Ghosts of Future Past, The

by Anjou

Title: The Ghosts of Future Past

Author: Anjou (

Rating: R

Category: MSR

Posting Date: September 17, 2003

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. The Ghosts of Future Past is set present day, in the late summer of 2003.

The first story in this series, entitled 'Ghosts' can be found at:

As before, this is for the FF.

Dana Scully had always been fascinated by time and all the ways it could be measured -- minutes, breaths, light, distance, sand, heartbeats. She had learned to tell time when she was only three. That year was the first time she had asked Santa to bring her a watch.

That year also marked the first instance that time became an enemy, for it took three long years before her wish was honored. Ultimately, she believed that she had just worn her mother down with her incessant questions. They weren't the typical wheedling of a five-year-old on the verge of six, the incessant questing for a gift. Not Dana. Dana wanted to know how time worked; she wanted to know what time meant, in the end. When she finally got her watch, a cheap Timex with a stretchy silver band, she had promptly dismantled it in her ardor to learn what her mother had been incapable of teaching her.

Her mother's dismay had been sharp and pointed, but she was not alone in her disappointment that day. There were no answers for Dana inside the tiny metal case with its fascinating gears and levers, at least none that she could understand in the brief time she'd had with her watch. Her mother had swept the guts of it into a teacup angrily when she'd found Dana disemboweling her gift on the kitchen table, then deposited the watchworks on the windowsill over the kitchen sink. Dana had waited the necessary day or two until her mother had gone to the grocery store and everyone else was occupied with their own new toys. Then she had gotten the stool from the closet and retrieved her watch to continue her study of it.

It had taken her a couple of tries, but by New Year's Day, her watch was reassembled. It kept perfect time, but Dana was no closer to understanding what time meant, just how it could be measured.

Her mother hadn't noticed that Dana was wearing the watch for nearly a week. The day after Epiphany, Dana had been helping to take down the crche, carefully handing her mother the figures as she wrapped them one by one and placed them in their box. Her mother's hand had sharply upended hers, causing Dana to clutch the Magi she was holding for fear of dropping him.

"Who fixed your watch, Dana?" her voice had demanded angrily.

"I did," she said, unsure of why fixing something her mother was mad at her for breaking in the first place was also doing something wrong.

Her mother had stared and stared at her, searching her face for a hint of a lie. "You did," she repeated, as if trying to make herself believe it. "You did." She had an odd expression on her face.

Days later, Dana had heard her mother on the telephone, telling her father the whole story. The next time her father had come home from the sea, he'd made Dana tell it again, then given her an old watch of his, all disassembled. When she'd put it back together, he'd beamed proudly, then taught her how to use his sextant.

She remembered now, how her mother had stood in the doorway of the study and watched them together, Dana and her father. She hadn't joined them.

The clock over the mantelpiece had just softly chimed 7:30 when Mulder spoke. His voice was quiet but firm over the rustling of her newspaper.

"My son needs a haircut," he announced. He tapped his finger on the newspaper article she was reading to get her attention.

The son in question looked up from his breakfast with a quizzical expression on his egg-smeared face. Scully knew that she was biased where her son was concerned, but the intelligence in Will's eyes as he regarded first his father, then her, was clear. "Haircut?" he echoed, his mouth full of food.

Mulder nodded, then tapped his chin. Will picked up his napkin and scrubbed at his own chin ineffectively. "Precisely," Mulder added.

Will nodded in amiable agreement at his father, and Scully was struck anew by how he had clearly left babyhood behind, along with its round sturdiness. He had outgrown the brightly colored booster seat with its snap-in tray in the weeks around his second birthday. Now, as summer neared its end, Will's legs dangled under the table, not quite long enough to reach the first rung of the chair, but getting closer everyday. His ever present sneakers seemed smaller each morning when she put them on his feet, his shorts higher above his knee as he ran across the balcony to where his father pretended to be snoozing so that Will could jump on him.

It was the running, she knew, that had provoked this growth spurt in Will -- her knowledge of physical development supplied the facts. Will's physical surety had increased as his nerve endings had myelinized and so he moved faster and faster through his days, his body stimulated into producing growth hormone in a feedback loop.

She knew all this, but Will's passage out of babyhood into the realm of being a child pulled at her. Time was slipping away from her. It wasn't just Will's height that had changed. Only the pouch of his belly was a reminder of how he'd been just weeks ago. His face was sharper angled, his smile full of perfect little white teeth that needed to be brushed before bedtime, a task that took a lot of energy out of whichever parent tried to accomplish it, since it required Will to stop chatting away. He was Mulder's son in that aspect truly, all questions and fantastical, if not somewhat garbled, stories about his day. She looked at Will critically now and saw how long his hair really was and how it had darkened at the roots. The curly ends kept it close to his head, but it was long. Still.

"I just cut his bangs last week, Mulder," she said. "It looks fine to me." She picked up her paper.

"Fine!" Mulder spat out the word, but his tone was light. "Scully -- look at the boy -- he's a double for Frodo Baggins with that hairdo."

At her eyebrow arch, Mulder changed tactics.

"No, really, Scully, look at him. He's got like a '70's metal band hairdo," Mulder sputtered inarticulately. "I can't have that, Scully. I won't have my son mocked."

"Mulder!" She laughed. "He's two years old! Who's mocking him?" A though occurred to her. "Oh," she said snidely, "Did somebody in the playgroup say something?"

"Nobody said anything," Mulder stubbornly denied.

But they thought it, her mind supplied. "Well, I think you're watching too much of that 'I Love the 70's' show," she said. Since they were talking about his hair, Will had begun to pull at it, coating the ends in egg.

"My hair," he said.

"Hands, Will," Scully said, vainly trying to de-egg him before he smeared more food in his hair. Mulder was right she realized, as she tried to get the egg out of Will's hair. If Will's hair was straight, it would be well past his shoulders. She sighed.

Mulder had been observing her quietly for a few minutes. "What is it, Scully?" he asked.

"I guess it is time, Mulder," she answered. "I just didn't want to see it." She glanced up at him in passing after she helped Will down from his telephone book throne. His expression was inscrutable to her, but his eyes were sad.

"I'll make the appointment for a lunch time," he said. Even without enhanced psychic abilities, she knew that he was holding his tongue from saying more.

The hand on her arm startled her. She recovered quickly, but not until her own hand was halfway to the weapon she kept under her suit jacket.

"I'm so sorry, Sarah!" Jane exclaimed. "I said your name several times, but you were a million miles away." She smiled wryly at the black joke implicit in her humor and handed Scully a sheaf of papers from the printer tray. "I think these must be yours. Mine are next, I hope."

Scully nodded and apologized to Jane as she accepted the paperwork. She didn't bother correcting Jane's assumptions about the distance at which her thoughts lay. Unlike many of her colleagues, the mire of her thoughts these days tended to be closer to home and far more temporal. Besides, on some level no apology was needed. "Jane" was likely not her colleague's original name; Scully was not the only one who sometimes failed to recognize the name being called as her own. She retreated to her office on the far side of the laboratory.

MagnaTech's highest clearance section was her workplace now, not the Hoover Building. Special Agent Dana Scully, M.D. had died on a searingly hot May day in the desert sands of New Mexico, along with her partner, the ex-FBI agent and wanted criminal, Fox Mulder. At least, that was what the newspapers had said.

She glanced at her watch and realized that she'd lost nearly ten minutes in her reverie, a fact that Mulder would find ironically amusing. She would too, if she weren't so obsessed with time and its inexorable passing these days. As it was, she berated herself for her laxity and lack of attention and tried to focus on the print outs from the weapons development division. Her involvement on this project was minimal, but since she had created the first relatively crude prototype of the basic weapon she was included on progress memos.

It was another clear contrast to her former life: here at MagnaTech, there was a top secret section working on projects far different than those in the stated business plan that occupied the rest of the company. Yet, instead of being outside of the group trying to avert catastrophe through means that they felt justified in, she was in the very center of it and expected to comment on all aspects. She supposed that the development of massive incendiary devices intended to be launched against the alien ships should make her feel more secure about their readiness for the coming battle. It was odd then, that what it served to do was to make her more anxious, and to increase her clock-watching.

She sipped at the cup of cool water that she kept on her desk and tried to ease her tightened throat, feeling the discomfort and unease these reports seemed to provoke in the clenching of her body, then stood suddenly and reached for her purse, shaking her head at her ridiculous thoughts. It was the 4th Wednesday -- her physical discomfort was just the harbinger of her period, nothing more.

It was dark when she arrived home. Her headlights down the long drive illuminated the open garage where Mulder was working in the dim light. He was pulling apart the pile of firewood that was stacked against the wall, a project he'd told her he was undertaking at some point, although she couldn't quite recall when, or why. The chopping block and the axe were outside the garage on the lip of the driveway that ran under the porch and alongside the meadow in front of their house. She reflexively shivered at the sight, still unsure that Mulder and an axe were a good combination.

"You're late," he said conversationally when she disembarked from the car. His back was to her and she could see the long line of sweat that ran down his spine, the layer of dust and soot on his grey t-shirt. He sneezed once and then threw a log out onto the pile next to the axe.

"Sorry," she said reflexively, looking around. The dimness in the garage was pronounced after the brightness of her headlights. "Where's Will?"

Mulder turned around to look at her, his work glove clad hands swinging loosely at thigh level. "He was too tired to stay up, Scully," he said. "He helped me turn over some of the pile this afternoon and it just wore him out."

Scully smiled softly, sad that she had missed spending any time with Will. "Did he fall asleep in his food?"

Mulder laughed. "Right into his nice soft pile of mashed potatoes." He was looking at her, assessing her mood, "I saved you some food."

She nodded and looked away, but couldn't seem to bring herself to move away. "Why are you doing this again?" She peered up at him.

"Critters in the woodpile," Mulder said with a grimace. "I want to make sure there aren't any carpenter ants or termites, remember?" He knocked the wall. "The whole place is wooden. I just want to be sure." She swallowed her smile at Mulder's hatred of all things insect-like and he waggled a finger at her, knowing where her mind had gone. "The exterminator's coming next week, so we'll sleep in town on Wednesday."

"I'm not pregnant, Mulder," she said. "We don't have to worry about that." The answer had flown out of her mouth without thought and she wanted it back as soon as she said it. As it was, it just lay on the ground between them, thick and oozing.

"I know you're not pregnant, Scully," he said after a minute. His voice was carefully affectless in that way that she found infuriating. "But I still think we should sleep elsewhere and let everything air out. I don't particularly want Will around that stuff."

She nodded like a marionette and turned to walk away, but his voice stopped her. It was soft like before, but now full of feeling. "Do you think that I'm not afraid, Scully?"

She stopped, but didn't turn, feeling perilously close to tears. She couldn't have answered him if she tried, but he saved her by speaking again.

"I am afraid," he emphasized softly, "but I don't let it take me over. I can't let it take me over."

She turned around to face him. "I don't know what's wrong with me, Mulder," she said. "I know that I'm luckier than I have a right to be. I have you. We got Will back." Her hands were waving around impotently while she spoke. "I don't know why I feel this way now, or why I started feeling this way." She shook her head. "I don't understand it, either."

His face was shadowed and she could feel, rather than see, the weight of his regard. After a moment, he stepped forward into the light, shedding one of his gloves as he did so. "I'm right here with you," he said. He tapped himself on the chest when he said this, then reached his hand out and cupped her cheek, stepping in close to her. "I'm right here for you to talk to." He kissed her forehead, her eye, the point of her jaw. "I'm right here."

She could only nod and hang onto his hand like a lifeline, her eyes full and heavy in her head, trying to convey to him wordlessly that it wasn't him.

He sighed and then kissed her once on the lips softly before he stepped away.

As she walked up the stairs, half-blind from her tears, she could hear the sharp bite of the axe against the wood.

She had stumbled upstairs and ditched her things on the kitchen counter. Ignoring the covered plate sitting on the stove, she stripped off her suit jacket and walked up the stairs to Will's bedroom. Will's door was slightly ajar; the interior of the room was only faintly lit by the twilight leaking in from under half-closed shades. She covered Will up with the light summer blanket, unable to stop touching him even as she feared waking him up. She pulled the rocking chair up to the crib and watched the even rise and fall of his chest as he dreamt, his head resting on Mr. Bunny's belly. The room itself was quiet except for the sound of Will's steady breathing. She put her hand through the slats and pressed her fingers into Will's open palm. Reflexively, his hand closed around hers.

She hadn't felt this way when they'd first arrived in Vermont, nor even in the first weeks when she'd started to work at MagnaTech. If she were truthful about it, she'd have to admit that she had begun to feel this way in mid-February. At first, she assumed it had only to do with her looming birthday. Yet as the days inched toward the fall, her glance was still caught by the calendar, focused on the clock and the passage of every day that inched her closer to the end of 2003. And when 2003 was over, there would be no way for her to avoid the fact that there was less than ten years left.

There was no rational reason for her to feel this way, but the idea of a decade between her family and the potential end of the world had been something of a psychic pad, an idea that if not comforting, at least sounded reassuringly long. The truth was that all time was relative and the experience of it passing, while ostensibly measured in unchanging intervals, speeded up or slowed down depending upon one's perceptions. The first decade that she had known Mulder, for example, seemed in retrospect to have passed in an eye blink. It was hard to imagine that she had not known him forever, a jolt to realize that he had occupied less than one third of her life. Crowded behind that thought came the next: that if she died at 48, she would have known him only 20 years, not even half her life. Their son would have lived as long as she has known Mulder now, a scant 11 years. And if they had another child...

She pushed the thought away, as she had done every day since she admitted to herself that she thought about it, as she had every day since Mulder mentioned that if they were going to have another child, they should do it soon. The problem was that when Mulder said that time was getting short, he meant something different than she did. But he was right. Time was short, and each wasted month brought her closer to 40, another month closer to allowing the choice to be made for her, an option that she had always deplored.

She had scolded herself and tried to force herself into making a firm commitment, one way or another, but could not seem to do so. Instead, she found herself in this fog of paralysis. It was quite the opposite of how she'd felt three or four years ago when she'd been in such a fever to conceive the child that became William. She knew, on some level, that this paralysis was the direct result of that fever. She had not truly considered what her child's life might be like when she sought to conceive, had ignored all the uglier realities of Mulder's family history and their possible implications on her own child's life. One last time, she had seen only that which she wished to consider.

And she hadn't been the only one to pay the price required to fulfill her desires. Oh, it wasn't as if she had held a gun to Mulder's head, exactly, but she knew that he would not refuse her. She knew that he would accede to her terms as well, and would do so out of love, not guilt. It was the best weapon she had against him and she'd been shameless in her use of it. Her face burned at the memory. At the time, she hadn't wanted his love as much as she'd wanted a child, and the result of that soulless transaction had been an utter failure; when she hadn't conceived through in vitro, she was inconsolable, although Mulder had urged her not to give up.

As usual, his faith in the impossible had been justified, but by then, it was too late and he was lost to her, first to the skies and then to death.

She'd been such a fool to believe that it was just the child she'd hungered for, because when she got what she thought she had wanted -- her independence and her child in one package -- she'd hated it with a passion. She had even tried to fill the gaping space that Mulder left in her life by becoming him. By then, her desires had been transformed and what she was left with when Mulder was dead seemed a mockery of what she'd thought she'd wanted, a gruesome trade of one beloved life for a long-held desire. It was an impossibility for her to withstand, as was the world in which she became separated from them both, father and son. Because when she'd lost them both, she had truly lost everything, felt herself disappearing with each day into an existence that seemed more and more senseless.

The sound of Mulder shutting off the shower across the balcony startled her and Will's hand flexed around hers in his sleep. She glanced at her watch but could not see what time it was, now that full dark had fallen. Once again, she'd been caught out, lost in time. As Mulder exited the bathroom, she stood wearily, smoothing the blanket over Will one last time, then crossed the balcony to their bedroom.

Mulder had turned the lights on and left a tray with her dinner on the bed, a pointed reminder that she hadn't yet eaten. >From downstairs, she could hear the murmur of the television. It wouldn't surprise her if he were watching the first movie in Lord of the Rings trilogy again. She knew that Mulder wanted her to absorb the message of the movie, that even the smallest person can change the course of the future, to believe that righteousness would prevail in the battle they were fighting. She wondered if it would surprise him to know that she had read Tolkien's trilogy a long time ago, and that what she remembered was how much the characters had lost, how high the price of victory had truly been.

She'd been eating mechanically as she undressed and puttered around their bedroom, and abandoned the tray as she went in to the bathroom and took a quick shower. Her reflection in the mirror with its blonde-streaked hair still startled her, even after all these months. She didn't even look like herself anymore, she thought with a scowl. That, too, had been her choice; Mulder had never done anything to alter his appearance. She swung the mirror open and her hand reached for the top shelf before she stopped it. It was her week for the placebo, so there was no need for her to take the pill.

As she brushed her teeth, she mused that there was an odd differentiation between the words impregnable and barren. One was a sign of strength or incorruptibility, the other a stigma and a shame, yet both essentially described the same state.

She had been both.

What once was barren was now impregnable, as long as she took a pill at the same time each night.

She had until Sunday night to make this month's choice.

She had been staring at the blank page in her journal for quite some time when Mulder came upstairs. She had been unable to write in it for months now, but still tortured herself by pulling it out every few nights and pretending that she was going to write something down. She had carefully avoided looking at the last entry in the book. Written on her birthday, it simply said, "How can it be my birthday when Dana Scully is dead?"

She closed the book and looked up at Mulder as he padded out of the bathroom in his loose sleep shorts and crossed to his side of the bed. He had the dazed expression he usually wore when he'd fallen asleep in front of the TV. He scrubbed at his face and let out an enormous yawn, falling onto their bed face forward.

"I guess Will wasn't the only one worn out by the woodpile," she remarked wryly.

"I don't need to be reminded I'm old, thank you," he grumped. "I couldn't even focus on that folder you brought home for me. It was like that 'Far Side' cartoon where the dog owner raves on and on, but all the dog hears is 'blah, blah, blah, Ginger'." He sighed and spread his arms out on the bed, wincing when he lifted his arm up to drape it over her middle.

She stroked his arm soothingly and said, "Thank you for feeding me, old dog."

He cracked an eye open and looked at her. "All part of the service, ma'am." He tapped her wedding band lightly with a finger.

He'd given her the ring at Christmas to replace the cheap one they'd bought in Vegas more than a year ago. On the inside, he'd had 'Forever. M.' inscribed on the band. He hadn't presumed to have his own ring inscribed, but after she'd spent some time considering what she wanted his ring to say, she'd given him back the same pledge.

He sighed with pleasure when she kneaded the muscles in his shoulder and after a moment's consideration, she moved his arm so she could get up.

"Where are you going?" Mulder whined as she went to rummage through the bathroom cabinet.

She rolled her eyes at him from afar, but had to laugh at the sight of his face when he saw the tube of Ben-Gay in her hand.

"Scully, I love you," he said emphatically.

"You better," she said, as she straddled his butt. He was practically wagging his tail with excitement. "Down boy," she chided.

Mulder snorted into his pillow. "I know what day it is, you know."

She stiffened. Well. There it was again.

"Scully," he started to apologize, but she stopped him.

"It's OK, Mulder," she said, suddenly tired of making him responsible for her own defensiveness.

He craned his head around awkwardly to look at her, but she turned his head back around.

"Really," she said, digging into the strong muscles at the base of his spine.

He dropped his head back into the pillow with a groan and she focused on his back, on easing the knots that rolled under her fingers. There had been a time, before Will was born, when she'd thought that she'd never get the chance to touch Mulder's warm, living flesh again, when she knew that she hadn't spent enough time as his lover to memorize him, skin, muscle and bone. Now that she'd been given back what had been stolen from her, she had long since realized that there'd never be enough time -- Mulder was always changing.

In the year or so they'd been married, Mulder had gained back the muscle that he'd lost to the grave and to the torpor that followed him when they'd been separated. Under the pads of her fingers, she could feel the occasional faint streak of scar tissue on his back from where he'd been physically torn apart. They'd come so close to losing it all, to being alone and apart forever, the three members of their family. Her choices had almost torn them apart for good -- isolating them all from each other and taking from Mulder the only family he had left in the world. And the thought occurred that it wasn't just Mulder who'd been left without family.

Her hands stilled on Mulder's back and he grunted, lifting a shoulder to get her attention. She rolled his trapezius muscles, feeling the power contained in them, the inherent strength. She'd never given Mulder enough credit for how strong he was, how strong he'd always been. She leaned forward and kissed his cheek, right on the mole she teasingly called his beauty mark, feeling the curve of his cheek as he smiled.

"Thanks, Scully," he murmured in a content tone. "That felt great."

She laid down close to him, slipping her feet first under the covers, then his calf. He took the hint and rolled over onto his side, pulling up the covers and enfolding her in his arms.

She pressed her face into his neck and allowed herself to marvel in the miraculous aspect of it all. She had forgotten to be grateful each day, a vow she had made in the first days they'd gotten Will back. Now she reveled in it, felt the life flowing through Mulder's veins and the peace of their home. She was lucky, she reminded herself, but she felt the tears rise.

"Talk to me, Scully," he whispered.

She took a breath in and just spoke, not allowing herself to think or edit.

"How did you stand it, Mulder?" she asked him. "How did you stand it when everyone in your family became a stranger?" She waited for him to stiffen up, but he was surprisingly relaxed, only moving to tuck her in more closely, as if to shield her.

"Don't you mean how did I stand it when they blamed me, Scully?"

She shivered at his words, but nodded.

"I guess that's part of the problem with my family. I knew that my parents would blame me. I was the eldest. It was my job." Mulder's voice was matter of fact. "That sounds so wrong when I say it," he continued, "but I know it's true. And the blame ... " He was silent for a while. "It's easier to blame somebody else than to admit your own shortcomings or guilt. I don't think they were different than a lot of people in that regard. I don't think I can give you a good explanation of how I stood it, Scully. I just did. I never felt like I had a choice in the matter. I had to."

She lay there silently.

"I'm sorry, but that doesn't answer your question, does it?"

"I guess I didn't really expect you to," she said. "I just..." her words drifted off.

"I don't think she blames you, Scully," Mulder said after a moment. "I'm sure that she blames me."

"No," she answered immediately, shaking her head. "No, Mulder, she blamed me. She absolutely blamed me. I'm not saying that she never blamed you, because she did, but when you were gone..." she stopped and said the words, "when you were dead, my mother supported me. We had a real bond for the first time in a very long time."

Mulder hadn't said anything but rubbed her back.

"That doesn't surprise you, does it, Mulder?"

"I always thought that you and your mother were very different people, but I never thought that she didn't love you, Scully. I just don't think she understands," he said quietly.

"Me," she added. "She doesn't understand me. I know that I've hurt her." She hesitated. "I think that my mother feels like I rejected her and I'm not sure that she's wrong. My father was the one with the power, the authority in our family and I think I felt like he was the one I had to impress. Her good opinion of me was nice to have, but it wasn't that important."

"And your father was proud of you," Mulder said. "He loved how smart you were."

"Yes," she said, and her eyes stung with tears, but she smiled through them. "And that I was a good sailor and a good shot. He encouraged that in me, until I went to the FBI, although he wasn't happy about pathology. He certainly wasn't happy about Daniel."

"He knew?" Mulder's surprise was not pronounced, but it was genuine.

"They both did," she answered him, "My mother figured it out first. She was very angry with me when she confronted me about it. My relationship with Daniel was such a rejection of all the things I'd been taught. I remember she asked me if I had thought about how Daniel's wife would feel."

"Scully, you were a young woman, and you were nave. Daniel seduced you," he argued back.

She shook her head. "I knew right from wrong, Mulder -- and I didn't want her to tell me what to do. On some level, I think I continued the relationship with Daniel to spite her."

"That supports my point," Mulder said. "That's a classic adolescent response, to flout authority."

"I know it is and I recognize now how Daniel manipulated me and spurred me on, but I still did it. On some level, I didn't really care what she thought about me. When my father found out, that was a different story."

"She didn't tell him?"

"No," she answered, "but I don't think that was about protecting me so much as it was about protecting him. He was very disappointed in me, but he made excuses for me, just like you did, said I had been taken advantage of. My mother didn't see it that way."

"But, don't you see, Scully? If she didn't love you, she would have just told your father everything."

She shook her head. "It's not that simple, Mulder, a question of loving vs. not loving. There were things about me that she didn't like, things that she didn't approve of, the way I chose to live my life. She was happy that I got pregnant with Will, but when she found out that I had tried to get pregnant, she was appalled."

"Because we weren't married," he supplied.

"That was part of it, yes, but there was more. She accused me of using you."

Mulder was quiet.

"And when you were missing, she was angry that I wasn't giving up my dangerous job when my child had already been robbed of one parent. We had a huge argument. I accused her of giving up on you, when I was sure you weren't dead. You know what she said to me?"

"No," he said carefully.

"'Maybe not this time, Dana, but what about the next time?'"

"She was worried about you, Scully," he said, "and she was right. We live in a dangerous world, you and I."

She felt the tears rise up. "I know," she whispered, "but I found you in that field a few days later."

He rocked her in his arms and waited.

"She was really sorry afterwards," she finally said. "She tried to mother me, feed me, make sure I was sleeping," she shrugged. "I don't remember a lot of it, but I remember that she was there. But then when I got you back, she was so confused."

Mulder interrupted her. "She wasn't the only one, Scully. The whole situation was just horrible."

"Yes, but it wasn't just that --"

"We still didn't get married," he said.

She nodded. "Then I sent you away." Her throat had closed up and she had to whisper to get the words out.

"Scully, we decided that together," Mulder said firmly.

"That's not really true," she said in a rush, "and you know it. I was operating off massive hormones and I just panicked." She tried to choke the tears down. "And I continued to panic. Once I made one wrong choice, I couldn't seem to make the right one. And she was so angry with me, Mulder, even before I gave Will away."

"To protect him, Scully," Mulder said. "You did what you thought was best at the time."

"That's what I told myself," she said. "That's what I kept telling myself, but I was wrong, Mulder. I was wrong." She couldn't hold back the tears anymore. Mulder was trying to reason with her, but she buried her head in his chest, and just cried.

36 hours later, Dana Scully still had the feeling that she was sleepwalking through Sarah Scott's day. She knew that repressing her emotions didn't make her stronger, but letting them out certainly didn't make her feel much better. That was a lesson she'd learned in her last years on the X-Files. She'd cried more during that period than she had in her whole life, and all it had served to do was to make her feel more impotent and more hopeless. The problem was, she didn't know what else to do. There was no way that she could reach out to her mother now, no matter how much she wanted to forgive and to be forgiven. Dana Scully might be dead to the most of the world, but her enemies knew that she was alive. Anything she did to reach out to her mother would only expose her to harm from those enemies who lay in wait outside the shelter of the mountains.

Her face in the bathroom mirror was pale, her eyes deep-set and bruised looking underneath. Her face was still Dana Scully's, but Dana Scully wasn't looking too good these days. She turned and walked out of the bathroom door into the hive-like industry of MagnaTech.

Besides, it wasn't as if she didn't have any news of her mother. When they'd begun working on MagnaTech, Mulder had gotten a dossier from Gibson that documented what her mother had been doing. After the small memorial service that had been held for Dana in Washington, D.C., her mother had spent some time sorting through her things, giving away most of them to Goodwill. Then she'd done the same with her own house and sold it, moving to San Diego to be near Bill and his family and closer to Charles.

She wondered if her mother had saved anything from her apartment but somehow doubted it. The things that she would have been looking for, the pictures of Will's early days, had all been destroyed or hidden by the Gunmen on Scully's behalf. They were all beyond her reach now, those images of the past, and her mother.

She had a series of pictures of her mother sitting on a bench at the beach in San Diego. It was a beautiful sunny day, clear and warm with a radiant blue sky. Her mother hadn't seemed to notice the day, or the cool breeze stirring her hair. In the photos, her head is downcast, her face lined and older-looking.

The day that photo had been taken, she and Mulder were settling into a routine with Will on the Navajo reservation, maybe even strategizing how to ease Will's anxiety. She wanted her mother to know these things, wanted to erase the memory of their last conversations with each other, the few times they had spoken after she had gave Will away.

Mulder might be the one who saw the ghosts, but she was the one who felt haunted.

"How can you be sure he'll be safe?" her mother had demanded to know.

She'd tried to explain, but even to her own ears her explanations had sounded hollow. She lost her voice and sat staring at the tablecloth.

After long moments of painful self-recrimination she looked up to find her mother staring at her, her expression hard and closed.

"How could you do it, Dana?" she'd accused. There was contempt in her tone and her expression. "How could you turn your back on your child?"

Then she'd gotten up and left the table, leaving Dana sitting there quaking.

It wasn't until hours later that she had remembered the horrible fights that had preceded Missy's leaving the house, the silence that greeted her when she'd tell her mother where Missy was or what she'd been doing. Missy had been cut off and left to fend for herself because she believed in things her parents found ridiculous at best, and blasphemous at worst. As exasperating as Melissa could be, Dana could never forget that she was her sister, could never stop worrying and wondering how she was doing, alone. Dana'd wanted to call her mother up on the phone and throw the accusations back at her, to point out her mother's hypocrisy. In the end she couldn't do it; there was more than enough blame about Melissa to go around.

The last time she'd spoken to her mother, it had been after more than a week of silence. She'd called to tell her about Mulder's imprisonment.

After she finished outlining the facts in the case, her mother's voice had been cool, almost remote when she said, "I suppose you're going to him then."

There had been an accusation in her tone, one that said, 'Oh yes, Dana, you'd go anywhere for him, but not for your child.'

When she hadn't been able to choke out a response, her mother had said, "Well, be careful." There was another pause. "Goodbye Dana," then her mother had hung up.

After her conversation with Mulder the other night, she had wondered if she was right that her mother had felt rejected by her all the years that she'd sought approval from male figures, authority higher than her mother. It was a fitting irony now that she was a mother herself, that she would be so lacerated by her mother's rejection of her.

At she exited the elevator on the floor where the daycare center was, she found herself face to face with the woman who ran the Employee Assistance Program.

"Oh, Sarah," Joanne said, "I was just coming to look for you."

"Oh?" Scully queried, "why?"

Joanne pointed to the large plate glass window where the toddlers' room in the daycare center was clearly visible. There was a heap of shrieking toddlers on top of a large and familiar figure sprawled on the floor. She smiled at the sight and moved closer to the window to confirm her suspicions.

"He's the most popular daddy at the center," Joanne said wryly.

Scully laughed and then said, "Or the biggest kid."

Joanne laughed warmly and looked at Scully for a moment before she said, "It's nice that he can make you smile, Sarah."

Scully glanced over at her, but could discern no hidden agenda. Joanne had a kind face and the air of a person who was truly sympathetic to the suffering of others. She was a good choice to head up the EAP here at MagnaTech and Scully knew she had the highest security clearance.

Scully wondered what had brought her to this life and what had happened to her that she ended up here. Unlike many of them, Joanne had not had military or law enforcement experience, or at least her body language betrayed no such past. She wondered if Joanne would tell her if she asked, but couldn't imagine being so rude as to inquire. Joanne always spoke warmly to Scully, encouraging her implicitly to come in and speak to her, but she never did.

"He always could," Scully answered lightly.

"There's a real value in that," Joanne said thoughtfully.

Scully turned and looked at her with a quizzical expression on her face. "What do you mean?"

Joanne shrugged, "I think that what we find funny reveals who we are, without artifice or masks. It's part of the true self. Someone that can touch that place in you, that knows you well enough to find that place, is a valuable partner." Her expression was serene as she said this. "At least, that's been my experience." She touched Scully's arm gently and said, "Always good to see you, Sarah," before she walked away.

"Hi, Michael!"

This was at least the fifth woman to greet Mulder enthusiastically on their short trip from their car, where they'd dropped off their groceries, to the hairdresser's. A number of them had also greeted Will, but most of their attention was directed at Mulder.

Clearly, Mulder's entre into the world of primary at-home parent had been more interesting than he had let on. This had been amply illustrated by a scene she'd witnessed at the grocery store where she'd found him cornered near the whole grain bins at the back by a well-heeled, if not overly aggressive, woman.

Of course, she knew that Mulder, who was handsome, dressed well and had maintained his athletic figure, was a source of fascination for many women. Over the years, she'd seen it happen again and again. She'd always assumed that part of Mulder's charm to these women was his status as a special agent, so she was somewhat surprised to find that here, in the mundanity of everyday life where Mulder was accompanied by their child, he was still a sought after commodity.

And to think that the women of Stockbridge had no idea who he really was. Who he wasn't was Michael Ferris, technical writer at MagnaTech, and devoted stay at-home dad. Imagine what would happen if they knew that he was Fox Mulder, super-spy determined to save the world in 9 years and counting, and devoted stay at-home dad.

Of course, he was also her husband, not that this seemed to matter to any of the women they'd seen today. At the grocery store, she'd overheard part of his innocuous conversation with the aggressive woman. Mulder had a way of saying the phrase, 'my wife', which put a subtle emphasis on the second word as if to verify what the woman opposite him might not have noticed. As if the woman, all teeth and flushed cheeks, hadn't noticed the wedding ring that Mulder had repeatedly flashed at her, touching his chin thoughtfully and plucking at the neck of the dark green t-shirt that Scully had bought for him. As if she hadn't noticed their scowling toddler, circling Mulder's ankles like a wolf pup, marking his, and his mother's, territory.

Mulder waved to the woman on the opposite sidewalk and reached down to swing Will up into his arms as they approached the door to the salon. Once again, she found herself wondering exactly how much information Will picked up from people. Judging from his current expression as he glared across the street, she would say too much.

She glanced up at Mulder as he held open the door to the hairdresser shop, but his attention was entirely focused on Will.

"Are you ready?" he said to Will. "We're going to get Will a big boy haircut!"

Will's expression had changed in an instant as he was caught up in his father's enthusiasm. "OK!" he said loudly, his eyes hot with adoration.

Scully had to smile again. Anything that Mulder wanted to do was OK with Will. Sometimes watching them together made her heart catch in her chest, because it had almost never been. Just this minute, however, she focused on being glad for what was and pushed the rest away.

"Hey," Mulder's hairdresser said amiably. She was a tall, shapely woman wearing red plaid leggings and a black t-shirt. Her hair color reminded Scully of the Dreamsicle pops she'd loved as a child. It was a deep orange at the crown of her head, but striped white around the edges. Surprisingly, her station had pictures of a sweet-faced little girl in a frilly dress all over it.

"Are you ready?" she asked Will.

"Oh, yeah," he said, as the hairdresser fingered his hair thoughtfully.

"This is very heavy-metal, Michael," she observed to Mulder, then focused her attention on Scully. "You must be Sarah."

"Yes," Scully said, surprised that she was known.

"I'm Micki," the hairdresser supplied, "and don't worry, it's all going to be fine. Have you thought about what you want to do?"

"I don't want it too short," Scully said as Micki nodded.

"I don't want it to be an old-fashioned boys' regular," Mulder added.

"Like that would happen," the hairdresser snorted. "Why don't you sit down with Will in your lap, Daddy?" she directed Mulder to the chair, then set about covering them both with robes to keep them from getting covered with hair. It proved a longer job than necessary when Mulder kept spinning the chair around while Will laughed.

"He is adorable," a man's voice said.

She tore her eyes away from Mulder and Will's reflections in the mirrors on the wall to address the man next to her. After a minute of looking at him, she wasn't quite sure to whom he was referring, so she just said, "Thanks."

"I'm Ted," the man said, "This is my salon." He was very good-looking and sported elaborately gelled hair and artfully groomed facial hair. "You must be Sarah."

Once again, Scully was left to wonder exactly how many people Mulder had talked to. In years past, it was always she who had extended herself politely to strangers in the myriad small towns to which their investigations took them. But now that they were settled, she'd found herself resisting making new friends, extending out the lessons she learned in childhood about impermanence. This could be the last place she lived in this life full of many homes, or it could be one of the last few, but she had not risked reaching out beyond herself, beyond Mulder and Will. Mulder appeared to have taken the completely opposite tack, as per usual.

Her surprise must have shown in her expression, because Ted continued on blithely. "Michael talks about you all the time," he said. "It's great to meet other big city refugees. I moved here to get married, but that didn't work out so well, so now I'm living the life of the gay divorcee -- well actually, the gaily legally separated."

Scully didn't quite know how to respond to that, but found herself covering her mouth at what she was sure was a totally inappropriate smile. "I'm sorry," she said.

"Oh, don't be," he said, "It's my life's goal to be a social conservative's nightmare, so my pain is worth it as far as I'm concerned." He turned her to face the mirrors.

Micki was dampening Will's curls with a spray bottle, which Will found very amusing. Getting wet with all his clothes on was usually a reason to be scolded.

"I'm thinking a lot of the curl is going to come off when she cuts it," Ted said apologetically.

Scully sighed, "I know."

"Is that why you waited so long?" Ted asked sympathetically.

She nodded.

"He's not going to be much of a redhead," he remarked. "His hair has darkened a lot from his baby hair."

"I know," she said wistfully, but her attention was caught by Mulder's strange expression in the mirror as he watched Will's hair being cut off.

Ted laughed, "Your husband looks like he's just realized that your baby's not much of a baby anymore."

She only glanced at Ted in the mirror, watching Mulder's shock as Will's curls fell.

"You should dye your hair back to red," Ted said suddenly.

"Excuse me," she said, startled.

"With your coloring, and your brows," Ted said, then added, "May I?" He turned the hair at her part over and looked at her roots. "You were a redhead when you were a girl, weren't you?"

"Yes," Scully said, relaxing.

Ted was shaking his head at her roots. "You really need a professional dye job," he said. "There's too much going on here and it doesn't suit you, if you don't mind me saying so."

Scully looked at herself in the mirror. Her hair, with its combination of blonde, brown and red tones was pulled back in a loose ponytail. She was all dressed in black, a contrast to Will's vibrant red sneakers and blue jeans, his striped shirt. Even Mulder wore more color than she did these days.

"Hmm..." she murmured speculatively, then caught sight of Micki, with her unnaturally hued hair.

"Oh, please," Ted said. He'd been watching her. "As if I'd do a Dr. Seuss on you. That's her choice, not mine. No, I was thinking a nice vibrant red with some auburn tones and a good trim would really brighten you up."

"I'll think about it," Scully said. Surprisingly, she was telling the truth.

"Only up to your knees, Will," Mulder said loudly.

She drowsily opened her eyes, but the brightness of the light off the water was blinding, so she slipped them closed and turned her head toward Mulder and the shade he provided.

"Will," Mulder's voice had a tone of warning in it this time.

"OK, Daddy." She heard Will's assent to his father's command in the answer.

She opened her eyes again and brushed her fingers against the small of Mulder's back. The mountain lakeside was surprisingly quiet for a Sunday afternoon. Most of the families that had been here in the morning when they'd arrived seemed to be gone. She'd lain down with Will when he napped, but clearly had slept far longer.

"What time is it?" she asked Mulder, sitting up to stretch.

"I'm not sure," Mulder answered, "after three. The sun's going to go below the treeline soon." He sat on the edge of their blanket, outside the shade of their umbrella. His arms rested atop his bent left leg in a relaxed pose but his eyes followed Will wherever he went. Will was amusing himself by running in and out of the rills of water that the lake made as it lapped against the shore.

Scully shivered a little at the thought of sundown and scooted closer to Mulder; he put his arm around her hips and kissed her temple. "I can't believe how soon it gets dark up here," she said. "I'm not sure I'll ever get used it."

"Hmmm..." Mulder mused, "We won't ever move to the UK then."

"Too right," she answered smartly. She slung her legs over his right leg and looped an arm around his neck. "Has he been giving you any trouble?" she asked, referring to Will.

Mulder smiled at her words. "He's just doing his job, Scully, being two. He's got to differentiate into an individual, got to test the boundaries." He was still watching their son like a hawk.

"I have no idea where he got that trait from," she said blithely and Mulder chuckled, sliding his hand up and down the outside of her thigh.

She watched him watch Will for a moment, then said softly. "You know that I love you, right?"

He turned his attention away from Will and looked at her fully, pushing his sunglasses up on his head. A day in the sun had burnished his already impressive tan a darker gold; his eyes reflected the deep green of the woods around them as he looked into hers. He tipped his head closer to hers until all she could see was their light blazing at her, then kissed her in a way that she typically didn't indulge in publicly.

When he broke away, she shivered again, and pressed her forehead against his.

"I never doubt it," he said before turning away to watch Will.

"Thank you," she answered him but he shook his head at her, waving off her gratitude.

"I've been thinking a lot about what you said the other night, Scully, about your mom and about your choices," he said. "And I think you're making a lot of assumptions without evidence to back you up."

She raised an eyebrow at his turn of phrase. "Do you know something I don't?"

When he didn't answer immediately, she prompted him. "Mulder?"

"No, Scully, I haven't seen her," he answered. "I'd never keep it from you if I saw your mother. That wasn't what I was thinking about. I was thinking about how you said that you were wrong to send Will away. How can you know that?"

"Mulder," she said, truly shocked, "He could have been killed!"

"He wasn't, though," Mulder answered quietly. "We found him -- we were led directly to him -- just when he needed us most. And because we're dead to the legitimate authorities that would hunt us as fugitives, we've been able to be invisible. We've even found a way to keep him safe from the enemies that know we're alive."

"What are you saying, Mulder? That it was meant to happen that way? What about the people that are dead, those poor people that took care of Will all those months -- they were innocent, Mulder." She was furious that he would assert such a thing.

"Were we guilty of something, Scully?" he asked quietly. "Was I guilty when my 8-year-old sister was stolen from my living room?" She felt her ire ebb.

"Were you guilty when you were taken and tortured? All you had done was to take a job working at the FBI. We were innocent before the circumstances of our lives turned us onto this path."

She knew that her mouth was hanging open in shock. "This is so strange," she whispered.

"What?" he asked.

"How have we come to this point in our lives, Mulder, where you're espousing arguments urging me to have more faith, to believe in a greater plan?" She shook her head as a lazy grin broke over his face.

"You believe in aliens," he pointed out. "So, we've migrated toward each other's beliefs over time. Isn't that a good thing?"

She shook her head. "I don't know if I want to believe in a God that would use innocents in such a way."

This time, it was Mulder that looked surprised. "Who said it was God using the innocents?"

"It seemed to me that you're arguing that there was a plan, even if we couldn't see it, one that required us to be separated, and then to be brought back together."

He nodded.

"And that plan required the people who took care of Will to die, and it required Skinner to die a horrible death because he refused to divulge Will's whereabouts," she said.

"It also required your mother to bury another daughter," Mulder added.

"Yes," she said, fighting back tears. At the shore's edge, Will was pretending to be a bird, flapping his arms and running in circles. "It seems to me that the price of our happiness is too high. And there's no guarantee that we're through paying."

"No, there isn't," Mulder said, "but you're pre-supposing that God, or some other being, is directing all the minutiae of these events."

"'Not even a sparrow falls without God noticing'," Scully quoted, watching Will.

"Matthew," Mulder said automatically. "But it doesn't say that God causes the sparrow to fall, or wills it to fall, or neglects it so it falls. It just says that God knows."

She stared at him. "What good is a God if it can't stop the sparrow from falling?" she asked.

"This conversation is beginning to freak me out a little bit, Scully," Mulder said. "I'm not used to arguing this side of the conversation."

"And you can't answer my question," she said.

"I'm not sure it's the right question, Scully," he said. "I'm thinking the right question is why does God need us to fight the battle against evil?"

"So what's the answer?" she challenged him, curious to hear what he'd say.

"I don't know," Mulder said, "but I know that I'm bound to fight the battle anyway."

"No matter what the cost?" she asked.

Mulder looked out at Will, chasing the dragonflies that had begun to appear as the shadows lengthened across the lake. He turned to her. "To keep him safe? To keep us safe?" he asked. "I'd do almost anything."

For a moment, only the buzzing of summer and Will's happy laughter was audible. "And so would you, Scully," he said. "I know it's a leap, but you have try to believe." He paused, then said, "I think I know a way to help."

"Hi, Momma!" Will bellowed from the water's edge. He waved an arm festooned with a floatie at Scully enthusiastically.

Scully waved and turned back to Mulder.

"I've been talking to the head of the Security sector about your family and he's done some checking. He understands the situation we're in, but he thinks it would be pretty easy to let your mother know you're alive."

She felt the goosebumps break out on her back. "How?"

"It could just be a simple photo drop, Scully. She's shopping at the store and somebody bumps into her while she's carrying a full bag of stuff. When she gets home, she finds an envelope with a picture of you and Will. We can work on the rest later. I'm thinking that we get some of those pre-paid cellphones: limited use, limited tracing. But first we let her know that you're alive."

"Mulder!" She was smiling and crying at the same time as she flung her arms around him.

They'd eaten dinner at a casual restaurant on the way back home, the kind of place where the owners automatically put a plastic drop cloth under the booster seats. Surprisingly, the food was exceptionally good and served swiftly enough that Will was still awake, if only barely, as they pulled down the driveway. It was past Will's bedtime, but she had resisted the urge to look at the clock and assess how much, telling herself it didn't matter. She had to break the hold that the clock had over her. She had to.

Across the balcony, she could hear the sounds of Will and Mulder in the shower. Will was telling Mulder a very elaborate story about the birds and the dragonflies while Mulder was trying to get the sand off of him. Instead of taking her own shower, she'd padded back downstairs and found the box of photos they kept in the breakfront of their dining room. She sat on the bed, still in her bathing suit, looking through the pictures from Will's second birthday for one particular photo.

They'd taken a series using the automatic setting on the camera, but this one captured the moment just after Will had blown out the big red '2' on his cake. She and Mulder bracketed Will, their heads pressed close together. Will was laughing with his mouth open, his eyes creased in delight as the smoke rose up from the candle, his arms looped around his parents' necks. Mulder was laughing, but the camera had caught him in full smile. She had her eyes closed and was pressing a kiss to Will's soft cheek.

It was a beautiful picture of all three of them. She found it and looked at closely. This was the one.

From across the balcony, she could hear Mulder singing to Will as he put a fresh diaper on him, some made-up tune about the sleepiest boy in the world. Will must have fallen asleep before Mulder had gotten him into his pajamas.

She smiled and went into the bathroom, turning the light on as she did so and stripping off her bathing suit.

For the first time in a long time, she looked directly at herself in the mirror. Dana Scully looked back at her, older and little worn, but more relaxed than she'd been in a while. A day in the sun had left freckles on her skin, freckles she wouldn't bother to hide with makeup, and more lines.

And yet, she looked hopeful, expectant under her crown of tousled hair. The bruises of sleeplessness under her eyes had been abated by her long nap, and within herself she could feel a sense of calm that had eluded her for too long. She touched her throat reflexively, her fingers seeking the cross that she'd abandoned wearing in the days after she and Mulder had left Roswell. It was a marker, an identifying emblem of the life that she'd left behind -- her mother and the faith that seemed to raise more questions than to reassure her. She didn't know if she was ready to reclaim it yet, but acknowledged for the first time that she'd missed them both enormously.

She smoothed her hair back from her brow, noticing that the grey had begun to creep in at her temples and the peak.

"It doesn't suit you," she said to the woman in the mirror. Tomorrow, she would call Ted and make an appointment.

She opened the mirror and spent minutes looking at the blister pack sitting on the top shelf, then turned away and stepped into the shower and under the water. She had questioned the wisdom of bringing another child into this world more than she had questioned any other decision in her life, believing that if she chose incorrectly, she would bring yet another life into this world only for it to be doomed to die. But by not doing so, was she saying that she believed they already were doomed by the ticking clock? Was she conceding defeat with nine years and counting left to fight?

The truth was that she didn't know if she could actually get pregnant at all. Exactly how Will had been conceived, apart from the obvious, was a mystery that had yet to solved. When she and Mulder had gotten back together in Roswell, they'd had unprotected sex for days until she'd come to her senses and realized what they were doing. It had been foolish of her, but she'd been desperate and raw in her grieving for him and Will and all that seemed lost to them forever. Only the arrival of one of her infrequent periods had jarred her back into realization of what might have been. It was then that the idea of pregnancy became abhorrent, an obscene replacement of one lost child for another. She'd gotten a prescription for the pill as soon as possible.

"Mulder's Cleaning Service," Mulder announced from behind her.

She'd been standing in the fall of water for a long time, her hair long since rinsed. She knew he must have sensed the roiling emotions of her mood, but turned and smiled over her shoulder at him in welcome.

"How many showers are you going to take today, Mulder?" she asked, facing him.

"I guess that depends upon how dirty you are," he deadpanned, reaching for the gel.

She handed him the puff she used to wash, but he flung it recklessly behind him. "I'm a professional ma'am, and this is a very delicate, hands-on procedure."

"You don't say," she laughed as he feigned soaping up his hands quite liberally.

"Are you okay?" He asked. He traced her brow bones gently and she felt a welling of love for him at his tenderness.

"Yes," she answered him honestly, relaxing into his hands as he touched all the planes of her face.

"I saw the picture, Scully," he said. "All three of us?"

"You are my family," she said.

His answer was a long, slow kiss as he ran his hands up and down her back and then held her close to him.

"Mulder," she asked eventually, "isn't it too much of a risk to send a picture to my mom?"

He shrugged. "Our enemies know us no matter what we look like, Scully," he said. "They know we're alive. We just have to have faith. "

"In what?" she whispered.

"That we're doing the right thing," he said. "That we're doing the only thing we can do, knowing what we know. That we're going to stop them." His hands roamed over her skin and tried to claim her attention, but she stayed focused.

"What if we run out of time, Mulder?" she asked. "What if we're already too late?"

He held her close. "Would you be happier if we didn't try, Scully?"

"No," she whispered against his chest, then added self-deprecatingly. "I know I'm just being afraid."

"Scully," he lifted her head by the chin. "I'm afraid, too, but we have to try. For Will. We're all he has."

She nodded. She could feel the pounding of her heart in her chest and tried to regulate her breathing. "That's why you want to have another baby, isn't it?"

He pushed the hair back from her face and bent down to kiss her. "Maybe I just like making babies," he said lightly. "You have to admit, the first one's awful cute."

She laughed, then pushed away from him and looked down pointedly at his crotch. "I'm afraid I rained on your parade," she said.

"It's just a parade delay," he said, "not a washout." He ran his hands over her body and pushed into her suggestively. "Besides, there's always a parade when you're around."

"I don't think you should get your hopes up, Mulder," she said. He raised an eyebrow and she covered his mouth with a finger to forestall the smart remark she could see brewing. "We've had more than our fair share of miracles," she said and paused. "That's all I'm saying."

She barely had time to watch the realization dawn on Mulder's face before he'd turned and lifted her up against the wall.

"Scully," he said, "Are you sure?"

"No," she whispered back. She wrapped her arms around his neck and adjusted her position so that he slipped inside of her. "But I'm willing to try."

Written for the E-muse Beat the Heat Secret Santa Summer Challenge with thanks to Bonetree for providing the impetus to get me going, Suzanne for the beta, and Blueswirl for the excellent and thought-provoking feedback. Last, but not least, Sarah Segretti is an excellent giftgiver.

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