws where painted shut.  Welch gave him a perplexed look and jerked his head toward one of the bedrooms.  "They were found in here." 

Mulder drew in a deep breath, and moved into the room.  He had to bite his upper lip to keep from wincing.  The room was a carnage of blood stains and fingerprint powder.  Blood spattered two of the walls and there was some of it dotting the ceiling.  The sheets on the bed were missing, probably being analyzed for trace evidence, but the blood had soaked down to the mattress. 

"As you could see from the photos, they were pretty much shredded," Welch said, breaking the silence that had descended between them. 

"Has the ME found defensive wounds?" Mulder asked.  The autopsy was missing from the file he had, so he assumed it hadn't been completed. 

"Yes, I talked to him this morning before I picked you up at the airport.  Defensive wounds on the husband, none on the wife.  ME thinks he slit her throat first and that woke up the husband, but he didn't stand a chance.  There's been two sets of prints found that don't belong to the husband, wife or the little boy.  They were being run through the database this morning; we should have something back this afternoon." 

Mulder was listening, as he took in the scene, looking at the angles, the footprints in the blood.  Some, he knew were from the police who had responded to the 911 call from the boy.  The others, he knew, were from the killers.   

"Where was the boy?" Mulder asked suddenly. 

"That's the spooky part.  He was right next door," Welch said, taking Mulder into the next room. 

"There," Welch pointed to a slatted wooden door along the wall.  "Kid hid in the closet." 

Mulder walked over and opened the door.  The closet was as neat as the rest of the house.  A few shoeboxes were scattered on the floor, spilling out new sneakers, new leather loafers -- all the same size.  The clothes hanging on the rod were a whole year's worth of clothes for a child; some of the larger sizes still had the tags on.  The corner of the closet had been swept clear.  Mulder could picture the small boy tucked in on himself in the corner, terrified.  He sucked in a breath and shook his head. 

"The kid heard everything," Mulder said quietly.  "This wall is shared with the parent's bedroom.  He would have heard all of it." 

"That's sort of what we figured.  And it's probably why he won't talk to anybody," Welch agreed. 

Mulder backed out of the closet and looked around the room.  It was decorated with a space theme, stars and planets were painted on the ceiling with pictures of rocket ships on the walls.  Even the bed had a space theme, the comforter dark blue with the constellations printed on it.   

"How soon can I speak with the boy?" Mulder asked, taking one last look around. 

"He's at Child Services in Casper.  The county sheriff has him under guard.  They said they'd prefer we come over tomorrow morning rather than tonight.  The kid's doctor has him on a mild sedative so he's sleeping pretty much all day." 

Mulder sighed.  "That'll have to do, I guess," he replied.  "Are you working out of your hotel, or the police station?" he asked.  Mulder knew the FBI didn't have a regional office in Wyoming -- Denver handled the state. 

"The sheriff's office, in Casper.  They've been good to us.  We can stop in there and then I'll get you settled at the motel." 

Mulder nodded and followed Welch out of the house. 

***** 

She was getting ready for bed when the phone rang again.  "Mulder?" 

"Predictable, aren't I?" 

"Just hoping.  You don't sound so good." 

"I've just come from the house.  God, Scully.  It was carnage and the boy . . . " 

"Mulder?" 

"He was hiding in the closet in the next room.  There was one inside wall between what happened to these people and him.  He had to have heard everything.  The room looks like a slaughter house.  I'd forgotten what this kind of work was like." 

She wanted to touch him.  "You haven't seen him yet?" 

"No.  They wanted us to wait until morning.  That's probably a good idea for him, though if he's sleeping, he's got a stronger constitution than I do.  It's not the first time.   This boy . . . Scully, I don't know how I'm going to talk to him." 

"Mulder, you can do this.  Are, are you going to be taking him into protective custody?" 

"What?" 

"Well, if he is the target or part of the target, you can't leave him out there in Wyoming.  Child Protective Services certainly isn't equipped to handle something like this.  He, he might even make the other children targets." 

"Shit." 

"It sounds like he needs to be in a safe house, with trained guards."  There was silence on the other end.  "Mulder?" 

"Yeah, I'm thinking." 

"Now I'm worried," she teased. 

"What are you wearing?" 

"I'm hanging up." 

"I love you." 

"I love you, too.  Hurry home, Mulder."  She broke the connection, he never said goodbye and when they were apart, seemed to have trouble actually hanging up.  She understood. 

***** 

Ramada Inn Express
Casper, WY
8:05 am 

Mulder was pacing the lobby when he finally saw Welch's car pull into the drive.  He hurried out the double doors, jumping in the front seat. 

"Well, I guess I don't have to ask if you're ready," Welch joked and handed Mulder a cup of Starbucks.     

"I was born ready," Mulder quipped back, taking a moment to add cream and sweetener out of the bag on the dash before sipping the elixir.  If Scully had been there, she would have pulled him aside and asked him if he was okay again.  He wasn't okay, not by a long shot, but he couldn't tell Welch.  "What did Child Services say?" 

"They have him at a shelter.  They've had a psychiatrist working with him since the night of the murders but so far she hasn't gotten very far." 

"She ordered the sedation?" 

Welch nodded, taking a sip of his own cup.  "Yeah.  He gets -- well, they call them 'meltdowns'.  He screams, throws a hissy fit, is pretty much uncontrollable." 

"Was he like that before?" Mulder asked. 

"Before what?  The first time the family he was placed with was attacked, the kid was four.  Pretty hard to pinpoint a catalyst when you're only talking 6 plus years of existence." 

Mulder squirmed a bit in his seat at that.  It was going to be a problem, that was for certain -- how was he supposed to approach a child that was not only uncommunicative but possibly violent?  It had been a long time since his child psych courses at Oxford. 

"At the same time, the kid can be reached," Welch assured him.  "I mean, he called 911.  We have the tape; I can let you hear it.  He's completely lucid in his request for immediate assistance.  He was clear and not hysterical.  Scared, yes, but for a six year old who just heard his caregivers murdered in the room next door -- the kid was downright spooky."  As if he'd just heard himself, Welch jerked his attention over to Mulder.  "Sorry, Mulder.  Didn't mean to -- " 

"No, that's okay.  No offense taken," Mulder told him. 

They arrived at the shelter in just under ten minutes and Welch parked the car.  When they entered the building, Mulder took a minute to look around.  It looked like a cross between an elementary school and halfway house.  The walls were brightly colored and all the picture frames held works by very young artists.  He could hear some shouts and laughter coming from the end of the hall. 

"Agent Welch, nice to see you again," said a woman in a blue smock.  "And you must be Agent Mulder." 

"Mr. Mulder, actually," the former agent corrected, as he shook the woman's hand. 

"I'm Nancy Widman, Eddie's case worker.  We can speak in my office before I take you down to see Eddie." 

They followed Nancy down the hall to a door with an Easter Bunny taped to it.  "I have Eddie's file for you." 

"I thought there wasn't a file," Mulder said, looking over at Welch, who just shrugged. 

"Well, I use the word 'file' loosely.  It's what we've had from the last three years, when he entered the system.  Before that, we have nothing but the report from the intake case worker.  You're welcome to read through it while I'm getting Eddie ready to meet you."  She handed Mulder a folder consisting of no more than ten typed pages. 

Mulder sat down in one of the visitor's chairs and started reading.  Eddie had come into the system when his father was sent to prison for drunk driving and vehicular homicide.  At the time, the father said he 'wanted nothing to do with the demon brat' and relinquished his parental rights to the child, effectively setting him on a road to foster care limbo. 

The mother had died in an auto accident shortly before the father had begun deteriorating.  He had blamed the boy, though there was no evidence.  In fact there was no reason for the accident.  Dry road, good weather, no other car involved that they could find, just the car plowed into a tree.  The boy hadn't had a scratch, she was dead. 

When not traumatized by events, Eddie did exhibit communication skills and a vocabulary much higher than grade level, which led one psychologist to classify him as Aspergers Syndrome as opposed to infantile autism.  His main interest in life was space, and he could recite all the constellations in the night sky in any season.  However, as with most Aspergers children, he was not up to grade level in many other subjects outside of science, mainly astronomy and math.  His reading level was hard to determine because he simply refused to answer any questions on written material, but exhibited comprehension beyond grade level that was difficult to quantify. 

Mulder licked his lip and glanced over at Welch.  Maybe this wasn't the best idea after all.  He felt totally out of his depth and he knew that this child's life was at stake, not to mention any future caregivers.  He was about to confess his inadequacy when Nancy returned. 

"We're ready for you, Mr. Mulder," she said with a hopeful expression.  Shaking off his fears, Mulder followed her down the hall. 

The room was a play area, filled with bean bag chairs, low tables with equally small chairs and all around the walls were tubs of toys and shelves of children's books.  In the far corner at one of the low tables sat the only occupant of the room.  The boy sat hunched over a jig saw puzzle and didn't look up even when Nancy called his name. 

"Eddie, this is Mr. Mulder.  He'd like to talk to you.  Is that all right?" she asked, touching the boy's shoulder.  The only response the boy gave was to move his body over so that her hand was no longer in contact.  "Do you want me to stay?" she asked, chewing her lip. 

"I think we'll be fine," Mulder assured her, even though his confidence was a front.  He glanced over to see that indeed, there was a large mirror set into the wall and Nancy nodded.  Mulder and the boy's conversation would be on full display in the observation room next door. 

Nancy left and Mulder pulled up one of the tiny plastic and steel chairs, perching on the too small seat.  "Nice puzzle," he commented, but didn't really expect a reply.  The puzzle was circular and was the star map of the northern hemisphere, from what Mulder could determine.  It seemed pretty advanced for a six year old.  Mulder looked down at the discard pieces and found one that might fit.   

"Here, Orion's belt," he said, moving to slip the piece into the correct location.  As he did so, the boy reached out to stop him, grasping his hand. 

"I'll do it," Eddie said, taking the piece from Mulder's fingers and putting the piece down. 

The contact was almost like an electric shock.  Mulder was instantly assaulted by a strong, unpleasant hum and pain in his head. His vision grayed for a moment and he grabbed the table to keep upright.  After a moment, the hum lessened but the pain only came down a notch or so.  Mulder swallowed against the bile in his throat. 

"You'll get used to it," Eddie said, not looking up from the puzzle. 

Mulder stared at the boy.  Hesitantly, he reached out and allowed his fingers to brush the child's hand.  The hum increased and the pain went from uncomfortable to blinding.  Eddie reached over and took Mulder's hand off his, placing his hand on the table.  He went back to his puzzle as if nothing untoward had happened. 

"Eddie -- what just happened?" Mulder whispered, trying to catch his breath. 

The boy looked up and for the first time, met Mulder's eyes.  The former agent gasped when he saw the deep blue orbs.  "It'll get better.  You get used to it," he repeated. 

"Do you hear that?" Mulder asked, hoping he could continue the conversation now that he'd established a link. "Only with you.  But it's OK, I remember it.  From a long time ago."  He smiled and dropped his eyes to the puzzle.  "What's my name?" he asked. 

"Your name is Eddie Vender," Mulder replied. 

"No, it's not.  They call me that, but that's not my name." 

"Why do you think I'd know your name?" Mulder asked, confused. 

"You're the only person I can feel," Eddie replied, quickly finishing the puzzle.  "You should sleep.  You're really tired and you're scared.  I'll see you tomorrow."  He got up from the table and went over to the boxes of toys, pulling out a bucket of Lego blocks and proceeded to play with them. 

"Eddie, what happened?  What do you mean, you remember it?  Eddie, we have to talk," Mulder tried, but the boy was absorbed in his play and wouldn't acknowledge him again. 

Suddenly, Mulder felt the undeniable need to sleep.  If he didn't get out of that room, he was very likely to curl up on the play mat and take a nap.  He stumbled to the door and was met by Welch. 

"Mulder, c'mon, let's get you to a doctor.  What was that?  You seemed to have some kind of attack.  Was it the kid?" Welch bombarded him with questions while Nancy stood by white faced and clutching her hands.   

"I'm so sorry, Mr. Mulder.  Nothing like this has ever happened," she was explaining. 

"Just get me back to my room," Mulder whispered to Welch.  "I don't need a doctor, I just need to lie down." 

Welch appeared unconvinced, but finally nodded.  "OK, but I'm not leaving till I know you're all right," he informed Mulder. 

***** 

Ramada Inn Express
Casper, Wy
2:05 pm 

Welch was supporting Mulder by the time they got to the room.  He seated him on the side of the bed and Mulder toed off his shoes.  He had barely reclined when his cell phone rang.   

"Want me to get that for you?" 

"What? Yeah?" 

Welch pulled his phone from the coat pocket and brought it to his own ear.  "Hello?" 

"Who is this?" Scully demanded. 

"Agent Welch.  Are you calling for Mulder?" 

"What's wrong?" 

"Is this Dr. Scully?" 

"Yes.  What's going on?" 

"Hold on."  He covered the receiver.  "Mulder?  Can you hear me?  It's Scully on the phone." 

Eyes closed, he reached for the phone and brought it to his ear.  "Scully?" 

"What's wrong?  Mulder, talk to me." 

"I don't know.  I have to sleep.  I'm 'kay, jus' tired."  He handed the phone back to Welch. 

"Dr. Scully, it's Agent Welch.  He says he's just tired." 

"What happened?" 

"I'm not sure.  He was meeting with our witness - " 

"The boy?" she interrupted. 

"Yeah.  He was alone in the room and, and it looked like he had some sort of attack." He couldn't see it, but she nodded.  She'd known something was wrong.  "What did it look like?"

Welch described what he had seen.  She was silent for a moment.  "He wouldn't let me take him to the ER.  He just wanted to come here and sleep.  Do you want me to call an ambulance?" 

"Is he asleep now?" 

Welch observed the man for a moment.  "Yeah, he is.  Look, I can hang out here, make sure - " 

"I'd appreciate it, for a little while at least.  I want you to call me back immediately when he wakes.  I need to talk to him." 

"You got it." 

"You'll call me?" 

"Promise.  Look, it's probably not as bad as I've made it sound.  It was just so, so sudden.  I mean everything was fine and then he shakes hands with this boy.  It was kinda . . . spooky." 

"Call me."  She hung up then and saw that her hands were shaking.  Something had made her leave a patient and call Mulder.  What the hell was going on?

*****

Ramada Inn Express
6:15 pm 

Welch sat in the growing darkness of the room, afraid to turn on the light.  On the bed, Mulder hadn't moved since he'd collapsed some four hours before.  Welch checked his watch.  If the man didn't wake on his own, he'd wake him in a few minutes.  The silence of the room was broken by a cell phone playing 'Walking in Memphis'.   

Looking at the still sound asleep man, Welch dug through the leather jacket that had been hastily flung on the dresser, finding the cell phone in the right hand pocket and flipped it open. 

"Welch," he said without thinking.  He quickly amended.  "Sorry, this is Fox Mulder's phone.  May I help you?" 

After a moment of silence, there was a response.  "What hospital is he in?" came the terse voice. 

"Uh, none.  Who am I speaking with, please?" 

"This is Dana Scully.  I'm sorry Agent Welch, that was just an automatic response on my part.  Is Mulder still sleeping?  It's after 6 your time, I thought he'd be awake by now." 

"No, not yet.  Has he been sick recently?" 

"No," Scully said, confusion heavy in her tone.  "He's been fine.  Can you tell me a little more about what happened?  How did this come on?" 

"I can't really be certain.  We were in the observation room, watching the interview and suddenly he was holding his head like he was in a lot of pain.  He and the boy spoke for another moment or two and then Mulder stumbled out of the room.  I knew I should have taken him to the hospital, but he refused, said he just needed to sleep."  Welch had walked over to the window of the room and was looking out on the parking lot, so he jumped when a hand landed on his shoulder. 

"Let me talk to her," Mulder rasped, holding out his hand for the phone.  "Scully, it's me.  I'm fine," he told her shortly. 

"What happened?  And don't even think about bull shitting me, Mulder, because now I can call Walt and have your ass hauled back to Virginia and not wreck your career," she warned. 

He sighed and sat on the edge of the second double bed.  "OK, I went to see the boy.  He was working on a puzzle.  He appears to have all the classic Aspergers behaviors, Scully.  But I got through to him.  He spoke to me, Scully -- directly to me." 

"So what was the pain, Mulder?  Welch said you grabbed your head in pain," Scully reminded him. 

He winced, remembering the agony and the hum, that horrible hum.  "Scully," he said, searching for words.  "It was like the artifact, Scully.  The dissonance was back," he whispered. 

There was silence and he thought maybe she'd been disconnected but then she spoke.  "I'm coming out," she said. 

"No, Scully, that's stupid.  I'm fine now -- " 

"You were fine before, Mulder!" she exclaimed in exasperation.  "You kept wanting to work the case, but you weren't fine, Mulder, you weren't!  You ended up in the neuropsych ward and you almost died.  So don't you tell me you're fine," she huffed. 

"Scully, I think it was the boy," he interrupted her tirade. 

"What do you mean?" she demanded, not willing to be swayed. 

"I think this boy is like Gibson, Scully," he said, so quiet he was afraid she wouldn't hear him, but he didn't want Welch to overhear. 

"Mulder, I can be on a plane -- " 

"No, I mean it, Scully.  Stay there, you have patients.  If I need you, I'll call -- or I'll have Welch call.  I promise." 

Again, silence reigned on the other end of the line until he heard her give an aggravated sigh.  "OK.  Look, I'll see if I can have someone cover at a moment's notice and I'll hold for your call.  But Mulder, we don't have 'injury in the line of duty' style insurance anymore.  If you have to be evac-ed back here, my insurance carrier will have kittens," she warned. 

"That's my girl -- always looking on the bright side," he quipped.  "Look, I'm sort of starved at the moment so I'm going to take Welch out for pizza.  I'll call you later to say good night." 

"I'll be waiting for your call," she said.  Knowing he wouldn't say he loved her with Welch still in the room -- old habits died hard -- she just disconnected the line. 

He was smiling when he turned to Welch.  "Thanks, I didn't hear the phone." 

Welch eyed him suspiciously.  "Mulder, you were totally out of it.  You've been dead to the world since I got you back here.  I was ready to call for an ME's wagon," Welch accused and Mulder was certain the man was only half joking. 

"Yeah, I guess I was beat.  But I feel great now.  How about some dinner -- my treat." 

Welch blinked and then smiled.  "Sure.  I've heard the rumors about your consulting fees," he said, picking up Mulder's jacket and tossing it at him.   

*****

Ramada Inn Express
2:45 am 

Mulder was deeply asleep when the dream came.  Suddenly, instead of lying on a beach with Scully in his arms, he was standing in a house.  He recognized it when he saw Inspector Phoebe Greene coming down the stairs -- it was the house on Cape Cod that the Lord Marsten and his family rented in an attempt to escape Cecil L'ively.  He looked around for Scully, but she wasn't there.  Phoebe looked up the stairs and her eyes grew wide.  "Fire!" she shouted.   

"The children!" Mrs. Marsten yelped and Mulder found himself running up the steps and into an inferno in the hallway.   

L'ively stood at the end of the hall, laughing manically.  "You'll never find 'em," he cackled and snapped his fingers.  The fire roared all along the ceiling of the hall, catching the pictures hung on each side, so that soon the entire hallway was aflame. 

Mulder duck-walked forward, listening for the children.  He could hear a cry at the end of the hall, but couldn't determine which door.  He felt the doors as he went, praying he'd find the one with the boys before the room became engulfed.   

Finally, he heard a cry directly next to him.  He touched the doorknob, but flinched his hand back when he was burned.  Pulling out his shirttail, he took hold of the knob again and turned it, pushing against the wood. 

The room inside was filled with smoke.  "Where are you?" he shouted.  "I'm here to get you out." 

Over by the window he could just make out a small silhouette, huddled near the floor.  "I'm here," he said again, keeping low to avoid the heavy smoke.  When he reached the boy, he heard the door slam shut behind him just as the curtains on the window came alight.  The boy looked up at him with tearful eyes.  "Help me -- don't let me die," he begged, throwing his arms around Mulder's neck. 

"I won't let you die, William.  I won't let you die," Mulder vowed, just as the flames licked at his pant legs.  "I won't let you die." 

Mulder woke drenched in sweat, still repeating the words of the dream.  "I won't let you die," he choked out, his lungs feeling like they were still filled with smoke.  He coughed long and hard, finally getting his breathing under control.  He looked at the clock on the bedside dresser -- it read 2:45 am. 

He stumbled to the bathroom and turned the tap on full cold, splashing handfuls of the water on his face.  He looked at the mirror above the sink, trying to remember the dream.  It was already fading as fast as the relief he felt from the cool water.  A feeling of deep dread struck him in the pit of his stomach.  Someone was in danger, he knew that.  Who?  He shook his head, trying to recapture the dream, any part of it.  He was still puzzling it out when he grabbed his cell phone and started to dial. 

*****

Natrona County Children's Home
3:30 am 

Mulder had awakened Welch in a panic, demanding that the agent give him the car keys.  He'd tried calling the children's home and no one had answered.  Welch woke up fully when, just a minute after Mulder arrived at his door, he received a call from the Sheriff's department that there had been a fire at the home. 

They made the drive in stony silence, Mulder fearing the worst, Welch still trying to figure out how Mulder knew anything about it and discounting his 'crazy' dream.  When they pulled up to the residence, the fire was mostly out, but a cluster of people stood shivering the in the late night spring air.  Mulder immediately picked out Nancy and Eddie and ran over to them. 

Upon seeing Mulder, the small boy rushed forward and threw his arms around the former agent's legs.  "I knew you'd come," he cried, his words broken by sobs.  "I knew it." 

Mulder wanted answers, but the boy needed comforting first.  He knelt down and took the small child into his arms, stroking his back.  "It's OK.  I'm here.  I won't let anything happen to you, Eddie.  It's OK now," he repeated until the child finally calmed down to an occasional sniffle. 

Welch came over to them after talking to the firemen rolling up their hoses.  "Mulder, if I could have a minute?" 

Nancy stepped in and took Eddie by the hand so that Mulder could confer with Welch.  "They say it was arson," Welch told him with stern look over at the child. 

"You can't think -- did they find any evidence?" Mulder demanded. 

"A can of accelerant.  I'm not thinking it was the boy, Mulder, but I think it's pretty obvious he's the target." 

Mulder huffed out a relieved sigh but it only lasted a second until the gravity of the situation came crashing down on him.  "The kid's not safe here." 

"I know.  The county is making arrangements -- " 

"No, Welch.  He's not safe anywhere, but especially not here.  Not in Wyoming.  He needs constant protection." 

"Are you suggesting I take him back to Denver?" Welch asked incredulously. 

"No.  I have a better idea," Mulder replied. 

***** 

Mulder and Scully residence
Outside Richmond, Virginia
11:15 am 

"Scully?  If you're there, pick up."  Mulder waited a moment.  "Okay, well, I wanted you to know we'd landed and are on the way home."
 
"Mulder?"  She sounded breathless, like she had run to the phone.  "Sorry, I'm here.  We?"

"Uh, yeah.  You were absolutely right about Eddie needing a safe house.  They didn't have the knowledge or the means to set something up, so . . . I brought him home with me."
 
There was dead silence from the other end of the phone.
 
"Scully?"
 
"You brought him home with you?"
 
"It's the perfect arrangement, Scully.  I can be home with him, a personal bodyguard.  I've got a permit to carry and you, hey, you're a pediatrician par excellence."
 
There was another silence, which found Mulder wincing as Eddie watched.
 
"Scully, it was the right thing to do.  This kid needs - "
 
"He needs a stable home, protection, yes, but Mulder . . . "
 
"Protection, Scully.  Who better than us?  Remember, you did beat me on that last - "
 
"I'll finish up here and be home as quick as I can.  We'll need groceries.  If you beat me there, start airing out that extra room.  There's no bed in there!"
 
"Don't worry about that, we'll make it work.  Scully, thank you."
 
"I'll see you at home."
 
She hung up and dropped her face into her hands.  Now what?  

***** 

Scully let herself into the gate and spotted the strange car in front of the house.  They had beaten her home, which didn't surprise her.  She'd run by the grocery to pick up a few things.  She'd buy more when she found out what this Eddie liked to eat.  In the meantime, she had picked up ingredients for the macaroni and cheese her mother used to make.  Kids liked that, and a few other things.   

She parked next to the rental car and opened her door.  Mulder appeared on the porch and trotted down to meet her.  "Missed you."  He kissed her with a promise of things to come and took the bags of groceries.  "Come on in and meet Eddie." 

He soothed the worried look on her face with a kiss to her brow.  He followed her up the steps and into the house.  She saw the boy sitting on the couch and after glancing back at Mulder, approached him. 

"Eddie?" 

He looked up at her with strangely familiar blue eyes, but didn't quite meet hers.  For just an instant a song appeared in her mind -- 'Jeremiah was a bullfrog, was a good friend - '.  She shook that off and held out her hand.  He took it, shaking it solemnly. 

"I'm sorry I wasn't here to meet you, but I wanted to get a few things for us to eat.  Did you see your room?" 

He just looked at her, still not quite meeting her eyes but watching her somehow. 

She tried again.  "My name is Dana, and I'm looking forward to having you stay with us for a while."  At his continued silence and slightly unnerving stare, she turned to look at Mulder. 

"It was a long trip.  Why don't Eddie and I go unpack his stuff while you fix dinner?  You okay with that, Eddie?" 

The boy rose and followed Mulder to the stairs.  Scully looked up and saw that Eddie had stopped on the first stair and looked back at her.  She smiled, but he turned away and headed up after Mulder. 

With shaking hands she picked up the groceries and turned to the kitchen.  She was glad she'd followed her instincts about the macaroni and cheese.  It was good comfort food and right now she felt like she needed it as much as he did.  What kind of trauma was going through the child's mind? 

She assembled the casserole and then put together a simple tossed salad.  She'd bought those little grape tomatoes, hoping the boy, hoping Eddie, would enjoy them.  Once the casserole was in the oven and the salad in the refrigerator, she straightened up the kitchen, looking up as she heard some bumps and scrapes from upstairs. 

She squared her shoulders and headed for the stairs.  She needed to spend some time with them.  She was a pediatrician for goodness sake, she should be able to at least use bedside manner to get to know him.  There was no reason to be this nervous.   

Tonight after he was asleep, and after Mulder had brought her up to speed on what he knew, as well as what he theorized, she needed to spend some time researching Aspergers.  So much of her time had been spent on Sandoff's recently that she hadn't made the time to study up.  Had she avoided it?  She shook her head, shoving those thoughts aside and headed upstairs to join them. 

Mulder had the camp bed set up, and was attempting to make the sheets fit.  "Let me do that." 

"It's all yours."  He stepped back and waved his hand in a flourish.  She shook her head, and rearranged the sheets and laid a light blanket over it.  They would need to get a real bed for the boy. 

She moved over to the suitcase and opened it.  "We should put this stuff away too."  Scully pulled several t-shirts from the bag and walked toward the closet.  She felt the tension suddenly in the room and stopped. 

"Uh, Scully, we've decided to put the clothes here on the bookcase.  There's enough room for now." 

He was telling her something, though she couldn't pick up exactly what for now.  "Okay, that works."  She stacked the t-shirts on a shelf, his jeans beside them.  Pajamas, underwear and socks went below that.  Her finger traced the Spiderman on the underwear and she smiled slightly.  He was just a little boy. 

There was a draw-string bag at the bottom of the suitcase and she picked it up.  There was obviously something inside. 

"That's Eddie's." 

"Oh, okay."  She laid the soft bag on the pillow of the camp bed.  Obviously this was private, a security object. 

Scully turned to look at Eddie again.  His hair, only slightly lighter than Mulder's, looked like it had been in a buzz cut, but he'd missed a couple of haircuts.  She let her hand lightly brush his hair.  "Do you need a haircut?" 

He shook his head. 

"Okay, let me know when you want one." 

She took a seat on the bed and patted it, inviting him to join her.  He did, sitting not quite close enough to brush against her.  "I'm really glad you came with Mulder.  You can help me keep an eye on him.  Mulder needs a lot of supervision."  She watched Eddie.  He wasn't looking at her, but she could see the curve of his lips as he smiled. 

They all heard the timer on the oven go off and she rose.  "I made macaroni and cheese.  I hope you like it." 

"Your Mom's recipe?"  Mulder asked quickly.  "You're in for a treat," he said to Eddie at her nod. 

Both Eddie and Mulder seemed to enjoy dinner and the little grape tomatoes were a hit.  The ice cream with chocolate syrup was an even bigger hit.  All three helped with clean up, then they moved out to the living room.  Eddie was quiet, but Scully talked, asking him about himself, trying to get some sense of what he liked.  She caught him yawning and glanced over at Mulder. 

"Why don't you go ahead and get ready for bed, brush your teeth.  Would you like for me to read you a story tonight?"  He looked up quickly and again she saw the slight curve of his lips.  After a moment he gave a slight nod. 

"I don't know what your favorite books are, but we have a few here.  Have you ever heard Treasure Island?" 

"No." 

"Okay, let's read a little of that tonight.  Come on." 

She led him upstairs, feeling Mulder's eyes on her.  While he changed, she took the small nightlight from the hall and put it in his room along with a small chair for her.  He joined her and look down at the camp bed.  "My bag." 

"Oh, it's here."  She lifted the pillow and showed him that the soft bag was there.  

Relieved he lay down and she spread the covers over him.  She took a seat then and opened the book. 

He didn't last long, drifting off quicker than she expected.  She closed the book quietly and laid it in the chair when she rose.  She turned off the lamp and the blue light from the nightlight lit the room.  He would be able to see the room clearly if he woke during the night.  Pulling the door nearly closed she headed downstairs.  Mulder was waiting. 

"You did great, Scully." 

She let him lead her to the couch and spotted the glass of wine.  "Thanks," she said faintly and sank onto the couch.  "Tell me what happened to you." 

"I will, but right now let's relax a little." 

She opened her mouth to protest, but he handed her the wine glass.  She took it with a half smile and let him tuck her up against him.  "I hate it when you're gone." 

"Thank you."  He kissed the top of her head. 

"We need to talk." 

 "We will, but right now let's just relax a minute." 

She nodded and allowed him to pull her close. She sighed and relaxed against him.  When about half of the glass of empty, she sat up again.  "I'll start researching Asperger's tomorrow." 

"You have a full time gig with the Sandoff's, Scully.  I can do it.  I'm gonna be here anyway." 

"I need to know too." 

"I promise to share."  

She shook her head, but didn't argue anymore.  "Tell me about what happened to you." 

"I have other things on my mind." 

"Wha - "  She looked down bemused as he began unbuttoning her blouse. 

"I wasn't gone that long." 

"Mulder, Eddie is just upstairs." 

"Which is one of the reasons we're down here."  He smiled slightly as her breathing sped up. 

Later, much later, he led her up the stairs.  She was wearing his shirt and he'd slipped back on his boxers.  She glanced at Eddie's door and saw that it hadn't been moved since she had left him asleep.   

She followed Mulder into their bedroom and they crawled into the bed where Mulder spooned around her.  Just as her eyes closed, she realized that Mulder had managed not to tell her a single thing about what had happened to him.   

***** 

Mulder and Scully residence        
Outside Richmond, VA 

Scully reluctantly pulled on her jacket and picked up her briefcase.  "So, what are you planning to do today, the two of you?" 

"Oh, I thought we'd clear the back forty, plant some cotton and see if we can't make something out of this plantation," Mulder quipped as he leaned in to kiss her goodbye.  When she reared back and gave him a fixed raised eyebrow look, he relented.  "I found a home school website after my run this morning.  They have a first grade curriculum and I thought I'd spend some time with Eddie, seeing what he knows." 

Scully's eyes grew wide.  "School?  Oh my God, I hadn't even considered --  Mulder, he should be in school!" she exclaimed. 

"I talked it over with Skinner before we left Wyoming.  Virginia allows for home schooling and I think that's our best option.  That way we don't have to enroll him anywhere and he'll be safer if no one knows he's here with us.  Less questions, lower profile." 

Scully chewed her lip.  "But it means you're stuck here again," she noted. 

Mulder smiled.  "But when you get home, I can go anywhere.  A much better situation than we were dealing with before.  Besides, it would be best if we didn't advertise that Eddie is here with us." 

That got her attention.  "Of course.  You're right.  I probably shouldn't say anything at work about him," she said, swallowing.  "But what about . . . getting him a bed and toys and clothes -- " 

"Well, we'll get a used bed and if anyone asks we'll say your nephew Matty is coming to visit for the summer and we're getting a room ready for him." 

Sighing, she nodded.  "We should probably start locking the gate again," she said absently. 

"Yeah, that's a good idea.  Skinner is sending out an agent today, we're installing some cameras around the house, electronic security." 

Scully snorted and shook her head.  "Gee, just like old times," she muttered. 

"I know this isn't what you wanted -- I'm sorry, Scully.  I really am.  But this boy -- " 

She took his hand and brought it up to her lips to kiss the knuckles.  "I know.  And I agree with you.  We have to protect him.  I just . . . this has just been some kind of year, that's all." 

"And it isn't even summer yet," Mulder joked. 

"So we just keep him here -- for how long?" she asked.  "He's a little boy, Mulder.  He needs to interact with other children." 

"I know, I know," he answered patiently.  "I can't tell you how long, Scully.  Sometime today I'm going to see what Welch found out in Wyoming between the house and the children's residence fire.  They had to have left some evidence, Scully, and that will be our first steps to finding whoever is after him." 

She looked up at him, words on her lips, but she kept them to herself.  She refused to ask the obvious question 'then what?' since it was on both their minds. 

"Hey, don't you have a job and stuff?" he said, kissing her on the top of the head. 

"Yeah.  I do."  She turned toward the door.  "Want me to bring home a pizza tonight?" 

"Sounds great."  He followed her out on to their porch.  "Better make it at least half cheese." 

"Will do," she promised.  "I'll call later, see how you're doing." 

He smiled as she entered the car and drove off.  He watched her car until she'd passed the gate and was on the main road.  He knew he couldn't stand on the porch all morning, he had to go in and find his charge. 

Eddie was coming down the steps, rubbing his eyes and yawning.  He was still in the pajamas Scully had dressed him in for bed and his feet were bare.  Mulder felt a huge lump form in his throat and quickly swallowed past it.  Yes, this child needed someone to care for him, to love him, but it wasn't them.  They had a child somewhere . . . 

Forcing a smile on his face, he patted the boy's head.  "Hey, I do believe there are some Reese's Peanut Butter Puffs in the kitchen.  You look like a man who could use a bowl of those this morning." 

Eddie looked up and glared.  "I hate cereal," he announced. 

"Well, this is different than plain 'cereal'," Mulder replied.  "Do you like peanut butter?" 

Eddie shrugged, which Mulder took for a glowing endorsement. 

"Do you like chocolate?" Mulder prodded again. 

This time he got a truly enthusiastic nod. 

"Well, you are about to meet their king," Mulder continued, and ushered the child into the kitchen. 

There was a small but heated battle over which cup to use -- Eddie wanted a glass glass, Mulder figured that was a recipe for destruction, and a near disaster when Mulder discovered that what he thought was chocolate syrup suitable to make chocolate milk was actually hot fudge sauce -- in a pinch, it seemed to do the trick, but finally breakfast was a done deal, and it was time to get moving on the day.  That's when the real trouble started. 

Eddie, it seemed, wanted nothing whatsoever to do with sitting down and working on the printed pages that Mulder had painstakingly pulled off the home schoolers website.  Mulder was just as convinced that he should at least try to work on one of the pages -- a very basic dot-to-dot of a flower using numbers 1 to 20.  It started out as a staring contest, but escalated quickly into a full-blown tantrum -- neither party would admit to who was loudest, and ended with Eddie slamming Mulder's office door hard enough that several pictures pinned there floated to the floor. 

As Mulder sat in his chair, trying to figure out exactly how he had lost control of the situation, he admitted to himself that child psychology was one of those classes where he should have paid more attention.  He was about to follow Eddie's stomping steps up to his room when his cell phone rang.  He saw a suitable diversion and snatched it out of his pocket. 

"Yeah," he said tersely, having not bothered to look at the caller ID. 

"Mulder?  It's Skinner.  Is everything all right?" 

Mulder sighed and sat down in his chair.  "Oh, hi Walt.  Sorry.  Just the challenge of the young child.  What's up?" 

"We got some reports back from Jerry out in Casper.  The accelerant used to set the fire at the children's home was jet fuel, just as we'd thought." 

"Were they able to pull any prints off the can?" Mulder asked. 

"Yes, and one print matched a print found in the foster parent's house." 

"But it doesn't match anything on the database," Mulder predicted. 

"Yeah," Skinner admitted.  "But it's something.  They're going back over the evidence of the other attempts, but so far, not much has turned up.  In most cases, it wasn't linked to the boy originally.  They looked more like home invasions, breaking and entering for drugs, money." 

"Sure.  I mean, it's common knowledge that people who house kids for the state are rich and/or drug dealers," Mulder sneered, then caught himself.  "Sorry, Walt.  It's been one of those mornings." 

"I hear he can be a handful.  A couple of the previous foster parents have been interviewed.  They all said he was more than they signed on for.  If you're having trouble, Mulder, maybe we could figure out another placement." 

"No," Mulder said firmly.  "No, that's not necessary.  I was trying too hard, pushing him.  I can deal with this kid, Walt, really." 

"OK.  Just know that we realize this isn't in your usual contract, Mulder," Skinner offered.   

"So, when can I expect the security guys out here?  I was thinking of whipping up a bundt cake," Mulder joked, trying to lighten the moment. 

"I just got off the phone with Agent Drummy, he's heading up the group." 

"You're kidding me, right?" Mulder whined. 

"Sorry, Mulder.  He's been assigned to the case and his specialty is electronic surveillance.  He's also been warned to be on his best behavior around you." 

"Oh, I'm sure that will help," Mulder quipped.  "Great.  Well, when can I expect the bridge club?" 

"They left about half an hour ago, so I would expect them out there in about an hour and a half." 

"What, no chopper?  I was hoping to impress the kid." 

"Sorry, not this time.  You can show him a bu-car," Skinner suggested. 

"Pass," Mulder sighed.  "They know to call me?" 

"When they're at the gate, yes." 

"OK.  Let me know if anything else comes out of Wyoming." 

"Any luck with getting anything out of the boy?" Skinner asked finally. 

"Not yet.  But it's still early," Mulder pointed out defensively.  "We just got in yesterday." 

"I'm not pressing, Mulder.  Just asking." 

"I know, it's just been a long morning," Mulder said.  "And it's not even 9:30." 

"Well, good luck." 

Mulder flipped his cell phone closed and slipped it back in his pocket.  He stared at the closed door, and slowly went over to pick up the pictures that had been shaken loose.  Carefully, he pinned the pictures, Samantha's second grade picture and a blurry image of a possible ape man, back on the door.  He was stalling and he knew it.  Sighing deeply, he grabbed hold of the knob and prepared to meet his destiny. 

He was a little taken aback to find that destiny was currently huddled under the small cot, clutching his 'bag' and his breath coming in hitches.  Mulder had to get down on his hands and knees to even find the child and decided it might be the best place to address him. 

"Eddie, c'mon out, buddy," Mulder cajoled. 

The child curled even farther into himself and shook his head no. 

"I'm not mad, Eddie.  C'mon.  C'mon out from under there.  You're scaring the dust bunnies," Mulder teased. 

Slowly, taking pains to protect his bag and wiping his nose on the sleeve of his shirt, Eddie crawled out from under the cot.  He stood before Mulder, the picture of desolation.  "Are you gonna call the lady?" he asked between sniffs. 

"Lady?  Scul -- Dana?  You mean Dana?" Mulder asked, confused. 

"No, the lady.  The lady in the tan jacket.  She takes me to my new home.  Are you gonna call her?" 

Mulder was stunned, but swallowed to cover.  "Why . . . why would I call her?" 

"Because I was bad," Eddie replied, toeing the hardwood floor with the edge of his sneaker. 

"Is that what happens?  You do something bad and then . . . " 

"The lady comes and gets me, and I go someplace else," Eddie explained triggering more tears. 

When the boy started to cry, Mulder leaned forward and pulled Eddie onto his lap.  This time the hum was expected and in a strange way, comforting.  "Nobody's going anywhere, buddy.  I promise you that.  I'm not calling any lady, except Dana -- to tell her what you want on your pizza and see if she'll bring home some chocolate syrup for your milk tomorrow morning.  Okay?" 

***** 

Scully looked up at the computer screen to see that it had gone into sleep mode again.  Damn it, she needed to get her act together, but what was going on at home, or possibly going on, had her completely distracted.  Should she have left them alone so soon?  Yes, they had been alone on the trip home, but that wasn't the same thing.  Mulder was good with children for short periods, but this was so different, and Eddie was a special needs child.  Mulder's education had taken place a long time ago, even with his memory.

She wanted to call and check on them, but didn't want to disturb them, or worse, let Mulder know she didn't think he could handle things.  Hopefully the pizza tonight would make Eddie feel welcome.  Oh hell, since she obviously wasn't going to get her own work done today, she might as well do some investigating on Aspergers. 

Scully sighed when Google turned up 1,510,000 entries in .23 seconds. 

***** 

Scully pulled up to the gate and got out.  She unlocked and swung the gate open and moved the car, then re-exited to lock the gate back.  She noted that Mulder hadn't picked up the mail and pulled it from the mailbox.  She came across a small package and glanced down at the return address.  Wyoming, from Agent Welch.  She tossed everything in the passenger seat next to the pizza box. 

Mulder came out to greet her when he heard the car.   

"How did it go today?" she asked seeing the expression on his face. 

"It was a learning experience," he replied and took the box from her.  "Maybe this will help."  He didn't say anything else and Scully followed him up the stairs to the porch with the mail, wearing a worried expression. 

The pizza was a hit; Eddie even ate one slice with sausage after Mulder theatrically removed the offending green peppers and mushrooms, muttering about Scully trying to poison them.  Eddie didn't exactly laugh, but they saw the upward curve of his lips while he stared down at the pizza. 

After some TV and a bath, Scully read another chapter in Treasure Island, and the boy rolled over to go to sleep, his bag clasped in his hand.  Scully ruffled his hair a little, and at the last minute, leaned down and gave him a kiss on the forehead.  That seemed to surprise him, but please him as well, though he said nothing.  She pulled the door too and headed downstairs. 

Mulder was sprawled on the couch looking pretty much done in.  "Want to talk about it?" she asked as she joined him. 

"Can I just hold you for a little while?"  She didn't bother to respond verbally, just taking her seat and cuddling into him. 

They sat in silence for several long minutes before Scully sighed and straightened up.  "What did Agent Welch send you?" 

"Huh?" 

"The mail, I brought it in.  Didn't you look at it?" 

"Didn't even think about it.  Sorry."  He heaved himself up off of the couch and headed for the little table by the door.  "It's a DVD."  He looked over to see Scully's eyebrow rising and grinned.  "Not that kind, I'm fairly certain." 

She relented and watched him slip the disc into the DVD player.  He rejoined her on the couch and picked up the remote.  For a moment there was static, then a playroom came into focus with Eddie still alone at a small table, working on a jigsaw puzzle. 

"I didn't realize they'd recorded this," Mulder said quietly, a little nervously. 

The door to the room opened and a woman led Mulder in.  She spoke first "Eddie, this is Mr. Mulder.  He'd like to talk to you.  Is that all right?"  She touched the boy's shoulder and he moved slightly, away from her hand.  "Do you want me to stay?"  The boy didn't respond. 

"I think we'll be fine," Mulder said and the woman looked down at Eddie once more, then left them alone.  Mulder pulled up one of the small chairs and folded himself into it.  "Nice puzzle."  He picked up a piece and began to add it to the puzzle.  "Here, Orion's belt." 

The boy reached out to stop him, grasping his hand.  "I'll do it," Eddie said, taking the piece from Mulder's fingers and putting the piece down.  On the DVD, Mulder jerked as though touching a live wire.  He paled and clutched at the table.  Scully gasped and leaned forward, watching closely. 

"What - " 

Mulder on the recording looked like he was going to throw up; Mulder beside her didn't look that much better. 

"You'll get used to it," Eddie said, not facing Mulder.  As Scully watched, Mulder reached over and lightly touched the boy's hand again.  His face went gray and his eyes narrowed to slits.  He seemed to sway in the chair.  Scully found that she was gripping tightly to Mulder's hand here beside her. 

Eddie reached over, and removed Mulder's hand, then returned to the puzzle. 

"Eddie -- what just happened?" Mulder whispered, he sounded out of breath. 

The boy looked up finally and Mulder gasped.  "It'll get better.  You get used to it," he repeated.  Scully's list of questions was growing exponentially in her head. 

"Do you hear that?" Mulder asked. 

Hear what?  This was maddening. 

"Only with you.  But it's okay, I remember it.  From a long time ago."  Eddie returned to the puzzle.  "What's my name?" he asked. 

"Your name is Eddie Vender." As pale as he was, Mulder was obviously trying to hang in there. 

"No, it's not.  They call me that, but that's not my name." 

"Why do you think I'd know your name?" Mulder again, not looking any better. 

"You're the only person I can feel," Eddie replied.  He finished the puzzle and looked up.  "You should sleep.  You're really tired and you're scared.  I'll see you tomorrow."  The boy got up from the table, went to a box of toys and pulled something out, Scully couldn't see what, but she really didn't care at this point. 

"Eddie, what happened?  What do you mean, you remember it?  Eddie, we have to talk," Mulder looked like he was going to fall over, but the boy didn't acknowledge him at all now. 

Mulder managed to pull himself to his feet from the tiny chair and staggered toward the door.  He pulled it open and Scully saw a man take his arm before the door closed completely behind him. 

Mulder pressed stop on the remote control. 

"What the hell happened?  Why didn't you tell me about this!" 

"Scully, I - " 

"No.  Don't you dare try to weasel out of this again.  What happened to you?" 

She seemed to grow along with her fear and anger, and Mulder fought the urge to cringe.  "I don't know what happened, Scully.  That's the truth.  I got incredibly tired and Welch took me to my room.  I talked to you when I woke up, remember?" 

"You talked to me before you passed out as well, but I didn't realize it was this bad.  Mulder, all you did was touch him.  What did you hear?" 

"Uh, the hum, remember when I was around the, the artifact." 

Her eyes widened and she glanced upstairs.  "What are we into this time?" 

***** 

Mulder and Scully residence
8:30 am 

Scully was just finishing up her coffee when she heard the gate alarm.  She glanced over at Mulder, who went to the computer screen set up in his office. 

"It's Drummy, I’ll go open it.” 

"Are they installing the motion detectors around the house?" Scully asked from the doorway. 

"Yeah.  They didn't have the right fixtures yesterday, apparently.  Something about our gutters not having soffetts -- " 

"Just try to steer them away from my flower beds on the north side.  Took me forever to get anything to grow in the shade," she said with a sigh as she turned back to finish dressing. 

"Yes ma'am," he vowed with a grin.  Who would have thought that Dana Scully was a closet horticulturalist back when her days consisted of slicing and dicing. 

"What are you grinning about?" she growled.  "You're still on probation." 

He wiped the grin off his face and nodded seriously.  "Yes ma'am.  Sorry ma'am."  He pulled on a jacket and jogged toward the gate. 

After opening it, he waited until the vehicles came through and left it open for Scully’s departure, then jogged back.  He ignored the men and headed up onto the porch to tell Scully bye 

She leaned up and kissed him on the corner of his mouth.  "Be good today.  I have a light load; I might be able to get off early.  It's supposed to be in the low 70's this afternoon.  Maybe we can grill out tonight?" 

"Sounds like a plan," he told her as he walked her to the door.  Agent Drummy and two other agents were getting out of a standard bureau issued car while another two men exited a white panel truck.  Scully waited for Drummy to come up the steps of the porch. 

"Agent Drummy," she said, extending her hand in greeting. 

"Dr. Scully.  Nice to see you," Drummy said, though he sounded like she was the last person he wanted to face that morning.  Or maybe the second to last.  "Mr. Mulder," he said dryly and nodded in Mulder's direction. 

"Drummy, see you brought the troops.  I have coffee made, if you want some." 

"No thanks.  These guys are contractors, they're paid hourly.  But then you know all about that," Drummy said with a thinly veiled sneer.  "I want those motion detectors up and running before lunch time." 

Mulder just nodded and walked Scully the rest of the way down to her car, his hand on the small of her back. 

"That's 'playing nice'?" she whispered as Mulder opened her door for her. 

"Sure, Scully.  Don't you remember 'sandbox' class from the Academy?  Oh, wait, you always said I flunked that class," he answered with an innocent expression. 

"You are just pushing your luck today, mister," she told him sternly, but then reached up and pulled him down into a smoldering kiss. 

"You expect me to say goodbye after that," he moaned. 

"I expect you to be good, so that you deserve another one when I get back," she replied, wiping her lipstick off his mouth with her thumb.  "Play nice with the agents, Mulder."  With that she got in the car and headed out to the main road. 

"Easy for you to say," Mulder sighed as he turned back toward the house. 

Drummy and the agents were watching the contractors set up ladders on the south side of the house, near Eddie's window. 

"Hey, are you guys going to be loud?  A child is sleeping in that room," he said, pointing to the window. 

"Might want to wake 'em up," one of the contractor's called back.  "We'll have to drill to get this installed." 

Mulder rolled his eyes and hurried back into the house.  Eddie was just opening his eyes when he saw Mulder.  At that moment, the sound of a loud electric drill reverberated through the small bedroom.  The boy's eyes grew wide, and he whimpered.  Mulder felt something like an electric shock run through his body.   

"Eddie?  Are you all right?" he asked, fighting against the sensation to get to the boy.  Eddie continued to whimper, his eyes bright with fear.  He pushed past Mulder and started to head for the closet. 

"Eddie, hey, buddy, it's all right.  Where are you going?"  He caught the boy's arm and pulled him into a hug.  "It's okay," Mulder crooned, and as he held the boy, the tingling sensation started to ebb.  "It's okay.  It's just the workmen, from yesterday.  Remember?  Sorry, that noise is pretty loud, huh?  It's okay."  Finally the boy settled a bit, but remained somewhat stiff.  "Hey, we still have half a box of Reeses downstairs.  Last one to the kitchen has to get out the spoons," he challenged.  Eddie shot out of his arms and headed for the stairs to the first level.  "Guess I better hurry," Mulder said to himself as he followed the boy. 

Breakfast was much easier now that Scully had purchased the right chocolate syrup, and Eddie had become a Reese's Peanut Butter Puffs fan.  They cleaned off the table and loaded the dishwasher together.  Mulder then looked down at his young companion and motioned to his pajamas and bare feet.  "I think it's time for a change of clothes," he said, wiggling his eyebrows.  

Eddie frowned and studied the tile floor.   

"Hey, it's OK.  I'll go up with you," Mulder offered.  Eddie didn't look any more convinced, but did agree to take Mulder's hand, and head toward the steps.  When they reached the top level, he veered off, tugging on Mulder's arm and guiding him toward the larger bedroom. 

Mulder shook his head.  "No, Eddie, buddy, you have to get your clothes," he countered.  The boy just stared at him and tugged harder on his hand.   

Mulder remembered their ill-fated attempt to do dot to dot the day before and quickly came up with an alternative.  "OK, how about this.  I go into your room and get your clothes, and you can change in the bathroom, how does that sound?" 

Eddie said nothing, but dropped Mulder's hand.  Mulder nodded and went in to the boy's room to gather jeans, shirt and underwear.  He returned and handed them to the child, who then ran off to the bathroom, closing the door behind him.   

Mulder sat down on the unmade bed -- he and Scully had both gotten up later than they'd planned after some early morning make up sex, so making the bed had gone by the wayside.  He knew her reaction to seeing the tape was just concern for his well-being, but it did show that she still wasn't comfortable with his new-found career.   

He chewed on his lip, wondering about what had happened.  He could barely remember the painful hum/electric shock he'd first felt when he touched Eddie.  The kid had been right, he had become used to it.  But this morning had been something altogether different.  When Eddie had been frightened -- by the drilling? -- the hum Mulder felt when he held the boy was like ants crawling under his skin.  It was an oily feeling and totally unpleasant.  Was that what Eddie felt, was that what he experienced when he was afraid?  God, no wonder the kid freaked out, Mulder reflected. 

The problem remained, what did he tell Scully?  She wouldn't see it as a tool but as a threat to him personally.  He believed Eddie wouldn't hurt him, but Scully might not see it that way.   

Before he could decide on whether or not to tell her about this latest incident, the boy opened the bathroom door.  Mulder had to bite his lip to keep from laughing.  Eddie's shirt was on backward and his pant pockets were hanging out, but he'd done a relatively good job.  "Let's just straighten this up a bit," he told the boy as he helped him slip his arms out and turn the shirt to the front, then tucked in the pockets of his jeans.  Mentally, he thanked the smart shoemaker for putting

velcro straps on tennis shoes, and noted that each shoe was on the correct foot.  "There, you're stylin', buddy.  C'mon, it's a nice day out.  I want to show you something." 

Eddie trailed behind him down the stairs and through to the back door of the kitchen.  Mulder opened it and the little boy looked around, wide-eyed.  "C'mon.  It's okay, kiddo.  I promise," he assured the child. 

Over six years time, the running path was clearly marked in the late winter grass.  Eddie looked back at the house as Mulder headed out into the yard.  "It'll be there when we get back," Mulder teased and took the boy's hand.  The unpleasant hum was there, but just an echo, not really even noticeable, like the vibrations of a car's steering wheel when the road was rough.  "I'll protect you," he vowed.  The hum dropped down to almost nothing at those words. 

The day was bright and warming, the breeze gentle and in the woods, the whites and pinks of the dogwoods and magnolias were splashes among the tender green of the soon to be leaves.  As they entered the woods, Mulder veered off the well worn path on to another barely discernable lane.  It ended just a few yards in at the base of an ancient oak.   

Time had weathered the boards, but the little tree house stood testament to a time when children lived in the farmhouse and played in these woods.  Along the other side of the tree was a tire swing.  Mulder tugged on the rope, aged and gray colored, and found it still strong.  "C'mere, Eddie.  I'll push you." 

Eddie looked wary, but approached him, slowly.  Mulder picked the boy up and helped him put his feet through the center of the tire, then made sure the child's hands wrapped around the rope as it led up to the tree limb.  "Hang on tight.  I'll just give you a little shove till you get the hang of it."   

Mulder pushed lightly on Eddie's shoulders and then stepped back to let the tire swing unhindered.  The boy's expression was total concentration, but at the second shove from Mulder's hand a wide grin lit up his face. 

"Ya like that, sport?" Mulder called and for once Eddie actually responded with a nod of his head.  "Yeah.  I used to like that a lot, too, when I was your age." 

As Mulder pushed, Eddie started to make noises, attempting to sound like a rocket ship.  Mulder ducked his head to hide his chuckle.  The higher the boy went in the swing, the louder the noises became.  Pretty soon, Mulder was wondering when it would stop.  "Eddie?  Hey, want to check out the tree house?" he called over the boy's loud roarings. 

Eddie was oblivious, he just kept making the rocket sounds and then started holding his arms out as if to take flight.  Mulder caught him before he toppled from the swing.  "Hey, buddy, be careful there!  We don't want you to fall," he warned, pulling the child from the tire and setting him on the ground.  Eddie didn't blink, just started running around the tree, arms out, making full throttle noises that were surprisingly realistic.  Mulder shook his head, wondering how in the world to connect with the boy. 

"Hey, Ground Control to Major Tom," he called loudly, trying to get Eddie's attention.  The boy stopped but instead of answering, he started to climb the wooden ladder up to the tree house.  

Mulder hurried after him, thoughts of rotted planks and the resulting fall large in his mind.  When he got to the tree house, only about 12 feet off the ground and in the strong arms of the ancient oak, he discovered his worries were for naught.  The house was sturdy, built of the same wood as the tree surrounding it.  It had no roof, only three walls and the floor.  A rusted lunch box with Mr. Spock and Captain Kirk was forgotten in one corner and a few Imperial Storm Troopers stood as three inch sentinels near the ladder entrance.  Eddie latched onto two storm troopers and continued with his verbal barrage of rockets, now adding laser blasts to the mix. 

It was undeniably the most noise Mulder had heard out of the kid in the four days he'd been in his presence.  It might not be 'language' to most people, but at least it was something.  Spying an opportunity, Mulder sat down and picked up the third storm trooper, trying to engage Eddie in the game, but the child would have none of it.  He turned his body away from Mulder, ignoring his attempts completely.  Apparently this was a one-man game of intergalactic battle. 

Mulder watched the game for a while and then looked over at the lunch box.  He smiled as he picked it up, he had one exactly like it only with red trim.  The latch was rusted, but he was able to force it open.  Inside there was a collection of old Star Trek trading cards in surprisingly good condition.   

"Wow, bet these would be worth a year or two of college tuition on eBay," he muttered as he thumbed through the treasure.  "Hey, Eddie, look -- Mr. Spock giving the 'Vulcan Neck Pinch'," he said excitedly, holding the card out to the boy.  Eddie continued to be lost in his own world, still fighting the battle of Endor.  Mulder went back to the cards, still smiling.  "When I was a kid, these came with these little sticks of bubblegum.  I used to clean up all the clippings from our lawn mower just to make enough money to buy a pack," he said, mostly to himself since the other occupant of the treehouse was busy with his own game.  "Wonder what happened to those cards," he pondered.  Eddie continued to make rocket noises and noises associated with a pitched battle while Mulder sat with his back against the plywood wall, a half smile on his face. 

Would this have been his life -- watching William play?  His heart broke anew as it did every time he thought of his son.  So much time wasted and for what?  So what if Kersh had warned him about his impending death?  Maybe it was just a ruse, as he now firmly believed, to get him out of town and away from Scully.  Divide and conquer, one of the oldest battle plans in the playbook and they'd fallen for the trap.  Would Scully have given the boy up for adoption if he'd stayed?  Maybe.  Maybe it was a decision they both would have made together.  But in the back of his mind, Mulder still ached that it hadn't been his decision.  Ultimately it was as he'd feared -- 'Scully's baby', as he'd thought of William before his birth, had come between them.  Forever it would be a hurt that wouldn't heal and all he could do was try not to think about it, go on as best he could. 

He really didn't blame her as much as he blamed himself.  But in the end, it didn't matter who was at fault -- they both lived with the pain.   

Eddie's battle was heating up even more and Mulder noticed that the sun was higher in the sky.  Drummy had wanted to get the installation finished by noon, which meant the contractors should be close to done.  It was time to head back. 

"Hey, sport, time to get some lunch, huh?" Mulder offered.  The child ignored him completely, but Mulder was getting used to that.  He touched the boy's arm and the buzz he felt wasn't at all unexpected or unpleasant.  Eddie finally slowed down but didn't look up.  "Lunch time.  PB&J's," Mulder said enticingly.  Eddie clutched the tiny Star Wars figures and chewed on his lip.  "You can take them back with you.  I figure they're yours now.  Finders, keepers, right?"  The smile was barely perceptible but it made Mulder's heart swell.  "I'm betting there's some more stuff you'd like in the house.  There're a couple of old boxes up in the attic we can dig through later.  After lunch." 

***** 

After a bracing lunch of canned chicken noodle soup and the promised peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, Eddie followed the former agent up the stairs to the end of the hallway.  There, a pull down ladder allowed the two up into the attic.  Mulder had to stoop to avoid hitting his head on the rafters, but Eddie had no such difficulties. A few boxes and an old steamer trunk were scattered on the rough floor boards.  In one of the boxes they found more Star Wars figurines, an Imperial AT-AT with moving parts, and a full-sized light saber with the battery end cap missing.  Eddie's eyes lit up at the haul and Mulder gathered it all in a discarded shoe box to take back down to the main floors.  While Eddie battled the stormtroopers on the ice planet Hoth, Mulder sorted through the papers he'd printed off the day before.  When he had a select few, he turned to the boy. 

"Hey, why don't we take all this out to the tree house?" he suggested.  Eddie didn't look up, but shyly nodded.  "Great!" Mulder answered and off they went. 

As they were heading out the backyard toward the trees, Drummy called from the side of the house.  Mulder instructed Eddie to go on ahead and then trotted over to the stern agent. 

"All done?" Mulder asked. 

"Yeah.  There's camera surveillance on all corners of the house, just like you have at the front gate," Drummy replied.   

"Motion detectors?" Mulder prodded. 

Drummy rolled his eyes.  "Yes, around the perimeter." 

Mulder frowned.  "Perimeter?  We're on 12 acres here," he objected.  "You put motion detectors -- " 

At that moment a screeching siren was heard from just above their heads and Mulder glared at Drummy.  "Eddie just went into the woods.  Do you mean to tell me he just set that off?" 

Drummy glared back at Mulder and then nodded his head.  "They'll have to adjust it," he said gruffly.  "But they can't get to it until Monday." 

Mulder rolled his eyes.  "Well then, turn the damned thing off!  I'll arm it again later after Scully gets home.  Are there going to be agents nearby?" 

"You know, Mr. Mulder, times are tight -- budget cuts -- " 

"Short answer, no," Mulder frowned again.  "That's OK.  Both Scully and I are still range qualified." 

"You realize, as private citizens, if you discharge a weapon you could be -- " 

"Held on criminal charges.  Yeah, yeah, I know.  But this time I plan on having more than a pipe wrench to defend myself.  You let us worry about finding a good defense attorney," Mulder shot back. 

Drummy looked like he wanted to say something, but ended up shaking his head and turning to go.  All of a sudden, he turned back and pulled a business card from his pocket.  With a swift motion, he scribbled something on the back and handed it to Mulder.  "That's my home number.  If anything happens after hours -- I'm just up the road."  At Mulder's surprised look, he stared off into the distance.  "Monica Bannon was a friend -- but Dakota Whitney was my partner.  I might not have expressed myself appropriately at the time, but I appreciate all you did on that case." 

Mulder was taken aback, but graciously took the card.  "Thanks.  I . . . uh . . . thanks."  He watched the agent disappear around the side of the house before he glanced at the card, then tucked it in his front pocket.  He turned and went off in search of his little Jedi. 

Eddie was deep in battle when Mulder climbed up into the tree house.   Mulder settled himself against the side of the structure and pulled the homework papers out of his back pocket.  "Hmm," he read loudly, for Eddie's benefit.  "Five Imperial tie-fighters meet the Millennium Falcon in subspace around Endor.  The Falcon fires, taking out two of the fighters, that leaves . . . " 

"Lemme see that," Eddie rasped and grabbed the paper from Mulder's hand.  He looked up at his older companion for a moment, then down at the paper.  Mulder smiled and brashly produced a mechanical pencil.  In a flash Eddie was sprawled out on the floor of the tree house doing math -- Star Wars style.  Mulder leaned against the plywood wall and smiled to himself.   

***** 

Scully tried to settle in at work, but found her attention kept returning to Mulder and the boy.  Had Mulder really heard the hum?  The artifact hum?  He'd tried to downplay it, as he had over the phone, before she'd seen the DVD, but had finally admitted that he still was aware of it around Eddie.   

She hadn't thought about that time in ages.  It had been a scary time; she had been so frightened -- knowing that Mulder's mind hung in the balance.  That 'hum' had nearly killed him.  She was back in that anteroom with Skinner and Diana.  Mulder had known she was there, had cried out for her to Diana's dismay though she had tried to hide it from Scully. 

He had read her mind; he'd had no choice but to read her mind as well as everyone around him.  Was that going to happen again, and why did the hum happen around Eddie? 

Oh hell, she reached into her pocket and pulled out a thumb drive she had slipped out of the house that morning.  She plugged it in and brought up her personal report on her findings during that time.  This was definitely not what she had turned in to the Bureau.  She needed to familiarize herself with the full information again. 

An hour later she sat back.  She hadn't forgotten anything, how could she?  The whole case had shaken the foundations of her faith, and her fear of losing Mulder had tainted every moment.  He had come back to her, that's what was important and with his new knowledge, their relationship had . . . changed.  So much had changed then.  Their closeness had grown in the natural direction.  Even just remembering it now caused the color to rise in her cheeks.  So much had changed. 

Inevitably William came to her mind.  She usually pushed it away, but right now she was concentrating on the artifact.  She'd had another encounter with it, when William had . . . felt it?  When he'd called it to him.  She shuddered at that memory.  Mulder didn't know about that.  Even now they had such trouble talking about their son.  She should tell him.  Scully sighed, she was getting back into the mode, not being able to focus on anything but their quest once again. 

Bringing up William under any circumstances was uncomfortable, but it needed to be done.  She wondered how they were doing out there today.  Having strangers around Eddie probably put him on edge, but she hesitated to call.  Mulder didn’t need to think she was checking up on him.  He was completely competent to look after one little boy with Aspergers.  He had the degree in psychology, but she wanted to be there as well. 

***** 

She had managed to stay and actually get some of her own paperwork done, but lost no time leaving when the day ended.  After a quick stop for more supplies that Mulder had requested, she was on her way. 

A new gate greeted her.  The chain and lock were missing, but an electronic keypad, with speaker had replaced them.  She rolled the window down and pressed the red button at the bottom. 

“Yes?” Mulder responded with a fake British butler accent. 

“May I enter?” she asked. 

“Depends?  You a hot redhead?” 

“Oh God, is Eddie around?” 

“Oh, you like younger men?” 

“Mulder!”  At that the gate began swinging open.  Shaking her head she put the car back in gear and drove up to the house.  She saw the gate close behind her in the mirror. 

Mulder was loping down the porch stairs as she pulled up and opened her door for her.  She stepped out and kissed him.  “So how did it go today?” 

“Great,” Mulder took the grocery bag from her arms.  “Drummy and I tossed back a few brews, talked about old times, and - “ He stopped when she cut her eyes at him. 

“Right, how about you and Eddie?” 

“Oh Eddie, yeah, the short, young one.”  He grinned.  “It was actually a better day.  We stayed out of the house most of it.  They were working and it was pretty loud, drilling, hammering, etc.  We checked out the tree house in the back.” 

“Is it safe?” she asked immediately. 

“Yeah, I went up first and tested it.  I weigh more than he does.” 

“No shit.” 

He blinked at that, then grinned.  “You know, he really seemed to like it.  It’s small, closed in.  Bigger than a closet, but he seemed to relax up there where he could feel enclosed or something.  I came back and got some of those papers I printed off, and he worked on them a little.  It wasn’t a full day’s curriculum but it went better than yesterday.  What’s in the bag?” 

“I thought we’d try tacos tonight.  I still don’t know what Eddie likes to eat.  This way he can add what he wants.” 

“Good idea.  The only thing I’m sure of is the Reeses Peanut Butter Puffs cereal.” 

“Mulder . . .” 

“Yeah?” 

“Did you hear the hum today?” 

He faced her then.  “Yeah, early.  The workers started before I could get up here to wake Eddie.  The drill woke him up and he was terrified.  I heard it then.” 

She nodded, but made no other comment, turning instead to the stove.  After putting the hamburger on to brown, she turned back.  “Where is Eddie?” 

“Upstairs.   He was going to wash his hands.  I guess I better go check.” 

“Let me,” she said, wiping her hands.  She headed upstairs and glanced in the bathroom.  It was empty, so she turned toward the bedroom.  It also looked empty, but the closet door drew her eye.  It was slightly open.  Eddie had always insisted it be closed before he went to bed.  She stepped inside and opened the door.  “Eddie?” 

She squatted down to be eye to eye with the boy.  “Eddie, what’s wrong?” 

He said nothing, just rocking slightly. 

“It’s time to fix dinner.  I thought we’d have tacos tonight.  Do you think you could help me?  We can all hang out in the kitchen together.  Does that sound good to you?” 

He glanced up and seemed to think about it, then stood up.  Scully rose as well but before she could say anything else, he was racing out of the room.  She stopped to pick up his bag, his security object, and placed it carefully on his pillow.  What had happened that would cause him to hide in the closet and need the bag.  She was sure Mulder had been unaware.  He would have been up here, checking on things if he’d had any idea. 

Shaking her head, she followed the boy down to the kitchen.  Since she wasn’t able to talk to Mulder about what had happened, she asked the boys to get together the ingredients she had bought and place them in separate bowls and set the table. 

Mulder demonstrated how he built the perfect taco and Eddie imitated him and was smiling as he ate.  Mulder talked about their day and their discoveries in the attic.  They had left some of them out in the tree house, for play tomorrow. 

Following the family time, and Eddie’s bath, Scully tried to lead him into the bedroom for his bedtime chapter of Treasure Island.  She was stunned when he adamantly refused to enter the room.   

Mulder, hearing the disturbance, hurried upstairs.  “What’s up guys?” 

“Eddie doesn’t want to sleep in his room tonight.”  Scully saw Mulder’s brow furrow, as confused as she was. 

“What’s wrong, Big Guy?  You’ve liked your room the other nights.” 

Eddie shook his head, his hands in fists.  Mulder realized this could turn into the same kind of classic standoff they had experienced the morning before.  They needed to divert this.  “What about reading the story in our room tonight.” 

Scully looked up, surprised. 

“We can’t do it every night, but maybe this once.  Okay?” 

Eddie seemed to relax a little and nodded, but didn’t look up. 

“Eddie?  You understand this is not going to be every night, don’t you?” Scully asked. 

Eddie didn’t respond, but he headed toward their bedroom. 

“What are you doing?” Scully whispered to Mulder. 

“He was woken up by that drill this morning.  He might be remembering that fear.  Let’s let him fall asleep in our bed and I’ll move him once he’s asleep.” 

“It’s not a good precedent.” 

“When he wakes up in the morning, and the sound is gone, maybe he won’t be afraid of the room again.” 

Scully flashed back to finding him in the closet.  Maybe that would work.  After a moment, she followed Eddie into the room.  He was sitting on her side of the bed, stiffly, but waiting quietly.  She didn’t mention it, just drawing the chair closer to the bed.   

“Get comfortable.”  Mulder pulled the light blanket from the foot of the bed and sprawled on his side, to listen to the story with them tonight. 

***** 

Mulder had dozed off, curled around Eddie.  When the child whimpered and move against him, Mulder came awake.  He stroked the little boy's back and immediately sensed the hum again, this time it crackled with fear. 

"Shh, it's all right, just a bad dream," Mulder cooed sleepily.  He could see Scully, the book on her lap, asleep in the chair beside the bed.  He was just about to wake her and convince her to crawl into bed with them when Eddie shot straight up to a sitting position, eyes wide with terror.  He clutched Mulder's hand tightly and the hum resounded to a crashing thunder of vibration.   

Mulder was blinded by the strength of the child's emotion.  Fight or flight became only flight and he felt himself being pulled by the hand, out of the bed and down the stairs.  He tried to pull away once, but Eddie grabbed his other hand and kept tugging, the connection so strong between them that only a force of God could render them apart. 

The night air was cool on his face and he blinked rapidly to clear his vision.  They were outside, Eddie running as fast as Mulder would allow toward the back of the yard, to the forest.  The moon was only half full but it gave some illumination.  Out of the corner of his eye Mulder could see three forms approaching them from around the corner of the house.  Eddie's fear ratcheted up several notches and was joined by Mulder's own fear.  Mulder found enough strength to pull the child up into his arms so that only his feet carried them.  He didn't need to think of where he was going, Eddie was directing him with his thoughts.  One image grew large in his mind -- the tree house. 

Not much of a defensive position without a weapon, a small part of Mulder's brain lamented as Mulder tried to wrest control.  But the boy would have none of it.  He needed to get to the tree house and he needed to get there immediately.  Mulder's feet sensed the change in ground cover, from the soft grass of the yard to the wood chip of his running path.  It would only be seconds to the tree house and safety. 

The blow hit him in the back.  All breath left Mulder's lungs as something hard hit him square across the back and then again across his shoulder's.  He stumbled and felt Eddie thrown from his grasp.  Before he could turn on his attacker, another blow came -- this time to his head.  Darkness closed down on him. 

Eddie hit the ground and rolled, a maneuver his now fallen companion would have found impressive.  Two of the men were securing the now unconscious Mulder, tying his hands behind his back and enclosing his ankles in a strap.  Eddie looked over at the man approaching him, arms out as if to comfort.  Eddie scrambled to his feet and ran.  He didn't run straight to the tree house, knowing instinctively that a straight path would be easier for the man to follow.  He zig-zagged and twisted through the brush with the ease of someone who had lived near these woods for years, maybe even blazed trails through them.  Finally, he rounded back to his destination.  As he soundlessly climbed the ladder up to the floor of the house, he glanced back, hoping to see Mulder.  His friend and the two attackers were already gone.   

A tear slipped down his face and Eddie looked around the tree house helplessly.  Then, inspiration struck.  He grabbed one of the discarded work papers and a crayon and hastily drew a message he hoped she would understand.  He was stuffing it in the rusted lunch box when he heard the man at the foot of the tree house.   

Wiping his nose on his pajama sleeve, he crawled over to the edge and looked down.  "I'll come down," he said clearly.  "Just don' hurt him." 

The man smiled, but it was forced and not at all convincing.  He waved one hand, palm toward himself, to indicate the Eddie should come down.  The boy swallowed the tears and the terror that was threatening to overtake him.  Slowly, he climbed down the wooden ladder and allowed the man to take him by the hand. 

When the cloth with the sickening sweet smell was placed over his mouth and nose, he struggled, but in just a short while, he was asleep. 

***** 

Scully stirred, something waking her, not a sound more of a movement.  She glanced toward the bed and realized that both Mulder and Eddie were gone.  She hadn’t meant to fall asleep.  She’d wanted to talk to Mulder after Eddie was in bed, finally tell him about William’s interaction with the artifact.  Putting it off was easier, but it needed to be done.  Eddie’s fear of his own bedroom had delayed that once again. 

She stretched, listening for Mulder to return, but heard nothing.  Puzzled, she rose from the chair and headed for Eddie’s room.  She knew immediately it was empty.  The moonlight coming through the window confirmed that, and that the closet door was closed tight.  A movement caught her eye then and she realized that the new gate had just closed.  No, that wasn’t possible.  Looking down she saw that the car was still parked in front of the house.  What was going on? 

She did a quick search of the second floor, but she was alone.  Concerned now, she hurried downstairs.  No one was in the house, but the back door was standing open.  Cautiously she stepped toward the door, wishing she was armed.  There was no sign of anyone. 

Following her instincts, she rushed upstairs and took the gun Mulder had purchased for her into her hand.  It was fully loaded, and she slipped an extra clip into her pocket.  She kept the gun in her hand and returned downstairs. 

She stepped outside, looking right and left, but could see nothing.  The moon shadows could hide things, but Mulder wouldn’t hide from her.  What the hell had happened and where were they?  After a moment, keeping her gun down at her side, she proceeded out toward the woods.  Mulder had shown Eddie the tree house today.  It made no sense for Mulder to take him out here at this time of night.  Would Eddie have come out here on his own and Mulder follow?  Nothing was making sense, but where else could she look?  They didn’t have a damn garage. 

The tree house wasn’t a place she visited often, but she found it with little trouble.  Scully stood at the bottom of the tree, looking for anything that could give her a clue.  They weren’t here, why had she thought . . .  She turned to head back toward the house, but something stopped her. 

Not knowing why, she climbed the ladder up to the small room.  She’d been right, no one was there, but she saw the scattered Star Wars toys on the other side of the room.  Closer to the stairs was a rusty box, an old lunch box?  For some reason she snatched it up, and descended to the ground again. 

***** 

Mulder felt the sea spray on his face and opened his eyes.  He was on the beach again.  It had been so long -- years, maybe -- since he'd last been on this shore.  The sun was behind clouds but the day was warm.  He was sitting on the sand, arms propped on his bent knee, and from this position he had a perfect view of the endless surf.  For many minutes he just watched and listened to the waves crashing against the sand.  It calmed him and he allowed himself to be lulled into a pleasant doze. 

"Finally!" came a voice just behind him.  "I thought you'd never get here!" 

Mulder looked around, but couldn't see anyone else on the beach.  "Excuse me?" he asked, straining to look down toward the shoreline, even though the voice came from just over his left shoulder. 

"You're supposed to help me, remember," a young boy's voice said impatiently. 

Ah, the boy.  He'd seen him so many times in his dreams.  But he hadn't had one of those dreams in years.  Not since . . . Mulder's thoughts skittered away from the realization that he hadn't had one of those dreams since the birth of his son, William. 

"I can't see you," Mulder said loudly, hoping to wipe away the bitterness of his memories.  "Where are you?  C'mon out and I'll help you." 

"I'm right here!  I'm right in front of you.  Can't you see me?" the boy replied plaintively. 

"There's no one here," Mulder objected.  "I can't see you.  Where are you hiding?" 

"I'm not hiding," the boy insisted.  "I'm right in front of you.  You just don't want to see me," he accused angrily. 

"No, that's not it," Mulder replied hastily.  "I can't see you.  I saw you before, I remember.  We worked on a sand castle shaped like a spaceship.  But you aren't here now.  I can't find you." 

Mulder kept searching, first looking all the way down the beach to his left and then all the way down the beach to his right.  When he stood up and turned around to see the sand dunes behind him.  There was absolutely no one on the beach.  "Boy!  Hey, boy?  Talk to me again.  I can't see you but I can hear you.  Are you still here?  Don't leave, okay?  I want to see you, really." 

"Then open your eyes," said the boy, right behind his back.  Mulder spun around and saw the boy.  He was wearing the same pajamas Eddie had worn to bed. 

"There you are," Mulder exclaimed happily.  "See, I can see you now.  But you aren't really dressed to build a sand castle.  Where are your clothes?" 

The boy looked down at how he was dressed and shrugged.   

"No problem, I guess.  What do you want me to help you with?  Want to build another castle?" 

"I want you to tell me my name," the boy replied, crossing his arms in front of him. 

Mulder shook his head.  "I never knew your name," he answered sincerely. 

The boy narrowed his eyes.  "Yes you do.  You know my name." 

"No," Mulder replied patiently.  "I don't.  Really." 

"She named me after your father," the boy replied, his eyes flashing. 

Mulder swallowed.  Was this why he'd never had the dream since William's birth?  Was the dream boy his own son?  His heart clenched and he closed his eyes against the sadness the washed over him.  "I'm sorry.  I didn't know who you were," he whispered. 

A small hand touched his much larger one and Mulder looked down.  He drew in a breath when he saw that he was looking at Eddie. 

"I told you once.  You do know my name," Eddie said and smiled. 

A sharp pain in his shoulder jerked Mulder instantly awake.  His captor was tightening the bonds that held his arms behind his back.  Slowly, not wanting to alert his companion that he was awake yet, Mulder took stock of his surroundings.  He was on a floor and it was vibrating.  The slightly weightless feeling he remembered from too many cross continental flights.  He was on an airplane.  His arms were bound, but he couldn't feel any blindfold.  His captors either expected him to remain unconscious for the full flight, or didn't care if he saw them.  If they didn't care, that meant they weren't planning on him being able to identify them later.  His heart sank. 

"How's the kid?"  A voice over his right shoulder was farther away than the presence that had just adjusted his bindings.   

"Still out.  He's breathing."

 Mulder almost groaned in distress.  They had Eddie.  Last he could remember, Eddie had shot out of his arms.  He'd hoped the boy could elude the men, but obviously that was a futile hope. 

"We're an hour out.  Better tie the kid up.  We don't want him getting away now," directed the far voice. 

"Have you been in contact with the site?" asked Mulder's jailor. 

"Yeah.  They're prepared," came the reply. 

Prepared for what, Mulder wondered.  Whatever it was, he hoped it would take a while.  Scully's rescuing skills were still a bit rusty, and airplanes left very poor trails to follow. 

***** 

Okay, she was officially frightened.  Mulder and Eddie weren’t here.  She rushed back to the house.  She looked down at the box in her left hand.  She laid the box on the table and opened it.  The page on top caught her eye and she pulled it from the box.  It had been shoved in and was wrinkled, but not long enough for the creases to be set in.  This hadn’t been in the box but a few minutes.  She felt the hair stand up on her arms.  It was just one of the pages Mulder had printed off for Eddie, what . . . She turned the sheet over and sank into the chair at the table.   

Who had drawn this?  Could Eddie have . . . her hand was shaking now as she spread the sheet out flat on the table. 

It couldn’t be, but what else . . . She’d seen this twice, once in Africa while fighting for Mulder’s sanity and, and a second time in Calgary when she had tracked William down.  Mulder had seen neither and couldn’t have rendered this drawing in any case.  But Eddie . . . Oh God! It was crude, but easily recognizable as the . . . the spacecraft.  Could she call it that?  She shoved those last doubts aside, recalling against her will, the scene -- Comer in the hospital bed, struggling for custody of the artifact, then his words.  “One day god told Josepho to lead us a thousand miles north to find a ship buried in the ground. You have a piece of that ship in your hand.  Josepho believes that that ship is a temple which houses the physical manifestation of god.”  Comer had told her that.  “Josepho said god spoke to him of a miracle child. A future savior coveted by forces of good and evil. Josepho believes your son is this child.  Josepho believes your son will follow in his father's paths and try and stop the aliens' return. Unless his father was to be killed. That is the prophesy.” 

She was on her feet now, racing up the stairs once more.  Without knowing why, she grabbed Eddie’s bag up from his pillow where she had laid it before following him downstairs to make tacos earlier this evening.  After a second, she pulled open the draw string and pulled out what was safely hidden inside. 

The sight caused her knees to buckle and she sank onto his bed.  She didn’t even feel the tears flowing down her face.  This -- the blue knit harlequin cap that William had been wearing when she had allowed the woman to carry him out of her apartment, out of her life.  She brought it to her face, breathing it in, trying to get her brain to work. 

Eddie was William. 

Thinking it still didn’t allow it to sink in.  “Eddie is William,” she whispered.  Their son, Mulder’s son, and he and Mulder were in danger.  That thought finally galvanized her into movement.  She was on her feet, the cap held tightly in her hand.  Part of her wondered if she’d ever let it go. 

She could see Josepho’s face.  “You struggle to believe. It's so incredible, but your son will lead this alien race. He was put here to lead.”   

She had seen it.  She and Reyes had watched the ship emerge from the tent and disappear into the distance. They had walked through the bodies burnt beyond recognition in the remnants of the tent that had hidden the excavation.  Just like the bodies at Ruskin Dam, El Rico. 

She needed help.  There was no way she could find the people that had done this alone.  Everyone in Calgary had died that night, but it had only been a cell in the conspiracy.  She had been right to try to protect their son, but oh God what had she done! 

She moved past the bed and something caught her eye.  She turned and saw the business card lying half under the light blanket on Mulder’s side of the bed.  Had it been there earlier?  She picked it up and her eyes widened.  Drummy? Drummy!   

The number of the back had to be his personal cell.  She dropped the gun on the bed beside her and grabbed up the phone.  The thoughts of releasing the cap never entering her mind.  She dialed quickly, silently urging the man to answer the freaking phone! 

The voice that answered was low, sleepy.  “Yeah?” 

“Agent Drummy?” 

“Yeah.  Who is this?” 

“Scully.  They’re gone!” 

“Gone?  Who’s . . . the kid?” 

“And Mulder.  Someone took them.  I need your help.  I have to find them, Eddie . . . “ She stopped there, unwilling to say what came to her lips.  “They had the code to the gate.” 

“Fuck!  I’m on my way.”  He sounded wide awake now.  Scully was holding onto a disconnected phone. 

Again she dialed.  “Hello?”  This voice sounded wide awake, as though already up and showered and on his second cup of coffee. 

“Walter - “ 

“Dana?  What’s wrong?” 

“They’re gone.  They were taken.” 

“Mulder?  The boy?” 

“The boy,” her voice cracked then.  “Walter, the boy . . . it was William.” 

There was a very loud silence from the other end of the phone for a long moment.  “Dana, you know - “ 

“I have proof.  Eddie is William, and they’ve taken him again!” 

“It’ll take me a while to get there.” 

“Drummy’s coming.  I found his card; he’d given it to Mulder . . .” 

“Then I’ll head to the office and coordinate from there.  It’s going to be all right.” 

“They’ve wanted Mulder dead from the beginning.” 

“Who?” 

“The cult, Josepho.” 

“What did you find?”  ‘Skinner’ had emerged, demanding a report. 

“A drawing.  Ed-William left a drawing of the spacecraft, the one from Africa, the one from Calgary.” 

“I’ll call you back, Dana.  Let me start the investigation officially.  Then . . . “ 

“I know.” 

“I’ll be in touch, try not to worry.  Be careful what you tell Drummy.” 

She changed quickly into jeans and a black t-shirt, running shoes.  Now was no time for doctor attire, she was into funky poaching mode.  Were there any clues?  The people that had taken them were professional; she had no doubt of that.  Another group in the nameless hordes of people that lived that non-existence she knew as the conspiracy.  There would be no fingerprints on the gate keyboard and as far as she could tell, they hadn’t come into the house.  She would have heard that.  Why the hell had she not heard Mulder and Eddie leave the room?  Had Ed-William . . . The hum, why couldn’t she feel it like Mulder?  She would have known something was wrong.  She should have realized the connection . . . she should have recognized her son. 

He’d witnessed . . . oh God!  The deaths of all those people, when he had been in the next room.  Could, could he read minds?  She closed her eyes, allowing despair to overwhelm her for a moment.  Safe - she wanted to laugh at the irony.  She had sent the boy away to protect him, but they have found him and she hadn’t been there to protect him. 

She had to find him, rescue him and Mulder. 

Drummy was as good as his word, there in less than an hour.  Even he had foregone ‘agent’ attire at this hour.  He was wearing jeans and a t-shirt under a leather jacket.  He called from his cell phone when he reached the gate, to avoid touching the buttons himself.  Scully opened it and he sped to the house. 

“You could have used the panel,” she said bitterly.  “These people don’t have fingerprints.” 

“You saw - “ 

“I saw the gate closing.  I didn’t see a car; I barely saw the gate in the moonlight.  They weren’t using headlights, even brake lights.  I don’t even know which direction they took out of the driveway.” 

Drummy looked at her for moment.  “So basically, we don’t have a fucking clue.” 

***** 

When the man beside him got up and moved toward the front of the plane, Mulder chanced a look over to see if he could find Eddie.  Yes, there he was, just a few feet away.  A strange feeling came over Mulder and he tried to capture it, something about a dream he'd had just before waking -- but it was gone.  He sighed, concussions were definitely not conducive to great memory.   

It was dim in the cabin of the plane, but from what he could see, the boy look unharmed.  Thank heavens.  Mulder had grown very fond of the child in a short period of time.  It struck him that it would be hard to give him back to the child authorities when this case was over.  Poor kid -- shuffled from pillar to post, no family, no life, really.  But maybe, if they could figure out what the hell was going on and who had targeted him and deal with it, maybe some nice couple could take him in, understand him, love him.  He was only six, maybe it wasn't too late. 

Provided they didn't both get killed before he had a chance at life. 

The two men were talking.  The one who'd stayed up front was obviously the pilot.  Mulder could hear him setting flight plans with the next control tower.  Just from looking around he could tell they were in a small craft, probably a private jet.  Someone with money wanted the boy.  But why take me, Mulder asked himself.  All the other times the families had been killed and the boy had eluded the captors.  What was different this time? 

"I can't believe this is finally happening -- that my father's work is finally going to come to fruition," the man who'd cinched Mulder's arms said blissfully. 

The pilot grunted.  "It's not over yet," he muttered just loud enough that Mulder could make it out. 

"But it will be, soon.  And then we'll face the Coming and all will be well.  Just as it was written by my father in his journals." 

"Yeah," said the pilot but Mulder detected a note of skepticism.  Or maybe it was just wishful thinking on Mulder's part.  He didn't like the sound of this supposed 'Coming' at all. 

Father, journals, Coming -- the Second Coming?  None of it made any sense to Mulder and the throbbing in his head was increasing to the point where he thought he might vomit.  Not a good idea, he knew, so he swallowed thickly.  He strained to hear more but the voices became jumbled and he couldn't make them out clearly.  Their voices became a drone that matched the engines' vibrations that were thrumming under his ear.  Finally, he surrendered to the darkness once more. 

Sometime later, judging by the fact that the plane no longer seemed to be in flight, but was quiet and stationary, Mulder was dragged into consciousness as they pulled him up and frogmarched him down the stairs.  He looked around, searching for Eddie, but couldn't see the boy. 

"What did you do with him?  Where's the boy?" he rasped frantically.  

One of his captors smiled grimly.  "You don't need to worry about the boy.  He's safe.  You need to shut up and not cause any trouble.  It'll only make it worse for you." 

Never one to take a kidnapper at his word, Mulder was still relieved to hear that Eddie was all right.  He looked around again, trying to figure out where they were.  It was dark and there wasn't much light around, save for some sort of floodlights in the distance.  He could make out some mountains on the horizon, but no buildings, no town or city of any sort in any direction. 

"Where are we?" Mulder tried again, knowing the answer wouldn't do him much good with his hands tied behind him. 

The man who had answered him the first time smiled brightly.  "This place?  It's where you're gonna be executed," he said happily and laughed with his companion at the joke.  "But don't worry.  That won't happen for a couple of days.  Gotta do things by the book, ya know." 

Mulder stopped asking questions then and tried to figure out what the hell was going on.  'By the book' was a common phrase, but the way the man said it sounded like there really was a guide, some sort of plan or agenda that they were following -- to the letter.  These two men weren't the same ones on the plane, so that meant at least four people were involved, possibly more.  Did all this tie in with that journal the man on the plane was ranting about? 

They were walking toward the floodlights, and as they approached, Mulder saw a number of shanty type buildings, trailers and tents.  It looked more like an archeological dig than anything else.  The floodlights surrounded an area where a huge hole had been excavated, the piles of dirt circling the rim of the hole.  They skirted the hole as they walked to the other side.  Mulder couldn't see down into the opening because a tent hid the actual excavation.   

"What's down there?  What are you looking for?" Mulder asked, but this time the man just shook his head and refused to answer.  They arrived at a wooden shed and Mulder was thrown inside.  He heard them padlock the door securely and he was left alone in the dark. 

Mulder sat up and leaned against the rough wooden wall of the shed as he tried to take in what was happening.  Eddie was safe, or as safe as he could be under the circumstances.  By now, Scully would know what had taken place -- unless . . . Oh, God, if they'd gone in and hurt her -- 

Mulder couldn't let himself travel down that line of thought.  There would have been no reason to go back to the house and get Scully if what they wanted was Eddie.  He shook his head.  Not the time to buy trouble, he was in enough as it was.   

So why Eddie?  It all came back to that.  And why hadn't their captors taken Eddie any of the other times they'd attacked if he was their ultimate goal?  Eddie had hidden, yes, but in a closet.  Anyone with half a brain would have looked in the closet of the kid's room, right?  It made no sense, and Mulder's head was starting to pound.  As much as he didn't want to let his guard down, there was little he could do with his hands secured behind him with plastic tie-downs.  He leaned his head back.  Just a few minutes to rest.  Then he could think clearly and try to figure a way out of this mess. 

Mulder was on the beach again.  This time, he looked for the boy.  "Where are you?  William, where are you?" he called but the words came back to him with the wind coming off the surf. 

"William, if you're still here, answer me!" he shouted, pacing around the large sand structure.  It was enormous and the sides were smoothed and even.  It seemed triangular in shape but it was the size of a large house.  He couldn't see the top of it from where he stood.  He glanced behind him.  There were rocks further ashore -- maybe if he got on the rocks he could see down on to the top of the sand structure. 

The rocks were sharp and creviced and he had to be careful as he scrambled to the top.  He was out of breath was he reached the highest point.  Turning around so that he could look down on the sand structure, his eyes widened and he sucked in a breath.  It was the space ship he could remember them building back in other dreams, but this was not like the other sand castles built by father and son.  This was enormous and had lights just under a thin layer of sand that peeked out in growing darkness.  Mulder got down on his knees so he could lean forward and get a better look, when he felt a hand on his shoulder.  He turned to his left and saw the boy. 

"William," he said and smiled, hugging the boy to him.  "I thought you weren't here." 

"I'm always here," the boy replied, displaying a gap-toothed smile.  The boy quickly hugged Mulder back.  "Can you hear me?" 

"Yes, I can hear you.  And I can see you," Mulder smiled back at the child.  "I can see that, too," he said, pointing to the sand structure.  "What is it?  Do you know?" 

"They think it's supposed to be mine, but it isn't.  It's from a bad place.  I don't want it."  William was shaking his head and frowned.  "We need to blow it up." 

Mulder snorted.  "Well, Will, I don't see how we're going to be able to do that.  We'd need explosives, and all sorts of stuff to blow it up.  Can't we just kick at the sand and the waves will take it at high tide?" 

The boy shook his head and frowned now at Mulder.  "No, it's only sand on the outside," he said, speaking sternly as if to a small child.  "It's metal under that.  It came a long time ago from somewhere far away.  We have to destroy it, or it will destroy us." 

"Destroy us?  Who?  You and me?" Mulder asked, having a hard time following what the boy was trying to tell him.   

"No, us -- all of us.  The whole planet, all of us!" 

"Will, I don't know -- " 

The boy took his hand and held it.  "You have to believe me.  You're the only one who does or ever will," he said, staring into Mulder's eyes.  "When you wake up, you'll remember parts of this dream.  But you have to work fast, we have to hurry.  We only have a few hours till it's light." 

***** 

It was almost dawn.  Scully sat staring down at her cup of coffee as Drummy stalked, she couldn’t call it pacing, around the kitchen. 

“You’re fuckin’ joking, right?” 

She didn’t bother to answer this time.  She’d thought Agent Doggett was ‘resistant’ when they had worked together.  Of course he’d had a little more time to work toward the idea. 

Drummy took the seat across from her, again.  “You think these cult members, the ones that want ‘aliens’ to take over the planet want to kill Mulder and worship this kid.  Now I can understand them wanting to kill - nevermind.  Where the hell are we supposed to start looking for these people?  Is there some cloud they hang out on?” 

“I don’t know where they went.  I’ve seen these . . . ships in Calgary and the Ivory Coast - “ 

“You’ve really seen these things, with your own eyes.” 

Scully took a deep breath, eyes closed.  “And in the Antarctic.” 

Drummy shook his head. 

"You saw nothing?" he asked again and she squeezed her hands into fists before she answered. 

"Nothing, Agent Drummy.  They were gone when I woke up.  I checked the house, and I don't believe anyone even came inside.  I believe E-Eddie panicked when he realized someone was here and ran to the tree house that Mulder had shown him earlier." 

"Dr. Scully, they obviously had a car, which you did not see.  There's no way to get a description out and we don't we have a direction." 

"So we try another route!" she stood then, Special Agent Dana Scully would not be browbeaten by any man, agent or not.  Her eyes widened.  "There's a small private air strip about 15 miles northwest of here.  We need to contact them, see if anyone's taken off in the last hour." 

Drummy only hesitated a moment, then yanked his phone from his pocket.  She paced, her mind grabbing and rejecting ideas at a furious pace.  She didn't dare slow down enough to feel right now, she had to think. 

"I've got a deputy headed over there.  I couldn't raise anyone by phone.  The damn thing's probably closed." 

"Let's go."  She was already moving toward the door.  Drummy had no option but to follow.   

His cell phone rang before they were a mile from the gate.  "What's the name on the truck?" he asked as Scully's head swiveled toward him.  "Fuck.  We're on the way." 

"What?" she demanded. 

"The truck that met me here, the men that installed - " 

"Damn it!" She cut him off, knowing the rest of the sentence.  "Was anyone at the airstrip?" 

"Yeah, but it's only one man.  He'd probably gone to the can when I called." 

"Hurry."  She seemed to settle back in the seat, but Drummy could see her knuckles were white. 

The poor slob on duty at the tiny air strip was looking even more confused when Scully and Drummy burst into his office a few minutes later.  Posted speeds be damned. 

"Yeah, I cleared them.  There was no traffic, not this time of night," he finished answering the deputy's question.

"What's your name?" Scully asked. 

"Dwight, uh Dwight Nelson." 

"Dwight, did they file a flight plan?" Scully asked before Drummy could.   

"Well sure, I don't let anyone take off from here without one.  I'm not getting my ass - " 

"Where is it?" she cut him off and came around his desk when he didn't move fast enough for her. 

"Here, right here."  He thrust the paper at her. 

Her eyes raced down the page.  "They were headed to St. Louis to refuel, final destination Jordan, New Mexico.  Five hours twenty . . . Where the hell is Jordan, New Mexico?" 

The poor man jerked open a drawer before she could demand it and pulled out a handful of maps, flipping through them rapidly.  He spotted the New Mexico one and yanked it open, spreading it out on his desk.  They scanned it together and she spotted it first, her finger poking it for Drummy. 

"Who was the plane registered to?" 

"Just a second." Dwight grabbed up his log book.  "Uh. Hopeson, Hopeson, Inc." 

"What do they do?" she demanded. 

"I, I don't know."  He actually quailed at the look Scully threw him. 

"Come on," this was directed at Drummy who never thought to question her authority.  He tossed back a thank you toward the deputy and Dwight and was racing down the stairs after the diminutive ex-agent. 

"Where are we going?" he asked as he entered the SUV. 

"Back to the house.  I have to make some phone calls, and I want a land line." 

They made it back in record time and he followed her inside.  She picked up the phone and dialed an old familiar number.  "Danny?  It's Dana Scully.  I'm sorry to - Yes, I need your help."  She nodded though the man couldn't see.  "Mulder.  Okay, I need to know about a company called Hopeson, Inc. possibly out of New Mexico.  Whatever you can find out.  I know. . . thank you."  She hung up and turned to Drummy.  "This won't take long, I need to call Skinner." 

"Who's Danny?" 

"Danny Valido, he works at the Bureau."  At Drummy's vacant expression she continued.  "He's  helped us out a lot over the years." 

"He'll just . . . find stuff for you?" 

"Don't analyze it, Drummy.  Not everyone thought Mulder was crazy, especially not the ones who really looked at what we were doing."   

Drummy winced slightly at that but didn't respond.  He wanted to ask her what she wanted him to work on, but she wasn't even an agent, why did he feel like he should be following her orders? 

"Sir?  Yes, he's here.  We just got back from that small air strip just north of here.  They flew them out of there - " 

"You don't know that for sure," Drummy spoke, but Scully ignored him. 

"I've got Danny looking up the company.  Have you ever heard of Hopeson, Inc?  Me neither.  They were flying to New Mexico.  Could there be another . . .  Thank you."  She hung up and turned to face Drummy. 

"What's he doing?" 

"He's going to meet us at the airport.  He'll have the tickets.  Do you have your overnight with you?" 

"My . . . are you kidding?  We're taking off for New Mexico with no more than -" 

"Yes.  I'm going to pack." 

"I, I left a, a friend . . ." 

"You left a woman in your bed?"  His face darkened.  "Well I hope you left the money on the dresser, because we don't have time to go by there." 

"I don't pay -" but she was already up the stairs.  He just stood and glared. 

She was back downstairs with a gym bag in just minutes.  He started to speak, but the phone rang.  She picked it up before it could ring a second time.  "Hello?" 

"Scully? I think I have your information.  Hopeson, Inc. is a mining company.  They used to be a wholly owned subsidiary of Strunghold Mining."  He hesitated at her gasp.  "I picked right, huh?" 

"Yeah.  Where are they based?" 

"New Mexico.  Right now they're on a large job near a small town called - " 

"Jordan," Scully interrupted. 

"Yeah.  See, you don't really need me." 

"Hardly.  I didn't have a clue about . . . What kind of job?" 

"Not sure, but they've leased a lot of heavy equipment.  Jordan's about half way between Albuquerque and Amarillo.  There's no major construction project that I can find, and it's in the middle of nowhere.  What's going on?" 

"I'm not sure." 

"But it's an X-File?"

Drummy saw the slight curve of her lips, not knowing the subject of the conversation. 

"Yeah, it is." 

"Cool.  Call me anytime." 

"Thanks, Danny."  She hung up and turned back to Drummy, all business again.  "You ready?" 

He merely looked exasperated, so she headed to the door, holding it open waiting for him.  He huffed and moved past her with ill grace.  At the car she held out her hand.  "Do you want me to drive?" 

He blinked at that and she saw the chauvinist peek out.  "That's okay." 

She opened the passenger door and was already buckled by the time he seated himself.  "Look, we know they're planning to land in St. Louis.  Why don't we have them detained until we can get there.  The local -" 

"No.  We're talking about fanatics.  The police aren't equipped for this.  They have Mulder and the boy.  Their safety -" 

"From what you said, it sounds more like they want Mulder than the boy.  It's not making sense." 

"When Walter joins us, we can bring you up to speed.  Just hurry." 

Drummy huffed at that, but turned toward DC. 

***** 

Mulder woke again with a dry mouth and a growling stomach.  He squinted in the dim light of the shed.  By scooting over, he could peer out between a couple of the rough boards and see the flood lights in the distance.  It gave him an idea.  But first he had to get his hands to the front.   

He'd done it before, but after six years he was decidedly out of practice.  By the time his hands were in front of him, he was dripping with sweat and nearly out of breath.  He let his arms rest a minute while he recovered.  They'd tied his wrists, but his fingers were free.  It didn't take him long to find what he was looking for -- a sharp metal edge along the hinge of the shed door.  Being careful not to slice open his wrist, he sawed at the plastic tie until he cut it neatly in two.   

It felt wonderful to roll his shoulders and work his arms, but he only allowed himself a few minutes of the luxury.  He moved to the back of the shed and tried to see out in the darkness.  From his vantage point, as minimal as it was, he couldn't see any other lights behind the shed.  He assumed that meant there weren't any other tents or buildings in that direction.  He felt along the boards until he found one that was loose enough for his purposes.  It took some work, but in short order he had a respectable hole in the side of the shed just at the base.  It was a tight squeeze, but he made it out. 

Mulder let his eyes adjust to the darkness.  When he'd lived in the city, the blackness of the country often left him breathless.  Now, after years of living in a rural area where the nearest light source was their back porch light, and the stars spread out above him every night like a blanket, he had no problem picking out landmarks and targets.  He found a cluster of tents huddled near the collection of floodlights and headed in that direction. 

There didn't appear to be any guards around, which he found rather odd for a kidnapping.  In fact, it seemed that everyone in the camp was asleep.  The problem was the tents themselves.  They were dome tents, family camping tents and all of them were closed up tight against the chill night air.  One thing for certain, he was cold and he could see frost on the ground as he walked. 

There were half a dozen tents, each large enough to sleep four to five people if they crammed in like mummies.  He had no idea where Eddie could be among them.  He needed a weapon, something he could use to overpower anyone that might wake up and find him there.   

He searched around the site.  There was an earthmover, not exactly a delicate piece of machinery.  Whatever they were doing, they weren't concerned about destroying possible artifacts in the process.  He wanted to get closer to the floodlights, close enough to see into the hole.  He moved in that direction but was suddenly hit with a tsunami of sound waves.  They crashed over him, dropping him to the ground like a rock.  He clamped his hands over his ears, trying to keep his brain from exploding from the vibrations.  He found he could crawl and he inched his way away from the direction of the hole. 

When he managed to get about twenty feet farther back, the sound ceased and the dead quiet was almost frightening.  He sat up, gasping for breath.  What the hell had just happened?  He looked around, trying to figure out why no one else had come running out of the tents, why no one else heard that horrible sound.  Everything was completely still and then he heard a loud snore coming from one of the nearest tents.  Could it be that they hadn't heard that screech?   

The search for a weapon became his priority, and then he'd go looking for Eddie.  He found a length of wood, a two by four piece of lumber about the size of a baseball bat.  Not that great going up against armed gunmen, but he couldn't remember seeing a gun on the two guys in the plane or the two goons who tossed him in the shed.  If he maintained the element of surprise, the makeshift bat would be enough to knock someone unconscious.  Now he had to find Eddie. 

He crept around the tents, hoping to hear something.  When he felt the familiar humming sensation, he smiled.  As he made his way to the front of the tent, he heard the zipper to the door start to lower and he froze.  Holding his breath, he waited at the side, weapon at the ready.  When Eddie's head stuck out the door, he exhaled in a chuckle.  "C'mon kiddo," he whispered. 

The boy smiled at Mulder and came the rest of the way out of the tent.  Carefully, he zipped the enclosure shut and then straightened.  He held out his hand and Mulder gratefully took it. 

"Let's get out of here," Mulder whispered. 

"No, wait.  We can't go yet," Eddie whispered back. 

Mulder kept walking, tugging lightly on the boy's hand.  "Yes, we can and we are.  Don't argue about this, Eddie." 

"No!" the boy said aloud and Mulder slammed to a halt, hushing him with a finger to his lips. 

"They'll wake up soon.  I don't think they have guns, so if we can get ahead of them -- " 

"We have to destroy it!" the boy insisted, not listening to what Mulder was saying.  "If we don't, it will happen!" 

Not wanting another incident like those he'd experienced back at the house, Mulder put his hands on his hips and stared down at the child.  "Eddie, what are you talking about?" 

"That!"  With a pointed finger, Eddie showed the way to the floodlights and the large tent.  "C'mon.  Look at it." 

Feeling almost as if he were in a dream, Mulder followed the boy at a trot the some 100 yards over to the area of the floodlights.   

"We'll be seen," Mulder warned. 

"Come around here," Eddie reasoned, and ran about the perimeter to the far side of the lights, and into a gap in the tent. 

Mulder sighed in disgust.  He should grab the boy up, gag him and run, instead he allowed the boy to lead him to the side of the hole closest to the tents.  Even inside the tent the floodlights gave him enough light to see, just no understanding of what he was seeing. 

"What is it?" Mulder breathed, looking at something more fantastic than he'd ever seen.  It was exactly as he'd dreamed for years -- a structure of some sort but totally foreign to his eyes.  Foreign . . . alien.   

Though the actual size was hidden beneath thousands of tons of dirt and rock, Mulder could see gleaming metal.  There were protrusions coming up from four sides to form an open circle.  He detected markings, possible writings on the surface of the craft.  He remembered back to what Scully had told him of the craft she'd found in Africa so many years ago.  Could it be? 

"It's their's," Eddie said simply.  "There's a bunch of them.  But if we destroy it, they'll know we can destroy them.  They'll go away." 

"Just like that?" Mulder questioned, not taking his eyes off the top of the structure. 

Eddie shrugged.  "Yeah.  Just like that."  

They were both staring down at the hole when someone grabbed first Eddie and then Mulder.  Mulder fought back, but when he saw they held Eddie, too, he stopped. 

"I told you that shed wouldn't hold him," the one holding Eddie said to the others.  The four were holding Mulder.  "Make sure he doesn't get away again," he said as he pulled Eddie back to the tents. 

One of the four smiled, an in the stark glow of the floodlights his eyes chilled Mulder to the bone.  "Just what I've been waiting for," he rasped.  One of the men grabbed Mulder's shoulders, holding his arms firmly behind his back while the other three proceeded to use him for a punching bag. 

The first guy had knuckles of titanium and used them mostly on Mulder's midsection.  When one particular punch hit a rib on his right side dead on, the crack was audible.  His tormentor smiled and continued.  When 'Oscar de la Hoya' tired, 'George Foreman' took his place.  Mulder lost track after that and couldn't really say who finally sent him into oblivion. 

***** 

Walter met them at the gate.  "There's been a small change in plans.  Agent Hotchner has a case in LA.  We're going to hitch a ride with them and after they're dropped off, the pilot will take us to Albuquerque.  It'll be faster." 

Scully nodded and followed him, trailed by Drummy who was muttering again.   

The private jet caused her eyebrow to rise, but she kept quiet.  Thinking of those roach infested motel rooms she and Mulder had enjoyed wouldn't do any good now.  She took a seat beside Walter after quick introductions and they were cleared for takeoff, no doubt pissing off a few commercial airliners. 

After a few minutes, Walter excused himself and left her side.  Almost immediately, she felt someone standing beside his seat.  "I'm Agent Morgan, Derek.  Would you mind . . . " 

She smiled and he took the seat Walter had vacated.  "I don't mean to bother you, but you were Mulder's partner, weren't you?" 

I still am, she thought but only nodded. 

"I've studied him.  We're good."  His hand encompassed the team on board the plane.  "But he's the gold standard.  I've read his profiles."  The attractive man shook his head.  "He was - " 

"Spooky?" Scully said softly. 

Dereck chuckled.  "Yeah." 

They both looked up as another young man joined them.  He held out his hand to Scully.  "Spencer Reid." 

She nodded as he took the seat opposite her.  "I've studied Agent Mulder as well.  The profiles he developed on Roche, Boggs, Barnett - " 

"I remember," she interrupted him softly.  "You seem to have a very good team here, that's important.  You can rely on one another.  Just be very careful that you look after yourselves while you're doing this." 

"Bill Patterson," Derek said. 

She nodded.  "This is not a long term career, especially if you work . . . alone." 

They talked for a while, mostly them asking her questions.  She smiled internally, Mulder the icon, she'd have to tell him about this.  He'd pretend it didn't matter, but he'd be pleased nonetheless that his work was the object of study.  Derek caught the yawn she tried to stifle and looked over at Spence.  "You should get some rest.  I don't know what you've been pulled in on, but since you have AD Skinner with you, I imagine it's big.  Good luck." 

"Thank you."  She shook both of their hands and then looked around.  She spotted Walter beside Drummy across the plane and behind her.  Walter's eyes were closed and he had reclined his seat, resting while he could.  She followed his example, grateful that the two young men had taken her mind off of what she faced for a little while.  She needed to be fresh when they arrived. 

***** 

Mulder woke up sometime later.  The sun was beating down on the shed -- this one a metal outbuilding with just a small crack at the door and one small screen near the top.  No windows, but the amount of light the crack and screen let in were more than sufficient to see.  Unfortunately, it was totally insufficient to allow for air circulation.  It was easily somewhere near 100 degrees in the shed.   

His left eye was swollen shut and his left side was burning -- at least those were the top of the list.  His whole body was hurting.  There was blood on his shirt, he figured from his nose but it didn't feel broken.  Damn.  Sweat was streaming down his face and stinging his one open eye.  From the little he could tell, he figured it was somewhere near noon.  It was going to be a long afternoon till sunset.  He let his head fall back down to the floor with a painful thud. 

He was so thirsty.  Breathing hurt.  Keeping his eyes open hurt.  He thought back to just a few months ago when he was still a wanted man, living like a hermit in the back country of Virginia.  Those were the days, he sighed internally. 

He had to think but his head hurt far too much to make any sense of the little he knew.  And in the back of his mind there was that hum again.  He closed his eyes and concentrated as much of his energy as he could on that hum.  After a while, it started to sound like something.  He willed his body to relax and just let his mind follow the hum.  It would lead him somewhere. 

This time it wasn't the beach, it was the tree house in the woods.  Eddie sat with his back against the far wall, knees drawn to his chest, tears running down his face.  "They hurt you," he accused. 

"It's okay, sport, just a bloody nose.  I've had 'em before," Mulder assured the boy as he climbed the rest of the way up the ladder to join him on the floor of the little structure.  "Are you okay?  They didn't hurt you, did they?" Mulder asked, looking the boy over, feeling his hair for an indication of a cut or bump.  He didn't know what he'd do if he found one, but it was something Scully always did to him. 

"No.  They didn't hurt me.  They're afraid of me," Eddie said glumly.  "And they think I don't understand them so they talk around me.  They're planning to kill you tomorrow." 

Mulder sighed.  "We just won't let that happen," he answered.  He knew Scully was on her way.  He just had to hold out until she arrived. 

***** 

The flight from LA to Albuquerque with just the three of them was actually less comfortable than with the whole team.  "So, now that we're alone, what the hell are we heading into?  What is it about this kid?" Drummy demanded. 

Walter looked over at Scully, giving her the lead.  She took a deep breath.  "I told you Mulder and I were . . . familiar with this group.  What I didn't tell you was that 'this kid', Eddie, is my son, Mulder's son, William." 

She watched the expressions race across Drummy's face.  She also saw the memory of the rumors he had heard regarding them, probably the wagers that had been placed on her pregnancy.  "William was taken when he was a few months old by this same cult.  Agent Reyes and I were able to track him down and rescue him, but the cult members were . . . killed when the ship I told you about took off.  After that I knew I couldn't keep him safe.  I . . . I put him up for adoption.  I didn't know where William was, I, I thought he was placed with a family to keep him safe." 

"That worked out well," Drummy said dryly, then realized his mistake when he met Skinner's eyes.  "Sorry.  How did they find him?" 

"I don't know.  I thought he was away from . . ." 

"Look, I'm sorry - " 

Scully shook her head.  "We don't have time for that.   We have to find out where they've taken them and get them back." 

Skinner sat forward then.  "We'll rent a car in Albuquerque and drive to Jordan.  We don't want to make much of a presence and there's not exactly a Ritz Carlton in Jordan.  We're going to need to reconnoiter, find where this major construction Danny mentioned is.  I'm concerned about cover while we're looking around.  The terrain is flat and I'm sure if they're who we think they are, there will be guards posted.  Scully, are you armed?" 

After a moment she nodded.  "It's in my bag." 

"I don't suppose you've been target practicing lately." 

"Uh, yes, I have.  When Mulder . . . it felt like something I needed to do." 

Skinner grinned.  "You beat him again, didn't you?" 

Her cheeks pinked and she didn't bother to answer.  Drummy just watched them both.  Skinner rose from his seat.  "I'm not dressed correctly for this.  If you'll excuse me."  He grabbed up his bag and retreated to the lavatory. 

"Dr. Scully, are you okay?" 

She met Drummy's eyes.  "We have to do this.  We know they're more than willing to kill for what they want, and they have Mulder and our son.  I have to be okay and we have to do this." 

He nodded and settled back with an extra laptop the team had on board.  Pulling up Google Earth, he started checking out the area around Jordan. 

***** 

It was desolate, and hot.  They checked into the small motor court in Ragland, the closest town to Jordan.  Skinner and Scully checked in as a married couple, Drummy taking a room down the hall.  He and she switched and everyone took quick showers.  The hottest part of the day had passed, so after changing, they took a ride toward Jordan. 

They spotted the construction site from a distance.  They could see the standard green construction fences, but no good reason for them.  This wasn't a place people would be walking past, certainly no sidewalks to protect. 

"That's one hell of a mound of dirt they've moved," Drummy mentioned.  He was right, even at this distance they could see the dirt rise above the fence in the distance.  It was one damn large site. 

"Okay, we need to head back.  If we're just tourists driving around, we don't want to get any closer. They have to have guards posted.  We need them to think we've taken a wrong turn."  Skinner pulled over to the side, to make a U-turn. 

"Wait," Scully said.  Skinner looked over at her and saw her hand lightly rubbing her brow.  Nasopharyngeal mass - the words came to him as he knew they came to Mulder at her slightest twinge. 

"Scully?" 

"Wait a minute."  The buzz, it was so faint, but was this what Mulder had been hearing, feeling?  *William?  Is that you?*  The buzz hyped up at her question to near pain, but it was welcomed.  *William, we're here.  We'll find some way to get you and Mulder out. I'm your mother and I'm going to rescue you.* 

She turned to Skinner.  "This is definitely the right place.  Head back to the motel." 

"What happened?" Drummy leaned forward from the back seat. 

Scully looked out the windshield.  "William told me." 

There was dead silence from the back seat as Skinner finished his turn and headed back toward Ragland. 

"We need to eat and get some rest.  We can't do anything out here tonight, but maybe we can learn what they want people to think is going on." 

Skinner pulled up to motel and Drummy jumped out.  Then Skinner and Scully headed to the bar and grill across the street.  They entered and took a booth to the side, then ordered dinner.  Skinner watched as Drummy entered and looked around.  He spotted another  African-American male at the far end of the bar and headed that way.  He took the stool next to him. 

"Don't see many brothers out here," the stranger said. 

"Didn't think so.  I'm Mose." 

"Luther," they bumped hands and Drummy ordered a beer and a burger.   

After taking a long pull on his beer, Drummy looked back at Luther.  "I just finished up a construction gig in Texas and I liked the area.  You know of any work around here?  I saw what looked like a mother of a job west of here." 

Luther chuckled.  "Yeah, it's a mother all right.  That's where I am.  Pay's not bad, but the company in charge is rat fucked.  They're probably hiring day labor.  If you like I can take you out there in the morning.  If you don't get on, you'd  have to find your own way  back to town." 

"That'd be cool.  What'ja mean rat fucked?" 

"The head guy, he's young, took over from his father when he died, I hear.  That was before my time, but how he's makin' a profit . . . " Luther shook his head.  "None of my business as long as my paycheck don't bounce." 

"What're you building anyway?" 

"That's just it, we ain't building, we're excavating.  I don't know, maybe he's found a dinosaur graveyard or something." 

Drummy looked up as his dinner was placed in front of him.  "Thanks," he murmured to the waitress and picked up the burger.  After a couple of bites, he turned back to Luther.  "Hey, I don't care as long as the pay's decent.  I'm staying at that excuse for a motel across the street.  If you're serious, I'd like a ride out there tomorrow." 

"Sure.  Just meet me here at six thirty.  We get as early a start as we can, before the heat, ya know?" 

Drummy nodded, his mouth full.  Hot damn!  He'd get inside that fence and look around at least.  So the boss was crazy, well that fit into Scully's cult. 

Skinner and Scully had also ordered dinner and since the waitress seemed friendly enough, they started a conversation about the area. 

"I was born here, that's about the only way you find this place," Janie grinned down at them.  "Don't get many tourists, unless they're on their way to Carlsbad or on to California.  It's picked up some lately, due to all the work over near Jordan." 

"Yeah," Skinner said, "we drove past that on the way here.  Looks like a huge site.  What's going on?" 

Janie shrugged.  "Diggin' is all I know.  This Hopeson Company came in nearly a year ago with all this big earth movin' equipment.  The people runnin' the place don't come over very often, but the workers like to come here and eat occasionally, just for something different." 

"Just digging?  Aren't they building something?" 

"Well they sure haven't yet, but they've moved a ton of dirt," she laughed again.  "Probably more like ten or twelve tons.  It's a mining company, so we thought they'd found something, but I haven't heard what it might be.  Doesn't look like we're gonna get rich off of it in any case.  You want some more coffee?" 

They both took another cup.  "Are there caverns around here?  You know, like Carlsbad?" 

"I've sure never seen or heard of any.  That might bring in some tourists, so if that's what they're looking for, I wish them luck."  She was called to the kitchen then. 

Janie was busy after that, so they finished their dinner and left without acknowledging Drummy.  Back in Skinner's room Scully sank into the chair.  "We need to get out there." 

"I know, but we can't do anything tonight.  We don't know the terrain, what surveillance they might have.  Besides, you've been up since, what one this morning?  You have to get some sleep." 

She looked at him incredulously.  "You don't really expect me to - " 

"Yes, I do.  There're three of us here to handle this and we all need to be at the top of our game.  When Drummy gets here we'll find out if he's learned anything, then we'll come up with a plan.  Are you still able to . . . to feel William?" 

She shook her head in despair.  "I can't do what Mulder does.  The artifact had no effect on me." 

"Okay, but you know that William is out there.  We have to assume that Mulder is with him."  Before she could answer there was a knock on the door.  Skinner pulled his gun and looked out the peephole.  "Drummy," he said softly and opened the door, staying completely out of sight. 

Drummy stepped inside and shut the door behind him.  "Well, I have an in for the morning.  My new buddy is going to pick me up at the bar and grill and take me in to see if they have any day labor.  At least I can get inside the fence." 

"Great.  You can look around and contact us.  Scully and I can park the car in that dip we saw, it won't be completely out of sight, but at least less obvious than just parked.    We'll come in on the far side of the dirt mound.  That should keep us out of sight of the main area.  You'll need to make sure your gun stays out of sight." 

"I'll use my ankle holster." 

"Go on to bed, Scully.  Rest if you can't sleep.  We don't know what we're going to have to do tomorrow, so we need to be ready." 

She nodded and rose to her feet reluctantly.  "I just feel like we're running out of time." 

Skinner put an arm around her shoulders and squeezed, but didn't bother with platitudes.  Scully hurried down the hall to her room, she didn't spot anyone moving at all outside, but could hear music from the bar they had visited earlier. 

She quickly dressed for bed and stretched out.  Skinner was right, she needed to turn this off and rest.  "Mulder, William, I'm here, I'll find you."  She rolled over, pulling the covers tightly around her.   

*You need to hurry.  They've hurt him bad and it's going to get worse.  They want to kill him and use me.  Help us.* 

She sat straight up, the dark was overwhelming and she was disoriented for an instant.  Then she remembered where she was.  "William?"  It felt both silly and comforting to say his name aloud in the empty room.  "Tell me what I need to do.  Please, I want to help you, tell me what I need."  She lay there quietly, but nothing came to her.  She finally slept again from sheer exhaustion and that's when he appeared to her. 

*You fight me when you're awake.  Stay asleep and listen.  They're building something to hurt Mulder, they're going to hurt him tomorrow and he's already hurt bad.  Bring Walter and that other guy and get us out.  Mulder thinks you're going to need guns.  It has to be different from the last time, when I was baby.  They got away then, I can't let them go again.  You need to get here and get Mulder out of the way so I can work.  Don't forget.* 

This time she didn't wake, sleeping on through the night, taking the rest her body desperately needed. 

When she came awake the next morning, she was on her feet before she processed waking.  William had talked to her last night.  They would need guns and Mulder was already injured and it would be worse today.  Damn.   

She took one of the shortest showers on record and was dressed before Skinner called her cell phone.  "Scully?" 

"I'm ready.  Mulder's injured.  We need to get moving." 

"How . . . never mind.  Drummy's leaving now to meet his friend.  We need to be behind the traffic going to the site to work.  The rental car will stick out, but we'll be close behind them.  Come on down to the room." 

She hung up and grabbed up her bag, taking it with her down to Skinner's room.  Drummy spoke, then headed for the bar.  Skinner could bring her up to date on their plans. 

"Do you want to get something to eat?" He asked after Drummy shut the door. 

"Coffee." 

Skinner gave a grim smile.  "I think we're going to need some sustenance.  It might be a long day." 

She nodded, hating the time it felt like they were wasting, but followed him to the car. 

After a filling breakfast and the emptying of the parking lot, Skinner turned toward Jordan.  "We'll have to hike from where we leave the car to the 'back' of the site.  Drummy should be calling soon with directions and hopefully the layout of the place." 

Scully looked down at her watch again and kept quiet. 

***** 

Drummy and Luther pulled into the employees' parking and got out.  "That looks strange," Luther said watching a large group of people near the entrance. 

"What?" 

"They're not letting people go to their stations.  Wonder if somethin' happened to the equipment?" 

Drummy looked around and saw what the man was talking about.  Everyone seemed to be clumped up at the entrance and no equipment was moving.  Not good.  They approached the crowd and Luther spoke to one of the men milling around. 

"What's up?" 

"Don't know.  They're telling people to go home, that there's no work today.  They want the site cleared." 

"We drove all the way out here.  Do you see any vandalism or anything?  This don't make sense." Luther was squinting, trying to see into the construction site. 

"Tell me about it.  Looks like they're setting up a pay station.  Damn, I need this fuckin' job."   

Drummy looked over where Luther pointed and saw a small building with what looked like a drive up window.  There were people inside, and as he watched the workers began lining up.   

"Looks like you made a trip out here for nothin'," Luther said to Drummy.   

"Hey, I appreciate the lift." 

"Hang out and after I get my pay, I can take you back." 

"That'd be great.  Go ahead and get in line.  I'll hang out here."  Drummy watched Luther and the other man join the line, which was not moving fast at all.  Scully had been right, something was happening and he needed to get inside. 

He moved to the side, hopefully out of the way and unobtrusive.  He pulled out his cell phone and dialed Skinner's phone.   

"Skinner." 

"I don't have a lot of time.  There's no work here today, their paying off everyone and sending them away.  No equipment's moving." 

"They don't want witnesses," Skinner said, glancing over at Scully.  "Can you get in?" 

"Workin' on it.  You better hurry and go wide, away from the entrance." 

"Got it."   

Drummy broke the connection and pocketed his phone.  Looking around, he began making his way to a large bulldozer parked closest to the line.  There was a disturbance in line and several of the guards moved in that direction.  Drummy took immediate advantage of the situation and moved himself quickly but quietly behind the large machine.  Moving carefully, watching everywhere, he made his way deeper into the area, closer to the actual excavation.  He spotted something they hadn't been able to see from outside.  There was a canopy, no, a tent over the actual hole, hiding whatever they had uncovered from sight. 

There were obviously people under the tent, so he avoided it moving around to what seemed to be semi-permanent living quarters.  There were trailers here and several storage buildings.  The sound of hammering startled him and he ducked behind a dump truck.  Who was building something? 

*****

Mulder had fallen into a deep sleep so the sound of his son's voice seemed to be in a dream.  "Dad!  Dad!  They're coming!"

He tried to find the tent, tried to find the tree house, the beach, but all he could see was a deep and dark gray fog. 

"Who, William?" he shouted.

"Mom and somebody she calls Walter," William replied.  "But I don't know if they'll get here in time."

At that moment he felt bright, hot sunlight on his face.  He squinted but could only make out the silhouettes.  He remembered the voices, though, as they boomed over his head.

"Is he dead?"

"No, he's breathin'."

"Don't look like it."

"Probably broke a rib or two.  That's OK, won't matter much in a few minutes."

He was roughly hauled to his feet and dragged out of the shed. 

It was hard to see at first, the light was so bright, but his open eye adjusted after a few minutes.  There were several people standing around, some in flowing robes of white and pale blue.  The women were wearing scarves covering their heads but their faces were visible.  He saw Eddie -- William -- wearing silk garments, some kind of robes. 

The boy stood wide-eyed between a woman and a man wearing a totally ridiculous (under other circumstances) headdress and robes.  The robes and the headdress were made of silk, embroidered with the designs on the boy's robe but the threads appeared to be spun gold and silver.  The headdress looked vaguely Egyptian and was completely out of place amid the earthmovers and bulldozers scattered around the area.

The man in the headdress smiled as Mulder was dragged before him and tossed at his feet.  Mulder landed on his side, but struggled to at least a sitting position.

"At long last, the son will fulfill his father's destiny!" he called in a loud voice to the assembled crowd.  He leaned over a little and spoke directly to Mulder.  "My father would have loved to see this day, Mr. Mulder."

Mulder swallowed against a tongue swollen from thirst.  "Do I know you?" he rasped.

"Oh, I'm sorry!  Please forgive my lack of manners.  I'm Jacob, Jacob Josepho.  Now do you now who I am?" the man sneered.

"'Fraid not," Mulder admitted.  Josepho -- that name meant nothing to him.  But suddenly he heard William's voice in his head. 

'He's the son of the man who tried to kidnap me when I was a baby.  Who wanted you dead,' the boy supplied.  'The man who made Mom believe she had to send me away.'

"Oh, wait," Mulder gasped.  "Yeah, I remember you.  You're nobody."

The robes did not deter Jacob's lightning fast reflexes as his foot shot out, catching Mulder directly in the chest, right at his broken rib.  Pain exploded and he grayed out for a few moments.

*****
Scully followed Skinner as they approached the fence.  They were moving quickly, crouching trying to watch everything at once.  All of the activity, all of the guards seemed to have been moved to the entrance.  Once there, Skinner hoisted himself up on the chain link to give a quick look around.  There was no one in sight and he nodded to Scully.  She checked her weapon, then they both climbed up and over the fence, dropping to the ground on the other side.  The disturbance, whatever it was had saved them.

 It was dying down now as the guards strong armed everyone out of the complex.  Skinner silently pointed to a large truck and they hurried to it, crouching down beside it to look around.

"I'll go west and meet you closer to those trailers.  That has to be where the people that stay here live.  Scully, be careful."

*****

Mulder fought to draw a breath into his lungs.  His ribs, previously just on fire, were now burning a hole through his side.  After a few moments, he was pulled upright by two of the goons who'd used him for 'rushing' practice the day before before.  His gaze fell on William.  The boy looked terrified, sheet white and chewing so hard on his bottom lip there was a tiny spot of blood. 

Forcing himself to calm down, Mulder closed his eyes and thought hard.  'It's going to be OK, kiddo,' he assured the boy silently.  'I've been in worse spots and she always gets there in time.'  When he looked at William again, a little color had crept back into his cheeks and there was a faintest smile on his lips, just a turn of the corners of his mouth.  Mulder nodded and winked his one good eye.

"The prisoner will prepare for his trial!" Jacob shouted loudly.  He nodded to some people standing near the front of the crowd and they stepped forward.  Forming two lines, the dozen men and women stood just to Jacob's left and looked at Mulder without expression.  William was led to Jacob's right hand.

"Read the charges!" Jacob said loudly and smiled as a woman left the crowd and brought a rolled scroll up to read it.

"He has infiltrated a craft and caused the deaths of thousands of our alien brethen," read the woman in a strained voice.

"Kill him!" shouted the crowd.

"He has thwarted all attempts to regain the planet, through means many and varied."

"He must die!" screamed a woman and the rest of the crowd cheered her on.

"He has attempted to stop the rightful owners of this planet from reclaiming what is theirs by denying his son's true destiny."

All eyes in the crowd turned to William and then as one they all cried out "Kill him NOW!"

Jacob turned to William and laid his hand on his head.  "Do you understand why this man has to die?  He's not really your father, you know.  Your father is one of the rightful owners of this planet.  Your true father will come and help you lead his return.  You must not weep for this man, for he is dirt under your feet," Jacob recited as if from a script.

William wasn't listening, he was starting to cry.  Mulder shook his head slowly and tried to reach the boy's thoughts.

'Don't worry, kiddo.  Don't listen to him.  You are my son and I'm so very glad I found you.  No matter what happens, I want you to always remember -- none of this was your fault.  These people are deluded, this man is evil and anything he does, he does alone.  You have no part in this.  I want you to close your eyes and know that I will always love you.'

"Daddy!" William cried out aloud and struggled to break from Jacob's firm hand on his head. 

Jacob grabbed his arm and shook the boy.  "Didn't you hear what I just said, Child?" Jacob growled.  "He tossed you away like an old shoe!  He and his bitch have thought nothing of you for years!  You belong to us now!"

'William, don't struggle!' Mulder thought frantically.  'Don't give anything away.  I don't want them to hurt you.  Remember, you said Scully was coming.'

The boy stopped wriggling, but the tears still streamed down his cheeks.  'I love you, Daddy,' Mulder heard clearly in his mind. 

He nodded once, just a drop of his chin but it sent the message.  'I love you too, kiddo.  More than you'll ever know.'

"Take him -- now!" Jacob sneered to the two thugs holding Mulder up.  By this time breathing was becoming more and more difficult and Mulder was dragged over to a small platform with two thick posts about seven feet apart.  There, he was handcuffed to each post just above shoulder height so that he hung, literally, between them.  With his arms outstretched and no strength to lift himself up, he could only manage very shallow breaths.  The baking hot sun was brutal on his back and head.

Jacob smiled down at William.  "We must go now to meet your new family."

But William was having none of it.  He pulled his arm from Jacob's grasp and flung himself toward his father.  "Noooooo!" he screamed and, as Jacob and the men tried to pull him back, he kicked, scream, and bit at them, flailing about with an almost inhuman strength.  It was the mother of all meltdowns for the small child, and he had the ferociousness of a tiger.

At William's scream one of the woman shouted out to Jacob.  "It's moving!  The craft is preparing to open!"

Jacob just barely heard her over the child's screams.  "Quickly, to the tent!" he shouted to the followers and they all converged on the awning protecting the excavation hole.

"What about the boy?" shouted one of the thugs who'd tied up Mulder.

"He'll come soon enough.  There isn't much life left in Mulder anyway.  When his cause is lost, the child will come to us.  But now we have to hurry or we'll miss their appearance to us!"

*******

Scully couldn't see Skinner or Drummy.  She had to trust they were where they said they would be.  There was no time for anything else.  With the last of the workers gone, the guards had returned to the area near the tent and taken up a ceremonial-like stance around some structure she couldn't see clearly.  

From her vantage point she spotted a young man decked out in some sort of robe emerge from the tent and, shit, William was with him, dressed in a miniature version of the same damn robe.  Where was Mulder?  She couldn't spot him in the crowd, but he had to be here.  If only she could do what Mulder did and contact the boy somehow.  Whatever she was doing was obviously unsuccessful. 

The man in the robe suddenly lifted his arms and spoke.  From this distance she couldn't hear him clearly and started to move a little closer.  Before she could, the crowd parted into two lines and she gasped as she finally spotted Mulder, being dragged by two goons.  He couldn't stand and seemed only semi-conscious.  The crowd roared an answer to whatever the robed man had said, every eye now on Mulder or him.  She could move closer but she couldn't reach Mulder unseen.  She didn't know what kind of marksman Drummy was, but if they all three made a hit with every bullet they had, they couldn't take out all of these people.  The illegality of that move not even brushing her conscience. 

"He has thwarted all attempts . . . " She didn't hear the rest but a woman screamed out "He must die!" 

We'll see which one of you does, Scully thought savagely moving even closer.  Her gun was in her hand now, though she didn't remember drawing it. 

The robed one continued to shout and the crowd roared back at him.  She took advantage and moved closer still.  Ed-William was crying now.  He had to be scared out of his mind with all of this and he'd bonded with Mulder.  She had no idea if he'd ever made a connection with any of the people he had stayed with after the death of his adoptive mother, but she knew without a doubt that he had connected with Mulder.  How much more trauma could the boy stand? 

The goons dragged Mulder, apparently at the robed one's instructions, up onto the structure that she hadn't really paid any attention.  There they handcuffed him to the beams. Good lord, he was pilloried!  He couldn't even stand and his breathing seemed shallow. 

The man took William's arm and started to lead him toward the tent, but William shrieked "No!" and began fighting, kicking, biting, and screaming in a total meltdown.  Scully watched as this young boy completely overcame the men trying to corral him with his temper tantrum. 

"It's moving!  The craft is preparing to open!" A woman screamed and the robed man's head came up.  Scully couldn't hear his voice over the other yelling, and the sound of the craft starting up as she had heard one other time, but he turned his back on William and hurried toward the tent.  Obviously someone asked him about the boy, because he looked back disdainfully and said something.  The men dropped the boy then, allowing him to scamper toward the pillory and Mulder. 

As Scully watching in shock, everyone streamed into the tent, leaving Mulder and William alone in the hot sun.  It was past time for caution, she ran then, moving toward Mulder begging him to hold on for just a little longer. 

The noise from the tent was deafening now, so she didn't worry about any sound she would make racing to Mulder's side.  He was handcuffed; she had to get him free and quickly. 

She spotted Drummy to her left; he'd been watching the same scene and knew Mulder was in trouble.  He was also racing toward Mulder and the boy, his gun in evidence. 

Scully jumped up onto the platform and realized that William was trying to hold Mulder up, so that his full weight was not on his arms.  She wanted to throw her arms around the boy and thank him, and she would, but first things first.  "Mulder, I don't know if you can hear me, but I'm here.  Skinner and Drummy are with me.  We'll get you out of here."  She had no handcuffs or key, she was already checking where the chains were attached to the poles.  Damn it! 

"I've got him."  Drummy was beside her now and had Mulder's dead weight on his shoulders. 

"Do you have a key?" 

"Yeah, I think, check my right pocket.  Damn, he doesn't look this heavy," he grunted. 

Skinner had joined them now and took the key that Scully had located and released Mulder's right hand.  Drummy grunted again, but held his weight. 

"We have to hurry!" William yelled then.   

Scully turned to look at him and realized that the sound from the tent had increased in pitch and volume.  "Oh God, Walter, hurry!" 

He fumbled with the lock on the left hand for an instant, then it was free and Skinner wrapped one of Mulder's arms around his shoulder and he and Drummy headed toward the main entrance, holding Mulder between them. 

"Come on!" Scully had William's hand clutched in her own and they were racing after them. 

"Wait!"  William dug in his heels, dragging her to a top. 

"No, we have to get out of here.  That thing's going to take off and we could be burned." 

"No, I can't let this one get away. We have to destroy it!" 

Scully's eyes widened.  What kind of destruction would that bring down on them? 

"We have to get away from it.  We're too close."  She saw that Skinner had turned to see if they were following him, slowing down.  Drummy was forced to halt as well. 

"It'll be okay.  Let me do this!" 

"William, no, come on!"

"If you're scared, go on!" 

Scully looked down at him.  "No, I could never leave you.  I've finally gotten you back.  I'm never leaving you again." 

William's eyes widened at those words.  "You want me?" 

"Oh God - " her next words were lost in the roar of noise and she grabbed William, shielding him with her body.  The wind blowing not outward, but back toward where the tent had hidden the excavation, nearly threw them to the ground and she saw Skinner turn, forcing Drummy and Mulder back towards them. 

"Help me!"  William screamed over the wind.

"How, what?" Scully demanded.

"Close your eyes and HATE IT!" William ordered.

Scully shook her head -- it sounded ridiculous.  But then she was bombarded by all the pain of the last eight years and more, all caused by these same people, this race intent to take over the planet.  Her own abduction, Melissa's death, her cancer, Emily all flashed before her eyes.  When she saw herself standing beside Mulder's grave, then kissing him goodbye with a tiny William pressed between her, she felt she could stand no more.  The final insult was when she stood searching a deserted site just like the one they were in, desperately seeking her baby.  With all that rushing through her mind and her soul, it was easy to turn it all into a rage that she had never allowed herself the freedom to feel.

"We need him!" William shouted.  Scully understood and staggered over to take hold of Mulder's hand.  It was limp and it frightened her.  She wanted to check him over, but William was shouting again.  "NOW!"  Drummy and Skinner lay him on the ground at Scully's feet and stood watching. 

Mulder had been in darkness, but for just a brief moment he surfaced.  The sun was no longer beating down on him -- the sky was dark as pitch.  He could feel the wind blowing over him.  But more than anything else, he could feel Scully's and then William's hand where they held him.  A thought brushed his mind -- we have to stop them . . . we can stop them . . .  Focusing on that thought, he concentrated as much of his remaining energy as he could.  They had taken Samantha, they had destroyed his family -- he was not going to let them destroy the family he had now.  With all his might, he wanted them gone.

Skinner and Drummy had staggered back fighting the wind and were hanging on to the pillory posts in an effort to keep from being blown toward the tent.  It seemed the hole was sucking in everything within a mile radius around it.  Skinner had seen Scully grab for Mulder's hand.  William had Mulder's other hand and the three formed a triangle with hands held and eyes closed.  Skinner was about to try to ask what they were doing when the wind stopped as suddenly as it had started.  The air around them took on an electric charge.  Drummy and Skinner both looked at each other as they felt the hairs on their necks and arms rise.  It was difficult to breathe for a second.

There was a bright light, followed by an enormously loud crack that reverberated around the desert.  In the light, the tent shimmered then seemed to disappear into the hole.  Everyone that had run into the tent disappeared down the hole as well.  Skinner winced as his ears popped and he saw Drummy rubbing his own ears.  Mulder, Scully and William looked at each other for a moment and then Scully and William collapsed on Mulder's chest, their hands still clasped.

Drummy was the first one on his feet.  He looked toward the hole, took a few tentative steps toward it and then thought better of his actions.  The hole was emitting a greenish smoke and it didn't look at all healthy.  "What the hell," he shouted because he couldn't hear a thing.

Skinner shook his head.  "We need to get them out of here," he said loudly, pantomiming his words to be understood.  All three appeared to be unconscious.

"I'll call for a chopper," Drummy said, starting to pull out his cell phone, then realizing the futility of that action.  "Or maybe I'll just text the regional," he decided, quickly typing into the tiny keypad.

William was the first to come around.  He looked up at Skinner and smiled.  "It's gone," he said simply.

"What's gone?" Skinner asked, his hearing beginning to return, but still not understanding everything that had taken place.

"Their ship.  It imploded.  It's gone.  And now they know we can destroy them.  They won't bother us anymore."

It was the most Skinner had ever heard the boy utter.  Hadn't Mulder said he was uncommunicative?  "Oh," he said, nodding his head even though he was just more confused.  "That's good."

William's smiled grew even brighter.  "Yeah.  It's very good, but now we need to get Mom and Dad taken care of.  I think it wore them out."

*****

Plains Medical Center
Clovis, New Mexico
6:15 pm

Eddie -- William, Skinner reminded himself, was fast asleep in the reclining chair between the two beds.  Mulder hadn't awakened, but had been treated for his injuries and dehydration, and admitted.  Scully was still unconscious, so the decision had been made to admit her for observation. 

Drummy had been calling at regular intervals with reports from the site.  The hole in the ground resembled a large crater.  There was no sign of any craft, nor had any of the more than three dozen people who had entered the tent reappeared.  More than that, a local geologist had reported residual radiation near the hole and the Department of Homeland Security had taken over the investigation.  In truth, Skinner was more relieved at that news than anything else.

Skinner smiled as he looked over at the boy.  He was wearing a white t-shirt that Drummy had given him and a pair of running shorts that were way too big and held on with a safety pin.  He'd wanted out of the elaborate robes the minute they had arrived in town, but refused to leave his parents to go find new clothes, even though he'd been reassured they would both recover.  Mulder's recovery might take a little longer, three broken ribs and a concussion took a while to heal.  Scully was just finally getting her beauty sleep after two days of constant worry and travel, not to mention taking down an alien craft with her thoughts.

At least that was the story William had told him.  That the three of them combined had 'destroyed' the alien ship with their thoughts.  Skinner would calmly tell the child he was confabulating -- if he had a better explanation.  As it stood, Skinner just hoped it was the end of the threat he'd lived under for several years.

"I'm hungry," came a voice from between the beds.

"You should be.  You didn't eat lunch," Skinner admonished.  He watched the boy look over at first Scully and then Mulder.  "The doctor thinks they'll be asleep for a while longer.  We could go down to the cafeteria . . . " his voice trailed off when he realized from the look on William's face that he was not going to win that battle.  "How about if I run down and see if there's anything I can bring back?"

William gave an enthusiastic nod.

"Any requests?  Peanut butter and jelly?  Baloney?  Hot dog?"  At the last item, the boy's face lit up like a Christmas tree.  "I better get there and back before Scully wakes up or she'll skin me alive for feeding you junk food," he sighed.

"Uncle Walter?" William called after him.  Skinner turned and waited.  "If you bring me an apple and a carton of milk, that should make her happy."

Skinner smiled.  "Good idea, William.  I'll do that.  If one of them wakes up -- "

"Call Sherry out at the desk, I know," he assured him.
 

When the elevator doors opened to take him to the second floor cafeteria, he encountered Agent Drummy.  "I'm making a run down for some food," Skinner explained. 

"He still won't leave their sides?" Drummy asked. 

Skinner nodded. 

"Mind if I tag along?  I seem to have missed lunch," Drummy said casually. 

"Sure.  I'll even buy," Skinner offered. 

As they stood in line in the almost deserted cafeteria, Drummy got up the nerve to ask the questions that had been burning inside him all day. 

"Sir, what happened out there?  I mean, yes, it was a kidnapping and yes, we got the victims back but -- " 

Skinner shook his head and sighed.  "It would take all night to give you the long version and I'm pretty sure you wouldn't believe half of it." 

"Look, I know I wasn't always the most supportive when Dakota started nosing around in those files, but what I saw today . . . Try me," Drummy challenged. 

"Let's find a seat and I'll give you the short version," Skinner suggested. 

They found a deserted corner and Skinner waited for Drummy to settle in.  "OK, why don't you just ask me your questions and I'll try to give you the answers.  But I have to warn you -- the two people up in that room are the only ones who know everything and I really don't want to bother them when they wake up." 

"Understood," Drummy agreed.  "OK, let's start with this one.  Who the hell was that dude in the funny robes and why were all those people following him?  Who is this Hopeson thing?" 

Skinner nodded.  "That question is actually one of the easy ones.  When William was a baby, a cult -- a cult that believed that an alien race was coming to take over the planet -- kidnapped him .  The leader of that cult was a man named Josepho.  The 'dude in the funny robes' as you put it, is his surviving son." 

"Josepho, the father, is dead?" 

"Yes.  He died about the same time Agent Scully and Agent Reyes arrived at an excavation site very like the one out in the desert, except it was in Canada." 

"That's what Scully was talking about," Drummy mused aloud. 

"Yes." 

"So, this cult -- they believed these aliens would come and take over and what -- make the world a better place?" 

Skinner smiled ruefully.  "To be honest, I don't know what they expected to get out of the deal, except maybe survival.  I think you can understand that their mental state was somewhat questionable." 

Drummy nodded and snorted in agreement.  "But that explosion -- inplosion -- whatever the hell we saw out there.  That wasn't anything I've ever seen and I did a stint in the Marines." 

Skinner looked away for a moment, then turned his gaze back to Drummy.  "That -- I believe that was the alien craft.  I believe it was destroyed." 

"How?  Self-destruct button?" Drummy asked. 

Skinner shook his head again.  "Honestly, Agent, I haven't a clue.  But I suspect those three people, Mulder, Scully and their son, had something to do with it." 

"So, when the boy -- Eddie, William, whatever his name is -- when he said it was over . . . " 

"I pray he's right," Skinner said simply and gathered up the food to take up the room.

***** 

Plains Medical Center
8:45 am


Mulder came awake slowly, to the sounds of whispers.  He looked over to his left and what he saw made his heart nearly burst with joy.  William was cuddled up on Scully's bed.  Her arm was around him and they were talking quietly.  Every once in a while, one of them would giggle or just smile.  Scully hugged the boy close and ran her hands down his arms as if to warm him -- or just hold him close.  It was the most beautiful picture Mulder had ever seen and he memorized it and placed it delicately next to the other picture in his heart -- the one of the three of them when William was first born.

He hated to interrupt them, but he was feeling just a little left out of the fun they were having.  "Hey," he rasped and winced when he figured out talking hurt his ribs.  He swallowed and tried again.  "Can anyone get in on this par-tay?"

Scully's smile doubled and with William's help, she eased off the bed and came over.

"No, Scully, I didn't mean -- "

"Shush, Mulder.  I'm only here for observation," she scolded.  "How're the ribs?"

"On a scale of 10, about a 6," he admitted.

She glanced over at the clock on the wall.  "You're due for some meds in about 15 minutes.  Think you can hold out that long?"

"Sure," he confirmed.  "So, what were you guys talkin' about over there?"  By this time, William had found a way around the bed rail and was settling in next to Mulder.  Scully tried to hold him off, but Mulder shot her a look and she relented.

"We were comparing other hospitals you've been in," Scully said dryly.

"I think I'm offended by that topic," Mulder deadpanned back.

"You get hurt alot, Da--Mulder." William looked up at him and for a second an odd expression passed over his face.  He still wasn't looking Mulder in the eyes, but was staring at the lightboard above them.

"Not any more.  Well, recently maybe, but not for a long time," Mulder hurried to correct any false impressions.  He tilted William's head toward him and tried to meet the boy's eyes.  "What happened to calling me Dad?"

William held his eyes unnaturally wide and looked at Mulder's eyes for an instant before focusing on his chin.  "Can I?" 

"I think I'd like that."  Mulder looked over at Scully and she shrugged but he didn't like the look in her eyes.  "Where's Skinner?" he asked Scully. 

"He's in the lounge, watching highlights from the baseball game last night.  He didn't want to disturb us."

"Why don't you go out and keep him company for a minute, Will," Mulder suggested.  "Just for a minute or two, OK?  I need to talk with your mother."

The boy looked unsure, but scrambled down the bed and out the door.  Scully stood beside the bed, looking unsure herself.

"What's the matter?" he asked.

She was biting both of her lips between her teeth and looked on the verge of crying. 

"Scully?"

"I . . . I want to keep him," she choked out.  "But I don't know . . . "

"Scully, he isn't a puppy.  He's our son.  I didn't think there would be a question," Mulder sputtered and then realized how hard this was for her.  She was crying openly now, tears falling from her cheeks.

"I had no idea.  When I gave him away, I thought -- I thought he'd be safe and I wanted to believe that.  I had to believe that to go on.  But Mulder, he wasn't safe."

"I know," he said, taking her hand and pulling her closer.  "But we can keep him safe."

"But will they let us keep him?" she sobbed.  "I gave him up for adoption.  I severed all parental rights.  I have no standing in the eyes of the law."  She swiped angrily at the tears on her chin.  "I'm nothing to him anymore."

"Scully, is this you talking or your fear?  You had reasons for giving him up, yes.  And I've never doubted that choice or your reasons.  But many of those reasons have changed.  We're not apart now.  We're together.  And as for William -- I would think we could build a better life for him than what he's had for the last three or four years."

She shuddered and then nodded her head.

"Right now, he's in foster care.  Do you think anyone is going to adopt him away from us?"

At her worried expression, he knew the truth.  She still didn't think herself worthy of being a mother.  He sighed.  But, how long had it taken him to accept the fact that he was worthy of her love?

He reached up and wiped the tears from her face.  "Look, you let me worry about the details.  Right now, there is a little boy who is part of us, created by us, with our DNA, and he needs a family.  But more than that, I think we need him in our lives.  The rest, well, the rest really doesn't matter."

*****

Denoument -

Our Lady of Sorrows Hospital
one week later

She stood, seeming to listen politely to the young couple, managing not to fidget or adjust her lab coat.  They were so young and naive, so used to microwave ovens and remote controls that gave them what they wanted instantly.  The Fearon's wanted their son healthy and they wanted it now.  Christian was on the way back, they'd have to learn patience somehow.  Margaret's voice tapered off as she saw that Dr. Scully wasn't listening anymore and slight smile had started on the doctor's face.

Scully turned and watched a tall man and a boy walk toward her.  "Mr. and Mrs. Fearon, this is Mulder."  There was something . . . scary about the man, but he smiled and gave a little wave rather than shake hands.  They spotted the bandages peeking out from the sleeves of his light jacket.  Scully's hand then affectionately brushed through the boy's hair and her arm went around his shoulders drawing him closer to her.  "And this is our son, William."

"Oh, I didn't realize . . ." Margaret Fearon started, then stopped, her cheeks pinking as she remembered a previous conversation.

"If you'll excuse us."  Scully walked away from them.  She held William's hand in both of hers, leaning slightly toward him as though listening carefully to whatever he was saying.  The large man walked beside them seeming somehow to loom protectively over them both, his hand resting lightly on her lower back.

*****

"So, how did it go?" she asked anxiously as they headed for her office.

"Father Ybarra says he'll call us, but it's all formality now.  Basically, he called Catholic Charities and they, in turn, contacted the Wyoming Department of Child Services.  William will be placed with us as a foster child, pending permanent placement."

"So our son is our foster son?" she asked, dubious of the distinction.

"No, that's the way to get around all the red tape.  As the good Father explained to me, the fact that you severed your parental rights at the time didn't impact my parental rights.  Now that circumstances have changed -- there's no doubt in his mind that we'll be granted full custody of William.  It's all just paperwork now."

She breathed a sigh of relief.  "Who would have thought that Father Ybarra's strict interpretation of the law would actually come in handy," she chuckled.

"You owe him a lot of Hail Scullys on this one, you know," Mulder pointed out.

"Yes, I do know.  Now, what was that surprise you said you had for us?" 

 

"You'll see when we get home," Mulder said with a cryptic smile.

*****

Mulder and Scully residence
Rural Virginia 

The electronic gate was still in place but was standing wide open and an unfamiliar pick up truck was sitting in the driveway.  Scully instantly tensed, but Mulder reached over and put his hand on her thigh.  "It's OK.  I know who it is," he assured her. 

After parking the car, she followed him up the steps just in time to be met by Agent Drummy and Associate Director Skinner coming out of the house with obviously used painting supplies.  "All set, Mulder.  And if you don't like the workmanship -- " 

"I know -- I get what I pay for," Mulder said with a grin. 

Drummy stowed the paint cans and brushes in the back of the pick up and joined everyone in the foyer.  "We didn't have time for a ribbon cutting, but why don't we let the guest of honor check out what we've done." 

Mulder looked over at William and nodded toward the stairs.  "You first, big guy." 

They didn't even try to keep up with the boy as he bounded up the steps.  When he reached his bedroom, he let out a whoop. 

"This is GREAT!" he shouted to one and all.

Scully looked over at Mulder and hurried up to see what the commotion was about.  When she reached the doorway to the room, she skidded to a stop. 

The room had undergone a complete transformation.  The previously dirty beige walls were now a soothing blue, as close to a robin's egg as she had ever seen.  Along the top and about chair rail height was a border of space ships and stars.  The cot had been replaced by a twin bed with a comforter that matched the wallpaper border.  There was a dresser with each drawer a bright primary color and upon closer inspection, the pulls were stars and moons.  Even the throw rug on the floor picked up the space theme. 

"You can't see them now, but when it's dark, there are stars and moons on the ceiling, just like you requested," Drummy told the boy. 

William was in awe, staring up at the ceiling. 

"Will, what do you say?" Scully prodded. 

The boy came back to himself and ran over to hug the agent's legs.  "Thank you, Uncle Mose!"  Not to leave anyone out, he turned and hugged the Assistant Director.  "Thank you, Uncle Walter!" 

"You are very welcome," Skinner said, patting the boy's back. 

"Hey, how about we take these hard working decorators out for pizza?" Mulder suggested. 

"Can I ride in the truck?" Will asked. 

"In your booster seat, sure, there's room in the club cab," Drummy said.  "If it's OK with -- " 

Scully took that as her cue.  "If you're buckled up, sure.  We'll meet you there.  Antonio's in Richmond OK with you, Walter, Drummy?" 

"That works," Skinner said.  "We'll see you there in a few." 

Scully pulled on Mulder's arm as they watched everyone head down the stairs.  "When did you do all this?" she asked. 

"Well, I have to admit, I had help.  Kim Cook found the border and the bedding and rug, Drummy's friend -- a very nice young woman named Jacklyn, is an interior decorator and found the bed and the dresser for us.  Basically, I just signed a lot of credit card receipts," he admitted. 

"But we didn't know -- we weren't sure if Wyoming would let us -- "  She couldn't get the words past the tears clogging her throat. 

Mulder pulled her into his arms, kissing the crown of her head.  "I guess I just felt it would all work out.  And everyone wanted to help, Scully.  To be honest, the whole thing was Drummy's idea and when he called Skinner and Skinner called me -- what was I supposed to say?" 

"Thank you," she said, looking up at him with moist, loving eyes. 

"Exactly," he replied. 

She pulled his head down to meet her lips.  "No.  Thank you, Mulder.  Thank you," she repeated, kissing him again. 

He chased her kisses for a while with his own before pulling back.  "C'mon.  We better get going before I drag you into the bedroom." 

"You'll have to start watching yourself, Mulder.  We have a young child in the house now.  No more 'sex on the stairs', 'sex in the kitchen', 'sex in the -- " 

"As long as we can still have sex somewhere, Scully, I'm happy." 

She nodded.  "So am I."