by Anjou

Date: Sunday, December 08, 2002 1:58 PM

     Title: Ghosts
     Author: Anjou ( 
     Rating: PG-13 
     Category: MSR, CD 
     Spoilers: The Truth; assumes that William was born in May 2001,
     given up for adoption in April 2002 and that Mulder and Scully
     fled in May 2002.
     A very belated response to the E-muse RetroX Trick and Treat.
     This was supposed to be 155 words. Oops!
     For the Finale Five, most of whom have yet to get over it.

William was a ghost at Halloween.

In fact, they all were.

Scully had pursed her mouth in disapproval at Mulder's irreverent sense of humor, but he thought she might be hiding a smile. Even she had to agree with his argument that it was a fitting tribute. After all, it was a ghost that had returned William to them.

Mulder came awake suddenly in the stark pre-dawn quiet. The clear light illuminated with eerie precision the specter that stood next to the bed. Mulder bolted upright at the unwelcome sight, jerking Scully from her dreams.

"Mulder," Walter Skinner said.

Skinner's face was thinner than Mulder recalled; he looked older, and infinitely more weary than he had just four months before.

"Sir!" Mulder exhaled in pained disbelief, extending his hand to his old boss, his old friend. His use of Skinner's honorific title was as much a gesture of affection as his continued use of Dana Scully's last name. "Oh no," he said, as reality sank in, "Sir..."

The plea in his voice was echoed in Scully's alarmed cry as she sat up next to him, clutching his arm. She needed no explanation as to whom Mulder would call 'Sir'. "No, please," she implored.

He could feel her heart pounding in fear and thought he understood her fright. They had so few friends left in the world. Those that were left, even if they never saw them again, were precious; although nothing would ever be as precious as the boy that bound them together as a family. At the same instant the thought occurred to him, he had an image of William as he had looked last spring. He turned to Scully in horror, understanding fully what it was that she feared.

"No," she keened in a low, animal tone. Her face was drained of all color, her lips nearly white.

"Mulder," Skinner repeated urgently.

He whipped his head back toward Skinner, hoping that Scully's fear was unfounded.

Skinner's eyes glistened with tears behind the ever-present glasses, "Tell her I didn't tell them." His voice was husky. "I didn't tell them."

"But they found him anyway, didn't they?" Mulder said bleakly. "And then, they killed you."

Scully swayed next to him. She was still making that inhuman-sounding noise; it tore at him. Mulder grappled with her, trying to free the arm she was clinging to so he could hold her.

"They don't have him, Mulder," Skinner insisted. "Tell her they don't have him."

It was a phrase that Mulder whispered to Scully over and over on the 24-hour drive from the iron ranges of Michigan's Upper Peninsula to the farm near Iron Mountain in Wyoming where Skinner had placed William, hoping that he would be safe. Scully barely moved for those two days except to lean toward the windshield as if she could compel the car to move faster by her will alone. They did not sleep. They did not eat. They only suffered the lack of motion when forced to stop for gas.

Although there was minimal conversation between them, Mulder was hyperconscious of Scully. As he had recuperated over the long months away from her and William, Mulder had become aware that he was sensitive to the emotions of others and could even see images from their thoughts. He wasn't truly a mind reader anymore, but whatever had been done to him, whatever he had been intended to be when Scully had aborted his resurrection, he was changed.

The ability was not as intense as it had been when he'd been overcome by the fragment of the space ship. With Gibson's help he'd learned to force the awareness down to a subconscious hum, but he had never tried nor wanted to try to control his awareness of Scully. He had craved that connection during the time they were separated, and honed his awareness by seeking out hers. In the car on the way to Wyoming, Scully's feelings were a jumble of memories of William and her fears about what had happened to him; under her frozen surface, she was seething. It was making him more tense, if that were possible.

They pulled into the deceptively peaceful setting of the Van de Kamp farm an hour after sunrise. A massive black SUV similar to the one they had traded in for their current vehicle was parked in front of the house. Its windows were lightly spidered with frost blossoms, its hood cold to the touch. They trod lightly across the creaky wooden porch and opened the door with care, fearing what was behind it.

A tear-stained William slept soundly in the center of the living room rug. He was dressed in the pajamas he must have been wearing when his kidnappers made their attempt. Scully stood guard over him, gun drawn and at the ready, while Mulder searched the too-quiet house. He could feel how much she wanted to bend over and pick up their child, but her discipline kept her emotions reined in and she waited instead, a lioness ready and oh-so-willing to pounce.

Mulder moved down the silent hall and found William's adopted parents still in their bed. Their murderers had been thoughtful enough to close the bedroom door after they had slain them. He hoped that William did not know what had happened, but could readily picture the terror he must have felt at being abandoned; William had been utterly alone for the past day.

There were no other bodies, although there was a pile of clothes inside the door to William's room. Kicking at the crumpled jacket revealed a gun. He found the stiletto hidden in a deep pocket of the pants. There was no identification and no other evidence, just a rusty-looking smudge on the wall.

Even more terrifying was the second pile of clothes next to the unlatched and lowered side of William's crib. A gun had slid under the bed and rested against the wall. It wasn't until he examined the wall with his flashlight that he saw the second embedded image. Mulder's ready imagination conjured up the scenario of a super soldier reaching for a crying William and grabbing hold of him just before it flew outward in a rush of minerals, the boy screaming and tumbling to the floor below as the other super soldier advanced upon him.

"Scully!" Mulder yelled as he ran back to the living room. She whirled to face him, ready to kill whatever was chasing him. "It dropped him!" Fear overtook him as he pictured fatal brain injuries and concussions resolving into comas. Scully threw her gun to him and bent over, but Mulder's voice had startled William awake and he wailed like a newborn, giving voice to his fear and rage.

Mulder clutched his chest in relief as Scully soothed their son, finding the knot on his head where he had fallen with gentle fingers as she cradled him to her.

"They couldn't touch him," Mulder said, "but they'll try again. We can't stay here." Spectral Skinner nodded in silent agreement, his eyes watching the door, even in death.

Skinner continued to hover near them, acting as their lookout while Scully changed William and put him in warm clothes. Mulder packed the car, ransacking the farmhouse for supplies as Scully yelled directions at him. He took special care to recover the weapons from the super soldiers' clothing, since he was sure they would be untraceable. William sobbed furiously the whole time in terror, his face red and soaked. Mulder got a dose of his hysteria up close and personally while Scully secured the car seat in the back of their SUV.

Mulder contemplated his son with sadness, knowing that to William he was a stranger. William had been a newborn baby the last time Mulder had seen him. That baby bore little resemblance to the toddler William had become. Mulder also suspected that whatever Jeffrey had done to William had only been temporary or had not worked as had been intended. William himself now appeared to be bane to the super soldiers.

"It's a family trait," he whispered to William, but William just sobbed and sobbed. Mulder could clearly feel William's confusion, helplessness and fear. His awareness of Scully seemed to extend to William as well; William's distress echoed both outside and inside of Mulder's head.

"It's OK, buddy, you're OK," he soothed over and over, trying to radiate peacefulness to his son, but it was hard to do when he was holding a firearm against his leg and watching Walter Skinner's ghost patrol the perimeter for intruders.

At last, Scully held her arms out for William, and she settled him into his seat, murmuring nonsense and humming to him in her tuneless way. He closed the door and got into the front seat, driving away from the scene of the crime with both care and haste, while Skinner nervously rode shotgun.

Once he was well along the county road that led to the highway, Mulder looked in the rear view mirror. Scully sat sideways, her arms around William in the car seat. Her voice was soothing, but William was still frenetic. Despite her tone, Scully was thinking something entirely different -- an all too vivid stream of might-have-beens. It was a nightmare of imagery, a rapid-fire catalogue of gruesome snapshots of far too many crime scenes. William could see them and feel the anxiety that permeated the vehicle as well.

"Scully," Mulder warned, "he's OK. Focus on something else."

Scully started guiltily as Mulder's implication struck home and she turned to stare at William in fear and wonder. Mulder felt her hectic thoughts settle into one long stream of worry; he countered it with images from the memories she had shared with him. He thought of William in his jumping chair hung from the doorway, cradled in his mother's arms in the rocking chair at her Georgetown apartment, being bathed in the tub while he splashed and his mother laughed.

Slowly, William's cries lost their hysterical edge and began to wind down, and the worry emanating from Scully began to dissolve as she responded to his calming. William's cries resolved to hiccuping gasps as Scully began to sing, in her soft, gruff way, "William was a bullfrog, was a good friend of mine..."

For the first time since they had found him on the floor, William truly focused on Scully. Mulder could feel his attention snap to his mother as he turned his head and looked her in the eye; he was familiar with this, although it wasn't truly a conscious memory. As Scully neared the end of her song, her voice got softer and softer. She stroked William's round cheeks with her fingers, wiping away his tears. "Joy to the fishes in the deep blue sea, joy to you and me," she sang.

William took a deep breath in, and let it out in the stutter of a toddler who's been crying for a long time and doesn't quite have control of his breathing. "Uh-huh-huh," he said. While Mulder watched in the rear view mirror, William struggled. "Uh-huh-huh," he shuddered again and again, then added in his sweet baby voice, "Hi."

Mulder would never be able to sum up in words the sheer radiance of the smile that lit up Scully's face at the word. The force of the love behind it blasted both William and him; Skinner's ghost rippled in the front seat, as if he too was affected by it. Mulder took a chance and pulled over to the side of the road. He slid out from under the wheel and turned around so that he could see Scully and their son. William's chest was still heaving; he was expelling air in chirruping bursts, but he was eye to eye with his mother, patting her face. In profile, they looked shockingly alike, with their fiery halos and fair skins. The width of Scully's smile had rounded her cheeks in an echo of William's face; despite the tears streaming down them, she was the picture of joy.

Although Mulder thought that he knew how much Scully loved their son, there was a difference between knowledge and comprehension. The love emanating from her for their son, so tangled up with her feelings for him, was intoxicating and provocative. The answering rush of love that Mulder felt for both of them just burst from him.

William's eyes widened and he dragged his attention away from his mother to look questioningly at Mulder. His eyes were no longer the bright blue of Scully's memories, but had darkened to resemble Mulder's own. Although he was pleased to see something of himself reflected in William, he ached to see that William's eyes were wiser and sadder than they should have been.

Mulder could feel the love pouring out of him in waves and knew he was barraging William with too much emotion, but couldn't seem to pull it back; he had never consciously acknowledged how much he wanted this, to be a family with Scully and their child. Now that he was actually confronted with what he had long hoped for, he was overcome.

"Oh," William said. He giggled, as if Mulder had tickled him. "Hi," he said to Mulder.

Mulder burst into tears, laughing and crying at the same time as he choked out, "Hi, buddy." He leaned over the seat and kissed William on the forehead, whispering, "I missed you." Then he turned to kiss Scully, holding her as close as their awkward positions would allow.

When he turned his attention back to driving a few minutes later, Walter Skinner was gone.

Mulder had often ruefully observed that real life was nothing like the movies, where things resolved to rosy conviviality instantaneously. Although William was very hungry and thirsty when they first found him, he had noisily refused nearly all of the baby food that Scully had taken from the farmhouse.

"I'm sure he'll eat some Chicken McNuggets and French fries," Mulder offered, trying to be helpful.

The mere suggestion was met with a demand for, "Fries, fries, fries!" from the occupant of the car seat and a disapproving stare from his mother courtesy of the rear view mirror. She still sat next to William, a rejected jar of baby food in one hand and a full spoon in the other.

Scully's initial joy over William's remembrance of her had been rapidly transformed into disequilibrium, which Mulder could understand. For most of William's life, it had been her responsibility to interpret his needs and fulfill them. She had surrendered this role only out of what she believed was necessity, and never willingly. The consequences of their separation were now being made real; she didn't know what William ate anymore or when he slept. William had grown and changed in their time apart and she was feeling wounded, inadequate and guilty in turns.

Not to mention furious with his father, he noted.

"Thanks a lot, Mulder," she said flatly.

It didn't help matters that Mulder wasn't entirely certain that the suggestion of McDonald's hadn't come from William, and he knew that Scully suspected this. Of course, if he confronted her with her own uneasy thoughts on the subject, she would have just denied it. It had taken weeks for her to tell him all of the things that she suspected, and feared, that William was capable of doing.

"He had to have seen the signs, Scully."

"Fries, fries, fries!" William sang from the back seat.

"They're very recognizable, kid-friendly graphics," he continued.

Her eyes flamed with resentment when they met his in the rear view mirror, but she tilted her head to indicate her acceptance.

William had gone round-eyed and silent in the back seat.

Mulder ticked off the seconds mentally.

"How about some fruit for dessert?" Scully said to William.

He stared at her solemnly.

"After lunch," she clarified.

"'K," William agreed seriously.

Scully smiled at him, and Mulder could feel the tension in the car shatter and disperse. "Such a big boy," she said in wonder, as William's chest puffed out.

It started so young, Mulder thought wryly.

She stowed the food and ran her hands through Will's hair. "You have beautiful curls," she said wistfully.

"Yeah," William said nonchalantly.

Scully ran a finger over the curve of Will's cheek and then bent down to kiss him. "I missed you so much," she whispered.

Will leaned into her, and Scully closed her arms around him, one hand still plucking at his curls. They stayed that way until Mulder took the exit to the McDonald's and Will began his fries song in earnest.

After their drive-through lunch, William finally succumbed to exhaustion. Scully clambered into the front seat and they continued the whispered, but heated, discussion they'd begun miles back.

"We can't just return to Michigan with a toddler," Scully said. "We never mentioned we had a child and he looks too much like both of us to be a nephew."

Mulder opened his mouth to speak, but she continued on. "And don't suggest that we say that you had an affair with my cousin or something."

Mulder hoped his expression was sufficiently aggrieved, yet wounded. He didn't even bother to confront her with yet more evidence of her psychic abilities. She'd just rationalize it away with arguments about his predictability or the length of time they'd known each other.

"We should go back to New Mexico for the time being." She ticked off the reasons. "The lease on the trailer runs through December. You told people there that you were married, but separated and that you had a child. A reconciliation isn't going to be noticed as anything other than a good thing."

Mulder sighed and looked in the back seat, hoping for some support, but all he saw was a sleeping William. There was no one else back there.

"Nobody's said anything against the idea, have they?" Scully demanded with irritating certainty. How she, who claimed not to believe in any such thing despite her own experiences, knew when he had ghostly visitations was another of the topics he filed in the Scully Conundrum section of his mental catalogue on her.

"No," he admitted.

"Then why?" she persisted.

"I don't know," he said, "I don't have a really good reason, Scully. I just don't want to go back there."

"We have to be practical, Mulder," she said. "Now, more than ever."

He sighed, knowing the argument was a lost cause. "All right," he conceded, "but it's going to mean a longer drive." He glanced over his shoulder at Will to ensure that she got his point, then continued speaking off her questioning look, "I have to go get the ID I was using out there, plus yours. We should get some more money anyway."

She huffed at him. "Mulder, between the two of us, we've got $50,000 in cash," she chided.

"You know I won't touch our emergency money," he said. "We're almost out of spending cash."

Scully shook her head in exasperation, but he was unmoved. She wasn't the only one who could be stubborn. "Who are we this time?" she asked, after a time.

"I'm Rob Miller," he answered.

Her eyebrows went sky-high. "And I'm Laura, I suppose?"

He grinned at her, in fond remembrance of a time that seemed like another life. "Nah, you're Kelly."

"First or last?"

"Kelly McWilliams Miller," he said, drawling out the name.

"Kelly Miller," she said slowly, trying it out. She settled back into her seat with a grimace that turned into a yawn.

"Oh, Rob!" He sang out, in a painfully horrible imitation of Mary Tyler Moore. He was gratified by her giggle and the comfortable silence that fell over the car. He decided to save the Miller Time jokes for later.

Soon, her deep and even breathing joined Will's. Mulder glanced back at Will, slack and pliant in his car seat. Random thoughts filtered through his mind. He was happy to note that Will's dreams were pleasant and uncomplicated, although William seemed to have a companion with him in his dreams, a stuffed bunny. Scully was not yet dreaming, but had slid into a deep slumber nearly immediately.

Although he was exhausted, Mulder was not at all sleepy. He was too keyed up by all that had taken place, the responsibility he felt to shepherd Scully and William to relative safety. He felt like a father, he realized suddenly. He had a family. He glanced in the rear view mirror to make sure that he was unobserved by anybody else, spectral or otherwise, but resisted the impulse to check out his own image. He knew that he was grinning like an idiot.

The significance of the stuffed bunny in William's dreams became clear when they checked into the first of many motels that night. Will wanted him quite adamantly. Unfortunately, the bunny was in Will's crib at the farmhouse -- or at least, that's where Will was picturing it. Where it wasn't was anywhere in the SUV that they were driving; none of the other toys that they had taken were an acceptable substitute.

Mulder and Scully had managed to get William out of the car without waking him, but he had woken up while Scully was wrestling the port-a-crib open. He had cried for his bunny every time they laid him down in the crib. In the end, they gave up and let him fall asleep between them while they watched TV. When he had finally fallen asleep, Scully had been adamant that they had to put William in his crib at the foot of their bed, so that they wouldn't establish a precedent with him.

Mulder would have been just as happy to leave William where he was, but he had succumbed to Scully's argument that he wouldn't be so happy sharing the bed a few days down the road.

His comment that he didn't think they'd be using their bed for anything other than sleep, but that he was amenable to other suggestions, or other locations, was met with a snort.

Mulder began to understand what Scully was referring to when he was woken up several times by what sounded like toddler gymnastics, but was actually William turning over on the crinkly plastic sheeting which covered the bottom of the crib. Every time Mulder looked at William, he was in a completely different position.

Once however, it was the lack of noise that awakened Mulder. Without opening his eyes to confirm, he realized that Will was standing up in the crib, staring at him and Scully. When Mulder lifted his head to speak to William and find out what was wrong, his movement disturbed Scully and she rolled over. Satisfied that they were both alive, Will dropped back down to the floor of his crib. The room was quiet except for the sound of William's sighs, mingling with the small noises Scully made in her sleep. The snuffles of William's childish snoring soon followed.

It was a long time before Mulder went back to sleep. When he did, he revisited the mercifully few lucid memories he had from the months that he spent alone buried under the earth, lost and forgotten.

In the morning, Mulder arose early, changed William and gave him a bottle while a bemused Scully drowsily watched. Mulder stroked William's soft cheeks, running a finger over his downy brows, never once breaking contact with the challenge of Will's mesmerizing stare. When William's eyes finally drooped, Mulder placed him in bed with his mother and went out to find him a bunny.

He looked in several stores until he found something that looked close to William's memory of his bunny; it wasn't the bunny, but it was the best he could do. By the end of the drive back to New Mexico, Will had chewed Mr. Bunny's ears to a nice consistency, a sign Mulder took as acceptance. Mulder had hoped that by giving William back something that was familiar, he would feel more secure, but weeks later, Will would still wake up to make sure that he was not alone in the middle of the night.

It had been a painful period of adjustment for all concerned, especially Scully, who was unshakeable in her belief that the traumas William had suffered were her fault. Mulder had stopped trying to argue this point with her weeks back, knowing that he wasn't making any headway. Mulder's assertion was that despite his sometimes contrary behavior, Will trusted them and knew he was loved, but that because of the trauma he wanted to be sure that he would not be abandoned; he was testing them to make sure they were paying attention.

Scully believed that William was still mad at her for leaving him months ago and that trust was a too highly evolved concept for a toddler. She thought that William's behaviors, which covered a wide range of activity, were less attention-seeking and more related to his trauma.

From the time they'd gotten him back, Will had refused to walk, even though they knew that at sixteen months he must know how. He'd been adamant in his refusal: sitting down from a standing position and refusing even to crawl. Mulder had hoped that William would start to voluntarily move when they stopped driving everyday, since he had hated being confined. But weeks after the long drive back to New Mexico, William was still not walking. In their trailer, he would sit exactly where they left him on the floor, surrounded by a pile of toys. In this way he ensured that if Mulder or Scully wanted him to go anywhere, they'd have to come get him. If he could have made himself a little sign that said, "Don't Forget About Me!" he couldn't have made himself more clear.

His fear of abandonment was pervasive. If Mulder or Scully left the trailer, he'd become agitated and whine until he was picked up by whomever was still there. At those times, Mulder would have to carry Will with him everywhere. It became commonplace for Scully to return from errands to find William in Mulder's lap while he did research on the 'net. Scully confided to Mulder that she had had to take Will into the bathroom with her more than once because he was so distressed at being left alone, even for a few minutes, that he would make himself hysterical.

Strangers made William anxious, particularly ones who tried to approach them. Eating dinner with him at truck stop restaurants was as nerve-wracking for his parents as it was for William. On the road, they had tended to eat at picnic table rest stops or in their motel rooms, but once they got to the reservation, they'd tried to work on William's fear of strangers. After much wrangling, they'd come up with a plan.

They decided to make a big deal about trick or treating, and made it a family outing. Scully had even made them the matching ghost outfits at Mulder's insistence.

Mulder had watched with sardonic puzzlement as Scully unloaded bags of mysterious items onto the tiny table of their crowded kitchen. She'd slipped out as soon as William was asleep. Her promise to be right back had turned into a couple of hours away, and from the amount of stuff piled up, they wouldn't be sleeping any time soon.

He picked up a package, noting that it was a 220-count, white flat sheet. "Scully, this is a Martha Stewart sheet" he announced.

She glanced over at him. "Yes, it is."

"It's still in the package," he pointed out.

"Not for long," Scully commented, opening up another package holding a sheet. A pair of new scissors glittered sharply on the table.

"Considering all the trouble she's in right now, we could probably get a lot of money for these on eBay at some point," he said. He caught a glimpse of her smirk before she threw the sheet over his head. "You aren't going to stab me with those scissors, are you?" he asked.

"Don't be such a baby," she chided. He felt something pressing against his face and then around his shoulders.

"What are you doing?" He was honestly confounded.

"Cutting the heads out," she said airily, removing his sheet. She instructed him where to mark her sheet. Her expression let him know that it wouldn't be a good idea for him to screw up.

"You know, when I suggested this, I thought we'd be going pretty low-tech," he said. "The old eyeholes in the sheet routine."

She gave him the eyebrow, after she removed her own sheet and picked up the scissors.

"Right. What was I thinking?" he murmured.

Scully, of course, went right on cutting. When she was done, they each had a cape-like outfit with 'Boo!' written across the front in creepy, sparkly script. They also had a matching hood with the eyes cut out. If not for the pleasant faces that Scully had drawn on these, Mulder felt that they would have looked like members of the KKK.

On Halloween night, they'd ventured out to a few of the closest trailers, carrying a plastic pumpkin for William's loot. William was enchanted by his new pumpkin head flashlight and although he was anxious when they approached any strangers, he wasn't overly so.

Mulder knew they were on the right track with William when he'd caught sight of a bemused Skinner standing with Frohike. It was hard to discern them in the glimmering twilight, but Frohike was definitely smirking at something that Skinner had said. The sight of them caused a sharp pang of grief, tempered by the affection he felt for both men and his regret that he wasn't close enough to hear what they were snickering about, although he definitely had his suspicions. As Mulder walked past them, William turned in his arms and waved to them without a bit of fear, while Scully walked ahead of them swinging William's pumpkin by the long black strap, unaware.

While they were both worried about William's continued willful refusal to walk they had decided, that it was better that they not try to coax him into walking. After all, as long as William refused to walk, he had his parents' attention. Instead, Mulder and Scully decided to introduce William to the fun of movement. Mulder had taken up running again, albeit on a different scale. While Scully sat on the trailer steps under an awning with William on her lap and read, Mulder would run around the outside of the trailer in loopy circles. He'd wave at William as he ran by.

Occasionally, Scully would comment on how much fun Daddy was having. At first William was very tense when Mulder was out of sight, but time after time, day after day, Mulder came back and William began to relax.

Mulder and Scully had also made a habit of dancing in the kitchen before dinner. While one of them cooked and the other gave William some food to eat in his high chair, they would turn on music. Sometimes they waltzed, sometimes they discoed -- one time they pogoed so hard the whole trailer was rocking precipitously and Will was bouncing around in his high chair with them, screaming with laughter and banging his spoon on his tray.

By the time that the running stroller Mulder had purchased arrived, Will had begun to stand up voluntarily. He wanted to walk, but he was still hesitant, afraid that a show of independence would mean he wouldn't get taken care of anymore. To keep William moving forward, Mulder started including him on some of the loops. This time, Scully sat on the steps and read and they waved at her as they ran by. Mulder loved the way Will's tiny hands extended out from the hood of the stroller as he laughed at the wind. By the end of the third day he was demanding "Again!" when Mulder was all tuckered out. Mulder would take him out of the running stroller and sit him on the red earth while he stretched out. By the end of the week, William was mimicking Mulder's movements. When the tiny running shoes that Mulder had ordered for William arrived, Will began to walk around their trailer and demand to dance with his parents before dinner.

William was still pretty adamant about being carried if they ventured outside, but Mulder felt it was only a matter of time before he dropped this last behavior. They weren't rushing him. For the time being, he and Scully had agreed that making William feel secure was the most important thing that they could do as parents. Although Scully still maintained that she was impervious to all forms of extrasensory perception, Mulder had watched time and time again as William thought love at his mother and she turned around to kiss and cosset him in response. He had kept this behavioral observation to himself, believing that it harmed neither of them and that it was part of the continued assurance that William craved.

In the weeks since William was returned to them, Scully had radiated a quiet happiness that Mulder had never seen before. She was luminous and fierce in her love for William and for him, and determined that they would be safe. There would be no turning back from the path they were on together, the three of them. This was not the life that Mulder had envisioned for them, nor the path to safety that Scully had tried to clear for their child, but it was what it was. They had ten years to do their work, and together, they would keep William safe.

It was the subject of much whispered conversation in their room at night, their work, and the future.

"Things are better now, Scully," Mulder argued. "I think it's time for us to go. We don't have to stay here, there are plenty of mountains with magnetite veins in them." He had piles of research to back up his point.

"I know that Mulder," she said hesitantly, "but I feel like he's just starting to make progress. It's a lot of upheaval."

He sighed in exasperation.

"What is it about this place, Mulder?"

He considered carefully how he could tell her that he associated this land with exile, with his despair from the months he spent without her and William, unsure if he would ever see either of them again and decided against it. She felt guilty enough about things as it was. "I just think that if we're going to make someplace a home base, this isn't it," he hedged.

She narrowed her eyes at him, clearly aware that he was being less than honest.

"Besides, we have the money for something better than this," he said, waving his arms around to indicate their bedroom with Will asleep barely two feet from their bed. "Don't you want a little bit more room for us? Or even our own room?" She made a wistful face and he pulled out one of his more convincing arguments. "I want Will to have a real yard to play in, someplace with green grass and room to make a snowman."

Scully bit her lip, clearly torn. "I'm just worried that it's too much change too soon for him. I don't want him to be insecure," she argued.

As if on cue, Will stood up in his crib with Mr. Bunny, looking across the room to where his parents lay in bed.

Scully was propped up on one elbow, her back to the crib, drawing runes that Mulder suspected might be molecular models on his chest. The moonlight gleamed off her bare shoulders; Mulder could just see a sliver of Will's face over them.

They had been speaking in whispers and the conversation ceased for the moment, until Mulder cited yet another four seasons locale with magnetite-rich mountains. It was hard for Scully to focus; the pull William exerted on her was strong, even if she wouldn't admit it, but they had agreed that their strategy when William did this was not to interact with him so that he'd go back to sleep.

Mulder kissed Scully gently when he realized that she was not paying attention to his pitch in the least, but listening for William to lie back down. When they broke apart, her expression was rueful.

"Sorry," she mouthed at him.

He smoothed her hair, which fell past her shoulders. "It's getting light again," he observed.

Scully sighed and rested her head on his chest.

Mulder took the hint and began to run his fingers over her scalp and through her hair.

"I keep putting the darker rinse in it," she said in a resigned tone, "but the sun is so strong here."

"Another point in my favor," Mulder remarked.

There was a whump from the other side of the room as William let himself drop to the floor of his crib and the sound of crinkling as he laid back down. Mulder could see his arm, clutching Mr. Bunny tightly. William sighed loudly, and then was still.

"Is he asleep?" Scully asked after a couple of minutes had passed.

"Yeah," Mulder said, "He's out."

"It's a good thing he didn't do that 20 minutes ago," Scully observed.

When Mulder didn't answer her except to smile, she frowned at him.

"He didn't do that 20 minutes ago, did he?" she demanded. She tugged at his chest hair.

Mulder laughed in protest and grabbed her hand. "He'd have definitely known we were alive, Scully." He leered at her, and she wrestled with him, although they both froze when William made a noise in his crib. He kissed her softly. "Besides, he only checks up on us when we get quiet."

Scully dropped her head against his chest, closing her eyes as if in pain.

He nudged her.

"I thought you said he didn't see his adopted parents dead," she accused.

"I don't think he did," Mulder protested, "but he knows that something happened. The house was quiet and he was alone." He could feel her start to worry at his words. "Scully," he soothed, "it's not a conscious recollection, I promise. Plus, I'm not even sure he's really awake when he does that anymore."

She sighed against his skin. "Are you just saying that to make me feel better?"

"No," Mulder said firmly. "He doesn't do it every night, just a couple of times a week."

She raised her head. "Do you think he knows that we're thinking about moving?"

His eyebrows drew up. "Are we thinking about it?"

"Mulder," she chided, "you spend hours everyday on the 'net researching possible locales and talking to him about them." She started drawing patterns on his chest again. She was brooding. "And I'm not moving back to Wyoming," she shivered. "There might be people there who remember William."

Or his adopted parents, Mulder thought. "I only brought that up to prove to you that we had more options than here. William was safe there, despite everything."

Scully made a face and resumed drawing on his chest.

"I thought you were done with the figures for that article you were working on," he commented.

Scully smirked a triumphant smile at him.


"Oh, I'm just oddly gratified that Psychic Boy doesn't know all," she said airily.

"Hey, hey!" Mulder said, thumping himself on the chest, "Psychic man. Psychic Man! Psychic Boy is asleep in his feety pajamas on the other side of the room, thank you very much."

"I can get you some feety pajamas if you're jealous," Scully deadpanned. She started drawing on him again, while he ignored her suggestion. "I did finish that paper," she answered, "but I've been thinking about something else."

"About the article I sent you on ferromagnetic electrical energy in the human brain and its relationship to seizure disorders?" Mulder asked eagerly.

She glared at him. "I'm thinking about that, Mulder, I am, but not right now."

Seizure disorders and anomalous brain behaviors were clearly still sticky subjects between them, but Mulder ignored that. "Uh huh," he drawled out, trying to prompt her. He began to wiggle in the bed so that her drawing surface was unstable.

"All right, all right," she said. She took a deep breath. "Have I ever mentioned how much you remind me of a certain toddler?"

"Scully," he mock warned.

"I've been thinking about one of the other articles you sent me," she said, "the one about the nanometer-sized magnetite being created by bacteria in a solution anaerobically."

"That was mostly gibberish to me, Scully," Mulder paused. "Didn't I send you an article about a theory that bacteria in the Earth's core made iron magnetic?"

"That's the one," she said. "But unlike you, I'm not so interested in the theoretical wherefores of how the magnetite came to be magnetized."

"Oh," he said, not following. "What are you interested in?"

"Well, what I've been thinking about is the problem of portability as far as the magnetite is concerned."

Mulder frowned. "What's wrong with my plan?"

"Mulder," Scully said, "I know that loading the SUV up with magnetite seems a good solution to you, but what about when we're not in the car? Are we gonna take a hunk of magnetite into the motel room with us?"

Mulder made a face that let Scully know that he had thought this was a viable solution. "Well...yeah," he said.

She sighed in exasperation. "How are you going to explain that to a realtor?" she asked.

"No, no, no..." he said. "When we get to where we're going, the town will be magnetic. That's the only reason we'd move there. We won't need to carry the rocks around with us."

"What about me?" Scully asked gently. "How does that help me?"

Mulder stared at her for a moment. "You do think that Will and I are capable of conducting the magnetite like a lodestone, don't you?"

"Mulder," Scully said, "I don't even know how to begin to express how I feel about your theory that my husband and my baby have become super-magnets."

Mulder crossed his arms over his chest, his usual pleasure at being reminded of their questionably legal Las Vegas wedding outweighed by her contrary response to his theory.

Scully sighed. "Mulder," she tugged at his arms. "OK. Say you're right."

"Uh," Mulder grunted, "I am."

She glared at him. "Could you please just focus for a minute, Mulder? Here's the question: if you're right, what about me?"

"What?" Mulder asked.

"I'm not magnetic," Scully said quietly. "Most of the people on this Earth aren't. How do we protect ourselves?"

"Scully," Mulder started to sit up in bed, alarmed.

"I know that you'd do anything to protect me, Mulder," she said. "The point is, I think I can do something to protect myself."

Mulder stared at her for a minute, then pointed at his chest to where she had been drawing. "This?"

She nodded. "I think I can make a dart gun, Mulder. One that will deliver a concentrated dose of solubilized magnetite into the replicants."

Mulder's mouth dropped open. "Holy shit, Scully."

She smiled at him. "Chalk one up for the scientific method, Mulder."

"How soon?" he demanded.

"I'm not sure," she said. "I've arranged to get some tranquilizer darts from one of the Gunmen's contacts. After they arrive, I've got to do some calculations, but soon, I think."

"So, when you do this, will you feel secure enough to take another trip and find someplace better to live than this?" He waved his arm around to indicate their narrow trailer.

"I'm kind of fond of this place, Mulder," she said wistfully. She turned over to look at Will, asleep in his crib. "Besides, he's just gotten used to being here."

He wrapped her in his arms and drew her back against his chest, kissing her cheek and considered carefully what to say next. "I think he's gotten used to being with us, Scully." He felt her stiffen in his arms. She didn't like to be reminded that William had gotten accustomed to having another mother.

"Whether or not that's the case, I'm still not sure it's a great idea to move him again so soon. He's just begun walking again. I don't want him to backtrack." Her voice was rigid, too.

"Scully," he soothed, "I don't think his feeling secure depends upon where we are. I think it's how we are with him."

She didn't answer him.

He sighed. Sometimes he wished that Scully would be less stubborn. He knew that she wasn't going to like what he said next. "I don't think we're safe here, Scully." He hated how he could feel her anger transmuting to fear instantly.

She rolled over to face him, pushing away from him so that she could see him. "Did they say something?" she asked.

Mulder's eyebrows rose again, but he kept his voice even. He knew that she hated the very idea of their ghostly intercessors, but too much had happened in the past few months for her not to admit that, even if she would prefer to believe that their ghosts were manifestations of Mulder's own mind, they'd been very helpful. "Skinner wants us to leave here. He's been very clear about that, a couple of times."

Scully's breath came out in shocked exhale. "Why didn't you say anything to me about this before?" she accused.

"He hasn't communicated any sense of urgency, Scully, just made a general statement."

"That's it?" she asked incredulously.

He cringed. "Pretty much," he said, "I haven't really seen too much of anybody for a while." He didn't want to admit how fine with that he was.

"Nobody else has had anything to say about it?" she demanded. "What else aren't you telling me?"

Mulder shook his head, "Nothing this time. Honestly, Scully."

The room fell silent again.

"Tell me why you want to leave," Scully said.

Mulder hesitated, knowing that he would again tread on ground Scully was uncomfortable with. She reached a hand out to touch him, encouraging him. "When we got Will back, this seemed like the best, safest option," he said. "I did agree that this would be a good temporary solution."

"And," she prodded, "What's changed your mind?"

"We stand out here," he said.

"Mulder," she said, "you lived here for six months last year and nobody ratted you out."

"That was last year," he answered. "The recession is deeper now, and people are more desperate." He shrugged. "I can't give you any concrete evidence that we're in more danger, Scully. It's just a feeling I have. We stand out here, a white family on the reservation. Before, it was just me, just a random white guy. Now, it's the three of us, and it's obvious we don't belong here."

"You mean two red heads, who don't really tan," she said, flipping the hair that refused to stay brunette over her shoulder.

"Yeah, but it's not just that." He sighed, "this place is haunted for me, Scully."

She drew her brows down in concern.

"I don't mean that literally," he said. "This used to be a place that I could come for answers, for healing, but it isn't anymore."

Her eyes were heavy with tears. "This is where you came when I sent you away," she whispered.

He pressed his forehead against hers. "We decided that together, Scully."

After a minute, she nodded. "But that's what it is, isn't it?"

"It's part of it," he whispered, drawing away so he could see her. "Mostly, it's knowing that he was out here, that he intended to hide out here for the next ten years." Her blue eyes were solemn. "I don't want to do anything like him, Scully. Ever."

She smoothed her hand down his face. "You are nothing like him, Mulder."

He nodded.

"What else?"

"Sure you're not psychic, Scully?" He tried to dodge, but she pinned him with her unblinking stare. Will had that piercing stare too, even though his eyes were more like Mulder's own. He sighed. "Lately, I've begun to think that I was here or pretty close by, when I was taken."

She startled. "Are you remembering more things?"

He shrugged. "I don't know. But I dream sometimes of you wandering in the desert, calling my name, but you can't see me," Scully gasped. "What?"

Scully was nodding, her eyes filled with tears. "I'm sorry, Mulder. I'm dreaming about that. When we found Gibson, I was so convinced that you were here, and..." she trailed off. "The landscape here reminds me of that time." She shook her head, forcing down her tears. "I think it's just an anxiety dream."

"This place is haunted for you, too," he whispered. "I think our subconscious minds know what we need. We need a new place, a new home base that we can call our own. There's plenty of opportunity for us to do what we need to, Scully. We know from Krycek's contacts that any place with a dense magnetite concentration is a base of operations for the resistance. Besides, I'm sure Krycek will have something to say if he thinks we're doing something wrong," he added sourly.

"Mulder, the man is dead," Scully said.

"Did I ever speak well of him when he was alive?" Mulder asked incredulously. "If anything, he's become more annoying than ever with his riddles."

Scully looked at him and shook her head, "Our lives are impossibly weird, Mulder."

He snorted. "You want weird? I'll give you weird. Skinner looked a lot better the last time I saw him."

"What do you mean?"

"He wasn't so thin, for one thing," Mulder said. "He looked relaxed. Although he still barks out orders."

Scully nodded her head, "That sounds like Skinner."

"That's not the weird part," Mulder said. "I just get this feeling ... " he drifted off, trying to figure out how to describe what he felt. "He looks kind of self-satisfied. And the last time I saw Krycek? He was really twitchy, even for a guy who was always a twitchy bastard."

From her expression, Mulder could tell Scully had no idea where he was going with this.

"I don't know, Scully. Krycek was so furtive when he was talking to me, he was practically looking over his shoulder. I just had the image of Skinner with Krycek in a head lock, beating the living crap out of him in the afterlife."

Scully burst out laughing and had to clap her hand over her mouth so she wouldn't wake up Will.

"Repeatedly," he added as she giggled. He took advantage of her change of mood and drew her back into his arms. To his relief, she opened her arms to him and rolled over onto her back.

"Are you sure you aren't making this up?" Scully demanded.

Mulder shrugged. "I didn't make up those guys that Krycek sent us to, Scully."

Her laughter ebbed. "I know," she said. "I know." Krycek had been part of the organized resistance to colonization, after all; through him, they'd met scientists, law enforcement professionals, ex-military and black ops, all part of a worldwide effort to subvert the impending crisis.

"Do you think we can find someplace to live before Christmas?" Scully asked. She looked up at him.

He leaned forward. "I promise, Scully," he said. "We'll have a real Christmas this year."

She leaned up to kiss him, a lingering, sweet kiss, then rocked him off her gently, turning over on her side to watch Will.

Mulder wound himself around Scully, resting his head atop hers as they both watched their son. "He's pretty amazing, isn't he?" Mulder asked. He ran his hands over her body, thinking about all that she had suffered to give birth to William. He felt her nod.

William let out a wheezing sigh and mumbled something unintelligible, then turned over onto his back, smacking his lips. He flung out one of his hands and it fell into a pool of moonlight, flexing.

"If I can make a prototype of the dart gun by then, I think we should leave the weekend before Thanksgiving," she said. "So many people are traveling, it'll arouse less suspicion here at the reservation."

"OK," Mulder said. He was quietly elated that she had finally agreed.

Scully shifted around to look at him. "Two things, Mulder. I do want to go someplace with four seasons."

He nodded, waiting.

"And I want a real Christmas tree," she said.

"Deal," he said, kissing her.

"Without blinking lights," she added sleepily.

He snorted in amusement, settling her against him in such a way that he could still keep an eye on Will. His hand drifted to the edge of the mattress, making sure that his gun, and the stiletto, were handy. The desert moonlight had washed farther into the room, illuminating even the shadowed corners with its harsh, clear brilliance. On the bureau, between Will's crib and their bed, he could see the geode of magnetite, winking darkly. He held Scully in his arms, feeling her heart beat against him. In his crib, Will dreamt on. Mulder focused on letting go of his consciousness, on surrendering to sleep, secure in the knowledge that when he wasn't watching, others were.

"The Ghosts of Christmas Present" will be available on Christmas Day, 2002.

My thanks to Sarah Segretti, and especially to my sister Suzanne for the thoughtful beta.

Shari made me a gorgeous home for my stories:

If you enjoyed this story, please send feedback to Anjou