Another Man's Son

by Polly

Title: Another Man's Son
Author: Polly - Polly122456@yahoo.com
Website: http://polly403.tripod.com/
Rating: PG
Classification: MSR, Missing Scene from The Truth Spoilers: The Truth, other small ones
Disclaimer: Not mine. All things X-File belong to 1013 Productions.
Archive: If you want it, it's yours; just let me know.
Thanks: To Peg's Girl and SLS for the beta as well as the encouragement and support!
Summary: Skinner breaks the news about William to Mulder


Click

A key turns in a lock. A sound nearly imperceptible to the human ear. But to Mulder, it was a sound as terrifying as any he'd ever known. It signaled imminent pain, humiliation, and suffering - his own.

He'd been a prisoner before - and in places worse than this - but never had a single sound been able to tie his stomach in knots and turn his legs to jelly. 'Conditioned response,' he reminded himself. 'That's why they call it brainwashing.'

The drill was the same from the very first day - lock clicks, door slides open, artificial light streams in, and one question: 'What are you thinking?' Then let the games begin.

He tried to resist at first, even though he knew it was futile, but it wasn't in his nature to give in without a fight. He should have known better, having tried the same tactic without much success while held prisoner on the alien ship. The aliens never asked what he was thinking - he was pretty sure they already knew - but their methods of torture weren't that much different, just more sophisticated. The basic ingredients were the same - pain, humiliation, and suffering. Perhaps the aliens had studied the methods of the U.S. military, or vice versa.

The aliens had stripped him of his freedom, his clothing, and his dignity, then waited for him to die. So far the military was three for three, and he had a sneaking suspicion he was about to hit for the cycle for a second time.

So for awhile he tried to be the hero. He used the click of the lock as his focus point, the trigger to be prepared mentally and physically for whatever atrocities they chose to dole out on any given day. He'd kept his sanity by trying to come up with a new answer each time they asked what he was thinking. When he said he was thinking that he'd like to take his tormentor's baton and stick it where the sun don't shine, the beating nearly killed him.

His captors stepped up their efforts after that, withholding food and water when it suited their purposes, making him stand for hours on end while they repeatedly asked that infernal question. When he passed out from hunger and exhaustion, they revived him with buckets of ice cold water, then left him naked and shivering on the freezing concrete floor of his cell. But sleep wasn't allowed, and he learned that even insomniacs have their breaking point.

So he gave them his confession, to whatever crimes they said he committed, but mostly to being a failure. He couldn't argue with them there - he had failed in every respect. Whatever the harshest punishment was, that's what he deserved.

Now they had what they'd wanted all along: Fox Mulder - signed, sealed, and delivered.

Once they had his confession, the tortures stopped. They gave him food and water and a real shower with hot water and soap. They treated his cuts and bruises and provided clean clothes. They gave him a razor and left him alone to use it, probably hoping he would slash his wrists or cut his own throat.

Maybe he should have, but he didn't. He continued to play the game, being the cooperative and complacent prisoner they expected him to be, and they left him alone. The only regular visitor to his cell was Alex Krycek who appeared in a shadowy corner at every opportunity. If the plan was to drive him insane, he was certainly well on his way.

Then Scully and Skinner showed up. Once Mulder convinced himself they weren't two more figments of his imagination, he put on his game face and recited the lines that his captors had spared no expense to drill into his brain - word for word, cold and emotionless. He gave the most compelling performance of his life, even though he wanted to sweep Scully into his arms and kiss her from head to toe. Hell, he could've kissed Skinner too, he was so glad to see them both. But he couldn't. He continued to play possum. Let the bastards think they've won.

His performance must have been Oscar caliber. This morning Skinner and Scully had been allowed to visit him in his cell - no guards, no cameras - to tell him what he already knew: he would soon be on trial for his life. And he and Scully finally had the reunion he had anticipated for so long.

He could still taste her lipstick, her perfume lingered on the stale air in his cell. The time they'd shared this morning was an all too brief reminder of how much he'd missed over the past year. How much he'd given up to try and protect her and their son.

His thoughts of Scully and William faded away as the key clicked in the lock and the door began to slide open. The familiar knot started to form and his mouth was suddenly dry. He knew in his head that the tortures weren't likely to continue, but his body was still unconvinced. He swallowed hard, leaned back against the wall, drew his knees up toward his chest, and clasped his hands around them. Then he closed his eyes to shield them from the bright light and waited.

"Mulder?"

He smiled at the familiar voice and looked up into the eyes of a friend. "Hello, sir."

Walter Skinner stepped into the cell and the door slammed shut behind him. "How are you holding up, Agent Mulder?"

Mulder chuckled. "You forget, Walter, I'm not an Agent anymore."

"Old habits die hard, I guess."

Mulder waited while Skinner shuffled his feet and cleared his throat. He seemed nervous and kept his eyes glued to the floor, not at all the usual takecharge A.D. that Mulder was used to. After a few moments, Mulder tried to put him at ease. "I sure hope you brought me a new pair of shoes, sir. These prison slippers are hell on my arches."

Skinner looked up. "What?"

Mulder pointed at the object tucked under Skinner's arm. "Shoes." Skinner looked at the shoebox as if he was surprised to find it there. "Size 5 black pumps," Mulder continued. "I like the style, but they're not my size."

Skinner shook his head, amazed at Mulder's ability to joke in spite of everything he'd been through and all that lay ahead. Most men he knew, including himself, would be confined to a rubber room or would be dead by now. Mulder had been both, but survived to continue to fight the good fight, still seeking that ever-elusive truth. Skinner hoped the news he had come to deliver wouldn't be the straw that broke Fox Mulder for good.

He reached into the pocket of his brown leather jacket, pulled out a small bag, and tossed it to his friend. "Sorry, no shoes, Mulder, but I did bring you something."

Mulder caught the packet of sunflower seeds with a grin. "Ah, Walter, you do know what I like. How'd you manage to smuggle these past the Third Reich out there?"

"It was a compromise," Skinner said, handing Mulder a bottle of water from his other pocket. "I asked for everything else - release on your own recognizance, release into my custody, bail, change of facility, even a change of clothing. I got sunflower seeds."

"You're a master at the art of negotiation." Mulder laughed and placed the edge of the cellophane packet between his teeth. He ripped it open, then motioned to the empty space beside him on the floor. "Sit down, sir, take a load off. I wish I could offer you something a bit more comfortable, but I seem to be a little furnishing-challenged right at the moment."

"I'm sorry I couldn't get you better accommodations." Skinner shrugged off his jacket and took a seat next to Mulder against the wall. He placed the shoebox on the floor between them.

"That's okay," Mulder replied as he cracked a sunflower shell between his teeth. "This isn't so bad. Compared to that coffin I once called home, this is a room at the Ritz."

Skinner shuddered at the memory of that night in Raleigh. It was hard to believe the same man whose decomposing body he viewed in that exhumed coffin was sitting here talking to him now. Mulder had already cheated death more times than he could count; Skinner hoped the luck wasn't about to run out.

"Scully would also tell you I've picked some hotels worse than this in the nine years we've been together," Mulder continued. He took a long drink from the water bottle and saluted Skinner with a mock toast. "Thank you, sir, you think of everything. I knew I picked the right man to help me out of this jam."

"The best way I could help you, Mulder, is to get you a real lawyer." Skinner kept talking, even though Mulder was shaking his head. "Don't say no until you hear me out. That's one of the things I came to talk to you about. This is bad, Mulder. Very bad. It's foolish for me to try and defend you. You need professional representation. Someone who knows the ins and outs of the law."

"I'd rather have someone who knows the truth," Mulder said. "Most importantly, I want someone I trust. You're elected, on both counts."

Skinner sighed in exasperation. "You'd have a much better chance with a real lawyer."

Mulder chuckled. "Sir, you and I both know I don't have any chance at all. I could have Clarence Darrow, Perry Mason, and Johnnie Cochran on my defense team and the outcome would be the same. I predict they will convict."

"But Mulder ..."

"This isn't about my guilt or innocence, sir. It's about silencing the truth." Mulder scratched the heavy stubble on his chin. "You've saved my ass more times than I can count, but this time you can't. No one can. What I want you to do is make sure the truth has a chance to be told. Then when the verdict comes in and the death sentence is handed down, at least I'll know that everything we've lost - you, me, Scully, our families - wasn't in vain."

"Mulder, even if you're found guilty, a death sentence isn't a certainty."

Mulder popped another seed into his mouth. "I think it is. But I'm not afraid to die. After all, it won't be the first time." He winked and spit the hull into his hand, laughing at Skinner's pained expression. "And this time, I think they'll take every precaution to make sure that I stay dead. What's important now is the truth. Once that's told, it doesn't matter what happens to me."

Skinner shook his head. "That's where you're wrong, Mulder. Someone cares very much what happens to you. If you don't want to try and fight this for your own sake, then think of Scully."

"I am. I have." Mulder took another drink. "She's all I think about. She'll be better off with me out of her life for good."

"You keep telling yourself that and you might eventually believe it. But I doubt it," Skinner said.

Mulder put the seeds and water down next to the shoebox and folded his arms across his chest. "Scully has spent enough time tilting at windmills with me. She deserves a chance at a normal life. With me gone, she'll have that. I'm just glad that she has William. I'm ashamed to say that I brought Scully a lot of misery, but I'm glad that I was able to give her one good thing, one little piece of happiness."

"Mulder ..."

"I know I've already asked a lot, sir, but I want you to promise me something else." Mulder turned his head to look Skinner straight in the eye. "Don't let Scully bring William here. I know they say babies his age don't remember things, but I don't want to take that chance. I don't want this cell to be William's only memory of me."

"Mulder ..."

"Once they pass sentence, my last request will be to have a few minutes alone with my family, to hold my son somewhere outside the confines of this cell. I want to be dressed in regular clothes. I want to wear my leather jacket one more time, and I want Scully to keep it for William. I'm going to write a letter to him and put it in the pocket. I want him to know how much I love him and how badly I wanted the chance to be a father to him."

"Mulder, please ..."

Mulder picked up the package of seeds and waved them in the air. "Walter, you got me these, I expect you to use the same negotiation skills to get me that. It shouldn't be that hard. With the promise of being rid of Fox Mulder once and for all, certainly even these heartless bastards can't deny the condemned man his last request."

"Mulder, stop!" The words came out louder than he intended, and Mulder blinked at him in surprise. There was no easy way to say it. Better to just get it over with. Skinner took a deep breath and cleared his throat. "Mulder, I said your case was one of the things I came here to talk to you about. There's something else I need to tell you."

Mulder dropped the bag of seeds. "What's wrong? Is there something wrong with Scully? With William?"

Skinner licked his lips and wished he had brought a bottle of water for himself. His mouth felt like it was filled with sand. "Mulder, I'm not sure how to tell you this, but I think it will be easier for you and Scully if you hear it from me."

"What?"

"A little over a month ago, Scully made a very difficult decision. Given the circumstances, she felt it was the right choice for all of you - you, her, and William."

Mulder's voice was nearly a whisper. "What are you trying to say, sir?"

"Scully gave William up for adoption."

The words hung in the air between them, and Skinner would swear that in that instant he saw Fox Mulder's soul slip away. The eyes that had been so bright and focused a moment before, despite the situation, were now dull and lifeless.

They sat in silence, Mulder staring at his feet and Skinner staring into his lap, until one word broke the stillness.

"Why?"


It was a simple question that had no simple answer. Skinner spent the better part of an hour trying to explain it, even though he wasn't sure he understood it himself.

He told Mulder about the discovery of a Navy ship where human ova were being manipulated; about Shannon McMahon and her claim that water additives promoting fertilization and pregnancy were being forced on an unsuspecting populace; about Scully's fears that she might have been used as a guinea pig in similar experiments; and about her anxiety that William was exhibiting telepathic abilities.

He described Scully's inexplicable trust of the woman, Patti, who claimed to have a child like William, a bond that prompted her to summon Mulder home; he described the shadowy supersoldier who was using Patti and her husband to lure Mulder into a trap, a man who told Scully that either Mulder or William had to die, a man who disintegrated before Scully's eyes against a quarry wall.

He explained how William was kidnapped by a UFO cult whose followers believed him to be a future savior who would succeed at stopping colonization unless his father was put to death, how the cult's leader asked Scully to choose between Mulder and William, and how a rogue FBI Agent tried to kill William to stop the cult's prophecy from coming to pass.

And finally, he told Mulder about the return of a horribly disfigured Jeffrey Spender who tried to impersonate his half-brother, and who took drastic action to make sure that William could no longer be used as a pawn in a game that had shattered so many lives for more than 50 years.

Skinner removed his glasses and rubbed the lenses with a handkerchief he fished out of his pocket. "Jeffrey said he didn't want William to suffer as he had." Skinner shook his head and replaced the glasses on the bridge of his nose. "It's hard to believe what that cigarette smoking bastard did to him. It's hard to believe he's alive at all."

"I guess resurrection runs in the family."

Skinner was relieved to finally get some response. As he shared the details of the last year, Mulder hadn't uttered a word. He just sat hugging his knees, chewing on his lower lip and staring at the opposite wall of the cell. Based on Mulder's reaction, Skinner was positive he had done the right thing by breaking the news himself. The deafening silence would have pushed an already fragile Scully over the edge.

Skinner sighed. "Jeffrey insinuated that William would never be safe, and Scully began to have some doubts ..."

"No!" Mulder's anger finally bubbled to the surface. "There is no doubt. William is our son, Scully's and mine. Our flesh and blood, conceived the old fashioned way."

"I know that," Skinner said, placing a hand on Mulder's shoulder. "And so does Scully. I meant she had doubts about herself. Scully has been on an emotional roller coaster for the last two years. This time she was truly afraid she'd never see you again and she believed she couldn't raise and protect William alone."

Mulder covered his face with his hands. "Why didn't she try to contact me, to tell me what was going on? I would have been on the first plane home."

"I asked her to, several times," Skinner said. "But she was afraid for you too. Afraid they'd kill you - maybe all of you - if you came back or if she tried to go to you. She decided she didn't want that for William. She wasn't sure William would be safe anywhere, but she felt he had a better chance if he wasn't with her. So she asked me to arrange for William's adoption."

Mulder looked up. "Why you?"

"Scully believed this was the right thing to do for William, but she also knew she couldn't just hand him over to an adoption agency." Skinner removed his glasses again and rubbed his eyes with the heel of his hand. "Dana felt she had already made so many mistakes, trusting the wrong people. She was afraid of making another one, so she asked me to handle things. What she's afraid of now is that you won't be able to forgive her."

Mulder looked down and shook his head. "I wasn't here. I don't have the right to question any decision she made. I was off saving my own skin when I should have been here for Scully and our son."

"Don't," Skinner said, slipping his glasses back over his ears. "You both did what you thought you had to do. There's no way of knowing what might have happened if you'd stayed."

"I almost came home when I heard about the Gunmen," Mulder said quietly. "I wish I had. Maybe things would have turned out differently."

Skinner let out a short puff of air, glad he'd been spared the task of delivering one more piece of bad news to Mulder. "You knew about that."

Mulder nodded. "It made the papers, even in New Mexico." He stretched his legs out in front of him and crossed his arms across his chest. "Thank you for arranging for their burial at Arlington. I know that must have been you."

Skinner smiled weakly. "It was the least I could do." He paused a moment, then asked, "So that's where you've been? New Mexico?"

"Yes," Mulder said. "Until a little less than a month ago when out of the blue I received a key card and a mysterious message about something I'd find at Mount Weather." Mulder pulled at his lower lip with his thumb and index finger. "Now I suspect it wasn't so 'out of the blue' after all. William is given up for adoption and almost immediately I get the message that sends me home. Somebody is still pulling the strings."

Skinner hoped Mulder was wrong but knew he probably wasn't. "Did you find what you were looking for - at Mount Weather?"

"It doesn't matter anymore."

Mulder rested his head against the cool concrete wall and continued to tug on his lip, then looked over at Skinner.

"Do you know where William is?"

Skinner ran a hand over his scalp and cleared his throat. Once he decided to tell Mulder of his involvement in William's adoption, he knew this question would come. "Yes, I do," he replied. "On paper, William's adoption looks like standard procedure, complete with all the delays and red tape. The paper trail indicates he was placed randomly with a couple who'd been trying to adopt for years. But in reality, everything was handled privately."

"And you called me paranoid."

Skinner smiled. "I asked a friend of mine and his wife to take William. He's someone I've known all my life. We grew up together, went to school together, played football together, enlisted together, though he chose the Army and I chose the Corps. He was with Special Forces, Green Berets. Highly skilled, highly trained. After his military service he went back to work on the family farm, then got married, and he and his wife bought their own place out west. He looks like the average guy next door, but he can kill a man with his bare hands. I'd trust him with my life. I trust him with William's life."

Mulder nodded and Skinner continued. "My friend and his wife know there's something special about William and know there are those who might want to do him harm. They understand the risks and they're prepared to do everything in their power to keep William safe. Once he's old enough, they want him to know about you and Scully, and they would very much like you both to be a part of his life. They have a large farm, in a fairly remote location, lots of fresh air and wide open spaces for William to grow up in."

Mulder winced. After what he'd learned at Mount Weather, he hoped William got a chance to grow up at all. He blinked back the emotions that were threatening to overtake him and quickly covered his sadness with a joke.

"These people wouldn't be named 'Kent,' would they?"

Skinner smiled again. "I feel very confident that William's as safe as he can possibly be. But that doesn't mean we haven't planned for contingencies. If my friends suspect anything out of the ordinary, they will contact me immediately. If anything happens to me and they can't reach me, I've made other arrangements."

Mulder raised an eyebrow.

"The Navajo," Skinner said. "I talked to Albert Hosteen's nephew, Eric. If my friends can't reach me and they feel William is in danger, they'll contact Eric or one of the others he's told about William, or they'll take William directly to the reservation. The Navajo will do everything they can to protect William, and I know they'll keep the secret of his whereabouts."

'Even from me,' Mulder thought as he stared at his feet. He had lived on the reservation for nearly a year, saw Eric at least once or twice a week, had dinner with him and his wife the night before he left for Mount Weather, and his friend had never let on. "They'll protect him," Mulder whispered. "Just like they've protected me."

Mulder rested his elbows on his knees and placed his chin on his clasped hands. He clenched his jaw a few times and glanced back at Skinner. "Does Scully know any of this?"

"Scully never asked me any of the details of the adoption," Skinner replied. "I plan to tell her, but so far the timing hasn't been right. Eric promised me that if any of these contingency plans are ever set in motion, they will try to reach Scully and protect her as well."

Skinner leaned closer to Mulder and kept his voice low. "The other thing I haven't told Scully yet is that all the information pertaining to William's adoption is stored in a safe deposit box at Craddock Marine Bank on Eighth Street under the name George Hale. The box can only be accessed by you or Scully. It requires your fingerprints and a password." Skinner nodded toward the bottle of water sitting on the floor next to Mulder. "If you think about it, the password will be crystal clear."

Mulder smiled slightly at the mental picture of the straight-laced Assistant FBI Director hatching a covert plan that would make Frohike proud. He picked up the bottle of Crystal Geyser water and for the first time noticed the neat lettering below the expiration date:

IBELIEVE1013

Mulder stared at the password for a few seconds, unscrewed the bottle's cap and took another long drink. "Thank you, sir," he said, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand. "I appreciate all the trouble you've gone to, and I appreciate your making provisions for Scully to be able to see William again."

"For both of you to see him again, Mulder."

"I'm afraid I can't be quite as optimistic, sir," Mulder said. "I know what I'm doing and I'm prepared for the repercussions. I'll admit I felt better about it when I thought Scully would have William to pour all her energy into. But it doesn't change what I know I have to do."

"It ain't over till it's over, Mulder," Skinner said. "I still think you'd be better off with a real lawyer, but if you insist on me representing you, I'm going to do my damnedest to make sure you walk out of here one way or the other. So you just remember everything I've told you, because that information might come in handy one day."

Mulder shook his head and smiled, "I'll remember. But I hope you don't mind if I cover all my bases, just to be on the safe side. Not because I doubt your abilities or your convictions, sir, but because I think the game is rigged and there's no way to beat the house."

"If I'm sure of one thing," Mulder continued, "it's that due process of law will be swift in my case. Once the verdict is decided, I'm pretty certain that justice will be carried out very quickly."

"I can think of a lot of words to describe what they're doing to you, Mulder, but justice isn't one of them."

"You know what I mean, sir," Mulder replied. "I mean that I won't have much time, so I have to be prepared for that eventuality."

Skinner nodded. "I know."

Mulder cleared his throat. "I'd still like for William to have my jacket. And I'd still like to write him a letter. For when he's older. Do you think that would be all right? I mean, could you see that those things were sent to him?"

Skinner's eyes filled with sadness. He didn't want to encourage Mulder to accept defeat, but he knew it was important for him to have a sense of closure if the worst should happen. "You write the letter. I'll take care of it."

"And just in case I don't have a chance to tell Scully, make sure she knows ..." Mulder paused for a moment to collect his thoughts. "Make sure she knows there's no reason for doubt. I don't know what Jeffrey thinks he did to William, but there was nothing to 'cure.' William is exactly what we've seen before - 'more human than human.' The aliens aren't interested in William because of something he is or isn't. They're interested in him because of how he came to be."

Skinner scratched his ear. "I don't follow you."

"William is a child born to a barren mother, a miracle that wasn't supposed to be. He's proof that there is something greater than us, and more importantly, greater than them. That's what they're scared of."

"I still don't follow. Are you talking about God?"

"God, a higher power, some kind of spiritual entity. It's possible that the ship Scully found in Africa was a physical manifestation of that power. Maybe her exposure to it restored her fertility, I don't know. However it happened, Scully and I were chosen to be blessed with a miracle - William. Maybe in a way he's proof that love can conquer all. Maybe he is a gift from God."

Mulder shook his head at Skinner's dumbfounded expression. "What, you don't believe that's possible?"

"Oh, I believe it's possible," Skinner said. "I'm just having trouble believing that you believe it."

Mulder smiled. "Ironic, huh? Scully finally opens her mind to extreme possibilities just when I find religion. We can't ever seem to stay on the same page at the same time, can we?"

Skinner contemplated the revelations he had just heard until Mulder's voice interrupted his thoughts.

"So what's in the box?"

Skinner sighed heavily and pushed the box closer to Mulder. "Some things I thought you should have."

Mulder shrugged at Skinner's cryptic reply, picked up the box, and placed it in his lap. He winked at Skinner as he pulled off the lid. "I hope it's my back issues of 'Celebrity Skin.' Somehow they didn't get my forwarding ..."

The smile faded from his lips as he pushed back the tissue paper to reveal the box's contents. His mouth was suddenly so dry he could barely swallow and he had to remind himself to breathe. He stared into the container, afraid to move, not wanting to disturb the items that had been placed lovingly inside - mementos of things he had already missed and reminders of opportunities he would never have.

He took a deep breath, pulled his bottom lip between his teeth, and reached into the cardboard box filled with memories of William.

Skinner closed his eyes and listened as Mulder unfolded the piece of paper that was the first item removed from the box.

"William Scully Mulder." Mulder refolded the copy of the birth certificate and wiped the corners of his eyes. "I didn't know she gave him my name."

"You're his father."

"Father," Mulder repeated. "When I left here last year I didn't think I was ready to be anybody's father. But while I was in New Mexico I ... well, I learned a lot about myself. I think I was finally ready. I think I might have been a good father."

Skinner smiled and squeezed his friend's shoulder, then closed his eyes again as Mulder began to remove items from the box, one by one.

A silver rattle engraved with the initials 'WSM'.

A lock of brown hair tied with a blue ribbon.

A tiny Knicks jersey and baby Nikes. Mulder remembered seeing the shirt during a shopping outing after one of their Lamaze classes when he teased Scully that he was going to buy it for the baby no matter whether it was a boy or a girl. He never got the chance, but obviously Scully hadn't forgotten.

He slowly traced the '00' emblazoned on the front of the jersey with his fingers, then laid it aside to take the next item from the box. He held the soft blue sweater in his outstretched palms, then brought it up to his face. It smelled clean and sweet and he filled his nostrils with the strong scent of his son that still permeated the fibers.

"I missed him so much," Mulder said, eyes closed with the sweater held against his cheek. "I missed them both so much." There were no tears, only regrets.

He slowly inhaled the essence of William again, then placed the blue sweater gently back in the box before pulling out the last item. The envelope contained a half-dozen photos of William with Scully, each taken a few months apart over the last year. The pictures captured ordinary moments, simple joys that he'd missed - Scully feeding William, reading him a story, giving him a bath, tucking him into his crib.

"God, he's gotten so big," Mulder said shaking his head and wiping his eyes again. He turned one of the photos toward Skinner. "Look at these pajamas. They were a gift from Frohike when William was born. I remember they had little UFOs and stars and moons on them."

"I know," Skinner replied. "Once William grew into them, they were his favorites."

Mulder looked through the pictures again, then placed all but one back in the envelope. It was the most recent photograph of the lot but seemed the least interesting to Skinner - Scully sitting in a chair holding William in her lap - but Mulder seemed mesmerized by it.

"My father carried a picture in his wallet almost exactly like this one," he said sadly. "A picture of my mother holding me in her lap when I was about a year old. When I was cleaning the things out of his house, I found his wallet and that picture was still in it after all these years. I still wonder why."

Skinner looked at the picture, then at Mulder. "Did you know that Jeffrey was ... I mean did you know that Spender was your biological father?"

Mulder tilted his head back against the wall and sighed heavily. "I suspected. I even asked my mother once and she slapped me. I suppose I knew for sure right then, but I didn't want to believe it. I guess I could have had the tests run, found out definitely, but I never did."

Mulder tucked the picture inside the envelope and began to place the other items back in the shoebox. "Things changed between my father and me after Samantha was abducted. I always thought it was because of the strain that was put on the family, or just the normal rift that happens between parents and teenagers. Later I realized that's probably when my father learned he was raising another man's son."

Mulder set the lid back on the box and pressed it firmly in place. "Now another man will be raising my son," he whispered. "Old Smokey told me once that he and I were a lot alike. I guess he was right."

Skinner assumed his best Assistant Director demeanor. "If I ever hear you say something as stupid as that again, Mulder, I'll kick your ass."

Mulder chuckled softly. "You would too."

"Count on it." Skinner glanced at his watch and looked back at Mulder. "I'd better get moving. I have a lot of files to go over tonight if I'm going to be ready in the morning."

Skinner rose slowly to his feet, his back and leg muscles reminding him he wasn't a young man anymore. He pulled on his jacket and waited as Mulder drained the water bottle and poured a few sunflower seeds on the floor.

"Scully is coming by to talk to you in the morning," he said, pocketing the empty bottle and the bag of seeds that Mulder handed him. "I know it wasn't my place to intrude, but I think now it will be easier for both of you."

"You did the right thing, sir. Thank you." Mulder ran his fingers along the top of the shoebox. "And thank you for this - for saving these things for me."

"I was glad to do it, Mulder."

Mulder stood and grasped the box tightly for a few moments before holding it out to Skinner. "I have one more favor to ask you, sir," he said quietly. "Would you please make sure this is buried with me?"

"Mulder ..."

"Please, sir, don't make this any harder than it already is." Mulder pushed the box into Skinner's hands, his words heavy with emotion. "Please just promise me that you'll see to it."

"All right, Mulder." Skinner tucked the shoebox back under his left arm. "When the time comes, I'll see to it. But I'm expecting that to be many, many years from now. You said you found faith in a higher power, Mulder. Don't abandon that faith now. Never give up on a miracle."

Mulder managed a half-hearted smile. "I said the same thing to Scully once and we got our miracle. I think one was the limit."

"Oh, I don't know about that. You were a dead man, Mulder. And now you're very much alive."

"I thought I had you to thank for that," Mulder said. "Not God."

"Well, we both work in mysterious ways," Skinner quipped as he and Mulder walked toward the cell door. "Whoever was responsible, I don't believe you were put back on this earth just to have things end like this. I believe you have more work to do, and I believe you'll be around to do it. I also believe one day you'll give that leather jacket to William yourself."

Skinner pounded on the door three times and called for the guard, then turned back to Mulder. "Try to get some rest, okay?"

"Yes sir, you too." Mulder extended his hand. "Thank you again, sir. For everything."

Skinner returned the firm handshake, then squeezed Mulder's shoulder.

"I'll see you in the morning."

Click

Mulder's body tensed and he prepared himself for the familiar feeling of dread, but to his surprise, it never came, no doubt in part due to the reassuring hand still grasping his shoulder. He breathed a sigh of relief. "Goodnight, sir. I'll see you tomorrow."

Skinner stepped through the open doorway, then turned back. "I remember reading something once. 'Every tomorrow has two handles. We can take hold of it by the handle of anxiety, or by the handle of faith.' You keep that in mind, Mulder. Goodnight."

The door slammed shut and the guard nudged Skinner toward the exit. He complied wearily, holding on to the shoebox tightly as he explored his pockets to find his car keys. It would be a long drive home, an even longer night ahead, but he had faith he would find a way to win Mulder's freedom. Tomorrow was the first step - and now he had a handle on tomorrow.

THE END




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